Midway Island Recollection

Midway Atoll (Photo USFWS)

INTRODUCTION: A while ago, my dad and I were looking through his flying and military photos, when he sent me an email:

Seeing the “Old Gooney Bird” reminds me that I flew one of these aircraft from Miami, Florida across the Pacific to Vietnam. The trip segment from the West Coast to Honolulu had us in the air for 18 straight hours traveling at 130 MPH. It seemed like we would never get there.

C-47 in Vietnam (Photo Bill Moffett)

After Hawaii, we went to Midway Island, where we observed the real Gooney Birds nesting all over the island. We also endured a mighty thunderstorm that had been predicted by the clairvoyant Jean Dixon to sink the island on that date. Obviously, she was wrong!

We then flew to Wake Island, Guam, and on to the Philippines before flying into Vietnam. The total trip took 75 hours of flying time and 20 total days. I got to know the “Old Bird”, C-47, pretty well in that time. The over 400 combat sorties I flew in that year in Vietnam proved to me that the “Gooney Bird” was one of the great all-time aircraft.

This led us to talk about current events relating to Midway Island, and his desire to document his memories. Thank you, Dad, for contributing this recollection to True Airspeed Blog.

January 2020 – Guest Blogger Bill Moffett


Recent ads have been touting a new movie about the WWII battle at Midway Island. Where is Midway and what is it like? I had the opportunity to spend some time there in 1967 and I thought it might be interesting to tell you about it. I was ferrying an old DC-3 aircraft, also known as a “Gooney Bird”, across the Pacific to Vietnam. Midway was one of our stops. We left Honolulu and after about 8 hours of flying westward, we arrived at Midway.

Out in the middle of nowhere is a pretty accurate description of the location of Midway Island. (Google Maps screenshot.)

Midway island was not much to see when we got there. Actually, it is a couple of islands about 1/4 mile apart and neither big enough that you couldn’t walk around it in less than an hour. The setting was quite pretty with lots of white sand beaches and an airfield, with some hangers, and buildings on the larger of the two islands.

There were numerous trees and gnarled cypress around the buildings, and a small wharf with a USN destroyer docked against it. Much to everyone’s relief, there was a mess hall and club for us to use. This, we found out, might be important as we were informed that there was a weather front between Midway and our next destination, Wake Island. The best estimate was that it probably would be at least two days before we could proceed.

USN ship at dock in Midway 1967. (Photo Bill Moffett)

As you might guess, there was not a lot of entertainment available for us to help pass the time. However, nature did its best and provided a spectacular sight for us to watch. Each winter, giant birds, Albatross or Gooney Birds, as they are called, come to Midway to nest and hatch their young. They turned out to be the absolute best show we could ever hope to watch.

They are big, up to 5 ft. in wingspan, beautiful and graceful inflight. On land, they are awkward, clumsy, and each full of personality. They are hatched at Midway and after about 3 months they go to sea and live at sea for about 5 years at which time they return to Midway, mated for life, and are ready to nest and raise their young.

Laysan albatross with chick. 
(Photo by James Lloyd https://pbase.com/freespirit/laysan_albatross)
Laysan albatross with chick.
(Photo by James Lloyd https://pbase.com/freespirit/laysan_albatross)

After being at sea for so long, they have forgotten how to use their feet and frequently land without putting their “gear” down. It is not unusual to see birds tumbling head over heels just trying to get down. They have no knowledge what a nest should look like or where to put it, thus there are birds sitting on eggs in the middle of the streets, on sidewalks, on stairs, on roofs or any other place they can scrape two or three sticks together and call it a nest.

The birds come ashore mated for life and it was observed that one of the pair will sit on the nest while the other goes to sea for food. Should something happen to the mate that went to hunt, the other bird will stay on the nest until it falls over dead.

