Tuesday, January 15, 2019 - 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 seventh in a series of regular excerpts from it.)
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Setting: On the train from Keesler Field in Southern Mississippi heading to Cleveland, Ohio
May 12, 1943
These woolen clothes are hot, but once we get underway, the windows will be opened to the outside air and the engine’s cinders. The motor pool sergeant crammed us into the large diesel Army trucks and brought us to the train depot.
There are six loaded passenger train cars with 15 or so freight cars between us and the engine ready to move northward, now around 10 a.m. Wednesday. We are the closest rail car to the engine, so we must be going the farthest north. We’ll get our shipping destination orders as we get farther into the trip. Troop movements are secretive.
This is not the usual “hurry up and wait” style of the Army, because we’re chugging ahead. I think I’ll take a nap as the others around me are doing.
The New Orleans States on Wednesday morning, May 12, 1943, said: “AMERICAN INVASION OF ATTU ISLAND CONTINUES.” The American troops invade Attu Island of the Aleutian Islands chain to expel occupying Jap forces.
May 12, 1943 (later in the day):
I woke up and read some of the newspaper. We’ve gone past Montgomery, with the conductor saying we’ll be in Atlanta in an hour or so. At Atlanta, we’ve been pushed off into a railroad siding for one of the cars to be unhooked from the train with students going to college in Atlanta. We’re now north of Atlanta on the Southern Railway System tracks toward Chattanooga. These are familiar towns to me as we pass them because ever since I was small, mother, sister and I came this way every summer to Chattanooga on the train.
Between Atlanta and Chattanooga, lunch sandwiches were passed around. Several of the escorting sergeants were moving through the train car with large boxes of homemade bologna sandwiches wrapped in wax paper and were handing them out with cold soft drinks. They must have been made up last night in the mess hall for us.
Quickly, another car was unfastened and several “high balling” freight trains went by us on this Chattanooga siding. Ole Sarge said that on up the rails, those of us who are still on the train will get to enjoy the rest of these sandwiches for our evening meal. At Knoxville, another car is unfastened from the train.
One of the fellows shared a letter he just received yesterday that was from a friend now at Primary Flight Training in Corsicana, Texas. They were flying the open-cockpit, tandem-seated low wing PT-19 airplane. He already had his first introductory flight and was being shown the practice area.
On the second flight the next day, he told the cadet he would do a barrel roll and did it. Next he said he would do a snap roll and did it. During the rapid-stick movement, the cuff of his flight suit apparently caught on his seat belt release, unfastening it. He was not aware of this. Next, he told the cadet he was going to demonstrate a slow roll and for him to follow through on the controls.
As soon as the plane was inverted, the instructor fell out; the plane continued and leveled itself. The cadet didn’t understand why his instructor quit talking to him. He turned around to see if the instructor was all right and immediately saw him floating earthward in his parachute, so he followed.
Both of them landed safely, but the P-19 crashed. When the student had to explain why he bailed out of the perfectly operating aircraft, his answer was, “Sir, I didn’t know what was going on, but when I saw my flight instructor in his parachute drifting to the ground, I thought it was time for me to do that, too.”
We were glad it turned out well for the cadet and his instructor. I’m looking forward to those first flights in Primary Flight School, and maybe the above incident is a rarity.
May 13, 1943:
It is now Thursday morning and I didn’t sleep much on this crowded and noisy troop train. We’ve pulled into a siding at Cincinnati, and another car of aviation students is being disconnected. We’re now called Aviation Students (A/S), which is a promotion. We’re still going in a northeast direction. One of the sergeants in charge of us said that, next stop, we will be at Columbus, Ohio, where the car behind us will be cut off the train.
The Cincinnati Enquirer on Thursday morning, May 13, 1943, stated: ‘FIGHTING CEASES IN NORTH AFRICA.” From Allied headquarters in North Africa, the battle of Tunisia has ended with the capture of a German general and 150,000 German and Italian prisoners.
The Associated Press in London added: ‘FOUR SUBS DESTROYED, SIX PROBABLY SUNK BY CONVOY ESCORTERS.” The article stated that escort ships and planes fought a fierce, eight-day running battle against a pack of as many as 25 U-boats in the Atlantic Ocean.
May 13, 1943 (later in the day):
We’re speeding along with other trains pulled into siding for our combination freight and passenger cars train. Quickly going into the siding at Columbus, we are leaving the next-to-last car. We’re on our way in the rear of those boxcars. Two conductors and two escort sergeants are the only ones still with us. Fruit was handed out for breakfast. A newspaper boy came through the cars selling the morning Cincinnati newspaper. Four cents for a newspaper brings much pleasure to a person in reading it. It is a bargain I enjoy.
We were just told that our assignments will be at Case Tech Institute of John Carroll University, and part of us at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. We will be there late afternoon. We’re all looking forward to getting uncramped. We are not allowed to get off the train at any of the stops. Certainly, I have walked through the cars, but that is it. The last of the sandwiches have been handed out.
