2:52 | A veteran of World War II and Korea, Frank Noonan served long enough to make it to Saigon on the first American warship to venture up the Mekong River. There, he observed a German civilian use an unusual defensive technique when attacked at a sidewalk cafe. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
Keywords : Frank Noonan USS John R. Craig (DD-885) Cuban Missile Crisis John F. Kennedy (JFK) Vietnam Viet Cong (VC) Mekong River Saigon cafe France French beer German grenade
On a family vacation in San Diego, Frank Noonan became enamored with the sailors he saw and, instantly, he had a new goal. As soon as he was old enough, he would join the Navy. His chosen path led him to a berth on the battleship USS Oklahoma, which pulled into Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1941. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
It was Sunday morning and Frank Noonan was getting ready to go on liberty when the alarm sounded. The ship was under attack. In fact, the entire fleet in Pearl Harbor was under attack by Japanese aircraft. He made it to his battle station, but was trapped when the ship capsized. In an air pocket with two others, he banged and yelled for help that would not come. Part 1 of 2. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
Frank Noonan was trapped with two others below deck on the USS Oklahoma after eight torpedoes ripped into her hull. A savvy junior petty officer figured a way out, but it was no picnic in Pearl Harbor when he broke the surface of the water. Coated with oil and sick from swallowing it, he wondered what his next step would be. Part 2 of 2. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
On his first maneuvers after joining the Navy, Frank Noonan saw a destroyer performing boring duties and thought to himself, "I'm glad I'm not on that ship." He was on the battleship USS Oklahoma at the time, but after it was sunk during the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, he had to be reassigned to another ship. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
The Japanese had been bombing a weather station south of Hawaii, so the USS Helm was dispatched to evacuate the civilian survivors. Frank Noonan was a lookout on the bridge and he was having a problem with his helmet. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
The USS Helm returned to its home naval yard at Mare Island to rearm with improved weapons. Frank Noonan was able to call his mother for the first time since the war started and then it was back to sea. The Helm was an older destroyer and its sonar would not function when the ship was making more than 15 knots, so she was relegated to escorting auxiliary ships. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
When the Japanese fleet came down "The Slot" to support its troops in the Solomon Islands, an American force was rapidly gathered to engage them. Frank Noonan was loading projectiles on the USS Helm, so he could not see the action, but he could sure hear it. After the battle, the ships that were damaged were told to make for port at what speed they could manage. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
Frank Noonan's ship, the destroyer USS Helm, was sent to join up with some Australian ships, a Dutch destroyer and a French destroyer. The crews of the Dutch and French ships had escaped the Nazis in Europe. The duty was mostly anti-submarine patrols and, eventually, the force moved to Sydney, where they became part of "MacArthur's Navy." (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
The USS Helm was told to protect the Queen Mary on its way into Sydney harbor, but there was one problem. The cruise ship was way faster than its anti-submarine escort. Frank Noonan had made his way up to coxswain of the whale boat on the Helm and this allowed him a great privilege, going ashore. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
The Marines were having a lot of trouble on the beaches in the Marshall Islands. Frank Noonan was on board the USS Helm, a destroyer that was bombarding the shorelines. After this action, the Helm escorted a damaged battleship back to the States and he got leave to go visit family. His new assignment was going to be totally different. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
After a long stint aboard a destroyer, Frank Noonan ended the war on an entirely different kind of craft, a crash boat. Based in the Philippines, his job was to wait just offshore to rescue downed flyers. He was obligated until 1946, so after celebrating with friends and visiting home, he was going back to sea. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
A veteran of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Frank Noonan reenlisted after the war and served on the aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge during the Korean War. He details the awesome firepower its dive bombers carried and the technology of launching and landing jets on a floating runway. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
Frank Noonan owed the Navy another year. That's how he wound up at the Bikini atoll for Operation Crossroads, the first post-war atomic bomb tests. There were two detonations, an air burst and an underwater burst. He describes the scene and the devastating effects on the target ships. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
After a short bit of shore duty, Frank Noonan was assigned to the USS John R. Craig, a destroyer that was bound for a goodwill tour in the Pacific. It berthed in some unlikely places, including up the Irrawaddy River at Rangoon. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
They were hunkered down after fierce fighting when the call came from "Ghost 4-6." It was a group of wounded men who had pulled themselves together after the ill fated march to LZ Albany and were lost in the dark. George Forrest sent a patrol to find them, and in an incredible act of bravery, medic Daniel Torres stayed through the night with them and saved many men. Captain Forrest still had to write a gut-wrenching letter to the mother of a missing soldier. Part 3 of 4.
After the column was devastated by an NVA ambush, wounded Americans were scattered in the darkness. After his captain heard one such group calling for help on the radio, Freddie Owens joined a patrol to find them, guided by a gunshot every few minutes. Once there, medic Daniel Torres volunteered to stay with those who couldn't move and protected them through the night with medicine and a machine gun.
