The Library of Congress Veterans History Project Home 
Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans History Project
Home » Text Transcript

Interview with Samuel Folsom [4/2/2010]

John Lyon:

My name is John Lyon, and the date is April 2nd, 2010. I'm in New York City interviewing Sam Folsom for the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress. Thank you for agreeing to interview, Sam.

Samuel Folsom:

Great pleasure for me.

John Lyon:

To start off, the Veterans History Project needs to know your birth date and which branches of the military you served in, and which wars you served in.

Samuel Folsom:

I'm an antique Marine. I was born on [birth date redacted]. I served in the Marine Corps for about 23 years. Served in Guadalcanal, Okinawa, Japan, and Korea, as well as a lot of other islands, various islands in the Pacific.

John Lyon:

I understand you were also in the Navy before you joined the Marines.

Samuel Folsom:

I had a very strange beginning career. I graduated from the Maritime Academy in Massachusetts, and was immediately commissioned as an ensign in the Naval Reserve. And I served in the Naval Reserve for about 10 months, in the meantime doing everything I could to transfer to flight training. At that point, Naval Reserve officers could not take flight training as commissioned. Thev had to vacate - not resign but vacate - their commission and start over again as Seaman, 2nd Class, which after 10 months, I did.

John Lyon:

Let's start at the beginning Sam. Where did you grow up?

Samuel Folsom:

I was born in Quincy, Massachusetts and brought up in Peabody, Massachusetts, which is a suburb of Boston.

John Lyon:

And your parents, what sort of occupations did they have?

Samuel Folsom:

I was adopted by an aunt and uncle as an infant, and they brought me up.

John Lyon:

Now, you said that you joined the Navy. How old were you when you joined the Navy?

Samuel Folsom:

Well, I got out of high school, I went immediately to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and spent two years there, training to be a Merchant Marine officer, and as part of this I was in the Naval Reserve, and upon graduation was commissioned Ensign, USNR. And almost immediately was called - well, I shouldn't say "almost" Øimmediately I was called into active duty by the Navy, and I served on a Navy oiler, the USS Patoka, which some people called "The Potato," for good reason: it was a high speed thing of about nine or 10 knots. [the USS Patoka AO-9, was well-known for its later role as the tender for the US Navy airships USS Akron and USS Los Angeles.] But we were servlclng the Atlantic fleet during the period of the Blackout War, when we were really at war with Germany, but not officially. I did that for about 10 months, but I wanted to be a flier, so I applied for flight training, and was brought into the flight training program in June of 1941. At that time I was, believe it or not, a Seaman 2nd Class, because I was required to vacate my commission. So I served in E Base [a training station] for a month or two as a Seaman 2nd then I went to flight training school in Jacksonville, Florida and in Miami, Florida. And in about 10 months time I graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant, US Marine Corps Reserve. I had taken - I had specialized in fighters, and I took fighter training at Miami. It was a lot of fun but it was kind of a joke because we were training in old biplane fighters, F3Fs, which were a lot of fun to fly, but they had very little to do with modern warfare. Upon graduating from flight school in January of 1942, immediately after the war started, I was sent to Quantico. I won't go through all that. I spent three or four months there. Ended up at Miramar, California, which is a suburb of San Diego, where I was checked out in an F4F, and I trained in the F4F for about four or five months before being sent overseas. I'd like to say at this time that all of this, for all of us 2M Lieutenants at that time was - I really don't know how to explain it. We just didn't have any time to train, we had very little flight time, and we were sent overseas completely unprepared. I had 225 hours of flying when I graduated from flight school, I had about 250 hours of flight experience when I went overseas, of which about 25 hours was in an F4F. So in a period of three or four months I accumulated 25 hours. And that seems like very little, but compared to some other people in my squadron who ended up with about 14 hours, I was an experienced pilot. When I arrived at the Marine Corps station at Miramar, which by the way was a spot in the desert near San Diego, had runways but no hangars, no buildings, no nothing. There were two fighter squadrons in our group. I'm guessing now - it was a long time ago - that we had something like 20 airplanes for the two squadrons, and had approximately 80 pilots. So you can imagine how much training we got. After about three months there, the planes were all taken away, taken down to North Island, to be refurbished to be sent overseas. So we had two squadrons of pilots and no aircraft for a short period of time. And when the planes came back, they took pilots from both squadrons and formed one squadron. So that we ended going overseas with 24 airplanes and 40 pilots, the majority of which were 2nd Lieutenants of no experience. At the time we shipped out, none of us, none of us 2nd Lieutenants, had ever fired a gun in the air, had ever worn an oxygen mask, had probably never flown above 10 or 12 thousand feet. Our experience was more than limited: it was almost nonexistent. But we went. We shipped out on the Lureline [SS Lureline, built in 1932, which as USAT Lureline served as a troop transport in WWII] , which was a luxury liner that used to serve Honolulu. And to our great amusement it still was equipped as a luxury liner. So we sat at fancy white tablecloth tables, had food served to us by the staff, and a menu to go by. So for about three weeks we lived the life of Riley, prior to getting overseas to where the bad stuff was happening.

John Lyon:

Where did you sail to?

Samuel Folsom:

We went via Honolulu and Samoa to New Caledonia. And we were put ashore at New Caledonia. Our airplanes, by the way, were on another ship, coming separately. I'm remembering now, but I think we stayed in New Caledonia, again living in tents, for about a month. And in late August, early September 1942, we left for Guadalcanal. We had no - oh, I forgot one important piece of this was when the planes showed up in New Caledonia, they were on a "Jeep" aircraft carrier [escort carrier]. And none of us, at least none of the 2nd Lieutenants, had ever been on a carrier. I don't think any of us had ever seen one. And this was one of the small emergency carriers. They took us out, told us how to fly off the carrier, and launched us. Very, very exciting experience. In my case they put me on a catapult - I had never been on a catapult before - and said, "Hold your elbow in your belly, so the stick doesn't come back when you take off." So I did what I was told. Catapult went off, stick went back, and I went vertical! Those were old hydraulic catapults, and they fired everybody like being shot out of a cannon. The present steam catapults are more powerful but they're easier. Those hydraulic catapults just jammed you. So I went vertical. First thing I knew, I was looking down at the water behind me, not under me. I pulled out all right, but the reason for this story is to again get back to the inexperience. One of the pilots who was with me ended up in the water, he catapulted into the water. The catapult eventually broke down, and they had to take what was left of the squadron back into the island, and the next day took us back out. And I was out there this time to take off without the catapult, because the catapult had broken down. Saw a destroyer coming across the harbor, flashing its light at us, signal light. It turned out that we in the carrier were being launched in a minefield, an American minefield that they were not aware of. But again I'm getting back to the point that everything was done in a hurry. We were all green. We were lucky to make it. So we spent oh, about a month, maybe a little bit less, and then went up to Guadalcanal in shifts. I was flown up in a DC-3. C-47, excuse me, C-47, and landed on the island up there before the squadron arrived. Squadron came in later, flew some of the planes in. But at that point, Guadalcanal was, the Japanese were all around the perimeter, we were living in tents in the mud, it was a real mess, but it was not unacceptable. We were told what we were gonna face, and we faced it.

John Lyon:

Do you remember what date you arrived there?

