Monday, September 2, 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 This is the 23rd in a series of regular excerpts from his as yet unpublished book, “Under This Arch.”)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 23, 1944:
Today (Wednesday) I had a routine check ride by another instructor.
I’ve been dreading it, but knew it was coming, as I was building up my flying time. A check ride has added stress to it because you fly with a different person than the instructor, whom you’re accustomed to being in the rear cockpit. This is another test that, if failed, he would turn me over to another instructor for an elimination (“wash-out”) ride.
He had me do a full straight ahead maximum stall almost, but not, into a spin. I had that plane bucking and shaking all over, but kept it out of a spin and made a normal recovery. Next was a left 2 turns spin and normal recovery. Last, the expected forced landing for which I had been constantly keeping in view in various good landing fields. As I turned from the base leg into final approach, he said, “That is enough. Take us back to Grider.” My instructor afterward told me I had done OK on that short, 25-minute flight.
There are only four of us left with my instructor. We don’t know what happened to the first lieutenant officer, but he’s not with us anymore. We know he was not allowed to solo. We are all fearful to ask our instructor about it but we haven’t seen him for several weeks, so he must have “washed out.” He lacked the enthusiasm that we cadets have.
At the evening meal I overheard an upperclassman saying he had flown under a bridge over the Arkansas River. Don’t know for sure, but flying under that arch doesn’t make him “the best damn pilot in the world” and could get him killed or eliminated because that’s a violation.
The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tennessee, on Thursday morning, February 24, 1944, stated: “ROOSEVELT TRIES TO HEAL BREACH BY ASKING BARKLEY NOT TO RESIGN: TAX BILL VETO DOOMED TO DEFEAT.” President Roosevelt, striving to avert a grave split with Congress and within his own party ranks, Wednesday night in a “Dear Alben” letter urged Sen. Alben W. Barkley not to go through his announced intention to resign as Senate Democratic leader in protest against the presidential veto of the tax bill.
Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “JAP, MARIANA BASES HIT IN DARING CARRIER RAID.” Japan’s Mariana Islands, 1,300 miles south of Tokyo, were raided Tuesday by hundreds of planes of a strong Pacific Fleet task force, presumably the same American force that made the first attack of the war on Truk last week and was announced from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz headquarters.”
“NAVY SETS PRECEDENT.” From Washington, D.C., the Navy announced that for the first time in the history of the Navy, a group of 22 Negroes will be given commissions in the Naval Reserve.
February 25, 1944:
Yesterday (Thursday) my instructor had me fly over to Long Auxiliary Field to be tested on “spot landings.” He got out of the plane and walked to an area about midway down the first one-third of the sod runway after telling me to touch my wheels down in the landing opposite the spot where he was standing. I did it three times and it appeared as if my touchdowns for all the three “spot landings” were directly lined up with him. He seemed to be pleased. At the end of the afternoon’s flying instruction and after all four of us cadets had done “spot landings,” he talked about the importance of using a minimum amount of the runway in landing an airplane. He surprised us – and me most of all – by saying, “Shearer is the ace among you.”
Today, I didn’t feel like an ace anymore after landing too fast (not enough landing flaps) and doing a ground loop 360 degrees, banging my right wing into the paved runway at Grider Field. I think my right wheel hit a small hole in the runway, too, that caused it. I carefully taxied to the parking ramp thinking, “No excuses Mister and will this wash me out?” Trying to get my wits together looking at the undamaged, only scratched right wing tip, I decided unless someone says something about it when I get to the stagehouse, I’m not going to say anything. No one said anything. Maybe no one saw it, since other planes were landing and ground loops are not uncommon.
The Commercial Appeal on Friday morning, February 25, 1944, stated: “NAZI PLANE PLANTS HIT FROM BRITAIN AND ITALY; RUSSIANS GAIN ON PSKOV.” American heavy bombers blasted Nazi airplane and bearing factories deep inside Germany and Austria Thursday with coordinated twin assaults mounted from both Britain and Italy. Forty nine U.S. heavy bombers failed to return.
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “REDS TOPPLE RAIL JUNCTION IN ADVANCE TOWARD LATVIA.”
“RENAMED PARTY LEADER, BARKLEY TURNS TO FDR WITH APPEAL FOR UNITY.” Senator Alben W. Barkley, having led Congress in a historic tax revolt against the White House, turned to President Roosevelt Thursday night with a plea that the episode become the starting point for closer units in the National Government.
