Wednesday, December 12, 2018 - by Dr. C. Wayne Shearer
(Editor’s Note: Dr. Wayne Shearer, 94, is a retired optometrist and retired colonel from the U.S. Air Force Reserve now living in Hixson. In his early 90s, he decided to sit down and write from memory and a few records he still possesses his recollections of going through Army Air Corps pilot training at several bases in the United States during World War II. A lifelong writer, he wanted to pen them as he remembered them happening at the time.
He also recreates now-lost letters as best as he recalls writing them and references newspaper articles he collected at the time and still possesses. This is the fourth in a series of regular excerpts from it.)
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Dec. 17, 1942:
All of us freshmen are by now feeling better about ourselves. The upperclassmen continue to let us know that we are still lower than a snake’s belly. We’re proud to be the Honor Company of the cadet battalion. The most feared and laughable events, as they have become, are the freshmen boxing matches. Cadets find out for the first time the thrill of a black eye, the helpless feeling of being defeated, the pride of winning a match, and the humor of seeing a classmate flailing away at another freshman who must have been a Golden Gloves champion in high school.
Dec. 31, 1942:
Home for Christmas 1942 has been enjoyable. Seeing high school friends who attended various colleges for the first time since summertime was fun. We male students know we will soon be off to war. We are all volunteering for the various services before being drafted. I’m looking forward to being activated.
Jan. 2, 1943:
The Atlanta Constitution yesterday announced: “SOUTHERN GRID FANS TURN EYES TO GRID BOWL CONTESTS TODAY.” Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich and Charley Trippi were in the Georgia backfield, so we were expecting a win in the Rose Bowl. Some of us were, likewise, wanting Tennessee to win the Sugar Bowl. Today’s Constitution sports page told us what we wanted to read: “ROSE BOWL: GEORGIA 9, UCLA 0,” and “SUGAR BOWL: TENNESSEE 14, TULSA 7.” I listened to the games on the radio.
Jan. 3, 1943:
We made the long trip back to Dahlonega. We knew there were some pretty girls at NGC, and upon returning I have had that confirmed. The student body has chosen the five most beautiful girls on the campus. A lot of politicking among the males took place! The photos of the five were sent to Cecil B. DeMille of Hollywood to be judged. It’s a shame one has to be selected, because they are all beautiful. We will find out this March when we get our yearbook, the 1943 Cyclops, which will have a feature on campus beauties.
Jan. 10, 1943:
Fire yesterday destroyed the off-campus dormitory, Moore Hall. This building was on the town square of Dahlonega. We cadets are a big part of Dahlonega’s fire department and had to fight it. The hose was on a large reel attached to two wheels that were around five feet in diameter. This firefighting apparatus was pulled to the scene of the fire by 4-to-6 cadets. One of the clumsier cadets fell down!
The bugler made the fire drill call that Saturday afternoon. All cadet companies formed up pulling the hoses to the square in Dahlonega. It was easy to find the fire, due to the smoke and flames burning through this old historic building that at one time was a hotel and was where the Company D cadets lived. It burned rapidly. No one was injured. It had been placed on the list of Historic Buildings Survey published in 1938. We prevented the spread of the fire to the adjoining buildings.
The Atlanta Journal on Thursday evening, Jan. 14, 1943, said: “CASABLANCA, MOROCCO CONFERENCE.” Allied leaders President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill discussed the war plans for the eventual invasion of mainland Europe and the impending invasion of Sicily and Italy. The “unconditional surrender” of the enemy was discussed. This would put us on a victory course.
The Atlanta Journal on Jan. 27, 1943, added: “50 BOMBERS RAID.” The first all-American air raid against the large German Naval Base at Wilhelmshaven had taken place.
Jan. 28, 1943:
Everyone, including myself, is getting adjusted to the winter quarter. Those of us from South Georgia say there is a lot more rain in these mountains than “where we came from.” It bothers a person with sinusitis. But just blow your nose!
The Atlanta Journal on Feb. 1, 1943, said: “U.S. ARMY LAUNCHES OFFENSE AGAINST AXIS IN SOUTH TUNISIA.” The U.S. Army is on the offense with additional reinforcements.
Feb. 2, 1943:
Our physical education program is interlinked with the military ROTC instruction. Every NGC cadet is a part of this program. The varsity basketball team plays intercollegiately, while the rest of us play intramural sports. We need a physical up-building to serve better when we go into the active military. There is keen competition in all the sports teams. The girls have their own intramurals, such as speedball, tennis, badminton and softball.
The Atlanta Constitution on Tuesday morning, Feb. 9, 1943, said: “GUADALCANAL SECURED.” Yesterday, a major achievement for the American offense was completed in the Pacific Theatre of operations.
Feb. 10, 1943:
Last Saturday’s room inspection almost got Whit and I demerits to be marched off on the drill field, except for quick thinking. In trying to have an extra clean room, we got behind with the floor mopping completion, then heard “atten – shun” for the room next door. We were about to get caught with the mop and dirty water used for rinsing and wondered what to do? No time to take it all to the bathroom down the hall to empty it. We quickly opened the window, threw it all outside, closed the window and snapped to attention as the cadet officers, cadet sergeant and Major Hutcherson, United States Army, entered the room for inspection. To our great relief, inspection was passed and, after retrieving the bucket and mop from outside, took it to the laundry/mop/bucket room. Whit and I laughed about it the rest of the day.
