“My CO ignored my requests for a medical leave. I asked a number of times because I had to prove to my parents that I was really alive and well. So, I stopped asking my CO and wrote a registered, certified letter to the big boss, President Kennedy. The President gave orders and money for a 31-day medical leave.”
By Raul Acevedo, Brea, CA
Let me start from the beginning, which for me in this writing is after the accident and the on the rescue ship Cellerina.
It was on September 25 that the skies cleared and wind stopped. We were a few miles from the Irish coast and about 30 miles from the Cork Airport. I heard recently that it was a bright sunny day, but at the time I was in no condition to notice or appreciate it.
I was transferred by helicopter from the Celerina, over a costal point known as Galley Head, to the new Cork Airport, and then by ambulance to St. Patrick’s Hospital in Cork City. I was not in any condition for taking it all in and remembering.
I had injures in my legs, right ankle, right hip, my back and neck. After a full day and an overnight at St. Patrick’s Hospital in Cork, I was transferred to an Air Force Hospital in England. My mind is foggy about the details. It was in a small ambulance plane. I remember there was only 3 or 4 of us survivors and some high-ranking officers ready to cross the Channel (Irish Sea).
I felt like I was dying again as we were waiting on the runway for our turn to take off from Cork. There was a thick fog and it was raining. We all started to get nervous. We had to wait 2 or 3 hours out there on the runway to take off. Finally, although the rain and fog never got any better, we somehow we got the OK to go. By that time, my private parts were in my neck from the fear.
We finally took off. We were gaining speed to lift off, but we couldn’t. Every time the pilot tried to lift a few feet up, we would come down again. It happened several times. It was terrible. I couldn’t believe I was facing the fear again so vivid in my mind. Everybody thought that we were running out of runaway space for take off.
When we finally got off the ground, I could see through the window th heavy rain, wind and fog, and the bright red emergency light that came on every time that we ran into an air pocket. It was such a small plane, crossing what I though was the English Channel, and in such horrid weather. My thoughts were, “I’m not going to make it a second time.” I sweat blood and hung on to a Rosary that one of the nuns gave me in Cork’s Hospital.
I don’t know how we got out of that ordeal. The nurse on the plane had to administer some shots to one of the Brass. I don’t know what it was. I imagined that it was something to relax him. At the airport on the other side of the channel, they were waiting for us with fire engines, ambulances and lots of people. They had received a “mayday” and thought that we were not going to make it. All of us in the plane didn’t think we were going to make it either.
At the hospital in England, I was not able to walk. I spent several weeks in bed with a cradle on to protect my legs. I had no skin on either of my legs. (When I got out of the plane after the accident on the Atlantic, I found myself floating on a sea of high octane gasoline. I could taste it in my mouth.)
Making a long story short, my fractures eventually got better, as well as the skin on my legs, and the big black and blue spot on my right hip. I was still complaining of my back and neck pains, but they said that with time it would get better. Then I was transferred to 97th General Hospital and after that on to my assignment at Gelhausen, Germany.
The rest of my time there I continue having problems and pain on my legs, neck and back, but I was happy to be alive. Being young and inexperienced I didn’t pursue any care of my health while in the Service. Besides, I had something else that had me worried a great deal more.
My parents were in Mexico (that is where I was born). They didn’t know that I was drafted in the Army when I came to the United States. For them it was a shock to learn through a friend who subscribed to the L.A. Times and that saw my picture and the story of the accident in the front page, not only that I was in the Army, but also that I was missing, since there first news didn’t have a list of the survivors.
My father passed out on hearing the news and had to be treated. When I finally was able to communicate with my parents by phone and explained to them how I was, they didn’t believe that I was in one piece and they thought that I was left handicapped for life after the accident. I needed to go to Mexico to resolve this and I was going to go to the proper channels to get the authorization.
I made appointments to see my CO and talked to him several times about the possibility of going to see my family. He just ignored me and said he would look into it. Obviously he forgot my request or even that I existed as a person. I never got an answer to any of my requests.
Finally I had an idea. I was not shy at writing letters and I decided to write one to President J. F. Kennedy, the Commander in Chief. It took me two weeks of writing and rewriting to write the letter that I thought was the right one. I sent it by certified and return receipt airmail. When I was at the Post Office the clerk looked at me surprised and with big opened eyes when he saw to whom the letter was being sent to. “The President”.
Again, a few months went by, until one day the unexpected happened. Some officer came looking for me, told me to pack, and said, “you have special orders and money to go to Mexico for 31 days.”
I was so thankful and made the trip back home. You can’t imagine the happiness for my parents and family to see me in person.
When I returned to my post in Germany, my C.O. called me to his office. He asked me how come I didn’t talk to him first about my request before writing to the President. I respectfully reminded him that I did ask several times. He just scratched his head. I think after that I had gained some respect from him.
Finally on April 16, 1964, I was discharged (still with my neck and back problems) but I had learned to live with the pain.
On my way back to Los Angeles, I stayed in New York for three months to visit my uncle. He was a famous art attorney with offices in New York, L.A. and Mexico City. He was working on a project to build a hotel complex on the outskirts of Mexico City, a town called Toluca. He wanted me to learn the business and be his right hand. I told him I was going to L.A., settle down and I was going to wait for his call.
In L.A., I started working for RCA Records at the main plant in Hollywood. I worked in different positions and after 10 years I was second in command. But then the entire recording plant closed and moved to Indianapolis, Indiana to a bigger place. I was asked to move with my position, but I turned it down. I didn’t want to leave Southern California.
My uncle’s project in Mexico never took off. Unfortunately he got sick with a rare disease, and the doctors couldn’t find the cure. He died quickly.
I stayed in L.A. and got my licensed in Real Estate, and also as a Spanish Interpreter. I have been working with this business since then. I am 71 years old now and married to Vicky for 38 years. She was born in Bolivia, South America. We have children.
I’m still active with Real Estate and interpreting for Court Deposition, etc., although, work is very slow on both ends at this time.
We live in Brea, California in the L.A. area, and we own a one-story home with a huge garden in the back. My wife’s hobby is to take care of plants and animals. We have two Chihuahuas, a blue Amazon parrot, a turtle and all kinds of exotic fruits and plants. She wrote a children’s book, based on nature called “El Niño.”. She has been working for the Anaheim City School District and is also retiring this month. We have a great group of friends. We keep ourselves socially active and I love sports…!
[Editorial note from Fred Caruso: I was first contacted by Raul through his son on January 4, 2010. Raul followed up with his own email.
Raul said, “Through my son I have learned of your book (Born Again Irish) and the experience that we shared on Flight 923 on September 23, 1962. You became Irish, uh? I’m a survivor also and, thanks to God, doing well. I live in Brea, California. It would be nice to get in touch sometime in my town, yours or half way. I have been reading parts of your book and it brings lots of memories. I was one of the last ones getting off the plane through the rear back door.
“I hope to hear from you soon. I wonder if there is anybody else left besides you and me … Raul Acevedo Cambero”
Raul and Vicky Acevedo
701 Larchwood Drive
Brea, CA 92821