A Gooney Bird has a long-hooked beak and seems to be in a constant state of squawking. You can imagine the noise of thousands of birds squawking all the time. The best show comes when a bird is ready to fly. They are like an airplane and require a good bit of runway to get into the air. This can often be greater than 50 yards long, depending on the wind. Before attempting a takeoff, each bird will walk the full length of his runway, stop and talk to all the other birds along the way, strut and make sure that they announce to every other bird within sight that they are going to take off and everyone should watch.

The takeoff begins with lots of practice wing flapping to get warmed up, and finally incorporating leg movement to start the run. Wings flap, feet flap, and the beak squawks. After about 25 yards, the bird lifts off enough to pick up its feet but stays in ground effect to try and gain enough speed to pull up and clear the trees. Unfortunately, as many times as not, the take-off has to be aborted because the bird didn’t get airborne soon enough to clear the trees or other obstacles. This results in a headfirst tumbling roll with no use of feet and a very clumsy stop and attempt to get back up.

Laysan Albatross landing on water. (Photo by USFWS)

There were numerous birds that didn’t make it, caught in tree branches or v notches in the trees. After a crash the bird usually walks back the length of the runway and explains to all those watching, just exactly what went wrong. Pretty soon he can be seen and heard, announcing another try.

Some of the nests contained newly hatched chicks all of them hollering for a meal. Vehicle traffic is at a standstill as the few streets are covered with nests. Nests are usually sited about every two or three feet apart.

We did have one matter that caused us all some concern. The famous clairvoyant, Jean Dixon, (she predicted JFK’s assassination, among many other famous events), had made a prediction that Midway Island was going to sink into the Ocean and her predicted date was to occur while we sat and waited. Needless to say, we were all a little nervous about this especially when on the evening of the predicted date, a big storm came up and pelted the island with wind and rain.

At about 10 pm the station emergency siren went off and the Island lost all electrical power. Talk about a helpless feeling. There was nothing we could do and no place to go. Fortunately, the Navy got the siren turned off and the electrical power back on, and by the next morning we were all still sitting on dry land. Phew! Even the weather had cleared, so we packed up and headed to Wake Island.

But that is another tale. Bill

We’d love to hear your comments or your own recollections!

Recollections of Bill Moffett as a kid during WWII: for his grandson and family (PART II)

Recollections of Bill Moffett as a kid during WWII: for his grandson and family (PART II)Written July 2017

Introduction: My dad and his family lived in California during WWII. This is a brief look at what life was like for a ten-year-old kid living there at the time. The story is broken into two posts (Part I and II). You can find Part I here, if you’d like to read it first (recommended).


Newspaper was another item that was in short supply during WWII in the US, thus helping that situation was a task that fell to my Boy Scout troop. We had a very active troop in our area, both Cubs and regular Boy Scouts. I went all the way through both in all ranks to Eagle Scout. We spent lots of time with paper drives. We went to each house on the block and asked for any old newspapers they might have, then pulled wagons behind our bicycles to carry the papers back to our scout building. There we tied them into bundles that would eventually be picked up by the garbage trucks and hauled away to recycle.

Bill as a Boy Scout

Bill as a Boy Scout in early 1940s (composite photo)

Paper was just one of several types of drives we conducted. Scrap metal of all kinds was vital to the war effort and so we purged vacant lots, old dumps, people’s yards and old buildings looking for anything metal. Tin foil was saved by everyone and rolled into balls. There were contests to see who could get the biggest balls of foil to turn over to the effort. Rubber was another item in short supply, so we had drives to bring in anything rubber; old tires, balls, toys, rubber bands, etc. At that time most of the world’s natural rubber came from South East Asia, and the Japanese had just taken over most of that area. Synthetic rubber was just in the early stages of development. There were bins for recycled items in most of the local gas stations to help people collect stuff.

Another type of drive that we worked on was the government’s drive for money to support the war. We had War Bond drives. Everyone was urged to buy bonds in whatever amounts they could afford. There were bonds in $25, $50, $100 and I’m sure much higher amounts, but that was above my limit. There were drives at school, at work, in scouts, and just about everywhere. Mostly we bought $25 for $18.75 that would mature and pay $25 in 10 years.

