(updated 11-7-2007)

Richard Jack Oliver

April 3, 1917 - August 7, 2007



From Hiawatha Kansas to Tracy California

Jack was born on April 3, 1917 at Hiawatha, Kansas and moved to Tracy, California. Jack father Dick worked for the railroad as a breakman.

Here's some photos from a family photo album

Here's a photo of Jack when he was two.

Life in a Sierra Logging Camp

Jack's father, Dick, worked for the West Side Lumber Company in the Sierra foot hills from about 1921 to 1924. (see Wikipedia) Jack's family lived in Tuolumne in winter and at the lumber camp during the logging season. The camp consisted of several houses on skids. They were moved form one location to another with a steam powered winch, "Donkey Engine". In the camp mess hall, Jack said it was amazing how much food a lumberjack could put on one plate. The camp "refrigerator" was a cave pack with snow from the previous winter. There was good fishing and hunting around the camp, especially when the lumberjack methods were used, drop a stick of dynamite in the water and pick up the fish. Dick carried a rifle with him on the train, when a deer would freeze on the railroad tracks, he would shot it. West Side owned a narrow gauge logging railroad to carry logs down the mountain side to the saw mill at Tuolumne. This railroad used geared Shay locomotives to carry heavy loads up steep grades. Jack recalls riding a flat car up to the camp with his mother with all their household goods. The trip was only about 50 miles, but Jack said the trip took almost all day. Jack was late starting first grade because the logging operations didn't stop before school began.

Here's some photos from Camp number 28.

Here's a photo of Jack and his 2nd grade class at Tuolumne.

Life in the logging camp was not without its hazards. One time a grizzly bear came into camp and crashed into one of the cabins. One of the men was able to shot and kill the bear before anyone was injured. Later, Dick was injured when a 50 inch log rolled off a railroad car. Dick survived the accident because the ground was soft and he was mashed into the dirt. In 1924 Jack's mother passed away at the Stockton hospital from pernacious anemia. Jack was only 9.

Here's some photos from a 1919 family photo album

Back to Tracy

After Jack's mother passed away,Jack and Dick moved back to Tracy. Jack's first airplane ride was when he was about 9 years old (around 1925) when a Curtiss Jenny landed in a field near Tracy, CA, and was giving rides.

Here's a photo of Jack with a Stearman at the Tracy airport, April 1928.

Here's a photo of the Oliver with Uncle Ted's new Graham-Page.

Troublemaker Jack

When Jack and his Dad moved to Tracy, Dick went back to work for Southern Pacific Railroad. Eventually, Dick remarried (Vivian) and became a conductor. His route was between San Francisco and Roseville. By this time, Jack had a job in Post Office where he had access to the "dead letter office." One day, he found a dead post card which simply stated: " Can't wait til I see you again in Roseville, same place, same room," but didn't have an address. Jack quickly addressed to his father's house as a prank. Of course, the postcard came when Dick was gone, causing some serious angst. Vivian wouldn't speak to Dick for weeks and Dick didn't know what happened. Eventually, Jack fessed up, but probably only under duress! In the end, all was made right, but was only the beginning...!

One of Jack's hobbies about 1935 to 1936 was building and flying free flight model airplanes.

Here is a photo of two of his models under construction.

Here is Jack with the Silver Streak

Jack designed some of his own models. This big one he called the Jitter Bug.

Here are two photos of the Jitter Bug, one with Jack and the other with his Aunt Lula.

Here's the Jitter Bug at Moffett Fiels in 1939.

Here's a photo of Jack taken in 1938.

In 1939 and 1940 Jack and his family made several trips to the world's fair at Treasure Island. Jack made some very nice color movies of the flowers at the world's fair with his 16mm camera. The color of the movies is still great after 65 years. Jack said he also visited Sally Rand's Nude Ranch on the Gayway. I bet Jack's family was not with him on this outing. (A "Gayway" would have a totally different meaning today.)

Here's some photos from Jack's photo album of the 1939-1940 World's Fair at Treasure Island.

