Thursday, February 14, 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 10th in a series of regular excerpts from it.)
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Setting: At the College Training Detachment Center at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio
July 25, 1943:
After Saturday’s inspection, several of us went to the amusement park.
We always ride the roller coaster several times and decided that it is mild compared to doing spins in an airplane. You get a good view of Lake Erie from both the roller coaster and the Ferris wheel. We attended the first game of a doubleheader between the victorious Indians and Washington. A big league game!
We had a nice meal at an Italian restaurant. We tried to pay but they said it’s “on the house” for you military boys. If there was a large military base here, they couldn’t (and probably wouldn’t) do that. It was appreciated and enjoyed with their wine. Good folks in Cleveland. We military flier boys are going to have to grow up quickly because we may well be flying planes in enemy skies a year from now.
We came back to the dorm on the Euclid Avenue streetcar. I am looking forward to morning flights next week. Since we are the only military men, we are almost mobbed by these beautiful Ohio girls. They drive by our dorm in their Chryslers, Buicks, convertibles, etc., to drive us around the area. It’s good conversation and we enjoy seeing the sights.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer on Monday morning, July 26, 1943, said: “MUSSOLINI RESIGNS, KING MAKES MARSHAL BADOGLIO NEW LEADER.” Dictator Benito Mussolini resigned tonight as premier of Italy and King Vittorio Emanuele, in a possible bid for peace with onrushing Allied Armies, assumed command of Italian forces and called upon “every Italian” to stand firm in the face of the grave danger that has beset our sacred soil.
Another headline from that day’s paper stated: “NAZI PORT OF HAMBURG SMASHED BY GREATEST AERIAL ATTACK OF WAR.” American Flying Fortresses today bombed what was left of the big port city of Hamburg a day after it was bombed by the RAF. They had to outfight one of the enemies’ biggest fighter forces of 200 planes going into and away from the target. Nineteen American heavy bombers each with a crew of 10 were lost in the deepest penetration into Germany.
Also in that paper: “IT’S TOO SOON TO WRITE WALLACE OFF IN ’44.” Vice President Henry A. Wallace is in a strange political position and at the moment is neither fish nor fowl with the administration. He had words of praise for President Roosevelt, who recently bounced him from chairmanship of the Board of Economic Warfare after his public squabble with Secretary of Commerce Jesse H. Jones.
July 27, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
I’m enjoying the flight instruction each morning this week, with academics in the afternoon. Your son is doing about like everyone. In the past I have gotten carsick but not airsick. Several are not enjoying flying and have said it may not be for them.
I know Dad didn’t approve of some of V.P. Wallace’s views, so he’s probably in agreement with President Roosevelt taking him off the chairmanship of the Economic Warfare Board.
Saturday several of us attended a major league baseball game that the Cleveland Indians won over Washington. I look forward to your letters at “mail call.”
Your loving son, Wayne
July 27, 1943:
Had a nice flight yesterday and today. We flew in the P-3 Piper Cub today. The plane smelled of vomit as Dan lost his breakfast. It’s the second time for him. He’s getting discouraged but here’s hoping it gets better for him.
I’ve logged 7 hours dual and feel like I could solo, if allowed. It is a confidence builder by allowing us to get the feel of flying. My 10 hours will be finished by Friday and then back to the regular routine. I was told today by the personnel sergeant that I’m on the list of 100 to be transferred to the Classification Center in about two weeks.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer on Wednesday morning, July 28, 1943, stated: “ITALIAN ARMISTICE TALKS REPORTED.” President Roosevelt backs to the hilt Prime Minister Churchill’s solemn warning to Italy today to surrender or face the terrific rigors of war from one end to the other. Gen. MacArthur’s forces in the Pacific Theater are in the second day of advancing on New Guinea Island drive to within one mile of strategic Munda Airdrome.
July 30, 1943:
What a day at the Cleveland airport! Around mid-morning a beautiful P-38 did a quick flyby and then landed. He taxied up to the flight office. A 2nd lieutenant got out with a swagger, and walked into the weather office. He appeared to be no more than two years older than we are. Shortly, he came back out to his plane, took off, then flew back over the runway doing a slow roll and he’s out of sight! Most of us had only previously seen photos of a P-38. Am I about to change from wanting to fly a P-40 to a P-38? My flight for the day was over, so I saw it all. This is Friday and I have satisfactorily completed my 10 hours dual instruction time; a great way to end it.
Dan has told us that due to his airsickness problem, he is going to get out of the flying program.
One of the fellows in the room got a letter today from a high school friend who’s at Sikeston, Mo., Primary Flying School. He said his instructor had been a barnstorming pilot, around 40 years old, and he could smell alcohol on his breath. He got mad easily and was very impatient with his struggling cadets. He will beat their knees with the control stick when upset or he holds the PT-19 gosports out in the slipstream and almost blows out your eardrums. He already had washed out 2 of his 4 cadets, and Jim’s friend was afraid he would be next, so he got his courage up and told the captain in charge that he would like to have another instructor.