Of course, there wasn’t any TV, so what news we got came over the radio or in the newspapers. Additionally, before each movie at the theater, there was a Newsreel that usually updated one area of the war or one specific action or battle that was going on. Dad subscribed to a service that each month put out maps that showed the boundaries between the Allies and the Axis forces worldwide. I kept these on my bedroom wall and updated them as I got news over the radio. I had push pins stuck all over them marking various battles and incidents. It was fun for me to do but it was serious business. Speaking of the radio, kids used to listen to adventure programs like, “Jack Armstrong”, “Captain Midnight”, “The Lone Ranger”, and the “Whistler”. These came on in 15 minute segments starting at 5 o’clock each day.

We did have one “land line” telephone in our house that we could use for local calls. If you needed to make a long-distance call, you had to call a long-distance operator and have her put the call through to the operator in the city you were trying to call. Then that operator would dial the number you were calling. Most of the phone instruments were the “modern dial up” type but in most cases, you had a party line to be shared with another user. You were never sure when the phone rang if it was for your house or someone else’s house. The phone was supposed to ring once for you and twice for the other guy, but you rarely heard which ring it was, so you frequently had to tell someone else to get off the phone, it wasn’t for them. Rural telephones were crank boxes on the wall and shared 8 lines. All rings came thru as someone turned a crank. Numbers were two long cranks and maybe 2 short rings, or maybe one long ring and three short cranks. Of course, you could pick up your phone and listen in on whoever was talking on the main line. If several people picked up at the same time, then the signal got so weak that you couldn’t hear anything.

School was pretty much the same as it is today; seemingly not effected by the war. There were no lunch rooms as everyone had to bring their own lunch, but there were after school athletics, band activities, scouts, clubs and other normal activities except everything had to be over before it got dark so everyone could be home before the blackouts began.

School was about a mile and a half from home so I either walked or rode my bike every day. We didn’t have any school buses. After school most of us played outside with the neighborhood kids. We had about eight or ten kids in the surrounding area and we could almost always get up a game of kickball, football, kick the can, or cops and robbers. Again, we pretty much had to be in once it got dark, but in the summer, we could spend evenings on our or one of the neighbor’s front porches.

I attended Marengo Elementary School, which I started in Kindergarten mid-semester as my birthday was in January. We kept mid-year grades; 1A then 1B, etc. until I reached 6th grade. They did away with the half grades at that time and told me I could either go ahead a half grade or stay back a half grade. I went ahead. Our grammar school was K–6, and Junior High was 7–9th grade. Later, I went to South Pasadena San Marino High School and then Stanford University.

My cousin George who was 7 years older than I, enlisted as soon as he turned seventeen and immediately went off to training and duty in the Navy. Everyone had to serve if they were physically qualified and if you were drafted you went into the Army. If you wanted to serve in the Navy or Marines, you had to enlist before the Draft Board called you for Army service. By the way, there was no Air Force at that time. It was part of the Army and didn’t become a separate service until after the war in 1947.

Cousin George and friends heading to war

Cousin George (on right) a bit older than Bill heading to war.

George served until the end of the war and was in almost all the major sea battles in the Pacific in the last half of the war. There was a system to show if a family had members serving in the military. A small red/white/blue flag with the name and relation of the serving member was placed in the house front window. If the member had been killed a gold star was placed beside the name. It was not unusual to see little flags with the Father and two of three sons on it. Everyone just prayed that they never had an army car with a Chaplin show up at their door as that meant that one of their family had been killed. If the service member was just “Missing in Action”, then the family most likely got only a telegram to let them know. I had two other cousins in the war: one was killed and the other was Missing in Action until the end of the war when he was found in a slave work camp in mainland Japan.

