The great irony in his story was that our mother had, in warning him against joining the Navy after Pearl Harbor, predicted he would regret his intended decision “when he was floundering in the water of a Pacific deep.” The “Mindanao Deep” is one of the deepest ocean trenches in the world. Spencer's plane's engine lost power just as he lifted off the deck of the USS Tulagi. Without continued lift it fell like a rock into the water not far in front of the carrier. Because airplane takeoffs need the benefit of a headwind, the planes always take off in the direction the ship is traveling. That being the case, there is always the chance an airplane falling just in front might cause the ship to crash into it. However the flight deck has enough angling that usually this does not happen. But the greatest danger in such an incident is for the pilot to extricate himself from the cockpit quickly. Too often he finds himself struggling to release the constraints, lap and shoulder belts. Then the canopy cover must be pushed back against the water pressure outside, and he must then free himself from anything catching onto his flight suit as he gets away from the rapidly sinking deathtrap. Taking too long to do any of these things puts the pilot at great risk, sending him so deep that a quick rise to the surface could give him the bends, or DCS, a condition caused by a rapid change in water pressure and rapid assent. But how long can a person hold his breath before passing out? As Providence would provide, Spencer was able to overcome all of these obstacles and rise to the surface conscious and uninjured. As he tells the story, he was “5 feet above the surface by the time the water drained from his goggles!”
Shortly thereafter he was picked up by a nearby destroyer which arranged to transfer him to his ship, the Tulagi. This wasn't the only time his life was in danger during that series of fights in the Mindanao Sea. A kamikazi suicide bomber was intent on taking out his ship at the time. When landing began at Lingayen Gulf on 9 January 1945, Tulagi launched her planes for air strikes on land targets, anti-snooper patrols, and air cover for American vessels. On 12 January, Tulagi supplied air support for the Lingayen Gulf beachhead; and, the next day, her port battery shot down a suicide plane which had singled out the carrier for destruction. Before it crashed, the attacker, deflected from Tulagi by withering anti-aircraft fire, crossed astern and to starboard of the escort carrier and vainly attempted to dive into an alternate target. On 17 January, the Army Air Forces assumed responsibility for direct air support of American operations in Lingayen Gulf; and Tulagi's fliers turned their attention toward the Zambales coast where they provided cover for support and protection of forces near San Narcisco. On 5 February, Tulagi arrived at Ulithi after a grueling period of sustained flight operations during which her planes had been in the air for all but two of 32 days.
After graduation I was only one of a number from Davis who took jobs at Hill Field that summer, all recruited by Hank Scheuller. At first I was learning how to check and repair the machine guns on the fighter planes but soon we “mechanic learners” were taken out to the northern edge of the base overlooking the Weber River and Basin to take some of the B-29 Superfortresses stored there out of “mothballs.” All of the aluminum skin of the planes had been spray painted with a lime green film to protect them from the weather. Our job was to use a mop filled with paint remover over the surface and then clean it off with steel wool and water.
Wherever we found spots where the metal was pitted with corrosion it was necessary to scour it deeper to remove any residue. We were also expected to clean out the interior of the planes, removing any stored items and vacuuming the dust and cobwebs. Being summer, it got pretty warm inside of the planes and made it awfully conducive to taking a nap if you could get away with it. More often than not, I did get away with it. At first this caused me some guilt but as soon as I realized I wasn't cheating anyone, maybe the government, that amorphous entity everywhere present but nowhere in particular, certainly not residing in our overseers... who were themselves nonchalant so long as it looked like things were moving toward the stated goals. As for being all knowing, I soon learned the government did a lot of stupid things that didn't make any sense to me, that was for sure. A sad, if not stupid, thing happened while we were at work in the B-29 storage area. There was an airplane collision overhead. Our attention was called to it when the crash occurred and even though some thousand feet above us, we could see parts of one of the planes falling. Luckily it came down some distance from where we were working otherwise we might have been hit.
The highlight of our work day was when we took lunch in one of the frame buildings to the side of the storage area. It was large enough to accommodate a volleyball court. Being somewhat athletic and a fairly tall young man of six feet, I was one of the better players. Our team captain and leader of the plane rehab detail was so impressed he tried to persuade me to stay on in the fall when it came time to quit and start college at the University of Utah. As flattered as I was, it was not at all what I intended or could risk, since the military draft was in full swing. A fellow worker I had known in a prior summer's job was a member of one of the early platoons of the Utah National Guardsmen sent to Korea and was killed.
With that knowledge and believing the military aspect of a young man's life was likely to be with us for some time, I volunteered for the Air Force ROTC program once enrolled at the U of U. While my temperament was not well suited to the regimentation inherent in such activities with its weekly afternoon drills and military command, I endured it out of a sense of self preservation. This prevailed for the first 2 years of my higher academic career, with related class work of geopolitics and military history. These fit well enough with my general education courses and rounded out the credit requirements. One of the electives I chose in those first 2 years was a beginning French class. That choice played an important factor in the direction my life would take in later years.