Samuel Folsom:

What date? I've forgotten the dates, I'd have to look it up, but it was sometime late September, I believe, 1942. But I was there part of September, October, November. A total of maybe 60 or so days on site. We were operating off the fighter strip, which was a pasture. Again, none of us had ever flown to altitude, and the first thing we experienced was we had to go to 20,000 feet to find the Japs. The Japanese bombers came over every day, and we were supposed to intercept them. The first time I went up in that airplane, I was wearing an oxygen mask for the first time, didn't even know how to breathe. Got up over the Japanese at about 24,000 feet. Did what I was told in flight school: I rolled over on my back to dive down on them - and spun out! Because I didn't have enough speed, had no experience at altitude. So my first experience with the Japanese was spinning through a formation of 12 or 15 Bettys. I went right through the middle of them. They were on both sides of me, and there's nothing I could do but look! And we made it down, climbed back up to find the Japanese. Got on the tail of one, pressed the trigger on the stick, and the guns didn't fire. Later on it turned out that we'd been sent up with the guns still oiled. People were just learning, including the maintenance crew, that at that altitude, a machine gun that had lubricant on it would freeze. So my first experience was flying an airplane, spinning out, climbing back up, and not being able to shoot. And I was not alone. I'm not giving you a lone story. Lots of other people were in the same category. In fact everybody, with the guns, had the same problem. This went on for - off and on for - with various people, for a couple weeks. Because they kept getting, new airplanes would come in and they'd put them into service immediately. The minute they'd hit the field, they'd load 'em up and send 'em out, because we were in short supply. And almost invariably they would send out the new airplanes with the guns still lubricated. So, twice in my experience up there, I got into a formation of Japanese planes, prepared to fire, and the guns wouldn't go.

John Lyon:

What was it like arriving in Guadalcanal. You arrived there a few weeks after the--.

Samuel Folsom:

Well I arrived in a C-47 with 15 other pilots, and the first thing I saw of the island, we came down through a low-hanging cloud and it was raining, so I didn't see the island, really, until I got on the ground. And when I got on the ground it was raining and mud. We went into tents that had been set up in advance for us, but there were no decks or anything like that And the first job we had, I remember, the planes hadn't arrive yet, we were handed spades and said, "Dig foxholes." So we did. And it proved to our advantage, because in due course over the next few weeks we were shelled several times by Japanese battleships. I'm not using the term loosely: I'm not talking about destroyers, I'm talking about battleships. 14-inch guns would sit offshore and they would fire at us. They were there to try and destroy the airfield and the aircraft. And on two or three occasions I was down in that foxhole listening to those 14-inchers, and until you've heard that slide over your head, you haven't lived! [laughs] It's quite an experience. I flew, oh, every day or two. I didn't have much experience meeting Japs. I could see them in the distance, but the F4F was slower and less maneuverable than the Zero, so we really never got into conflict with the Zeros unless they chose to do so. Our main course of action was to try to get the Bettys that were coming over and bombing the airfield. And, I don't know, I had two or three occasions - two of which I've already covered with you - in getting close to the Bettys. But I never got into position to fire effectively at a Betty at that point. We went in with 40 pilots, and we lost, if I remember correctly, 17 to enemy action, and three or four were taken, were medically evacuated. I had two big actions at Guadalcanal that I distinctly remember. We were sent up to 20,000 feet - this was in November of '42 - we were sent up to 20,000 feet to intercept some Japanese bombers, which we had been advised were coming in at high altitude, which they did every day: 20,000 feet, 23,000 feet. So we were all up there at 20,000 feet, and for once in our lives we were ahead of time, we were ahead of the bombers. And all of a sudden we looked down, and all of the Japanese bombers were on the water, coming in to make torpedo attacks on the fleet, which was down there. So we were 20,000 feet away, and we all dove down. And the first thing that happened to me, when I got down on the water - and I'm speaking literally on the water, 12, 15 feet above the water. Not two or three hundred feet, 12 or 15 feet. When I got down there I ended up right on the tail of a Japanese bomber, and even I couldn't miss that. I shot him down. He hit the water immediately with a great big splash right directly in front of me. And I slid to one side, and there was another Japanese bomber right there, and I got him. And with all the experience I had, being an expert shot [sarcastically], I had used every bit of my ammunition. And I turned away, and at this point the Zeros found me. I was on the water, no maneuvering space, no ammunition, and Zeros - I don't know how many: I didn't turn around to count them, but there were several. I remember that much to my relief, when we had been at [inaudible], excuse me, at Miramar, we had been briefed by two RAF pilots at the Battle of Britain. And their parting words to us were, "If you ever get an enemy on your tail and you don't know what to do and you can't do anything, skid." Those words were indelibly imprinted on my brain, and I skidded. Fortunately I skidded enough so, although I was badly shot up, they didn't get me. In fact, the first that I knew that they were there was when I heard the armor plate at my back ringing. And then my throttle was shot off. Not the throttle itself, but the mounting was shot off, so I was sitting in the airplane with the throttle and the mount in my hand, at no altitude. Fortunately I was near to the airfield. I managed to get back to the airfield, but in landing I had to use the stick, get over there and hold the throttle at the same time. You needed three hands and I had two. But I got down. At about that same time - I think it was the next day - the Japanese fleet had come down that night and shot the hell out of the island. Again the 144inch guns and all. We were all in our foxholes. None of the fighter pilots were killed in that, but a large number of people in the dive bomber squadron, which was adjacent to us, were hit in a foxhole and wiped out. That morning, I won't attempt to describe the thing except to say that the bay was unbelievable: ships in all directions in various states of distress, bows blown off and sinking and all. But an Australian coastwatcher had seen a Japanese vessel up off Savo Island, and had radioed in to us that there was a large vessel off Savo Island, dead in the water. As an ex-Naval officer, inexperienced as I was [laughs], I was selected to go out and identify him. So they gave me a silhouette book, said, "Go out and find out what ship that is" and gave me a wingman, and on takeoff the wingman aborted so I was flying out - I'm guessing at the mileage, it was 75 or a hundred miles away. And sure enough, there was a large ship out there with six destroyers circling it. Japanese destroyers. I was in a cloud bank and I kept coming down to look and going back up and doing that to save myself, and they fired at me, but it was ineffectual. Finally I got back to the strip. With the silhouette book I was able to identify the ship as Kongo class, which was a Japanese battleship class of, I forget, three or four ships. They were built in England and put in service in Japan in 1913! They had been modernized but they were very old ships. But in due course it was discovered that that was the Hiei, H-E-I, H-I-E-I. And she had been damaged the night before in a battle with American ships, and the rudder had been damaged. And she was perfectly upright, everything was operating on the ship, except she couldn't steer, so she was dead in the water. I came in and identified her. We launched an attack against her, as well as notifying the Navy: there was a carrier offshore, launched an attack And the whole day was spent in attacking that ship. I was involved in the attack, and for the second day in a row I came down on that ship, on the destroyers. We were designated to strafe the destroyers while the torpedo bombers and bombers had a,go at the battleship. And I was "tail-end Charlie." I pulled up, I pulled up to the right, and the whole squadron pulled up to the left, and I was all alone. I climbed up to about eight or 10 thousand feet, I've really forgotten what, and all of a sudden I realized that there was a whole flight of Zeros above me. I'm guessing, but there were 10 or 12 of them. And this was a great position: no speed, slow airplane, not maneuverable, and with the whole Japanese Air Force above me. I headed for the nearest clouds, which weren't too far away. But they caught me before I got there, and as I was climbing into the clouds two of them really shot the hell out of me. And I got into the clouds and flew around for a while, then ducked back out of the clouds, and there they were again, shot the hell out of me again. I climbed back into the clouds, close enough that one of them almost flew right by me in the clouds. I could almost see the pilot. And decided that the only way out was to fly towards Japan. So I flew away from my airfield in the clouds, 10 or 15 minutes. Came out of the clouds, nobody was around, and I flew home. When I got back to the airfield I put the flaps down, and only one of them came down. [Laughs] Which is quite an experience. All of a sudden I lost control of the airplane. It veered terribly, of course. I got the flap back up again and landed. At this point I want to brief you on something that I have seen throughout my lifetime: Hollywood movies. They always have the squadron down there, their hearts bleeding for the guy that didn't come back, waiting for him, burning the candle, drinking. Well, I landed, and the field was right by the mess tent. And as I got out of the airplane, my wingman, my bosom buddy, came out of the tent picking his teeth. I was sitting there shaking, my airplane was smoking from having been hit. He says, "Where you been?" [laughs] So, so much for worrying about your buddies. Anyway, this went on, the experience of living in the island was terrific. All the people in the squadron, save two of us, had malaria. Somehow I got through that whole operation up there without getting malaria. But every single pilot in that squadron, except my wingman and I, ended up with malaria.

