Thursday, November 7, 2019 - by 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This is the 27th in a series of regular excerpts from his as yet unpublished book, “Under This Arch.”)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 10, 1944:
As stated in Friday’s paper, the Nazis are harming Jewish children.
I’ve been in a “blue funk” since the unwelcoming base commander’s speech to us; but now, having soloed and seeing a few early spring daffodils, am feeling better. The post’s Daily Bulletin said, “Summer uniforms will be optional, beginning April 15, 1944. Complete change to summer uniforms will be announced at a later date.” I’m not going to be in a hurry to get out of these warm woolen uniforms into khaki cotton slacks and blouse. I saw my first robin today, too.
In a recent letter from a friend who is a sergeant in one of the offices at Army Air Force headquarters in the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., he said the word is out that there is a decreased need for pilots. That tells me that our C.O. is obeying orders from his superiors.
Another recent letter came from Uncle Allen, who has been promoted to lieutenant commander in naval aviation and a tach officer at University of Washington Navy Preflight School. He said the same cutback for pilots is taking place in the Navy.
I got several hours solo today. Did a short cross-country. I like to do loops, but practiced some with spins and stalls. We’re beginning to see a few puffy white cumulus clouds in a grey blue sky. Flying is becoming fun again.
One of the upperclassmen, who has had a problem with vertigo while learning to fly under the hood for instrument training, told his instructor about it. The instructor said to always believe and know the instruments are correct. This continued with the instructor telling the cadet, “I’ll get rid of your vertigo.”
He told him, “Put your head on your right knee and face outward.” When this was done, the cadet was to wiggle the stick and say, “Do it now.” The instructor took control of the stick, moving it to the left and then, with much force, abruptly to the right. The stick hit a good thwack on the back of his head. The instructor asked, “Did that help, Mister?” The cadet told us with a laugh that he let his instructor know that he was cured. Some of our flight instructors are just plain sadistic, but with humor!
The Independence Daily Reporter in Independence, Kansas, on Thursday, April 13, 1944, said: “HIT DOUBLE BLOW AT AIRCRAFT PLANTS.” A London announcement said U.S. heavy bombers landed a double blow at German aircraft production today, striking from Italy at works in Hungary and from Britain at important plants in Germany. More than 500 B-17s and B-24 bombers accompanied by 750 to 1,000 fighter planes went on this operation.
Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “REDS MAKE BIG STRIDES IN CRIMEA.”
“TOP FIGHTER ACE SHAKEN UP.” Capt. Don S. Gentile, top fighter ace in the European theater with 30 planes destroyed in the air and on the ground, was badly shaken when he was forced to crash land his fast fighter at his home base after a recent mission.
April 14, 1944:
Ralph soloed today, so there are three of us hanging in there with Lt. “Rusty Bars,” whose disposition has not changed. I’m flying daily building up hours.
Last night after returning to the barracks, Bill, who in a good humored-up spirit was nicknamed “Hillbilly,” had received a large cardboard box from friends in upper East Tennessee. We gathered around him, as he opened the box, to see what surprise goodies he had received. One was carefully wrapped in newspaper in a quart jar that contained a clear appearing liquid.
Some of us knew what it was, but one of our Yankee friends did not and asked for a taste. His wish was granted and he was told to take only one swallow. He took a big swallow and has face turned red as he spit out his mouth full into the open barracks stove, creating a small explosion, similar to gas being thrown into a fire. When his coughing fit ceased, he asked, “What was that?” The laughing was out of control, but someone answered, “White Lightning – Moonshine,” and you only sip it, very carefully!
The Independence Daily Reporter on Saturday, April 15, 1944, stated: “GENERAL EISENHOWER BECOMES HEAD COMMANDER OF THE ALLIED AIR FLEET.”
Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “FREIGHT ‘FORT STIKENE’ EXPLODES IN BOMBAY HARBOR.” In this tragic explosion, 1,376 people were killed in Bombay, India.
“JEWS TRANSPORTED FROM ATHENS.” Today, the Nazis moved the first Jews from Athens, Greece, to the notorious Auschwitz death camp.
