USS Perdido - History

USS Perdido - History


(CVE-47: dp. 9,800; 1. 495'8"; b. 69'6"; ew. 111'6"; dr. 26';
s. 18 k.; cpl. 890; a. 2 5", 8 40mm., 27 20mm., 28 ae.; el.
Prince William; T. C3~A1)

Perdido (CVE-47) was laid down as ACV-47 under Maritime Commission eontraet by Seattle-Taeoma Shipbuilding Corp., Taeoma, Wash., 1 February 1943; launched 16 June 1943; sponsored by Mrs. H.M. Bemis, reelassified as CVE 47 on 15 July 1943; and completed at the Commereial Iron Works Portland, Ore.

Assigned to the United Kingdom under lend lease 23 June 1943, Perdido was taken over by the British Navv at Portland 31 January 1944. During the remainder of World War II, she served the Royal Navy as HMS Trouncer and took part in convoy escort and ASW patrol operations. The escort carrier returned to Norfolk, Va., 21 February 1946. Perdido was returned to the U.S. Navy 3 March 1946, and on 25 March the Secretary of the Navy authorized her for disposal. Her name was struck from the Naval Register 12 April 1946. She ~vas sold to William B. St. John and delivered to her purchaser 6 March 1947.


Downtown Pensacola

Pensacola is not only a historic town, it is a military town as well.

Naval Air Station Pensacola and other military operations in the area are a key component of the town's culture and economy.

Pensacola Harbor Scene

USS Perdido - History

Site of Fort McRee
Viewed from the top of Battery 233, the site of Fort
McRee is between the position of the camera and
the channel leading into Pensacola Bay.

Fort McRee was an antebellum fort that stood
on Perdido Key at the entrance to Pensacola
Bay. It was all but destroyed during the Civil
War and no surface remains of it exist today.

When U.S. engineers devised a plan for
defending Pensacola Bay in the years after
Florida was transferred from Spain to the
United States, they decided that the bay could
only be guarded by a series of forts. In the
years from 1829 to 1861, they planned and
built four major works: Pickens, Barrancas,
McRee and the Advanced Redoubt.

Fort Pickens , the largest of these forts, still
stands on Santa Rosa Isand. Its companion
work, Fort McRee, was literally blasted to bits
by Union cannon fire during the Civil War. Its
site, however, attracts the curious to this day
and Fort McRee is known as the "lost fort" of
Pensacola Bay.

Constructed between 1834 and 1839, Fort
McRee (sometimes incorrectly spelled "Fort
McRae") was named for Colonel William
McRee. The most uniquely shaped of the
forts at Pensacola Bay, it looked something
like a stubby boomerang when viewed from
above. The walls were curved and the fort
was rounded at both ends, a design that
allowed it to bring maximum firepower to
bear on the main channel leading into the

The fort stood on what was then called
Foster's Bank (today's Perdido Key). It was
seized from its caretaker by Southern militia
in 1861 as Florida seceded from the Union.
Federal troops had barely finished dumping
thousands of pounds of gunpowder from the
fort into the bay when the militia made its

Fort McRee passed from the control of
Florida to that of the Confederate government
when the latter was organized at Montgomery
in February of 1861. Over the months that
followed Southern soldiers and engineers
worked desperately to mount cannon and
prepare the fort for defense.

Three tiers high and almost completely
exposed, Fort McRee was never intended by
its designers to be held against an enemy
that also had control of Fort Pickens across
the channel. Not only was it within range of
the heavy guns at Pickens, without the
support of that fort it was at the mercy of
enemy warships that could close to within
range from behind it.

When Union troops managed to hang on to
Fort Pickens at the beginning of the war, Fort
McRee was doomed. The proof came on
November 22, 1861, when the opposing
forces opened the Battle of Pensacola Bay.

Fort Barrancas, on the mainland, held its
own against Union cannon fire from massive
Fort Pickens, but Fort McRee did not. The fort
initially responded well to the incoming fire
from Fort Pickens and the Union warships
USS Niagara and USS Richmond . As the day
wore on, however, the accuracy of the
Federal cannon improved and one by one the
guns of Fort McRee were silenced.

For Colonel John Villepigue and his men
from Georgia and Mississippi, the defense of
Fort McRee was waged under desperate
conditions. Overall commander General
Braxton Bragg explained:

The magazines were laid bare to the
enemy's shells, which constantly exploded
around them, and a wooden building to the
windward, on the outside of the fort, taking
fire, showers of live cinders were constantly
driven through the broken doors of one
magazine, threatening destruction to the
whole garrison.

