Saturday, July 13, 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 This is the 20th in a series of regular excerpts from his as yet unpublished book, “Under This Arch.”)
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Setting: Grider Field in Pine Bluff, Ark.
January 11, 1944
Dear Mother and Dad: I arrived at Grider Field, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, last Friday.
I’ve heard good things about this Primary Flying School. Its reputation of that of a “Country Club” environment seems to be true. The food is good and four of us share two rooms with a bathroom between the rooms.
Today (Tuesday) I had my first familiarization flight of 34 minutes. I enjoyed it and am looking forward to more flights. I like my instructor. He’s in his late 20s. Some of the instructors are old, barn-storming pilots. All of the instructors can be tough and wash a cadet out quickly, if he’s not able to fly this open cockpit PT-19 airplane the Army way. My instructor has four of us cadets and a 1st lieutenant officer to teach how to fly. It’s cold in the open cockpit.
I need to have a wristwatch with a large round dial and a sweep 2nd hand. Measuring time in the air by minutes is important.
One week we fly in the mornings and go to academic classes in the afternoon. The next week is switched around. The classroom classes are a continuation of the Preflight school classes.
Dad, your birthday is this coming Sunday, so Happy Birthday! Let Norma know how I’m doing and write soon to my new address.
Your loving son, Wayne
The Pine Bluff Commercial in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, on Thursday, January 13, 1944, said: “RUSSIANS STRIKE OUT IN SEVERAL DIRECTIONS TODAY FROM THE CITY OF SARNY.” General Nikodia Vatutin’s highly mobile First Ukrainian Army extended its front on the Sarny (old Poland) sector today threatening the German-held stronghold of Rovine, Pinsk and Kovei.
Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “59 BOMBERS LOST OVER GERMANY REPLACED TODAY.” New American bombers were already on the runways today to replace the 59 with crews lost in Tuesday’s spectacular raid on central Germany, and fliers who took part in that great three-hour battle were eager to get on with the campaign against the Nazis.
As the American losses were balanced against more than 100 Nazi craft shot down and the destruction dropped on three centers of Nazi airplane production, the returned fliers said: “We won, didn’t we?” The speculation was that Maj. General James A. Doolittle was in charge.
“We have plenty of replacements. We can take a whole lot more in war losses than we suffered Tuesday,” an Eighth Air Force spokesman said. As for replacements, new American planes and crews have been arriving in England daily in such a stream that in some instances it had been a temporary problem where to house and feed them.
January 13, 1944:
The Associated Press (AP) article from London in today’s newspaper about the 59 bombers with crews lost over Germany was a topic of conversation during the evening meal. The quote about new crews and bombers already being on the runway tells us cadets that, as one of the guys said he already had decided: we are expendable. We are training for this caldron of war. We all knew when we volunteered for and qualified for pilot training that we were offering our lives to the service of our wonderful country. We are as expendable as the airplanes, but we’re here to win this war.
I’ve been up with my instructor for a total of about an hour since Tuesday trying to be coordinated in my turns by keeping the little black ball in the middle of the needle and the ball instrument (the turn and bank indicator) when making turns. My ears are burning from being yelled at through the gosport. I don’t want to slip and slide turning an airplane in this pale-blue and cold Arkansas winter sky. Even with our sheep fur-lined flying clothes, it’s cold. I do feel some welcome heat from the engine! None of us are going to let the weather affect us. He says I’m doing better. I don’t desire for long to continue being a “dodo bird,” as we’re referred to until we solo.
We’re doing climbing turns and regular turns. In making turns, we are not allowed to lose or gain altitude, and I’m having trouble maintaining altitude. In C.T.D., the instructor did a slow one-turn spin with us. We’re routinely doing 1½- and two-turn spins. It’s vital to know how to recover from a spin. A stall can quickly lead into a spin. The talk among us cadets is that if you get into an unrecoverable spiral dive of more than three turns, get out of the airplane. Someone’s instructor told their cadets that after three or four rotations, the downward plunge of a plane picks up speed and the number of turns, so get out. We are learning how to recognize a stall and quickly move the stick forward and increase the engine RPM (power) for a normal recovery. Likewise, we’re doing spin recoveries as we were taught in C.T.D. of opposite stick and rudder from spin rotation easing nose down and increasing engine power. We’re practicing these sitting in a chair in our rooms at night to get the feel of the required movements in our heads.
January 14, 1944:
We woke up this cold, snowy morning seeing the first snow this South Georgia boy has ever seen. I think it’s beautiful! Those of us from the Deep South have been like kids frolicking in it most of the day in our leather flight clothes. Our Yankee friends have enjoyed it just as much. No academic classes today and no flying for several days. Everything has almost stopped! Only a few mess hall workers were able to make it. They said this was one of the worst snowstorms they remember.
