The PBM Martin Mariner was a flying boat that saw considerable action in World War II. It was a long-range sea plane that provided escort duty for convoys headed for Europe and was credited with sinking 10 German U-Boats during the course of the war.
After the war, a number of these planes were transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard for search and rescue service. The Coast Guard phased them out in 1958, and I expect I was one of the last aircrewmen to have a ride in them. These planes were built to stay in the air a long time, and they were outfitted accordingly. They normally had a crew of nine, so you could be relieved after a four-hour watch – as a radioman, in my case. Off duty, you could go to the small galley in the belly of the aircraft and get something to eat. Then, maybe, take a nap in an available hammock.
I would go for the sandwich and drink, but I was more into sightseeing, and I found the perfect place for it. Although the .50 caliber guns had been removed, the gun turrets were still in place, and the tail gunner’s seat provided a view like no other. I had to crawl on my hands and knees through the long tail boom to the back of the aircraft. I would squeeze into the plexiglass bubble, hunker down in the tailgunner’s seat and watch the world go by.
I would have my sandwich and drink and watch the ocean roll below. I could imagine the battles planes like this engaged in – the sight of a U-Boat just breaching the surface, or alerted to danger, preparing to dive. I could feel the course change, the big plane wheeling over to line up on the target, and the thump as the depth charges were released. I could imagine the tail gunner manning the hand-aimed machine gun, and alert for danger from the skies.
Or I could daydream. It was peacetime. We were actually in-between wars. Korea was over, but Viet Nam was not yet on the horizon. In any case, the action was over for these old flying boats. Their exploits were honored, their duty was done. There is one in the Smithsonian now. There are a few others, scavenged for parts in a sunbaked bone yard in Arizona – far, far from the rolling ocean.