Bragg reported that the wooden parts of the
fort caught fire three times and that courage
of Villepigue and his men was witnessed by
the whole Confederate army:


A Note from the Artist

The design developed for the chancel window for the Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit was meant to be sensitive to two criteria architecture and liturgy. It depicts in an abstract style, the theme of the Holy Spirit with the inclusion of the other entities of the Trinity. The window forms bring to mind the descent of the Holy Spirit into the church.

Abstract art demands skill and talent from the artist, but it also requires effort from the viewer to comprehend. This, the artist who works abstractly has a partner, the viewer. The viewer&rsquos conclusion may change depending on their emotional and psychological state as well as on environmental conditions.

One of the symbolic depictions traditional iconographers use for the Trinity incorporates a hand (God the Father), a face or body (the Son), and a dove (the Holy Spirit). In viewing the Holy Spirit window, the viewer might see the Hand of God coming down from the top of the window. Some of the forms of the Hand then morph to become parts of the descending Holy Spirit (separate but equal entities). There is only one dove, but it can be perceived as in motion &ndash actually entering the church. Additional forms can be interpreted as flames or blood, references to the Pentecost and to the sacrifice of Christ. Still other forms can be interpreted as water and wine and heads and shafts of heat, references to the Eucharist.

The glass selected for the window is all German mouth-blown glass. Some is translucent (Opak) and some is transparent. This provides visual depth. Opak glass captures and disperses light while helping to control glare. Because of these qualities, the design can be read from the exterior of the church during the day and displays from the outside at night when the interior is lighted.

The architect developed a unique and exciting worship space for the Holy Spirit family and we are grateful to the committee for allowing us to create the window.

USS Oriskany (CV-34)

“The Great Carrier Reef” – On May 17, 2006 the 911′ US Aircraft Carrier was sunk approximately 26.5 miles southeast of Pensacola pass making it the world’s largest intentionally-created artificial reef. Nicknamed “The Mighty O”, USS Oriskany is truly a world class dive. The massive carrier lays in 212′ of water with the top of the “island” sitting at around 84′. The wreck is a habitat for all kinds of marine life from small tropical fish such as blennies, damselfish and angelfish to large game fish such as snapper, grouper and massive amberjack. Pelagic fish species can sometimes be spotted racing by and even whale sharks and manta rays have been spotted cruising around the tower of the carrier.

Oriskany (CVA-34) was originally commissioned on September 25, 1950 and recommissioned on March 7, 1959 after several updates and modifications. She served 25 years before being decommissioned on September 30, 1975. She earned two battle stars for service in the Korean War and five battle stars for service in the Vietnam War. With such a rich naval history, USS Oriskany was dedicated as a memorial reef to honor of the thousands who served on board during her 25 years of service.

Diving USS Oriskany

Oriskany is a deep and sometimes challenging dive due to the potential for strong currents at the site. It is an awe inspiring dive, but is not worth possibly hurting yourself to see. Please be honest with yourself and the dive staff regarding your comfort and experience level. This dive requires advanced levels of training, extensive experience and detailed preparations to minimize the potential for risk and is not suited for beginners.

Oriskany Depths

These are the current approximate depths of key parts of the ship. Be aware that these depths are subject to change over time and should not be relied upon without verification. A large section of the island collapsed as a result of Tropical Storm Ida in 2009 creating a very nice 50′ tall swim through in the center of the tower as pictured.

  • Top of Oriskany – 84′ (26m)
  • Primary Flight Bridge – 105′ (32m)
  • Navigation Bridge – 124′ (38m)
  • Flag Bridge – 134′ (41m)
  • Flight Deck – 146′ (45m)
  • Hanger Bay – 175′ (53m)
  • Bottom (sand) – 212′ (65m)

Requirements for Dive Charters

For a list of recommended charter boats please check our Dive Charters page. Please note that we do not own or operate any of the charters listed and charter policies and prices are set by the operators. There is always a Divemaster on board these vessels to serve as a guide if wanted or required. These are the recommended requirements for diving USS Oriskany.

To dive without a Divemaster guide

  • Advanced or Deep Diver Specialty Certification
  • Minimum 20 Dives
  • 2 logged dives in the past year below 80′

To dive with a Divemaster guide

  • Openwater certification or above
  • Minimum 20 Logged Dives
  • 2 logged dives within the past year or refresher dive

All divers are should carry a visual and audible signaling device such as a surface marker buoy and whistle. These items are provided on most dive charters at no additional cost. All divers are required to have a complete, well maintained set of equipment. Dive computers are strongly recommended and even required by some operators.