January 18, 1944:
We’ve been here slightly over one week and there is no let up on the pressure of the academic classes or the flying instruction. Today, Saturday, as we gathered around a chalkboard in the stage house with our instructor explaining landing and take-off patterns, he stopped and, looking sternly at each of us, said, “If you don’t stay ahead of an airplane, it will kill you. Always think ahead!”
We’ve commented among ourselves that the 1st lieutenant (student officer) with us never offers to crank the engine for anyone but expects one of us cadets to crank for him when it’s his turn to fly with our instructors. If he can’t learn to fly the Army way, he’ll be washed out like any of us. We appreciate his service in the North African campaign.
Our instructor discussed training for possible forced landing situations. We wouldn’t really do a landing in a field but full throttle at 400 or 500 feet to gain altitude. So, as we were at 2,000 feet practicing precise turns, he cut the throttle, saying, “forced landing.” I had been alert to this possibility and was watching for a field and the wind direction. I, slowly, descended with a base leg as in a regular landing pattern and held up, quickly, my left hand to simulate landing flaps dropped. Immediately, he pushed the throttle full forward, yelling, “This field is too small, we’d gone right into that heavy cattle fence and we’d be dead.” He was correct. Later, back in the stage house, he, calmly, talked about it in a reassuring manner.
In closing my diary today, after five days of not flying, it’s good to be back in the air. We cadets cleaned off the plane’s wings of snow.
January 19, 1944:
Today is Wednesday. With the weather, it is cold to the bone, especially at 2,500 feet. This South Georgia lad is having trouble getting used to it. My instructor put me through the usual workout in the skies this morning. We did the stalls and spins, using a highway at 2,500 feet doing landing patterns and several takeoffs with landings at Grider. Due to the snow delay, most of us only have around 3 hours duel flying time in 35-minute increments on the 11th, 13th, 18th and 19th of January.
The Pine Bluff Commercial on Wednesday, January 19, 1944, read: “RED ARMY FORCES LAUNCH OFFENSIVE TO END THE NAZI SIEGE OF LENINGRAD.” Red Army forces on the Leningrad and Volkhov fronts in Northern Russia sprang forward today in a new offensive calculated to end the German siege of Leningrad, the second city of the Soviet Union.
Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “BRITISH TROOPS ARE CONVERGING ON APPIAN WAY.” British troops of Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark’s Fifth Army advancing under intense mortar and machine-gun fire have crossed the lower Garigliano River at three points converging on the ancient Appian Way, for centuries the main coastal highway to Rome.
“TOP RANKING ACE OF MEDITERRANEAN THEATER KILLED.”
“LOCAL 26 YEAR OLD BOMBER PILOT MISSING IN ACTION OVER GERMANY.
“SHOW TIME AT SAENGES THEATER IN PINE BLUFF: ‘DESTINATION TOKYO.’ ”
January 20, 1944
Dear Mother and Dad,
Last Friday and Saturday, I saw my first snow. It was enjoyed by all of us. We didn’t fly again until Tuesday of this week. I didn’t like that part of it. The cockpits were covered, but we were handed a broom to sweep the snow off the wings, so we could get these birds back into their environment in the sky. Except for Friday, we attended the classroom studies.
Thanks for the nice Helbros wrist watch. I needed it. I know Norma would have been thrilled to see the snow. Tell her I put some in this envelope for her but it melted before she got home to see it. Ha!! Write soon.
Your loving son, Wayne
The Pine Bluff Commercial on Saturday, January 22, 1944, stated: “ALLIES MAKE NEW LANDING IN ITALY.” Powerful American and British forces of the Fifth Army, striking by sea toward Rome, landed on the west coast of central Italy before dawn today in a heavy attack to smash the Germans’ flank and turn their winter fortification in the Gustav and Adolf Hitler lines.
Other news summaries from that day’s paper: “GERMAN INDUSTRIAL CITY OF MAGDEBURG BLASTED WITH 2,000 TON BOMBS.” The RAF’s campaign to flatten German industrial targets crushed the city of Magdeburg in Saxony last night with 1,000 planes dropping 2,000 long tons of bombs. These new blows cost the British 55 bombers with crews.
“GENERAL SPAATZ SAYS GERMAN AIR FORCE WILL BE KNOCKED OUT SOON.”
Letter to other relatives:
January 23, 1944
Dear Mama, Papa, Aunt Totsy, Uncle Bill, Billy and Jimmy,
I’m enjoying my training and working steady at this Primary Flying School. There’s no let up on the constant pressure of not getting the “feel of the airplane” and being eliminated. I’m more confident in the cockpit all the time. There are continuing uncertainties for us cadets.
I experienced my first snow last week. We Deep South boys enjoyed it. Roads were full of snow and the flight instructors couldn’t get out to our small flying field. Instead, we did “hangar flying,” which consists of discussing proper techniques in doing take-offs, landings, etc.
Let Billy and Jimmy know that when the war is over, I’ll make up more “Cross-eyed Bullfrog” stories. Write soon.
Your loving grandson, nephew and cousin, 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 email@example.com.