Sunday, January 6, 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 sixth in a series of regular excerpts from it.)
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April 12, 1943:
It is sure good to get into a military uniform and out of the well-worn civilian clothes, which, after a week’s wearing, stand up against the wall! We were given boxes to ship our own clothes home.
My uniform is not a perfect fit, but it’s close enough. The supply sergeant just throws the clothes at you after you tell him your size. He seems to have a sadistic style of humor. He doesn’t care if it fits! Wonder what he did in civilian life? I’m glad to have my uniform. It took all morning and since everything is alphabetized, my last-of-the-alphabet bunch is at the end.
After lunch we marched to one of the permanent party gyms that was set up with chairs as a lecture and film room. A first lieutenant and a sergeant told us that between field training or rain days, we would meet here for lectures on military courtesy and discipline, as well as articles of war. We would also learn the general orders, lectures and movies on safeguarding military information and be shown graphic films on venereal disease and sex hygiene. We see a venereal disease film each time, and this time one of the guys vomited on himself and the fellow in front of him.
We were told no one will be allowed off base for the entire six weeks. We were told that whenever in a room, the first service member to see an officer calls the group to attention. Shortly, the lieutenant stepped out and then came back inside as several shouted “attention,” and he said, “At ease.” Several chairs were knocked over as everyone jumped up. Of interest was that the main base function was to train aviation mechanics, not basic trainees.
This evening as we were sitting on our beds talking, Bill read to us a letter from a college friend who was in pilot preflight school at Maxwell Army Air Field, Montgomery, Ala.
I know that stories abounded throughout the military about the strictness of an Honor Code violation by a cadet. So, when he said that some cadets were dismissed at Maxwell Army Air Field in Montgomery, Ala., for cheating is believable They were in a six-man room and were awakened by upperclassmen, who came in and hit them on their backsides with their sabers. Each unit had a tactical officer and cadet leader, plus a drummer with a somber, muffled beat. They quickly dressed and were not allowed to say a word.
On this occasion, a cadet was taken to a reviewing stand. Several vehicles drove up and a number of officers got out and gathered in the reviewing stand. Among them were several military policemen, who read the violations of the Code of Honor as well as announced the cadet’s dismissal from the Aviation Cadet program.
He then had his cadet emblems ripped from his uniform and was escorted off base by military policemen amid the sound of drummers playing a slow beat. I am sure it was a very sobering event to witness, as this cadet was “drummed out.”
I had heard of this being at Maxwell Field, but not at the other two preflight schools – Santa Ana, California, and San Antonio, Texas. Someone said that he’s glad we don’t have the class system in our basic training. Like a lot of training stories we’ll hear as we go through the program, it may be only a story, but it seems to have a grain of truth to it.
April 14, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
We got our uniforms on Monday, and it was good to be wearing something clean. I’m mailing my clothes back to you. My uniform fits OK. The latrine building we use is several barracks over and really gets crowded in the mornings around 5 a.m. rushing for the 6 a.m. mess hall formations. Most of us only shave once a week, which speeds things along.
It’s a small world because the other morning, as my flight was standing around waiting for the 7 a.m. march to the drill field, I noticed 3 or 4 trainees drop out of their formation and walked back by us. One of them was Mac Hyman, who was a year or so ahead of me at Cordele High School. I called out to him, and we both were glad to see each other. I asked him, “Aren’t you and your friends going out to drill?” and Mac said they were going to goof off that morning. (Editor’s Note: I did not realize until later that this may have been when Mac was first getting the inspiration for his popular book, “No Time for Sergeants.” The book, of course, was later made into the popular movie that propelled actor Andy Griffith to fame.)
I’ve been doing my share of KP. Cleaning pots and pans is the worst, but recently have been working with the baker who makes delicious yeast cinnamon rolls. I’m getting plenty to eat! Tell Norma hello and write soon.
Your loving son, Wayne.
The New Orleans Times Picayune on Sunday, April 18, 1943, said: “ADMIRAL ISOROKU YAMAMOTO, CHIEF OF JAPANESE NAVAL STRATEGY, KILLED.” Admiral Yamamoto is killed when his plane is shot down by a squadron of our P-38s over Bougainville in the Pacific Theater of operations. It is believed he was on an inspection tour.
