Tuesday, August 20, 2019 - by Dr. C. Wayne Shearer
(Editor’s Note: Dr. Wayne Shearer, 95, 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 This is the 22nd in a series of regular excerpts from his as yet unpublished book, “Under This Arch.”)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.
February 5, 1944
For the first time since I soloed, my instructor told me to go up for 30 minutes taking off from the Grider Field single paved runway and practice stalls, turns, forced landings, etc. He told Joe to do the same. John and Louis have now soloed; the 1st lieutenant has not. He’s not ready for me to do solo spins. Every time I fly the plane, I have more of a “feel” for it and that it is part of me. Those friends in our squadron that haven’t soloed yet are getting closer every day to receiving an elimination ride and being washed out. They’ll be missed.
The Pine Bluff Commercial in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, on Tuesday, February 8, 1944, announced: “GERMAN FORCES LAUNCH COUNTER OFFENSIVE AT ANZIO.”
Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “2,765 DROWN WHEN THE U.S.S. SNOOK TORPEDOES LIMA MARU.”
“ALLIED DRIVE TO NEUTRALIZE JAP AIR POWER IS ON SCHEDULE.” Vice Adm. Aubrey W. Fitch, Washington, D.C., South Pacific Air Commander said today.
“1ST BLACK REPORTER, HARRY MCALPIN, ACCREDITED AT WHITE HOUSE.”
February 12, 1944
This Saturday we had no academic classes, giving us additional time to fly. My instructor told me to sharpen up my air work and he would not fly with me today. I went up twice for a total of 2 hours and 35 minutes flying time. I’m working on precision maneuvers.
It was easier flying than yesterday when the wind was very breezy and a crosswind at that. “Ground loops” were all over the field and it didn’t take much to cause our PT-19s to do this and damage a wing. During the evening cadet meal, an upperclassman in talking about his experience yesterday in the wind said he was scheduled by his instructor for a routine check ride. Take-off was normal, but due to the crosswind with turbulence the traffic pattern, as I know from yesterday, was nothing like normal. The wind pressed him down and he didn’t have enough CRAB, so gaining altitude was slow. Everything he did for the check pilot after reaching altitude was messed up and then, suddenly, power was cut for a forced landing. The cadet dropped the nose for the field he’d picked out. Quickly, the check pilot took control, yelling into the gosport, “What are you going to do about the power lines you’re headed for?” The cadet said, “I’ll try to fly under them, Sir.” Immediately, he was told to take them back to the field. He thought this check ride had turned into a “wash-out” flight.
With the wind blowing very hard and “crabbing the plane” into the unsquare pattern, he observed all kinds of unusual maneuvering on the ground, including numerous ground loops with one plane on its nose. He thought to himself that he had to do the best landing of his pilot career or it would be all over for him. He “greased it in” to a perfect 3-point landing in the crosswind.
At the parking ramp and standing at attention, the check pilot went over all of the mistakes he had made and went over to talk with his instructor. The instructor came back to him shaking his head. The cadet thought he’d been eliminated. His instructor told him that the check pilot said if this kid could do a “grease job” landing in all of the gusty crosswind, with practice he can learn the rest!
The Arkansas Gazette on Tuesday, February 15, 1944, said: “BATTLE OF MONTE CASSINO.” Allied bombers destroy German-held monastery.
Other news headlines from that paper: “BATTLE OF ENIWETOK (MARSHALL ISLANDS) BEGINS.” The correspondents with the troops say that a quick victory is seen.
“WENDELL WILKIE (REP.) ENTERS PRESIDENTIAL RACE.”
February 18, 1944
Dear Mother and Dad,
Yesterday (Friday) was a rainout for flying activities. Our cold open cockpits don’t allow us to fly in the rain.
We were back on the flightline today and I got 43 minutes dual time and 1 hour 20 minutes solo time. While in the stage house, we cadets heard different sounding engines than our PT-19 Ranger engine and looking out we saw a twin-engine trainer in our traffic landing pattern. It landed, taxied up to the stage house and parked. We all ran out to the airplane as two cadets exited the trainer. It reminded me of the time in the fall of 1941 when I was a high school senior, and we got our first car, a 1941 Ford Deluxe two-door sedan. If you remember, in typical small-town demeanor, all the neighbors came running over to see our new car. Well, that’s the way we cadets crowded around this Beechcraft twin-engine trainer from Stuttgart Army Air Field, Arkansas, about 50 miles or so from Pine Bluff.
The two cadets were on a “buddy flight” and would be graduating in March saying the right engine instrument read low on oil. They called Stuttgart AAF and were told to land at Pine Bluff A.A.F., spend the night and one of their mechanics would be flown to Grider in the morning. It was interesting to talk with them at the evening meal. They felt good about themselves since in less than a month they’ll be Army Air Corps pilots and 2nd lieutenants. I’m proud for them!
