RICHARD H NICGORSKI
Name: RICHARD H NICGORSKI
Entry Date: 7/14/1953
Exit Date: 7/14/1955
“A graduate of Ambridge High School, June 1st 1952, I enlisted at the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania recruiting office at Conway, Pennsylvania, July 27th 1952 at 17 years of age. On August 6th I would turn 18. I was able to enlist for three years as a “Kiddy Cruiser.” I was sent with others to Bainbridge, Maryland naval base to change my way of life from a civilian to military person. Upon graduation, in October 1952 I was assigned to the Aircraft Carrier U.S.S. Tarawa/CVA-40, anchored in Boston, Massachusetts Harbor.
I was a recruit Airman and three days on board when I was put in the Quartermaster Signalman Division. We went on a shakedown cruise to Haiti, Cuba in the Caribbean. I was now receiving on the job training in flag codes, and Morse code by flashing light-hand semaphore signals! I became very good sending semaphore and flashing-light (Running from a voodoo group in Haiti).
In 1953, we (U.S.S. Tarawa) joined the Sixth Fleet. We were the first carrier to enter Mayport, Florida. The Skipper was Captain Monroe, the Executive was Commander Russell. For six months, we went to ports in Algiers, Iran, French Morocco, Malta, Nicosia, Athens, Greece-Corsica, Naples, Italy; Marseilles and Nice, France. I took a week off from the Nice docking and, by train, I went to Paris and Versailles; stopping on the return to Lourdes, France. I visited the Follies Berge and Club Lido, the Eiffel Tower and the King Louis 14th Palace. I also saw the tomb of Napoleon.
Upon returning to the Mediterranean Sea we were awarded the Navy Occupation Medal. I recall being cold and wet, riding around our ship in the Dardanelles Straight, (It’s the mouth of the entrance to the Black Sea) with a 45 caliber pistol and three other sailors with submachine guns, alert for Russian Frogmen.
On return to the States, at Norfolk, Virginia I was promoted to a Quartermaster SN, only to find out my name was on the compliment list of Seamen to be transferred and asked my division officer, Lieutenant J.G. Kinney to remove my Quartermaster designation. He refused, and then I went to his superior with my request for transfer.
While at Pax River, Indiana Base, I was given a chance to apply for the U.S. Coastguard Academy, I received the Base Commander’s recommendation. Having furnished supervisors in Washington with all required information I was short ¼ credit in physics. After I was asked if I wanted to take one year of prep school, I decided not to spend my life in the U.S. Navy.
This started my career, from 1953 to 1955 as a member of VP 21. I traveled to Pax River, Maryland. VP 21 had been overseas in Malta. I was a Quartermaster now in an `airdale’ squadron. Not knowing what to do with me, (I knew Morse Code by flashing-light), I was assigned temporarily to Fasron 103 Base Radio where I learned procedures and radio CW circuits until the squadron’s return. Shortly after, I qualified as a crewmember radioman in VP21, aircraft HC-7, radio call-sign 7N98, and flew with Executive Commander, William E. Comer, an Annapolis graduate.
In 1954, VP-21 departed Brunswick, Maine for the island of Malta, and three months I can never forget. We made trips to England, Paris, Copenhagen, Naples. You name it, I was there.
Memories include: Athens/Greek Sculptures and the Parthenon. In Malta-Having a woman Navy officer take two others and myself in a rubber raft in the harbor, going into the water. Being hauled up by cable into the helicopter, then told to jump back in to the water from the helicopter. Going down into the ocean was a long way down. The next memory was when I was with two nuns in the catacombs of Sicily, seeing a young girl, approximately thirteen years of age with long hair, dead, but preserved since early life. She was in a glass coffin with a connected hose used to create a vacuum.
I was now put back from Quartermaster to plain AN. I was then promoted to ATAN, upon notice that VP-21 would soon be leaving Malta.
I asked my friend AT3, Auggie Brenner to try and retrieve my class ring from my soon-to-be forgotten girlfriend. Auggie later stated, “Sorry, she expects you to return.” Enough of that, it now was close to Christmastime and for departure to Port Lyautey, Morocco, North Africa, and then to the States. Little did I know what fate had in store for me.
The morning of departure we loaded a large fuel tank into the Bombay of our P2V6 (HC-7). We departed and `somewhere’ en route over the Mediterranean Sea and sitting mid-wing in the radio compartment I saw fire and smoke explode from one of the engines. Commander Comer tried all means to extinguish the blaze, but to no avail. He then called, by voice, “Mayday, mayday-7N98 mayday!”
The crew was then told that anyone wanting to bail out should. Each station, over voice, stated we would chance riding it down. I started to send S.O.S. by CW on the ART-13 HF transmitter. I was interrupted by Commander Comer: “Contact on mayday-15 minutes to land.” A French fighter field, I believe it was “Lartique,” near Alexandria -too short for bombers, a grass and dirt field. There was no flight pattern. I reversed my seat for ditching. I recall the wheels crashing off, skidding and grinding of metal, (nose of the plane went down-mostly on fire). I hit the window escape hatch on the way out.
I looked through the plane passageway, heard screams and saw the chief (forgot his name), knock someone with his shoulder. The plane was really burning and after all the crew got out, fire trucks from the French Military tried to put flames out, but to no avail-it was a total loss. I then found out the chief had saved the life of my buddy Fred (Delbert) Hubert, 1st Class Mechanic. Fred hit his hand on the radar relay and by placing his hand there he was electrocuted. Since he was being electrocuted he was stuck there and couldn’t get free. Fast and unsafe action by the chief saved Fred who had a hole on the back of his hand and there was a hole blown out around his elbow.
Fred went to sick bay and we were picked up by a Navy R4D, and I believe three days later, we finally arrived in Port Lyautey. While others were on maneuvers we flew to Copenhagen and England and to Paris. What a memorable sight Paris was from the air-as well as the volcano in NE Sicily (Mt. Etna).
We returned to Brunswick, Maine. I was sent to P2V6 Flight Survival School. I had been given a sendoff by the local girls and my good friend, Fred Hubert, who was last seen by me in Brunswick, Maine. I was discharged in New London, Connecticut July 27, 1955.
Thank you VP21 for a lifetime of memories.”