Tuesday, June 18, 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 This is the 18th in a series of regular excerpts from his as yet unpublished book, “Under This Arch.”)
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Setting: Finishing up Preflight School in San Antonio, Texas
December 26, 1943:
Christmas Eve, several of us attended the chapel for the Christmas service. It helped remove the loneliness we had been feeling.
Christmas day’s luncheon-dinner, again as at Thanksgiving, had an abundant variety of food. I had several servings. The dessert table was a popular venue. I enjoyed a large slice of pecan pie and they do know how to make it in our Texas cadet dining hall.
Starting tomorrow (Monday), we’ll have exams the next few days. Latrine rumor says that the first week of January we’ll be transferring to a primary flying school. Who cares which one as long as I’m on those shipping orders!
The San Antonio Light in San Antonio, Texas, on Monday, December 27, 1943, said: “NEW BRITAIN 2ND FRONT OPENED.” United States Marines swarmed ashore in two simultaneous landings at Cape Gloucester on the Western tip of New Britain yesterday to establish a second invasion front on Japan’s island stronghold in the Southwest Pacific. General MacArthur’s headquarters announced that not a single man was lost on the beachheads by these Guadalcanal veterans.
Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “EISENHOWER SEES ’44 EUROPEAN VICTORY.” General Eisenhower, chosen to command the main Allied invasion of Europe from the West or the North flatly predicted today, “We will win the European war in 1944.”
“HAND SHOT OFF, FORT GUNNER DOWNS NAZI.” Two 8th Army Air Force sergeants from an English base in the second Schweinfurt raid by Flying Fortresses are heroes. One of the sergeants, after losing his left hand, shot down an FW 190. The other gunner, who gave him first aid, went back to his waist window guns and blasted a ME 110 out of the sky.
December 29, 1943:
Today is Wednesday, and part of the final exams are behind us. Happy that I passed the blinker light exam and didn’t need to sit on the front row to pass. I understand that there is the usual large number of failures on it. They’ll be allowed a retake. I feel confident regarding the remaining academic exams.
Monday we all will take the Physical Fitness Rating (P.F.R.) tests. The previous upper class (44-F) set a record for the P.F.R. cadet test averages of 112 sit-ups, 11 chins, and 49 seconds in the shuttle run. My 44-G class will be competing with those scores listed in the December “The Tale Spinner” cadet newspaper. For example, some couldn’t do 114 sit-ups, but could do 15 chins, etc., so they were passed and that’s how it all averaged out for 44-F. We are trying to have a better P.F.R., but their test scores will be tough to beat.
The San Antonio Evening News on Friday, December 31, 1943, stated: “BERLIN BECOME UNRECOGNIZABLE.” Mayor Ludwig Steed of Berlin told foreign correspondents that British bombs have left the German capital almost unrecognizable, the Nazi-controlled Scandinavian Telegraph Bureau said today.
Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “ALLIES SEE VICTORIES, AXIS HARDSHIPS IN ’44.” Years of deliverance in Europe predicted by United Nations leaders. A German spokesman cries for revenge in 1944.
“U.S. CANNOT BE HALTED, HALSEY SAYS.” Admiral William F. Halsey, American commander in the South Pacific, says in a New Year’s message to the home front that “never have we been ready to strike killing blows in so many places simultaneously. We propose to strike these blows again and again.”
“EIGHT SAN ANTONIANS ON CASUALTY LISTS.”
January 1, 1944:
I passed all academic subjects and see no problem with Monday’s Physical Fitness Rating tests with the other cadets in my class. Next stop should be one of the Primary Flying schools.
We were paid our $75 per month gross pay yesterday. Going through the pay line table is a formal affair, with the finance officer seated with several M.P.s standing guard behind him. We march to the table, salute and stand attention, giving our full name as “Aviation Cadet Claude W. Shearer, 14 16 0000, reporting for pay, sir.” He will say “parade rest,” then check the payroll list, and count out the money on the table. I sign the payroll, pick up my pay, salute again, and go to the adjoining table. Such things as laundry, etc., will be deducted.
