THE WAR CORRESPONDENT
An American Pilot’s Letters Home
By Jeffrey J. Carmel
My father was seated at his drafting table with a large map spread across its pale green surface. He was plotting a course with pencil and ruler. Chase, my 10-year-old son, stood beside him, quietly absorbing every detail.
“We were flying a [B-24] training mission out of Biggs Field in El Paso with a skeleton crew plus an instructor pilot and navigator. It must have been late March 1944,” my father said.
“The pilot had barely been in the right seat when he moved aft and went to sleep. I was left to fly the plane, keep in radio contact, and follow the course mapped out by the instructor navigator. Our instructions were to turn back as soon as we saw the Salton Sea,” he said, tapping a splotch of light blue on the map.
“At the first glimpse of water, we reversed course in a more southerly direction back toward El Paso. But what we had thought was the Salton Sea, had actually been the Gulf of California, 150 miles to the southeast.
“Soon there were no more mountains. Everything became flat. There were no railroads or familiar waypoints. All I could see was endless desert. Then the radio went out. I was uneasy, but I remember the instructor nonchalantly saying, ‘that’s Arizona for you,’ or somesuch thing.
“I spotted a railroad running in the same direction and flew low over the tracks toward a small depot – I can still see the image as clear as a bell – sitting against the wall of the station was a man with a big sombrero.
“We’re in Mexico, you nut,” I said to the instructor pilot. Both instructors insisted we were still on course. But I knew there was no way. While they tried to figure out where we were, I flew east another 20 minutes or so until I saw a big river that had to be the Rio Grande. At that point, knowing the river would lead us back to El Paso, I announced that I was taking over and heading north.
“By then we were running dangerously low on gas. The engineer, [Charles] Mixon, furiously worked the fuel tanks, transferring gas from the outboard tanks to the inboard tanks. Eventually one of the outboard engines went. Mixon was able to keep just enough gas flowing for us to return – but I had to request an emergency landing, taking the plane straight in without going into the regular pattern. The ground crew had to drive out to the end of the runway to pick us up; there was no gas left even to taxi. We were extremely lucky. The brass never mentioned it; they never said a word. They were very embarrassed.
“That was the first time Mixon saved my life,” he said.
Chase, an aviation fanatic, was in seventh heaven. It was the first time he had heard the surreal account of his grandfather’s near-disastrous training flight. Even more remarkable, it was the first time I had heard it, too.
Only since that defining, generational connection in 2001, at the age of 82, had my father been able to talk about his war service in any detail. Like so many young men who went to war and returned home deeply affected by what they saw and felt or suffered, it was a subject he was never comfortable about reliving or retelling. But from that time until he passed away some 15 years later in July 2016, the stories would surface more often as atmospheric or amusing anecdotes than as dark descriptions of terrible fear or horror.
It was more than two years after the war before he spoke to anyone about his experiences, he later told me, and only then because he was caught off guard one evening at a home in Lincoln, Nebraska where he was studying for his master’s degree at the university.
“Gretchen Beghtol Lee, the hostess, was a widow who held soirées for her Lincoln friends. People in her ‘circle’ would just drive by and if cars were parked in front and the house lights on, it meant the grande dame was ‘receiving.’ Keith Martin [the painter] was our good friend and brought us along. Soon we would ‘drop in’ without him but with her invitation. There were only three of us left that night….
“Gretchen had a way of leading the conversations and drawing people out. ‘Oh, we’ve heard enough about that,’ she would say and move on to another topic. As she questioned me, and as I told my story, I began to cry uncontrollably. The tears poured down my face like a waterfall. I never spoke much about it to your mother or anyone else.”
From snippets of conversation or the occasional remark at the dinner table, I knew this much: Dad had been the pilot of a B-24 bomber shot down over Europe and spent the remainder of the war in a German POW camp.
The associations were brief and unexpected. When Colonel Hogan of the 1960s TV series, “Hogan’s Heroes” was relegated to “the cooler” for camp infractions, my father remarked offhandedly that he had actually enjoyed solitary confinement because it had been the one place he could read in peace. The revelation was so extraordinary, I never thought to ask why he had been punished.
Once he abruptly walked away from our Sunday supper after someone fussed about the soup. He later confided that his task, under the intense scrutiny and pressure of his fellow prisoners of war, had been to apportion equal amounts of watery soup with exactly the same sized bits and pieces of potato or whatever else they had been given that week. I also distinctly remember his aversion to Chunky candies, the thick, foil-wrapped chocolate blocks filled with raisins and nuts that as boys, my brother and I found especially delicious. Dad always remarked that they reminded him too much of the chocolate squares he had concocted in POW camp.
Beyond these scant details I knew little else of my father’s war. Of course I had seen his handsome olive and khaki Air Force uniforms in the farthest reaches of the mothballed cedar closet, felt the brass wings, colored ribbons, and shoulder insignia. I had even tried on his stiff-brimmed caps and inspected the perfectly pressed material for any sign of combat – like bloodstains or bullet holes. Fascinated as I was, that chapter of his life was off limits; I made no effort to pry further.
In late August 1972, my father took me to Kenya and Uganda on a photographic safari. The evening of my 16th birthday found us camped on the banks of the Mara River. As I sat mesmerized by the flickering flames of our campfire, my thoughts a million miles away, I slowly tuned in to a conversation between my father and Peter Pegg, our guide. Dad, rather haltingly, was speaking about the most dramatic event in his life. He described the explosion of oxygen and subsequent cockpit fire that badly burned parts of his face; how he had bailed out of the plane, parachuted to the ground, and had been picked up by German firemen. He also added the sobering fact that only he and one other crewmember, the engineer, had survived. There was no bravado or self-glorification in the telling. Just a momentary opening of the door before it was firmly closed again.
That door, in all likelihood, would have remained shut forever if not for Charles Mixon, the flight engineer. After an exhaustive search, Mr. Mixon, the owner of an automobile dealership in Bunkie, Louisiana, and avid private pilot, tracked down my father in 1992 and flew to California for a reunion.
The key was a letter to The New Yorker magazine in December 1991.
“On May 29, 1944,” Mr. Mixon wrote the magazine, “James H. Carmel, as Aircraft Commander, and crew, of which he and I are the only survivors, were imprisoned in Austria for the duration of World War II.
“I have been unable to locate him, and obviously he was an avid reader of The New Yorker, as evident by the enclosed copy of a letter he wrote to his mother…. I am hoping you will mail the enclosed, unsealed letter to him, as I feel sure he is a subscriber. My thanks to you. Charles C. Mixon.”
Dad received the forwarded envelope from the magazine around Christmastime. Inside, printed in my father’s unmistakable hand, was a mimeographed copy of his October 28, 1944 letter as a prisoner of war in Germany to his parents who in turn must have sent the copy to Mixon’s wife, Margaret:
More mail continues to arrive until I seem to have outdistanced all competitors in this room. When it comes to replying I feel like the man who has two apples to distribute among 20 children, consequently all I can do is beg you to continue writing my friends explaining my regret in being unable to respond to their individual letters. Their words bring me great cheer, as do yours.
No packages have arrived as yet, but since I am warmly clothed, have enough to eat and to smoke – and thoughts of you to keep me happy – then the days pass swiftly enough. Though mental muscles may atrophy even vacuous laughter has its charms and these days I have been combating the former by trying to organize for myself some feasible system of post-war study. The more I read, the more I see that must be read – not to mention the catching-up I’ll have to do on back New Yorkers. Your letters have not mentioned Mrs. Mixon – does she know he is well? As for the others [in the crew] we have but hope for when I saw him [Mixon] last he knew no more than I. Love to all, Jim.
Inside the small, unsealed envelope, on a single sheet of beige notepaper, Mixon had typed:
“Dear Skipper: Am using this method to try and locate you. Margaret and I are fine, have three married sons, six granddaughters, and one grandson. I would surely enjoy hearing from you and if possible seeing you again.” It was signed “Chas.”
Dad wrote back after Christmas.
Dear Voice from the Past,
So glad to hear you and Margaret are well and I expect you still are unable to miss any clay pigeon you shoot at, much less doves or whatever else.
The last time I was near Bunkie was November 1945, when I was sailing down the Mississippi from Cincinnati. Had two close encounters with the big reaper on that trip, but nothing like the two encounters you saved me from, the first being over the Sonora Desert of Mexico and the second, of course, over Wiener-Neustadt. We’ll have to talk about that one soon.
They did. Within a month, Mixon and his wife, Margaret flew to California for the reunion. My wife and I were invited to join my parents and the Mixons for dinner at a local restaurant. The Mixons were charming. With his elegant head of white hair, suntanned face, and distinctive drawl, he was the epitome of the southern gentleman; behind her quiet demeanor, gray hair, and glasses, was the sweet smile of a southern belle.
My father and Mixon were clearly delighted to see each other. Even after 40 years, Mixon’s glowing admiration for his “skipper” – the name he continued to call my father – had not diminished. “He’s a very unique individual, but I’m sure you know that,” he said to me quietly. I had never met anyone whose reverence for Dad was so genuine and so unheralded.
