Thursday, March 26, 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 This is the 35th in a series of regular excerpts from his as yet unpublished book, “Under This Arch.”)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 and the big blue skies above it.
August 7, 1944:
Today (Monday) we’ve been busy with ground school sessions concerning the P-40. It is a beautiful airplane that I’ve admired since high school reading about the famed Flying Tigers. It is no longer used in combat and my previous instructor flew it in the early war days.
Most of our P-40s are the newer P-40 models with 1,200 horsepower. There may be a few older, war-wearing ones on base. We’ve got to pass the blindfold cockpit instrument checklist along with some written tests. Our first flight will be solo, so I must know my way around the cockpit. I have a helpful instructor a year or so older than I am.
The San Antonio Express in San Antonio, Texas, on Tuesday morning, August 8, 1944, announced: “U.S. FORCE 120 MILES FROM PARIS.” American forces drove to within 120 miles of Paris Monday as their comrades far to the rear smashed the biggest German counter-attack since D-Day. Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s tanks and doughboys ran into the first organized resistance.”
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “BOMBERS CONTINUE RAIDS ON FLEEING NAZI’S FACTORIES.” An explosive packed force of up to 1,200 U.S. heavy bombers blasted Europe from British and Italian bases Monday.
“JAPS HOLD ONLY TENTH OF GUAM.”
August 12, 1944:
Today (Saturday) it’s been over a week since I graduated. Mostly, we are studying the various P-40 systems. The people, both officers and enlisted personnel, are helpful. As a new member of the officer corps, I’ll always remember and be conscious of what Sgt. “Gruff” (Old Army) told us in basic training: “Remember that as an officer, you’ll still get into your trousers as you did as a private.” Good advice!
The Mobile Press Register in Mobile, Alabama, on Sunday, August 13, 1944, stated: “ALLIES CLOSING TRAP IN FRANCE.” The Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force, announced that with U.S. armored spearheads reported by the Germans within 30 miles of a strategic junction with British-Canadian forces near Falaise, all signs pointed early Sunday to a dramatic climax confronting the German 7th Army with a disastrous “Stalingrad” in France.
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “JAP MILITARY MIGHT DOOMED BY ROOSEVELT.” Peace forever will be assured in the Pacific, says President Roosevelt.
“CITY OF FLORENCE SEIZED BY ALLIES WITHOUT A STRUGGLE.”
August 14, 1944:
Today (Monday) after my instructor decided I could find the instruments with the blindfold test, he got on the wing and helped me get the engine started. Truthfully, upon energizing the starter of the big V-12 cylinder engine, it started with what sounded like an explosion, then settled down smoothly. I thought it had blown up!
With its big, long, elegant nose, it is very necessary to “S” curve it, as we were first taught with the BT-14, when taxiing this airplane. It is so much larger than the AT-6. It has the needed power to get its four tons into the sky. I only did some easy turns and straight ahead, power back, landing type stalls. I like this airplane. My first landing was OK.
One of the fellows shared an interesting letter from a college friend, who got his pilot wings 5 or 6 months ago and ended up at Thomasville Army Air Field, Georgia, Replacement Training Unit (R.T.U.). He said most of the P-40s were war-weary old tigers that still had the “tiger shark” art nose work.
He and another pilot flying at 9,000 feet off the Georgia coast were waiting their turn to do target practice, when suddenly he heard a loud bang. His engine quit and the cockpit filled with thick smoke. He quickly opened the canopy, as his training kicked in. He held the stick back to keep the plane’s nose up, stood on the seat, and climbed out and slid off the wing to avoid being hit by the tail.
Now away from the P-40, he pulled the ripcord ring and gently floated down into the ocean. He landed close to a fishing boat and was picked up by several men in the boat. The very next day, he was flying over the same area doing target practice again. He is now flying P-51s. I don’t think we’ve had any problems occurring with our newer P-40s or any type of accidents recently.