History of Perdido Pass: From man-made channel to federal waterway

Did you know that Perdido Pass was originally man-made? Prior to 1906, there was only one way to enter the Gulf of Mexico from Perdido Bay - and the back bays of present-day Orange Beach - and that was a very narrow channel, located where the Flora-Bama sits today.

In early 1906, Herman Callaway along with members of his family and the Walkers dug a channel by hand connecting Perdido Bay to the Gulf.

The hurricane of September 27, 1906 blew open the channel with its tidal surge and finished the construction of what would become known as Perdido Pass.

In the early days, the pass was extremely dangerous, shifting tides and fast-forming sand bars made navigation difficult, resulting in regular accidents. Many times, fishermen were forced to use Pensacola Pass to the east, which added many extra hours to their trips.

In 1951 Roland Walker Sr. along with other members of the Orange Beach Fishing Association began working toward regular dredging of the pass to contribute to safety. In 1953 the Alabama Department of Conservation agreed to regularly dredge Perdido Pass, however, the pass did not receive federal funding for improvements until the mid-1960s. This change came after members of the OBFA, including Roland Walker Sr., testified to Congress’ Public Work Subcommittee, addressing the need for more work on the pass to make it safer.

The first bridge across Perdido Pass was dedicated on May 12, 1962. This bridge was a small, two-lane concrete structure. The bridge suffered damage after Hurricane Fredric and was ultimately replaced by a larger four-lane bridge, which was finished in 1989 and still stands today.

In 2012 part of the popular seawall park, a fishing spot located on the west side of the bridge, was closed due to erosion. In 2016 the City of Orange Beach spent $275,000 to fix the infrastructure of the park. It again became a gathering place for fisherman and those craving beautiful views.

Learn more about the history of Orange Beach at the Orange Beach Indian & Sea Museum. The museum is at 25850 John M. Snook Drive across from City Hall. It is open Tuesday-Thursday, 9 a.m to 4 p.m.

Perdido Pass is shown in this aerial photo taken in January 2018.

Aerial photo of Perdido Pass in the 1970s after considerable improvements.

Aerial photo of Perdido Pass as it appeared in 1958.

Original invitation to the ground breaking ceremony of Perdido Pass after considerable dredging and the building of jetties in 1968.

Original invitation to the ground breaking ceremony of Perdido Pass after considerable dredging and the building of jetties in 1968.

This aerial shows Orange Beach Seawall Park overlooking Perdido Pass in January 2018.

Entrance to the fishing spot at Seawall Park.

Perdido Pass is shown in this aerial photo taken in January 2018.

Perdido Pass is shown in this aerial photo taken in January 2018.

Aerial photo of Perdido Pass in the 1970s after considerable improvements.

Aerial photo of Perdido Pass as it appeared in 1958.

Original invitation to the ground breaking ceremony of Perdido Pass after considerable dredging and the building of jetties in 1968.

Original invitation to the ground breaking ceremony of Perdido Pass after considerable dredging and the building of jetties in 1968.

This aerial shows Orange Beach Seawall Park overlooking Perdido Pass in January 2018.

Entrance to the fishing spot at Seawall Park.

Perdido Pass is shown in this aerial photo taken in January 2018.

The tale of Santa Barbara’s Canon Perdido Street

Most streets in Santa Barbara are named after our towns’ forefathers, geographic locations (like Laguna, where a lagoon used to be), or Native American terms, like Anapamu (“the rising place”). But one of the oddest street names in town is Canon Perdido, which translates to “Lost Cannon.”

It’s named after an event that nearly led to violence, pitted two families against each other, and was solved in typical Santa Barbaran fashion: a huge, raging party.

The tale of the Lost Cannon is actually the tale of a stolen cannon. It went missing in 1848, two years after the end of the Mexican-American War. Santa Barbara, like many other towns in California, was under American occupation.

It was an uneasy peace that had been kept by Captain Lippitt and his small regiment out of New York with the help of the main family in town, the De la Guerras. For decades, Don Jose de la Guerra, a former Spanish military officer, helped rule Santa Barbara from the Presidio, of which he was once captain. He owned a half-million acres of land here and elsewhere in California, and was also a benevolent patriarch, helping Santa Barbara set up various industries like a bakery and dry goods store.

Pablo de la Guerra. Credit: Santa Barbara Historical Museum

But by 1848, de la Guerra’s son, Pablo, was in charge, and when the Americans asked him to pledge allegiance to the United States, he declined.