After small talk about families, work, flying, and the weather, my father and Mixon began to talk about their last mission of May 29, 1944 over Wiener-Neustadt, Austria.
My father recalled the terrible condition of “Slow Time Sally,” the war-weary pink elephant assigned to them that day, an ancient B-24D still painted its desert colors; how he had struggled to keep up with the rest of the squadron; and the difficulty of getting out of the burning plane after being hit. He said he was only able to free himself from the plane’s centrifugal force as it spiraled downward – and bail out – because Mixon had opened the bomb bay doors, something Mixon was still contrite about because he had acted without my father’s direct command. Dad assured him that his quick thinking had saved their lives.
Mixon said the German Me-109 that shot them down made several passes at him, its guns firing, while he floated toward the ground. My father looked momentarily stunned, then he, too, recalled the fighter passing uncomfortably close to his parachute as he descended. I was astonished. Knowing little else, I had just assumed the plane had been hit by German flak.
Although little more was to emerge during dinner that evening, there was already a great deal of new information to digest. It was as if a massive weight had been lifted; the door had swung open again.
“You have my utmost gratitude,” Mixon wrote the New Yorker upon his return to Bunkie, “for sending my letter to your subscriber, James H. Carmel, who was my pilot during World War II, and with me were the only survivors from being shot down near Vienna, Austria, May 29, 1944.
“He immediately answered my letter, and we were reunited January 25 and 26 of this year. You were the last source in the world that I could think of, after having tried all government agencies including the VA [Veteran’s Administration]”
To my father, he wrote on February 13, 1992:
“After sharing our lives and almost our life, what a great experience to re-new and be a part of being together once more. It had almost become an obsession for me. Margaret and I both feel it was our best trip yet to California, and the highlight was seeing you and your bride, Patricia, so happy with yourselves and family.”
My father’s reply crossed in the mail.
Dear Charles, It was great seeing you and Margaret after all these years. Yesterday I read “The Long Mission” by William Chapin and am returning it to you with this letter. Am amazed that both you and Chapin remember so many details and names. As I told you, beyond the names of our crew, reinforced by the list which you now have, I remember not one man’s name, nor even one of the 14 other men with me in our combine at Stalag Luft III from mid-June, 1944 into early February 1945 when we were marched out of there and took the long train ride from Muskau to [Stalag VII A in] Moosburg. Nor did I ever see any man at Moosburg that I had known at Sagan.
Both your accounts are really tales of human misery and suffering. Chapin’s story comes across as really gory, which I suppose it was. I had the same reaction reading Chapin’s as I did watching “The Civil War” on TV. War is bad business, and senseless mutilation and death are its results.
To remind you of Stalag 17-B I am sending you a small box [of homemade granola] from the International Red Cross branch here and hope you will not try to trade the items in it for cigarettes. Never did find my Air Force uniform caps but I’ll keep looking and hope to have them when you next appear.
In return the Mixons sent a package of pecans and homemade pralines and Dad immediately thanked them, recalling the same delight in receiving Red Cross packages.
Dear Mix, Thanks for all the goodies. It was almost like opening up a Red Cross package wondering all the while if you were going to get Klim [powdered milk, ‘milk’ spelled backwards] or Rose’s Liver Pâté or if they would send four packs of Chesterfields. Never exactly the same. I suppose you likewise will never forget the winter of ’44 and, I presume, living off of American Red Cross parcels? We never got more than a half-parcel a man each week and in the last two or three weeks in Moosburg it was less than that. But knowing full well that we would have died without the Red Cross parcels during that year, since that time I have contributed annually to both the local and national Red Cross, and when floods, tornadoes, and other disasters occur…
Although Mixon, in one letter, voiced concern about digging too far into the past and “opening something that should have been left alone,” my father’s reply disabused him of such worries. “I don’t believe you have opened a Pandora’s box since besides you and me, I don’t think anybody else is going to be very interested.”
That may well have been the case 70 years ago when catastrophic mid-air explosions of military aircraft occurred on such a scale that my father and Mixon would have been hard pressed to find an audience for their account. But for younger generations that have never known adversity, examples of bravery and sacrifice most often are only found in the past.
When I asked if I might finally have a look through the Mixon correspondence – a decade of recollections, including US and German military documents, newspaper clippings, photographs, and detailed maps – my father simply said, “Help yourself.”
But there was more. In a plain, green shoebox labeled “fine linens” I discovered a trove of over 150 hand-written letters; every missive home my father had sent to his parents, his sister, Jeanne, and his Aunt Frances – from June 1942 to June 1945. The letters documented his enlistment in the U.S. Army Air Corps, flight training, combat in Europe, liberation from POW camp in Germany, and several heady weeks in France and Italy before returning to the United States. The letters were beautifully written, often quite amusing, and full of detail.
Those letters, and subsequent conversations, have finally brought into clear focus the previously blurred images of what my father did in the war. Now, these colorful, poignant vignettes from real life not only help get across the true meaning of wartime, but also reveal how a courageous and modest man survived, and quietly carried on.
My father, James Henry Carmel, was born on January 11, 1919 in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood of New York City. Until he was six he lived with his parents, Ralph and Jennie, and elder sister, Jeanne, in the Belvedere, an elegant six-story Beaux Arts apartment house on the corner of West 150th Street and Edgecombe Avenue, high above the Harlem River. In 1925 his father, an accountant and manager of M. Cohen & Brothers, a New York fur manufacturing company, moved the family 15 miles north to the suburb of New Rochelle, in Westchester County, New York.
By his mid-teens, my father had developed into a fine artist, talented enough to qualify for a coveted spot in the free art schools of the National Academy of Design, founded in New York City in 1826 and the foremost art foundation in the country. Instead of returning to New Rochelle High in the fall of 1936 he began commuting to the academy at Amsterdam and 109th Street with his friend Dick Eggers who had both driver’s license and a car. He thrived at the academy, enjoying drawing from casts of sculpture and from life, the camaraderie among fellow artists, as well as a rare 1937 summer fellowship at Laurelton Hall, Louis C. Tiffany’s 600-acre estate at Oyster Bay, Long Island.
In the spring of his second year at the academy, Robert L. Woodbury, a friend working at The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), told my father about an open position for a preparator of dioramas in the museum’s new Hall of North American Mammals. He went for an interview, quickly got the job, and in April 1938 withdrew from the Academy before the end of the term, picking up the Suydam Bronze Medal for a still life he’d painted, on the way out. He would spend nearly two years at the museum, working with fellow diorama artists to create the highly detailed three-dimensional foregrounds for the Alaskan moose, grizzly bear, and mountain lion among other exhibits.
In late 1939 Bob Woodbury once again was instrumental in shaping my father’s career path by putting him in touch with Robert T. Hatt, a former assistant curator of mammals at the AMNH and newly appointed director of the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Dr. Hatt had contacted his former colleagues at the museum in search of an assistant preparator or “leaf twiddler” to join him at the institute, a fine natural history museum founded in 1927 by Ellen and George Booth as part of their Cranbrook educational community. My father was hired over the telephone and on December 20, 1939, bundled up in his father’s raccoon coat, drove through the winter day and night to Detroit in a 1935 Ford convertible (sans heater) that he had reluctantly won from his friend, Red Brownell, in a game of craps.
Arriving during Christmas week with a car helped make instant friends with the artists and instructors in residence at the Cranbrook Academy of Art – two men and 16 women – and within a few weeks he had moved out of a boarding house and was sharing a suite in the men’s academy with Harry Bertoia, a sculptor and furniture designer. His arrival coincided with what would come to be known as Cranbrook’s golden age and the new social life included frequent dinner parties at the home of Eliel and Loja Saarinen with their son Eero and his wife, Lilian. He became part of the crowd that included Swedish sculptor Carl Milles, architect Kevin Roche, furniture designers Charles and Catherine Eames, ceramicist Maija Grotell, sculptor Marshall Fredericks, weaver Marianne Strengell, painters Clifford West and Zoltan Sepeshy, among others.
It lasted for two and a half heady years. The good times at Cranbrook ended with America’s entry into World War II.
My father was just 23 when he enlisted on May 26, 1942 at Detroit.
June 7, 1942
Well it’s been some time since I’ve written and a lot of things have happened.
In the first place I was accepted by the Army Air Corps Enlisted Reserve and you may now call me Cadet Carmel. This happened yesterday and I will be sworn in next Tuesday. Probably will be called in anywheres from four to six months from now.
I received the affidavits that Dad mailed me on Friday and immediately went into Detroit and took my mental exam. The mental exam is unnecessary for those applying for the ground crew since they all have a minimum of two years of college. But it was necessary for those applying for the air crew. There were about 50 fellows that took the exam with me. It was pretty easy with the exception of the mathematical questions which were tough not having used anything but simple addition for the past few years. The average number of fellows that pass the test are half if you know what I mean…150 multiple choice questions and the passing mark is 80. I got a grade of 111 or something like that which is pretty good so they say.