My dad, William, was primarily in the music business in the Los Angeles area. I say primarily because he and his partners had interests in several businesses. The music business sold largely musical instruments, pianos, organs, records, record players and after the war televisions. A secondary business was gold mining and at the time that World War II started they were operating on a site in southern Oregon (Holland, Oregon), just outside of the town of Cave Junction. Mom had relatives in the same area, and we visited them often when we went to see how the mining property and equipment was doing. We usually were able to get priority gas to make 4 trips a year. Their daughter Peggy was a year older than I was, but we had some great times riding horseback and doing ranch work. I learned how to take care of horses and cattle, how to milk cows and how to pitch hay. Cousin George joined us for several of those trips before he went off to join the navy.

Bill at Oregon Ranch

Bill at Oregon Ranch

Dad and Mom liked the area so much that dad bought a nearby ranch of 360 acres at Takilma, Oregon. We planned to build a summer cabin on the place where we could relax while Dad checked on the nearby mine. WWII changed all that and we were forced to shut down the mine and delay any building on the ranch.

Dad never did reopen the mine and after the war he moved operations to northern British Columbia, Canada. During the war, Dad sold about five thousand board feet of timber off the ranch. That sale more than covered what he had paid for the property in 1938, and it was impossible to even see where it had been cut. He sold the ranch after the war. One of the reasons that we had to shut down the mine was because Dad’s partner who was the mining engineer, was selected go to Washington DC and serve on the War Production Board. The board decided priorities for all manufacturing in the whole country. Obviously with the shortages of fuel and strategic materials it was vital to control how we spent what we had.

An additional part of Dad’s music business was to install intercom and loud speaker systems in area defense plants. He was a busy man because there was an abundance of war production factories in the Los Angeles area.

I spent a lot of my time looking at the sky. We had numerous aircraft manufacturing plants nearby and it seemed like there was always a plane buzzing overhead. I’m not sure why, but everyone wanted to teach us to recognize various types of aircraft. Schools, scouts, newspapers, all showed pictures of the various planes with instructions on how to recognize them. I made models of most of them and had many flying on strings from the ceiling of my room.

We used to drive by the big factory at Long Beach and it was completely covered with camouflage. Huge nets were installed to cover the plant, parking lots and surrounding smaller buildings. The nets stretched several miles in all directions. On top of the nets they painted small shacks, cattle, plowed fields, autos, roads, and people. Even the runway was painted to look like a corn field and certainly must have been hard to land on. At the time, I never got to see just how real it looked from the air, but we were told that it really hid what was underneath.

Just prior to the war in 1941, Mom had some health issues and needed help around the house. She hired a young lady to live in with us and help around the house. She was a recent refugee from the Netherlands and Mom liked her a lot. She stayed with us for several years during the war. Her Name was Elva Lang. Mom recovered her health and Elva married and moved on. Mom kept in contact with her for many years.

Granddad Moffett lived with us from before I was born until his death in 1943 at the age of 84. He was born in England and moved to the US (Colorado Springs) were he worked as a tailor, married and raised my dad. Dad and Mom lived next door to each other in Colorado Springs until Mom’s family moved to California. Dad followed not too long after and they were married in 1923.

At about age 7, Mom started me on piano lessons, which I continued for about seven years. I always enjoyed playing ball over practicing the piano, so my progress was slow. Mom and Dad thought that since Dad was in the music business that I should know how to play. When I was in 6th grade, I took up the trumpet and later played in the school band through the 8th grade. I was the Boy Scout bugler for our troop.

Hope you enjoyed this peek into my life.

Bill Moffett

Recollections of Bill Moffett as a kid during WWII: for his grandson and family (PART I)

Recollections of Bill Moffett as a kid during WWII: for his grandson and family (PART I) Written July 2017

Introduction: My dad and his family lived in California during WWII. This is a brief look at what life was like for a ten-year-old kid living there at the time. The story is split into two posts (Part I and II). Click this link for Part II.

Bill’s story:

Photo of Bill and father with fish

Bill Moffett with his dad and a very big fish!

