Wayne Shearer’s World War II Memoir, Part 28: The High of Flying Into Kansas Clouds And The Low Of Learning About The Pilot Surplus

Monday, November 18, 2019 - by Dr. C. Wayne Shearer
Dr. C. Wayne Shearer
Dr. C. Wayne Shearer
(Editor’s Note: Dr. Wayne Shearer, 95, 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 This is the 28th in a series of regular excerpts from his as yet unpublished book, “Under This Arch.”)

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Setting: Independence Army Air Field, Kansas

April 24, 1944: 

I flew twice today (Monday) dual and solo.

I’m trying to get ready for both the cross-country and night flying requirements. The three of us are trying to please our silent instructor, who says very little. Ralph says he thinks he’s only a day or so from the washing machine. We told him to “buck up.” He’s doing as well as any of us. 

After lunch today outside of the administration building when marching back to our barracks, we saw at least a hundred cadets in two lines leading to two desks, each with a tach officer seated. It was a different sight to be seen outside in this still cold early spring Kansas weather doing administrative tasks. 

At the evening meal, we found out that this was the officials’ administrative procedure in ending the pilot training program for these eliminated cadets, who are now privates in the Army Air Force. It was such a public affair! One of the fellows eliminated today said it was outside since there wasn’t room inside. He said he saluted the lieutenant at the desk when it was his turn in the line, saying: “It was a very formal procedure.” They asked him did he understand why he was washed out. He said he asked if he could be put in the “bumble bee squadron” and was told that the training squadron for pilot trainees who were behind others in their training squadron had been discontinued several cadet classes back. 

He was told no more bombardiers or navigators were needed so that he could not go into that training. He was told that there was a need for armorer school, aviation mechanics school, radio school and a few others, and he could choose one of those. He told the lieutenant he didn’t care, signed the form of agreement that he understood why he was eliminated, saluted the officer, then did an “about face” and went to his barracks waiting for his new assignment. We tried to console him. He said he was sad; but he’s accepted it and that in some ways he’s relieved that it is all over. He’s our friend and we wish him the very best future. The way this was done out in the open, regardless of the reason, appeared humiliating to the ex-cadets but don’t think it was meant to be.

The Independence Daily Reporter in Independence, Kansas, on Wednesday, April 26, 1944, said: “RAID ON BRUNSWICK COSTS NO BOMBERS.” American Fortresses and Liberators, flying in medium strength, attacked the aircraft production center of Brunswick and other targets in Western Germany today without losing a bomber. 

Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “MEET LITTLE RESISTANCE AT HOLLANDIA.” The American troops close in on a big airdrome as Ujelang Atoll is taken.” 

“DEWEY, FDR IN PRIMARIES.”

“DEFERMENTS DRAW FIRE FROM CONGRESS.” 

Letter home:

April 26, 1944

Dear Mother and Dad,
I know it’s warmer in South Georgia than it is here. We still have freezing weather every night or so. In the following little story, I don’t mean to be vulgar, but am using military slang. Please forgive. In a way the overnight freeze caused me to get a face full of pee in an early morning flight today. Well, I checked out a plane that had just landed and took off for the practice area. On the way I thought I would do a slow roll. As soon as I was inverted, I got warm stinking pee all over my face. The BT-14 has what we refer to as a “piss tube” for use if you can’t hold it until returning to the field. The previous cadet in the plane used the “piss tube,” which was blocked by something, maybe frozen pee overnight, and with the plane upside down, it ended up on me. 

I went ahead to finish my practice and, upon return to the stagehouse, one of the guys said, “What is that stinking smell on Shearer?” We all had a good-natured laugh about it, with your son laughing louder than anyone. Of interest in the newspaper today was that Congress intends to toughen up on deferments. Some of my high school friends were deferred to farm, which is important work. Don’t think they would be considered draft dodgers. 

Mentioning newspapers, you may notice the last batch I mailed to you has newspapers from cities I’m not stationed at, but another cadet bought them and I saved them. Give my sister a hug. 

Your loving son, Wayne 

April 28, 1944: 

Today (Friday) we were told to work hard at flying under the hood in these small Link trainers because next week we’ll start doing the night flying landings and take-offs. We were reminded by our instructor of the deadly mid-air night crashes the previous upper class (44-F) had experienced. The C.O. had called a base theater meeting with all cadets (44-F and 44-G) on the base. He was not sympathetic regarding the crashes, but was emphasizing that they’ve got to be stopped. We all felt like he really didn’t care about us, but about the accident record of the base. We all feel expendable like the airplanes. We’re now the upper class and none of us desires to crash. I’m eager to fly this BT-14 at night, regardless. 

Several BT-15s are located on our base for the purpose of getting “flying under the hood” instrument flying experience. The BT-15 is the Basic Flight Trainer along with the BT-13 and they both have a wider landing gear than our BT-14. The BT-15 is called the Vultee Vibrator and it does shake and vibrate. It is satisfactory for “under the hood training.” I’ve already had an hour of instrument training in it. 