At the World's Fair, Jack took a seaplane ride in a Sikorsky operated by the Hollywood stunt pilot Paul Mantz. Cost--$2.50

Here's some photos Jack took on the seaplane ride

A Funny Story

Jack had a large engine which he used on most of his larger models, A Forester 99 which was about 1 hp, 0.99 in3. He and his father Dick was working on it in the kitchen. As his step mother Vivian was leaving the house, she told them not to make a mess. So, being the ever-thoughtful type they were, Dick and Jack put down some newspaper to keep fuel off the floor. Thinking they were safe, they decided to start the engine. The dependable Forester started right up, sucking in all the newspaper, shredding it and blowing it all over the house. So much for not making a mess!

Jack made 16mm movies of the 1934 National Air Races at Oakland. This spurred his interest in movie-making and so in 1934-35, he made his own 35mm movie camera. To accomplish this, he had to drive to San Francisco to get some aluminum parts Heli-Arc welded. He used his "new" camera to film Tracy's Frontier Day Parade; a 20 minute film that had its "premier" at the Grand Theater in Tracy with the news reels and previews. Look for more movies by Jack! Here's a photo of Jack working on his camera in his basement workshop after the war.

In what would turn out to be one of several "flying experiences," Jack flew with his friend Francis Kellogg in 1935-36. Francis owned a old Vilie power Monocoupe. The Vilie engine with its magnesium case was notorious for cracking, and Kellogg's was no exception. Jack and Francis had to land quit frequently to add more oil and when there wasn't a proper landing field, they had to land in a alfalfa field. The trick, then, was to get the oil in and takeoff before the irate farmer got there.

A Funny Story, No-name Jack

When Jack went to enlist in the Navy in 1942, he found that his birth certificate was missing some important information---like a name. As in the real olden days, there was no name, just "son of...". Being the independent sort, Jack decided to change his name. Having the middle name of Clinton, which he never liked, upon entering the Navy, he changed it to Jack. The "old" middle name was one of the best kept family secrets for years. It wasn't until the last child was almost grown that his kids knew his "real" middle name. It was quite scandalous for us kids!

World War II

Jack enlisted in the Navy on January 23, 1942. He was sent to Treasure Island Materiel School for a 8-month course. He graduated August 21, 1942 and was assigned to Aircraft in the Pacific Fleet August 28, 1942. Jack left Treasure Island Setpember 1, 1942 for Terminal Island, Long Beach where he was assigned to Torpedo Squadron 3 (VT-3). From there, he was sent to Floyd Bennett Field, in Brooklyn, New York September 5, 1942 for a four week course on special radio equipment that was to be installed in The Grumman "Avenger" torpedo aircraft, TBM. After training, he and some of his squadron members picked up the first four TBF (TBF-1) equipped with radar. The radar was the ASB (Air to Surface type B) system. The four TBFs were supposed to go to different carriers, but by the time the planes were ready, plans had changed. Instead, they all went to the Saratoga for service, because the three other carriers were out of commission (being repaired, sunk, etc). Jack helped fly them back to Alameda, California where they were put on Jeep carrier going to the Saratoga in Pearl Harbor.

Jack still has his Navy head gear, looks like he is ready to go.

The TBF (and TBM) had a crew of three: pilot, top gunner, and radio/radar operator/belly gunner (Jack's position). As a radar operator, he sat on a folding bench, facing forward. As a gunner, the radar bench folded up and he laid on his belly to operate the gun facing backward. The TBF carried five 500 lb bombs, several depth charges or one torpedo

On the way to Numea, New Caledonia, the Saratoga made several stops in Fiji and other Pacific Islands. Jack Arived at Numea in Dec 1943 and was stationed there while the Saratoga sailed away on various other missions. At this time, the Saratoga was transporting many troops to Quadacanal, including Jack. He stayed on Quadacanal for about 6 weeks while the Saratoga then sailed back to Numea. Jack took part in three bombing missions against Munda.