April 18, 1943:
This Sunday afternoon, several of us who had finished latrine cleanup duty because of being late at morning formation were talking and Joe said he recently heard a humorous incident from a friend who finished pilot training a couple of years ago who was part of a joke on the director of flight training at Randolph Field, Texas, regarding lack of latrines.
I thought ours was a bad situation, but at least we had latrines! In the early days of the cadet program, the nine satellite airfields at Randolph Field that were used for Advanced flying training for a while did not have a single latrine.
Needless to say, they eventually realized a need for toilets in those outlying fields as the program grew. So they constructed a latrine and even had a tape-cutting ceremony one nice and sunny Texas afternoon to open it. Well, just as that was taking place, a loud hum of aircraft engines could be heard, and there approached an impressive formation of AT-6s at tree top level.
Just as everyone was admiring them, out from their cockpits came rolls of toilet tissues, and the paper all landed on the stunned and bemused crowd. As the planes moved into the distance, the director of flight training was asked by one of the laughing men what he thought of that practical joke.
The director’s response was that it was the worst formation he had ever seen, and that those pilots could not have come from Randolph!
The New Orleans Times-Picayune on Wednesday, April 21, 1943, stated: “THE BERMUDA CONFERENCE CONTINUES.” The United Kingdom and United States discuss the continuing plight of the European Jews on the eve of Passover at Hamilton, Bermuda.
April 23, 1943:
Today is Good Friday before Easter. I understand that Easter Sunday on our drill field will be a large sunrise service. I will attend.
This Army Air Corps Basic Training is now half over, and most of us have survived. It’s tough and tiring. I keep my canteen full of water and eat the salt tablets, as Corporal Bland tells us to do.
That first day, as we selected cots, those of us from Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee went to one end of the barracks, and those from the Northeast part of the country at the other end. We say “you all” and they say “youse guys,” and there’s still some yelling back and forth of “Damn Yankees” and “Rebels,” but not as much. We all have a sense of duty to our country, or we would not have volunteered to be here together. Our qualifying tells us that we are the “cream of the crop!”
April 24, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
I attended the Easter sunrise service this morning, which was a good, well-attended service. I was with several others from my barracks. My summer khaki uniform felt good in the early morning chill just sitting and not moving around. We drill in fatigues (military work uniforms) in the early mornings, and since we are exercising, we stay warm on these early spring days.
The Sunday mess hall meals for lunch are enjoyed by everyone, but Sunday’s evening meal is always “cold cuts.” This allows a reduced kitchen staff to be on duty.
Finally, I’ve seen some airplanes. Three beautiful P-39 fighters fly over the drill field to patrol the Gulf of Mexico looking for German U-boats. As basic trainees, we can’t go to the flight line. It’s a long way from our barracks anyway, and we’re so busy that there’s no extra time. They put on a show for us, low and in formation each morning.
Keep writing to me. I look forward to the daily mail call.
Your loving son, Wayne
April 25, 1943:
This was an exciting Monday. When we marched from the drill field to the mess hall, several of us heard the instructors talking about some sports writers, who had interviewed with an accompanying photographer members of the University of Tennessee football team who had qualified for cadet training and are here on base. This is the Tennessee team that beat the University of Tulsa in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on January 1, 1943. I’ve found out that on a military base rumors abound and are called “latrine rumors.” Several weeks ago I had heard that some of the UT football team were several barracks away from my barracks area. The D.I. was heard saying that the New Orleans Times-Picayune sports photographer had them line up in their football formation. Some Tennessee guys in my barracks wanted to see and meet them. Same here.
The New Orleans States on Saturday, May 1, 1943, said: “GERMANS CORNERED.” The Allies close in on the trapped Germans in the Tunis area. This Afrika Korps and Italian troops number around 250,000. Those that are not slaughtered will become prisoners.
May 1, 1943:
If K.P. can be enjoyed, I’m beginning to enjoy it because now the sergeant in the bakery picks me and several other regular baker helpers to work with him. He had been a baker in civilian life and makes good stuff, which we sample. It’s agreeing with me to the extent that I’ve increased from 135 pounds to the 140 pounds that the flight surgeon suggested I needed. It may be muscle instead of fat! Someone said that “saltpeter” is put in Army food to reduce sexual desires. Is this a latrine rumor?