Recently my grandson called to ask me what living was like when I was 10 years old. He was working on a Cub Scout project, so wanted me to keep it short. He gave me about two minutes to tell him a story and then said he’d had enough. There were so many things to tell him that I started to think maybe I should write some of my thoughts down, not just for him, but for our other grandchildren, too.

There was no TV, fast food, computers, tablets, cell phones, refrigerators, freezers, polio shots, credit cards, microwaves, and we had Dime stores where you could actually buy something for 5 or 10 cents and so many other things that I can’t even begin to list them, so I am just going to start and tell you how things were then (1943).

My country and the world were engulfed in war. What did that mean to me?

From the day following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7th 1941), all the energies of all the people of our (America) country were directly related to the war:

All men over 18 years old had to register for the war draft. Most were drafted within a few days or months of registration and were sent off to the Army and then on to the war front. If you didn’t want to go into the Army, then you could volunteer for the Navy, Marines, or Coast Guard. Those not physically qualified (4F) were put into essential jobs, replacing those who got drafted. A great number of the women went to work doing men’s jobs in construction, defense work, ship and aircraft building, and all sorts of other jobs formerly considered too hard for women. Married women were now allowed to become teachers. Before the war, only unmarried women could teach.

Lots of military and civilian officials believed that the Japanese would land their forces on our west coast and march into the middle of the country. This feeling was very strong when the Japanese invaded the Aleutian Island chain in Alaska, but fortunately that feeling was greatly reduced when the Allies won the battle for Midway Island. The victory cost the Japanese a lot of their Pacific fleet and our planners didn’t think they had the force left to invade the US mainland at that time.

Everything was rationed and most non-essential activities were restricted. I lived in South Pasadena, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, and we were under a total black out every night. There were no neon signs, or other outside lights and only about 1 in every 4 street lights were on and they had to have their top painted black. Few traffic signals of any kind worked. All the cars had the top half of their headlights painted black so that no light reflected upwards into the sky.

We had neighborhood Block Wardens who patrolled every night checking each house to make sure that no light escaped from the house. All the upper windows were painted black and all the rest of the windows had to have drapes covering up any light source. All areas had Air Raid Sirens and of course if one of those went off, you had to turn off all lights and sit in the dark. They ran practice alerts about once each week. I can remember several times that Japanese subs actually fired some rounds into Los Angeles harbor and all the sirens went off and we were convinced that we were really going to get it. We had some supplies in our basement so we could hide out if things got really bad, but we never used them.

Wartime Play – The war affected every person and every household. These are kids from my neighborhood. This is pretty much how a lot of kids played, making tanks and vehicles from cardboard and wood scraps.

My grandfather, who lived with us, had a hobby as a gardener and had a greenhouse in our back yard and raised orchids and other exotic flowers. He was surprised when several of his local gardening friends came by to tell him goodbye about two weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor. They were all Japanese. How did they know?

During the war almost everything was rationed: Gasoline was perhaps the most wide spread item. You had to register all your cars and receive a rations rating for each one. The rating was recognized by a window sticker with letters A thru D. Everyone got at least an A rating which entitled the owner to 5 gallons per month. You had a folder in the car with little coupons for each gallon. If you had to drive to work in a Defense related job then you got a B sticker and maybe 10 gallons. Special needs and emergency services received more gas under either a C or D stickers. Agriculture received unlimited gas, but the gas they were given for their tractors and plows was colored purple and if you got caught with purple gas in your car it was a heavy fine in court. Purple gas burned with lots of exhaust smoke, so violators were easily spotted.

Gasoline was not the only hard to get item, tires were in really short supply. There just weren’t any to be had. And, of course, no new cars or trucks were manufactured between Dec 1941 and January 1946. All the car factories were used to make tanks and military vehicles. All the other big plants were for building aircraft. We had two cars throughout the war: a 1939 Plymouth coupe that my dad drove to work each day and a 1940 4-door Buick sedan that was mom’s car and provided the transport for the rest of the family. I had my bicycle which was my main means (outside of walking) of transportation. There was no “Mom, drive me to the movie or take me to the store or take me over to Al’s house.”