John Lyon:

Were you taking drugs to avoid getting it?

Samuel Folsom:

Well, lets just say, probably what I did - I'm coming across as probably a dumber here - but when we were briefed to take Atabrine for malaria, to ward it off, I misunderstood. You were supposed to take one pill a day. I took two. So maybe I owe the fact that I didn't get malaria to that. But anyway, that's what happened. When we got out of Guadalcanal, we went down to New Caledonia for about a month, I guess. The idea was we were to go down there, go through a rehabilitation process, go over to Australi~ for two weeks' leave, come back and go to Guadalcanal. Well, I got my green uniform out, got all brushed up, got ready to go to Australia on leave, and they changed the orders, and we, the group that I was with was sent to British Samoa, actually to American Samoa. So I never did get to go to Australia. It was just another heartbreaker in my war. We stayed in Samoa, first in American Samoa and then in British Samoa, as the fighter squadron designated to protect those islands. Of course there was no fighting down there, but the Japs were close enough aboard that they were worried there might be. So I went to American Samoa, then transferred to British Samoa, then went up to an island called Funafuti in the Ellis Islands. Which was a thin strip of coral and sand in the middle of the ocean It was just a runway. There was no village, no nothing. No natives had been there, at least in our time. And we stayed there three or four months, and then came back to the States. So this was one year time from when we left.

John Lyon:

And was your squadron intact then? What was your squadron number?

Samuel Folsom:

No, the squadron was broken up in New Caledonia, when we left Guadalcanal. Half of the squadron was sent to Samoa, and in due course - I remember what it was - half the squadron went to Australia, and the other half, which I was a part, was scheduled to go to Australia. While half the squadron was out on Australia, while we were getting ready to take our trip over, they changed the orders and half was sent immediately back to Samoa, because there was a squadron there that they wanted to get into Guadalcanal. So we relieved that squadron, and that squadron came to Guadalcanal. And half of our squadron, which by the way was VMF-121, to the best of my knowledge the highest-scoring Marine fighter squadron in World War Two. I've forgotten how many planes. Again, I'm remembering, but it was something like 120 planes the squadron was credited with. [Marine historian Robert Sherrod credits VMF-121 with 208 aerial victories in WWII.] And we lost, as I mentioned earlier, 17 pilots to enemy action.

John Lyon:

Your Executive Officer, as I understand, was Joe Foss.

Samuel Folsom:

Our Commanding Officer was Duke Davis, and our Executive Officer was Foss, Joe Foss. And Joe Foss and his group were the lucky ones that got to Australia. Duke Davis and his group were the unfortunate ones, in a way were unfortunate, were sent back to Samoa. And then when the war - I was gonna say when the war ended - when we came out of combat and went back to the States, we all got together in California. And we went up to see Joe Foss, he was in a squadron by that time in Santa Barbara. And that's when this picture was taken: five of us from the old squadron together with Joe Foss. He with his shotgun. He was an old hunter from, I think, North Dakota. I guess that did him well, because he was a sure shot.

John Lyon:

And that's you kneeling down there, is it?

Samuel Folsom:

Yes. Oh, I'm kneeling down in the front, Bill Freeman behind me. Wally Wethe [sp?], Duke Davis, Joe Foss, and Art Kneff. [sp?]

John Lyon:

And when you got back to the States, were you re-trained, another squadron?

Samuel Folsom:

Well, back in the States, I thought I was going to overseas again. At EI Toro I checked out an F4-U [Chance-Vought Corsair] for the first time. By the way, the F4-Us had come in and replaced the F4Fs after we had left Guadalcanal. So that was the standard Marine fighter at the time. And I checked out in the F4-U in California, thinking, actually I was hoping that I was going to go back overseas together with an F4-U, because I wanted to over there with a plane that was better! But unfortunately at that point, I and some of the others were transferred to flight training, as instructors. So I was, with a very few hours in the F4-U, was sent to Jacksonville, Florida as an F4-U instructor. And while I was there, I saw the opportunity to get into night fighters, which seemed an easy way to get out of being a flight instructor. So I transferred to night fighters, which were down at Vero Beach, Florida. I trained as a night fighter, ended up as a night fighter instructor, and then was sent to Cherry Point, North Carolina, to VMFN-544, which is a night fighter squadron. We spent time there, I was the Operations Officer. Went to El Centro, California, for, presumed for shipping overseas. But at EI Centro I was dispatched to the Pacific to Eniwetok - Engebi - to be the Executive Officer of VMFN-533. And after about a month or so of that, the squadron was sent to Okinawa. And we went to Okinawa via Saipan and Iwo Jima. And the Iwo Jima experience was quite a thing for a pilot. It had been secured by that time, but there were still random Japanese in the caves. Still firing. And we just stayed there long enough to refuel, and flew on to Okinawa.

John Lyon:

When did you get there? Early '45?

Samuel Folsom:

I got there, I think it was late May of 1945. And I was Executive Officer of 533, and after about two months, I guess, the Commanding Officer of 533 was reassigned back in the States, and I was Commanding Officer, made Commanding Officer - it was my first command - of VMFN-533 in Okinawa for about two months, July and August of '45. Whereupon that squadron, at the end of the war, that squadron was broken up and we were all sent in different directions. And I ended up being the Executive Officer of a squadron in Japan. Night fighter squadron, where I stayed for another 10 months.

John Lyon:

So you were in the occupation forces.

Samuel Folsom:

That's right. And by the way, as a matter of interest, although I had little to do but fly, VMFN-533, the squadron that I had in Okinawa, was again, probably the highest-scoring night fighter squadron in the Marine Corps in World War Two. We had something like 30, 35 airplanes shot down. ["Despite the fact "Black Mac's Killers" arrived forty days after the Okinawa campaign began, and the weather was horrendous throughout, they shot down 35 enemy aircraft and 1 probable-all radar intercepts, which is almost as many aircraft destroyed as all 3 other night fighter squadrons on Okinawa combined. VMF(N) 533 is the top scoring Night Fighter Squadron of the Pacific Theater in WWII. VMF(N) 533 had the best safety record and the highest combat ready rate for any operational squadron in the Pacific. In 15 months deployment overseas the "Scrappers" logged over 11,000 flight hours with only two regrettable losses, both due to "friendly fire," 1st Lt.'s Wilhide and Kelley." Source: http://www.acepilots.com/usmc/usmc_vmfn533.html

John Lyon:

Do you have any memorable experiences? Of course Okinawa was known for the terrible Kamikaze attacks.

