Saturday, January 25, 2020 - 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 This is the 32nd in a series of regular excerpts from his as yet unpublished book, “Under This Arch.”)
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Setting: Eagle Pass, Texas, Army Air Field
June 17, 1944:
Today (Saturday) Lloyd and I practiced a 3 plane V formation on each side of our instructor’s wing. He likes for us to pull in close (“snuggle close”) to his wings. We did one take-off in formation. We can expect more practice in formation flying, but only with our instructor. Further, he quoted a paragraph from our Student Flying Regulations as saying, “Students will not fly within 500 feet of other aircraft at any time unless on duly authorized formation missions.” This regulation sounds like a possibility leading to an E ride for those of us that like to play chase! Be careful!
One of the instructors was doing a test flight yesterday after an engine overhaul and during the test pulled up lower than intended, giving a “buzz job” to some cacti and a scrawny mesquite tree, saying it sounded like a lumberyard sawmill cutting a plank. The leading edge of the wing was green from one tip to the other. At this low-level of bravado flying, all the mesquite trees in that field must have clapped their hands.
When he got back to Eagle Pass Army Air Field, ground crewmen came running from all over to see this sight. We cadets kept a respectful distance when we found out it was an instructor. After pulling a double handful of mesquite twigs from the air scoop, he went to the ready room to await the call from the air operations officer. He first said, “Are you the character that brought back all the shrubbery?” The young instructor answered, “Yes Sir!” Well, it’s a wonder you didn’t bring back a fence and fence posts.” Again he answered, “Yes Sir!” The air op officer than said, “Get the hell out of here!” Again the last answer was “Yes sir.”
June 20, 1944:
It’s a hot Tuesday on the ground, but cooler when flying in formation with my instructor. Later I practiced various acrobatics.
Ground school seems to be loading us down with more material, especially in maps and navigation. We work on flight planning.
We’re practicing more instrument flying daily. Today we worked on flying the radio range, in which we listen for a Morse code A or N in the headset that determines which quadrant we’re flying in. All of these radio navigation aids are used with the radio compass. They all are helpful in establishing a proper heading of 059 degrees, or 260 degrees, etc.
Even though we don’t become upperclassmen until the first week of July, we’re already discussing how is it determined who becomes a 2nd lieutenant and who becomes a flight officer when we graduate in August. We understand that more and more cadets in each class become “blue bar” flight officers rather than gold bar 2nd lieutenants. The conversation is that if you’re still a teenager, when you graduate, you probably would become a F.O. That’s latrine rumors anyways.
The Eagle Pass News Guide in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Thursday, June 22, 1944, stated: “U.S. TROOPS OCCUPY BIAK.”
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “VERY HEAVY BOMBING ON BERLIN.” “AUSCHWITZ: NAZI BEGIN MASS EXTERMINATIONS OF JEWS.”
“PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT SIGNS G.I. BILL OF RIGHTS.”
June 23, 1944:
Most of us have shot a rifle growing up, so the skeet shooting today gave us a nice break from the usual routine.
During evening meal, I found out that one of the fellows in my flight got too close to a plane that one instructor was flying in the front cockpit observing if a solo cadet violated any Student Flying Regulations such as flying “within 500 feet of another airplane without authorization.” Poor Stan, thinking it was another cadet, closed in on the other airplane for a dogfight chase.
Upon returning to the field, he was called into the flight director’s office and quoted the regulation. They had his plane’s tail number, so he pleaded guilty. Since he had been in similar trouble before, he was eliminated quickly. I can’t help but think of the many times most of us in “horsing around” have violated regulations and not been caught.
Our president signed into law a bill that will pay the way for us servicemen to attend college after the war. That was good news in today’s paper.
The Mobile Press Register, in Mobile, Alabama, on Sunday, June 25, 1944, announced: “GERMAN ESCAPE EFFORT SMASHED.” An Allied communiqué said British Naval guns destroy evacuation craft as Yanks close in on Cherbourg.
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “CARRIER BOMBERS SINK 5 JAP SHIPS IN PACIFIC FIGHT.” Adm. C.W. Nimitz said in the Marianas Islands that we sank five Japanese ships, downed 72 enemy planes and only lost 5 American planes.
“GOP STALWARTS STORM CHICAGO FOR CONVENTION.”
June 26, 1944:
Back in basic flying school, we just flew in rectangles above the runway getting oriented to the black night sky. We fly short solo night navigation flights here. Tonight, I did the usual walkaround of the AT-6 with the added checking out of important night navigation lights of a white taillight, of a red light on the left wingtip, and of a green light on the right wingtip.
Inside the cockpit, the instruments have radium dials that glow from the small fluorescent lights. They’re controlled by rheostats. It’s a different feeling flying at night, as I flew over some sleepy Texas towns with scattered lights clustered around the towns. I flew the usual rectangle flight from Eagle Pass to San Antonio (an explosion of lights) to Del Rio (a much smaller number of lights) and home to Eagle Pass (with our flying field boldly lit up). Another requirement is completed toward that graduation day 5 or 6 weeks away. Shortly, our longer daytime navigation flights will be flown.