Another family said yes, however. The Carrillo family saw the de la Guerra’s decision as foolish and decided to pledge fealty to America, hoping that when California became a state, they would win favor in Santa Barbara.

Pedro Carrillo stoked rumors about the de la Guerras, suggesting they were waiting for a chance to overthrow the American occupation.

This was the political backdrop when, in February of 1848, a ship called The Elizabeth wrecked offshore. Sailors salvaged what they could by dragging it on the beach and leaving it there for a future brig to pick up. One of those items was a 10 or 11-foot cannon. It sat there for months until one April night, it disappeared.

We only know what happened that night from a confession of sorts, an oral history written down 30 years later by Hubert Howe Bancroft, one of Santa Barbara’s earliest historians. He wrote that a man named Jose E. Garcia, along with four other young men, all from prominent Californio families, got it in their heads to steal the cannon. Jose Antonio de la Guerra, Pablo’s brother, helped hatch the plan, which he said could help foment an uprising against the Americans.

“The motive in hiding the cannon was, according to my recollection, the desire to have a piece of artillery for our defense in case of an opportunity for a revolt against the Americans, as we had known that in Los Angeles they had hidden a cannon which later was very useful in the engagements they had with the Americanos at Rancho Dominguez,” said Garcia, according to Bancroft’s transcription.

So the five young men headed down to the beach on horse, with two oxen in tow. They secured the cannon, dragged it up the beach and buried it near the lagoon that is now the area near Chase Palm Park. They then erased their tracks.

Artist Theodore Van Cina’s rendition of five youths stealing the cannon in 1848. Credit: Santa Barbara Historical Museum

The next morning the cannon was discovered missing. Captain Lippitt, who already suspected the de la Guerras and others of planning an uprising, worried.

Capt. Lippitt got the military governor of California, Richard Barnes Mason, involved, and he issued Order. 36, which levied a $500 fine (that’s about $13000 today) –the perceived value of the cannon–on the residents of Santa Barbara. If they didn’t comply, the government could confiscate property or possessions.

That didn’t sit well with the townsfolk, who knew nothing about the cannon’s whereabouts. How did they even know it was in Santa Barbara? Why should they pay for it?

Meanwhile, Capt. Lippitt started investigating all the rumors Carrillo had been spreading, but nobody would speak.

So in June, Pedro de la Guerra met with Capt. Lippitt’s commanding officer, Col. J.D. Stevenson. To calm tensions (and to hide the fact that the de la Guerras know exactly why the cannon was stoel and where it’s hiding), Pedro de la Guerra accepts the fine on behalf of the town. But how to pay for it?

They decided to throw a party to show that the de la Guerras and the Americans can get along just fine. Stevenson brought his army band to town and they marched up to the de la Guerra house, serenading everybody along the way.

On July 3rd, 1848, and continuing for two whole days, the de la Guerras threw a grand ball with music and dancing and carousing. For this, the townsfolk ponied up the money the Americans said they owed, and by the time people are nursing hangovers, the fine had been paid off. The de la Guerras emerged looking benevolent once again.

They only man who refused to pay up is Pedro Carrillo, and some of his property is taken away as punishment.

Casa de la Guerra. Via Wikimedia.

The crisis of the stolen cannon was over…except, what happened to the cannon?

Ten years later, a storm raged through the estuary and uncovered the cannon- and the townsfolk carry it back to the de la Guerra’s home, wondering what to do with it. Said one of the conspirators, Jose E. Garcia:

“On the day of the discovery, I went to look and found some people gathered around the cannon. Among them was Don Pablo de la Guerra. He said to those present, ‘Who can say whether among us is one of those who stole the canon?’ Each looked at the other and to cover up I left… On parting from the others, Don Pablo, pointing at me with a finger, said ‘There he goes.’ Later, I demanded of Don Pablo why he had disclosed me to the people, and that it could only have a bad outcome, but he assured me that I need not be careful, that no one could do anything to me.”

Santa Barbara’s city seal from 1850, which shows the cannon along with a line in Spanish that translates to “worth 500 pesos.”

He was right. Nothing happened to those who originally stole the cannon and toyed with the idea of an uprising. By now, California was a state in the union. The cannon was sold for scrap metal, and the State returned the $500 to Santa Barbara, where, rumor has it, a town official squandered it on gambling.

The event might seem trivial now, but it was a big enough story back then that ten years or so later, when town leaders were deciding on street names for our brand new grid system, Canon Perdido was chosen for one of the main streets, as was Quinientos, Spanish for 500, the amount of the fine.

