|EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION|
|ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW|
|Captain Robert J. Celustka USN (Ret)|
|USNA Class of 1941|
|Interview conducted at San Diego, California|
|August 27, 1996|
Let's go back and look at your background in Annapolis and your childhood a little bit before we get into the Academy days.
Well, actually I was born and raised in Annapolis, Maryland. I was born in June of 1917. My dad came from Czechoslovakia--Moravia to be exact. He was born in 1882. At the age of nineteen, he migrated to Baltimore, Maryland, in 1900. By the way, he knew and met “Mad Monk,” Rasputin, by virtue of the fact that Rasputin was rampant from 1850 to 1907 and was right in that area in the Russian court at that time.
My mother was born in Prague. She came over to Baltimore in the 1900s when she was only fifteen years old. My parents met at a common Czech wedding. Mother was in the bride's party, she was one of the gals. Dad was in the groom's party. They married, I think, in 1907. That is when he moved to Annapolis. He moved to Annapolis and bought this house; we had ten acres of land.
Could you imagine what ten acres of land around Annapolis would be worth now?
It's a sad story, the ending of that, unfortunately. Dad was a metalsmith, a blacksmith. He did all kinds of things like that. He actually worked for the Army at one of the Army camps there. He did do some of the work on the gun casements. Then, he migrated to the Naval Academy. He went to work there in 1918.
So he was actually working for the Academy then?
He went to the Naval Academy in 1918, in the forge and the metalsmith shops and all that. It was sort of a “builders and grounds,” you know, but he was also into that particular area. He eventually became a shop instructor where we had drills. When I went there in 1936, I went to one of his drills; we used to have those during the course of the Academy times. Well, anyhow, when he started, he worked for $.10 an hour; they got $2.40 a week. He worked there for forty-three years. I tell you that is a record; and he did a fine job.
In 1954 . . . I got out of there in 1941 and I was in the Pacific during this period of time . . . but the State came along and they were going to build a highway from Washington, D.C., into Annapolis. They condemned his property. They took all of our property and put this band of concrete through the ten acres of land. They took all of the buildings. We had cinderblock barns and a chicken house, and the barn was better built than this damn house I'm living in right now, truly.
They probably didn't pay him a great deal for it either.
Thirty-five thousand. That was for all the buildings and the land. That land is sitting dormant right know. It's probably worth two million dollars, but it's empty except for that concrete strip. But anyhow, he moved up to North Severn, across the Severn River Bridge, up on the hill. He was there from 1954 until he died. The little, old rascal
died at the tender age of 104½. He was in his own home and my two sisters took care of him until he went to a home at the age of 103.
He was a very, very sharp guy. He spoke about three or four languages and he read everything in the world. He used to take five newspapers and many magazines. My two sisters were schoolteachers originally and they vowed that he read everything. He knew Bernard . . . who's that writer? . . . I can't think of his name now, but Dad knew him and he used to cut out his articles from the paper, and whenever I would come home from school he would have all of these articles saved. He would say, “This is a good article, Bob. Read it.” We went through that drill for years and years. Well, anyhow, so much for Dad.
My mom was also truly wonderful. She did everything. She even sawed wood on a band saw. We had geese, chickens, and cows. Oh man I tell you, we had it all. We lived just about a mile from a creek, where I used to go fishing, crabbing, muskrat trapping, and everything. That saved my life when I was in the Academy, because I could go home.
I went into the Academy in June, and I didn't even get out of that place to go home until September. I only lived two point two miles away from the damn place. We could not ride in cars in those days. It was terrible. Well, anyhow, I joined the Naval Reserve as an apprentice seaman volunteer in 1934 to get an appointment to try for the Academy. I also attended drills in Baltimore. I used to go up there once a week. I used to make cruises down the Chesapeake Bay on a round bottom Eagle boat. All I ever did on there was mess cook and stand bridge watches. I was a volunteer; I didn't get paid for
drills. I was just there to compete for the exams, you know. In those days they only took twenty-five guys out of the whole damn Reserve outfits, throughout the country.
So it was pretty competitive?
You better believe it, especially in Maryland. In Idaho or somewhere . . . if they had a Reserve . . . they probably didn't know what the Naval Academy was in 1934-35. There wasn't any war and there wasn't any threat of militarism or anything. So, I took my exams in 1935. I passed the exams. I had taken my physical at the Academy, which was very important in those days, because up until about twenty years ago they used to turn guys down for minor things. They would pay their travel to go to the final exam before they took you in as a “middy,” and they would turn them down for malocclusion and all kinds of things. They brought them from Pearl Harbor and then they would turn them around and send them back. Nowadays, if they examine you in the military outfit to go back there as a “middy,” you are accepted; they are not going to turn you down on your doorstep. But they did in those days.
A lot of the members who went in 1937 had that problem with the eye dilation?
Oh, sure absolutely.
They turned a lot of them away.
Teeth malocclusion, overbite was a bad deal. What the hell? It was irrelevant as far as a career, but it was one of the criteria. If you had it, you were out. I just found my first physical from the Naval Academy. It said that I weighed 125 pounds, and I don't know what else; I just put it away.