Yesterday morning I caught the 7:04 bus out of Birmingham since my car has been acting up and went to the Federal Building in Detroit and there we had to wait until around 9:30 a.m. when they marched us several blocks down the street to an old building where they give the physical exams. Had to get stark naked and be measured, weighed, X-rayed, analyzed, mauled, pawed, discussed, etc. going from room to room to room until 2:00 p.m.
A very rigid examination. Then the sergeant marched us back to the Federal Building where we waited and waited. In fact the whole day seemed to be nothing but waiting, sitting shivering on wood benches, or hot and stifling after we got dressed.
Anyhoo to make a long story short, only two other fellows and myself passed for the Air Crew, two more fellows passing for Ground Crew. This number out of the original 60 or so that must have applied… Nothing else to tell you except maybe some odds and ends like:
• The brilliant Army private who, when filling out one of the various necessary forms for me didn’t know how to spell “preparator” or “museum.”
• The major, whose magnificently organized office routine somehow or other slipped up and lost the entire batch of papers for the whole bunch of us applicants for a full half hour. He was continually losing something or other.
• The serious look on the face of the lieutenant who was detailed by the major to find scars or birthmarks on me and who joyfully exclaimed: “Ah! A beauty!” when he found a slight scar on the inside of my left knee.
• The applicant, who with a painfully exasperated look on his face, stood for eight minutes trying to fill a little bottle against the wishes of his bashful kidneys. No luck. As father would say, “Applicant could not void.”
• Four or five naked young men dancing on first their left feet and then their right, trying to speed up their heart action sufficiently.
• Your son James, receiving a telephone call in the middle of the exam and having to walk unclad through countless offices and right through what was apparently a conference of majors and lieutenants to use the phone on the captain’s desk. Not even a lapel to grab nonchalantly as I walked.
• The angry look on the face of the major who dashed into the room where we were having Wassermans taken and said, ‘Jesus, see that these guys stop bleeding before you send them on to us.’
• Two or three privates on the office force turning everything upside down in their search for the paper stapler. ‘Who had it last?’ ‘Geez, I swear I saw it here a minute ago.’ ‘For chrissake here’s that paper the Major’s lookin’ for!’
• Six or seven men taking the entire physical exam only to be turned down because they were underweight. The cost to the government of giving the exam to these men must be terrific and it could easily be avoided if they had posted the weight requirements.
• The examining officer whose sole duty was to stand in the back of each applicant and whisper confidentially “48” in the left ear and “24” in the right one.
Ah me! What a life!
The following week he filled in his father about the swearing in process that had taken place a few days later:
Well as you can see I was made a member of the armed forces yesterday and by the time they got around to doing it I was so damn tired of waiting I didn’t give a damn whether they did or not.
I was in Detroit at 8:15 yesterday morning and about 25 of us sat around and waited while they called some of us one at a time if you get what I mean. I finally got my papers signed at 10:15 and had my finger prints taken. This took about fifteen minutes. Then we sat on those damn benches until around one o’clock when they gave each of us a slip of paper saying we were entitled to 35 cents worth of food at the Federal Restaurant across the street and informing us that we had fifteen minutes to do same. Well at least we got a good meal out of it, really good for 35 cents. Spaghetti and meatballs and beer and bread. Then we came back and did absolutely nothing all afternoon until at around 5:30 p.m. someone brought us all coffee and cupcakes and then at 6:00 they told us we were to line up and be sworn in. Short peptalk by the captain and then “raise your right hands” at exactly 6:00 –in fact as the bells were striking the hour. Marvelously efficient organization this damn Army. The process of swearing in took about ten minutes and yet they had to make us sit there all day.
So I expect to be here all summer. Contract expires in the end of November but I imagine I will hurry it up a bit by working overtime so that it will end in the middle of September if they don’t get me by that time.
Really not much other news. All the little gals will be leaving the end of next week and then there will be two weeks or so of no dates and then a new batch come in for the summer school. Ho Hum.
Jack is coming up this weekend I hope and we are going to have a little party here I imagine.
Love to the womenfolk,
In late September my father returned to New York and his former job at the American Museum of Natural History until November 10, 1942 when he was finally called up and ordered to report for Pre-Flight training at San Antonio, Texas.
November 14, 1942
Just entered Texas and am writing this as we sit in our shirtsleeves in front of the open windows and bask in the warm sun and absorb the mild air of a day in June. There are many trees still green and of course the ever-present southern pine. The soil is red occasionally but mostly covered with ochre-colored grasses which look beautiful against the blue sky.
Naturally we see many of this sort of thing which reminds me very much of the desperate poverty in which most of the southern Negroes live. It is very similar to Georgia in that respect but from odd incidents I have seen in the station I am inclined to think the Negro situation in this part of the country is even worse than in the more eastern states. In the U.S.O. headquarters in Texarkana I had a Coke and two pork sandwiches. These people are very nice and we really appreciate it.
San Antonio, Texas
The train arrived in San Antonio early on the morning of November 15, 1942, although it took several hours to feed, inspect, and bus Dad and hundreds of his fellow recruits to the Army Air Forces Aviation Cadet Academy at Randolph Field, about 15 miles east-northeast of San Antonio, Texas. The sprawling 2,300-acre training base had been named after Capt. William M. Randolph, a Texan aviator and graduate of Texas A&M University who had died in a crash in February 1928. My father began writing home almost as soon as he arrived.
November 15, 1942
Things look pretty good on the whole. The only meal, dinner, which we ate at 12:30 was very good! Carrots (for seeing at night), potatoes, chicken, stuffing, spinach, applesauce-cake and ice cream for dessert, and such things as jam, flavorings, bread & butter, radishes & scallions.
It seems strange to see so many young fellows all together after all these years of men such as myself seldom in – Darn! If all this seems muddled it is because the Cadet Officer (we have no non-coms) is sitting on my desk answering questions from a couple of stupid guys in my barracks who don’t realize they have only been here half a day and are bewildered on that account but on the other hand want to learn everything about this outfit in two hours.
I am enclosing a list of the things I really must have as soon as possible – we unfortunately were misinformed as to the amount of clothes to bring – I need only the following but I really need them in a hurry –
Wooden coat hangers (six), (if Dad would like to burn my name and number on each one I would really appreciate it).
Moccasin type slippers – size 10 ½ or 11
Two more of my shorts (underwear)
Sewing kit for $1.25
Four pairs thin khaki socks size 13
The weather is very warm – almost like early July – very warm in the sun but with coolish breezes, sky glorious.
More in a few days, Jim
P.S. Just got this letter back due to a technicality, but I wanted to add a jar of Ramsdell’s Sulphur Cream, also book matches of which there is a scarcity.
November 17, 1942
Well today I finished up my “6W” physical exam which qualifies me physically for the Pre-Flight School. Strangely enough a doctor whose name was Wiener gave me the entire exam.
Yesterday we had urinalysis, blood test, vaccination and X-ray and then today we started with a quick dental examination by a fellow who I can only describe as an incompetent horse doctor. He found six cavities or thought he did – [Uncle] Bob [a dentist in New York] should be interested in that, having just completed my teeth the previous week. He poked around in two teeth which Bob had just declared were O.K. although filled with a substance which had darkened. This entire procedure took five minutes without the luxury of having his hands washed from the previous cadet or the instruments.
At any rate Lieutenant Wiener was very nice and exceedingly capable. He gave me my Schneider and remarked that it was very good and everything else was O.K. – it took all morning.
This afternoon we had our choice of calisthenics or volleyball which we finally chose and which I played with my usual obvious lack of enthusiasm. We then spent the rest of the afternoon beautifying the post which means picking up little rocks and making them lie in rows along the walks around the barracks…
November 19, 1942
Received tremendous letter from you this noon and finally got a chance to open it in Physics Class. Imagine my surprise when a greenback fell out. The fellow next to me whispered, ‘does that always happen?’ Thanks.
As for the socks, I’ve been wearing them since Thursday because it’s been
pretty chilly lately (censored). I’ve been drawing portraits of the men and also caricatures – I’m getting pretty good at this and have a lot of fun.
The dance we had Thursday night was really something. One of the fellows said the girl he was dancing with could eat corn-on-the-cob through a picket fence. We had a lot of fun and most of us have dates for Wednesday.
Signed an application for war bonds to be deducted from my payroll and sent home each month. Made mother co-owner or something. Still think I’ll be able to send $40 home each month. If things get very, very bad I can cancel this but I don’t think I should go through this without putting something away…
November 26, 1942
Retreat is a horrible affair which we must endure three times a week. It consists of marching about three-quartrers of a mile to a big field and there standing rigidly at attention or at ease (almost as rigid only with the hands clasped behind the back and wrists resting on buttocks – feet 12 inches apart) for the better part of a half hour. In the terrific heat it is really quite an ordeal. One fellow in the next regiment passed out today – just collapsed and they carried him off. This means he will be G.D.O.’d (Ground Duty Only).
