Wayne Shearer’s World War II Memoir, Part 9: Finally Getting A Taste Of Flying!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - by Dr. C. Wayne Shearer
Dr. Wayne Shearer
Dr. 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 ninth in a series of regular excerpts from it.)


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Setting: At the College Training Detachment at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio


July 2, 1943:

Our marching band unit is ready to march with the rest of our detachment on Independence Day in downtown Cleveland.

One of my roommates received a letter from a high school friend, who is in primary training at Stamford, Texas. His friend had four hours dual time when, at an auxiliary field practicing landings and take offs, his instructor had him park the airplane and get out. It was his turn to solo. He made his first landing and taxied back to his instructor, but noticed that he was shaking his head. He thought it meant to give it another try, so he did. In the second landing of the PT-19, the instructor waved him in.


After the instructor climbed into the rear cockpit through the gosport, he asked, “Do you like short field landings?” The cadet, thinking that he was to do some, nodded yes. The instructor said loudly into the gosport, “You don’t need any practice since you broke off the fence caution flag on your first landing.” The instructor never said another word about it.


I think that these various training stories that we hear from those ahead of us let us know what to expect in the future. I found out that in primary, the gosport is a device-like, one-way speaking tube that leads from the mouthpiece in the instructor’s rear cockpit to the ear (head) phone worn by the cadet in the front cockpit. The cadet acknowledges instruction by a head nod.


Letter home:

July 4, 1943

Dear Mother and Dad,

Everything went well at the Independence Day parade. People lined the streets. Some of the men were wearing American Legion caps and shouting encouragement to us, such as “You look sharp,” “Chin up,” “You look proud.” Don’t think I missed too many notes in the marching band unit. It was fun. I am sure by now the farmers around Cordele are bringing a lot of watermelons and cantaloupes to sell at the markets. I’d like to have one!

Your loving son, Wayne


July 5, 1943:

Our detachment marched well. We all thought we were sharper than the aviation student detachment at John Carroll University’s Case Institute. My marching band flight kept the music playing that the spectators seemed to enjoy. A large crowd lined the street; especially notable were World War I veterans in their American Legion caps shouting encouragement to us. We sang our marching songs.


One of the local newspaper writers wrote, “These future pilots, navigators and bombardiers march briskly, as though their wings were on the feet rather than on the sleeves of their coats. It’s a thrilling sight, a satisfying one and an inspiring one. We all wish you good luck in your training as you win the war for us.”


The Cleveland Plain Dealer on Sunday morning, July 11, 1943, said: “INVADING TROOPS SEIZE 100 MILES OF SICILIAN COAST, DRIVE INLAND.” Gen. Eisenhower announces that the landing was successful and artillery has been put ashore. The United States and British navies are pouring troops and war equipment into Sicily.


Another headline said: “WAR’S LAST PHASE BEGUN, FDR SAYS.” President Roosevelt told the world today that the invasion of Sicily means the war against Germany and Italy has entered its final phase, with the complete destruction of Nazism and Fascism as the objective directly ahead.


July 14, 1943:

Today is Wednesday and the professors at these beautiful ivy-covered campus academic buildings are moving us rapidly covering the subject matter. Everyone is pouring over the books. We’re having more frequent exams. At times I feel like a knucklehead. There haven’t been any easy questions, but I’m doing about like the others. There have been the usual latrine rumors about “wash-outs.” Passing grades are required on all academics, especially physics and math. Glad I had these subjects at North Georgia College, which helps me now, but it’s still a struggle. Same course but different instructor makes a difference.


Letter home:

July 16, 1943

Dear Mother and Dad,

Today is Friday and another week closer for my 10 hours flight indoctrination. It will be at the Cleveland airport where the famous Cleveland air races have been held before the war. I understand that I’m on the list to start next week or the week after. If so, that means I’ve been placed on the three months only needed in college list rather than 5 months. I thought your son would need 5 or 6 months extra! Tomorrow after morning inspection, several of us will ride the Euclid Avenue streetcar downtown to the Lake Erie waterfront amusement park. Tell Norma to keep enjoying her summer.

Your loving son, Wayne


July 19, 1943:

This morning started as usual marching to a good breakfast, then marching to class. Near the end of the class before lunch, one of the sergeants came into the room and read a list of 12 or 15 names, including mine, saying that for the next two weeks after lunch, we’d form up and ride on a bus to the Cleveland airport for our flight instruction. Happy day, this is what I volunteered to do. Finally, just to touch and sit in a real airplane!!