Well anyhow, the gist of the thing was I didn't have an appointment. I stood about forty-four, you know, with the Reserves. That list did not go up, because they had
all these screened. They were screened locally so there wasn't a prayer of getting up to the first twenty-five by virtue of somebody defaulting. They were there to go to the Academy; they were all volunteers, too. So, I sat there at home for a year.
In 1935, I went to Washington to look up my representatives. One of them was Tidings, (his son is still a state senator, I guess) and Representative Gambles was my representative in the area. Well, I went over there and harassed the heck out of them. I was passed physically; all I needed was an appointment. No way! I sat for a year. I didn't have an appointment.
I was in Washington in 1936, all set to take the exams again through the Reserves, which I didn't want to do because it was a mess. My representative made a deal with Senator Borah of Idaho that he would vote for his dam. Borah was the Senate Whip in those days. He was a big wheel. I didn't know him from beans, but he gave his appointment to me, because nobody in Idaho in 1935 or 1936 wanted an appointment. They didn't know a rowboat from a Naval Academy. So lo and behold I received the appointment from Borah and entered in 1936.
A little sideline to this story: My brother, who was in the Army, was drafted in the war. He went overseas and he got points and everything. He got out, and he migrated and he ended up in Boise, Idaho. He has two boys, and his sons went to Senator Borah High School. Isn't that a kick?
Isn't that a kick?
It sure is.
I never met Senator Borah . . . you know, but, I got the appointment through that.
When I went into the Academy, it was a rat race there. I went right in there from prep school. The high school, Annapolis High, was basically all right but it wasn't academically off the “top of the hill,” by any means.
So when you were in Washington that year, you were in prep school?
I lost that year. During that year . . . the postmaster of the town was a brilliant man. He was a politician first class. I took the postal exam--the post office exam--to be an inside clerk. I took it in 1935. I won the damn exam eventually; but it was civil service, so they couldn't take my name off the list. So, I went into the Academy. My first year there . . . every time an appointment came up for this civil service post office job, they'd send me the chit because they couldn't take my name off.
After about a year and a half in the cab of the post office, the postmaster called me and said, “Why aren't you signing this thing off? You've already had two years.” He said, “Why don't you get your name off the list and give somebody else a chance?” I could have been postmaster general and been imprisoned there for the last twenty years, you see, if I had taken that post office job.
Anyhow, in the Academy days, the way of teaching was rugged. They didn't teach. If we had the wrong instructor, basically a military man, he was not an educator. We used to draw slips that would give us five minutes to leap to the board--put our names on the board, work like hell for five minutes, and then stop. Then, they would go around to the boards to see if we had the wrong answer. If we had the wrong answer, he wouldn't do a damn thing, he would just go past us. At the end of the five minutes they'd
say, “Take your seat gentlemen.” Then we marched out. Then the instructor would stand and look. He had numbers by your name, you see, in the math. If you had number one, he would put a check through it; number two, a check; number three, a half or something. Then at the end, everything would be erased but your name and this little one, two, three, four, five routine. Well, I tell you that was a hell of a way to run the circus, you know.
There was actually no teaching involved.
Hell no. We'd just leap there and. . . .
We'd just leap to the boards. And ordnance and gunnery . . . they expedited the courses because of the war. They foreshortened the time for the forty-oners, you see. Boy, I tell you . . . we used to go through chapters of ordnance stuff, you know. The thing was that they had slips on the counter, and when we walked in he'd say, “Do you have any questions?” God, you had gone through this ordnance stuff the night before, and there was so much information you couldn't possibly learn it. They would have all those slips and he would say then, “Draw slips, gentlemen.” We would go up and pick a slip. You could hear a moan go up, because in that pile . . . We had about ten or fifteen guys in each section, as I recall, twelve to fifteen in the room, and we would get those slips and hear a moan go up, because one or two of those slips would be for the previous two weeks' work. Well, we had a hell of a time trying to keep up even with daily work, and if we got a review slip and had been on duty that time, we hadn't even bothered to worry about that one too much. God, we were crucified. But it didn't make a damn difference to them. They would just put us on unsat. They would publish grades and stuff once a week. Boy, I'll tell you, it was something. It was really grim.
Now the civilian instructors were not as bad were they?
No, but there were just a handful. If you got a civilian instructor, you could just ask him a question, and he would use up all the time in the class explaining it. Then he wouldn't even have a chance to give you a quiz. He would assign an arbitrary grade, and he would give you a fair shake. Boy, I'll tell you, they were few and far between. Every time they would change a semester and we changed professors, you could see the guys just praying that they would get so and so and not the lieutenant or lieutenant commander who was a real bitch. I'm telling you, it was grim. It was a massacre. They tossed a lot of guys out just by virtue of the fact that they got the wrong person at the wrong time. It was just murder. We use to have to march to classes, you know. Boy, if you even turned your head or raised your hand, you were put on report.
Well, what about your plebe year, as far as harassment from upper classman?
Oh, I got plenty of it. I had a guy that . . . we used to have to sit at the table at the first class end. You know they had first classmen, then they had the plebes, and then they had the youngsters, that's the second-year guys. Then on the other end of the table were the second classmen. The first classmen took great delight in harassing the hell out of us. We had to eat, and they would ask us some question. If we didn't know the answer they would make us go under the damn table and turn around and eat off the chair. Or they would make you eat a square meal. You had to look here, dig down, go up, and come in.
While sitting under the table?