Yesterday I was classified and accepted as a pilot which means I am now all set for Pre-Flight and will go there as soon as there is room…
Also would appreciate if Mother would take part of that Museum check and send me the following two books – “Night Shift” by Maritta Wolff ($2.75 Random House Nov. 1942) and “Whistle Stop” by Maritta Wolff. I am very anxious to read them. I know I won’t have time to read them when I get to Pre-Flight but if you sent them now I’d sure like to read them on Sundays.
“Night Shift” was Maritta Wolff’s second novel, the first being “Whistle Stop” published in 1941 and according to Sinclair Lewis, “the most important novel of the year.” Her books were hugely popular, especially among readers in the military.
November 27, 1942 Thanksgiving Day
Just received two wonderful letters from you both which did an awful lot to pep me up – not that I felt despondent or lonely but somehow I did feel sort of far away.
This feeling of distance was enhanced or rather intensified by a dream I had last night which was so real I woke up and felt cheated. I dreamt I was sleeping in my bed in the attic and I sort of half woke up and heard the heavy drumming of rain on the roof above my head and knew somehow that it would be an all-day rain. And as I lay there I mentally saw a full pack of cigarettes on the table and some penny candy and I also was sure that it was a holiday and I had a wonderful feeling of being able to sit up there all day with a good book. But then I woke up!!! And during the night the temperature had gone down 15 degrees and it was pretty windy.
So anyhoo we got up at 7:30, entered the messhall at 8:30, stood on line until 9:15 and received one little pancake and some cold, greasy bacon but filled up on cold cereal and bread & jam.
Then back to the barracks. Then sneaked a trip to the Post Exchange (we are not supposed to go there until we have been here 15 days) bought some Glider [brushless shaving cream] and a belt, and then back here. Polished my shoes, and then mail call with three letters all wishing me Happy Thanksgiving – one from you, one from Dad, and one from somebody else who writes my very regularly and very sweetly…
So the lieutenant said, “You’re at ease, Mister.” And I said, “Like Hell I am, I never felt so uncomfortable in my life.” And he said, “Don’t you like it here?” and I said, “I hate this obscenity place,” thereby voicing the opinion of some countless thousands of cadets in the same outfit.
Please, fawther, please do no mention alcoholic beverages in your letters to me. Last night we tortured ourselves with a 30-minute discussion of which is the best beer and where to get the best beer in town. It seems as if when you can’t get anything at all, all you think of is a nice tall glass of good beer with the sweat forming on the outside only you know dare well you wouldn’t give it a chance to.
We often think of wine, too, but strangely enough hardly ever of whiskey. I think the fact that it’s very seldom we get a drink of really cold water has something to do with it.
December 2, 1942
It sure is good to receive mail every mail call and that’s about what’s been happening what with you and Mother writing almost every day – and also somebody else who has also been very good to me.
As for money, I got a partial payment yesterday, and shall send $30 to Mother which will have to hold for a while. As you know there are no allotments made by the Army Air Forces, but I think I will get enough to keep you going for a while.
This is not Randolph Field, we are on the edge of Kelly Field however and the air is constantly full of trainers. Since Kelly is the two-motored basic training school we see many two-motored trainers which look like small transports such as you see every day but have the motors painted blue around the cowl or whatever they call it. The trainers for single place are blue with yellow wings and they too are constantly banking and turning and filling the air with their roar. Many times I have counted as many as 35 single planes not in formation but flying singly and some doing practice spins and others a peculiar sort of series of turns. The noise is quite deafening and as a result our officers develop tremendous vocal powers.
I’ve been ill for the past two days with a cold, misplaced vaccination, tetanus & typhoid shots, but today the vaccination on my face seems to be drying up and will leave no scar. The arm that got the shot is also better and all that remains is a nasty cold. But at least I have no temperature and feel damn good. Just got my 3rd haircut – I timed it at three minutes and 40 seconds – including neck shave. Really close on top also.
Haven’t received package Mother sent me last Monday but guess it will come Monday next.
Love to all, Jim
P.S. I can’t tell you the number of men in my squadron or barracks.
December 3, 1942
Things have been happening pretty fast as Mother probably told you. We actually didn’t get time to brush our teeth for the first few days and the pace is still uncomfortably fast for one as slow as myself. The cause of the speed is the necessity for concentrating the course into the short space of nine weeks; our lack of time is accentuated by the attitude of the upperclassmen who have been given the authority to give us “corrective” instruction. This ranges from actually valuable military knowledge to all sorts of foolish nonsense such as having a man “dodge the draft” which means he runs down the floor on his hands and knees and dodges imaginary obstacles. At no time is a cadet allowed to smile or laugh and to one such as I this is very difficult and results in extended periods of bracing – “bracing” or the “brace” is an unnatural position of attention intended to correct the posture.
Since we have been here and found time to speak a few words to friends in other squadrons we’ve discovered ours is by far the most strict of all the squadrons in Pre-Flight. Many men in other squadrons have never been put in a brace and we are beginning to wonder if it is really necessary in the training of pilots. Nevertheless our thoughts on the matter go unexpressed since the two-class system is the will of the squadron commander.
On the whole though, none of us would change for another branch of the service. “Are you eager?” the upperclassmen say.
“Yes sir, we are eager!” we shout at the tops of our voices in unison. If we don’t shout loud enough to satisfy them we are placed singly in a terrific brace and repeat this many times.
“What kind of a gut have you, Mister?”
“Sir, I have a g r o s s (drawn out) gut.”
“Well suck it in, Mister, and throw out that chest, reach for those suitcases, reach, Mister, reach, reeeeach. Mister, how old are you?”
“Well, lets see – 23 wrinkles in that chin. Tense that butt, Mister, and fix your eyes on a point. Stop that smiling, Mister, do you think this is funny? Wipe it off, Mister, throw it on the floor. Stamp on it. Shame it, Mister.”
And so on, hour on end. That is all our supposedly free time.
Well I guess I’ve written too much already, military secrecy you know.
December 4, 1942
As I write this –
Three fellows are placing a box of All-Bran inside a cadet-officer’s bed. He deserves it.
Two fellows are wrestling on the floor. One fellow’s face is brick red with the effort of trying to get his face out where he can bite the other fellow. Six men are shining shoes. Two men are playing cribbage. Nine of us are writing letters.
Upstairs the radio is going full blast and three or four men are jumping up and down in the center of the aisle between the beds trying to hit the hot air channel with their heads.
Two fellows directly in back of me are arguing about who said we were going to get Open Post next Tuesday.
Our cadet captain is sitting over on one of the fellows’ beds with a crowd of cadets around him. He is the captain for the entire squadron and he sleeps in our barracks. Very much liked by the fellows here…
December 5, 1942
Just finished five pork chops, two helpings mashed potatoes and lima beans, two peach sundaes and cookies and half a quart of milk and thought I’d drop you a line to let you know that if I can eat like that I must be O.K. Incidentally I seem to have gained six pounds.
December 14, 1942
Well Friday sure was swell! Hit town about 11:00 a.m. and went into the coffee shop of the largest hotel and had wheat-cakes and sausages and coffee. And gee was that good for 35 cents, wow! Melted butter with the wheat-cakes and good syrup for a change!
After that we walked around town trying to buy a beer but no bars were open yet so I walked down to the Alamo which is about six blocks from the center of town. Saw most of it in a half-hour and then came back and had three bottles of beer – sure tasted good, too – after which we bought a bottle of California claret and took it with us into a small café. They gave us glasses and ice and we ordered food. I had a Mexican plate which was very good. Then another fellow and I walked down to the U.S.O. and played ping-pong for a while. Then I found a piano on the top floor of the U.S.O. and so naturally stayed up there alone until after six and had a wonderful time.
At around six I met Halloran again and we walked up to the Cadet Club in the big hotel and watched the so-called dancing. It was pretty much of a brawl however and we left later and went to a U.S.O. dance in an Army “Y” which was pretty good. I danced with two girls who were pretty nice. At 9:15 we ran to catch the bus to camp. Gee when we got on that bus there sure were a mess of drunks on it. One fellow in front of me put his head out of the window half way in front of him (doggone I’m listening to about three conversations here and trying to write this. That’s why it sounds so confused). Anyhow this fellow started upchucking half-way home and didn’t stop until we got home. Some fellow in Pre-Flight he was.
Of course we didn’t get right to bed when we came back. Had a lot of fun with the fire extinguisher which can pump a stream of water with deadly accuracy. I got soaked. Also a lot of bunk-turning since we sleep on canvas cots (with mattresses of course). They are easily overturned with one swift motion.
I can’t write anymore. Too much interference.
December 18, 1942
I have time for only a short note. We are in a similar barracks only we have no lockers, tables, or pillows. Real Spartan don’t you know. The hazing is really terrific and we have no time at all since we are constantly in a brace which as I explained before is an unnatural position of attention administered by our upperclassmen.