Samuel Folsom:

Well, the most memorable experience I had in Okinawa had little to do with flying, had nothing to do with my flying. I was in an airplane, taxiing out for a night flight, before sunset one evening. And the airfield we were on was on a high bluff overlooking the fleet anchorage. And when you speak of "fleet," you mean it at Okinawa. I have never seen anything before or since, like it. The bay below was covered with every kind of vessel you could imagine. Our whole fleet down there, landing craft, a lot of combat ships. And one of the ships was the USS New Mexico, a battleship. And she was anchored not too far off the runway, below me, where I could really look over and see her. And at the point where I got to the end of the runway, all hell broke loose. Kamikazes were coming in. And so I was stuck at the end of the runway. I wasn't allowed to take off. All I could do was sit there in my canopy and look out. And I was looking down at the fleet, and two Japanese Kamikazes appeared, oh, I guess at 15, 20,000 feet. Way up, they were just specks. And the fleet, the whole fleet opened up. And again, I cannot hope to describe to you what it looked like when the US fleet opened up with antiaircraft. The air was simply black and covered with exploding shells, tracers, and smoke. And those two Japanese came down, and one of them got hit. I saw him get hit And the second one made it. And he went right down and hit the New Mexico. And this may sound like a dream, but I swear it is true. He went down right into the midships section of the New Mexico. And all I saw, I saw him disappear, and I saw a puff of smoke come out of the single stack of the New Mexico. And I found out later - had this confirmed - that that airplane went literally right down the funnel! Didn't explode on deck, went right down the funnel of the New Mexico. And to the best of my knowledge, from checking up on it later, in later years, it went down and exploded in the engine room, the boiler room, and the New Mexico ended up being towed back to Honolulu, and probably the States. But that was the end of the New Mexico. But she was sitting upright in the water, there was no more smoke, there was nothing, simply that one puff of smoke coming out of the stack. That guy had gone directly down. [A history of the USS New Mexico (BB-40) by a former crewmember agrees with Folsom's account of the first kamikaze bein9 shot down, and indicates that the second kamikaze hit the gun deck and funnel. It doesn't say if the plane or its bomb went down the funnel. The New Mexico was repaired in theater and was off Japan for the surrender. Source: http://www.ussnewmexico.net/bbhistory/ ] I was involved in a lot of things in Okinawa. There were a lot of exciting things in the air, but I didn't shoot down anything.

John Lyon:

How many aircraft did you shoot down during the war?

Samuel Folsom:

Uh, three. Those two Betty bombers, and a Zero up in Guadalcanal.

John Lyon:

What were your thoughts when Japan surrendered?

Samuel Folsom:

[pauses] I really don't know. I can't describe it. I didn't feel elated, I didn't feel - it was indescribable. I was just ready to go up and be in the occupation forces. We didn't - I can give you one example of something that happened. The night that the first word got through to the island that the Japanese were going to, or had surrendered. We were at our airfield, up in the middle of Okinawa, and the real front lines of Okinawa were further south, I don't know, 15 or 20 miles maybe. And when that word came through, I think it came through on Armed Forces Radio. Everybody down on the front lines opened up: all the artillery, everybody was shooting up in the sky, everybody that had a rifle was firing it. And we went around to our squadron and immediately told everybody, "Do not fire anything. Go in your tents. We'll have a beer party later. Don't shoot. It's dangerous." And believe it or not, Kadena, I believe, was the name of the field, nobody fired up there. And we watched all - and a lot of Americans were wounded and killed in that display down south.

John Lyon:

So Sam, you have a picture there of your night fighter squadron on Okinawa.

Samuel Folsom:

Well, this was near the end of the war in about July of 1945. VMFNN533. I was the squadron commander at this point. And this was when we started to live high on the hog. Until this time, my experience overseas had been in tents. Tents and more tents. But in Okinawa, the government, US government had started producing prefabricated buildings for squadrons overseas. And in Okinawa our squadron got huts to live in and huts - and these are pretty fancy plywood huts - for mess halls and everything. And the biggest one was the mess hall, the officers' mess. And not to my knowledge @I didn't know it at the time - some of the squadron had converted one end of the mess hall into a squadron bar. And when they had finished they invited me in and it was called "Sam's Saloon," much to my delight. [photo of Sam's Saloon] And we all met there and partied. And this was at the point in the war when it was pretty much all finished. It was almost the end of the war and we were able to enjoy ourselves. And we were out of the mud and living inside for the first time in about five years, so.... From there we went to -

John Lyon:

Any people in that picture that we would know of?

Samuel Folsom:

Oh, yes, there's one guy, well I don't want to signal, single him out with all the others, because these were all a bunch of great guys. But Bob Baird, who is in the center of the picture here, holding the champagne bottle, was the highest scoring night fighter pilot of the Marine Corps during World War Two. He shot down six airplanes, six Japanese airplanes, over Okinawa, in a period of about a month. And this may not sound like such a big score, against some of the big scores of the war, but you have to keep in mind that this was night flying, there weren't a lot of planes up, and you had to pick out individual planes and shoot them down one at a time. There was no big parade of airplanes to get into. So he did a wonderful job. He was an ace.

John Lyon:

So, just finishing off your memories of Japan, you were in Japan in the occupation forces.

Samuel Folsom:

Well, we moved - when the war ended things were, as you can well imagine, in a different sort of chaos. Everybody that was in squadrons was suddenly in another squadron, things were shifted all around so that that occupation force could be formed. We really hadn't given much thought to this before. We were all getting ready for the invasion of Japan, and suddenly there wasn't any Japanese opponent anymore. So they cut the numbers of people involved, cut the squadrons, concentrated the people together, and I was sent to Japan with another squadron. I believe it was VFMN-543, but the number escapes me. And I was Operations Officer of that squadron in Japan, and moved up to be Executive Officer, and then Commanding Officer. And that entire tour in Japan was about 10 months. It was rather routine. We patrolled around, looking for any possible activity on the ground, and there wasn't any. We built an officer's club. Really there was nothing much to do up there.

John Lyon:

And you returned to Stateside.