The San Antonio Express on Tuesday morning, August 15, 1944, said: “NEW INVASION HIT SOUTHERN FRANCE.” American, British and French forces stormed the Mediterranean coast of France by sea and air today, seized beachheads and prepared to strike northward toward a juncture with Allied armies advancing on Paris.
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “BOMBS RIP NAZI PATH TO ESCAPE.” Allied headquarters announced that torrents of bombs and shells sealed the narrow corridor open to remnants of the German 7th Army trapped in the Normandy pocket today, dooming perhaps 100,000 Nazis.
“HOPE–LANGFORD PLANE FORCED DOWN.” Frances Langford and Bob Hope were unhurt when their plane was forced down yesterday at Northern Newcastle, Australia, as they tour Southwest Pacific battle stations.
August 17, 1944
Dear Mother and Dad,
Yes, your son did graduate and has the rank of Flight Officer. I’m now flying the P-40 with the others for these additional two weeks, totaling 10 more hours in the logbook. It’s no longer considered a front-line fighter plane; thus, its status as a trainer. There is only one seat in the cockpit, so my first flight was solo. Being a heavier airplane than the others I’ve flown, it holds steadier with less bounce in the air.
I’m looking forward to being home next week for a short leave. I haven’t been home since April 1943. Give that cute sister of mine a hug.
Your loving son, Wayne
August 21, 1944:
The more powerful P-40 pulls us much faster through the sky than the AT-6 and we’re all enjoying the increased performance. Today (Monday), several of us chased each other through the blue skies. We are about finished with the two weeks of P-40 training and have added time to our log book. We all feel at home in the air flying pursuit/fighter airplanes. We’ve had good training!
Since we graduated and qualified to become an officer club member, we have heard that 1st lieutenants, captains and above would play a joke game on us called “dead bug.” We Flight Officers and 2nd Lieutenants have been waiting in the evening at the officers club for a senior officer to yell out loudly, “Dead Bug.”
Well, Saturday night, it happened. We newly minted Flight Officers and 2nd Lieutenants immediately hit the floor on our back in a dead bug position with arms and legs sticking straight up. Tables were knocked over in the hurry for the correct position among the broken Lone Star and Pearl beer bottles. Above the laughter, we heard the command, “Return to Previous Position,” and we did. It was a fun moment!
The Mobile Register on Thursday morning, August 24, 1944, announced: “ROMANIA TURNS ON ADOLF HITLER.” King Mihai orders Army to cease fighting Russians and to join Allied side in war on the Axis powers, it was announced in a proclamation from Bucharest.
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “PARIS LIBERATED AS YANKS SLASH ON TOWARD REICH.” With Paris liberated with help from French Patriot forces and Parisian civilians, Lt. Gen. George S. Patton’s wide-ranging U.S. Third Army spearheads were racing directly toward the Rhine from several directions.
“U.S. BOMBER AFIRE, HITS BRITISH CHURCH SCHOOL.” Fifty or more persons, including 34 children and the plane’s 10-man crew, were killed Wednesday when a flaming American bomber crashed into a church school in the quiet Lancashire village of Freckleton.
August 24, 1944:
Today, some of the fellows received orders to continue as Single Engine pilots. Others of us were told that a larger need exists for C-47 pilots, B-24 co-pilots, etc. Needless to say, those of us that did not continue as fighter pilots are disappointed.
My orders assigned me to attend B-24 co-pilot training with some others. I’m “gung-ho” about it and am headed to South Georgia for two weeks leave. The adventure continues! We have understood, almost since Day 1 of basic training, that the needs and convenience of the Army Air Force come first.
Most of us young Aviation Cadets volunteered to go to war offering our lives to the service of our country. Many times during our training we have searched for meaning in the conflict. And, some have forfeited, and others will, their lives far from home while reaching for the skies in serving our beloved country. We are the best, being the “cream of the crop” of America’s young men!
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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