One of my fellow KP’ers was Jerome, who on his first physical exam weighed in at 122 pounds, rather than the required 125. The flight surgeon who was to do the physical suggested he buy five pounds of bananas and, on the day of the test, eat them with some milk or water. The surgeon weighed him and congratulated him on meeting the requirement. He also told him he would not have to be weighed again and that no one else would know how he met the requirement and qualified.
That was all fine except for a couple of exceptions – he did not feel overly well after stuffing himself with so many bananas, and he did not like bananas anymore.
Gradually, as my little world on base has expanded, I’m knowing that the real importance of Keesler is the training of aviation mechanics. They’re the folks that will keep us flying. This basic training on the backside of the base was almost an afterthought for our rapidly expanding Army Air Corps’ need for pilots, navigators and bombardiers.
We found out today that the worn-out floor buffer “bought” from Sergeant “Gruff” is a longtime scam pulled on new recruits. We don’t care. It helped us pass barracks inspection. And, Sarge “Gruff” has a floor buffer to sell to the new recruits.
We are marched in our flight formation to virtually every activity of the day. Here as we march along, we sing songs, which we didn’t at North Georgia College, and it is more enjoyable. One old favorite is “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and two others that are new are “I’ve Got Sixpence” and “The Army Air Corps Song.”
“Sixpence” goes like this: “I’ve got sixpence. I’ve got sixpence, jolly, jolly sixpence, I’ve got sixpence, to last me all my life. Twopence to spend and tu’pence to lend, and tu’pence to send home to my wife.” This old English marching song continues until the last verse has “no pence.”
The words to “The Army Air Corps Song” are: “Off we go, into the wild blue yonder, Climbing high, into the sun. Here they come, zooming to meet our thunder, At ‘em boys, give her the gun. Down we dive, spouting our flame from under, Off with one, hell of a roar. We live in fame, or go down in flame, for, nothing can stop the Army Air Corps.
May 1, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
Things are going OK, but busy. As you know, I’ve never had the mumps disease and it is going around. Several of my barrack mates are in the hospital with it. Today, I don’t feel too great and have a small swelling on one side of my neck. I’ll go on “sick call” tomorrow if it is not any better.
I enjoy being in the military. Its regimentation is similar to the “Military College of Georgia,” so you know what to expect.
Let my sister, Norma, know I think of her, too.
Your loving son, Wayne
May 2, 1943:
This morning I woke up with both sides of my neck swollen and feeling feverish. Corporal Bland took one look at me and told me to report to the dispensary at the front of the base hospital. The medical doctor sent me to what he called “the Mumps Ward.” There are 50 or so patients in cots. I recognize two fellows from my flight (barracks). Those cute lieutenant nurses are efficient and professional. I’m told to stay in bed except to go to the latrine. I try not to cough because it would cause this infection to drop into the testicles and would not be good. I’m not to lift anything. I don’t feel too bad.
Other than juices, I did not eat the breakfast the corpsmen brought me. Later they brought a good lunch for all of us. About the same time, several friends from the barracks brought over my two barracks bags. This means I’ll be in a different flight when I get well. Corporal Bland sent them over.
May 3, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
Well, as you notice the new address, your son is on “the Mumps Ward” at Keesler Army Air Field Hospital. I couldn’t be treated any better. There are 50 or so of us in this large open bay ward with cots similar to those in the barracks. Several of the fellows in my flight have the mumps, being in this ward, too.
The 2nd lieutenant young nurses are not much older than the patients. They are pretty, but mean business. We’re not to do anything strenuous that would cause the mumps to drop, which could mean you couldn’t later have children. That’s the way we understand it, anyway. We’re all trying to follow orders to get well quick.
You loving son,
May 5, 1943:
I asked the doctor today how long will it be until I get well enough to continue my training. He looked at my chart saying that usually it’s around two weeks to get over the mumps. Since I had been feverish for several days before going on sick call, he’s thinking around the middle of May. The six weeks basic training for my class ends around May 14 or 15. No one seems to know if we’ll have to make up the training or not?
