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From GI To GE- A Life On The Move

By Cliff Knox

On December 7th, 1941, people coming into the theater were talking about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The next day, after school, I went to the Marine Corps recruiting office to enlist. I was 17 years old which meant that I needed my parent’s approval, and they declined.

I was born September 1, 1924 on Vinton Street in Springfield, MA and attended Hooker Elementary School. When I was about ten, we moved to Jasper Street in the Pine Point area and attended the Hiram L. Dorman Elementary School in the 5th and 6th grades.

I attended Buckingham Junior High School and then Springfield Technical High School in the general course. In addition to English, math, and social studies; I took shop courses and mechanical drawing. One of my math teachers encouraged us to consider applying for the General Electric Apprentice Course in their transformer plant in Pittsburgh, MA and I became very interested in that.

Weekday evenings and weekends I had a job as the doorman at a downtown theater. On December 7th, 1941, people coming into the theater were talking about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The next day, after school, I went to the Marine Corps recruiting office to enlist. I was 17 years old which meant that I needed my parent’s approval, and they declined.

When I graduated in January 1942, I applied for General Electric’s apprentice course in Pittsfield, MA as an Apprentice Draftsman. Another apprentice and I lived with the Williams family. There was an apprentice group that met once a month, and at one of the meetings a Naval Aviator talked to our club about becoming a Navy Pilot. That thrilled me, and a few weeks later I went to the Navy Recruiting Office in Springfield to apply for pilot training.

They rejected me for the pilot training because of my irregular teeth, but they accepted me as a Seaman. On August 29th, 1942 I was sworn in as an Apprentice Seaman and with others was transported to the Naval Training Station (boot camp) in Newport, RI.

After being there for a few weeks, we were all given a general achievement test and informed of the various training courses for which we could apply. One of them was as an Aviation Radioman which I requested.

I was sent (with others) to the Aviation Radioman School at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, FL.

The school lasted for about three months. When we were close to completion, they asked for volunteers for the Naval Air Gunnery School in Yellow Water in the Jacksonville area.

Upon completion of gunnery school I was sent to the Naval Air Station in Daytona, FL for training in SBD dive bombers. After completing training I was assigned to VC-32 composite squadron as a Radioman-Gunner. We trained in Willow Grove, PA, Atlantic City, NJ, Quonset Point, RI, Charleston, RI and Norfolk, VA.

On October 22nd, 1943, VC-32 was assigned to the newly commissioned carrier USS Langley. The Langley was sent on a shakedown cruise to Trinidad. During the return from the shakedown, the dive bombers were eliminated from the squadron. No reason was given to the enlisted men. When we completed the shakedown cruise and returned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, I spent a few weeks there.

In late February 1944, I was sent to the Naval Air Field at Quonset Point in Rhode Island. While I was there, Torpedo Squadron #81 (VT-81) was formed. The squadron was immediately sent to the Naval Auxiliary Air Field on Martha’s Vineyard, MA.

I was assigned to VT-81, part of Air Group 81. The air group consisted of Torpedo Bomber Squadron (VT-81), Dive Bomber Squadron (VB-81) and Lighters Squadron (VF-81). My pilot was Lt. William A. Wear. I was the Radioman and Rear Gunman. Robert Webster was the Turret Gunner.

Our torpedo bomber was designated as a TBM (built by General Motors). We began our training there on Martha’s Vineyard.

In April and early May, we flew down to the Naval Air Station at Boca Chica for training in dropping unarmed torpedoes.

In May 1944 we flew up to Otis Field on Cape Cod. This was the first time the Torpedo Squadron, the Dive Bomber Squadron, and the Fighter Squadron trained together as an “air group.”

On May 5, 1944 the enlisted men left Cape Cod in a special train (with pullman berths) for San Diego. This was the most enjoyable trip for me. I had never been west of the East Coast. We stopped in various towns for each of our three meals at Fred Harvey restaurants. One of our stops was Union Station in Kansas City.

On August 12 we arrived at the Naval Air Station in San Diego. We were in San Diego about two weeks and I got up to Hollywood three times.

