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"I'd still rather be on a flight deck with spinning props than on a battlefield with bullets buzzing over my head." (Video Interview, 27:59)

   David P. Riley
Collection image
David Riley [2007]
War: Korean War, 1950-1953
Branch: Navy
Unit: USS Philippine (CG 58)
Service Location: Korea; Japan; Hawaii; China; Philippines
Rank: Airman
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David Riley graduated from high school one year into the Korean War and enlisted so he could select the branch of service he wanted. He wound up in the midst of a different kind of action from that of the battlefield. On the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, Riley was a mechanic responsible for checking out planes before they left on a mission and checking them in when they returned. The flight deck was a dangerous place to be; his ship lost more planes to accidents there than to enemy fire--though Riley never lost any plane he serviced.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (7 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (39 min.)
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»Korean War
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (7 items)
Enlisted to choose his branch of service; family of four siblings, two girls and two boys; father said the girls go to college, the boys fend for themselves; Navy promised they would send him to school learn a trade after he finished basic training. (01:23) Went to boot camp in Bainbridge, Maryland; further training in Jacksonville, Florida, then his choice of specialized training; he was interested in training as a parachute rigger at a base in New Jersey close to home, until he learned that it involved packing your own chute and making a jump; switched to learning mechanics in Memphis; got into squadron of Corsairs; they flew at night in Korea, four planes and five pilots; he lived with the plane when it wasn't up in the air; pilots did close air support, bombed tunnels and railroads. (04:36) Working on WWII-era aircraft carrier; straight deck: if plane missed tail hook, there was a barrier to stop it; lost more planes in carrier accidents than in action; lost 90 in 10 months, 13 in one accident when plane jumped barrier and took out all those planes; has read about carriers deployed to Iraq not losing any planes in that same amount of time. (01:53)
His duties: get up and get plane started, go down below deck and wait for plane to return (usually four hours); never lost a plane in two cruises, which he considers "just dumb luck." (00:50) On the way to Australia after the war; sent on search for Chinese Nationalist plane which had been shot down by a Chinese Communist plane; pilot of his plane shot down a Communist plane that attacked him; pilot of his plane on first cruise had five children; had served in World War II and been called up from the reserves; he was a daredevil; a moment of levity: Riley had been reading a book in the plane, some pages fell out and during a dive, they flew up into the pilot's face. (02:09) The LSO (Landing Signal Officer) would guide the planes in with flags and if he thought they couldn't make it, he would call them off; Riley had to take salt-water showers because fresh water was available only on hours he was working; cramped living conditions; realized what a bad cook his mother was when he was he was the only recruit who liked the food in boot camp. (03:24)
Saw people walk into airplane props; flight deck was dangerous place if you didn't keep your wits about you; he still preferred being there to the battlefield; as well trained as pilots were, they could panic; saw a plane go over the side, but it floated for about 15 seconds; they all watched as the pilot was unable to find the release on his belt and he went down with the plane. (01:42)  

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  October 26, 2011
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