MY PERSONALLY MEMORABLE P2V FLIGHT
By: Jack W. Serig, Sr.
My personally memorable and only P2V Neptune flight had
initiated from McCalla Field at NAS, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. About one-and-a-half
hours later the Navy P2V crew had located their target within the many unpopulated
islands off the north coast of Cuba’s Camaguey Province. The aircraft
commander set up the initial track and altitude to allow the on-board official
navy photographer to take his wide-angle shots to capture the scene of the
invasion fleet below.
The Cuban government had apparently closed their eyes
to what was happening in their own back yard. They had allowed Cuban
and Dominican persons of influence to purchase and man a sizeable invasion
fleet of surplus WWII landing craft, of varying types. These craft were full
of troops and equipment destined to hopefully unseat the ruthless Dominican
dictator, Trujillo. The size of the fleet of landing craft was impressive,
as viewed from our P2V. The fleet was using the islands off Camaguey
for their ‘practice’ invasion prior to proceeding to the Dominican Republic.
When the high-level runs for the wide-angle shots were
completed the P2V pilot, a Lieutenant Sparks, made numerous low-level runs
in order for the photographer to shoot individual ships to ID their names
and numbers. The soldiers-of-fortune on the ships, in WWII combat dress,
cheered and waved their arms and weapons as we flew over them.
As a very young Navy civil service employee at Guantanamo
Bay at the time, how did I wind up able to view this small segment of history
from inside a P2V? My father was the senior civilian employed at NAS,
Gtmo. We were both single at the time. We bunked and ate together
in his quarters at the Aviation Officers Bachelors Quarters and Mess.
Thus, we met most all of the Navy/Marine pilots coming through on temporary
assignments, such as the officers on this P2V crew. Lt. Sparks, his
crew and P2V squadron were permanently stationed at NAS Jacksonville, TDY’d
to Gtmo. for this important intelligence gathering mission being run from
After several meals and converations at the mess hall
Lieutenant Sparks invited dad and I to join his crew as civilian observers.
Understand that this was shortly after WWII, 1948, and regulations were still
pretty loose. Dad and I agreed that I’d take the first flight the following
morning and he would take his turn the day after.
On my previously described flight, as soon as the
photographer obtained all the pictures he needed we flew to the civil airfield
at Camaguay for refueling before flying back to Gtmo. for my introduction
to low-level flight. As soon as we landed at Gtmo. another standby
aircraft was loaded with the film our photographer had used and it took off
immediately for D.C.
The next morning it was dad’s turn. When the P2V,
with dad aboard, flew over the islands off Camaguey the fleet had already
left its sancturary. The P2V spent several hours searching but could
not locate the invasion fleet.
From news articles of that time and personal memories,
the fleet proceeded undetected until it got close to the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican caudillo threatened the fleet that he would send his WWII P-38
fighters, and other war planes, to attack the fleet if they didn’t
turn around and go back where they came from. His fighter aircraft
unit was commanded by a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel who was well respected
for his war record. The invasion fleet turned back in retreat when
the threatening war planes appeared. However, one of the fleet’s more
daring protective PT boat escorts got too close to shore and a Dominican
land-based artillery barrage sank the PT boat. I met the captain of
the PT boat, coincedentally, while living in the western-most province of
Pinar del Rio in the town of Mariel in 1949. He corroborated his part
of the story.
I’ve always been very thankful to our Navy for providing
me the opportunity to meet many of their superb aviation people and to fly
many flights in their aircraft. It prompted my thinking several
years before entering the Army that if I was ever called to serve my country
flying was one of the things I wanted to do. Incidentally,
my brother flew Neptunes for several years during his 28 year naval aviation
PUBLISHED IN “LOGBOOK” ISSUE, JULY 2001, THE TRI-ANNUAL MAGAZINE ISSUED THROUGH THE ARMY OTTER-CARIBOU ASSN.