THOUGHTS ON CAPT S. W. BETTS USN (Ret)

Submitted by: Don Cruse

Originally appeared in the May 1998 issue (Vol. 22-2) of The Aerograph the Naval Weather Association newletter.
CAPT Betts' Career

With the loss of a good shipmate and former boss at sea, thoughts naturally migrate back through the years and various highlights emerge. When then-Lieutenant George Kosco, Aero-logical Officer in USS RANGER (CV-4), became agitated over the number of young, tender Aerographers who were hanging out in his shop and cluttering up the spaces, he zapped a message to BuAer or BuNav (or both). Changes were needed. There had obviously been a mistake when we departed NAS Lakehurst and the Primary Aerographer School, Class 20, after graduating in January, 1941. Too many of us were sent to RANGER which had an Aerological Office approximately the size of a Lift Van.

Out of the eight freshly-graduated Aerographers who boarded RANGER only three were retained in that ship. Three went to USS WASP (CV-7), one to USS YORKTOWN (CV-5), and one to FAW-5. As soon as RANGER completed operations in the vicinity of Vieques and reclaimed her air group she steamed to Gitmo and dropped the hook. WASP was already moored at anchor there. Hence, as soon as I could get my gear lashed together seagoing style with seabag, hammock and bucket, I mustered on the quarterdeck with four other Aerographers who were bound for WASP. Bob Martin and "Gunner" Gawron were being transported back to NorVa in WASP. Rogers, Fairbrother and I were in our new ship. We were greeted at the top of the port gangway by "Horrible Harry" Watson, Aerog3c and shown to our V-3 berthing space which was combined with V-2 Division. It was then March, 1941.

As we boarded WASP the plankowner Aerological Officer, LT Peter Lackner, disembarked via the starboard gangway. His relief was LT Betts, fresh from Naval Postgraduate training in Aerology. Our plankowner CAerog was very senior chief petty officer Lloyd White. Aerog1c Leo Abraham Lee, Aerog3c H. H. Watson and several strikers composed the remainder of our Aerology gang. Whereas RANGER was relatively old, as evidenced by the type of crew bathing facilities still in use (one needed a bucket in order to scrub clothing and body), WASP was spanking new and sparkling. And she sported showers for the crew even though her evaporators struggled to keep up with fresh water demands. We soon discovered that CAPT "Blackjack" Reeves intended to keep WASP in topnotch shape.

Soon it became obvious to even the most lowly striker that LT Betts had encountered Blackjack. His life was never to be the same again. LT Betts became senior watch officer on the port watch. He inherited approximately ten additional duties in the ship. Fortunately, he could rely on CAerog White to keep us in shape in Aerology. Without any doubt we heard the words"LT Betts, report to the bridge immediately" passed over the ship's announcing system more than any others. Even the Engineering Officer was not that unlucky!

WASP spent 1942 hauling P40 aircraft to Iceland and Spitfires to Malta in the Mediterranean. She made an attempt to join other forces chasing the Bismarck in the North Atlantic, but iced up as soon as she stood out from Argentia. That led to a pleasant fortnight holed up in Casco Bay off Portland. Freezing cold but good liberty. New F4F aircraft came aboard but the same old SB2U dive bombers and TBD torpedo planes remained part of the air group. President Roosevelt ordered us to maintain what was termed "Neutrality Patrol" across the Atlantic Ocean from Bermuda. Very little liberty for the crew in Bermuda which was then horses and bicycles only. And the British pound was costing five bucks! A strong cold front caught WASP moored at anchor one night -- Blackjack chewed out Aerology for missing the forecast. We pleaded "lack of data." He used turns on the main engines to prevent WASP from dragging into Hamilton harbor where we could have all had extended liberty.

Of the memories that persist there is one that involved a trip to the flagship of the British Home Fleet, HMS King George V, then moored at anchor in Scapa Flow in the Orkneys. WASP was joined by a few "telegraphers" and "skivvy wavers" from RN to keep us straight while temporarily operating with the Brits. For Aerology it meant coordinating weather broadcasts, although we did not yet know we would be bound for the Med. LT Betts grabbed me and we were transported by ship's boat to the battlewagon after WASP came to anchor in Scapa. As soon as we climbed aboard and found ourselves on the fantail I realized it was a different NAVY. They called it their Quarterdeck. And officer's country was aft instead of forward. We were escorted forward via the second deck to a point where we could climb up to the flag Aerology space in the superstructure. Needless to say, living conditions in the 'wagon did not impress me as we walked forward. It was not like WASP.

LT Betts was relieved by LCDR August W. Lentz USN about June, 1942. LCDR Lentz came from FAW-5 in NorVA. They swapped billets. Lentz was our Aerological Officer when we were shifted to Pacific Fleet for what turned out to be the Solomons Islands invasion. He went down with the ship when she was sunk in September, 1942.

CAPT Betts became Staff Aerologist CINCNELM and our paths crossed again when SUPPAEROUNIT ONE was commissioned in London in 1952. From London he became skipper of FLEWEACEN PEARL HARBOR. Later he spent a great deal of time in Washington filling various billets, one of which was Director, Naval Weather Service for a brief period. Since my "twilight tour" was in NWSHQ in the Washington Navy Yard until November, 1968 retirement on thirty, there were occasional opportunities to meet Sherry and Ruth Betts until they moved south. After that we maintained contact by telephone and an occasional visit. My last opportunity to see him was on February 20th when he was in hospital suffering from pneumonia. Ruth died suddenly last August. He died February 28, 1998. Thus ends a long and distinguished career and leaves us with only memories.