“If you don’t love America, you need to get out. We have our freedoms today because U.S. veterans gave parts of their lives, their time, and in some cases, their lives, to this country,” John Laws, 85, of Sidney, Ohio.
Laws joined the U.S. Navy in 1951 “because I didn’t want to go to the Army, and Navy aviation was coming on at that time.”
At age 14, Laws had learned to fly at Folkerth Airport (now the site of the Day’s Inn) with instructor Russ Folkerth. “My dad didn’t approve of Russ, thought he drank and told me I’d never fly. Russ didn’t drink when I flew with him, and I’d sneak off from school to do it.” Laws flew solo in a single engine Aero Coupe although he didn’t get a license until after he left the Navy.
Law’s basic training was at Camp Porter in Great Lakes, Illinois, and there he found training “Rough. I grew up during those eight weeks, learned respect and responsibility, learned to take orders.”
From there, it was on to Jacksonville, Florida, for special training and then to Pensacola for three months where he learned about aircraft gears and electronic equipment. Finally, he was stationed at Whidbey Island, Washington, for three months where he was trained to be a navigator.
With that training he became a crew member of Patrol Squadron One (VP1) at Atsugi, Japan, on a plane called “Charlie Dog 8.”
That plane, a Lockheed low-altitude, twin-engine bomber, was “bigger than I had flown before. It was a huge responsibility for me. Our pilot, John Wallace, had been in World War II, was in the Navy Reserves, and had been called up.
“My job as a navigator meant two-hour pre-flight preparations and then to get us to our mission, and back to base. Our mission was taking out machine gun nests and bombing ammunition depots, always flying below radar.
“Lucky for us Wallace was a great pilot. He knew the aircraft so that if someone got hurt, he could pick up the slack. He was fair. If you had a chewing out coming, you got it. There was no playing around. This was serious business, and he was good at controlling us. As 18- and 19-year-old kids, we all thought we knew more than he did, but we didn’t. He’d been there, done that.”
The territory where “Charlie Dog 8” was strafing was across the Korean Sea, taking off from Iwakuni, a small naval air station.
The U.S. Marines and Army were trying to get north into Pusan, and the squadron was responsible for watching shipping to determine what was coming in and going out. They were also tracking submarines with sonar without knowing what was Chinese, North Korean or South Korean.
When the war abruptly ended with the signing of the truce, the squadron went back to Whidbey Island to update the aircraft and get ready to redeploy. They were then sent to Naha, Okinawa, where they escorted the Chinese Nationalists, led by Chiang Kai-Shek ,from four Communist China islands to Formosa.
Since the squadron of ten aircraft had finished the missions in the Far East, Commander I. A. Kittel received clearance for the group to circumnavigate the globe, the first squadron to accomplish that feat. “We proved we could do it, didn’t lose a single plane. It was an honor for me, my country, to prove to the world that we could make it.”
Laws was discharged from the U.S. Navy on May 13, 1955, in Seattle, Washington, flew to Detroit, Michigan, and from there hitchhiked home.
Home meant marrying Edna Mae Bertsch, fathering two sons, and working for a short time in the engineering department of Monarch Machine Tool Company before going to work for the Sidney Post Office as a letter carrier and a clerk. He retired in 1986.
Laws is a lifetime member of the American Legion, the VFW, Am Vets, and the Disabled American Veterans (He has a permanently dilated left pupil from being caught in a downdraft). Always ready to serve, he is an honor guard for American Legion Post 217.
On July 23 of this year Laws was recognized as the Cincinnati Red’s Hero Veteran of the Day, and the Reds whipped the Arizona Diamondbacks, 6 to 1! Surprised? I’m not.
Vivian Blevins is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or [email protected]