The Atlanta Journal on Saturday evening, Feb. 13, 1943, said: ‘ROMMEL LAUNCHES COUNTERATTACK.” German Gen. Rommel counter-attacks the inexperienced Americans in Western Tunisia. He takes Side Bouzid and Gafsa. The Battle of Kasserine Pass has begun. Our troops are forced to retreat.
A Letter home in the style I would have written them:
Feb. 12, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
Today, my friend, Felix S., received his active duty papers. He is to report in two weeks to Miami Beach for basic training. It would be fine if I’d receive my orders and spend basic at one of those fancy hotels the military has taken over for training. I’m looking forward to my activation. We freshmen are all feeling more confident than in the first quarter. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Your Loving Son, Wayne
The Atlanta Journal on Sunday evening, Feb. 28, 1943, mentioned: “THE U.S.S. UNITED VICTORY.” A new type of ship is launched and named Victory Ship. This transport ship will be important in hauling men, equipment and supplies across the oceans.
The Atlanta Journal on Monday evening, March 1, 1943, added: “BATTLE OF THE BISMARCH SEA.” American and Australian forces over three days have fought fiercely. Eight loaded Japanese transports near New Guinea have been sunk.
March 2, 1943:
The Cyclops yearbook for 1942-43 was delivered to all students today. On page 6 was “In Memoriam.” We noted that of the 11 recent students deceased, more than half had been killed in plane crashes as aviation cadets or lieutenants. That knowledge is not going to stop any of us from wanting to fly for our country!
Another letter home:
March 3, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
The final winter quarter exams are scheduled in two weeks, and then I’ll be home for a few days. The Cyclops yearbook is the talk of everyone. You know I got in the swing band, The Generals, too late to be in the band photo, but a friend, David G., wrote in the back of the Cyclops, “May you always play a trombone in the future, as you have in the past.” We play the same Glenn Miller arrangements as The Gentlemen of Rhythm swing band I played with in Cordele.
Your loving son, Wayne
March 5, 1943:
On pages 82-83 of the yearbook are the photos of our “Campus Beauties” with a Dec. 31, 1942, letter from Paramount Pictures Inc. and signed by Cecil B. DeMille. Mr. DeMille served as judge of the 1943 beauty section of Cyclops. He had five photos of the most beautiful of the campus coeds chosen by students. He mentioned in the letter that it is difficult to judge beauty from a single photograph. He stated that all the contestants are very lovely and fine examples of young American womanhood. He made selections 1 through 5. To me, No. 5 is just as pretty as the No. 1 selection. We students in Company C’s Barnes Hall have talked about their beauty for several days.
The Atlanta Journal on Wednesday evening, March 10, 1943, said: “14TH AIR FORCE FORMED.” Gen. Claire Lee Chennault, the former commander of the Flying Tigers volunteer group in China, has been activated into the Army Air Force with his previous rank. Gen. Chennault has been named the commander of the newly formed 14th Air Force in China, where his experience will help in the war against the Japanese.
March 17, 1943:
It’s good to get the winter quarter exams finished. I feel like I did OK. Not only was the fall the wettest on record for Dahlonega, but likewise this winter. Someone said compared to other towns, including one in Oregon, which was the wettest, we came in second. Blue skies of South Georgia, here I come for several days of spring break! I am already pre-registered for the spring quarter. Hope I’ll soon get my letter calling me to active duty.
The Atlanta Journal on Tuesday evening, March 23, 1943, mentioned: “AMERICAN TANKS WIN.” Gen. George S. Patton leads his tanks of II Corps, defeating the Germans at El Guettar, Tunisia. His leadership is brilliant. A smaller article told about the devastating convoy losses continuing in the Atlantic Ocean. There is increased German U-Boat activity due to insufficient coverage by Allied planes and ships. More of everything is needed.
Another letter home:
March 23, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
I’ve started the spring quarter, but don’t know for how long before being ordered to active duty. If I don’t get activated soon, I’m going to miss the war!
My mess hall job for free meals is good. As a waiter, I’ve missed the usual freshman-sophomore antics. A freshman can’t eat until the sophomore at the head of the table gives his approval. Even so, if a freshman is pouring “zip” (syrup) on his biscuit and the upperclassman asked for it, then the “zip” must be immediately passed. If not, he must then eat a “square meal,” which means square the corners as the fork is lifted to the mouth, rather than directly to the mouth. You learn to obey quickly! It’s all part of the ROTC system, like West Point. I’m used to it now. Hope all is well and give sister Norma a hug for me.
Your loving son, Wayne
March 31, 1943:
Happily my active duty orders arrived in the mail today. I’m going to miss North Georgia College but must move on. The orders include a train ticket from Cordele to Keesler Army Air Field in Biloxi, Miss., reporting on April 6, 1943. I’ve never been in a Pullman sleeper car before, nor have I heard of Keesler Army Air Field. It will be another new adventure. I expect to be packed and leave for home on a bus tomorrow or the next day.
April 2, 1943:
I arrived home OK. I can tell mother and dad are sad that I’m leaving in a few days (April 5) for active duty. By volunteering for pilot training, I will not be in the infantry as Dad was in World War I, when he was in some “tough trench fighting.” I’ll stay around the house and drive around town to see friends until I leave on Monday afternoon.
The Atlanta Constitution on Sunday morning, April 4, 1943, said: “BATAAN DEATH MARCH.” Ten escaped American POWs broke out of Davao Penal Colony on the island of Mindanao in the Southern Phillipine Islands. They broke the news of the atrocities committed by the Japanese in this brutal march forced on the starved, weakened POWs.
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To see the previous entry in this series, read here.
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Dr. Shearer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.