Let Norma know I love her and give her a big birthday hug!
Your loving son, Wayne
February 18, 1944:
Today (Friday), I had almost an hour dual and over an hour solo. Today, my instructor worked on “chandelles” and “lazy 8s.” I desire to be a fighter pilot, so these maneuvers are of special interest. The chandelles are climbing turns to gain altitude and reverse flight direction quickly. It was fun doing them and I didn’t seem to be messing the precision up too much. After landing, he said go up for an hour and practice.
I must have been “feeling my oats” because I’ve only been doing what my instructor has ordered me to do but decided to fly “chase” with my friend, Louis. Some of the fellows have talked about chasing each other now that we’re flying solo. The purpose of the air game of “chase” is to see if you can get on the tail of another cadet’s plane and stay there without him losing you. Louis took off in plane No. 55 and I was on the runway behind him on plane No. 49. We formed up about 10 miles from the field and I got on his tail. He flew at tree-top level to shake me off, but I stayed with him. Ahead and below us, I saw some high-tension wires. Just as he dived to go below them, I noted a third airplane was on my tail flown by someone in the front cockpit like we cadets fly solo. Quickly, I made a right-hand turn to leave because had heard that instructors fly in the front cockpit to catch cadets goofing off. Looking back, I saw Louis fly under the wire and the tail of the other plane, now chasing him, hit one of the wires.
Later, Louis and I talked about us probably being in trouble while in the stage house when a sergeant came in asking for Louis to report to the commandant of cadets. Shortly, Louis was back saying that our commander chewed him out, threatening to wash him out if he didn’t follow the rules exactly. As he turned to leave, the major stopped him and said, “Mister, you’re a damn good pilot.” I never heard a word about it, nor did Louis hear anything else as the day continued.
The Arkansas Gazette on February 18, 1944, said: “U.S. NAVY TASK FORCE ATTACKS JAP BASE OF TRUK; 1,000 AMERICAN SOLDIERS LOST AS TROOPSHIP SUNK.” Powerful task forces of the United States Pacific Fleet, accompanied by hundreds of carrier planes, launched the first assault of the war on Truk, Japan’s mighty air and naval base on Truk, Caroline Islands, yesterday. The enemy has sunk an Allied troop ship with loss of 1,000 American soldiers in European waters, the greatest toll ever exacted from U.S. convoy forces, the War Department announced today.
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “12 FLIERS KILLED IN FLORIDA CRASH.” Twelve fliers were killed in the crash of a Flying Fortress from Tampa’s MacDill Field yesterday while on a combat training flight.
“EX-FOOTBALL STAR KILLED OVER FRANCE.” A former University of Arkansas football player, Lt. James O. Bolin, age 24, of Pine Bluff, Ark., a bomber pilot, was killed in action over France February 2.
February 19, 1944:
This morning (Saturday) the two cadets who landed here yesterday afternoon from the twin engine Advanced Flying School east of here at Stuttgart Army Air Field were interesting to talk with at breakfast. Yes, they are full of themselves and have a swagger! When we get into the last few weeks of Advanced, we’ll be the same way. They’ll fly back to Stuttgart A.A.F. today after the small problem is fixed. We all wished them well! They flew out of Grider Field around 11 a.m.
I got one-hour dual time today and am continuing Link Trainer for 45 minutes per session every few days since my first session on February 10. It’s different, but I’ve got to learn to rely on instruments more than the feel of the airplane. I’ve already spun-in once, and my sergeant instructor said, “You’re dead and 50 feet underground. “I’m doing better every time I have a Link session.
During the evening meal, Jack said he was 20 miles or so from Grider Field and not close to either of the auxiliary fields when his PT-19 began losing RPMs. He said he tried everything he knew to do, but it didn’t respond and hardly ran. Immediately, he headed back losing altitude. He got it onto the runway and was able to taxi to the parking area. He told one of our aircraft mechanics what had happened and the man’s response was, “It ran alright this morning.”
The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tennessee, on Wednesday morning, February 23, 1944, stated: “PINCER AIR ATTACK FROM ENGLAND, ITALY HITS NAZI AIRCRAFT PLANTS; MYSTERY PLANES BOMB STOCKHOLM.” Heavy American bombers of the Eighth Air Force from Britain and the 15th Air Force from Italy blasted German fighter plane factories Tuesday at Bernburg, Reigensburg, Aschersleben and Halberstadt in the first such coordinated aerial assault by the United States strategic air forces in Europe.
Forty-one of the British-based bombers are missing after a series of great battles against skilled German fighter pilots. American escort fighters shot down 58 of the enemy with one American fighter escort destroyed and 10 missing.
A small number of unidentified planes, attacking from the east, where both Germany and Russia have bases, dropped several bombs in the streets of Stockholm Tuesday night.
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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.