On August 25 we were put aboard the USS Hancock (an Essex Class Aircraft Carrier) to be transported to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. After we went aboard we were told to make ourselves comfortable. There were no sleeping quarters for the air group enlisted men.

There was also a contingent of Seabees being transported. Some men slept on the cockpit of planes. Some slept on the bare deck on the luggage. Fortunately, we had slept in hammocks in boot camp. I went down to the sail locker and was fortunate to get a hammock. I slung it between two pipes adjacent to the bulkhead (side of the ship) and was able to sleep comfortably.

We continued our Air group training flying out of Naval Air Station in Puunene Air Station on Maui from September 1to October 29, 1944.

We were then transported, aboard the USS Copahee (a small escort carrier) to Guam where we lived in tents with a detachment of Navy Seabees (Construction Battalion)

On November 10th, 1944 we went aboard the USS Wasp, relieving its prior air group. The Wasp was a part of the 3rd Fleet when Admiral Bull Halsey was Fleet Commander and part of 5th Fleet when Admiral Spruance was Fleet Carrier. We were called a fast carrier task force.

We carried out bombing and torpedo attacks against Japanese shipping and air fields around the Philippines, Formosa (Taiwan), Indo China, Okinawa, the South China Sea, and the Japanese homeland. We also provided close air support to the Marines during their invasion of Iwo Jima.

Our fleet anchored between operations was Ulithi Atoll in the Western Carolines. Our recreation area was on Mogmog Island.

Air Group 81 was replaced by Air Group 86 just prior to the invasion of Okinawa. Air Group 81 was transported from Ulithi to San Diego by the USS Copahee. I had leave from April 5 to May 13, 1945 to visit my folks.

After my leave I was assigned to the Naval Air Station at Banana River for operational training in PBM patrol bombers. These were large sea planes that took off and landed in the water. I was Lead Radioman of four Radiomen aboard. The TBM’s communication was all voice procedure and the PBMs relied on Morse code. My ability in Morse code was very rusty and I wished that I had returned to torpedo bombers.

The war ended in late August after atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. On November 7, 1945, I was honorably discharged at the Naval Separation Center in Boston.

The GI Bill of Rights gave me access to a college education. However, I had taken a general course in high school rather than college preparatory. I applied to a lot of colleges but only received rejections. I worked as a rodman and then as a transit man for the City of Springfield.

Fortunately, the City of Springfield created the Springfield Junior College in one wing of the Commerce High School. I studied hard and received good grades which allowed me to enter the University of Massachusetts. I majored in the Industrial Engineering option of Mechanical Engineering.

One of my classes was in accounting. I sat next to Jane Klein in this class. I asked her about the tall, attractive girl that I had seen walking with her around campus. She replied that her name was Carolyn Randolph and Jane gave me Carolyn’s home phone number. Carolyn lived at home. I called Carolyn (Jane had notified Carolyn that I would be calling) and picked her up at her house. Carolyn’s parents were leaving that evening for their wedding anniversary. Carolyn and I went to the Quonset Grill on the road to North Hampton. When we returned to Carolyn’s home, her parents were there.

Amongst the questions that her mother asked me, was the church I attended. I’m sure she wanted to know if I was Catholic. I replied that I attended whatever church was closest. Her father got a big kick out of that. I proposed to Carolyn soon after.

Engineering graduates had a very difficult time getting hired in 1950 because we were so plentiful. I was fortunate to get hired as an Industrial Engineer at the Fisk Tire Plant in Chicopee Falls but I didn’t really enjoy it.

One evening one of my former professors called me to inquire if I would come back to campus to give a talk to the Mechanical Engineering Club. I had been President of the Mechanical Club. (Probably a speaker had dropped out) I agreed and went up to the meeting on campus. After I finished speaking, I chatted with the students and asked if they were having trouble getting hired. They assured me that there were plenty of jobs available — the Korean War had started.

The next day I called Dean Marsten and he told me that the General Electric recruiters were meeting in his office that evening to go over their interviews. I hustled up to the campus and visited with the GE recruiters. They offered me an assignment in the “GE Test Program.” I told them that I was engaged to be married. They assured me that was no problem and I would be assigned as a Test Engineer at turbine generator factories.