Samuel Folsom:

We came back to the States, and I was given command of a squadron, a fighter squadron, in Miramar, California, just outside of San Diego. And that lasted two or three months, and then I was transferred up to EI Toro, California. Became the squadron commander of a squadron there for several months, and then was transferred to the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River, Maryland, where I went to test pilot school and became a test pilot. But one of the interesting things that happened in California at the end of the war - when the war ended I was a Major. I was Commanding Officer of a squadron at Miramar as a Major. Suddenly, demotions came through. They were readjusting everybody. So I was made Captain. I still don't know why, because I was Commanding Officer of a squadron, and I stayed as a Major for something close to a year. But my duties were not changed. I still had Commanding Officer's duties, and everything was still as it was when I was a Major, but only the rank on my shoulder changed. And when they finally readjusted later on, and promoted me back to Major, if I remember correctly, I lost a total of two months. So the whole readjustment procedure was beyond my understanding, but it was done, and we went through it. I went to Patuxent, and I was in the number.one, I was in the first test pilot training squadron at Patuxent. They'd had, of course, test pilots long before that, but the Navy formed a small school at Patuxent, and I was one of the first pilots there. And advance this several years: a few years ago I was at a party in New York, and met a young Naval aviator, and got talking to him, and asked him where he was. He said he was at Patuxent, and I said, "Oh, I was there a long time ago." And he said, "Well, I just graduated in the 100th class of the Naval test pilot training school." So I took my cane and left the bar. After the test pilot school, I had a couple of good experiences. On one occasion - I guess it's not an occasion - at one period of time, I was THE guinea pig for a partial pressure that was developed from the, by the Navy for high altitude. They gave me a special suit, had it tailored to me, gave me a special airplane, a FG-3 with a turbosupercharger in the belly. I don't really remember exactly, but to the best of my knowledge the Navy only built three of those. And it was built to go to very high altitude. And this particular plane, they thought was going to be taken to 50,000 feet, and they were gonna put me in the suit and take me up there. In the course of that training, I flew that airplane at rather high altitude for that time, 40-some thousand feet, without the pressure suit, and my only remembrance that it was like sitting on top of a bowling ball. If you went to that altitude in that airplane, you were constantly unstable, your wing was going down to the right, then it was going down to the left, the nose was falling, so it was not a very good sensation. I did not do it very much or very long periods of time, but I do distinctly remember that bowling ball In the course of this, I was sent up to a factory in Worcester, Massachusetts, David L. Green Company [sic: David Clark Company], where they were gonna make this first suit. And this was really an elite organization I was in: one airplane, one surgeon, and me. And at this factory I walked into - I didn't know what I was getting into, I just run up to the factory. I walked into the first corridor of the manufacturing part of this company, and it's completely lined with sewing machines, with women making brassieres and girdles. Which was quite an experience in itself. There was quite a bit of laughter going on, tittering and hiding of faces. But nevertheless, this is where I was fitted for this suit, and in fact I still - no, I was gonna say I still have it. I have one somewhat similar. But that particular suit went to Wright Field with me, where the Air Force had the high altitude chamber at that time. The Navy didn't have one. So they took me up to - don't misunderstand me, I did this several times - but on one occasion they took me up to something like 73,000 feet in this special suit, and in this oxygen chamber. And they had alongside another chamber, oxygen chamber, with a rescue crew in it, that went to 25,000 feet. They took me up to 70, say, 73,000 feet. And they had constructed - someone had constructed - it wasn't really a cockpit mockup, but it was a plywood device in front of the stick, which I was to sit there and make these dials work, just to show that I could move my arms and legs. Because with this suit on, when they turned the pressure on, everything stiffened up. Motion was very difficult indeed, in fact sometimes almost impossible. So on one occasion, in fact the last occasion, they got me up to 700something thousand feet, and I leaned over this plywood box with all these dials on it, doing what I was told to do, and meanwhile the doctors and all the technicians were at a very heavy glass window looking into the chamber. And I leaned over to do something that I was supposed to do, and leaned back and all of sudden there was nothing there! I went, like [opens mouth wide], and it wasn't like gasping for breath. When you gasp for breath you have a "huuuuh." [inhales loudly] At that altitude when you gasp for breath, nothing happens! You just go (opens mouth wide, silently], there's nothing there to make that noise, no inhalation. I did that, looked up at that window, sawall those eyes looking at me, their eyes were bulging! [laughs] And the claxon sounded. There's a big lever inside the chamber, inside the control place, that they pull and they can dump the chamber. So they dumped it from 73 down to 25, so the rescue crew could come in and get me. But I wanted to tell you, and I really wanted to suggest it to the powers that be, that if you really want to have a humane way of doing away with somebody, if execution is really necessary, the most humane way in the world to do it is in an oxygen chamber. Because I died without the slightest bit of pain, without any memories, it was just, it was over. Just that one attempt to breathe, it was gone. Next thing I remember, this crew came in and reattached my oxygen and got me out. But it was an experience that was well-remembered. No pain. My wife sometimes says that it damaged my brain, but otherwise I'm all right.

John Lyon:

Did you do that again?

Samuel Folsom:

No, that whole project was stopped. I don't know whether it was stopped just because of that or not, but it certainly scared people to death They weren't really ready. They should never have had a device like that. They should have something done properly. We were doing a jury-built maneuver that was best done with more thought. So to the best of my knowledge that stopped the whole project. It certainly stopped for me. I had a lot of good experiences at Patuxent. I flew so many different kinds of airplanes. I flew everything from fighters to B-29s. It was just a wonderful experience for me as a pilot.

John Lyon:

How many planes do you think you have flown, through your career?

Samuel Folsom:

I have flown something in the vicinity of 55 or 56 different kinds of aircraft. I don't just mean models, I mean different planes. And it ranges from a Piper Cub to a B-29 to a jet. In fact, I'll say this off the record, in fact I guess I'm putting it on the record right now. At one time, I was an executive with an airline, and we were flying transatlantic, and the Captain of the plane let me fly in the Captain's seat for about two or three hours in the middle of the Atlantic. Of course it was all straight and level, but it was a 707.

John Lyon:

Any other memories from Patuxent?

Samuel Folsom:

Oh, there were all kinds of - I can remember one humorous incident that happened. We had a DC-3. We called them C-47s, I believe. But we had a DC-3 up at 20-some thousand feet, which was the extreme altitude for a DC-3. And we had technicians and equipment in the rear of the plane, and the whole idea was to cruise around up there for several hours at that altitude. And I did that many, many times. And on one occasion at that altitude - we had to wear oxygen masks, these planes were not pressurized. And our lunch was provided by the officers' mess at Patuxent. So at some 20,000 feet, I decided it was time for lunch. I sat, I took my mask off. The other pilot was flying while I took my mask off temporarily. Took a bite of a sandwich that they had given me, and it was dryas sand. It was just a horrible sandwich, terrible, and I had a hard time swallowing it. So I quick grabbed the pint of milk that they had given me, took a big swallow of that, and it was sour. [Talking to camera:] This has nothing to do with flying, but it was an experience that I've never forgotten. 20,000 feet, couldn't drink, couldn't eat. Otherwise, one time - nothing big - I flew a Curtiss Commando R5C on several occasions, including with a load of Midshipmen. I landed one once with an engine out. I didn't have many extreme experiences at Patuxent, I just had a good time. I flew the first Navy, really operational - I have to be careful saying this, I will say it anyway - first operational jet, an FJ-l. Actually the Navy had flown some Phantoms and some, I forget, there was an earlier one. But the FJ-l was the first airplane that came out looking really like a fighter. And that eventually was modified very extensively, and became the F-86 and the Navy FJ-2, which [the F-86] for the Air Force was the standard airplane for air combat for the Korean War.

John Lyon:

Did you meet your wife around this time?

