(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 This is the 11th in a series of regular excerpts from his as yet unpublished book, “Under This Arch.”)
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Setting: Arriving at the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Classification Center.
The San Antonio Evening News on Monday, August 17, 1943, said: “HEAVY LOSS OF ALLIED BOMBERS IN SCHWEINFURT-REGENSBURG RAID.” The mission raid on Schweinfurt-Regensburg has resulted in heavy loss of planes and crews.
Another headline from that day’s paper stated: “SICILY NOW CONTROLLED.” U.S.
troops enter Messina with Allies in control of Sicily.
Another headline said: “POLISH JEWS RESIST.” The Polish Jews in Bealustok begin resistance with scant weaponry and little ammo.
August 18, 1943:
We boarded the train on Saturday mid-morning on August 14 onto two Pullman cars attached to a regular train with two dining cars. That means no bologna sandwiches on this trip! Along the route we alternated with civilian passengers in eating by groups. We woke up Sunday morning and I saw the wide Mississippi River as we crossed over into St. Louis, Mo. At this time I had just become 19 years of age on the previous day. Happy birthday to me!
Soon our escorting sergeants told us that we were going to the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Classification Center. Surprise!! The conductor told us that yesterday, and last night, we passed through Columbus, Ohio, as well as Indianapolis and parts of Illinois. For the rest of the long trip, we went through Oklahoma City, Fort Worth (Monday a.m.), Austin and San Antonio late Monday afternoon. We had an hour’s break at Austin to stretch and us Southern boys grabbed a cold Dr Pepper to drink.
Upon arriving in San Antonio, we were loaded into khaki-colored buses and unloaded at the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Classification Center (SAACC), which is located on the “back part,” or the “hill part,” of historical Kelly Army Air Field. I’m glad to be trained at such a historical military aviation town as San Antonio with Brooks, Randolph and Fort Sam Houston, where flying took place on its drill field before World War I. Across the road from SAACC is the Preflight School for pilots.
A non-commissioned officer marched us to our orderly room surrounded by permanent-type, two-story buildings with white asbestos siding. I’m beginning to get used to filling out these military forms. Then we were assigned to a barracks. This is an open bay with double-decked bunks. A latrine for each floor is at the end of the building. This is better than the tar paper-covered barracks with an outside latrine at Keesler.
SAACC is where it really begins. In this classification process of testing, we will be processed, washed out, or classified to continue training as a pilot, bombardier, or navigator. There will be many chances to be “washed out” caused by attitude, coordination, medical or mental reasons, etc., during these several days of testing. Latrine rumors are rampant!
August 22, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
Note the new return address is not Nashville. From Cleveland to San Antonio was a long trip, but we had a dining car and Pullman sleeper car. This being Sunday, we’ve been here almost a week. The day we arrived, it was 112 degrees in the shade, with high humidity like South Georgia. It was cooler in Cleveland! I’m not disappointed I didn’t go to the Nashville Classification Center.
It’s good to be at the Classification Center. We understand that it will be several weeks until our group gets the tough several days of mental and physical exams. Prospective Aviation Cadets have arrived from other College Training Detachments. Give pretty little sister Norma a hug and write soon.
Your loving son, Wayne
P.S. Thanks for the birthday card received just before leaving Cleveland!
August 28, 1943:
We’ve been here two weeks almost, and today had our regular Saturday inspection. We each have a footlocker and small closet to hang uniforms and place extra shoes. The barracks interior is unfinished. The pine wood floor has to be thoroughly scrubbed and mopped for the inspection. Jack remarked, “We could use that wore-out floor buffer Sgt. Gruff sold us in Basic.” Our sergeants call it our weekly “G.I. Party.” G.I. means Government Issue. As someone who just turned 19 years old, this is “high cotton” for me.
Each floor of the barracks is a flight. Most of us had not given any thought to military unit organizations other than flight and squadron. Something new to be learned is that the other Army Corps has units, just as our infantry ROTC at North Georgia College listed squads, platoons, companies, battalions, regiments and divisions. In the Army Air Corps, we have elements, flights, squadrons, groups and wings to which we are assigned. Just like at C.T.D. and Basic Training, we march as a flight everywhere we go, be it meals, physical training, testing, etc. We line up from the tallest in the front row to the shorter fellows in the back rows. At 5-foot, 10-inches tall, I’m always in the middle of the flight. We do everything as a flight.
We’re getting to know each other well. We Southerners are in one end of the barracks with our country music radio stations and our Yankee friends at the other end.
The San Antonio Evening News in San Antonio, Texas, on Monday, August 30, 1943, said: “NAZIS DROWN SCORES OF DANES.” Big fires blazed fiercely today among the scuttled hulks of Denmark’s naval vessels in Copenhagen harbor. Offshore Nazi patrol boats and planes shot at Danes fleeing a new German military dictatorship clamped upon the rebellious kingdom.
Another headline said: “ORTE, 40 MILES FROM ROME DEALT HEAVY BLOW FROM AIR.” Flying Fortresses (B-17s) struck at Orte railway center north of Rome for the first time while medium bombers (B-26s) delivered other blows to vital rail and communications system targets.
August 31, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
I hope you are well. I know it’s still hot in Cordele, as it is here. According to the newspaper and radio news, our Army Air Corps and Army ground troops are taking the battle more and more to our enemies. As I have mentioned before, I’m continuing my newspaper front pages collection as I’ve done since high school days. You should have received my latest collection in a box from Cleveland about the time you got the trombone.
