Catherine Cotterman Hoskins
There would be "Musick" in the air that November afternoon in 1935, and thousands of people had gathered on the Luneta and surrounding rood gardens overlooking Manila Bay to watch and hear it happen. My family and I were atop the University Club Building keeping an eye on the time and listening for the first sounds. Then, suddenly there was an unfamiliar steady humming of engines as a beautiful, siler bodied, 25-ton aircraft appeared out of a puffy white cloud! The crowd roared with cheers and screams as everyone witnessed the arrival of the very first airplane to bridge the waters of the Pacific Ocean--8,000 miles from Alameda, California to Manila, Philippines! The China Clipper of Pan American Airways made history that day, and the Skipper was a man named E.C. Musick.
I was a 14-year-old kid at that magical moment and I remember telling myself that someday I would be onboard a Clipper flying high in the sky. I did not know when or why or how my dream would happen--but it did come to pass.
The year was 1940. I had finished my sophomore year at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. I had traveled there three weeks by ship and five days by train when I left Manila in 1938. My cousin, Chuck Butler, was a year behind me at William and Mary. Our folks decided we should come home for summer vacation and the only way that could happen would be for us to fly--on Pan American Airways!!
Pan American sent us our flight schedule and we were off. A train ride to Richmond, Virginia, brought us to our first airplane on the journey. Pennsylvania Central Airlines took us to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This plane was a jalopy compared to the other planes that would fly us across the U.S. to San Francisco--an overnight adventure. Chuck and I looked at each other for reassurance--but we loved every minute of our very first flight!
We caught a TWA afternoon ride to Kansas City where we were put aboard a TWA night flight to Los Angeles. In those days TWA could not fly into San Francisco so the last leg of our cross-country was on United Airlines. We landed at Mills Field in San Francisco--there was no International Airport then.
It was the middle of June 1940. The World's Fair was still in progress out on Treasure Island--not far from the Pan American terminal right on the Bay. There was much activity and excitement the afternoon we were scheduled for departure on the Clipper. The Media had gathered to celebrate Pan American's 200th Round Trip to Hong Kong and back. They gathered the five passengers together for an on the air interview broadcast. We were treated almost like royalty. During the radio broadcast, the interviewer asked each passenger who he was, where he was from and why he was on this flight. I was the only female in the group. When it was my turn he added the question, "Will this be your first time in an airplane?" I said, "Not exactly, I just flew across the continent." Much to my chagrin he responded with, "Well, Miss Cotterman, not many of us can say we just flew across the continent." He admitted to me later that he meant to embarrass me. Many years passed until I read something about Art Linkletter's career in radio and I had the feeling that he was the young man who put me on the spot that day at Treasure Island. I shall never know. After the interview, I heard a man call my name. When I turned around a photographer snapped my picture. I asked him what paper would print it and his reply was, It won't be in print unless your plane goes down over the ocean!" That cool remark took some wind out of my sails, but I recovered.
In 1935, Pan American's contract with the U.S. Government was to fly the U.S. mail. Passengers were not included. Mail was the number one priority--then cargo, followed by passengers in 1936. Weight was the chief concern. Everything and everyone had to be weighed before boarding the Clipper. If there was a question of over weight, passengers faced the possibility of being excluded from that flight.
The time had come to walk down the ramp and climb aboard the Martin M-130 named the Philippine Clipper. First, the Crew made the walk, then the Steward came back and escorted the five passengers into the plane. There was a huge crowd of people watching us and hollering words of farewell and good luck!
We settled into our seats looking around at our home-in-the-sky for five days while Island hopping from Honolulu to Midway to Wake, Guam and Manila--our final destination. All Pan American Clippers were "Flying boats" with pontoons for water landings and take-offs--especially required by the founder, Juan Trippe.
It was 4 o'clock in the afternoon. The engines started up, the people outside were cheering and those of us inside were praying a little, I'm sure. Chuck and I looked at each other, smiled and crossed our fingers. Then the thrill of our adventure began in full as the Clipper taxied out under the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge, turned around, started the take-off skimming along the water--giving us that indescribable feeling of acceleration--and there we were, up in the sky and flying over that beautiful Golden Gate Gridge on our way to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii!
The lounge, which is where the passengers spent most of their time in flight, was very comfortable. We all introduced ourselves and by dinnertime we had become very friendly and chatty. Meals aboard the clipper were absolutely fantastic and food was always available on the buffet. Smoking was not allowed anywhere in the airplane. There were double-decker berths in the area between the lounge and the lavatory--which was located near the tail.
When the berths were made up for the night, the Steward assigned each of us to our own. By this time we had become acquainted with the officers in the crew. They were all personable and delightful men. Captain Turner made us feel safe and secure 10,000 feet up in the heavens. It was easy to fall asleep that night, but, around midnight, I woke up feeling quite cold. The curtains parted and I heard the Steward explaining that the Captain had to climb to 12,000 feet to get over a rain storm and that it would be cold for a while. He covered me with a couple of lovely, warm blankets and I was off to dreamland once more.