Samuel Folsom:

Miss Cole is my wife. We met at Patuxent. I was in charge of doing a March of Dimes show. We had a big drill hall at Patuxent that seated three or four thousand people. Tremendous big wartime structure, and they gave shows in it every once in a while. So the March of Dimes wanted us to give a show, and I was, I produced that. And someone told me that I should go out and see the local dance teacher and see if she would be in the show, because she had been in a number of Broadway shows and had danced in ballet theater. So I went out to meet her, and she was teaching in a little school. This was just a temporary job. She was down there for, maybe a summer, oh, no, it was early winter she was down there. So I went to the school and saw her sitting there. I shouldn't say sitting there, she was the dance teacher. And all the little girls were dancing around. But all the little girls, when they came into the school, handed her dollar bills or two dollar bills. And the thing that impressed me the most was that that beautiful woman was teaching school, was getting lots and lots of money. So I proposed to her immediately and we were married soon after.

John Lyon:

So where did you move to next?

Samuel Folsom:

One of my most, I want to say productive, constructive periods, I was Fleet Air Readiness Officer in the Office of Naval Operations in Washington. My job was to analyze and make recommendations on the readiness of all Marine and Navy operational squadrons.

John Lyon:

What years do you think that was?

Samuel Folsom:

This was 1952, 54. And this fits in with what I had said earlier in this presentation about being ready. When we went to World War Two we weren't ready, for obvious reasons. When we went to Korea, our pilots were all experienced because they'd been in World War Two, but we still weren't ready. We were scattered all around the place, we didn't have the proper type of airplanes, there were all kinds of problems. So when I was put in the readiness division, department, of C&O, I was in heaven. Because I was able to see what was going on, and I was able to give presentations to the various Air Boards, and I was able to get all the statistics from the fleet. So for the first time in my life I was in a position where I could spotlight everything that was going on in Naval aviation. Very interesting, and I loved it. One particular experience I had there, I was giving a briefing before the Air Board, which is board of aviation Admirals and Marine Corps Generals, aviation. They met, believe it was every quarter, and various departments would brief them on hat they were thinking of doing. My job was to brief them on readiness. 5 on one occasion I briefed them on combat'readiness, and I made reference to the fact that during the Korean War we were not operating at night. he carriers would close down all operations, the Marine aviation would sit d wn on the field and wait for the morning, dawn. And meanwhile, all the K reans and the Chinese were moving at night. They were fighting a night war we were fighting a day war. And seldom the twain did meet, except to our ismay. Anyway, I was making this presentation, and I spoke to the effect that we must activate our ni ht capability, our airfields and our carriers, during that time: that we d dn't have it, and we should do it. And I gave a bunch of statistics and information. And at the end of the presentation, a ViceeAdmiral who was sitting right in front of me jumped to his feet and turned absolutely purple, and screamed "People" - and I mean it, screamed - "People shouldn't be allowed to talk like that!" I later learned that he had been the Admiral in charge of the carriers offshore during the period that I had been criticizing. But it was quite an experience. The Marine aviation General who was sitting close by, I looked down at him, hoping for help, and he had his head down and was covering his laughing. And I was just left alone with this Admiral. It was quite an experience. Things did calm down, but that Admiral never did speak to me. The Assistant Secretary of the Navy called me up to his office and wanted to know the basis for all my comments, wanted to know the whole thing, and what I was suggesting. So for a moment I had the air of authority, but it didn't last for more than a moment.

John Lyon:

What was your position during the Korean War? What were you doing?

Samuel Folsom:

During the Korean War I was, well, various things. I was a pilot with a night-fighter squadron. I believe I was Operations Officer, in the very early stages of the war when everything was going wrong. And then when we moved up, after the Inchon landings, I was - gee, I've forgotten - I was Executive Officer or Operations Officer for a Marine fighter squadron that moved up to Wonsan and Hamhung. When the whole US force was moving north and the Chinese, not the Chinese, the North Koreans, had retreated. And the squadron that I was in Wonsan, we were living in an old, World War Two, gutted, Japanese aviation barracks. It was really something. We were freezing to death: no windows, no heat. But we were operating against ground troops. Strafing, and that sort of thing. At some point, at this game, I was transferred to a group job. In the Marine Corps we had a wing, a group, and a squadron, in that order. And in Korea, at that point, with this outfit, I was Group Intelligence Officer. Although, in fact, I was Wing Intelligence Officer, because the wing itself was stationed in Japan, so we were doing two duties. It was at this time that I went up on a reconnaissance one day, when the Japanese - excuse me, I'm getting my wars confused - when the Chinese first attacked. And I was flying up by a reservoir, which was a famous battle with the Marines. And the Chinese had surrounded a Army artillery organization called Task Force Faith. I don't know what numbers were involved, but I think it was less than a thousand men.

John Lyon:

This is at Chosin Reservoir?

Samuel Folsom:

That's right. The Chosin Reservoir, and they were right at the side of the reservoir. This outfit had been trapped on a very narrow road that traveled right to the reservoir, that slided right into it, and slided up away from it, very steep. I wouldn't call them cliffs, but they were very very steep hills. The Americans, as was usual at that point in the Korean War, were road-bound, and the Chinese were all up on the hilltop. And it had snowed the night before. It was a beautiful, sunlit day. The ground was absolutely white. And for the first time in my life, and probably the last time in my life as an aviator, I could see just about everything that took place on the ground: the dark people against the white snow. And there was a Marine Forward Air Controller called Boyhood 14, who was trying to control the air strikes against these Chinese. There were, in effect, no aircraft around. I happened to be up there on patrol. I wasn't in the squadron, I was just looking. I went over to see what I could do, and he called me in and told me what was happening. I could see the troops were on a road, completely surrounded on a road, and the Chinese were coming down the hilltop in the snow, and I expended all my ammunition and all my rockets. And I was so desperate that I - I say this, I really did - I was thinking of cutting them down with my propeller, because I was .... [choked up]

John Lyon:

You were flying in a Corsair.

Samuel Folsom:

It was an earth-shaking experience. I just never had anything like that before.

John Lyon:

You could see what was happening ....

Samuel Folsom:

I watched all these people being killed, and being loaded into trucks. The Americans were trying to load their wounded into trucks. I was so close that I could look into the backs of the trucks as I flew over, and see the feet sticking out, stacked in there like cordwood. Anyway, there was nothing I could do. I went down and I zoomed over these people. I got so close that I actually saw one Chinese soldier with a tripod a machine gun tripod on his shoulders, walking along with a whole group of soldiers, strung out. I was so close that I could really see the tripod. It was just, it was beyond description. Anyway, I later learned, I corresponded years later with an officer who had been with that unit. And he said that probably my attack made it possible for some of those guys to escape across the ice, to the Marines who were on the other side of the reservoir. I did see people break out of the pocket and run across the snow-covered ice. And I hope I helped.

John Lyon:

You did all you could, Sam. You did all you could.

Samuel Folsom:

But then let's see what happened. I went back to, uh .... Well, that's when I went back and served in the CNO. [Chief of Naval Operations]

John Lyon:

When you left Korea, it was a last-minute thing that you had to leave. What happened there?

Samuel Folsom:

No, no, I served a complete year. My time was up. At that point the US had re-attacked and come across and were, they held a line across the center of Korea, which they still hold today, the same line. But previous to that time, along about that time I'm telling you about, with the snow cover, in my patrolling, single-plane patrolling, I could see all the Americans trapped on the roads and all the Chinese coming down. The Chinese stuck to the ridgelines, the soldiers stuck to the roads. And they were simply overrun. Until they had a change in command, and a whole change in the aspect of the operation over there. Formed a new line, where the present line is, and at this point I came back to the States.

John Lyon:

You told me a story about flying TBMs from Japan to Korea.