Military governor Mason got a street named after him, too. And it might just be coincidence, but Canon Perdido runs parallel between two streets named after the families at the center of the affair: Carrillo and De la Guerra.

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Doing it the old school way: carrier qualification in the 1950s and 60s

The U.S. Navy’s official term for it is aircraft carrier qualification. Student naval aviators call it “hitting the boat.” An apt term considering how planes slam down on carrier decks and are snagged to a stop by arresting gear.

From the dawn of aircraft carriers before World War II, hitting the boat was a rite of passage for every Navy and Marine flight student. It made sense because, until recently, many would serve on carriers in one kind of plane or another at some point. Today, with less aircraft diversity aboard carriers, fixed wing carrier qualification is limited to Navy and Marine aviators destined for fighter/attack squadrons and some multi-engine turboprop pilots.

A T-28C landing aboard the USS Lexington in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the spring of 1965, my turn came to hit the boat in the T-28C, a burly trainer with a 1425 horsepower two-stage supercharged R1820-86 radial engine and performance comparable to World War II fighters. Up to that point, flying T-34Bs and T-28Bs, we had mastered aerobatics, instrument flying, two and four plane formation and night flying.

Our introduction to the realities of naval aviation began about a year earlier in preflight training before even seeing a cockpit. Every student completed the Navy’s immersive, and, some would say traumatic, water survival course. It was done at an unimpressive brick building next to old flying boat hangars by Pensacola Bay, and countless aviators owe their lives to what they learned there.

The building housed a deep water swimming pool. There, we donned a parachute harness hooked to a tow line and were dragged across the pool. Students had to demonstrate that they could remove the harness and swim clear as they must if they parachuted into a stormy sea. Also, at one end of the pool there was a high platform and a crude cockpit mockup on wheels attached to rails descending into the pool. Nicknamed the Dilbert Dunker, it simulated a violent ditching and submersion.

Wearing a flight suit and sneakers, we strapped into the Dunker’s cockpit as we would in an aircraft. The device was then released, rolling steeply down rails about 10 feet into the pool pitching inverted about six feet underwater. The now-upside down student was expected to orient himself, pull the seat belt/shoulder harness quick release lever, swim down clear of the cockpit, then up to the surface. A safety diver in the pool extracted students who had difficulty. Those gasping, hapless individuals were put back in line, strapped in and did it again until they got it right. I have no statistics on students who quit under the stress of immersion or drowned although there were some.

In many ways T28C carrier landings and takeoffs were similar to how prop pilots did it going back to World War II and earlier. Like them, we got a cut signal, chopped the throttle and banged down on the deck. Takeoffs were also old school. They were high power gallops up the flight deck, rotating at the forward elevator and ambling into the air over the bow.

Like all prop student naval aviators preceding us, we did field carrier landing practice (FCLP) at Barin Field in the flatlands of Alabama farm country midway between Pensacola and Mobile. Before the war, it was a small municipal airport. The U.S. Navy took it over in 1942 and, in the next two years, 5,725 student naval aviators flying SNJs were pushed through a flight syllabus of aerobatics, night flying, gunnery, basic tactics, bombing, torpedo bombing, and carrier qualifications. And there were accidents, lots of them. In World War II, it had the highest training fatality rate of any intermediate training base, 40 deaths in 24 months. Alabama’s fields and farms as well as the Gulf of Mexico were sprinkled with crunched SNJs from mid-air collisions, inadvertent spins, mechanical failures, shipboard crashes, ditchings and occasionally the unauthorized maneuvers of students and instructors. Drew Pearson, a prominent columnist of the time, nicknamed the field, Bloody Barin. Today, it’s still a navy flight training airfield.

In World War II and through the early 1950s, a landing signal officer (LSO) on a flight deck port side platform directed pilots with paddle signals. It was an awkward, hard-to- see arrangement. Even with keen eyesight, pilots could only reliably discern paddle signals several hundred feet from the flight deck, necessitating a precise, low, close-in approach near power-on stall speed.

A wartime training manual for fighter pilots (at right) depicts the downwind leg 1000 to 1200 yards abeam the ship at 150 to 200 feet with landing gear down, flaps and tail hook down and landing checklist complete. Baseleg turn and descent to about 90 feet began abeam the carrier’s fantail, slowing to approach speed 7 to 10 knots above power-on stall speed at the 90 degree position. At that point the pilot is instructed to “follow indication of the landing signal officer.”