Well, also at the table, or on the top. But, they would actually banish you. They would just put you down, and you had to go right down and get under the table and face the chair.
What about the imaginary chair? Did you ever sit on that?
Oh yes. Half bends! We would sit like that. Oh, boy. In fact, they would have the “Hundredth Night,” you know the hundred days before graduation. I am dealing with the Class of 1937 now, because I went in 1936.
There was one old, one real mean bastard in there. Pete Madley was his name; I remember it to this day. He used to really give us a bad time, and he lived down at the end of the corridor where we were. We had to march in the corridor, go down the center, cut the square corners, and go up the middle. He was down at the end, and he would get out there and yell, “Hey, Plebe, Ho!” and this type thing. We'd have to go running.
We were assigned to a first classman. We had to go to his room every morning before reveille to help him get dressed and stuff. Actually, when we'd go to the room, they would harass us . . . they would make us do push-ups for anything. They would ask us a question and give us hell [if we didn't know the answer.] They would ask it and then they would say, “Okay, do forty-one . . . do forty push-ups.” And while you were doing it, he would have his sword out, banging you on the ass. There is my sword right up there.
I understand that if you got assigned to the right first classman, he would protect you from the worst of the harassment.
Well, yes. Basically, that is true. But mine didn't. Madley was the one who was living right next to my snoot; my other one was away from there. They just ignored it. To tell you the climax to this whole thing with Pete Madley . . . I lived with three roommates at the time--four guys in a room--and Pete would come slamming around, with his importance. He would slam the door open! And we had to jump up and sound
off our name, you see. Old Pete Madley comes up there roaring around one of these times, and he said to my roommates and then to me, “How many demerits you got?”
My roommate said, “I got fifteen, twenty.
"How many you got?"
The other one said, “I got eight, ten, twenty,” whatever he said.
He went around and he got to me. And I didn't have any!
He said, “Well, you got five now. Nobody goes through plebe year here without demerits.” So he had his white gloves on, and he goes around and inspects for dust. We had five places with dust with the white glove. He was dusting along the edge of an inside locker where we would hang our bags and under the bedstead. “You've got five demerits now,” he said. That's the only five demerits I got in the whole damn place.
You know another thing that happened? I was there when the first Negro showed up at the Academy. He showed up in 1936.
Yes, his name was Anderson, as I recall. He was right in my same battalion . . . and, you know, they really gave him a bad time. He was about six one or two. I think Aspen or somebody up in the Ohio area appointed him. He was a great athlete, a nice looking guy, had a bright, beautiful build. What they did, they put him down at the table, and they didn't have anybody sitting next to him. He was just isolated on a little peninsula at the table. Of course, to all the jigs--all the Mokes--the waiters (half of them were black), and he looked like a king. Once he rose out of that spot, he was a king. He was the nicest guy in the world. They tried to get him out of there academically, but they
couldn't do it. He was too damn smart for that. He was good, but he served more extra duty than the rifles, because he was out there all the time. They would put him on report if he even blinked an eye, you know. For every five demerits you had to serve an hour extra duty, marching up and down. Well, he served, like I said, more than the rifles.
Did they succeed in getting him out?
Well, they even tied him to the buoy in the river overnight. You bet.
Officially, or was that just harassment?
No, that was part of the game. I don't know who bartered[?] that thing, but it happened. I was there, and I know it happened. It was one of those buoys right in the Severn River. Yes, he spent the night on one of those, lashed to it.
But eventually, it was getting toward the end of the plebe year and they were still trying to figure out how to get rid of him. They finally got rid of him on his English, among other things--demerits and English, academically. You know you can write the most beautiful thing in the world, but they could say you had the wrong interpretation, or the wrong this and that. Grammatically, it could be correct, but you know they could assess it any way they wanted to. They finally booted him. But I tell you, he was a nice guy, and it was a real farce. That was the last I saw of a Negro there, until God knows when. But he was the first one, and I was there.
As I said, I played soccer and lacrosse. And, unfortunately, playing soccer became pretty grim, and I really got banged up. They put me in the hospital, and I had this operation--bilateral hernia. Boy, that was a mistake, because that did me in for everything. I lost too much time academically. I couldn't hack up to those programs, the way they were running them. It was just awful academically, physically, and everything
else. Then they put me on sick leave for about five or six weeks in the summer. There was no alternative. I stood about 190 in my first year out of the 840 that entered. When I dropped out, there was no way in the world I could ever make that up. Some picks . . . most of those guys . . . a lot of the people had two years of college. That was one of the ways they got in . . . through the college program. For those with two years of college, a lot of the plebe year was review for them, especially the math courses. They went through five math courses--solid mensuration, all this crap--I hadn't even seen or heard of. It was just brutal.
When I came back, I went to the Class of 1941. My roommate also got turned back. He was turned back because of English and a few other things. Ramon Perez. He was Puerto Rican, I told you. He was a great guy. What the hell was I thinking? Well, Ramon and I had a really good time together there.
I did play a little limited soccer and lacrosse on the battalion level, but not on the varsity, unfortunately. I played in the band too; the NA Ten they called it. Actually, you were supposed to have ten members; I have pictures up on the wall, they had twenty-one people in it. We had a good band. We had about three or four trumpets, two pianos, a bass, and a couple of trombones. We played all the Miller stuff, you know, big band orchestrations. We also used to play for some of the dances. That was a real good outlet for me and I carried it all the way through my naval career.