At this next table, cadets are asked to donate two dollars to the American Red Cross, which is a good cause. Usually our pay at Preflight School has included several $2 bills so that San Antonio merchants will know that the military helps the economy. It won’t be hard to spend this amount of money. I’m doing OK, though.
Today (Saturday), we looked sharp in our final marching parade inspection of “Passing in Review.” Being in one of the last squadrons, we had a good view of the precision marchers in front of us. As those squadrons made the final left-hand turn to be positioned marching in front of the reviewing stand with an “Eyes Right” command, the movement was similar to that of a mighty river going around a bend. It was a memorable sight with all arms and legs moving in unison! Since we’ll be assigned to the various Primary Flying Schools, we’ll never again be together as such a large group of marching cadets.
The San Antonio Express on Sunday morning, January 2, 1944, mentioned: “BELGIUM TO BE FREE WITHIN FEW MONTHS.” President Roosevelt and Secretary of War Stimson emphasized the imminence of great United Nations offensives in New Year statements Saturday.
Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “NAZI INVASION COAST AGAIN GETS PASTING.” The Allied invasion command worked with quiet urgency and without a pause for the holiday Saturday in line with General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s slogan promising victory in Europe this year, as squadrons of Allied planes again swept over the Channel to drop smothering loads of bombs on Nazi defenses.
“ARMY B-25 BOMBERS ESCORTED BY P-39 AIRACOBRA FIGHTERS BLAST BASES IN MARSHALLS.”
January 2, 1944
Dear Mother, Dad and Norma:
Happy New Year! The final exams are behind me successfully; so, your son is still going forward. In a few days we’ll be on the train for a Primary Flying school. Don’t know where but will let you have the new address after I get there. Hope all of you had a good Christmas and that little sis got what she wanted.
Your loving son, Wayne
The San Antonio Light on Monday, January 3, 1944, announced: “U.S. DESTROYER EXPLODES, SINKS OFF N.J.” A United State destroyer exploded and sank about 6 miles northeast of Sandy Hook, N.J., today, the Navy public relations office announced. “At least 100 survivors have been landed. Rescue and salvage operations are proceeding.”
Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “BURNING BERLIN HIT.” Berlin, the R.A.F.’s first target for 1944, was given its second seething bath of fire and bombs of the new year today by British airmen who delivered their 10th great blow against the charred capital.
“S.A. PILOT KILLED IN INDIA ACTION.”
“9 KILLED IN BOMBER CRASH FROM SIOUX CITY, IOWA, ARMY AIR BASE.”
January 5, 1944:
Most of us passed the Physical Fitness Rating Test Monday. Our P.T. officer told us that our scores were slightly below those of the previous class but passable.
Yesterday (Tuesday) the cadets that needed to retake exams did so. Some didn’t look too happy. We soon found out the reason, as we were getting ready for the evening meal formation when our tactical officer entered the barracks.
One of our watchful, eager beavers bellowed, “Ten-shun.” We all popped to attention and were told “At ease.”
The sergeant with him read a list of 20 or so names to form up outside. Shortly, they were back inside with long faces. They would not be going to Primary Flying School with us and most were eliminated from the cadet program. We had been told that the previous class of 44-F had a washout rate of 15 percent at the end of their Preflight School training and we are about the same. I regret it for them.
Today, the rest of us were told to pack our barracks bags because we’re shipping out mid-morning tomorrow. We’ll not know which Primary Flying School we’re assigned to until we get on the train tomorrow.
January 6, 1944:
As our Army truck headed for the railroad station, several of our friends we left behind waved goodbye to us. I can imagine their disappointment and am hoping they don’t become bitter. They may end up better off than the rest of us. A parting of the ways from new friends seems to be the military way. And, goodbye to those tasty hot PX doughnuts!
We’re going to miss being “Deep in the Heart of Texas” as the train chugs northeastward. We’ve just been told by one of the sergeants in charge serving as escort that we’ve been assigned to Grider Field, Pine Bluff, Ark. It is about 65 miles from Little Rock and we should arrive mid-afternoon. The adventure continues!
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To see the previous entry in this series, read here.
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Dr. Shearer can be contacted at email@example.com.