Friday, February 14, 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 This is the 33rd in a series of regular excerpts from his as yet unpublished book, “Under This Arch.”)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
July 9, 1944:
After target practice at the skeet range several times, we’ve been looking forward to actually flying gunnery missions, shooting at a towed aerial target.
Today, an AT-6 towed the target as four of us went up; each of us in an AT-6 with a .30-caliber machine gun mounted on the nose and shot at the target. This is the real thing.
The different airplanes had different colored bullets firing at the same target, so it was simple to determine what each cadet’s score was. The armorers had used a different color of paint in brushing the paintbrush over each ammo belt before loading. Each bullet hole had the paint color of the cadet’s ammo.
The four of us were following the leader’s rectangular pattern 1,000 feet above the tow target plane. As the tow plane came towards us, we’d make a diving turn to the target for 90-degree deflection shots. It was out of range quickly. In the descending turn, I was carefully avoiding the tow target as I flew under it. I climbed back in the pattern for my turn again. After landing and looking at the target hits, we all did about the same. This makes us feel more like being a pursuit pilot is closer after this enjoyable gunnery flight of almost three hours.
The Time-Picayune, in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Monday, July 10, 1944, read: “REDS WITHIN 85 MILES OF GERMANY.” A soviet communiqué said the Red Army today captured Lida, a railway junction 50 miles south of doomed Wilno, and took more than 1,200 other towns on the central front as the Germans fell back in disorder across old Poland and Lithuania in a military collapse that was growing more disastrous by the hour.
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “CRUSH SAIPAN ORGANIZED RESISTANCE.” Admiral Chester W. Nimitz announced today, “Our forces have completed the conquest of Saipan at the crossroads of Japan’s Pacific supply lines. The cost to Japan is at least 58 ships, 900 planes and the lives of more than 11,500 of her soldiers in this Southern Miarianas Islands 4 weeks campaign.
July 13, 1944:
When I first started pilot training, I wanted to decorate the nose of my fighter plane but that won’t happen since we’ll all be Replacement Pilots (R.P.s) on someone else’s airplane. We may not even end up as pursuit fighter pilots because of the decreased need for single engine pilots. Latrine rumor says that some in the previous classes went into C-47, B-24 co-pilot, glider pilot, etc., training as well as P-40, P-47, etc., transition.
The P.T. instructors don’t care how hot this Texas sun gets or how close we are to graduation because the physical routine continues daily. In our flying practices at times we’re pulling against gravity and being in top physical condition is necessary. Ground school continues with a slight feeling of a let up.
The Mobile Press Register, Mobile, Alabama, on Sunday, July 16, 1944, read: “REDS WITHIN 8 MILES OF PRUSSIA.” The Russians announced Saturday night sweeping gains on the north central Nieman River front, outflanking the German fortress of Grodno and reaching within 8 miles of the Suwalki border of East Prussia.
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “JAPS SAY YANKS DOWNED IN B-29 RAIDS EXECUTED.” A Japanese propaganda broadcast from Singapore to American forces in the Southwest Pacific said Saturday that an unstated number of United States airmen from Superfortresses, which raided Japan and bailed out to meet with the same fate meted out to the raiders of Tokyo some two years ago by being beheaded.
“STUNTING FLIER GETS LIFE TERM.” Confinement for hard labor was ordered by a court-martial board Saturday for 2nd Lt. Howard Stittsworth, 21-year-old pilot from Luke Field, Arizona, for decapitating a motorist with his wingtip of his ground-skimming training airplane.
“WORLD’S LARGEST BOMBER FACTORY CLOSED BY STRIKE.”
July 17, 1944:
Today (Monday), Bill and I flew some three-plane formation “take-offs and landings” with our instructor in the lead plane. I later did some rolls, chandelles, etc., to my heart’s contentment. Now with less than 3 weeks to go until graduation, we’re counting off the days and feeling too cocky. We think the washing machine has taken all of the cadets that “can’t fly the military way,” and have been eliminated from 44-G unless someone goofs up badly.
We’ve been told many times that flying is a “dangerous job” and that’s why we receive flight pay. At the evening cadet mess, Jerome said he was assigned to do acrobatics today and return to the field. On final approach, when he pulled back the throttle, it jammed at 1100 R.P.M and he needed to get the power lower.
In trying to land easing back on the stick, the plane only started to climb due to the R.P.M. He tried a second time with the same result, so he climbed to 3,500 feet and told the tower operator of his problem. His instructor talked to him, saying to climb to 5,500 feet, circle, burn off the gas supply and jump out.