The Eagle Pass News Guide on Tuesday, June 27, 1944, said: “TWO NAZI LEADERS CAPTURED; CHERBOURG IS TAKEN.” Supreme Headquarters declares “the fall of Cherbourg ends the second phase in the campaign of liberation.” American soldiers captured. Lt. Gen. Carl Von Schlieben and Admiral Hennecke.
Another headline from that day’s paper: “REDS RACE FOR NAZI BASTIONS.”
The New Orleans Item, on Friday, June 30, 1944, announced: “U.S. FINN BREAK.” A release of a note from Secretary of State Hull to the charge d’affairs Alexander Theslett of the Finnish legislation in Washington breaking relations with Finland because of the new close alliance between the government of that nation and Nazi Germany.
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “BIGGEST BOND SELLING CAMPAIGN WEEK ENDS NEAR TOP.”
“WAR-TAILORED CAMPAIGN SHAPES UP FOR DEWEY.”
July 1, 1944:
Today is Saturday, and the Saturday inspection will never end until we graduate, even though they seemed to have eased up on us some. We’re all counting the days until we graduate in the first week of August.
We got measured for our uniforms using the $250 allowance Uncle Sam gave us. I’ve ordered a mixture of “pinks and greens” uniforms with poplin shirts, dress hat and overseas flight cap. Most of us, remembering “we don’t need pilots anymore,” are fearful of becoming too confident of graduating.
“We won’t know who will be commissioned a 2nd lieutenant or a flight officer until much closer to graduation. More recent classes we hear are close to 50 percent of each. The blue bar F/O is between the old flying sergeant non-commissioned rank and the lowest level commissioned rank of 2nd lieutenant, being likewise non-commissioned. We’ve heard stories that we teenagers become F/Os and the cadets in their early 20s become 2nd lieutenants.
My friend, Lloyd, is still sharing his newspapers with me. The war results get more favorable each day.
The Mobile Register on Monday, July 3, 1944, announced: “REDS BOTTLE UP 200,000 GERMANS.” The 200,000 German defenders of Minsk were being clamped in a steel vice Sunday as lightning columns of the Red Army snapped the two main escape railways leading to Poland, Moscow disclosed.
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “6,015 JAPANESE SLAIN BY YANKS IN SAIPAN FRAY.” Admiral Chester W. Nimitz announced Sunday that in the first 16 days of the Saipan invasion, Americans killed and buried 6,015 Japanese soldiers and took 200 prisoners.
“ENEMY USING 11 DIVISIONS IN STUBBORN DEFENSE OF CAEN FORTRESS.”
The San Antonio Evening News in San Antonio, Texas, on Tuesday, July 4, 1944, said: “MACARTHUR UNITS ATTACK; NEW BATTLE RAGING.” American troops scourging the Pacific from the Dutch East Indies to the Kuriles in support of the Noemfoor and Saipan invasions struck a new and heavy blow today at the Bonin Islands 600 miles from Japan, Radio Tokyo announced.
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “YANKS SMASH AHEAD IN NORMANDY DRIVE.” Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force announced that the Normandy beachhead roared into action at both ends at dawn on this American Independence Day with Canadian troops capturing Carpiquet, 3 miles west of Caen, matching the U.S. offensive down the Cherbourg peninsula.
“250 FORTS LEAD SUPPORT ATTACK.”
July 5, 1944
Dear Mother and Dad,
Everything is humming along. New officers’ clothes have been ordered, so I better not mess up now with those Silver Wings closer every day. Graduation date has been listed as August 4th. It’s been a lot of training involved for those of us who are going to make it. Many good men have been lost along the way for no other real reason than a personality conflict.
Our troops in Europe are continuing to be on offensive movements. We’ve got a great nation full of patriotic citizens risking their lives for victory.
Yesterday on the 4th of July, training continued as on any other days. Hope you folks enjoyed the holiday at your Lions Club barbecue you’d mentioned in the last letter. Give my wonderful baby sister a hug.
Your loving son, Wayne
The Eagle Pass News Guide on Friday, July 7, 1944, mentioned: “124 DIE AS FIRE DESTROYS CIRCUS.” At least 124 persons, mostly children were burned or trampled to death Thursday in a shocking American tragedy when a tiny lick of flame turned the mammoth 550-foot “big top” of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus into a vast fiery pyre at Hartford, Conn.
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “ROBOT BOMBS KILL 2,752 AND INJURE 8,000 IN ENGLAND.” Prime Minister Winston Churchill gives a “brutally frank” statement on damage in London caused by the German flying bombs.
“VICE PRESIDENCY TO BE BIG ISSUE AMONG DEMOCRATS.” Southern delegations seek replacement for Vice President Henry A. Wallace from this year’s ticket.
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To see the previous entry in this series, read here.