Wayne Shearer’s World War II Memoir, Part 31: ‘Touching The Face Of God’ In The Air

Wednesday, January 8, 2020 - by Dr. C. Wayne Shearer
Wayne Shearer
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 This is the 31st in a series of regular excerpts from his as yet unpublished book, “Under This Arch.”) 

 

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June 7, 1944

Today (Wednesday) I’ve got another late spring sore throat.

I keep a large container of Morton salt in my barracks bag to gargle with hot water. I’m not about to go on sick call with this problem. I recall the drill sergeant’s words in basic training at Keesler were to stay off of sick call or you’re giving the authorities an additional reason to be “washed-out.” I can’t lose my flying status because then the washing machine cranks up! The only time I’ve ever been on sick call was when I had the mumps at Keesler A.A.F.

 

My instructor had me in the back seat under the hood for about an hour with him in the front seat. The Link trainer hours helped me to feel more confident flying without visual references. I’ll soon be practicing take-offs and landings under the hood. I must carefully watch these instruments – such as airspeed, directional gyro, artificial horizon, needle and ball, rate of climb and altimeter -- while adjusting the throttle and controlling the stick and rudder. There will be more time spent under the hood.

 

At the mess hall and in the barracks, rather than the usual flying conversations, we’re all excited about the Normandy, France, landings. We’re grabbing newspapers from everywhere and listening to all the radio news stations.

 

The Eagle Pass News Guide in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Wednesday, June 7, 1944, announced: “50-MILE GLIDER TRAIN LANDING FRESH TROOPS.” Three waves of U.S. Ninth Air Force gliders strung out in a 50-mile-long train across the channel brought “a steady stream of men, equipment and supplies” to troops already smashing inland from initial landing points in France, Supreme Headquarters announced. These fresh troops from a huge glider train seized key positions on Cherbourg peninsula early today.

 

Another headline from that day’s paper: “BUST GENERAL WHO BLABBED.” General Eisenhower immediately ordered an unnamed Army Air Force major general reduced to his permanent Army rank of lieutenant colonel because at a London cocktail party, he said the invasion would take place before June 15.

 

The New Orleans Item on Thursday, June 8, 1944, stated: “ALLIES MOVE TO CHOKE OFF BIG PORT IN FRANCE.” Allied invasion troops constantly reinforced by air and sea struck south of fallen Bayeux in fierce fighting today, striving to chop off the Cherbourg peninsula, and Berlin reported a pincers threat to seize the tip of the jutting coast and the strategic port of Cherbourg. House to house fighting rages in Ste. Merle-Eglise, 20 miles southeast of the port.

 

Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “FIFTH ARMY ROLLS INTO BIG PORT.” An official spokesman says the Fifth Army has captured Civitavecchia, Rome’s principal port.

 

“DOUGHBOYS PRAY FOR VICTORY.” The Army announced from England that American members of the first assault troops before loading onto their assault craft received benediction from an Army chaplain.

 

“WAR CORRESPONDENT JUMPS INTO FRANCE, SEES SOLDIERS DIE.”

 

June 9, 1944:

Today (Friday) I got another under-the-hood checkout by my instructor. We’re allowed to have a fellow cadet fly with us for more under-the-hood practice.

 

One of our six cadets yesterday had a final elimination flight and is gone. I hurt for him.

 

I went up solo to practice chandelles, snap rolls, slow rolls, spins, etc., for two hours. Had a good practice.

 

My flight marched to the “Cactus Skeet Field” range to shoot at clay pigeons to practice aerial marksmanship. Most of us have shot at rabbits or squirrels many times. We practice from different stations that will help us as future fighter pilots to hit moving targets from different deflection angles.

 

The New Orleans Item on Saturday, June 10, 1944, said: “ALLIES DRIVE TO WITHIN 15 MILES OF CHERBOURG.”  Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley’s American parachutists and infantrymen alone have captured more than 3,000 prisoners as they are battering their way toward Cherbourg.

 

Other headlines from that day’s paper: “BLAST EIGHT JAP WARSHIPS.” Allied headquarters today trumped latest Nipponese naval loss in mast-height attacks by 10 Mitchell medium bombers Thursday.

 

“10,000 VOLUNTEERS WAIT BOND DRIVE OPENING GUN.”

 

Letter to relatives:

June 10, 1944

Dear Mama, Papa, Aunt Totsy, Uncle Bill, Billy, and Jimmy,

I’m now back in the great state of Texas for the final stage of my training on the Rio Grande River’s Mexican border. The training is continuous. Part of the training is skeet, and, Papa, my experience shooting rabbits with the Savage .22-caliber rifle you gave me has been helpful.