You know we have a Ring Dance . . . when we get our rings. Well, I went to New Haven, Connecticut, in my second class year with my roommate at that time. We went through New Rochelle, and Glen Miller's band was playing up there at the time. We went to see him, because I was interested in music. I asked Miller why he never played at the
Naval Academy, and he said, "Nobody ever asked us." So, I went back and talked to the Hop Committee. They were the guys that made commitments for the dances and stuff. They wrote him, and he consented. He played for our Ring Dance in 1938. He came with his band and his singers, and that's where I met the horn man, John Best. He was playing trumpet. When I got out and went to the Pacific on the battleship NORTH CAROLINA, John Best was on board as a seaman.
Was he really?
He was in the Navy band with Artie Shaw. He had come out of Pearl. We took him from Pearl down to New Caledonia. When I got out of the service and came back to Coronado in the 60s, I went over and joined the Musicians Union. I got John Best and played in a quartet with him. We played on Carvel Hall. We also played at North Island, played Dixieland. It was good music, we had fun. I played piano with him for many years. I was a member of the union for about thirteen to fifteen years.
But anyhow . . . see you can't play with those musicians unless you are a member of the Union.
When I graduated, I went to the Washington Naval Gun Factory in ordnance, to range-finders and optics in ordnance, for fire control school. I happened to live in the house that used to belong to J. Edgar Hoover. We rented it while I was at the Gun Factory. He had this dial phone . . . not a phone, but a great big, old brass thing on the doorknob. You had to dial it back and forth, before you could get into the rental.
Was it a combination lock?
Yes, it was a great, big damn thing. The doorknob worked like a safe. We never could remember what the combination was. My shipmate and I rented a room there. We would have to bang on the door to get the guy on the inside to come and open the damn thing half of the time. It was in downtown Washington, D.C. It was an experience.
When the ship went into commission, I was in ordnance and gunnery, and I hadn't even been aboard the ship. Everybody had been there long before I had, because I went to that Washington Gun Factory before I went to the ship. I went there in February, and I didn't join the ship until it went into commission in April. Here this ship had these lines and hoses and all this crock all over the place, and they said I was going to escort all the people around, like the Congressmen that were coming aboard. Well, I managed to, but there wasn't anything as far as tags or any nameplates. Hardly anything. . . . But anyhow, I managed to survive that. The skipper at that time was Oscar Badger. He was a great guy.
Among other things, when the ship went into commission, we were ploughing around, . . . and you know it was named “The Showboat” . . . and we had all kinds of people coming aboard. One of the people that came on board was a man named Walter Winchell, and I became his personal escort. He was very interesting. He didn't know port from starboard. He was a lieutenant commander at 90 Church Street at the time, which was the PR office in the Navy up there in New York. But I escorted him around the ship and had a lot of long talks with him. Also we had, I don't know whether you remember Phil Spitalny and his All Girl Orchestra?
I've heard the name but . . .
Evelyn and her magic violin. They came aboard. I got to escort Evelyn, because I played the piano and supposedly knew music. I got to take her around. Several of the guys aboard married girls out of the troop. Phil Spitalny was really as nervous as a whore in church, I guess. He wouldn't let the girls go wander around the ship. He say, "Come here, blah, blah, blah!" He was a real tyrant.
How many girls made up the troop?
The band? He must have had about fifteen.
Yes. Evelyn was the concertmistress. Phil was a wild looking Russian. They performed a terrific show on the fantail. Everybody was gathered around. We took them to dinner in the wardroom. Evelyn was really something. He would start a sentence and she'd finish it. You know, she was just that type. She just had a mind like a trap. She was brilliant. I talked to her at great length. She used to send me music when I was out in the Pacific, which was very nice. She sent me musical scores and stuff. Well anyhow, after we got out of that New York harbor and all that folderol, the next thing I know we were in the Pacific.
In the Pacific, right.
I went there in 1942 and I got out of there in 1944. I think you've got enough programs on the NORTH CAROLINA.
I should have pulled your oral history that we did about the NORTH CAROLINA before I came out just to make sure that you covered everything.
Well, I've covered a lot.
I think you did pretty good coverage on the NORTH CAROLINA that day.
Well, I stood an awful lot of watches out there. Stood them until I was crazy. We'd go to sea for sixty days at a crack, you know. As I said, we took Shaw and his bunch down to New Caledonia, and I went ashore there. I had a few dates with an Army nurse down there. Nobody even wanted to go ashore there. You had to take a two-and-a-half-hour boat ride. God, we'd anchor way out in the ocean. Man, I tell you two and a half hours just to get ashore, and there wasn't a hell of a lot to do when you were on shore.
It just so happened one of my roommates at the Academy who had washed out--flunked out--was there in Noumea. He was in communication with COMSOPAC, down there where old Halsey was. In fact, there was a MOB 27 with Army nurses living in tents on the hill. We'd go over there, and I'd take some booze or something, go over there, and sit down there in the tent area and have a couple drinks and then go back aboard. We would get on that damn motorboat, and it would take two and a half hours getting back to the ship.
Was that because of shallow water that they had to anchor that far out, or were there other reasons?