I think I can stand it for four and a half weeks but thank God it’s only that long. We started school today which fortunately cuts down on the time they can haze us. More later.
Incidentally in the midst of all this, when we hardly had time for a drink of water, a package arrived for me – a small one – and it took me hours to open it because I’d start and then be put in a brace. Well at any rate I finally got a spare moment and it was two packs of cards.
This letter is written three or four words at a time – braces in between – the upperclassmen’s idea of humor.
More soon, Love, Jim
P.S. Please don’t send me any packages or anything. I don’t have time to open them. Hah! Hah!
December 23, 1942
Today, thank God, is “Open Hill” which means the upper-classmen have gone into San Antonio and left us alone!!! This is marvelous and we are reveling here in great ecstasy of freedom. We, of course, weren’t allowed to go on Open Post, but we have only mess formations to meet.
We had our shots yesterday – third typhoid and second tetanus. Arm burned for a few minutes and hurt last night if I tried to sleep on it but otherwise I feel wonderful. By a combination of circumstances such as guard duty, rain, and Open Hill, we haven’t had P.T. for three or four days which accounts for the fact that my cold and cough are almost gone. Nevertheless, P.T. and rapid changes in temperature cause many respiratory disturbances among the men. I should say that more than half the men have coughs and colds or have just gotten over same.
After our shots yesterday we drilled and then stood retreat in terrific heat. On the way back from the parade grounds we passed over a hump in the road and I went over it by bending my legs instead of going up like everyone else. For this piece of foolishness which I somehow couldn’t resist, I was put in a brace from retreat until supper, 30 minutes or so. But at last I have found out how to brace and still be comfortable. Leaning slightly forward takes the tension off my spine.
Passed first math quiz O.K. as well as final exam on Ground Forces. Tomorrow we start Aircraft Identification class and also have our first test in Code. Code, incidentally, is a snap for me and I enjoy it.
This afternoon, after lunch, I’m going to shave, take a shower, and get all dressed up and go over to the Service Club and see if I can dance a bit. Also gonna write a few letters.
As far as I can see, out of the 15 groups on the hill here (each group is composed of two squadrons and each squadron has four flights) Groups X, XIV, and I are the toughest. But I really am glad to be in a tough group because of the bracing which I know is what I’ve always needed. And I’m also glad I’m in this group because I stood guard outside of Group XIV and honestly, those fellows looked beaten down, furtive and unhappy. We spoke to them, some of them, today and really they are in misery because their upperclassmen are a bunch of bastards. Brace them without pity or humor. Our principle difficulty is trying to avoid laughing in a brace. And although I’ll admit our laughter is sometimes slightly hysterical from fatigue we at least can laugh.
Spent the afternoon shaving, cleaning up and arranging my equipment and then walked around and saw some of the fellows. The consensus of opinion is that we in this group have the hardest time of it except Group XIV, but it’s on days like today that we begin to realize it isn’t so bad and only lasts until January 15 so we’re all thinking of those planes which we’ll be flying by the end of February.
Incidentally we’ve been seeing some wonderful films. Some propaganda and some training. We had one last week on what we’re fighting for that was the finest thing I’ve ever seen. You know most of these fellows would laugh down the sentimental rot which the movie-going public is presented with, so this was real tough. Pictures of Japanese, German, and Italian troops marching. Also little children in formation and then pictures, vivid record of the bombing of Shanghai, etc. stuff that the public will never see. It was really something, as evidenced by the fact that not one of us fell asleep. And when they can produce a picture that will keep 400-500 cadets on the edge of their chairs after they’ve just eaten, well it really must be something.
The weather today is warm and dry, it’s never humid down here but around 74 or 76 in the shade and very hot in the sun. Monday’s rain was the second since our arrival. Usually the sky is cloudless and vast… that’s really all the news.
Love to all,
December 26, 1942
Spent a rather peculiar Christmas. Got a pass for San Antonio and went in with another fellow. Saw a movie, got slightly boiled and returned here two and a half minutes late for which foolhardy (but unavoidable) action I spent a happy three hours this morning cleaning the latrine after the bunch of slobs we have for upperclassmen had slopped through it on their way to San Antonio, today being another Open Post for them but only Open Hill for us…
Managed to get part of a dance last night with a dope from San Antonio. But at least I can say I’ve danced here. Most of the gals are the fellows’ wives though. It’s just a question of looking for the hand without the ring.
December 29, 1942
A lot of things have been happening. After I wrote you Sunday night Captain Fletcher (our cadet captain for the entire squadron) and I hit upon a prank which promised to be really amusing.
It seems that Sunday I discovered I could mimic our commanding officer with an amazing amount of success. Since this young gentleman is cordially disliked by officers and men the imitation went over big. Captain Fletcher overheard me give a typical exhortation on gambling which wound up with: “And if you gemmon must play games ah want you-all to play gemmonly games lahk Pahcheesi.”
The long and short of it was that after taps they dressed me in a lieutenant’s uniform, complete with bars and we descended upon a particularly wicked barracks with the intention of putting fear of death into these unsuspecting miscreants. I had spoken for 15 or 20 seconds when suddenly a light was flashed in my face and a bucket of water caught me in the back of the neck as I turned to flee. Breaking all existing speed records I returned to this barracks otherwise unscathed. Ten minutes later the cadet captain returned soaked to the skin. They had caught him and put him in the cold shower with his clothes on.
Last night 30 previous-service men descended on this barracks from various posts throughout the country necessitating doubling up in all lockers and squeezing beds even closer. The guys at least were Army men and not civilians but it is still uncomfortably crowding us. However, according to news received tonight those of us who were classified as pilots within the last two weeks will probably be sent to Pre-Flight within the next week!!!!!!!!! This is not definite but the implication is more exciting than any rumor hitherto received. Since we will be forced to endure another four and a half weeks if we don’t go with this group we naturally are desirous of leaving. Of late, a growing feeling of unrest has made itself apparent among those fellows here who are beginning to realize our term in this classification center is now far in excess of that actually needed from the viewpoint of orientation or anything else. It is obvious we are merely killing time and we naturally don’t like the idea of being dragged into this outfit for that purpose.
Many men who are married are beginning to think of their wives whom they left thinking they would begin training within two weeks. They are wondering why they couldn’t have spent this waiting period at home. For those of us who were fortunately unattached this phase is not so annoying, but nevertheless we too, have some pride in our potentialities and to see the days slipping by is not exactly pleasant. So the following days will probably be very exciting.
Open Post Friday!! San Antonio here we come.
Love to all,
December 30, 1942
Sitting here in the Guard House a fellow just ask me where I’m from – I answered (foolishly) saying “New Rochelle.”
He says, “Do you know where ‘The Cat’s Paw’ is?”
I said “No.”
He says “two joints down from the ‘Cat’s Hole’ – another hot spot!”
All of which is meant to introduce you to Guard House humor, than which there is nothing whicher, I assure you.
Fortunately I drew a soft spot in the detail. I’m what is known as a supernumerary which means I just lie around hoping no one will be sick enough to not be able to walk guard – in which case I must walk his tour.
Today I went up to 35,000 ft. in the company of 18 other gentlemen. We used oxygen of course. It really was exciting even if it was in a pressure tank. Most of us put on our masks at 18,000 but four fellows wanted to see what anoxia was like. They found out all right. At 20,000 they all looked purple around the lips and fingernails and at 24,000 two keeled over. They wrote when asked to but it was irregular and illegible. The other two acted just like drunks only minus the hilarity. The men watching us put on these men’s masks before we reached 30,000. Coming down was annoying but only painful to those who where just getting over colds.
I’ve got to quit now, they are turning out the lights on me.
December 31, 1942
Spent last night quietly (and soberly), was still pretty tired from guard-duty the previous night (I had three hours’ sleep) but only walked a 2 hr. tour. They have started a new system and we only have a 12 hr. shift – from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., then we went right on with our regular schedule of classes etc.
Incidentally at yesterday’s lecture on Respiratory Diseases the flight surgeon said the high amount of coughs and colds among the men was due to the fact that all these men are brought together for the first time and bring various germs with them, some a brand of strep, etc. many kinds and these are combated as effectively as possible but nevertheless each man must build up a resistance to all types he has never been exposed to before.
Anyhow as I was saying, by last night I was pretty tired. Blaine and I took naps after supper, got shaved & dressed at 9:00 p.m. went over to the Service Club Dance and watched that until 11:30, but didn’t dance. Most of the girls were dated and only the brave tagged other fellow’s dates. The band was very good and during the intermission some fellow, a young kid of about 18 or 19 walked up to the piano, slouched down, and started casually a beautiful bugsy-wugsy or boogie-woogie rhythm. Then he really got going and for a solid half hour a group of us stood around enthralled while he went to town on that piano. I never in my life heard anything like it. And the guy looked like some kid you’d see in a service station pumping gas; just a kid but could he drive that piano – phew!