When I was 10 years old, a Ford Tri-motor plane landed in a farmer’s field at Cordele and, for $1 each, took Dad, me and several others up for a quick flyover of our town. That was a thrill. And this afternoon it was more thrilling to actually be instructed in flying.


We rode in a bus for about an hour to the Cleveland airport on the other side of Cleveland from the college. Everyone was highly excited. I thought we would never get there. This is a large airport with paved runways. The bus drove us right up to where three Piper Cubs and three Aeronca 65-horsepower planes were parked. All were yellow colored. This was our first view of the yellow birds we’d heard about. We will receive 10 hours dual instruction but not be soloed. It is tandem seated.


I know by now that we’re alphabetized in what we do and three of us at the end of the alphabet were assigned to an instructor who appears to be 10 years older than we are. The four of us walked around the Aeronca inspecting the tires, with the pitot tube covering removed, all flaps movable, and tiedown ropes removed. Once the engine is started, the student next to fly would remove the wheel blocks. Since I was second to fly, that was my job today and be careful of the propeller, I was warned. Always stay behind and clear of it. I pulled the wheel blocks and they taxied out to the runway.


The other student and I watched the takeoff until they became a speck in the blue summer sky. Then it was back inside the flight office to study the flight manual and wait. In less than an hour, they were parking the Aeronca at the flight line. We bounded out to the plane to place the wheel blocks at engine cutoff.


Our fellow student got out looking sick. And our instructor, looking disgusted, climbed out of the back seat with vomit on his shirt and pants. He said to the student, “Don’t eat tomorrow before we fly. I’ll get a bucket of water and rags for you to clean out the plane.” Looking at us, he said that whoever gets sick in a plane has to clean it out.  He had more vomit on him than Dan did!


Dan told us that he was alright until near the end of the flight, when the instructor said they were going to do a 1½ turn spin to lose altitude preparatory to landing. He said he already was feeling queasy and disoriented as the instructor “suddenly stalled and jerked that plane into a spin, and as we were spinning straight down that instructor got us straight and level, I turned toward him to tell him I was sick and I puked all over him.”


The inside of the plane was cleaned up after we all helped and then it was my turn. I climbed into the front seat still enthused, although the plane now smelled of a combination of gasoline, oil and vomit. We taxied out for take-off clearance at the end of the runway. He said to put your hand on the stick and feet on the rudder pedals, saying you’ll notice that I’m pushing right rudder pedal in, slightly due to the small amount of engine torque. This engine torque is more so in engines of stronger horsepower, he said.


We climbed to 3,000 feet above the ground and I could see Lake Erie with Cleveland’s tall buildings and a lot of homes. All looked small. We did right turns, left turns, climbing turns, stall series and then, “to lose altitude prior to landing, I’ll demonstrate a two-turn spin,” he said. We stalled into the spin and I was in an upside down situation with the homes turning below me. I don’t know if I enjoyed it that much; but if I’m going to fly the P-40 some day, this it the learning method. We had a soft, easy landing, and I didn’t feel sick. I wanted to do this again!


As we rode back to the university in the bus, most of us were pleased with our first flight. We got back in time to eat, but missed the Retreat formation. It’s been a good day, but now back to studying and looking forward to tomorrow’s flying.


Letter home:

July 24, 1943

Dear Mother and Dad,

Everything went well at our usual Saturday inspection today. I’ve had flight instruction every afternoon this week. It will be dual only with no soloing. I’m getting the feel of it. Next week we’ll fly in the morning, with afternoon classes at the college. It is exhilarating to be at the controls of the yellow bird. The newest scuttlebutt says that those who are getting our 10 hours of instruction presently will be shipped out to the classification center around the second week of August.


One of the things those of us from the South miss drinking to cool off is a Dr Pepper. They don’t have them in Cleveland. I am sure Norma is enjoying her season ticket to swim at Williams Cordele Swimming Pool. Write soon!

Your loving son, Wayne


The Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday morning, July 25, 1943, said: “PATTON DRIVES ON CATANIA AS MARSALA FALLS; NAZI SUMMER OFFENSIVE CRUSHED, STALIN SAYS; U.S. BOMBERS RAID NORWAY, CRETE BLASTED.” Allied troops in 14 breathtaking days have annihilated Axis armies in all of Sicily, except the Northeast corner, trapping 110,000 enemy soldiers. Smashing at targets in Norway for the first time American airmen in Flying Fortresses staged a 1,200-mile round-trip daylight raid on an aluminum plant near Oslo.


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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

Downtown Cleveland, Ohio, in 1943
Downtown Cleveland, Ohio, in 1943

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