 

The invasion of France news gets better each day. Those of us in training are anxious to graduate, so we can do our part to finish off the Germans and Japs.

 

Tonight at the cadet mess hall, the usual loud talk and joking was present. The topic of conversation centered around our never-ending training, when one of the fellows from Georgia, who talks with humor, said: “Why heck, all the months in pilot training it’s taken me to learn stuff that I still don’t know.” Laughter followed his remark. He’s fun to be around!

 

Tell Billy and Jimmy that in this dry Southwest Texas sagebrush country that horned cross-eyed toads and frogs are jumping around! Write soon.

 

Your loving grandson, nephew and cousin, Wayne

 

June 11, 1944:

Several of us went to the chapel service this morning. This afternoon I clocked several hours solo in the robin’s-egg-colored blue sky. I felt like I was touching the face of God. I flew a short “dead reckoning” navigation triangle course making the checkpoints. Shortly, we’ll be doing longer cross countries. As the flying time for us increases, so do the accidents. Every day something bad or even fatal happens to someone.

 

In the “Ready Room” today, while catching up on studies, napping and talking, Jack said he was being checked out in acrobatics by his instructor. He had just completed an Immelman, when suddenly neither could see anything. Oil completely covered the canopy. The instructor told him that he was in control and do not open your canopy.

 

Jack complained that he was getting very hot. The instructor asked him did he want to bail out? He said no, and his instructor said he didn’t desire to, either, so he shut the engine off. They were at 5,500 feet with an auxiliary field in sight, which the instructor turned the nose of the aircraft towards. Jack said about this time as they were gliding in for a landing the oil fire on the engine blew out.

 

As soon as the AT-6’s landing roll stopped, they didn’t waste any time in climbing out and jumping to the ground. Jack laughed and said, “Filling out that Form 1 was the last thing on my mind.” A mechanic discovered that the seal on the propeller hub had worn out. He said, “It’s ready to fly again!”

 

The Eagle Pass News Guide on Thursday, June 15, 1944, announced: “SUPER-FORTRESSES BOMB JAPAN.” The Army announced today from Washington that B-29 Super-Fortresses of the United States Army Air Force’s 20th Bomber Command bombed Japan. No further information was divulged.

 

Other headlines from that day’s paper: “NEAR CLIMAX IN FRANCE.” The Allies were fighting their fiercest battles since the landings in France, and the German high command declared the battle is approaching its climax.

 

Letter home:

June 16, 1944

Dear Mother and Dad,

I’m moving along in my training. Most of us have quickly soloed the AT-6, which is a sweet flying machine. Most of the gang, myself included, are almost acting like prima donnas now that we’ve soloed and are only 6 or 7 weeks from graduating. Our tach officers are clamping down on us, with more inspections, gigs, etc., so that we know we’re still cadets.

 

With the successful invasion of France, the war news is getting better to bring a conclusion to the conflict. Maybe my group of pilots will get to see combat over Japan. Let Norma know how I’m doing and write soon.

 

Your loving son, Wayne

 

The Times Picayune on Friday, June 16, 1944, said: “TOKYO ADMITS AIR BLOW.” The Tokyo radio in a broadcast heard tonight by CBS claimed to have downed 6 American planes during today’s raid from China bases on Japan.

 

Other headlines from that day’s paper: “TROOPS INVADE SAIPAN ISLAND.” Central Pacific amphibious troops were invading Saipan Island in the Southern Marianas Thursday in the face of heavy Nipponese opposition.

 

“ALLIES THREATEN LIFELINE SERVING GERMANS IN CHERBOURG PENINSULA.” American troops slashing westward from Carentan on a 10-mile front have reached firm ground within six miles of La Haye du Puits junction of the last German-held rail-highway lifeline to the port of Cherbourg.

 

The Eagle Pass News Guide on Friday, June 16, 1944, announced: “U.S. STRIKES NEW BLOW 600 MILES FROM JAPAN.” Bold Allied forces carrying the Pacific war to Japan’s front doorstep supported their Saipan invasion today with an unprecedented task force assault against the Bonin Island 600 miles from Tokyo.

 

Another headline from that day’s paper: “FOE HURLS SECRET PLANE.” Germans hurled a boasted secret weapon against Britain last night and today, sending swarms of pilotless bombers over Southern England.

 

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To see the previous entry in this series, read here.

https://www.chattanoogan.com/2019/12/11/400719/Wayne-Shearers-World-War-II-Memoir.aspx

 

* * * * *

 

Dr. Shearer can be contacted at docshearer@epbfi.com.

Aerial view of Eagle Pass field during World War II
Aerial view of Eagle Pass field during World War II

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