For his first assignment after completing his training, Bill Cunningham was sent to the best Marine Air Station in the whole country, Miami. There he flew the A-1 Skyraider, a much beloved single engine prop plane that was very versatile. He also had a great gunnery sergeant who helped him with a prickly executive officer.
In a letter home, Tommy Clack expressed his worry that something bad was going to happen and it did when his unit engaged the NVA near the Cambodian border. He saw the enemy soldier stand and fire the RPG that changed his life forever.
A Viet Cong bullet had failed to keep him out of the war. After recovering from that misfortune, Marine helicopter pilot Bill Cunningham began his second tour by assuming command of the MABS-16 squadron, which was responsible for the operation of the base at Marble Mountain.
The RPG that severed Joe McDonald’s foot didn’t kill him. The machine gun fire that hit him as he still tried to help others didn’t kill him. The grenade taped to his hand might have killed him if the VC had found his hiding place.
Bill Cunningham was in command of a Marine helicopter squadron in Vietnam and he was lucky to have a competent and respected sergeant major on his team. He recalls the time the man defused a tense situation involving an intoxicated Marine and an M-16.
As Marine Captain Ron Christmas fought to regain the city of Hue, he found the enemy adept at concealment and surprise. Every soldier in a spider hole was armed with a rifle and a RPG launcher. He also encountered a nun with an AK-47. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
Marine aviator Bill Cunningham recalls his time in Pensacola practicing carrier landings, including the time his tailhook malfunctioned. Before departing for the next phase of training, the group was asked how many are going to the Marines. His hand was one of the few, but when the Navy bound heard what awaited them, the Marines gained some more.
Bill Cunningham recalls his friend Gene Brady, who always beat him at gin rummy. The two Marine helicopter pilots commanded sister squadrons in Vietnam. Once, he was Brady's co-pilot and that turned out to be a memorable mission. Another memorable mission involved a rig called a jungle penetrator.
After his second Vietnam tour, Bill Cunningham was put in command of a troop ship full of Marines coming straight from the bush. That was a memorable trip and included an emergency caused by a wind blown cap. When the ship landed in San Diego, there was no welcome except for a crusty old colonel who made a ridiculous demand.
Marine aviator Bill Cunningham tells a couple of stories about the man who took over his squadron, Walt Leadbetter. The events begin with the profane and then move to the sacred, an incident that resulted in a Medal of Honor award.
Marine Corps helicopter pilot Bill Cunningham served a ground tour in California, where he set up a second training location for pilots. The Marines needed many more because Vietnam was heating up and helicopters had become vital to their mission. During this time, he had an interesting excursion to Thailand, where he trained Thai pilots.
Marine aviator Bill Cunningham had a little mishap with a rocket while training in Puerto Rico. He still doesn't know where that thing went. When it was time for assignment, he was given a choice, instructing or multi-engine aircraft. Neither appealed to him so he went a third way, helicopters.
Marine helicopter pilot Bill Cunningham was paired with a gunship pilot with the call sign Hostage Jack on many of the search and rescue missions he flew in Vietnam. The missions were dangerous but it was a little weather scouting flight that cost Hostage Jack his life.
Marine aviator Bill Cunningham describes the aborted takeoff which caused him to flip his aircraft at the end of the runway. It was a faulty part but there were other hazards in training, like towing the target for the others to shoot. Then there was more carrier training, which was very dangerous.
Marine aviator Bill Cunningham's first overseas assignment was at the Naval Air Station in Oppama, Japan, where he ferried troops and flew search and rescue missions. After 14 months, he returned to Pensacola where he became an instructor and honed his skills flying numerous different helicopters.
There were 87 men on some high ground surrounded by Viet Cong and Marine helicopter pilot Bill Cunningham had a problem. There was only room for one ship at a time to land in the tiny landing zone they had hacked out of the bush. It would be one at a time so he spiraled down for the first load. Then he felt like a sledgehammer hit his leg.
It was a strange trip home. Bill Cunningham was in a full body cast and next to a psycho patient who was ranting and raving. Then an engine went out, which caused him to make an urgent request to the nurse. After arriving safely, he began a long recovery from the machine gun bullet that had torn up his leg.
Bill Cunningham made sure every pilot in the squadron rotated in the search and rescue missions because they were the most dangerous and he wanted to spread out the risk. The Marine aircraft were accompanied by gunships for security and he always seemed to be paired with the same gunship pilot, call sign Hostage Jack.
The big twin rotor helicopters flown by Marine pilot Bill Cunningham in Vietnam had door gunners with 50 caliber machine guns. As he approached a landing zone on a night mission, he heard one of the weapons fire. The gunner thought he had spotted an enemy muzzle flash. Unfortunately, it was not.
After his combat tours in Vietnam, Marine aviator Bill Cunningham served in several assignments that gave him a lot of chances to travel. In Africa, he helped manage drought and famine relief as part of a relief operation and, back home, he made readiness inspections of Marine air units.