Frank George Adams was born in 1925 to a French mother and American father on the island of Manhattan, New York. He was 17 when the war broke out and immediately decided to enlist himself in the navy with permission from his father. He was working as a page boy for Radio City Music Hall at the time he enlisted as well as attending high school. His services in the navy include being named a 3rd class petty officer upon finishing boot camp and air technical school to become a pilot. One of his most memorable experiences in the navy include leading a group of 80 sailors from Tennessee to Florida where they encountered a harsh group of army men.
When you’re in bootcamp, you have one stripe, you’re a seaman, seaman third. When you finish bootcamp you go to seaman second; you have two white stripes on your sleeve. When you finish school, your technical school, you get three stripes, you’re a seaman. But the honor man of the class gets the rating. He gets the crow; what we called the crow. I was the honor man so I became a third class petty officer. I had the crow and one red stripe underneath with the aviation radio signal. And it was very interesting because I was only seventeen years old still, and I was third class petty officer. The other classes were a little older than we were so they were like nineteen, that kind of thing. I was five foot seven and I weighed about a hundred and thirty pounds. And our next stop from there was being aviation naturally, naval air gunnery school. So, they lined up all the people and said, “This is the draft that’s going to Naval Air Gunnery School, Yellow Water outside of Jacksonville, Florida. And who’s the petty officer in charge?” They all pointed at me; I was the petty officer in charge.
The first flight that I took in transitional flight training was November 26, 1943. It was just after my birthday. I had just turned 18 on November 17th. So I didn’t get to go fly when I was a 17-year old but I did it as a brand new 18-year old. So that was my first flight on a PBY. On the 27th, the following day, I went on a PBY- 5A which is an amphibian and took a flight there, training flight. And from there on out, it was train, train, train, train all the way until we really knew what we were doing.
Confrontation with the Army
I had to take this draft of about 80 sailors on the train from Memphis, Tennessee, down to Jacksonville, Florida. And the way you got there on the train was you had to stop at Fort Benning, Georgia. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Fort Benning, Georgia, but it is the home of one of the toughest army groups in the whole army. We stopped the train, and I had been alerted by the conductor that “you’re gonna walk into a rough place there, boy.” So I lined them all up, and I told them. I said, “You guys stay in line, the discipline we learned in boot camp. We’re gonna march down the street, down to the restaurant that’s waiting for us because I had a big chip to feed all the sailors. And when we get there, we’re going to go in single file and get our tables. You’re going to see a lot of guys with the double pointed hats, the army guys. I said, “They’re gonna want to eat you for breakfast. Stay in line and listen to me.” And down we went. We went in for lunch and by then the whole town had heard that the Navy was here. They hadn’t seen sailors in years, I guess. There were people lined up on the sidewalks all around to see the sailors, and we came out single file, lined up on the street. I was in charge. I looked all around, and there were these army guys starting to come around. I said, “Alright, forward ho!” and off we went marching down the street. Well, lo and behold, a wonderful thing happened. The girls who had come out to see the sailors all came and grabbed the arms of the guys on the outside and marched on the outside of us with us and down to the railroad track. And those army guys were just seething at seeing all these women protecting us. I said Well, that’s what you get for being a sailor,” and we got back on the train. And believe me, we were happy to get out of there.
Perception of FDR
We liked him. He was our president. Even though my family has been Republican since I was born. I was born under Calvin Coolidge. He was President when I was born, alright?
My father was a Republican. But he was our president, and we all go together, that was it. We were all very sad to see him die. That was something, you know. [For] guys in the military, he had been our boss for so long that when they announced he died, we said, “Wow, you know, we lost the old man.”
Japanese Internment Camps
Internment? I think I found that out before I went in the navy. President Roosevelt had done that before I was activated in the navy. He did that right after ’41, he did that in 1942. Well, at that point everybody… I lived on the east coast. We had found a tremendous amount of Germans in New York City who were Bund members who turned out to be German spies who were signaling the U-Boats that were coming in off the coast of New York and sinking freighters right there. Are you familiar with that?