Without any predetermined occupational goals, I was content to register for the general education courses needed for graduation. One such course was “physical sciences,” an introductory course. The physics part was so interesting for me I nearly chose it as a major. But without a background in math, not having taken any classes in high school, I felt it would require too many remedial courses to follow through. Additional consideration convinced me the novel demonstrations used to grab our interest, such as the effect of static electricity on the human hair, were not indicative of what would follow in the field. That there would be a lot of detailed drudgery involved, so far as I was concerned, if I were to pursue the curriculum Learning that water doesn't contract as it freezes but expands, contrary to all other substances, certainly piqued my interest. The significance being that otherwise lakes and streams would freeze solid in winter, killing the fish and stopping the flow. But where water expands as it freezes, it becomes lighter than the water underneath, protecting and insulating it from freezing. To me that was a good argument in favor of “intelligent design.” If my memory serves, it was a coed I later dated who served as the volunteer for the static electricity demonstration. It might have been embarrassing for her as the strands of her well-coiffed hair floated in a wild pattern, but she was a good sport about it. Bernice Heyman was a stately brunette with a tight bob when not let down for the experiment. But it wouldn't be till my sophomore year I would get to know her well enough to go on a date. I was still dating the pretty girls from Davis, Betty Blood and Louise Moss. At about that time Louise was itching to get married. She was being courted by Boyd Rohr, a guy from Davis but a few years older than we were. She was being pressed for an answer and wanted to know how I felt about our relationship, where was it going? I still had way too many things in mind before settling down. If that had not been so, I probably would have married Iona Mitchell my senior year at Davis. She was a cute cuddly type who caught my fancy and one I could imagine myself being married to. She married a good friend of mine, Lane Adams, and had a gaggle of kids by the time I happened to bump into them at Lagoon some years later.
The chemistry class which completed the term in physical science was not anywhere interesting enough to make me want to be a chemist. I swear the professor made his own bootleg whiskey in the lab and used it before class to help him get through the day. What a contrast between the two profs! The one was a model of the profession going to great ends to make the subject exciting for us and the other guy was wasting our time in class memorizing the periodic tables, the while insuring that no serious student would be drawn to the subject because of him.
Car-pooling into Salt Lake each day was part of the experience, sharing the ride with Rich Roberts, Shirl Winn, Bill and Gordon Purrington, was fun because of the subjects we were inclined to cover. One thing I wanted to share with them was a talk given at Kingsbury Hall by J. Reuben Clark Jr. about the “Dwindling U. S. Sovereignty.” Clark was a member of the LDS Church's first presidency, a counselor to David O. McKay, president and prophet of the Church. Before that he had been in the State Department and Ambassador to Mexico, so what he had to say about our country's mistake getting into the political intrigues of Europe and entering into “entangling alliances” around the world was that it threatened our strength and stature in the world. The talk was sponsored by the “Young Republicans” on campus, a group my brother Spencer was affiliated with and with whom I attended. Clark was obviously an arch conservative and a true isolationist at a time our national leaders had gotten us into the Korean War via the “United Nations,” a thinly disguised form of empire building. Spencer, even though nearly 10 years my senior, was still at the university having been in the war and on a 2-year mission for the LDS Church. He had not yet married and was still living at home in Centerville as my roommate. Another brother, Roy, who had also been in the war was married and lived with his wife Jeanette at the “University Village.”
Being introduced to a lot more people like Jim Torrey at the University, it was inevitable I should encounter others who were agnostic for one reason or another. One such guy I met in the study hall at the university library. While waiting for our carpool to leave, I would sometimes go there. My new friend Bill had been raised in the Mormon Church but felt too constrained by its requirements. A topic we discussed was the “Kinsey Report,” which had come out at about that time. It was a study done on sexual mores and the various attitudes people had concerning sexual conduct. Bill said he liked being free to have sexual relations with his girlfriend. I have to say I could see why after meeting her. She was a sexy little minx and I had to admit she was definitely pretty enough to make many a man “lose” his religion. His philosophy had become quite liberal, suggesting that having sex with a woman was not anything more than eating a good meal, and that society ought to to be OK with free love, unbridled by convention. As a challenge to him and the attitude he was claiming, I suggested I might like to “take a bite” out of his apple, by taking her “for a test drive,” so to speak. He didn't see any humor in the thought, which to me proved he wasn't willing to match actions with his philosophy. At about that time I came to the realization that even though one's religious convictions seemed to limit his behavior, it was for his own good and protection, that none of the genuine pleasures which were conducive to lasting happiness were in fact being denied him, only deferred to the appropriate time and place.
What I also came to understand then and still believe is this. Every man and woman by nature wants to believe in God and the supernatural, it is in their basic makeup, constitution if you will. But the disinclination often comes when they choose to be free of the requirements religion makes, either personal or monetary. For many Mormons it is having to pay a tithe on their earnings to be in good standing. For others it is the “Word of Wisdom,” refraining from the use of tobacco, liquor, tea and coffee. For many of the young, it is the expectation of them to be sexually continent, to refrain from such relations until marriage. It has been my experience generally that as soon as someone is wavering in his or her faith, it is for one of these reasons.
Greek fraternities were a part of university life there on the campus at the “U.” Jerry O'Brien was a former Davis “Dart” and invited me to join Sigma Chi as he had. I was enticed enough to go to a “rush” party or two at the beginning of my freshman year. But I had neither the time or the money to seriously consider it. And the whole idea of “initiation” was adverse to my feelings, knowing as I did about the hazing which was a part of the process. For me, getting an education was all it was about in those beginning undergraduate years and I felt I would have little extra time for anything else after commute time, homework and a part time job for money to continue, given that my parents were not able to contribute and I had no scholarship or student loans or grants to pay my way.