Naval Air Transport Service

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[Tuttle kept up writing during his long journey across the Pacific.]

The Navy runs a fine airline. I am just settling in from a series of flights, island to island, on NATS, the Naval Air Transport Service. It must be right to call NATS an airline, because it has its own in-flight magazine, updated monthly. The magazine has everything one would find in a commercial airliner publication: travel tips, information about destinations served, news about partner airlines, and features about the different aircraft flown and general airline operations. Except, in this case the details are decidedly special interest: safe handling of explosive souvenirs, care of the injured in Guam, the Navy taking over planes and routes from Pan Am, and forced-air warming of planes which stop in northern Alaska.

The humor section of the current magazine includes a bit about one hard-fighting Marine who swears he is done fighting forever, even with his mother-in-law. Letters to the editor and assorted amusements fill out the magazine inside its two-color cover. I left the Jean Parker pin-up photo for the next fellow.

The Navy has brought me to the Mariana Islands, specifically to a base they call Marpi on the northern coast of Saipan. Saipan is the northern most of the three major islands we hold here. It is part of what the Japanese took to be the main line of defense of their enlarged empire. It took several flights to get here from Hawaii.

Seats on NATS flights are normally hole-in-one carnival prizes for anyone who doesn’t have explicit orders to move across the ocean at aircraft speeds. On short notice I squeezed on to an already overloaded R5D (Navy name for the C-54, which is the Army name for the DC-4) cargo plane which was going straight through to Manila, stopping only for gas. The hold was jammed full, mostly with a ‘confidential’ cargo . The crew was happy not to have the usual load of VIP passengers to fuss over. With their plane full of cargo they had just one passenger seat to offer, and they practically recruited me to fill it instead of someone actually important.

My “air hosts,” including the actual air host, showed me one special feature of our plane. It has refrigerated storage, just for bringing whole blood across to combat areas, several hundred crated pints at a time. There were a few dozen units loaded on my trip, and you may wonder why, as there is little active combat and the blood only lasts a few weeks if well cared for. Not all injuries come from combat. In fact, only a narrow majority of casualties in most campaigns are a direct result of being bombed or shot at. We have well over a million men out here moving around, building things, or practicing destroying things. Injuries happen, and all of them are a long way away from anything you would recognize as a hospital.

The hosts I mentioned for the flight were Lieutenant Frank Spalek and Lieutenant Carl Kube on the flight deck, and Flight Orderly Raymond Holman, coincidentally all from different parts of Nebraska. A flight orderly is to the passenger just a steward or flight attendant, but they also do half the work of the ground crew and all the work of the galley crew on a civilian flight. If a box of cargo comes loose or a life jacket is misplaced or a passenger gets a cold cup of coffee, it’s on the record of the flight orderly.

NATS Packet cover, July, 1945