Well, there were two reasons. One was so you could get out of there and not be trapped in the harbor. Task Force 58 was all way the hell out. . . . Of course, it wasn't that much of a harbor either, just open water. They weren't about to get into confined areas or a bunch of ships. It was a mess. The exec and myself were the only two that used to go ashore. A lot of them didn't go ashore.
Well, you say there was no town or such, was there?
Well, they had a town but it was not anything to brag about. It was French, you know. The main thing was the Army hospital and the headquarters of the COMSOPAC, Halsey's bunch. I saw Halsey. He was dating a Red Cross gal down there in that area. He was a little short guy with a bull horn. The Red Cross captain stood about twelve inches higher than he did. But anyhow, Nancy Hager is the one I went with. In fact, her roommate in the tent was an Army nurse also. I cannot remember her name, but it is not important at this point. Anyway, my roommate and I just crisscrossed; we would go up there and sit--four or six of us. When I came back here to duty in Coronado, here was my Army friend. She's right here. She retired here.
Sure. I last saw her in 1944. In fact, when we got torpedoed, we went back to Pearl. I had gone through the Army nurse headquarters and I asked them, "What can I bring you?" They said, "Lipstick and panties." I had a whole bunch of those on the ship. I thought that if anybody ever inspected my strong box and saw those things, they would lock me up. They were just crazy for silk stockings, lipstick, and panties. Lyda Helder was her name. She is married to a former Air Force guy, and their son is a dentist who practices right down the street here. He has been a very good one. Skalen is his name.
That was Lyda Helder. Skalen's son was a really great water polo guy. He just got selected to go to Stanford. They all live right here in Coronado.
When did you finally leave the NORTH CAROLINA?
Was that because you had been selected for aviation school training?
Yes. During the time that I was on the ship, I submitted my bid to go to aviation. Every year I'd try to get to go to aviation. They said I was indispensable. They kept me and kept me and kept me.
Now, were you in ordnance the whole time you were on the NORTH CAROLINA?
Yes, absolutely--fire control--the F Division. Ordnance and gunnery. And I stood bridge watches. Boy, that was it. Wow! What a deal. But, anyhow, I kept saying that I wanted to go to flight training. They would bring these guys aboard who were from the Class of 1942, 1943, and 1944 . . . well, I'd train them to take my job, and damn, if they didn't get off the ship before I did. They took them off, because they had submitted their bid to aviation. When I graduated, I couldn't put a bid in for specialization until I had been two years in the Fleet. No one could get married or submit a bid for aviation. Well, anyhow, I finally got off after we got back to Seattle in 1944. I went to aviation.
I had been in the Pacific now for twenty-seven straight months. They finally let me go. I went to the exec. I said, "If I don't get off this ship, I'm going to go off under guard."
Under pressure, he said, “Bobby,” (he used to call me Bobby) “You just relax. You'll get off this ship, but you'll get off when we tell you.”
Now, which skipper was this?
This was the exec, Joe Stryker.
Oh, this was Joe Stryker.
I knew Admiral Stryker.
He was a hell of a nice guy. He was a good friend of mine. We were “asshole buddies” all the way through the thing. He had a lot of respect for me, and I had a lot for him.
Well anyhow, when I went to flight training, I went through the basics in Pensacola. But then we were ordered to Ottumwa, Iowa. You can imagine, Ottumwa, Iowa. They had a lot of conflict in those days when you went to operational training--flight training, the second phase. When I went through the training program up there in September, it was five below zero. I had been in the Pacific for twenty-seven months and my blood was about as thin as a serpent's. Boy, I tell you, that open cockpit and snow on the ground! We didn't even land on the runway mats for almost the whole training period of six months.
That's a strange place for Naval air training.
Well, yes, Ottumwa, Iowa. The snow was that deep. In fact on one of the training flights up there, they used to jerk the throttle to stimulate that the engine was quitting. I was supposed to go in to land--go down on the outlying field and make a circle and land. The snow was so deep that they said, "Well, when you get down low enough, don't land, just put the coal on when I tell you. I will tell you whether you made it to the field or not, and then you just go and get the hell out of there, don't land there."
Well, I had this jackass teaching me . . . and we went down there and went down too low. He said, “Let's go now.” We shoved the coal on, and the plane misfired. The next thing we knew, we were in the snow! That damn thing rolled in the snow pile. We were standing right on our nose; standing vertical in that field. The field wasn't even
open. They hadn't put the green flag up where we could make passes around it without landing. It was an outlying field. I tell you.
Did he blame you or did he admit to himself?
No, no. They flew another plane in. In fact, they just eased the damn thing down, and we flew it out of there. Boy, that was something. We had that heavy leather gear on--those heavy flight suits. We couldn't even hardly move the stick, they were so bulky. We didn't have radio communication, had the Gosport(?).
When we got out of that one, we went back to Pensacola, and then I went through the single-engine program. All I wanted to do was get assigned to a fighter squadron on the East Coast. I had a friend in the Bureau named Victor Souchek, whose cousin had set the altitude record in 1932 in flights. He was a well-known flyer at that time. Anyway, next thing I knew, I got orders to SB2C Squadron, which were the dive-bombers in Alameda . . . even before I could turn my hat around. He [my friend Souchek] had said, “There is no problem getting assigned to fighters on the East Coast, they have plenty of room.” I looked at him and said, "What the hell happened?" It couldn't have been worse.
