Wayne Shearer’s World War II Memoir, Part 29: Surviving Night Flying And Heading Back To Texas

Tuesday, November 26, 2019 - by Dr. C. Wayne Shearer
Dr. Wayne Shearer
Dr. 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 This is the 29th in a series of regular excerpts from his as yet unpublished book, “Under This Arch.”)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

May 11, 1944: 

Today is Thursday and the latrine rumors are that we’ll be shipping out to an Advanced Flying School in about two weeks.

Only Bill and I are left of the four who started with Lt. “Rusty Bars,” because Ralph was “washed out” with his final elimination flight yesterday. He seemed to have gotten too far behind and follows in the footsteps of others in our class, due to decrease in the need for pilots. 

As expected, he was heartbroken with a dark cloud of disappointment heavier than a bucket of South Georgia sandy soil. Ralph said, “Even though I’ll not get the Silver Wings of a military pilot, I got to fly an airplane and that was part of my dream come true.” We’ll miss him. We don’t know who’ll be next. Keep trying! 

The New Orleans Item on Friday, May 12, 1944, stated: “BIG ITALY SMASH.” Allied troops, smashing out in the first big spring push against Hitler’s European wall, are assaulting the Gustav line in Italy along a 25-mile front from Cassino to the sea. 

Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “ATTACK TESTS HITLER’S FORTRESS.” It was announced from London that Allied troops of the American Fifth and British Eighth Armies kicked off the great spring test of Hitler’s European fortress. 

“MEN UNDER 26 TOPS IN DRAFT; EASE ON OTHERS.” 

May 14, 1944: 

My friend, Lloyd, from Louisiana, shares his New Orleans newspapers with the rest of us and I add them to my lifelong collection of newspapers. In reading the daily newspapers, the war news is becoming more favorable for us. 

My class is now into night flying with several mid-air collisions. At breakfast a topic of conversation is “who got killed last night?” The main concern of the instructors is not to crash our BT-14s, which are irreplaceable. They think us cadets though are expendable. Independence Army Air Field with these older, pre-World War BT-14s has the reputation of too many crashes during night flying. I’m like everyone in the desire to get this requirement behind me, learning something while doing it. Tomorrow night I’ll find out. 

Today was an open post day for my flight, so another cadet (Clarence of Memphis) and I went to the local public golf course. Clarence has played golf and showed me a few things about the game. We were the only people on the brown grass, which in a few weeks will be green. The club pro didn’t charge for the rental clubs, nor did he charge us to play. It was a good day off. 

May 16, 1944: 

Well, I didn’t get killed today (Tuesday) or “wash out,” either, and completed my night flying requirements. I orbited the rectangle course for what seemed like forever until reaching the 1,000-foot level each time for the six landings and take-offs! It’s dark up there except for the lights of the other planes in the stacked pattern levels and some exhaust flames. 

Several of us while waiting our turn in the stage house overheard one of the instrument instructors talking and laughing with another instructor. He said that he and his cadet were preparing for his first flight under nighttime conditions. The cadet, whom he didn’t name, was in the cockpit and was told to make sure it was clear before starting the engine. To do this he was told to turn on the landing lights. The lights were turned on and then the cadet started the engine. 

The instructor stopped him and said that no, once you’re satisfied the area is clear, turn off the lights and then start the engine. He said I told him it was like when you started a car’s engine, you didn’t turn on the headlights first. The cadet promptly said on the intercom, “Sir, I’ve never driven a car.” 

So, here was a cadet in an expensive 450-horsepower airplane and had never driven a car. The instructor said, “You know driving a car requires depth perception, coordination and judgment, so I was wondering what kind of flight I’m going to have with him when I check him out.” He ended the story by telling the other instructor that it was an OK flight.

May 17, 1944: 

Several weeks ago we were asked if our preference was to go to Single Engine Advanced or Twin Engine Advanced Flying School. I had requested Single Engine Advanced. I still wanted to fly that P-40, even if it is now used as a trainer in Single Engine Advanced Flying School along with the AT-6. The word was given to us today that more cadets in our class (44-G) had asked for Single Engine Advanced than the need or the openings exist. Some of the fellows then said they would change to Twin-Engine Advanced to be bomber pilots rather than fighter pilots. I intend to leave my request as it is and hope that I still end up going to Single Engine. We have been told that in a week, we will be leaving. 

I need to do my cross-country triangular course requirements, shortly. Our cross country here at Basic Flying School is longer than the one at Primary. I think my navigation ability is better than at Primary, where on one leg I buzzed a railroad station for the town’s name to verify my location. 

