|FASRON 9, CECIL FIELD HOME PAGE|
|MEMORIES OF AT FASRON 9, NAS CECIL FIELD|
|I chose this duty station. FASRON is Navyspeak for Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron. Cecil Field was a master jet base located approximately 14 miles to the west of Jacksonville, Florida. It was a good choice. These are my recollections, as best I recall them.|
|I arrived by train directly from AT "A" school in Memphis, Tennessee on August 19th, 1955. It was extremely hot in Florida, and I was traveling in my dress blues, as was the requirement. I took a taxi from the train station to the base. The taxi was permitted to drive onto the base, and dropped me off at one of the remote hangars, since I didn't know where to go. The FASRON 9 Petty Officer of the Watch (POW) picked me and my seabag up in his gray Navy pickup truck and took me to the FASRON duty office to report in.|
|I was assigned an upper bunk in the FASRON barracks, located just to the north of the chow hall, and the nearest barracks building to it at that end. The barracks was built of concrete block, was two stories in height, and included a dormitory and head on each level, a recreation room with TV, a laundry room with washers and dryers, and a Master-at-Arms shack (office). There was no air conditioning in those days, but there were jalousy windows all around. These were kept open to make temperatures bearable in the summer. Decks were of tile. Since our jobs were to maintain aircraft, compartment cleaners were tasked to clean the barracks.|
|Just next door was the spacious base chow hall. As is typical of the Navy, food was tasty and plentiful. Since there was no air conditioning in the chow hall either, it was sometimes difficult to eat a hot meal at "dinner", the Navy's major meal of the day, taken at noontime. The photo below shows the barracks and chow hall. Apologies for the fuzzy black and white photo - more modern and sharper color photos show only a vacancy where the buildings once stood. I had to go back to 1999 to get an aerial photo from before the buildings were razed.|
|An aerial view of my Cecil Field barracks just north of the chow hall.|
|Although I laundered most items myself, rising early in the morning to get "dibs" on the barracks washers and dryers, I sent white and blue uniforms to the base laundry, located at the north end of the chow hall building. The blues were dry- cleaned, but the whites were washed and very heavily starched. Freshly laundered and starched whites were as stiff and hard as a piece of cardboard, necessitating that trouser legs and sleeves had to be opened up forcefully, creating a noise like tearing paper.|
|There were numerous opportunities for recreation aboard the base. There was a base movie theater, a "geedunk", a Navy exchange, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a gymnasium, a library, and there was probably an enlisted men's club. I recall attending a movie, and afterwards ordering two grilled cheese sandwiches from the geedunk. I would carry the greasy brown paper sack containing the sandwiches back to the barracks, buy a Pepsi, and watch TV while I ate. Life was good! On one occasion base brass retained Bill Haley and the Comets to perform in the chow hall for us. I recall hearing them rehearse during supper, but I didn't attend because I thought "Rock Around the Clock" too extreme then. I'd be happy to hear him now. On days off I sometimes went to the Link Shack, the building where Tradevmen (TD's) maintained analog flight simulators. I would "fly" aircraft simulating F9F jets. I was warned not to roll the simulator, which might cause the gyro horizon to tumble, but I usually managed to tumble it anyway, which made me "persona non grata".|
|FASRON 9's job was to support the jet squadrons, of which there were several. Each squadron consisted of about 14 aircraft. Types were F2H-2 and F2H-3 Banshees, F9F-5 Panthers, F9F-6 Cougars, F4D Skyrays, and A4 Skyhawks. My initial job, as electronic shop newbie, was to issue test equipment from the "cage" in the remote hangar shop. In time I became trusted to repair equipment. One of our collateral jobs was to provide and maintain the UHF communications trailers used by the Landing Signal Officer (LSO) who would be stationed at the approach end of the duty runway. On occasion, he would be actually providing landing assistance as the pilots performed Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP's). More frequently, he was simply there to raise the alert over UHF radio if a pilot failed to lower his wheels before landing. We had a yellow jeep with an FM radio. We used this jeep to ferry trailers and LSO's to their watch stations, clearing with tower before we crossed runways. When I had been in the squadron sufficiently long, I drove this jeep and maintained the trailers. We were later given a new radar van for use by squadrons in performing FCLP's. I was directed to deliver a radar synchronizer to the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CVA-59). A driver and truck was assigned me to travel to the Mayport Naval Base just east of Jacksonville at the mouth of the St. John's River. I went aboard the enormous carrier, got lost, and finally found the electronic shop to deliver the gear. When I returned to the pier, my ride was gone, returned to Cecil Field. On impulse, I went to the Mayport air terminal, where I was fortunate to find the FASRON 9 SNB twin-engine Beechcraft and a couple of our pilots. I bummed a ride back to base. Still later, I was given