Well, I had to go to Alameda and take over. In fact, they made me skipper of this dumb thing, and I didn't have any flying time hardly at all. I was skipper for about six, seven, or eight months, and then I asked to go back into fighters. I went to a fighter squadron as exec. I went to VF12. My squadron's CO was XAP(?). He had gone to . . . in 1926 . . . as an ordnance first class. I joined him and stayed with that squadron. We flew with F6Fs for a little bit, and then we got the F8F Bearcat.
Now, was the war pretty much over by this time?
Was this when you made an around-the-world cruise on the Valley Forge?
Yes, you better believe it. We left from here, went to Pearl, then went to Sidney, Australia, and on to Hong Kong. We got to Hong Kong, and we were supposed to come back to Guam. Then we came back to Pearl and went back home. They decided we would go the hard way and go through the Suez Canal. We went all the way until we went to Ceylon and onto Ras Tanur. I have pictures on the wall. We went into Ras Tanur, Saudi Arabia. We were going to have a flight show for the Hon Saud. They came on board the carrier. We got one of those desert squalls. So we never got to accomplish that. Two guys were airborne, came back and landed. Then we had a feast with the Hon Saud. I have pictures up there showing us eating while we were sitting on the ground with our feet crossed.
Now, was this in 1946, 1947 when this took place?
Around 1947, 1948.
Yes. We left in October of 1947 and got back in July of 1948. That was a hell of a cruise. We went through the Suez Canal, went to Gibraltar, went to England, and went all the way up to Norway, then back to England. We didn't think we were ever going to get home. They finally sent us back to New York. We thought that we'd never get to come back to the West coast. They decided they were going to send us through the Panama Canal, and we went through the Panama Canal finally, and then got back into Coronado. Boy, that was a very long haul, I tell you.
What was the purpose of this voyage?
To show the flag.
To show the flag?
Yes, and we went to Bergen, Norway. We went to Norway on the Communist May Day. We marched in the parades up there. That was a hard burner, because the Norwegians were really taken over in World War II by the Germans. They were threatened. They didn't like the militaristic aspect at all. We flew a parade for Haakon VII, the Norwegian king, at the time.
All of the aircrafts stepped down. They would step down at ten feet below each aircraft in these formations. We were supposed to start out at, at least six thousand feet altitude. The clouds were way down; the ceiling was about thirty-five hundred feet below. They have tremendous hills in Norway out there. Boy, we were "tail-end Charlies" in our FH with the V 12. I could look out and almost grab the oak trees by the hand. Looking out of the cockpit, I figured, "Well boy, don't quit now baby, because I'll end up right in that damn tree over there." Well we made it, and it worked out all right, but boy it was a gripper.
After we got back from the cruise, I came back here and was all set up. I had bought a house. I had lived in it two weeks in October, when we departed. I didn't get back in there for nine months. I came back and I was all settled down to stay here. I had just gotten the cruise box that had been sitting on the floor in one little half bedroom. I had a guy help me put it up in the attic to get it out of the room. A friend of mine on staff over here called me up and said, “You rat you, you got orders back to your home town.”
I said, “What are you talking about?”
He said, “I've seen your order. I just threw a copy of them in the waste basket.”
I said, “Jesus, boy, I haven't seen them. I haven't heard anything.”
He said, “You have orders to go back as an instructor at the Naval Academy.”
I had lived in the house for about ten days. So, I turned around and sold it. We then drove across country. My wife was pregnant at the time. Well we went across, and I stayed there from 1948, to 1951.
What were you teaching, Ordnance or . . . . ?
We taught a variety of subjects. Rad Defense, we generated a book on Radiological Warfare.
So, they teach flight at the Academy?
We had indoctrinated them in the aircraft that we had. We had those little M3Ns on floats. I've never flown those. I mean, but they were gun factory things. You know, those little yellow things with the floats?
They had an open cockpit just like the damn M3N that I had flown over there in Ottumwa in the beginning. But this thing wouldn't go any more than about sixty, seventy miles an hour unless you were going straight down the hill. You would get on the water with that thing; you would fly along and bounce around, then you would hit a wave and jump in the air. Boy, I had just come from an F8 squadron. You could imagine what that was. That thing had twenty-three hundred and fifty horses and a four bladed prop. After ninety feet you were in the air, and you were at ten thousand feet in a minute and a half if
you wanted to be. That damn thing over there took the whole length of the river. We used to fly the “Middy's” in the back. Well, I didn't know any better so I actually did a loop in that thing. I went down like this and went up there. Of course it lurched over the top, because all you could do now was go to hell with that float on top. I told the guy quietly in the rest room, I said, “Jeez, that thing is terrible on a loop.”
He said, “Jesus, that thing is condemned for anything. You don't want to loop that plane.”
I said, “Well, it's a little late now.”
I learned not to loop it. But, I had fun. I flew the “Middy's”. The damn ducks used to fly up there, and you'd see them flying along. I'd come down with the plane and get above them, and they were flying along looking at me. I'd come down and come down. I'd said to this guy, “I'm going to pull along side and when I get him over here along side you reach out and grab him by the honker.”
I came down and got this duck right up in front there. He was making about seven knots. So I pulled in there and was wondering, 'boy, what am I doing, because this guy was getting terrified'. He was really beating his wings and his feet were tucked up. He was up right there. I said, “Boy, if he swings . . ."