At the evening meal, George, who’s had two hours in the BT-15 under the hood, said that on this second flight, the instrument instructor caged the artificial horizon, so he couldn’t use it. He was to use only the needle, ball and airspeed indicator. He was told to fly straight and level at a constant air speed. Very soon he was fighting the airspeed indicator because the speed would increase and then decrease. It got worse and worse. 

After the flight was over and they were back in the operations stage house, the instructor told him to draw on the blackboard what his flight pattern looked like. When George drew a wavy straight line, the instructor went “off the deep end,” saying he actually did a loop. All the while the instructor was cussing and stomping his feet, George just knew he would be washed out. Finally, after George explained what he had learned from it, the instructor calmed down and nothing else was said. 

The Independence Daily Reporter on Friday, April 28, 1944, announced: “EXERCISE TIGER ENDS.” Today the D-Day rehearsal called “Exercise Tiger” ended with 750 U.S. soldiers killed when their convoy ships were attacked by German torpedo boats. 

Another news headline from that day’s paper: “1ST B-29 ATTACKED BY JAP FIGHTERS.” Yesterday, Jap fighters attacked one of the first B-29s that have arrived in China. One Jap fighter plane was shot down by the B-29 gunners. 

April 29, 1944: 

My barracks (flight) didn’t pass inspection today (Saturday), so the entire barracks had to re-clean and re-polish brass and shoes, etc., thus requiring us to have late lunch. It has been weeks since this happened. Maybe our tach officer was already “ticked off” at something, but we all were punished.

On the other end of the barracks, away from my bunk area, there have been cleanliness and sloppy inspection preparation problems before. The entire barracks hasn’t been punished in the past, only the two or three cadets in that area. One of the guys in my section yelled loudly with a string of cuss words that he didn’t like it that we were all being punished for two or three damn “goof-offs,” whom he named. 

He cited other incidents of not doing their part, not helping the rest of us, especially keeping the coal burning stove going, being late for formations, etc. It got heated between them but cooled down as we worked for the re-inspection so we could form up and march to the late lunch mess hall. Our lieutenant tach officer quickly re- inspected and we passed, so off we went to eat. Ever so often someone has to “blow off steam” and the cadets who weren’t ready for the inspection deserved it, not the rest of us. It came close to a fistfight! 

I got an hour’s “under the hood” flying time today in the BT-15 with the instrument instructor. In the classroom, we’re doing much map reading preparing for the cross- country requirements. 

The New Orleans Item, on Tuesday, May 2, 1944, stated: “NAZIS SLAP QUARANTINE ON REICH TO CURB REVOLT.” Germany, in an 11th-hour attempt to prevent any revolt timed to coincide with an Allied invasion, was reported today virtually to have quarantined 3 million workers in the Reich and begun an unparalleled reign of terror in France. 

Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “WALLOP NAZI WAR PLANTS.” A great RAF night aerial fleet numbering up to 750 bombers roared through cloud-free skies last night and hammered Nazi motor, aircraft, chemical, and explosive works and railway targets in France, Belgium, and Germany, the British air ministry in London announced today. 

“MISSISSIPPI LEVEE POPS, FLOODS WIDE AREA.” 

May 6, 1944: 

Today (Saturday) was a beautiful spring day with blue skies and regal white cloud formations. They looked so inviting to fly into, which is a “no no,” that in my solo flight, I couldn’t resist. I carefully did a 360-degree turn and saw no other airplanes in my practice area, so up I went in a gentle climb through the dark bottom of the cumulus clouds. In several minutes as the canopy of the plane became wet, the clouds got lighter and then I was on top of the clouds in brilliant sunlight around 10,000 feet. It was a momentous visual sight. As I held the BT-14 on a level flight, I felt like I could walk on top of the clouds. A sight never to be forgotten! 

The Independence Daily Reporter on Monday, May 8, 1944, said: ‘YANKS SHIFTING FOR AIR RAID ON JAPAN, IS REPORT.” A dispatch today from London stated a Berlin radio broadcast quoted a Tokyo newspaper as saying that the 14th U.S. Air Force under Maj. Gen. Claire L. Chennault in China is being strongly reinforced from India and being moved 450 miles closer to Tokyo in preparation for an air assault on Japan. 

Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “ALL EUROPE PLASTERED FROM SKY.” Nearly 2,000 U.S. bombers and fighters blasted the Berlin and Brunswick areas today. The Germans say their battered capital is “condemned to death.” 

“F.D.R. RESTED; TO DEFEND SEIZURE OF MONTGOMERY WARD.” 

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To see the previous story in the series, read here.

https://www.chattanoogan.com/2019/11/7/399167/Wayne-Shearers-World-War-II-Memoir.aspx

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Dr. Shearer can be contacted at docshearer@epbfi.com.

BT-14s lined up at Independence Army Air Field, Spring 1944
BT-14s lined up at Independence Army Air Field, Spring 1944

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