Jerome circled at 5,500 feet, still trying to get the throttle unjammed with no luck. He didn’t want to bail out and called the tower again, asking about coming in as in a power on landing, but cut the engine off as he passed over the fence, making a dead-stick landing. His instructor approved it. He cut the ignition switch off at the fence and rolled down the runway. He turned the engine on, racing closer to the parking ramps and once more turned it off. He said that was a scary end to a flight!
The New Orleans Item, on Tuesday, July 18, 1944, announced: “NAVY SHIPS EXPLODE.” Two Navy ammunition ships exploding last night with earth-shaking roars, killed from 200 to 650 men, injuring hundreds of others, leveled the Port Chicago depot dock area and inflected immense damage in war-booming Port Chicago 35 miles from San Francisco.
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “TOJO LOSES KEY JOB.” The Tokyo radio announced today that Premier General Hideki Tojo has been removed as chief of the Japanese general staff. The loss of Saipan was admitted today.
“WALLACE SEEMS OUT; V.P. SCRAMBLE IS ON.”
July 20, 1944:
Four of us flew a gunnery mission and are feeling more and more like Hot Pilots (H.P.s), which is not good. If you get too cocky, that’s when you mess up and wash out.
There is more conversation about flying daytime cross-country navigation flights next week. They will be longer than the short night cross-country flights were.
The Eagle Pass News Guide on Friday, July 21, 1944, stated: “F.D.R. NOMINATED FOR FOURTH TERM.” Thirty-three regular Texas delegates walked out of the Democratic convention Thursday in Chicago after Southern delegates seeking to wring concessions to their viewpoint were defeated on every point.
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “3 DRIVES OPENED AS BRITISH MAUL FOE BELOW CAEN.”
“HITLER ORDERS PURGE OF EX-ARMY OFFICERS FOR PLOT ON HIS LIFE.”
The San Antonio Evening News on Saturday, July 22, 1944, said: “TRUMAN CHOSEN BY DEMOCRATS.” The 1944 Democratic National Convention adjourned Friday night in Chicago after naming Senator Harry S Truman of Missouri to be FDR’s running mate on the second ballot.
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “YANKEE FORCES INVADING GUAM GET FIRM HOLD.”
“TOMMIES REPULSE NAZI TANK DRIVE ON CAEN SALIENT.”
July 22, 1944:
The headline news these days is about President Roosevelt running for a fourth term with an unknown senator from Missouri as his vice president running mate.
I had a Link trainer hourly session before some solo practicing. While in the Ready Room waiting to be assigned an airplane to fly, some of us couldn’t help but overhear several instructors standing nearby. They were in a jolly mood and were discussing two other instructors.
The story was that the two instructors went up together in an AT-6 to see which of the two was the smoothest in doing acrobatics. They were doing fine until the pilot in the back seat thought his friend in the front seat had taken control of the plane but didn’t verify. They were around 9,000 feet altitude with a high R.P.M. setting. Suddenly, the airplane went into a tight spiral with the airspeed indicator needle at the red line marker.
Even though the G forces were pulling on him, the rear seat pilot grabbed the mike and yelled, “What the hell are you doing?” In answer, the front seat pilot quickly pulled the stick back. Both pilots heard a loud splintering crack and the guy in the backseat said his friend in the front seat disappeared. He pulled out of the dive!
Upon landing, the front seat pilot was still in the plane but was below the molded plywood seat that he’d gone through. The aluminum wings of the AT-6 had a definite upward bend. They said, “That plane will never fly again.” That was a close call!
The Mobile Press Register in Mobile, Alabama, on July 23, 1944, said: “ALLIES GAIN IN NORMANDY MUD.” Allied Supreme Headquarters reported that, despite mud from two days of torrential rain, which bogged down fighting along much of the Normandy front Saturday, Allied forces, after repulsing several German counter attacks, struck out in two sectors, making substantial gains and capturing at least three more villages.
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “TANKS LEAD YANK DRIVES TO TAKE GUAM FROM JAPS.” Tank-led U.S. Marines and Army infantry are driving two spearheads into the foothills back of Apra Harbor, enveloping their major goal of Guam, Western Pacific dispatches reported Saturday.
“THREE ARMY FLIERS DIE IN CRACKUP IN GEORGIA.” Turner Field, Albany, Georgia, announced that two lieutenants and an aviation cadet were killed Saturday when two airplanes collided.
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To see the previous entry in this series, read here.
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