The group of TBFs flew at night lead by one of the radar equipped TBFs. This new radar system had aiming capabilities by using Yagi antenna located on both wings. Jack's job as radar operator was to aim the antenna through the use of a display consisting of an oscilloscope trace from each antennae. When a target was detected by the sweeping of the antenna, the pilot would turn toward the target. Both antennae would then be locked straight ahead. When both oscilloscope traces overlapped, the target would be directly ahead. From Jack's position, he said he never knew exactly what they would hit, "but you could certainly see a large flash."

Lucky Jack

Jack survived one accident as a radio operator in a TBF (Feb/1943). While doing a carrier takeoff, the flagman misjudged the swells and signaled their takeoff while the ship was pointing nose down. As a result, the heavy TBF pancaked into the sea in front of the ship. Amazingly, the ship somehow missed them, but its still unclear exactly how it missed. Jack thinks he may have been underwater or unconscious for a short time; however, he remembers seeing both the carrier and destroyer sail away. Fortunately, any potential problems with sharks was taken care of by the depth charges which went off after the TBF sank. Unfortunately, Jack and his pilot were in the water also, and had some internal bleeding for a few days afterward. They were picked up by a small boat that was eventually sent back to pick them up. That was the end of one of the first four radar equipped TBFs-- one down, three to go.

The early radar equipment was very fragile. A "hard" carrier landing would break the main power tube; to prevent this, Jack would open the radar box before landing and remove the critical tube. Eventually, they ran out of spare tubes and the radar equipped TBFs were out of commission.

Another hazard of a hard landing was that the IFF would explode. The IFF (Identification Friend or Foe, known as a transponder today) had a small explosive charge designed to destroy itself in a crash. A hard landing would set this charge off. The IFF box was just strong enough to contain this blast; in other words, it wouldn't blow the plane up-- it would simply end up looking like a basketball instead of a box.

While flying in a TBF at Quadacanal, Jack got half the credit for shooting down a Zero while operating the belly gun. Jack said the Jap pilot must have been a cadet because he tried to come up from underneath and was a little early in his timing. He ended up behind the TBF formation, nose straight up with the bottom of the Zero facing the TBFs, making a perfect target.

Another hazardous job Jack sometimes had was "landing coach". He had to ride with the novice pilots while they practiced their night carrier landing. He began to worry when the pilots would take three or four consecutive flag offs. Must have been a harrowing experience. Jack continued as radio operator, radar operator, gunner and landing coach until he came home about June, 1943.

Not So Lucky Jack

After leaving the Saratoga in 1943, Jack sailed home on a tramp steamer, probably Dutch. On the way home he entered into a 3-day poker game. The final pot was $15,000 and he had a good hand, but someone else had a better one. He never gambled again.

Jack's father-in-law Emory Boughton was a professional photographer. The following photo is his store window during the war. Jack's photo is in the second row from the top, eighth from the left, center, of course.

Lucky Jack

After returning to California and enjoying a 30 day leave, Jack was stationed at Vernalis, Oct 25, 1943. While there he trained in the Lockheed Ventura. One time, Jack had some "car trouble" while driving from Vernalis to Tracy. He was driving at a high rate of speed at night, lights out, trying to get back in time for muster. Unfortunately, he came upon a step in the pavement where the highway was being resurfaced. Ordinarily, this wouldn't have been a problem, but at high speed, it blew out all four tires. Lucky for Jack, his Uncle Ted was on the rationing board, so he was able to get four new tires. It really helps to be "connected!"

In yet another "car" episode, Jack lost his favorite car in a garage fire. It was a 1939 Buick Century green convertible, which was in for some repairs.

A heater started the fire and the whole building, with everything in it, exploded. Everyone (except Jack) was surprised how violent the explosion was because it destroyed the entire building. Jack thinks it may have had something to do with the several 5 gallon cans of aviation fuel stored in the trunk of his car. No one knows to this day exactly what happened--and others aren't really telling. Jack was upset about this because he had only had the car about 6 months, and new cars weren't being produced because of the war. As fate would have it, a 2002 green Buick Century is back in Jack's life--must be reinCARnation!