April 17, 1944:
Today (Monday) we did formation flying with our instructor in take-offs with Lt. “Rusty Bars” as lead man. I was on the left wing, and Bill on his right wing. We were less than 100 feet high, when I glanced to my right to see another BT-14 coming at me in a very unstable, wobbly condition. I pushed the stick forward in time for him to pass over my plane. It seemed so close that I could have touched his tail wheel as he fluttered over me.
That cadet jockeyed his plane over several hundred parked airplanes on the ramp, all the while in a stalling attitude. He was finally able to get it back on the ground downwind. It created an uproar on the field. His lieutenant instructor and a captain supervisor chewed him out for about 30 or 40 minutes, saying he was on the schedule for an elimination ride. After much investigating, they agreed that some knucklehead had messed with the trim on that airplane along with several more. After my close call, the three of us continued formation take-off training, as if nothing had happened.
Previously, when a cadet was “washed out,” they immediately moved out of the barracks they were assigned to; but we’ve got 15 or 20 still in our barracks. We don’t know if there have been so many eliminated that there’s no other barracks available. I feel sorry for them, since they’re at loose ends with nothing to do except make their bed up and keep their area clean. Their dream of being an A.A.F. pilot is gone. I doubt if the remainder of us are that much better at flying a BT-14 than they seemed to have been. My heart goes out to them. We all feel that sympathy for these now ex-cadets. They’re good guys. Any of us could be next due to the decreased need for pilots.
April 19, 1944:
To move into an Advance Flying School, we have to complete 6 night take-offs and landings. To accomplish this requirement, we will take off and enter a pattern stacked four or five levels high with airplanes at those different levels in the cold night sky. The upperclassmen who are now leaving us have told many horror stories about it. The pattern is a night flying pattern with one long side above one long side of the runway into the wind. The short upwind end is the crosswind leg. The other long side or downwind leg is parallel to the runway. Then the other short downwind side is the base leg.
The first six airplanes to take off will climb to 4,000 feet. The next six climb to 3,000 feet, with the next six at 2,000 feet and last six at 1,000 feet. When the last cadet in the air takes off, the first cadet in his group is landing. The group of six from 4,000 feet, etc., drop down to 3,000 feet, etc., until they start landing from the 1,000- foot level and then a new group of six climbing to 4,000 feet. This continues during the night going around and around in a rectangle until everyone has completed satisfactorily six landings and takeoffs.
We will be under radio mobile control at all times. There are always midair crashes with so many of us in the night sky at once orbiting and orbiting. The departing upper class had several killed. Now, as the new upper class, it is our time to learn the proper night flying techniques, as scary as it will be at times. I don’t know if we’ve had an unusual number of midair night crashes with cadets killed at IAAF, but think this goes along with us novice night flying pilots in Basic Flying. In December, when my class was at Preflight School, a friend at Courtland Army Air Field Basic Flying School in Alabama wrote saying that five or six cadets were killed in night flying in one night of mid-air collisions.
April 20, 1944
Dear Mama, Papa, Aunt Totsy, Uncle Bill, Billy and Jimmy,
I think of you folks more often than I write. I’m looking forward to being back after the war to have some Kay’s or Southern Dairies ice cream. If I weren’t so busy, I’d write more often. I’m enjoying flying this larger airplane. It’s faster, so I have to stay ahead of it by being quicker and more alert than in Primary Flying School.
You let Billy and Jimmy know I’m expecting good grades in school from them. Tell them that today I pretended I was a pursuit pilot and did a make-believe strafing attack on a farmhouse. The farmer sitting on the front porch fell out of his chair thinking it was the real thing, or maybe he thought he was being attacked by the giant “cross-eyed bullfrog.” Write me when you can.
Your loving grandson, nephew and cousin, Wayne
The Independence Daily Reporter, Independence on Saturday, April 22, 1944, announced: “ALLIES LAND NEAR HOLLANDIA, NEW GUINEA.”
Other news headline summaries from the paper: “FIRST BOEING B-29 ARRIVES IN CHINA.” By flying “over the Hump,” the first B-29 bomber by Boeing landed in China.
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To see the previous story in the series, read here.
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Dr. Shearer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.