If he had turned into your prop that might . . .
I figured if he came to the right, he'd go right through the shield and right through the head of both of us. About that time he just spun out and pooped. I had been chasing him for about a minute and half, and he just went whoosh-whoosh. I went down after him. He went down and landed, and so did I. He landed on the water--he was pooped. I never did get him though.
That's one way to hunt a duck.
Oh yes, yes. That was fun. From the Academy, I was supposed to go to the VS squadron. They ordered me to Corpus Christi for all-weather training and then to Norfolk. When I was there, I took the training down there; I was flying the individual aircraft prior to going to the all-weather thing.
Soon after I had a minor aircraft accident, and I bumped my leg. I didn't know what happened, but I thought I did it on a Wednesday on the way in the aircraft cockpit. By Friday I couldn't walk. I didn't know what happened to my leg. I went to the doctor in Norfolk. He said, “Go home, put heat on it and massage it.” Well, I did that; this was Friday night, and by Saturday morning, I couldn't even stand on it. I couldn't move it. I went back to see another doctor, and he slapped me in the hospital. He diagnosed is as a blood clot in my leg. He slapped me in the bed and he started to give me heparin, for this to anti-clot. I got through four days of the most hellacious hell I ever had. They injected me with five or ten ccs, which kept my blood clot time to eighteen to twenty-one minutes. Every two hours they'd come around to take a blood sample and jab me, correspondingly. Boy, I was miserable, but I lived through that it. I had to wear a rubber boot for almost twenty years. I still got the damn things in there. This leg has degenerated where I almost lost it. That really killed my flying right there. They tried to take my wings away because of it. I finally fought them, and got them back. I also received a squadron in Norfolk. It was a mobile FASRON Evaluation Squadron.
I went from there to the staff--that was in 1951. I was then ordered to Pensacola, as the pre-flight school academic director. Smoke Screen, who was a very famous naval aviator, was head of it. He had insisted that he wanted some people, and I had been
instructor at the Academy, so he asked for me. I went down there, and I became the academic director and then the exec. Among other people who went through was Richard Nixon's brother, Ed Nixon. He came through as an aviation cadet. During Thanksgiving time my wife, my two kids, and I sent a note over to the pre-flight school, asking then to send me three cadets to help us with the turkey and stuffing to celebrate. One of them was Nixon.
Now, this was while Nixon was vice-president?
Yes. Ed Nixon was going through the flight-training program as an officer. He was a tall guy, and very quiet, serene. He went through helicopters, because he wanted to become a geologist. Actually I still have a thank you note for the Thanksgiving. I tried to talk him into flying, going into single engines and jets. However, he wouldn't have any part of it. He wanted to get this flight helicopter. He actually came out here and lived in the court down in Imperial Beach in a mobile home, for a couple of years in the 1950's.
Now, was he a career naval officer, or was he a reserve officer?
He was a reserve as an aviation officer candidate.
When he was at Pensacola, was he treated any differently by most people in difference to the fact that his brother was vice-president?
No, no indeed. No, he actually was a company commander of this little group. He was quiet, he was tall, nice, well built, knowledgeable, and smart. He didn't bother anybody, and nobody bothered him. He showed up as one of the guys. He wasn't showed any favoritism.
Nowadays, the National Inquirer and all those supermarket tabloids would have been hounding his every step trying to get something to write about.
Oh yes. Now he's up in Seattle somewhere. I have never seen him or corresponded with him since then.
After that little debacle at Pensacola, I was ordered to the Air War College, at Maxwell Air Force Base. I guess it was in 1956 or 1957 when I went there. I was a commander at that time, and these were the last of the "Bird" colonels in the Air Force that were going to the school since they run out of them. They promoted all these guys, you know. My contemporary in years at West Point had been in the Army and then they went to the Air Force. He was the headman in that school, and he'd been a colonel, for about two or three years. Hell, I was still a commander. I was older than most of them I think, and I had more time in the service than any of them--I had a year and eleven months in the Naval Reserve that I told you about. The Naval Academy time did not count, you see, but that did.
But anyhow, after I got out of the Air War College, I had orders as Operations Officer to the U.S.S. MIDWAY. They were revamping her in Bremerton. So I came to Coronado. We were going to write the organization book and all this stuff over here at the training center on 32nd street. My wife, three kids, and I were living in Coronado. I was ops. officer on that ship, and the exec. hadn't reported yet. They sent me up to the ship, the MIDWAY, to be acting exec. while they were undergoing the refit in the Yard. The skipper was Captain Nestle. He was really something; the only guy he supposedly ever picked on was the next guy in line, the exec. Well, I was acting exec. He would raise hell. Everything that was on that ship was just absolutely my fault. He wouldn't accept any answer on anything. He was really something. While I was there, my wife got
sick, and she died. She was thirty-four years old and died right here in Coronado. I had three children. The oldest daughter was twelve. This was in 1958.
She was twelve, my son was seven, and the little girl was three. I tell you that was tough. They yanked me off the ship as ops. and brought me back down here to COMNAV AIRPAC on staff. I was there as operations officer or whatever; I was on staff duty. In the meantime, it was tough. I had to make a decision whether to stay in the Navy or stay with my family and give up everything here. I was supposed to be coming up for captain--this was back in 1958. The selection board said I needed a carrier duty, on board ship duty. Hell, I joined the Navy in 1934 and this was 1958. I mean that's not just yesterday, you know. So, I . . . .