Lucky Jack

Jack was involved in a takeoff accident at Crows Landing. They were departing in a twin engine Lockheed PV-1 Ventura which lost power in one engine and pancaked in just off the end of the runway. The tower operator said he could see the fuel spray into the air as the tanks burst, but it did not ignite!! Looks like a pattern is emerging!

Jack also flew in a stripped down Martin B-26 target tug that was painted bright yellow. As the plane flew up and down the coast for anti-aircraft target practice, they had some rather close calls. One time, they reeled in the target and there was only 25ft of cable left!

On another occasion, with Johnson at the helm, they buzzed The University Of Pacific at Stockton, blowing out several windows. The next day the newspaper report blamed the Army because more of their aircraft were painted yellow. Of course, being in the Navy, this misplaced blame on the Army was hilarious.

After Vernalis, Jack reported to Crow's Landing, because they had switched to flying the Privateers and they needed a longer runway.

The Privateers were engaged in electronic countermeasures and so the nose of the Privateer was extended to accommodate this equipment.

This same pilot, Johnson, had a family farm in Stockton. While training in the Privateers at Crows Landing, Johnson would take a 50 gallon drum, fill it with detergent, water and his clothes, tie a line to it and buzz his mother's field. He would fly over and release the drum; as it rolled along the field, it acted like a washing machine as it rotated. His mother would then go out, retrieve the clothes and hang them out to dry. Jack was always amazed that this worked, because the field was relatively small and the perimeter was lined with trees, making the "laundry run" exciting and dangerous.

While at Vernalis, Jack made Chief on May 5, 1945, and assigned to C.A.S. F-11 for active duty. Eventually, the squadron was transferred to Okinawa. The major part of the squadron was retrained as commandos and had to help take Okinawa from the Japanese. A skeleton crew remained behind to fly the Privateers to Okinawa after it was captured and secured. Jack was in the commando group, but fortunately he didn't face much Japanese opposition during the invasion of Okinawa . The invasion started on April 1, 1945, but Jack didn't go ashore until his birthday on April 3, 1945. Not until June 22, was the conquest complete, by which time 13,000 U.S. soldiers and 100,000 to 250,000 Japanese had died.

One day on Okinawa while the crew was test-firing the Privateers's guns on the ground, the Japanese decided to attack. Jack suspects that it was probably a lone squadron that thought that the newly arrived Americans were easy prey. There was about 16 Privateers on the field and with 6 gun turrets each, the Japanese met a devastating amount of fire from aircraft on the ground.

The job of the Privateers was to jam the Japanese radar during bombing missions by other aircraft. They would fly low during these missions and sometimes would encounter flak. However, Jack only remembers one aircraft lost; it was low over an island and took a direct hit.

Jack was on Okinawa from April-Novemder, 1945. Once again, Jack's pilot friend, Johnson, heard about "something big" happening and wanted to fly off to check it out. That something big turned out to be the bombing Hiroshima, August 6, 1945. Not long after the bomb was dropped, they flew around the perimeter of the city, and someone said, "I don't know what that was, but I hope we have more". This was probably the time Jack received his "first" exposure to radiation. In the 1950's he would continue to "occasionally" absorb "some" nuclear radiation.

Around Aug 1945, while on Okinawa, Jack experienced his one and only typhoon. It literally blew away all structures. The men took shelter in a cave. The remaining aircraft were "flown on the ground". While tied down, they were faced into the wind with their engines running. As the eye of the typhoon passed, the aircraft were rotated 180 degrees. All the aircraft were saved, but many had minor damage from flying debris. Before the typhoon, they had acres of aircraft parts out in the open and they were all blown away. Basically, whatever wasn't tied down and running, was blown away. After the storm had passed, the first supplies the Navy dropped were cigarettes. A couple of days later, the Navy dropped dried eggs.