When I hit the boat on May 17, 1965, LSOs no longer directed carrier approaches with bright-colored signal paddles. Instead, final approach guidance was provided by a gyro-stabilized mirror optical guidance system known as the meatball (or ball) supplemented by LSO radioed instructions. To this day, as a nod to history, their radio call sign is “Paddles.”

The T-28 carrier pattern was more forgiving than those early days, with a 325-foot downwind to final approach turn altitude, gear down, full flaps, speed brake extended, cowl flaps open, tail hook down, canopy open and 82 knots indicated airspeed. We were drilled to concentrate on three things: meatball- line-up-airspeed, meatball-line up-airspeed, all the way down until taking the cut and crossing the deck.

Turning onto final approach, the meatball appears as a blob of light between a row of green lights representing the proper approach angle. Deviating above glideslope, the meatball appears above the green row and sinks below the green row if the plane goes low. Red flashing lights in place of the meatball signifies a mandatory missed approach or in Navy terms, a “wave off.” Close in to landing, prop pilots look for a flashing vertical row of green lights signifying a “cut” whereupon the throttle is snapped to idle, and holding the same approach attitude, the plane thumps down on deck. If the hook skips over the arresting gear – a condition known as a bolter – the LSO transmits “bolter-bolter, power and go” whereupon the pilot shoves the throttle to takeoff power while simultaneously retracting the speed brake and flies off the angled deck for another try.

T-28 FCLPs and carrier qualification flights were solo. I flew 88 field carrier landings at Barin Field over a two-week period. Then it was time to hit the boat.

LSOs grade every student approach as well as the approach of every fleet pilot landing on a carrier. It’s about a lot more than bragging rights and has implications even beyond an aviator’s personal safety. Out in the fleet, wave offs and bolters delay refueling, rearming and returning to the mission. Extra landing approaches are an added burden to aerial tankers orbiting the fleet and could constrain carriers to an undesirable course while accommodating delayed recoveries. In other words, getting on board without mishap goes to the heart of the carrier’s military mission.

May 17, 1965 was bright and clear. We took off from Saufley Field several miles north of the main Pensacola base, joined up in three- and four-plane sections, and headed south over the Gulf of Mexico to rendezvous with the carrier, USS Lexington CVT 16.

The Lexington seems big when you’re on it, but not when you’re trying to land on its deck.

Looking down from several thousand feet, the carrier appeared really small. The USS Lexington, 910 feet bow to stern, and 147 at the beam, was a World War II Essex Class attack carrier, the largest in the world at the time. To envision how small it seemed, picture the touchdown zone markings of an all-weather runway. The Lexington would fit with space to spare between the threshold stripes and the 1000-foot fixed distance marker. The Lexington was refitted with an angled deck in the 1950s and by the mid-1960s when larger, more capable carriers joined the fleet, it became a training carrier home ported in Pensacola.

Our flight passed over the ship at 325 feet, 170 knots in step-down right echelon formation, breaking left in a 45-degree bank at 10-second intervals and configuring for landing as speed dissipated. Downwind 1000 to 1200 yards abeam the ship, flight procedures specified cowl flaps open, mixture rich, prop full – increase RPM, gear down, full flaps, speed brake extended, airspeed 82 knots.

The interval on the T-28 ahead looked about right but my plane’s pitch attitude was way high compared to the FCLP approaches. It took a few moments to realize that I had somehow forgotten to lower the flaps after setting the propeller to full increase RPM. Now, with flaps fully extended and pitch where it was supposed to be, I locked my shoulder harness and completed the landing checklist. At the 180, approximately abeam the ship’s fantail, I began a shallow turn toward the Lex, spotting the meatball about the 70-degree position, dead even with the green approach light bar. Reducing power, keeping the meatball-line up-airspeed scan going, I started down. The first pass was a no-landing recognition approach to a go-around. On the following approaches, the tail hook was lowered, canopy opened, and it was for real.

My logbook recorded five arrested landings, also known as traps, that I thought weren’t half bad although the LSO called “power” with some urgency several times as I got in close. After each landing and about a 100-feet rollout, the deck crew would rush up, freeing the arresting cable while I held the brakes. Then the launch officer signaled “tail hook-up.” I dutifully complied, then, with circular hand motions, he signaled an engine run up. With the engine roaring, I checked that the sump plug warning light wasn’t on, and at the launch officer’s downward sweeping arm signal, applied full power and released the brakes.