We’ve been told by one of our sergeants that we’ll be starting our testing tomorrow (Wednesday). Pray for me to do well and get classified as a pilot trainee. As we were in the physical training area of S.A.A.C.C. two training planes flew over that had foreign insignias on the wings. Someone said they were Mexican pilots training at Kelly. We frequently see American planes overhead from Kelly’s runways. Now in a matter of weeks I’ve seen Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and AAF planes over Lake Erie and yesterday saw Mexican and American planes in the sky. Keep writing!
Your loving son, Wayne
September 2, 1943:
Instead of college girls waiting on us, we have men. The chow is good and placed on the table. We eat out of plates. We have lots of good fruit. If we desire more food, the waiters will get it for us, but we have to eat everything on our plate. I understand that after we’re classified while waiting to go across the street to Pre-Flight School, our various squadron flights will, occasionally, do some work in the kitchen of the mess hall.
Our testing started yesterday (Wednesday). It was pointed out to one of us by one of the lieutenants in charge of the testing that you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole. The square pegs need to be eliminated quickly to save Uncle Sam’s time and money. One of the first forms to be filled out asked us to rank our selection preference for training from 1 to 10. I ranked 10 for pilot, 6 for navigator, and 7 for bombardier on my preference sheet. Some of the fellows put 10 on all three selections, but I – honestly – listed how I felt about it.
This classification battery of tests was developed several years ago by psychologists. The lieutenant said that our test scores were graded by the Stanine (Standard Nine) grading system using a scale from one (the lowest) to nine (the highest).
We spent all day with pencil and paper in small, one-person cubicles with plywood siding so no one could cheat by looking at someone’s paper. We also had a desk-like table to write on and a chair. The large room contained 50 or so of these open cubicles.
Today, using the writing instruments, we were tested on general knowledge, map and photograph reading, and speed and accuracy of perception. We also had time for a lunch break, with the familiar “Hut! Two! Three! Four!” and off we marched to the mess hall.
According to the conversations, we had all failed. All tests were timed for 1 hour each, and no one was able to finish the tests. Our sergeant must be having a bad day, because as he marched us back to the testing center, he kept after us constantly, saying, “Shut up in the ranks. I’ll do all the talking that is necessary.” That didn’t help our mood for the afternoon testing.
During the afternoon session, we were tested on principles of mechanics, ability to understand technical information, and graph and chart reading. We marched in precise formation to the barracks, cleaned up and then marched to the mess hall. Again, the conversation was about the tests and inability to finish. One friend from Atlanta who had gone to a technical high school said his technical training helped him on the afternoon tests. Several questions on the principles of mechanics got me.
They included questions about large industrial gears and screws in various large devices that interconnected 3 or 4 other large gears. We had to tell what their function was and would the final shaft be turning clockwise or counterclockwise, etc. I guessed at some and he said I got it right. It was hard for me regarding the mechanics of shafts in large machinery. I’ve never been around anything like that.
Maybe I’ll survive these tests. I no sooner made good headway on the questions when the time was up, the papers were collected and a new test placed in front of me.
September 3, 1943:
Today is Friday and we’ve spent a busy week and yesterday got the major mental exams behind us. We exhibited our coordination today on various psychomotor tests.
We were told before testing started this morning in an answer to a question about grading, and most of us are afraid to ask questions, that the test grades are listed as “Stanine” (Standard Nine) scores, as we’d already been told.
The psychomotor tests measured finger dexterity, motor coordination, divided attention, ability to react quickly with accuracy to constantly changing stimuli and steadiness under pressure. All of this while the non-commissioned officer kept yelling out stuff like, “You’re about out of time, etc,” to try to break our concentration.
The last thing we had was a 10-15 minute very personal interview by a psychiatrist. He asked me did I like most people, did I like myself, did I like girls, etc. Some had a longer interview. What a week we’ve had! Next week we’ll take the dreaded 64 physical exams.
The Sunday San Antonio Light in San Antonio, Texas, on Sunday, September 5, 1943, said: “ALLIES ENLARGE ITALIAN BRIDGEHEAD. INVASION AHEAD OF SCHEDULE.” Gen. Sir Bernard L. Montgomery’s British 8th Army was reported Saturday night to have extended its Axis Europe bridgehead in Southern Italy from 25 to 35 miles in width.
Other headlines from that paper were: “MORE BOMBS FOLLOW 1,000-TON RAID.” Swarms of Allied bombers and fighters pounded Western Europe incessantly today in the concentrated blow to the battle of Berlin. And “LOCAL CAPTAIN KILLED IN FORT WORTH AIR CRASH.”
Sept. 5, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
This has been a busy week. We, finally, have started testing and were tested mentally on Thursday and had psychomotor testing on Friday, which tested depth perception and various aptitudes. Next week sometime I understand there will be an all-day flight physical called a 6-4. They will probably notice the slight scar on my right eye caused years ago when I fell into some thorny roses. I don’t intend to say anything about my right leg having been broken because it’s OK. It seems like your son is doing about like the others.
The food is still good, especially our lunch. Tonight we’ll have the usual Sunday night cold cuts. Tell Norma hello and keep me in your prayers.
Your loving son, Wayne
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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.