the responsibility for pulling periodic checks on the electronics on FASRON's "pool" aircraft. These were intended as possible replacements for any the supported squadrons might require, and they also served to keep our FASRON pilots (of which there were a few) current. We had an AD-6 Skyraider, an F2H-2 Banshee, an SNB twin-engine Beechcraft, an S2F Trader, an F9F-5 Panther, an F9F-6 Cougar, an F7U Cutlass, and an old F3D Skyknight that reeked of urine because someone had missed the piss tube. We temporarily had an F3H Demon and a FJ Fury. I was an AT3 at the time, and had no one to assist me - I had total responsibility for maintaining those aircraft and making any field changes to them. I recall making an extensive and expensive Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) update to the F7U Cutlass. I had just completed it when the Navy struck the aircraft. Apparently the long Cutlass nose gear was too fragile for carrier landings. Eventually I stood watch as "Duty Technician", which meant I was on call should any squadron person need access to the electronic shop. Typically, this meant standing watch in the shop, because the LSO frequently required transportation to or from the runway, and occasionally the wind changed, in which case the duty runway changed also. I found weekends to be boring, especially Sundays. There was no sound of aircraft engines, and little activity. I would frequently open up the electronic shop, whether I had duty there or not, and I looked for excitement. On one occasion a pair of Air Force F86 Sabres landed, one having a failed UHF communications transceiver. Something to do! When the F86 took off the next day, he had a Navy ARC-27 in place of the Air Force unit, and could communicate once more.|
An aerial view of NAS Cecil Field, showing the
barracks buildings arranged around the chow hall.
Click on the small image to see a larger one.
|The Navy worked Monday through Friday, and half a day Saturday. Unless we had the duty (every fourth day) we were free after about 4 p.m. each evening and all day on Sunday, so there was ample time for liberty. Civilian clothing was permitted There weren't many places I cared to go. I recall going once with someone to Jax Beach, which was nearly vacant at that time. One walked across the dune grass to find endless stretches of unpopulated white sand. Another time I went with someone to a movie theater on Normandy Boulevard to see Frank Sinatra's "Tender Trap". We thumbed a ride back to base after dark with an officer pilot driving a 1956 Chevy.|
|At first I was non-rated, and stood watch either on the squadron aircraft ramp, inside the hangar, or outside the fenced area and building used to house the nuclear weapon training shapes. The POW would make the rounds of his watches, bringing welcome hot black coffee in the middle of the night. We were also visited by skunks - the skunk would back away carefully in one direction, while I backed away carefully in the other. After I was promoted to Petty Officer 3rd Class (AT3) on May 16th, 1956, I stood 8-hour POW watches instead of the 4-hour watches I'd stood previously. I took coffee to my watchstanders in the middle of the night. I got this coffee from the chow hall at the same time as I took advantage of mid-rats. I'd enter the chow hall through the back door and load up on eggs to order, bacon, toast and hot coffee. Gloriosky, that was good!|
|This being Florida, we had extremes of weather. Normally, it was sunny, humid, and almost unbearably hot. At the time, Navy aircraft were transitioning from being painted dark blue to being very light gray, almost white. The electronics on our aircraft were frequently accessible through a hatch in the bottom, which we called the "Hell Hole", or it might be necessary to remove the nose or a panel. A dark blue aircraft sitting outside in the afternoon sun was far too hot to touch, and inside the Hell Hole the temperature was unbearable. On at least one occasion we had a hurricane. All of the squadron aircraft flew away, since the hangars were insufficiently large to accommodate them all. The married personnel were instructed to stay home, and we single-sackers were left to take care of things. I don't recall any damage, though. Hard to believe, but Cecil got really cold in winter. If I had to stand watch outside, I layered clothing - two pairs of trousers, T-shirt, sweater, jumper, peacoat, scarf, gloves. Hot black coffee in the middle of the night was most welcome.|
|ORDERS TO MALTA|
|On February 19th, 1957, I was detached from FASRON 9 with orders to FASRON 201 on Malta, traveling to Norfolk, Virginia for further transportation onward.|
|THEN AND NOW|
|NAS Cecil Field was a marvelous jet base. Unfortunately, it was deemed redundant, and was decommissioned on September 30th, 1999. The base was turned over to a Jacksonville development group. The barracks and chow hall have been razed, as have many of the other buildings. The hangars are still standing, though to what use they are put I don't know. Boeing has a presence there, as can be seen from a recent Google Earth view. I have driven aboard the base twice, since there is no security. Many of the old roads have been destroyed and some new roads added. My advice is not to return, but to remember the base as it was.|
The FASRON hangar. Maintenance shops were on the ground level.
Maintenance offices were on the upper level. We mustered
each morning on the north apron of this hangar.
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