German submarines were sinking oil tankers in the waters within a few miles of the coastline, on the Atlantic coastline of the United States. And they were being given the information and signaled by these Bund members, these Germans who had been brought into this country, happily, you know, as we always are to bring them in, and that turned everybody to be very conscious about, so what are they doing on the west coast? Well on the west coast they went after the Japanese. Because, guess what, there were submarines, small Japanese submarines that did do damage over on the west coast. But, very few people know about that. So we were being hit on both coasts believe it or not, and the people on both coasts said, “Get a clamp on them, hold on to them, don’t let them loose. They shouldn’t be notifying the enemy.” And that was the reaction. Today many years later, generations later, oh, you can have different opinions. But at the time if you looked out your window if you live by the sea shore and you see a ship going “kabumb,” and people in the water and rescue craft trying to go out to get them, that’s war. It’s right in your backyard.
[After the war] I went back to Radio City Musical and said, “I’m back. I’d like to go to work again.”
They said, “Wonderful!” (laughs). Because they had so few people that knew the musical. I knew everything about it.
They made me a lieutenant of ushers. I had the first mezzanine. So I had the first mezzanine, and I knew it inside out. And one of the reasons they put me there is because it’s VIP, and I’d been used to handling VIPs.
One of my favorite people was John D. Rockefeller, Jr. who would bring his grandchildren with him for the afternoon show. And he’d bring his kids up there, and I’d say, “How are you doing, sir?” And he said, “Oh, Frank.” He said, “What time’s the show over?” I said, “ You got another ten minutes yet. Don’t go in. You, you know, you won’t be able to surprise the kids.” He said, “I know, I know. I don’t want to disturb the people in there.” So he’d tell the kids, “Let’s all go down to the lounge over here. We got ten minutes.”
He was a nice man. He was not very big, beautiful gray hair, glasses. He always had a little homburg that he wore. Very pleasant. And then when the show’d end, we’d pop the doors open to let those people out. He’d bring the kids in, and I knew where their seats were. They had the front row – Row A – 301 to 313, straight across. That was theirs. And the kids loved it. They loved their granddad. So we got to know a lot of very nice people there.
Keeping the German Submarines Down
The reason we were down there, this squadron, was to keep the submarines down. The submarine threat in 1943-1944 was terrible. They were sinking oil tankers right over Cony Island in New York. People on the shore could see the tankers burning out there where they have been torpedoed. This was happening all up and down the coast. And the Germans were sending there submarines down into the South Atlantic, through the central there in order to intercept convoys that where bringing supplies up to the States and over into Africa and possibly into Europe. So our jobs was to keep the submarines down. And the way they did that is our squadron was labeled a night flying squadron; we were known as the ‘Midnight Mariners.’ Our one plane would go out every night, we took off at dusk, we came back at dawn, that’s a ten hours stretch. Our average flying time was 10 hours on every one of our patrols.
Spotting Merchant Ships By Mistake
The light would come on, and the bombardier in the front had the light controls. And you could steer that searchlight. And the light would come on and nine time out of ten it was some merchant ship that was lost. Got out of his convoy, didn’t know where it was, or just out in the ocean, and we’d light em up like mad and then fly over and turn off the light and the noise for our plane going over like ‘woooaaaahhhh.’ They thought it was the end of the world, cause if you’re on a ship and all of a sudden you saw this huge light and then it would turn off and this great noise would happen, you’d thought you’ve been torpedoed, and they used to jump over the side. We heard so many stories when we got back to land about sailors jumping off the merchant ship cause they thought it was the end and then later they would begin to find out that it was those crazy Americans out there flying around the middle of the ocean in those big airplanes scaring everybody.
Training at the Gunnery School
The first thing we did for two weeks was trap and skeet with 12 gauge Remington’s. We did it 6 hours a day, you imagine what our shoulders felt like. And when we got done with the handheld cause they taught us how to lead, we could lead anything, anything that flew we could shoot down after that. They put us in the electric turrets, look at this, see the turrets on top, that’s electric turret right there. You sit in there and control it like the controls when you play those games on TV. You got the controls that swing the thing all around. These turrets had 50 caliber machine gun on each side. What they did at the school was put us on a turret with a shotgun on each side and we shot trap and skeet for about 3 or 4 days with the turrets, now that’s fun. And then we got into all of the heavy artillery.
Conducted February 16, 2016
Interviewer(s): Joseph Swit
Conducted July 5, 2017
Interviewer(s): Cullen Joyce, Jeannie “Saoirse,” and David Ruano Velasquez
Conducted October 7, 2017
Interviewer(s): David Hudak and Andrew Feeley