We got two pieces of cake, sandwiches, and punch (non-alcoholic of course) and drove back to Blaine’s barracks and talked while the New Year arrived. Then at 1:00 a.m. I came back here and hit the hay.
Up again at 6:00 and fortunately today was Open Post so we were rid of our upperclassmen. Blaine and I walked over to the cross-country run and sat up on a hill, studied our Airplane Recognition and watched the planes on Kelly Field, a half-mile away. We could see the whole field and it was wonderful lying there on the grass in the hot sun. At around four the day was too warm for comfort so we walked back to the Service Club and had a Coke. Had supper, saw “White Cargo” with Hedy Lamarr – phew! And here I am…
Gee if you could hear what’s going on here! Wow! What a racket! I couldn’t start to explain it!
Lots of love,
P.S. 10 more days and I’ll be an upperclassman.
January 8, 1943
Well as I said in this afternoon’s note, this is hell week. And our upperclassmen are doing their darndest to make us hate them thoroughly. Thank goodness it’s only some 100 hours before they leave and we’ll never see them again. Actually there’s only about five I actually dislike and two I despise. But those seven can make life miserable I assure you.
Took a code test today and passed it okay. Marks tomorrow.
The weather has been cold and rainy these last two days which means we haven’t had retreat parades or P.T. As far as P.T. goes I rather enjoy it. My wind is vastly improved and I’m gonna try for a good cross-country time which is about 13 minutes for two and a half miles of rough country. It has been done in 11:48:5 but I’ll be satisfied with 13.
Just finished my vectors for tonight. They are problems such as:
A pilot plots his course for a trip. His data are:
Wind velocity = 40 mph from 330º
Air speed = 210 mph
Desired course of 100º
What is his ground speed, heading and wind correction angle?
This is worked out with a ruler, protractor, and compass and is really a lot of fun, probably because it’s close to flying, as close as we’ve come.
January 12, 1943
Well imagine my surprise when something like six birthday cards and three birthday packages, not to mention your letters all arrived actually on my birthday. That is what I consider perfect timing.
As it happened yesterday was one of the toughest days from the bracing and time standpoints so that although the stuff all arrived at 11:00 a.m. it was about 6:30 before I could get a chance to open them. As it was my evening meal was far from pleasant – two so-called soldiers at my table (from another flight) were unbelievably crude, more than I could ignore and keep on eating. Fortunately I held my tongue but lost my appetite so that when I returned here and cooled down I began to get hungry and ate an entire bottle of figs, half a package of pressed figs (which incidentally had gone moldy in transit) and about 14 date sticks. Gad it was wonderful! The caramels are also awfully good. Come to think of it I did get a chance to open the shirts before retreat parade, and everybody admired them. I wore one to the parade and it sure felt soft after what I have been wearing. They were a perfect fit.
The upperclassmen are leaving Thursday morning and as you can imagine there is all sorts of excitement around here. We had our final math exam yesterday (I got 85 which gives me an 88 average for the course) and today our final in Air Forces (98%) leaving us with only one course in Code from now until next week.
Also as far as excitement goes, this afternoon at 3:00 p.m. “Turnabout” began. This means we could brace the upperclassmen. And boy did we ever! I’ve shouted myself hoarse and can only croak now. They took it pretty well considering, but it isn’t the same as it was with us. They thought it was funny. I must say we made ‘em sweat tho’. I had my clothes and shoes in perfect spotless condition and stood at attention while talking to them (which is how it is supposed to be done).
(Break here for something funny) we were reviewing the afternoon’s events and one of the upperclassmen just turned to me and said, “That obscenity, Carmel, every time he gets a bright idea his ears light up like a neon sign!”
Well anyhow as I was saying I braced them as it was supposed to be done and reminded them of the times they had braced me when half-dressed and sitting down or leaning against a bed. So that’s the end of the bracing, thank God.
It’s now 9:30 and if you could only see what’s going on here. All the underclassmen are bracing the upperclassmen. The noise is terrific! You’d have to have stood what we have to realize with what zeal the underclassmen are going at this.
I better close. Phew!
January 13, 1943
I sometimes wonder if it isn’t a hopeless task to try to convey to you impressions of this place and the life here. A hopeless task as far as my writing ability is concerned.
Sometimes I think it would be better if I gave up telling you what I’ve been doing when I write every few days and try and tell you what a certain sensation is like – like having to get up in the morning in a mad flurry of shoes, socks, and what not and racing for the latrine hoping against hope that the whistle won’t blow before we finish relieving ourselves. Then, falling out into the street, standing at attention in the cold, dark morning, coughing and hawking and mumbling under the clear Texas sky. Then a quick dash to the barracks and three minutes before breakfast. If you’re lucky you manage to grab one of the six sinks (incidentally crawling with roaches) which are supposed to be sufficient for an entire barracks to wash at in three minutes, and brush your teeth before falling out again.
As you do all this you are conscious of a feeling of desperation at having to leave that bed and also conscious of a longing desire to say “the hell with it all” and crawl back into bed.
But the bitter, sharp edge on the knife of time (Dept. of Something or Other) has been somewhat blunted by the fact that we are now upperclassmen. I was fully convinced of this delightful fact when this noon I cut up a piece of blue paper, printed my name and serial number on it and replaced the white card over my left pocket. This act gave me greater joy than I had ever expected. I honestly felt like a new man.
My final average which came out today, that is for all exams as an underclassman, was 91.8% which is O.K. Today we started our upperclass subjects including Physics and Naval Recognition. As for me I know a naval when I see one but since this course is obviously for the dumber upperclassmen I intend to keep quiet about it.
The new, raw recruits arrive Saturday. Ho! Hum!
It sure feels good not to brace anymore.
P.S. I am still eating. Just finished the date sticks & caramels and figs. They sure were good.
January 15, 1943
Drew Barracks-Guard today, which means that since noon, I’ve been sitting in the top story of Sq. 2 Flight C in full parade regalia – white gloves on the table beside me and my service cap on my head. Must stay here until 5:30 tonight and then I’m off.
Wednesday was Open Post. Hit town at around 10:30 and rented a ’41 Chevy with three other fellows. Gee it felt good to drive again! We drove around San Antonio and then had dinner in the Smorgasbord at 1:00 – shrimp, oysters, turkey, corn, hot tamales, enchiladas, mashed potatoes, and God knows what else. Anything we wanted and as much as, all for 90 cents. They lost money on me all right.
After lunch drove back to camp with some liquor Blaine wanted to take in (it’s the only way, in a car) then drove down to the bottom of the hill on the edge of Kelly Field. Saw a stable so we rented two horses for an hour. I’m still so stiff I can hardly walk, but it was fun and the horses were O.K. for 50 cents an hour!
After that we went over to Kelly Field and talked to some civilians training to be instructors. Mostly men with 300-500 or more hours as civilians. They were all dressed ready to go up. All they do is fly to gain time. Up one hour, down ½ hour all afternoon. We helped push a plane around and then sat around with those fellows chinning until 4:30. Returned to town, gave the car back, then went and had a few drinks, danced, returned out here at 8:30 and tried to study for a test the next day but was too tired.
Thursday we had the test and I got 100 in it for some reason or other. That was yesterday. Then after a complete day, including P.T. cross country (I cut my time down to 13 ½ minutes) a stiff retreat parade.
We had our graduation dance last night after that terrific day. Started at 8:00 p.m. and we wore full regalia including white gloves. Three busloads of pretty girls from town. Danced until 11:30. Had punch, cookies, Cokes, potato chips, and met a nice gal, Ellen Shropshire (heh!) with whom I have a date next Wednesday. Very cute.
Anyhow, you can bet your boots that when we hit those flea-sacks at midnight we were really tired. And this morning I had to fight sleep through all my classes.
Ho hum, love, Jim.
January 17, 1943
Well I knew yesterday was hot but not that hot. Today’s paper says it was 87º in San Antonio. The hottest Jan. 16 since 1911. No wonder the sweat was pouring off these miserable underclassmen! And tonight the paper predicts sub-zero temperatures.
Have only braced one man so far today. These boys are having it easy, mostly because I think we’re a fairer crew than our upperclassmen were.
It’s wonderful living upstairs here. My bunkmate and I made darn sure we’d get the best spot when we moved up here and we sure did. We’re the last bunk away from the door in a corner with double exposure, facing south and southwest.
We also have a table underneath the west window at which I am sitting now. Two or three chairs, plenty of light.
It’s just getting light now (8:15 a.m.) The sky in the east is salmon colored and everything around here is pinkish purple. Over towards the west the sky is cerulean blue with pink and purple haze across the entire thing. Wonderful.
Just had my first real tinge of homesickness or should I say merely nostalgia. Just came back from lunch and opened a letter from you which had enclosed some clippings which had evidently been in the box on your dresser and had absorbed some perfume. It brought with it a mental image of your room on a Sunday morning that was as clear as a bell.