“DAY AND NIGHT RAIDS REVIVE LONDON BLITZ.”
February 28, 1944:
Yesterday I got over two hours solo flying time. I’m doing loops and spins but am looking forward to being taught some precision acrobatics, or stunt flying, as is the civilian term for it. Today (Monday) I did my first slow roll with my instructor. I went nose down to pick up speed for a roll to the left, increasing bank to the left, gradually. Then I applied the top right rudder on the vertical position to hold the nose up; gradually easing off the rudder as the plane is becoming inverted. I continued exerting the left pressure on the stick to keep the plane rolling, and kept holding nose up with forward stick.
The airplane is now inverted halfway through a slow roll, with stick being left forward and rudder pedal neutral. But, suddenly, at the top of the roll (inverted) I’m in a cloud of dirt from the floor board, and thinking I was falling out of the plane because my head was outside of the windscreen getting the full blast of air from the propeller. Quickly, and in full panic, I grabbed the stick with both hands while flailing with both feet trying to reach the rudder pedals. In what seemed an eternity, we were level and I was below the windscreen in the normal cockpit position. My instructor calmly said, “Make sure your seat adjustment screw is tight, and we’ll roll this plane again.” I tightened that seat setting position knob so tight that it probably took the next cadet a wrench to re-adjust the seat height. The only damage was to my shorts! And we did several more slow rolls and snap rolls to finish the instruction.
The Pine Bluff Commercial, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, on Wednesday, March 1, 1944, announced: “GERMANS USE NEW WEAPON IN ITALY.” Allied Headquarters disclosed the Germans had used new radio controlled tanks, bearing 1,000 pound charges and designed to blow up within Allied lines in their second major offensive against the beachhead, but that Allied artillery had exploded 14 of them before they reached the Anzio beachhead Allied lines. This harmed the Nazi positions instead.
Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “MACARTHUR GOES ASHORE ON LOS NEGROS ISLAND.” American troops of the 6th Army have pushed far into Japan’s South Pacific defenses with a bold landing on the Admiralty Islands under the personal supervision of General Douglas MacArthur.
“GRIDER SCHOOL CADET KILLED, INSTRUCTOR HURT.” A 21-year-old aviation cadet was instantly killed about 2:45 o’clock yesterday afternoon and his 31-year-old instructor was seriously injured when their training plane crashed on the G.D. Long plantation about nine miles southeast of Pine Bluff. They were on a routine training flight.
March 1, 1944:
Yesterday (Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 29, Leap Day), I knew it was about time for my military check pilot ride and it happened. The 2nd lieutenant Army check pilot appeared to look bored and didn’t say much to me other than telling me what he wanted me to do. I must have done OK, because after I parked the plane and we got out, he said, “Good luck to you as you train to be an Army pilot.”
Later, I flew solo, working on smoothing out several procedures as he suggested. Upon returning to the stage house for the usual hangar flying, everyone had a somber facial expression and that is when I found out about the fatal air crash. One of the guys said, “At least they didn’t burn up.” We all seem to have hidden worries of burning up in an air crash, as we have read about. I’m glad I do not know the cadet who died. Silence at the evening mess! There was not the happy, boisterous breakfast conversations this morning like we’ve been having, either. It was written up in today’s newspaper. Four cadets accompanied the body home to Massachusetts. This is our first fatal crash for 44-G.
March 2, 1944
Dear Mother and Dad,
We may be having an early spring in Arkansas, as some early flowers are blossoming. Sure would like to see your flowers. South Georgia’s springtime comes earlier than here.
Latrine rumor says we’ll be shipping out to a basic flying school in two weeks or less. We’ve lost through “washing out” around 10 percent of us cadets who arrived in January. Some were afraid of flying, or lost the desire, or just didn’t have the ability. Your son is thankful and lucky that he’s going to move up to the next phase of flight training. Previous classes have gone to the Basic Flying School at Independence, Kansas. Last week several BT-14s from there flew in and we all looked them over. They are larger planes than we’re flying here. Others have made it OK and I can, too.
I have flown my required cross-country triangle of three Arkansas towns by navigating with aerial maps. Today (Thursday) there was a thunderstorm that delayed me getting back to Grider but everything is alright. Tell my sister hello.
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.