Samuel Folsom:

The time - the time I was telling you about, with the Chinese and the ridgelines and the reservoir? Well, east coast armed force, American armed force, were evacuating. In I was in a headquarters at Hambung. In the last day or so of that evacuation General MacArthur came over to see what was going on. It was the first time - I have to be careful with this because I don't know - It was the first time I was aware that he was in Korea. Certainly it was the first time on the east coast. And I was in an office with him - I'm sure he didn't know I was there. And at this point, to me, he was a broken man. He was a little man, gray-faced. He looked like the world had fallen on him, which of course it had. On that particular day or the day later, I forget which it was, three of us on the staff were handed three TBMs [Avengers], which were being used for evacuating wounded and mail carriage and other utility work up at the reservoir. And they put us in these planes and said, "Get out!" So we got in the planes and flew 'em to Japan - which was extreme range for us - to Osaka None of us had ever flown a TBM before, I don't believe any of us had ever sat in the cockpit of one, but they said, "They're yours, get out!" So we left. And it was Les Brown, who later became a Lieutenant-General in the Marine Corps, Sam Richards, who was later a Colonel, and I. We flew those three planes across, and when we landed at Osaka, and again, I'm telling you the literal operation, not a story, Les Brown's engine stopped on the runway. We were all out of gas. It was that close. It was after that time that I got in the F9F squadron [Grumman Panther, a straight-wing jet. F9F-6 to F9F-8 was the later swept-wing Grumman Cougar, which did not see action in Korea.], and I flew jets for the first time, in Korea. [Photo of Folsom standing at nose of F9F] And that was about six months of operation. And this was during the period when the front line had been stabilized, and we were simply patrolling over the Chinese-held territory. On one occasion we flew up to the river to look for MiGs, but there were no MiGs there. Otherwise it was all air-to-ground work.

John Lyon:

So you were firing rockets, attacking ground concentrations? [Photo of F9F attacking ground targets]

Samuel Folsom:

Firing rockets and machine guns. Again, memory escapes me: I don't think we carried any bombs on the F9F. I'm sure the F9Fs could carry them, but I don't remember bombing runs in particular. Some of those pictures on the wall are of those attacks.

John Lyon:

And after that, that's when you shipped back to the US?

Samuel Folsom:

Let's see, when did I get back from Korea? I'm losing track of time. I came back from Korea and then I went to CNO, I guess. I was at CNO for two years, and went to Norway as Assistant Attache, Naval Attache, for Air at the American Embassy in Norway for two years, where incidentally I had my own airplane! I had an Albatross amphibian, two-engine amphibian, which I toured with. It was great. I went allover Norway, went up, viewed the Russian border way up in north Norway, saw the whole bit.

John Lyon:

This was during the Cold War.

Samuel Folsom:

That was during the Cold War time, yeah. The only thing I remember about the Russian border point was, that we were not - the Norwegians wouldn't allow us to fly our own airplanes over there. We had to fly up to Tromso, which was the Norwegian northern naval headquarters, land in the water there, get in a little cross-country commercial airliner, and fly over to - oh, boy, all I can think of is Narvik - Hammerfest. And walked out in a field over there and saw the Russian border. And the Russian border was a field, and some woods, and a wooden watchtower that the Russians had over in the woods. There was no motion in sight, nothing was happening. It was strictly deserted. Oh, I know one thing that impressed me up there, that I haven't seen any place in history. When the Germans occupied Norway, when they were kicked out, when they left from northern Norway, there's a single road that ran around the northern portion of Norway. Dirt road, and a single line of telephone poles that ran, I guess it went from - I really forget the names of the little towns up there - but ended up in Tromso, which is the northern naval headquarters for Norway. In my time, which was mid-fifties up there, you could go along (and I did) and all along that road, every telephone pole had splints on it. The Germans, when they left, had sawed down every telephone pole at midpoint. The Norwegians, when they came back in, put the poles back in and splinted them with two-by-fours, and used the same poles!

John Lyon:

What was your job there? You said you had an aircraft: what did you do? What was the plan?

Samuel Folsom:

I was the Assistant Naval Attache. As the Army Attache said when he was leaving and talked to the Norwegians, he said, "You know, of course, better than we do, that we're all spies. That's what we're here for.H So I guess that's what we were there for. But we were supposed to report on naval activities in the northern regions. And in fact on one occasion we did fly a Russian - I call him a deserter, I forget whether he was army or not. But some Russian had come across the border and we got the job of flying him down to the Army headquarters in Frankfurt. And I had many dealings with the Russian attache there. As I mentioned to you earlier in our private talks, one of the attaches is a man by the name Ivanov [Yevgeny "Eugene" Ivanov], later was one of those parties that took part in the Profumo Affair, which resulted in the fall of the British government. At that point he was naval attache in London. And he was that type of guy. I knew him very well. Big party man. He was dedicated, though, to his Communism. He always told us, "We're gonna bury you. We're gonna bury you." He was a big noise, but he was interesting.

John Lyon:

Fun at a party.

Samuel Folsom:

Yeah.

John Lyon:

So two years in Norway, and you came back to the US after that?

Samuel Folsom:

I came back to the United States and I was made Squadron Commander of a troubled - and I emphasize troubled - squadron, at Cherry Point, North Carolina: VMF-312. And the reason I emphasize troubled is because I'm getting back to the same topic that I hammered on throughout my career, and I'm still hammering on 70 years later. So much is allowed to take place, covered up, that should never happen. [Photo of VMF-3l2 aircraft] The squadron I took over was in trouble. The Squadron Commander that I relieved, was relieved the day I showed up, without ceremony, departed. And it was my job, according to the commanding General, to get that squadron back in shape And one of my problems with getting that squadron back in shape was not only its poor condition, but I had been away from operational flying for five or six years! I hadn't flown a combat-type aircraft in five or six years, and I was confronted with what was essentially the "ready" squadron at Cherry Point, 1st Marine Air Wing, equipped with 24 fighters. I had never flown a swept-wing fighter, never flown an FJ [North American FJ-2 or -3 Fury]. And there I was. I made it. I'm not always proud of all the things that happened over there, but I did clean it up enough that at least I lasted through the squadron, and it looked like something. But under no circumstances should anybody be put in command of a squadron unless he had recent experience in that airplane. And the least you can do, and which I think the Navy was doing at the time, was if a person came out of, I'll call it "inactive," but a non-operational job, they sent him to a school. Special flight schools they had, to get you up to snuff, teach you instruments, teach you about that airplane. You learn what you do. But when you show up confronted with - most of the guys were 2nd Lieutenants, most of them could fly better than I could, and I'm supposed to be leading 'em. It's, it's not right. I'm harping. Let's forget it.

John Lyon:

So how long were you there Sam?

Samuel Folsom:

I was there a year and a half. A squadron tour at that time was two years, which by the way was not enough. What you'd do, you'd come in, form a squadron, all new people, certainly all new pilots. And you would train, and theoretically in two years you would be cOmbat-ready. If everything were going right, you'd be in pretty damn good shape in a year or 18 months. But sometimes it was up to two years before everybody was really up to snuff. And at the time you were ready, they disbanded the squadron and formed again As I understand it - and I do not know this but I think it's true - they now have three-year tours, which is more like it. You have a year of being ready In other words, if you're needed, you're ready for a year, not for one day. So I had a year and a half because the Squadron Commander that I relieved was taken out ahead of his term, for reasons best known to the wind.