Jack had to stay at Okinawa longer than planned to help rebuild the place. Navy personnel were slowly departing Okinawa; ship by ship. A ship would arrive, names would be called, and the lucky ones got to go home. Jack got impatient with this process, and slipped the yeoman a twenty, and home he went. He was released from active duty on November 25, 1945. When he was honorablely discharged, he wore the Campaign ribbon with two stars and the Air Combat Wings with three stars.

Between the Wars

As did many men, Jack went from active duty to inactive reserve. He was "stationed" in Tracy, at a shack set up at the Tracy airport. A radio transmitter and surplus electronic equipment were provided to keep the skills of the men current. They would go out there and "practice" equipment maintenance. They also had a four wheel drive truck to drive around in the mud when it rained; apparently, they were good at making their own fun.

After the war Jack worked for a short time as a brakeman for Southern Pacific. Jack said this was a very dangerous job.

Durring this time he also ran a photography studio with his wife Bette.

In 1949, after Jack got home, he worked briefly for the Bureau of Reclamation. At this job, he was involved in construction of the large pumping station near Livermore, California. This station had several pumps powered by 22,500 hp electric motors to pump water up into a canal which flowed south for irrigation of the central valley.

Korean War II

Jack was called back into the Korean War on September 27, 1950. Here's a photo of Jack with one of the WWII mortars on Corregidor.

Chief Electronic Technician Oliver was assigned to Navy Patrol Squadron VP-731. At Cavite, Phillipines Chief Oliver ran a radar maintainence shop supporting their Martin PBM-5. They would fly patrol missions from the Phillipines to Okinawa. The seaplane base at Cavite was built in the late 1930s as a Pan Am Clipper base.

Very Lucky Jack

During his time in the Phillipines, Jack survived a landing accident in a PBM-5 (BUNO is 85148) (June 14, 1951). While landing on the glassy water of Manila Bay, the pilot misjudged the waves and nosed the large twin engine flying boat into the water. Jack was standing -YES that's what he said, STANDING!!- behind the copilot. Jack exited the aircraft via the hole in the windshield made by the copilot. Of the eleven people on the PBM-5, Jack was one of three survivors (pilot, copilot & Jack). He dislocated his right arm/shoulder from holding onto to something in the cockpit. His wife Bette wondered why he didn't write home for a few days.

The PBMs had to use JETO rockets for take off with a full load. After breaking water the rate of climb was very impressive. Chief Oliver said that the JETOs started with a very loud bang. There was one PMB lost on takeoff when a JETO exploded.

One time, one of Jack's crew didn't properly install a radar dome cover resulting in the loss of the cover and some damage to the PBM. This dome cover was held on by 1/4" bolts, then sealed with dope and a strip of fabric. The crewman didn't install any of the bolts, only the fabric strip. The cover came off during a turn and hit one of the vertical fins. The aircraft returned OK, but Chief Oliver had this crew member transferred to Alaska.

Here are two photos by T. L. Bigley of NS Sangley Point and the old seaplane ramp at Cavite, taken in the early 60s.

Working for Consolidated Aircraft

After Jack got out of the Korean War on December 20, 1951, he worked on B-36s for a short time at Consolidated in San Diego. First he did radar maintenance, then was a foreman of a wiring shop.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

In 1952, Jack went to work for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, just a few months after it opened. At that time, it was known as Lawrence Radiation Lab, or Rad Lab, for short. This name has proved to be politcally incorrect and frightening to the public, as the fear of anything nuclear spread. His first job there was in hi-speed photography. This position seemed a natural fit; he had been involved in photography most of his life and with his wife Bette, had ran a studio at Livermore from 1939 to 1946. At one time, they had studios in Martinez and Walnut Creek. Also Jack's father-in-law, Emory Boughton, was a professional photographer. The Tracy newspaper still ocassionally prints some of Emory's photos from the 30s. Another hobby of Jack's during the eraly 50's was ham radio. His call letters were K6BQQ.

