CHIPS OFF THE OLD BLOCK
The Official Newsletter of the USS Block Island Association
Lt. Roy Swift, the intelligence officer for the CVE 21, had been a newspaper editor in Texas prior to joining the Navy. He wanted to create an information paper that could be given to the crew that went beyond the daily reports. He also wanted to create some kind of document that members of the crew could send home to their families. As a result, CHIPS was born.
In addition to Lt. Swift, Yeoman John W. Price, Yeoman E.M. Courtney, Radarman Billie R. Keller, who was noted for his cartoons, and Lt.(jg) E.D. Charpie were all involved. Each Division also contributed, designating one person as reporter or columnist.
After the sinking of CVE 21 on 29 May 1944, most of the crew were put on the new CVE 106. CHIPS was also a survivor as it became the newsletter for the new USS Block Island.
The first volume of CHIPS printed on CVE 21 was designated “Volume One”; and with a brand new seabag and a happy heart, “Volume Two” announced to the Officer of the Deck of CVE 106, “Sir I wish to report my return aboard” as a part of the official ceremony. “Volume Three” became a reality when the USS Block Island Association was organized.
It has been over 65 years since CHIPS originally went to press in 1943 and it is still going strong with 3-4 editions plus occasional “Special Editions” a year for crew members and their families. It is an especially important communication for members who do not have access to computers.
Lt. Roy Swift, the Intelligence Officer who started CHIPS needed a character for the newsletter, he recognized that no aircraft carrier can exist without a Landing Signal Officer to bring the planes aboard the ship. The first character was the “normal navy dressed landing signal officer”. CVE 21 was not yet active so Keller, Crane and Swift visited one of the active “big carriers” that was operating out of Bremerton, WA. to observe a real live “Landing Signal Officer” at work. In the process of bringing in a plane for landing on the deck they noticed that the LSO had to go through every body movement that was possible for the human body. These gyrations brought about the LSO character that has stayed with the newsletter for over 65 years.
Today’s Navy has ship to shore telephones, cell phones and computers that allow crew members to have personal contact with family back home. During WWII the only contact was by mail. For crew members of CVE 21 and CVE 106, out on the vast open space of the Pacific, weeks and even months passed before mail was delivered.
The well named “victory mail” was the only contact and therefore very important to the crew members and a huge boost to morale. Every effort was made to maintain contact. As ships left port, those that met up with the fleet could transfer mail at that point; and, if it was known that they were going to an island port, the mail was sent to the populated islands of the Pacific which sometimes provided more opportunity for mail service.
TBM bombers were also used to deliver mail by using the bomb bay to transport letters and small packages. The bombers landed on carriers and delivered the mail which was transferred to other members of the task group when their ships arrived alongside the carriers for refueling or replenishment of supplies and ammunition.
One such mail delivery was made by a land based pilot who was unaccustomed to seeing the the large number of carriers in a task force. Upon receiving his landing instructions, the pilot responded with the following as he looked at all the vessels below, “Rub a dub dub, which one is my tub?” and the operator, anticipating mail delivery, happily responded, “Hey diddle diddle, it’s us, in the middle!” Pilots are a breed of their own, with the ability to make jokes, even when they are in danger mode.
Mail delivery by aircraft was always made on a volunteer basis. Pilots were aware of the danger but realized what a morale boost it was to receive mail. When the battle of Okinawa was at its highest pitch, there was a sad event after a mail transfer when the aircraft was shot down, resulting in the loss of the pilot and crew. There were no medals, awards or pats on the back for those delivering the mail but many crew members are as aware of those mail deliveries as they are of the circumstances of any battle.
The mail going home was as important to the home front morale as was the mail received by the crews. The mail clerk on the ship was forever looking for any chance to get the outgoing mail on its way by any method possible. The command was always aware of this and sought any opportunity for the mail clerks to off load the mail that was backed up in the ship’s post office.