Those war news excerpts are swell because they’re just about all I have time to read. The entire Times would be a waste of money. I still have a New Yorker that arrived in a Christmas box and haven’t read it yet. Also a Times that Dad sent me which included a review of the pre-war years. Haven’t read that either.
Won’t have time to write any more now or tonight. We are being rushed through our classes and it’s really pretty tough to learn 1 ½ years of physics in 4 weeks, plus everything else.
February 8, 1943 2:30 p.m.
Well it’s all over except the moving. Took our Physics test (final) yesterday and last night we go our marks. I got 94 in the final which gives me an average of about 88 for Physics. As for Maps and Charts we get our final marks in that tomorrow, but since I know I didn’t fail I feel unworried.
These past few days, what with tests and other complications have certainly been something. Wednesday night, right after taps, several men were sick in the latrine. I felt O.K. with the exception of a slight sore throat and coughing. Then I woke up at four and thought I was going to upchuck…then at 5:30 a.m. I did lose last evening’s supper.
Thursday morning there were about 10 of us in the barracks who had spent the same sort of a night. We went on sick call with men in other barracks in our group. They called it Endocolitis or something like that due to food poisoning. Anyhoo it wasn’t as bad by half compared to the ptomaine I once had in Florida. But by Thursday night my damn throat got worse, sort of like that time I got burnt by nitric acid fumes, not swollen but very painful. I went on sick call Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings trying to get some satisfaction from them. Nothing doing. They were very kind but dumber than hell. Anyhow Saturday I felt lousy but managed to take the Maps & Charts test and then yesterday afternoon my throat felt so bad I went on sick call again, had it painted, and noticed I had about 100.4º temperature. The doctor told me to go on sick call this morning to check on it again. Well I did and it was higher but during the night my throat had taken a turn for the better, didn’t bother me at all. In fact, except for feeling woozy a little with the temperature I felt swell, but the doctor said I should go to the hospital for a couple of days for observation which was silly because by then I felt O.K; yesterday was when I should have gone.
At any rate I said, “what the hell” (to myself) because we are all through classes and everything and I wouldn’t miss anything – and besides it would feel good to lie around doing nothing after these past few weeks. So I ended up here in Ward 6 at 11:30. Had a damn good meal and slept until they told me the Major would see me. He just did. Complete physical exam and said I’d be out of here tomorrow morning if the routine chest X-ray they plan to take today is negative. But I think I’m going to try and stick around.
Later, 3:30 p.m.
Well I just had the X-ray. It was fun. This hospital is just a mass of one-story buildings covering a vast area and all connected by corridors. The X-ray place was a good 1/3 of a mile away and I had an orderly push me there and back. While I was waiting outside in the chair I watched a colored soldier sitting there waiting also. Thought how out of place in the Army most of these colored men are, even the waiters we have in the mess hall don’t look too happy, but then who is happy in the Army? Well I guess there are some men, in fact many men.
I have a thermometer in my mouth now, waiting for the Major who is making his rounds. I’m wearing some heavy cotton pajamas with frogs but no buttons, a little ball of tape that fits into the buttonhole. Also have a maroon cotton corduroy bathrobe. Temperature now is 99.6º which is quite a drop from this morning.
Still no hint of where we’ll be sent although we now know we won’t be sent to any of the schools our upperclassmen (Class 43-G) were sent to. That leaves 3 or 4 schools in Texas, a few in Arkansas, and Parks Air College in St. Louis. We probably won’t leave until a week from tomorrow according to latest rumor. It feels good to be doing things for the last time, like this morning we sent our last laundry in.
I sort of hated to miss Open Post today but what the hell! I’ll save some money – and stay sober. Today was also our last Open Post.
Thanks for the letter that arrived today as I was gathering my stuff together for the hospital. That tripe and rice description had my mouth watering all the way here. I also enjoy those war news summaries.
Love to all, Jim
February 9, 1943
I forgot to mention yesterday that when the Major was filling out his report on me he asked me what I had done in civilian life (this for a form he had to fill out). Told him [museum preparator] and he appeared much interested having spent some time picking up Indian relics near here. We had quite a pleasant chat. Then this morning when he was making his rounds (with a very pretty nurse) he asked me how I was and I said fine, considering I had spent the night coughing instead of sleeping.
He looked at my throat, listened to my chest. I asked if I could be put on the fruit juice list – have fruit juice whenever I wanted it. He said “yes” and then turned to the nurse and said: “See that this man gets lemonade too, whenever he wants it, and put some soda water in it if there’s any in the ice box and when you’ve gone that far you might add a little Scotch.”
Of course I laughed thinking he was kidding. Imagine my surprise when at 10:30 or thereabouts the nurse walks up, hands me a flawless Scotch ‘n soda, and says, “I’d like to know how you rate this!!”
It sure was good!!!
The rest of the day was comparatively uneventful. I finished Zane Grey’s “Desert Gold” which I had started yesterday not being able to find anything better. It was the first real “horse” drama I’d ever read and I must admit that although it was pure unadulterated corn I rather enjoyed it. Then I also read “The Lodger” a poorish Pocket Mystery which someone had correctly left behind them.
My bunkmate from Pre-Flight and another friend drove over to visit. Brought my final Physics mark 87 average and Maps & Charts 93. But I don’t think that’s my average. Also the news that almost 50% of 43G had been washed out in Primary already. The fellows say they met some of our former upperclassmen in San Antonio yesterday. Many of them are back in the Classification Center awaiting shipment to Bombardier or Navigator schools. Also a rumor we will leave Saturday, and to where we might know tomorrow.
P.S. I was sitting here on my bed last night when someone said (the ward Sgt) “Carmel?” and I said, “Yes.” He said “You’re wanted on the telephone right away!” So I jumped up, put on my robe, and dashed into the office, picked up the phone and a voice said “Crmalh?” and I said “This is Carmel” and then they said “New York calling” and I figured my Gawd, that letter must have upset them. A voice said “Hello” and I said “Hello” and there was a lot of confusion during which I finally found out it wasn’t me they wanted but a fellow name “Pomeranz” who is in Bed 28. You can understand how good a connection we had if “Pomeranz” sounded like “Carmel” but at least I talked to New York!
That same day, February 9, 1943, the aviation cadets of class 43-H were given orders to proceed to East St. Louis, Illinois in a week’s time and report to the Civil Elementary Flying school there. Dad, who had been in the infirmary for several days recovered quickly, completed all his requirements for Pre-Flight training, and on February 16th, boarded a northbound train with his classmates.
East St. Louis, Illinois
Oliver Lafayette “Lafe” Parks, a Chevrolet salesman, contemporary of Charles Lindbergh, and a pioneer in pilot training and aviation studies founded Parks Air College on August 1, 1927. Initially established as a civilian flying school on a 115-acre site south of East St. Louis, Illinois, Parks Air College soon had its own airfield, aircraft repair facilities, and a student-run training airline.
A decade later with war clouds over Europe, Gen. Henry (Hap) Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Corps invited to Washington the heads of the top three civilian flying schools – Oliver Parks, Corliss C. Moseley of the Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute in Glendale, California, and Theopholis Lee of the Boeing School of Aeronautics in Oakland, California. General Arnold proposed the aviators create a flight training program for Army Air Corps cadets in groups of 40; the Army would provide the training planes, Parks and the others would have to front several hundred thousand dollars of their own to launch the operations, with the promise of Congressional funding down the road. The men responded enthusiastically and the schools ramped up their training accordingly.
In May 1940, however, General Arnold asked Parks, Moseley, and Lee to take over all primary flight training for the Air Corps and to triple the capacity of their schools. Parks expanded housing facilities for the cadets and leased nearby Curtiss-Steinberg Airport, a 569-acre airfield with three concrete runways. By August 1940 all primary flight training and related activity had been relocated from the original college airfield to Curtiss-Steinberg and the new field became known as Curtiss-Parks.
By the time my father and his fellow cadets arrived in East St. Louis in February 1943, thousands of Army Air Corps pilots had already been put through rigorous primary training at Parks.
February 17, 1943 Parks Air College
Well here we are, tired but very happy to be here and still in a daze from seeing what a good set-up this is.
Left San Antonio at 7:00 a.m. Tuesday morning. Good Pullmans all the way here. We arrived in St. Louis at 8:30 this morning and were whisked out here in buses by 10:00. The trip in the train was the usual affair of poker, reading, and talking – yours truly played gin rummy for hours and lost 49 cents. Food good on the train.
As far as we can figure, we were sent here because of our high scholastic record as underclassmen and upper classmen. Practically our entire Group X with the exception of three flights in Squadron 2 came here. I think I explained that in Preflight school there were four flights to a squadron and two squadrons to the “Group.” I can’t tell you the exact amount of men here at Parks now but it’s very small compared to Preflight. Incidentally, Group X again won the scholastic Trophy; out of the thousands of men in Preflight this is really pretty good.
