Norm Holloway of Venice, Fla. had the best job in the Navy, he said. He was a cook aboard the carrier USS Independence (CV-62) during the Vietnam War era. He and 74 other cooks provided food for the ship ‘s crew of 5,000.
Shortly after graduating from high school in Camden, N.J. he decided to join the Navy in 1968 and see the world because he was tired of the cold weather in Jersey in December. They sent him to Great Lakes Naval Processing Center for boot camp were it’s even colder than Jersey.
Holloway trained as an aviation electrician for six months at Jacksonville Naval Air Station and from there was reassigned to Virginia Beach as part of Fighter Squadron VF-102, nicked named “The Diamondbacks.”
“They were just coming back from Vietnam, but only six of their 12 Phantom fighter-bombers returned to the States. The others had been shot down over Vietnam,” the 64-year old former Naval aviation electrician said.
“The planes were in bad shape. They had holes in them from the war and some of them still had pine tree branches stuck in them from scraping the tops of the trees while fighting,” he said.
“They sent me out on the flight line to clean them up. I was armed with a gigantic power-washer that shot steam. After three or four days of cleaning planes I went to the lieutenant in charge and told him, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore, I’m an aviation electrician.’
“‘No problem,’ he replied.
“He sent me to the galley. I became a cook. I never went back to fixing planes.
“When I arrived at the galley they said, ‘You must be the cook we’re looking for?’ VF102, our squadron, had three cooks that prepared meals for 250 men. I also found out that cooks got the best liberty in the Navy and ate the best food.
“‘Yea, I’ll be your new cook,’ I told them.”
A short while later, Squadron VF-102 was sent aboard the Essex Class carrier USS Independence (CV-62) as it went on sea trials off the East Coast. It eventually headed for the Mediterranean and a conflict in Jordan in 1970.
“I became one of 75 cooks aboard the Independence cooking for everyone in the 5,000-man crew. From my vantage-point I became a supersonic aviation commissary technician. Eventually I was a 3rd Class Petty Officer and considered the best guy in the squadron because at night, when we were at sea, I would make the pilots whatever they wanted—doughnuts, pizza, peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches.
“The first 13 months I was a cook it was on the job training for me. I was in the ‘Spud Locker,’ the lowest job you could have as a cook in the Navy. Before I left that position I was a 3rd Class Petty Officer with five seamen working for me. Our job was to peel potatoes with machines and other vegetables we were serving,” he explained. “I remember I was working in the ‘Spud Locker’ one night and I turned around and there stood Adm. Elmo Zumwalt (Chief of Naval Operations) standing behind me. He sat down and chit-chatted a little bit with me.”
From the “Spud Locker” Holloway’s status was upgraded and he began working as a cook in the ship’s bakery.
“I could pretty much do anything I wanted to do in the bakery. I could make pizzas for the men aboard ship,” he said.
One of the big pluses about being a cook aboard the Independent, he got a lot of time off both on board and on shore when the carrier came into port.
“One of my hobbies was taking pictures of activities aboard ship when we were at sea. One day I watched a delta-winged ‘Vigilante’ patrol plane crash while trying to land aboard the Independent,” Holloway said. “It had a really long nose and the pilot sat in a cockpit all the way up front.
“When he was coming in that day his tail-hook broke and it went over the side of the ship at 70 knots.
“It came over the intercom: ‘Plane in the water! Plane in the water!’ I grabbed my camera and went up on deck.
“The ship had already turned away from the crash. The ‘Vigilante’ was upside-down in the sea. It floated for a moment or so on its back and then it submerged in a hurry. Both pilots lost their lives.
“The next day I was working in the galley again and I heard over the intercom once more: ‘Plane in the water! Plane in the water!’ I grabbed my camera and headed for the flight deck.
“A Marine aviator in his single-seat jet fighter attempted to land on the carrier’s deck but his tail-hook missed the arresting cable. He went off the front end of the carrier and disappeared. He managed to keep flying the plane and bring it around again for another landing.
“When he missed the cable on the second try the pilot gunned the engine and it stalled out of him. As his fighter was about to plug into the water he hit his ejection button. The pilot landed in the sea alongside the carrier. One of the two helicopters hovering overhead picked him up and brought him back to the ship. He survived the ordeal.
“I photographed most of it. When the fighter hit the water it flipped over and created a huge wave. Both the wave and the plane disappeared at the same time,” Holloway said.
The Independent spent 60 days off the coast of Jordan before she sailed back to the States. After four months Stateside the carrier was reassigned to the North Atlantic in December off the coast of Scotland.
“Waves could be 60 feet high in the North Atlantic,” he said. “It was tough duty.
“When we were up there we dealt with Russian Bear bombers. They were always messing with us. Our fighters would intercept the Russians and fly upside-down cockpit-to-cockpit over top of the Russian bombers. Our squadron, ‘The Diamondbacks’ were great pilots.
“One time when our ship came back to the states the squadron went down to Boca Chica Naval Air Station at Key West. I went with them because I was their cook,” he said. “When I wasn’t cooking I did a lot of SCUBA diving around our submarine pits with Navy Frogmen. This was before they had SEALS. We’d go down looking for lobsters and checking out the subs.
“Being a cook was absolutely fabulous duty. The Navy had the best food in the world. I went into the service a 140 pound skinny kid and came out four years later 208 pounds. It was great duty.
After his discharge from the Navy in 1972, Holloway and his wife, Janice, and their two children, Jamie and Kristin, moved to Venice. They both went to work for Coldwell Bankers Realtors where they have been for almost three decades.
Just by chance a few years after moving here he stopped by Heitel Jewelers in Venice, a couple of doors away, to get a Mother’s Day present for his wife. Ken Heitel, the owner, was wearing a distinctive gold ring made from his Marine aviators wings.
“I found out he had been a Marine pilot in Squadron 102 aboard the Independence at the same time I was on the ship. In fact, I took pictures of him ejecting from his jet fighter while attempting to land,” Holloway said. “It’s a small world.”
Name: Norman Robert Holloway, Jr.
D.O.B: 9 Nov. 1949
Hometown: Camden, NJ
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: 24 Dec. 1968
Discharged: Dec. 1972
Rank: Petty Officer
Commendations: National Defense Service Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014 and is republished with permission.
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