Friday, March 6, 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 This is the 34th in a series of regular excerpts from his as yet unpublished book, “Under This Arch.”)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 skies above it.
July 26, 1944:
Our new officer uniforms have arrived and the anticipation of the graduation day and wearing them seems to be in slow motion towards that goal, which appears more possible each day.
I completed, several days ago, my final solo cross-country flight and was fortunate to have left early in the morning.
Those that left later in the day had some unusual weather. Jack was flying at high altitude (12,000 feet) in an AT-6. As he climbed to altitude looking at his navigation chart marking a triangular course from Eagle Pass (north northeast) to Abilene, from Abilene (south southeast) to Austin, and from Austin (south southwest) returning to Eagle Pass. He felt oriented in the leg to Abilene but flew and flew, not being able to contact the radio range at Abilene. Since he was past his E.T.A. (estimated time of arrival), he decided the range signal was out, so he turned south southeast. He got to Austin so fast, even though, thinking he recognized it from the air, he convinced himself he was lost. He quickly made a decision that he was at Austin, even though something was wrong.
When he left Eagle Pass, he had plotted on his navigation forms to allow for only four to five miles per hour wind from the west. He turned south southwest for the final leg as on the NAV form. He flew some more, and nothing seemed correct. He got a little panicky in that empty bright blue afternoon sky without another airplane in sight. He started looking for an airfield.
Before long he found a split beam beacon and by then his total time was up. He descended but couldn’t contact the tower, because he didn’t know where he was. Upon seeing AT-6s in the air and not recognizing the area, he did know he was at some Single Engine Advanced Flying School. He got in the pattern with the other AT-6s and, instead of landing, he flew down the runway and wiggled his wings. Well, he got a green light and landed at Victoria Army Air Field, Texas.
He was one shook-up cadet. An officer climbed upon the wing, telling him where he’d landed and that he was in the middle of a “formation take-off and landing” exercise. Eagle Pass A.A.F. operations were called and they said they would be over in the morning to bring him back.
Jack arrived this morning. Our weather officer explained that Jack and others who took off later in the day flew into a quick-moving weather change at upper-level altitude of faster winds than was forecast, shifting the plane farther east than plotted. He was not the only cadet from our base lost. Others were scattered around! Good training resulted in no casualties and no airplanes crashed. Here on the base the winds picked up at ground level with numerous dust devils and tumbleweeds blowing everywhere that afternoon. Glad I got ahead of it.
The Eagle Pass News Guide in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Thursday, July 27, 1944, said: “PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT GATHERED HIS PACIFIC COMMANDERS AT PEARL HARBOR FOR 2-DAY CONFERENCE.” General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz are in attendance. Each has presented a different strategy to the president, who will make the decision as to which strategy to use.
Another headline from that day’s paper: “OBJECTIVE OF ‘OPERATION COBRA’ MET.” When the U.S. 4th Armored Division took Coutances, the first objective of “Operation Cobra” has been met.
The Georgia Legionnaire in Atlanta, Georgia on July 1944, stated: “HOW THE G.I. BILL PASSED.” From Washington, D.C., American Legion headquarters it was announced that the Legion achieved its greatest legislative victory for veterans of World War II on June 10 when the fourteen conferees of both houses of the 78th Congress reached unanimous agreement on the G.I. Bill of Rights. High drama entered the climax of the legislative fight for the bill when Representative John S. Gibson of Douglas, Georgia, raced 850 miles by relays of fast cars and a plane in 7 hours and 22 minutes, reaching Washington in time to cast his vote in person to break a deadlock which threatened the actual death of this legislation.
July 27, 1944
Dear Mother and Dad,
Thanks for sending the Georgia Legionnaire monthly newspaper to me. It was very interesting how the racing trip by the congressman from Douglas broke the deadlock, which then brought about the important G.I. Bill’s passage. That will mean so much to so many of us to pay our way to college when the war is over. Dad, you and your fellow Legionnaires did a great job to help the future of us World War II veterans.
Having received our officers’ uniforms, joyfully; but most of us are not completely sure that we’ll graduate and get to wear them. We’re all walking with a swagger or slight swagger, remindful of the swagger of the two cadets from Stuttgart Army Air Field Twin Engine Advanced Flying School, who spent the night at our Primary Flying School.
I’ve completed most of my requirements. I graduate in a week. I’d like for you to be here and pin my pilot’s wings on, but I understand the long drive and gas-rationing situation. Bring Norma up to date.
Your loving son, Wayne
July 29, 1944:
Today was our last Saturday inspection as aviation cadets, since next Saturday we’ll be “officers and gentlemen.” It was a non-inspection, as our tach officers engaged in good-humored horseplay. No one received any new gigs and all previous gigs were removed.
Our training has not been easy, nor was it intended to be: mostly, Hell-on-Wheels. It has been a long, rigorous training from April 1943 to August 1944 to earn my pilot’s Silver Wings. Most of us cadets are still teen-agers. We have endured training hardships, and all the dangers of flying we have faced. This has been to prepare us for future combat as we’ve been taught to fly the Army Air Corps way. This has been a great adventure!
The New Orleans Item on Wednesday, August 2, 1944, announced: “TURKS BREAK TIES AS GERMANS WARN.” Berlin broadcasts picked up in London said Turkey broke off diplomatic and economic relations with Germany today in an action which must be regarded as a prelude to war.”
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “ROBOTS KILL 4,735.” Prime Minister Churchill said today from London that “flying robot bombs killed 4,735 persons in Britain, 14,000 injured and 17,000 homes destroyed.”
TINIAN ISLAND FALLS TO YANKS.” Tinian Island has been conquered, enemy resistance is disintegrating on Guam, said a broadcast credited to Tokyo today.
August 4, 1944:
Today (Friday) is the great day we’ve toiled toward and it has arrived. It is difficult imagining myself being an officer, but that day is today. I’ve gotten accustomed to looking at any man with wings on his chest and rank on his uniform as a deity to be in awe of. Am I qualified to join their ranks? My training says I am.
As we got dressed in our new officer uniforms, we all have been grinning from ear to ear without let-up today. In a proper ceremony, we were commissioned 2nd lieutenants and flight officers. A fellow ex-cadet pinned on my blouse the coveted silver wings.
I am a new blue bar Flight Officer and now will complete the 10 hours training course in the P-40 here. As I left the ceremony, I was happy to give a $1 bill and return the salute of the first enlisted man I saw!
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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