VMTB-242 I

As I talk these words some sixty years later, I recall very little about those L.A. liberty flights.  I do know that I was the pilot on two of the flights, maybe three.  And I remember that even then, smog and haze could be a problem over L.A.  I was flying CFR, contact flight rules.  I had Linsmaier, Wilmot and two or three of our pilots crammed into the belly of my TBF.  But when I let down over the San Gabriel Mountains into the sprawling L.A. basin, I couldn’t see the damned airport.  I groped my way through a thick haze—or was it smog?  Quick decision: I flew out to the Pacific, circled back across Marina del Rey and there it was—Mines Field—right where it was supposed to be.  No problem entering the landing circle.  No problem landing.

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Once they hit Hollywood, most aircrews headed for The Hollywood Canteen, located on a side street off Hollywood Boulevard.  Movie stars such as Dorothy Lamour, Lana Turner, Heddy Lamarr, Dinah Shore, Betty Davis, and Betty Grable pitched in at the Canteen.  They entertained, waited on tables, washed the dishes and danced with the soldiers, sailors and Marines passing through.

Even Marlene Dietrich did her part for the boys at the Canteen.  By request, she always sang “Lili Marlene,” the haunting German war song that became so popular it was adopted by the troops on both sides.

Unfortunately, no commissioned officers were allowed in the Hollywood Canteen.  So when VMTB-242 pilots landed in L.A., they would split in all directions.  Three of the most popular hangouts were the main lobby bar at the Hollywood Hotel, the Zephyr Room at the Chapman Park Hotel and the Coconut Grove in the Ambassador Hotel.  All three hangouts attracted women who seemed to have a visceral feeling for flyers.  All three hotels offered pilots a low, low rate for a double room, overnight.

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