John Lyon:

And did you move on to another squadron after that?

Samuel Folsom:

No, while I was there I, well, quite frankly I resigned my commission. I was so frustrated, and I was complaining so much, that I felt that the best thing for me to do was get out. So I resigned my regular commission, transferred to the Reserves, and served about six years in the Reserves, on inactive duty.

John Lyon:

Right. So what year did you resign your commission?

Samuel Folsom:

I got out, I resigned my regular commission in 1958, probably May of '58. And I went to work for Pan American as assistant to the Chief Pilot, and finally was Director of Special Projects for Pan Am. Assistant to the President during its glory days. I'm glad to say I was not there for the decline and fall.

John Lyon:

You were the special assistant to Juan Trippe?

Samuel Folsom:

Well, Juan Trippe operated on the premise that he was alone. And again, I have to be careful how I say this. He seldom if ever acknowledged a vice president, a particular vice president, as being in charge of something He would assign people as they went along. Now don't get me wrong: there was Vice President, Sales, there were a couple others who had titles. But in general he sat in his office, pondered, and assigned. And I was his Director of Special Projects. My title was Assistant to the President, who was a different person. Trippe was Chairman. And I was Assistant to the President, for two presidents. But in fact, I was Trippe's "boy" for helicopters. At that point in his life he was determined to see helicopters developed, and that's when the Pan Am Heliport got going, and we developed two or three heliports in the City of New York. It was a hot period, he was the honch- he was the guy who was behind it all. Give you an example of how this worked. I was in an office in the headquarters, and if I walked down the hall in the morning and said, "Good morning, Mr. Trippe" as I passed in the hall and he went, "Umph," then I know I wasn't in the docket. But if I walked down the hall and passed him and he said, "Hi, Sam!" something was up. But his mind was always on a subject. He did wonders with it. But he did not do wonders with keeping that airline going. When he left, it collapsed. There was infighting, misunderstanding, it was just a shambles. The key man had left, and he had left nobody sufficiently experienced to take over for him. And by then I was gone.

John Lyon:

I understand that you also worked on a STOL airport for Manhattan.

Samuel Folsom:

Oh, during this period with Special Projects, in addition to the helicopters, we got so far as, we got into the STOL aircraft: Short Take Off and Landing aircraft. Another one of Mr. Trippe's plans was that we would operate STOL aircraft. For example, one that was underway then was that we were going to operate between New York and Washington, and probably between New York and Boston. But certainly the New York and Washington. Special ports were to be set up at each end, not using the regular airfields. And using STOL - we started by using helicopters. We got some helicopters from Juan, helicopters from Sikorsky I guess, to make some test runs. But the basic idea was to operate STOL aircraft from LaGuardia, on the airfield but on special runways, away from the other airplanes. As far as I know those runways still exist over there, near the Marine Air Terminal. There was a French airplane - we were working with DeHavilland in Canada, that was one of my jobs, I coordinated with them, and with Breguet in France And they were both gonna develop airplanes for this operation. And at this point, in fact my whole family: my wife and I and our two children went to France, visited the Breguet factory where they were building this airplane. And as a sideline, we were present when the first wing was joined to the first Concorde. We actually saw it happen. But that factory were building this four engine, short take off and landing aircraft, which could land almost as vertically, and take off almost as vertically, as a helicopter. We worked on it, Eastern Airlines worked on it, and finally, for various reasons, the whole thing disappeared. [LaGuardia's STOLport, opened in 1968, included a 1,092-foot runway that was modified from a taxiway. Eastern Airlines tested the Boston-New YorkkWashington, DC route with the McDonnell Douglas 188 (a version of the Breguet 941), but apparently did not initiate passenger service. See: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0.9171.838584.OO.html http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1968/1968%20-%202322.html But one big project was started during this time: a STOLport was planned for the Hudson River, with Pan Am behind it. They were gonna build an airport in the river, right north of 59th Street, right where, right in the river off where Trump Plaza is now. It was something like an aircraft carrier. It was a three or four story building, in the river, with a flat roof on which these planes could land. And then below it there was going to be exhibition spaces, I guess it was going to be kind of like the convention hall. But it got so far, it was designed. Architectural designs were done, and we were working with various people on it, but as I say for various reasons this thing fell through. And I really thing the biggest reason it fell through is Mr. Trippe, Juan Trippe, was about ready to retire, and if he wasn't pushing these things they didn't get done. So it went quite a ways, but never got done.

John Lyon:

How many years were you with Pan Am?

Samuel Folsom:

If I remember, 14. I don't remember exactly. I got there in 1958 and I lasted through 1972 or 3, I think.

John Lyon:

Any other - I'm sure you've been involved in other things since leaving Pan Am. Anything stand out in your years since then?

Samuel Folsom:

No, nothing historic or hysteric. I did what many people do who can't find anything else to do in New York: I got into the commercial real estate business. Was very modestly successful at that. And during one period of time between when I left Pan Am - Oh, I know, I was Director of Real Estate for the East Coast for the Hertz Corporation, of all things. But Hertz' major installations were at airports, so they selected me because I knew airport managers. So I worked at that for a year or two, and at this point I, my wife and I, got into the modeling business, believe it or not. It really started because of my son. He did some modeling work for a photographer, in fact he worked with John Travolta for a while. And I watched this in progress, and we both got interested, and we made ourselves available to photographers. And for about two years we had almost a profession in professional modeling, which was very interesting. And certainly was different than management, but it was interesting. And then I got into real estate.

John Lyon:

How do you think your experiences as a Marine, and your experiences in wartime, how do you think they affected your life.

Samuel Folsom:

Well, let's put it bluntly and quickly. As far as a profession was concerned, it was the formative profession of my life. It's something I still think about at night, dream about. I feel very strongly for the things that I saw happen and the things that were allowed to happen, and I wonder today if they have been corrected. Enough said.

John Lyon:

So you obviously learned some lessons. Is there anything you would say to people that are joining the military now, perhaps joining the Marines? Is there anything you would say to them?

Samuel Folsom:

Well, the things I wanted to say to my pilots in the last squadron I was in, is, uKeep your eye on the combat ball. Be ready. Don't get sidelined no matter what they try to do to you. Remember: you're a Marine first, of course, but you're an aviator! Never forget that you're an aviator. Because if you do, you're going to get caught in a position where you're away from aviation, and suddenly you're back in command of people whose lives depend on you. If you're a pilot, if you're an aviator, if you're a Marine, you must meld these things together, and never, never separate them.

John Lyon:

You obviously are a great example of a Marine, of an American -

Samuel Folsom:

I'm not sure of that, but -

John Lyon:

- of an American doing what's necessary to defend the country -

Samuel Folsom:

It's something I have never forgotten, and I never regretted, in all my life, spending my years in the Marine Corps.

John Lyon:

What was your final rank in the Marine Corps, Sam?

Samuel Folsom:

Lieutenant Colonel.

John Lyon:

It's been a real privilege talking to you, and as a friend it's a privilege knowing you. And I thank you for your service, and thank you for what you've done for America, and defending the people back in America.

Samuel Folsom:

I don't know how much I've done for America, but America's done a lot for me.

John Lyon:

It's been a pleasure, Sam. Thank you.

Samuel Folsom:

Thank you. [End interview]

 
Home » Text Transcript
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us