Story by Robert (Bob) Stadille


By Web Site Manager, Chuck Stone

The generation of young men graduating from High Schools and Colleges throughout the U.S., in the years immediately following WW II, had a real surprise coming over the horizon. The surprise was first called a “Police Action” and, over time, it became known as the Korean War. Equally surprised, were tens of thousands of WW II veterans who thought their participation in a “War” was “past” history, rather than a revised version of their own “future”. Here we have a first-hand story from one of these young men, sharing his recollections of his sea voyage from Camp Stoneman, California to his first overseas assignment with the 31st Reconnaissance Squadron, at that time, located at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.

Bob has contributed another related story which outlines his experiences as an Intelligence Staffer with both the 31st and 91st, while serving at both Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, and Yokota and Johnson Air Bases, in Japan, during critical times of the Korean War. His contributions to the total picture of this period of history are very well-stated and revealing. Don’t fail to read both stories.


I think it was Archie Gainey who suggested stealing it. “It,” was a ten pound wheel of cheddar cheese. Three of us (Archie, Don Nolan, and I) were doing K.P. duty at Camp Stoneman just before boarding ship to go to Okinawa. Archie said “let’s take this thing and maybe we can sell it” all of us need money to buy cigarettes. We were all broke and didn’t need a great deal of encouragement. Besides, Archie’s word had a certain authority to it as he had a couple of tours under his belt and we were new to the Air Force. Neither of us wanted to be known as “chickenshit” so the heist was made. I think we tucked it in an old box and left it out in back of the mess hall. After work, we picked it up and slipped away. No crime had been committed as everyone knew that Mess Sargents were notorious “traders;” and we were just following in their footsteps. “It is all part of my OJT for you new guys,” Archie informed us.

A few days later we were aboard the General D.E. Altman sailing under the Golden Gate, destination, a place called Okinawa. I’d never been in anything larger than a bass boat before and really didn’t know what to expect. Neither had most of the other guys. It wasn’t long, however, before things started to happen. When I saw the first guy “barf,” I knew the cruise wasn’t going to be a picnic. Soon after, I witnessed several other guys doing the same and began to dread the moment when I’d have to head for the side of the ship. Don Nolan mentioned that he had asked some fellow for advice on how to combat sea sickness. “Gut it out, Airman,” he was told, “There ain’t nothin’ else to do.” Lots of guys did just that.

Let me set the scene. As soon as we boarded the Altman, we were ordered to go down in the bowels of the ship (later we discovered it was as far forward and as far down as one could go) to find our bunks and stow our gear. It was a huge space full of bunks stacked three high. It was a free for all to get the bottom bunk. I managed one on the second tier and felt O.K.

The General D. E. Altman
(Kaiser Coffin)
arriving at Port of Entry, Naha, Okinawa

We put our gear under the bottom bunks with any excess being relegated to the nearest open spot. 50 gallon oil drums were placed here and there throughout the compartment. At first, I wondered about them until I saw the first guy make a run for one, bend over, and empty his guts. My first reaction was to let go with a nervous chuckle. Before long, however, there were all kinds of guys barfing and groaning and, once again, I began to fear that it would happen to me as well. Leaving the compartment area, I made my way to the latrine. The scene was even more grotesque: guys kneeling in front of commodes in several inches of water barfing their brains out. I wasn’t eating off of silver plate when I joined the Air Force, but I came from a reasonably sane environment…and my mother was a freak about keeping the house clean. Right then, I knew I was, in really deep s%*t. What the hell was I going to do?

“Stadille,” commanded the deep voice of my new buddy, Bob Wolfington, just making his way out of the latirne, “let’s get out of here and get some air.” Good idea, I thought, and followed him up the now slimy stairs leading to the deck. Ahh! both of us took deep breaths of the fresh salt air. Paradise, I thought...thou art a sea breeze! We found a bench, commandered it, and before long other guys we knew that had made it topside came and joined us. “Those guys below are barfing their brains out,” one fellow remarked, “why in the hell don’t they get topside and get some fresh air?, the stupid bastards.”

Within minutes of his remark, he just made it to the ship’s railing before he began his descent into hell. When he finished and looked back to us for a little sympathy, we all laughed and pointed are fingers at him. “#%*$ you guys; you’ll get yours,” he moaned as he turned toward the railing again.