Joe in the adjoining cot received these quotes from a friend already in the pre-flight school at Maxwell Army Air Field, Alabama: No. 1 – There are bold pilots and old pilots, but very few old, bold pilots. No. 2 – As a pilot, only two bad things can happen to you (and one of them will): a. one day you will walk out to the plane knowing it is your last flight, or b. one day you will walk out to the plane, not knowing it is your last flight. No. 3 – Before each flight, make sure that your bladder is empty and your fuel tanks are full. This is good early advice before I start flying.
The New Orleans States on Friday, May 7, 1943, had this item: “TUNIS CAPTURED BY BRITISH ARMY.” The now battle-hardened U.S. Army of Gen. George Patton takes Bizerte, while Gen. Bernard Montgomery’s British Army takes Tunis.
May 7, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
It’s Friday afternoon, and I’m feeling better and have less fever daily. On Wednesday, I got good news from the doctor, who says if the swelling and fever keep decreasing, he’ll release me to my flight and squadron. Rumor has it that if I’m released by the 12th or 13th, I may ship out with them to College Training Detachment. That would be great! When I find out more, I’ll let you know.
Your loving son, Wayne
The Times-Picayune on Saturday, May 8, 1943, said: ‘TUNIS, BIZERTE FALL BEFORE ONSLAUGHT OF ALLIED ARMS.” The Axis enemy is swept from the last major stronghold in Africa. The Allies captured Tunis and Bizerte late Friday in a night offensive that beat and punished the Germans and Italians in the greatest victory of the war for the Western Allies. And the last major strongholds of the enemy’s African bridgehead thus fell to the mixed free banners of the United States, Britain and France.
May 8, 1943:
Today is Saturday, but in the hospital there’s no inspection. Just keep things picked up around your bed. The nurse told me this afternoon that I had no fever, and swelling is just about gone. She said that most of us teenagers with the tough basic training we’ve been doing has us in such good physical condition we’re recovering sooner than expected. Sometimes in the future, after the war is over, I’d like to meet a cute, intelligent nurse like these are!
Joe, in the next cot, had another interesting letter from an older friend who just graduated from single engine at Victoria Army Air Field, Texas, and along the way lost two flight instructors. After almost completing Primary Flying School, his instructor was killed in an accident. In Advanced Flying School, he had a returned combat pilot for an instructor and, into the training period, the instructor was killed in an accident. This tells us that flying is dangerous.
May 9, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
It’s been a quiet Sunday in the hospital. Today, no fever or swelling of the neck. The nurse says several of us may be discharged tomorrow to return to our flight. I may be one of them. I don’t want my squadron to ship out without me.
A friend from the flight stopped by to see several of us. The latest rumor says that a trainload of us trainees will be shipping out early Tuesday morning to various college training detachments. Maybe I’ll be on board. I’ll keep you informed. Let Norma know that I love my sister.
Your loving son, Wayne
May 11, 1943:
A good report came when the captain/doctor made his rounds this morning. He told the charge nurse to get hospital discharge papers ready for four of us, myself included. My cloth barracks bags are packed and I’ll have no problem carrying them to the barracks. My name and Army serial number were stenciled on the bags at the time the uniform was issued. They are light brown, khaki-colored thick cotton and serve the purpose well. He wanted us off the ward by 10 a.m. All four of us are ready to go.
I am glad to be back with my flight in the barracks. We marched in formation to the mess hall. You can feel the excitement because we are shipping out early – at 4 a.m. – to get on the train tomorrow morning.
We don’t know what college training detachment we are assigned to, but the uniform of the day will be dress khaki woolens, which means we’re going north of the Mason-Dixon Line. I wanted to stay down South, but we follow orders in the Army. Some of my Yankee friends are happy. It is good to be going into the next training phase. It was boring in the hospital.
In the morning at 5 a.m., Corporal Bland blew his whistle, as did all the other drill instructors. “Get out of the sack,” he said. He’s been OK to us trainees.
Likewise, Sgt. “Gruff ” told us as we waited in formation for transportation, “Work hard to earn those wings and bars and remember you’re still getting into your trousers the same way as you did as a private in basic training.” Good advice, as he’s getting that floor buffer ready to resell to the next class of recruits.
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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.