Here we are in late afternoon on a siding at Cleveland. Everyone is tired. It’s dark as we climb down the car’s steps with our two barracks bags. There appear to be three buses for us. The sergeant has grouped us, and I’m going to Western Reserve University. This is another opportunity.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer on Friday morning, May 14, 1943, said: “TRIDENT CONFERENCE IN WASHINGTON, D.C.” President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill meet in Washington, D.C., discussing future war strategy both in Europe now that we’ve won in North Africa, and in the Pacific Theater of operation.
May 14, 1943:
The buses brought us out Euclid Avenue to the Western Reserve University campus from the railway station. After the swaying and clicking Wednesday and Thursday, it’s good to be settling into our military routine. Since this is Friday, we won’t do much until next week, except get schedules, etc. This is the 28th College Training Detachment (Aircrew).
Yesterday afternoon, they assigned us rooms. Six double bunkers per room and we are crowded! I took an upper bunk. Two members of the winning Tennessee Jan. 1, 1943, Sugar Bowl team – Roy “Red” Cross and Pat Connelly – are in the room.
“The Reserve Tribune” campus newspaper came out several days ago, on Tuesday, May 11, 1943, before we arrived and was given to each of us this morning. It contains info we need to know under the headline, “100 New Aircrew Students Arrive on Reserve Campus.” New men to observe two weeks minimum quarantine; ample entertainment will be provided. There will be three squadrons. Each squadron (A-1, A-2, and A-3) will have three flights, and that’s how we’ll be divided for marching. Four tactical officers are in charge of us. We will have only a modified “Cadet Class System” with demerits to be given affecting “open post.”
We’re eating all the meals in the fellowship hall of the church across Euclid Avenue. Mather Hall coeds will serve us, so no KP! The scenery and meals are good. Of course, we march per flight for meals. I’m in A-2 squadron, and, according to my 5-foot, 10-inch height, I’m in the middle of the formation, as usual. This is a good situation. We march in rows of four.
The four tactical officers in charge of our detachment are not-rated (non-flying) officers in their late 20s. There is one first lieutenant and three second lieutenants who I think are only recently out of Officers Training School (O.C.S.). They have four sergeants working with them.
May 14, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
It was a tiring trip. Your son slept part of the time and talked with others. In this man’s Army you learn to catch a nap when you can, as Dad did in World War I. I like the routine of it all, as we’re settling into our new post. Let Norma know I’m OK. Notice not only the new address on the envelope, but instead of private, it’s Aviation Student (A/S). The woolens feel good here in Ohio with a cool breeze blowing off Lake Erie. I understand we’ll be back into cotton khaki uniforms on June 1. This is not going to be easy, but I’m working hard.
Your loving son, Wayne
The Cleveland Plain Dealer on Sunday morning, May 16, 1943, stated: “GERMANS ROLLED BACK IN LOWER DONETS.” The Russian guns blast the German lines on the front between Kharkov and Rottov, Moscow announced through London today.
Also in that paper was the headline: “GHETTO UPRISING ENDS.” The Jewish Warsaw Ghetto was destroyed by Nazi troops. About 14,000 Jews were killed and 40,000 sent to the Treblinka death camp.
May 16, 1943:
We were officially enrolled on May 13, when we arrived late Thursday afternoon, though classes start Monday morning (May 17). Tuesdays and Thursdays will be devoted to military training, CAA Regulations, First Aid and gym. The tough academic studies are math, physics, geography, history, English oral and English written to be Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
There will be an emphasis on physics; double the other subjects except math. I’m glad I had advanced math and physics at Dahlonega. The regular college faculty will be our instructors. We will be addressed as “Mister.” Some of us will be here for five months and others for three months, to be determined by our grades.
Our 100 men will be divided into three flights and will take the place of the Aviation Students that shipped out last Saturday for the Nashville, Tennessee, Classification Center. With us on campus are 200 other Aviation Students totaling 300 in three squadrons (A, B, and C) of three Flights per Squadron.
There is a small 40-piece military marching band of us students, and they lost part of the band when they were shipped out last week to Nashville. I don’t know how much lip I’ve got since haven’t played a trombone in six months. They want me and need me, so I’ve volunteered. I’ll write home for my instrument.
Three times a day the bugler plays “Reveille” (signifying wake-up), “Retreat” (end of duty day) and “Taps” (lights out). He is the top trumpet player in the band. Every night before “Taps,” he would serenade us with “Sentimental Journey,” “Star Dust,” “The White Cliffs of Dover,” or “Night and Day,” etc.
This brings pleasant thoughts of home, mother, girlfriend and peace that give us students a relaxing and calming close to a difficult and busy day. Only could this be done at C.T.D. From the band itself exists a small drum and bugle corps that is used every day at “Retreat,” and the rest of us stand at attention in our regular squadron’s formation.
May 18, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
The first two days of classes have included a lot of material lectured to us. The previous courses I’ve had in physics and advanced math will help me. The weather is yet on the cool side. Something I’ve never seen before are mayflies. They are flying insects about the size of horseflies and come out at night by the hundreds. They fly around the street lamps at night and clutter the sidewalk underneath the lamps. We have marching band, and they are in need of a trombone “tooter.” Please send my instrument to me.
Your loving son, Wayne
The Cleveland Plain Dealer, on May 22, 1943, said: “SICILY AND SARDINIA BOMBED.” American and British planes bomb possible invasion landing sites in Sicily and Sardinia, Italy.
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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.