“There are two things to do to keep from getting sick: stay topside as long as possible and eat every meal,” said the voice of authority whose name I’ve forgotten over the years. Maybe it was Archie. He was always making pronouncements. Bill Schuster, Don Nolan, Bob Wolfington, Bill Sutton, and I took it as gospel. The only one of the group to seriously succumb to motion sickness was Bill Sutton. He would faithfully eat every meal and, just as faithfully, he would find himself bending over the rail. Nary a man was more faithful to Archie’s admonition than Bill Sutton. It just didn’t work for him. He took his poison like a man. Never complained. He would position himself against some pole or bulkhead, pull his poncho over his head, and stay there until it was time to eat again. We all admired his constancy.

Bill Schuster had a short bout with barfing as did Don Nolan but Bob Wolfington and I never did. To this day, I can’t understand why I escaped. The only time I came close to letting go was when the guy in front of me in the chow line barfed in his tray. For a split second, I thought “this is it.” But, the Fates were with me and I managed to keep things down.

L to R: Wolfington, Boucher
and Sutton

L to R: Stadille and Sutton

Tempering the ill effects of
fresh air with cigarette smoke.

At night, Wolfington and I would sit on deck ensconced within a small metal outcropping, a space just large enough for two guys to stand and remain fairly comfortable ( we called it the “paint shack” because of the presence of several cans of paint)

We were sheltered from the wind and spray and could keep reasonably warm. Just like any two G.I.s, we amused ourselves talking about our families, our adventures, but mostly, about girls. I'm certain we told the same stories twenty times over, but anything was better than “going below.” Sooner or later, however, we would have to grab a few Zzzs and down to the “Pit” we’d go.

Remember that 10 pound wheel of cheese. Well, ol’ Archie was right, it was saleable. And the boys really liked it! We’d tear off pieces and sell them for a quarter. It gave us enough money to buy cigarettes for five guys for almost the entire time at sea. As far as I was concerned, Archie was a genius; and he remained my friend and special consultant.

It was a long trip (17 days) in rough seas. We passed time creating and spreading rumours. Lots of the guys bit into the rumour that there would be a mail plane meeting us at the half-way point in our journey. Two or three V.D. lectures scared the hell out of all the younger guys. Snoozing on deck and watching an occasional movie helped morale. But it was the card games that provided the biggest diversion. Poker was out as everyone was broke so pinochle was king; and all the pinochle games were crooked. Guys developed elaborate signals to communicate the contents of their hands. Don Nolan and I were partners and had developed a fairly sophisticated set of signals. While in a game with Archie Gainey and his partner one afternoon, Archie accused us of cheating. I don’t know how you are doing it, but if you little bastards “hit” each other’s cards in the next hand, I’ll throw these #%*$ing cards overboard. That’s exactly what he did as Don and I “hit” each other in the same suit the very next hand. We got on Archie’s case for a couple of minutes, accusing him of being a “poor sport” and denying that we cheated. He just stared at us for a minute, a big grin spreading across his face and “flipped us the bird.” Everyone laughed and so did we. Life went on.

L to R: Sutton, McKay, Krause and Wolfington

Taking the air on the sundeck. No pool.

The gang, playing cards.

L to R: Nolan, Stadille, Wolfington, Gainey

Sun and shade.

The Reception, at Port of Entry, the garden spot
of the Pacific - Naha, Okinawa

We were bored for the most part, anxious to get off the old tub and report to our units. All of the fellows I was acquainted with were going to the 31st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron.

I had known from reading a Time Magazine article that Okinawa was the least desirable overseas destination. But I didn’t care …let the Devil take the hindmost! I just wanted to see dry land again.

I haven't seen any of the men I was aboard ship with fifty years ago. I'm in contact with Bill Sutton via the internet, and I know that my dear friend Don Nolan passed away a couple of years ago. I'd love to see Bill (Wilbur) Schuster, Archie Gainey and Bob Wolfington again, as well as many others. The ride in the Gen. D.E. Altman was but a minor blip in the scheme of things, but in my life it was a significant experience.

Just one last confession: years later ...when I was out of the Air Force ...someone talked me into a fishing trip aboard a commercial boat on Monterey Bay. You better believe it, the Fates didn't save me that day. After riding through a couple of big swells, I spent the rest of my time aboard hanging over the rail. I know that Bill Sutton will have some empathy for me ....but he'll wear a smile as well.

Bob Stadille

Bill Sutton
Alive and well after the boat trip,
ready for duty

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