CAPTAIN H. L. (LANIER) TURNER,
during his 27 years with Pan American
has flown everything from early
Sikorsky amphibians and Martin
Flying Boats to Double-decked
At 8 o'clock in the morning we landed at Pearl Harbor. The passengers could take ashore only one small overnight bag. We were escorted to the lovely Moana Hotel on Waikiki--next door to the Royal Hawaiian. The rest of that day we were on our own to explore Honolulu. We knew we had to be up, dressed, packed, and ready to leave for Pearl Harbor Terminal long before dawn. Because of all the coral in the lagoons at eachIsland along the way, the Clippers had to take off at sunrise in order to land safely at the next stop while the sun was still out and the pilot could avoid the coral.
The China Clipper docked at Pearl Harbor
(Courtesey of Tom Moore)
How the Captain could find those tiny Islands down there in the vast Pacific Ocean was a mystery to me. But he did--and always in time! A launch came out to greet us and take us ashore when we arrived at Midway. The Pan American Hotels at each stop along the way were attractive and so very comfortable. The delicious meals were beautifully served. On Midway, much to our surprise and delight, the Gooney Birds had arrived to start their families. What an unexpected treat!
Early the next morning, after a fine breakfast, we said goodbye to all the wonderful folks who looked after our every need, then returned by launch to the gallant Clipper waiting for us. Soon we were up and away heading for Wake Island.
That night we received more gracious hospitality from the Pan American staff on duty. Wake had a special charm and I loved it. When we left the next early morning, I knew I would be back and that made the leaving much easier.
The Island of Guam is large, lush and beautiful. It was important to deliver and pick up mail in the town nearest the Pan American Compound. I tagged along on the ride with the Skipper and was impressed with the scenery and with the people we met. Guam was our last stop before reaching our homeport--Manila. It was a starlight evening and perfect for a beach walk before bedtime.
Early the next morning as we waved goodby to the people who had come down to the water to watch us take off, Chuck and I knew that in just a few hours we would be home once more! Our excitement began to build as time went by. Captain Turner assured us that he would circle Manila before landing out near the Terminal in Cavite. Oh, the thrill! It is hard to describe how Chuck and I felt as we scrambled from side to side and window-to-window to identify all the familiar landmarks below us! We shouted to one another and in the excitement, we even shed a few tears. All of a sudden we realized the Steward was trying to get our attention. In a very gently voice he said: "Captain's compliments, Miss Cotterman and Mr. Butler, he understands your emotions but he asks that you please sit down, you're rocking his boat!!"
We took our seats quietly and in a few minutes we were on the water taxiing to the landing dock. The door of the aircraft opened and an official from Pan American Airways greeted me with a smile and an umbrella. It was raining. He escorted Chuck and me to where our folks were waiting for us with open arms. We were home!!
My dream had come true with this first thrilling and romantic flight on a Pan American Clipper. I did have two more flights to look forward to--the return trip to San Franciscoat the summer's end and the last journey home to Manila in June of 1941. Each of those trips held adventures of their own. One was on board a Boeing which was much larger than the Martin and carried 12 passengers. Captain Robin McGlohn was the skipper of that ship named the California Clipper. Captain McGlohn knew how sad I was leaving home again, so he made sure I enjoyed some unexpected surprises. I soon stopped feeling sorry for myself and got caught up in the excitment of the journey. On the night we stopped over in Honolulu, the captain invited me to join him for dinner down in the gigantic kitchen of the Moana Hotel. He was a good friend of the chef who had arranged a delicious feast in his private glassed-in dining room where the three of us could share the meal and watch the activity in the kitchen. The chef kept his eye on everyone. The next day we took off for San Francisco. The skipper told me he would have the steward call me before sunrise so that I could join him up in the cockpit to watch the sun come up in all its glory. What a thrill that was to be sitting up ther high in the sky experiencing the spectacular burst of color as the golden sun appeared on the horizon. Soon we would be touching down on San Francisco Bay and coming to the perfect end of an incredible journey!
What a heart warming surprise it was to find that Captain McGlohn would be the pilot of my last journey home to the Philippines, once more on a Martin. That June, U.S. Marines were stationed at Midway, Wake and Guam and the Clipper passengers were not free to wander and explore. This was our first hint of war clouds gathering. Six months after our arrival in Manila, Pear Harbor was attacked by the Japanese. Soon after, the Philippines were bombed and invaded. American and Allied civilians were rounded up and placed in prison camps. We lost our material and personal possessions. But they could not take away our precious memories. All these years later I still cherish the treasured memories of my love affair with Pan American Airways!
Catherine Cotterman Hoskins