The plane galloped forward past the island superstructure. Approaching the flight deck’s forward elevator, I rotated to the takeoff attitude and, a second or two later, the flight deck disappeared and there was water beneath the wings. During flight deck takeoffs, we were instructed not to look at airspeed and were assured that as long as the engine continued to develop takeoff power we would fly. What they didn’t say, but what was implied was, if the engine failed, there was no room to stop and we would end up in the water in front of the fast approaching bow!

I thought I was doing okay, but by the fifth trap, the LSO had had it with my scary, decelerating approaches and ordered me to join the orbiting formation that would soon be headed for the beach. Apparently my airspeed scans were a little slow although I was lined up and in the groove to his satisfaction. Two extra FCLP periods were ordered and a few days later I was back at the boat, determined not to be slow in the groove.

May 24, 1965, I logged eight additional traps aboard the Lex. Only a few were what LSOs termed “OK” passes which by their definition are well lined up, on glide slope and on-speed all the way down to the wire. Later, at Saufley Field we students stood around the LSO getting our completion debriefing “Reiner,” he said, listing several approaches, “you were fast in close.” But it could have been worse, a lot worse!

I’m grateful to that LSO for keeping me out of trouble on those carrier approaches flown so close to the T-28’s limits of controllability.

The USS Monterey during SNJ aircraft recovery and launch operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

Korean War-era Marine Corps fighter pilot, Don Pritchett, who later was a Pan Am captain and vice president of flight operations, related this story about his SNJ carrier qualification experience. Back then, a successful trap required keen eyesight, near flawless flying and an LSO skilled in the choreography of paddle waving and exaggerated leg moves.

Twenty-year old naval aviation cadet Pritchett reported to NAS Pensacola for flight training in January 1951. At the time the U.S. was feverishly training pilots to throw back the North Korean invasion of South Korea. He was an excellent student and by November had completed all basic flight training with no unsatisfactory flight grades. In recognition of his demonstrated aptitude, he was selected to lead a flight of four SNJs to carrier qualify aboard the World War II era light aircraft carrier USS Monterey, steaming off the coast in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Monterey (CVL 26) was a small carrier, 622.5 feet long, 71.5 feet at its beam waterline with a flight deck width of about 1.5 SNJ wingspans. It was originally intended to be a cruiser when the hull was laid down early in World War II but the need for air power caused it to be converted to a carrier before commissioning.

Carrier optical landing systems didn’t exist in 1951. Early mirror landing systems were first installed on U.S. carriers about four years later. When cadet Pritchett led his flight of four SNJs into the break about 200 feet over the Monterey, all they had for guidance turning into the groove about 60 feet over the water and less than 300 feet astern were their young eyes, LSO paddle signals and what they learned during Barin FCLP periods. Final approach speed was about 67 mph (58 knots).

Pritchett said, “Turning on final I got a ‘Low and Slow’ paddle signal and attempted to correct with no improvement, then crisscrossing paddles above the LSO’s head signaling a ‘wave off!’ I applied full power, shoving the throttle forward as far as it would go but the plane didn’t respond and almost immediately struck the ramp and broke apart.” The engine went up the flight deck and over the side while the rest of the plane dropped backward into the Monterey’s churning wake, sinking within 30 seconds according to the accident report.

“All I remember is a loud bang and being underwater in lots of turbulent bubbles from the ship’s four screws. I can’t remember releasing my shoulder harness and seat belt, exiting the cockpit, shedding my chute and inflating my mae west.” He credits preflight Dilbert Dunker training for his instinctive, underwater escape, saying, “I did exactly as I was trained.”

He went on: “When I popped to the surface, there were very high waves in the ship’s wake, but as the Monterey pulled away the sea got less rough. A destroyer escort (DE) plane guard ship steamed close by to retrieve me, but it was moving too fast to stop and had to circle back around. The DE captain later said when he saw the crash he put the ship in reverse but it couldn’t slow down in time.” On the second pass, coming alongside Pritchett and stopping, sailors tossed a wide rope ladder over the side and scrambled down to assist him out of the water. Even with the sailors’ help he reported it was a difficult 15 foot or so climb up to the deck.

Not the most intuitive way to tell pilots about their approach.

A ship’s officer looked him over, determined he needed a medical checkup and, as he recalls: “Then came the scariest part of the whole experience. As the DE drew close abeam the Monterey, I was strapped immobile in a wire stretcher, hooked to cables, and hoisted high over the water onto the Monterey’s flight deck.”