His request was granted after he told the captain that he smelled liquor on the instructor’s breath. He is now a happier cadet with a new instructor.
Aug. 1, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
I’ve just returned from a good Sunday meal after attending church. The latrine rumor is that in a week or so 100 of us – some like myself who’ve been here three months, and others who have been here five months – will be shipped out to the Classification Center. Others have gone to Nashville, so we may do likewise. Our classes, drilling and physical training continue.
This is a beautiful university with Gothic styled architecture with ivy on the buildings. It covers 58 acres in the center of Cleveland. I’ll miss it, as we’ll next be again at a regular military base.
Friday was exciting at the Cleveland Airport, as a real military airplane, a P-38, landed. Shortly, the pilot was in the air again, then came back over doing a slow roll. It was great! I had just finished my final dual instruction, totaling 10 hours. Am looking for more flying experience and soloing elsewhere. Let Norma know my letters are for her, too.
Your loving son, Wayne
The Cleveland News on Monday, Aug. 2, 1943, mentioned: “NO REPLY TO ULTIMATUM, ALLIES BOMB ITALY AGAIN.” Hundreds of thousands of Italian civilians were reported fleeing industrial centers in Italy today as Allied air and naval forces resumed their assault on the Italian mainland following Premier Pietro Badoglio’s failure to answer demands for surrender.
Another headline from that day’s paper said: “ST. LOUIS MAYOR, NINE OTHERS DIE AS GLIDER COLLAPSES IN MID-AIR.” Before a large crowd of horror-stricken Sunday spectators, a troop-carrying Army glider, its right wing gone, plummeted nose down for 1,500 feet and smashed like a strawberry box near a runway at Lambert-St. Louis Field carrying to their deaths 10 persons, including the mayor, William Dee Becker, and Maj. William B. Robertson, pioneer airplane manufacturer, whose company built the glider.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 1943, said: “GENERAL GEORGE S. PATTON SLAPS ENLISTED MAN.” In Sicily today, Gen. Patton called an enlisted soldier in the hospital a “slacker” because he had no physical injury and slapped him.
Other headlines from that day’s paper added: “OPERATION TOTAL WAVE.” Flying Fortresses of the U.S. IX Bomber Command struck the oil refineries at Ploiesti, Romania. “2,897 ROMNI ARE GASSED WHEN THEIR AUSCHWITZ CAMP IS LIQUIDATED.” “AMBASSADOR JOE KENNEDY’S SON JOHN KENNEDY’S PT-109 IS RAMMED AND BROKEN INTO TWO PIECES AND SINKS IN THE SOLOMON ISLANDS CAMPAIGN.”
August 5, 1943:
That photo of the wing falling off the glider several days ago in St. Louis with the mayor and dignitaries on board is still in my mind. Several of us have talked about it and the other military crashes and decided that military flying is an exciting, yet hazardous, series of adventures.
Today is Thursday and I am close to finishing another week of academics. Several of our professors have told us that next week we’ll have final exams. Physical training and marching drills continue daily. The good food, with the pretty girls serving it, is the high point of every day!!
August 8, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
Today is the last Sunday that my bunch will be here. Our final exams are next week. I think I’ll do OK. We’ve had some good courses that should help us as we go through the rest of the training. We are to be ready to load on the train before lunch Saturday, Aug. 14. Other shipments have gone to Nashville Classification Center and that’s where we are expecting to go.
As I have written to you before, half of us are “Rebels” and half are “Yankees.” One of the fellows, Pat, from Pennsylvania, who attended a Southern college, claims that he is neither Yankee nor Rebel, but is an Irishman. He has a good Irish brogue and is fun to be around. My trombone in its case has been sent back to you. I’ll write when I have a new address. Give Norma a hug.
Your loving son, Wayne
The Cleveland News on Monday, August 9, 1943, said: “GERMAN TROOPS POUR INTO ITALY.” As Italian troops have surrendered, the German Army is sending thousands of troops to take their place to fight Gen. Patton’s U.S. Army.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer on Saturday, August 15, 1943, said: “LAND BATTE OF VELLA LAVELLA ISLAND IN THE SOLOMON ISLANDS.” U.S. Navy landing crafts were used to place troops on shore in this important campaign.
Another headline from that paper added: “U.S. AND CANADIAN TROOPS INVADE KISKA ISLAND IN THE ALEUTIANS.” Our military found that the Japs had left the island.
August 15, 1943:
Had a last good breakfast. We’re sitting in our dorm with barracks bags packed waiting for the buses to take us to the train station. It’s been a good training experience in Cleveland and I have 10 hours of flying time. Don’t know yet where we’re going.
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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.