That was a major investment of your life and . . .
Well, I could throw it all away and say I'm retiring or quitting, take my licks, and do something with my family until I could do whatever I could. I decided I would stick it out. And 'lo and behold,' they came back around and ordered me as Ops Officer aboard the SHANGRILA.
How much later was that?
About six months.
So they gave you six months to get things settled.
Yes, to get family affairs straightened out. My sister, who was in the Navy, also happened to be in town here; I also had a housekeeper. Boy, that was another story too. That was a grim thing.
I then had to go out and join the damn SHANGRILA, which was deployed off Okinawa. Fortunately, I only had to stay a couple of months. Soon I got off the ship, and I was ordered back as operations officer at North Island. I reported in over there, I don't know when the hell it was; I guess it was 1959. So I came back and moved into the quarters in North Island. I remarried a widow friend. She had three children, as did I. We got married in 1960, I think it was. I was a bachelor with three kids, and boy talk about shortening hems, cutting hair, and getting people dressed. My older daughter at twelve used to take care of my three year old. She wouldn't let the housekeeper touch her. The housekeeper wasn't much good, anyhow. After I was exec. at North Island I came up for promotion, and I made captain and I stayed there until 1962. Then I was ordered up north to the staff of ASWFORPAC, or something up at Treasure Island, SOSUS center. I went there and retired in 1965. This leg had been bothering me all along; but during the course of this leg thing, they actually had taken my wings away from me. They said they were going to order me to the RENDORA, as exec. I said, “The easiest thing I could do is fly. Standing and walking is the worse thing.”
But, no. When I went through Bethesda, I really had a battle with that, but I got it back. I got back to zero after I lost all the leave.
The blood clot created that much complication.
Well, it was a deep artery clot, and I almost lost the use of this leg. It would swell up so I had to put this rubber boot on.
What was the nature of the accident? The plane didn't crash or anything?
No, when the gear collapsed on the . . . .
You were landing, and the landing gear collapsed?
Well, it went down; and then I bumped this thing in the cockpit see; and it just hit me. If I hadn't played soccer at the Academy and had my legs in good shape, I would have lost this thing.
They were thinking about grafting, but they couldn't do that. They finally sutured sponges, you know, medical sponges into that thing. Just put it around there with tape. This leg just gets tight as a drum even now.
And it was just a freak accident?
Freak occurrence that you really didn't pay any attention to at the time.
That is right. I thought I had infantile paralysis when it first happened. You know, it just tightened up on me, I couldn't use my leg. I thought, "What the hell." That first doctor that diagnosed it could have killed me. He said go home and put heat on it. Well, that was the worst thing I could have done; it would move. Also the massage didn't help it along. They slapped me in the pants; I tell you, that was a rough treatment. Every two hours they would take a blood sample. I had all these damn things up and down my arms. You wouldn't believe how brown, blue, and purple I was. Then every time they took one of those, they would swing it, eighteen to twenty-one minutes of blood clot time. Wow. Then they would come back around, and I wouldn't get any sleep on that program. Ten o'clock at night, they would come in and take the sample. They would return at midnight. Then, they would be back at two, back at four. Every two hours, they'd take a sample, and every two hours they'd come back and give me five or ten ccs in both cheeks. Anyhow, I retired . . . .
Well, nowadays couldn't they have dissolved the clot some way?
Well, they couldn't. They didn't even know what it was, where it was. They do have ways of clearing the arteries and stuff. This was a deep artery, see. They have all kinds of ways of so-called channelizing with these little balloons, even the heart things. But anyhow, I finally got out with thirty percent disability. I could have had one hundred percent with this. But, I've been battling all my life and I am still doing it. I elevate it all the time. I have a wedge pillow in there I have it at the bedside because I bring it here and I have to keep my foot up like that. You can see how tight it is right now. You see this one isn't just from having that down.
That's amazing how it does it all the time.
Oh yes. There is a lot of blockage up in here, too. Well, anyhow, that's about where we are today. I've been playing in the band with a John Best, as I said. In fact he's out of the picture now. I haven't played with him in a while. I just talked to him the other night. He's down in Perth, Australia, right now on a junket with the so-called "Remnants of Miller's Band."
So he still plays with them?
Well, not the original band, but they have some of the original members. The Australians met him when Glen Miller was overseas in England. This Aussi met them in Miller's Band, and he actually liked them so much that he brought them down to Australia. They put them in concert down there. He is down there right now. He just left a couple of days ago. But, he fell out of an avocado tree and busted his back. Now he is in a wheelchair. He has been in the wheelchair for about ten or twelve years. He has had a terrible time. He is one of the greatest horn men I ever knew. It was a real pleasure playing with him.
[End of Interview]
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I am Captain Celustka's nephew, from Idaho, who attended Borah High School. I enjoyed this piece of our family history, very much. My son Karel, forwarded this to me. Robert's brother, Frank, was my Father. He lived to be 86 and is survived by my Mother, Betty, who resides in the Seattle area. I live in Tualatin OR. We have two sons, Karel and Robert. 3/2012
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