We were married in the Congregational Church in South Amherst on May 19, 1951. The sanctuary was on the second level of the church, so as to be at the altar before Carolyn and her bridesmaids came down the aisle; Dr. Laird (the minister), Art Laurilliard (my best man) and I climbed a vertical iron ladder outside the back wall of the church and through a window. Mr. Randolph escorted Carolyn down the aisle to the altar to give Carolyn’s hand to me.

After the wedding, we drove to Newport, RI. Grandma Riley stayed in Amherst and had offered us her home at Common Fence Point near the water. We spent our wedding night at the Musgener King in Newport and then the rest of our honeymoon at Grandma Riley’s home. After our honeymoon, we drove to Lyna, MA to start my career with General Electric.

General Electric had what they called their “Test Course” to introduce newly hired engineers to the company. Under the supervision of permanent GE men, we would put newly built turbines through their operations.

After three months I was transferred to Fitchburg, MA and then to Schenectady, NY as a test engineer in the Switchgear Development Lab, the Gas Turbine Department and the Large Steam Generator Department. Randy was born in Schenectady. After three months I was transferred to Fitchburg, as a Proposition Engineer. This involved putting together proposals for small steam turbines in response to inquiries from customers. I was assigned to Fitchburg for a few years. We lived in Brookline, NH, which was a delightful place in which to live. While we were in Brookline, Laura was born in Fitchburg Hospital.

I was next assigned as a proposition engineer in the Gas Turbine Department. We lived in Schenectady, NY where our daughter Lee was born.

Next, I was transferred to the Medium Steam Turbine Department in Lynn, MA. We lived in Danvers, MA.

At that point, I was transferred to Dallas as a Turbine Sales Engineer. We lived in Farmer’s Branch, TX in our first house. Lyn was born while we were there.

Next, I was transferred to Oklahoma, City as a Turbine Specialist selling turbine generators to Oklahoma Gas and Electric in Oklahoma City, Southwestern Public Service in Amarillo and Public Service in Tulsa.

While we were there we became active in Republican politics. The Democratic Party was very much in control. Henry Bellman was elected the first Republican governor of the state. Oklahoma was a wonderful place in which to live. Our next door neighbors were Pete and Bogie Clark. We became active in the Mayfair’s Methodist Church. Also, Will Rogers Park is there, which contained saddle paths. We bought two horses (Nugget and Sheila) and enjoyed riding tremendously. Ray and Imogene Barber owned the stables. We also joined the Branding Iron Swim Club which included a dining facility and we would sometimes eat Sunday lunch.

Then GE transferred me back to Dallas, We owned a wonderful home on Cliffbrook Drive. The kids went to the Richardson School System.

While we were there we became interested in sailing on White Rock Lake. We bought a Lido 14, Lyn named the boat Think or Swim. Lauri and I became reasonably good and raced nearly every Sunday afternoon.

We entered many races in the Dallas area. After a few years in Dallas, GE transferred me to Kansas City as the District Manager of the “Mini G” District. This involved selling steam turbines generators and gas turbine generators to the municipal and rural electric cooperative utilities.

This was very interesting and satisfying. There were various meetings each year of the American Public Power Association. I always took Carolyn to these meetings of course. She was always charming and a favorite of the customers and their wives.

When we moved to Kansas City we were very fortunate to buy a wonderful home at Lake Quivira. It’s hard to adequately describe what living at Lake Quivira meant. We owned a great home on a sloping lot on the east side. It was in the woods and was the last house before the horse stables and pasture. Lyn owned “Sunny.”

There is a great clubhouse at the north end of the lake, east of the dam. We had an excellent dock site where our pontoon boat docked and our Sunfish sail boat on the dock. The club house was old but charming. After several years we sold our home and moved to Villa Medici. We later moved to Village Shalom on May 1, 2009.

All four of our children, Randy, Lauri, Lee and Lyn graduated from college and we have two grandsons, Brett and Wade, of which we are very proud.

The Knox Family at Cliff and Carolyn's 50th Wedding Anniversary