The Independence Daily Reporter, Independence, Kansas, on Thursday, May 18, 1944, announced: “CASSINO IS WON.” Cassino, bloody symbol of German resistance in central Italy, has been evacuated, the German High Command announced today. 

Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “TAKE JAP BASE.” Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill’s Chinese-American forces captured the Southern airdrome at Myitkyina, main Japanese stronghold in Northern Burma, and were reported pouring mortar fire into the city itself today. 

“NEGRO VOTING ROILS POLITICS.” The recurring issues of organized labor in politics and Negro voting in the South combined today to add some tartness to a 1944 campaign in accumulating votes for a fourth term for President Roosevelt at the Democratic convention. 

Letter home: 

May 18, 1944 

Dear Mother and Dad, 

The weather has gotten more spring-like and pleasant every day, but the wind on this Great Plains country is always blowing. 

We’ve been told that we’ll be leaving for Advanced on the 24th. I don’t know where I’m going or whether it will be Single Engine or Twin Engine. I feel OK after my grouchy instructor told me that he “thought I may be transferred to a Single Engine Advanced flying school,” which is what I asked as an assignment. Today, we had some fun with the airplane. He said, ‘I’m going to show you what happens if you don’t use flaps to take off.’ We went speeding down the runway faster than it usually takes to be airborne. We almost got to the end of the runway before we were in the air. That was a learning experience and I’ll always use flaps to take off. I didn’t have to clean my shorts but was close to needing a clean pair! 

Give Norma a hug. I’ll be sending you my new address. 

Your loving son, Wayne 

The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana, on Friday, May 19, 1944, said: “AMPHiBIOUS FORCES CAPTURE JAP STRONGHOLD OF WAKDE.” In a 120-mile leapfrog invasion north of Hollandia, American amphibious forces have seized Wakde Island and the adjacent shore territory with Gen. Douglas MacArthur saying, “The success of this operation presages reconquer of the entire Dutch, New Guinea, province. Wakde has a fine bomber field.” 

Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “AIR BLOWS AGAINST EUROPE STILL UNDER PEAK – ARNOLD.” Gen. H.H. Arnold says 20,174 enemy planes lost versus 6,154 American planes lost in 21/2 years of war. He declared the sustained bomber offensive over Europe has not reached its peak. 

“G.I. RIGHTS BILL PASSED BY HOUSE.” 

May 21, 1944: 

Today (Sunday) I completed the triangular three- legged cross country. I thought I was lost on the first checkpoint but then it came into view. My map was marked for this “dead reckoning” navigating and, even though I completed this requirement today, I don’t feel very confident with my ability in navigation.

Before our evening meal, each of us received our new assignment orders. I’ve got Single-Engine Advanced at Eagle Pass, Texas. Some of the guys who wanted the Single Engine got Twin-Engine Advanced Flying School at Lubbock, Texas. We’re all happy that we haven’t “washed-out.” The Twin-Engine Advanced-assigned cadets are leaving on the 23rd of May to report into Lubbock Army Air Field, Texas, on May 25. My bunch leaves on May 24, reporting into Eagle Pass Army Air Field, Texas, on May 26. The orders state a diner will be on the train. We’re getting further away each trip from those baloney sandwiches that we were treated to that first trip from Basic Training at Keesler A.A.F. I don’t think any of us feel any closer to being an officer and a gentleman, though. 

A friend who’s going to Twin-Engine Advanced and I decided to determine if those of us from Pine Bluff Army Air Field actually had a 50 percent “wash-out” rate at Independence A.A.F., as the discouraging base C.O. told us our first day on base. Since I still had the Primary Flying School orders, we decided to do some simple math following up by each cadet’s name. Of the 239 cadets arriving from Primary, we have 178 cadets from Pine Bluff continuing to Advanced Flying Schools. We lost 61 cadets, which is 26 percent of the 239 total cadets from Primary. This is not as high a percentage as the C.O. had stated, but seems to be a high number at this semi- final stage of the training. We both feel like we lost a larger number of cadets in the Primary stage of pilot training, as expected. We feel lucky as well as happy to be moving up to an Advanced Flying School! And we’ll continue training to be “the best damn pilots in the world!” 

(Note: During the training at I.A.A.F., Kansas, one of my fellow cadets was Fred Olivi, who was the co-pilot of the B-29 “Bockscar” on the Aug. 9, 1945, atomic bomb drop on Nagasaki, Japan, that ended World War II. Both of us later served in the Air Force Reserve and had conversations about flying the BT-14 at Independence Army Air Field, Kansas, together). 

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To see the previous entry in this series, read here.

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Dr. Shearer can be contacted at docshearer@epbfi.com.
Wayne Shearer in 1944
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