Back at Pensacola he was taken to the base hospital, observed for two days and released. An accident board convened. It was wartime and training mishaps were an accepted reality. Human factors like hours of sleep the night before, what he ate for breakfast or whether he recently broke up with his girlfriend, were never considered. Officers just wanted flight facts plus a peek at Pritchett’s training record which, until the crash, was well above average. Based on LSO observations and Pritchett’s statement that the SNJ failed to climb with full throttle, and lacking any wreckage, the board accepted the LSO’s and Pritchett’s explanations. The board wrote a single paragraph report and sent cadet Pritchett on his way.


He was assigned two extra FCLP training periods at Barin Field and was back at the USS Monterey on December 12, 1951, completing six carrier landings with no wave offs. He would go on to advanced training in the Grumman Hellcat and later fly Grumman F9F Panthers in Marine fighter squadrons.

What hasn’t changed since Pritchett and I hit the boat more than a half century ago is that carrier landings, even in today’s most advanced fly-by-wire aircraft, are still naval aviators’ most demanding maneuvers.

The First Bombardment of Pensacola Bay


“It was grand and sublime”

The Civil War tested American convictions in surprising and unexpected ways. Loomis Lyman Langdon and John Bordenave Villepigue were no exception. Both men were born in the year 1830. Langdon grew up in New York while Villepigue grew up in South Carolina. They both studied at West Point, where they developed a greater awareness of duty, honor, and loyalty to fellow soldiers and their country. Together they graduated in the Class of 1854 and then pursued different paths in the US Army. Seven years later, their paths crossed on Pensacola Bay.

On the morning of November 22, 1861, a Union cannon inside Fort Pickens broke the sound of crashing waves and cawing gulls. More cannon on Santa Rosa Island soon joined in the effort to destroy the Confederates across the bay. Confederate cannon inside forts McRee and Barrancas, and more than a dozen earthen sand batteries, soon returned fire. The fighting continued until after sunset when a thunderstorm swept through the area.

The bombardment erupted with equal ferocity at daybreak. Around noon, with shot and shell crashing all around, “the flag on Fort Barrancas was shot away . . .,” a Union officer reported. The flag flying over Fort McRee disappeared too. The cannon fell silent in the early hours of November 24.

Never before had Third System fortifications fired against each other. For 48 hours, about 110 Union and Confederate seacoast artillery pieces—the most massive cannon used by the armies at the time—shook the earth. According to one Confederate soldier, the bombardment could be heard up to 125 miles away. In its wake, the fight left 44 casualties of war. Homes in nearby Woolsey and Warrington and buildings in the navy yard, including the abandoned hospital, burned. Both Union commander Colonel Harvey Brown and Confederate commander Major General Braxton Bragg declared victory.

Captain Loomis Langdon led a small unit of Union soldiers in the bombardment. Langdon’s men manned four 10-inch seacoast mortars located in the dry ditch by Fort Pickens’ south wall. Each mortar was capable of firing a 98-pound shell about two and a half miles away. Though his position afforded protection, Confederate fire showered Langdon and his men. “Fragments of bursting shells frequently came among them,” Langdon wrote, “and a shell fell in their midst, but burst without injuring any one.” In Langdon’s line of fire were Confederate soldiers in a sand battery on Perdido Key. This battery supported Fort McRee, led by Langdon’s former classmate John Villepigue.

Colonel Villepigue directed Confederate soldiers from Georgia and Mississippi. Union cannon from Santa Rosa Island, USS Niagara, and USS Richmond attacked the fort from two directions. The crossfire disabled about half of Fort McRee’s cannon and set the fort on fire. Villepigue received a wound to his arm. His actions, however, inspired hope. “In the midst of this terrible ordeal,” a Confederate officer wrote, Villepigue's “coolness and self-possession . . . inspired all with confidence, and enabled him to hold a position which seemed to others utterly untenable.” Villepigue’s leadership sustained Fort McRee throughout November 23.

Langdon and Villepigue survived the bombardment and distinguished themselves on later battlefields. Langdon ultimately survived the war, whereas Villepigue died of fever in 1862. Both men likely knew they were fighting one another on Pensacola Bay. Their sense of duty, honor, and loyalty was ultimately tested during the war, a war that tested the convictions of all Americans.

You've only scratched the surface of Perdido family history.

Between 1943 and 2004, in the United States, Perdido life expectancy was at its lowest point in 2004, and highest in 1996. The average life expectancy for Perdido in 1943 was 26, and 2 in 2004.

An unusually short lifespan might indicate that your Perdido ancestors lived in harsh conditions. A short lifespan might also indicate health problems that were once prevalent in your family. The SSDI is a searchable database of more than 70 million names. You can find birthdates, death dates, addresses and more.

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