A Funny Story

During the time that Jack worked at the lab, his son Butch built line control models airplanes and Jack repaired TVs on the side. Scene: Jack is working on a TV set in the garage. Butch is working on a nearly finish model on the floor. Action: Jack is adjusting the set with power on with a plastic handle screw driver. Jack touches the 1000 volt with the screw driver and receives a big shock. Jack goes spastic and stomps Butch's nice model to smitherines. Post accident investigation: It was determined that someone had used the screwdriver as a punch and had broke the handel with a hammer. No punitive action was necessary since the culprit had a smashed up model.

Lucky Jack

In his early days at the Lab, Jack worked on two Pacific nuclear tests, Redwing and Castle. At the Redwing test, he and other coworkers were supposed to be the last ones to leave the island. They were told that if the helicopter could not get back to get them (due to weather), they were supposed to stay in one of the bunkers at the test site. Fortunately, the weather was good and the helicopter picked them up, because as it turned out, someone miscalculated the test yield (most likely a physicist!). The shot yield was much more than expected; so much so, that the heavy steel door of the bunker was blown in and everything inside was coated with melted coral.

Here's a photo Jack with the diagnostic and photographic crew during the Redwing shot..

Lucky Jack

He also worked on several tests at the Nevada site. At one test, Jack and Spike Nail (no kidding--Spike Nail), were testing explosive-release devices on some large doors with an ohm meter to test the detonators. Unfortunately, the ohm meter set one of release devices off. Fortunately, the device was designed with a steel case to keep the explosion confined, and it did its job, expanding to the size of a basketball. The sound was so intense, neither Spike nor Jack could hear for a long time. After this, the Lab got some explosive professionals to do the tests.

After a few years, Jack became involved in computer maintenance at the Lab starting with some of the very first computers.

He continued in computer maintenance work until he retired in 1974. His "lifetime" radiation dose just from the Lab was very high, which didn't include exposure (rads) during the war when he flew over Hiroshima.

Here's a photo of Jack ready to retire from LLNL.

Here's a photo of Jack at his retirment party, Nov 1981, with Lab Director Roger Betzel.

Theater Pipe Organ Restoration

In the mid-1960s, Jack picked up another hobby: Theater pipe organ restoration and maintenance. Jack and Bette had a pipe organ in their home from 1964 until 1973. All through the 1970s-mid 80s, Jack and his friend Lowell Wendel installed three pipe organs in pizza shops and one in the seminary at Berkeley. Because pipe organ restoration was fast becoming a "lost art," at some point, he decided to make a video about the restoration process. His interest in all aspects of video production led him to volunteer to work for the community TV station. During this time Jack worked with Darla Stevens.

CTV30, Community Service TV

Here's a photo of Jack ready to go on an assignment.

In September 2000, Jack received a Tri-Valley Champion Award. The first annual Community Champions program recognizes companies, organizations, and individuals who contribute significantly to the well-being of the community through extraordinary participation in the work of local, non-profit organizations. The recognition program has three objectives:
    1. To recognize extraordinary community service
    2. To educate the public about community needs and the non-profit organizations that address those needs
    3. To motivate others to increase the level of their participation and support of non-profit community programs.
He was one of four individuals honored with a award ceremony and a very nice reception because "For twenty years, Jack Oliver has helped shaped CTV into the thriving community resource that it is today. His contribution of time, equipment and engineering expertise has been an integral component of the success of local television in the Tri-Valley area." Jack received a beautifully engraved crystal bowl award. As you can see, family pride, we are all excited about Jack's new award!

Jack was "in the news" again, this time with an article in the Pleasanton Weekly written by Jeb Bing. It's about his journey from Hiroshima action to CTV 30. It's a nicely written article--check it out! "Hiroshima To CTV"

Here's a photo of Jack and family enjoying Christmas 2005.

Photos from the wedding of Jack's grandson Erik to Heather, March 24, 2007

Photos from Jack's 90th Birthday party, April 7, 2007

Here's an article in the Independent, (3-22-2007) about Jack's upcoming 90th birthday party.





Suann & Dan Shumaker 8-10-2007

If you have any intresting stories to add to this page, please email Dan.