Most food was rationed, and each family received coupons for items such as: sugar, meat, eggs, butter, lard, chicken, fish, and there was no candy, cake, cookies etc. unless your mom had enough sugar to make some for you. Seeing as how most of the sugar was used to can fruits (apricots, peaches, cherries, apples, pears) there just wasn’t any sugar left over for treats. We had an apricot tree and a plum tree in our yard, and we tried hard to get them picked before the birds messed the fruit up. We all sat down each evening to eat and I learned that if I didn’t like what had been fixed, I could wait at the table until everyone else finished and then go to bed hungry. There just wasn’t any food to waste.

Each family had a Victory Garden where we tried to grow vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, beans, lettuce and corn) in patches of ground not being used for some more important task. We were lucky because my dad bought the two vacant lots behind our house and we used those for our garden. Part of it was also used by some of the neighbors. I built a chicken house and fenced in some of the vacant lot for a chicken yard. I started out with 4 dozen chicks and as they grew, I kept one rooster and the hens. Soon I was feeding our family, and some of the neighbors, eggs and chicken pieces. Of course, they paid me and I was able to get chicken feed and keep the cycle going.

One of my most vivid memories that I have of that time was when my Granddad showed me how to kill a chicken so we could cut it up for food. I held it by the legs and put the head down on a stump and hit it with an axe to chop off the head. I did it, but I dropped the chicken and it went running around the yard without a head. Wow! I learned later that it was better to twist the neck.

Some of the things we had to do in the garden were far from big farm ways. For instance, we didn’t have any hives of bees in the area so in order to pollinate our tomatoes, we used small paint brushes and went from plant to plant touching blossoms with the brush. Mighty hard work on the back. We wanted to save the things we grew, so mom would either can them up or put them in the freezer.

Of course, we didn’t have freezers in our refrigerators, in fact we didn’t have refrigerators. We had ice boxes. They were boxes with several doors on the front and shelves on the inside. The biggest shelf held a big block of ice (a cube about 14 inches on a side). The ice was delivered twice weekly by a guy with a truck from the ice plant, who carried these cubes into the house on his back, held with a big pair of tongs. We were able to rent space in the freezers at the ice plant. So, we had a locker there and put in whatever extra fruit or vegetables we could. Dad was also able to get some beef from our cousins in Oregon when we went there to work on the gold mine. Since we got it directly from the farmer, it didn’t count against us in rationing. So, we got the meat cut up and put in the freezer locker.

Mom did all our baking for us. She made our bread, rolls, etc. all from scratch. There were no ready mixes available. Again, since we had sugar rationing, we rarely had jam or jelly to put on our bread or toast. We couldn’t get butter, but you could get a sort of diluted fat mixture that came with a tube of yellow food coloring and you could mix it together and get a mixture that looked like butter. Of course, it didn’t taste great.

There was only a very limited number of what you could call restaurants. And they required ration tickets for just about anything that you ate. There definitely were no McDonalds, pizza shops or “fast food” places to eat. We did make a lot of our own ice cream by churning it by hand after mom made up the mix. We would sit around after dinner and take turns on the crank for the ice cream. It was really good. The restaurants that there were, mostly served travelers or out of town workers, with no other place else to go.

My bicycle got used for another important job. I had a paper route and every evening Monday–Saturday I delivered about 50 papers to houses in our area. The papers came to me every afternoon in a big stack and I would have to separate them and then fold them so I could throw each one into peoples’ yards or onto their porches. We didn’t have plastic to keep them dry or rubber bands to hold them together, so on wet days I had to take each one up the people’s front doors so the paper would stay dry. Saturdays, I had to go to each house to collect money for that week’s papers. The bill was usually about 1 dollar for the week and if I was really lucky maybe they would tip me a dime. Again, there was no help from Mom with the car and on wet days I just had to cover up and try to keep the papers dry.

[End Part I by Bill Moffett] Click here for the Rest of the Story- Part II