Parks Air College has the reputation (generally conceded) of being the best primary school in the country. The only think that can be said against it at this time is the weather which unfortunately isn’t too good. But they say if you get through Parks and don’t wash out you’re practically all set as far as the rest of the training course is concerned. The amount of washouts varies as I probably told you before. We heard today that only 30% washed out in the class that preceded us (43-G) although we don’t know just how true this is. The principle reason for washouts is chronic airsickness and most all washout occur in the first two weeks of primary.
Chow here is good; cafeteria style and as much as you want. After lunch we unpacked and then were taken in buses to the field where we will fly. This field is a half-mile or so away and there is another field directly across the road from us. We received our flying togs when we reached the field. I should say about $300 worth off hand. Heavy leather, fleece-lined pants, jacket and shoes, helmet, goggles, etc. Tomorrow we will be bitted for parachutes in the morning and then hit the flying line in the afternoon for the first time.
It certainly was good to see the remains of a light snowfall on the ground as soon as it was light enough to see out of the train this morning. Almost as good as seeing trees again and some hills. Didn’t realized how sick we were of Texas!
…Nothing else I can think of to say. Just that it’s wonderful to be near civilization again. Among other things we are allowed in the first 4 ½ weeks are Open Post every night until 10:00 p.m. if our grades are above 85; Open Post every weekend from 6:00 p.m. Saturday to 10:00 p.m. Sunday.
And as upperclassmen (although actually there is no distinction – it’s just after the first 4 ½ weeks or half the course) we are allowed 3 day passes.
So with lots of luck I might get a chance to fly home in March for a few hours – would you like that?
More later, Lots of love
February 22, 1943
This morning we started ground school. Then at 10:00 we had 20 minutes of calisthenics. Then the instructor asked, “Who wants to play basketball?” etc. and various men fell out. When he said, “Who wants to work out on the trampoline?” I fell out not having a clear idea what a trampoline was but knowing it had something to do with tumbling.
Well it was a big affair of tubing, springs and canvas which looked like this:
and for half an hour we kept moving around (about eight of us) trying different things as our turn came up. Gee! It really was fun! You can get bouncing on your feet, then fall perfectly flat on your face and bounce up again to a standing position. Or do it sitting or from your back. Boy what fun. Soon we will try flips and various other tricks.
This afternoon I was up for 45 minutes. Felt wonderful all through. Did several good turns and think I am catching on pretty quick. Tomorrow we start landings and take-offs. Glad to find I didn’t get airsick at all this time. Came down and had two pieces of chocolate cake and coffee. Then later on, when we were talking over the day with our instructor (three men to the same instructor always) I had an ice-cream cone. So you can see I really felt O.K.
Well I’ve got an awful lot to do so I think I’ll quit now.
March 1, 1943
Thanks for your huge letter that arrived safely this afternoon through the snow and intense cold.
Aforementioned snow and cold held us on the ground this morning and your would-be pilot managed to catch up on his correspondence and sleep.
I seem to have overcome the airsickness (slight) that had me really worried up until Saturday last. You know I mentioned the terrific fatigue and nervous tension induced by flying. It took me a full week to overcome the effect of these but I think I’ve finally done it. Its effect in general was a continual airsickness, more pronounced on the ground than in the air. Lots of gas, distended tummy, fatigue. So I’m pretty sure I won’t have to worry on that score.
…You’d like this flying business I know. Each week changes our schedule. This week we fly mornings. Get up at 6:00, dress, fall out at 6:10 for reveille formation, back to the barracks until 6:25, breakfast, back to the barracks, clean up and make beds, etc. Then drill for 20 minutes at 8:00 a.m. At 8:50 we hit the flying formation all dressed for the planes, pile into two buses and drive out to the field (a mile away). Then we meet our instructor. There are three of us to my instructor. The first man starts out towards the ship with Mr. [Clayton R.] Stoltz. The second goes to the parachute room and gets a chute and follows out to the ship. He gives the first man the chute, gets the crank out of its compartment behind the neck of the second cockpit and then walks around to the nose of the plane. Then when Stoltz has climbed up front and the first man to fly is in the rear seat the man at the crank inserts it and says, “Brakes set? Switch off? Throttle closed? Gas on?” The pilot replies to each of these. Then the cranker makes two complete turns with the crank, sees if everything is clear, shouts, “Clear! Contact?” The pilot says “contact” at which the cranker turns the crank once or twice more and she catches with a roar. Then he runs around with the crank and puts it back in its compartment, checks the safety belt of the man in the seat and then leaves them. He rejoins the third man in the lecture room that is over the middle hangar and from which you can see the ships take off and come in.
Here they listen to an informal talk by an instructor on some part of flying technique. In 50 minutes the second man sees the ship coming in, gets up, puts on his helmet and goes down to the pilot house where he speaks into a speaker to a woman upstairs. He says “Junior Classman Carmel, J.H. checking out in ship 31 dual” and she says “OK Carmel.” Then he watches 31 taxi up. She stops, revs up a bit, then the first man gets out, takes off the chute, signs the book, gets the crank and Carmel puts on the chute and hops in, fastens the safety belt, adjusts the seat, turns the altimeter back to 0 (it gains a little each flight) and we’re all set. When we return the third man meets us and the performance is repeated. When we’re all down we talk over the day’s flying with Stoltz, our instructor and then lie around or sit around, smoking cigarettes and talking about how rotten we were today and waiting for the bus which comes at 1:00 p.m.
When we get back here we go right to chow. After chow we have two hours of classes, then P.T. and then it’s time for chow again. We’re through at 6:45 and the evening is spent writing letters and studying and bunk flying. So you see it’s a pretty full day.
Well there you have it! I’m gonna quit and study!
March 10, 1943
Received letters and a notice of two packages but too late to pick them up today, not forgetting to mention two New Yorkers which chased me through the Classification Center to Pre-Flight and finally caught up with me!
Didn’t solo today because there was too much wind – about a 30-mile-an-hour wind from the south. But we flew dual for an hour. Practiced landings, S-turns, spins and stalls.
Some time I’ll write you just what it felt like to solo the first time but I’ll wait until I feel I can describe the emotion and do it justice.
Enjoyed talking to you two last night. Very tired but feeling swell. Gonna hit the hay right now.
The boy next to me washed out today. The first in our barracks. A swell guy we all like but evidently he just can’t fly. He’s going to bombardier school.
March 11, 1943
Just called for two packages of which I was notified yesterday. Walked back to the barracks through the heavy rain that must have started during the night and which will relieve us of PT this morning and probably flying this afternoon.
As for the magazines and papers, etc. it certainly was wonderful of you to wrap them all up and send them. I appreciate it although I have about as much time for reading as I have for painting – which is practically nil. As it so happened the New Yorker you sent arrived yesterday from Texas (another copy) and I tried to read it on the flight line and in the bus. Managed to read some of it eating supper. But actually it’s very difficult to read here, even if I do find a few odd moments. I can’t concentrate or enjoy myself when three radios are on and six conversations are taking place. The Harpers you sent I had bought on the way up from Texas and still have in my locker unread. The Posts I have scanned already and the Times require a concentration I can’t muster. Have taken to a breakfast paper every morning and so I don’t starve for news like in Texas although the paper is only slightly better than the Detroit papers. The evening paper, which I manage to get occasionally, is very good, better than the Telegram or Sun.
What I’m driving at is please don’t waste your time and money in sending me anything to read. I know that when you do so you are thinking of how much I love to read and how necessary it is to me, and so I appreciate the thought. But it’s just impossible.
As for the other package! Wow! I must have eaten fifteen date sticks at least without stopping and sort of groaning at the same time. Right now I’m fighting the temptation to go to my locker and have just one more but I think I’ll save some until tonight. They sure are wonderful, as several other fellows can testify. They take one and then come back later looking a little sheepish and very eager. The caramels are good too. I’ve just had six so I should know.
But there’s another point. I hope you’re not skimping on sugar and then blowing it all on one batch of date sticks, are you? Because that would be silly. Last Sunday I reprimanded myself for unthinkingly taking a cup of coffee with Sunday dinner. It’s bothered me since then because it probably meant Mr. Teach had to do without it Monday morning, and I hate to think of you doing that sort of thing for me.
The weather sure is lousy but at least it’s a little warmer. Probably means we’ll have to fly Sunday. Well I’m gonna quit now! Incidentally how is this free mail coming through? If you find it is almost as fast as air-mail I suggest you follow suit and use 3-cent stamps for a while. The few hours difference isn’t very important.
My ground school average isn’t so hot; around 72. Means I have to go to study hall at night. The trouble is I’m so damn tired I just can’t study when it comes time to so same. Then I make foolish mistakes on the exams. But don’t worry I’ll get it up soon.
Well I’ll quit now!
March 28, 1943
Feel completely rested after a terrific week. Exams and flying almost three hours an afternoon.
Doing acrobatics now having passed the half-way mark in my course here. Now have about 32 hours. The real struggle is only beginning for the next three weeks will be the toughest we will ever have in our career until actual combat.
Five men “washed out” yesterday and more due Monday. My two good friends have left already for Navigators’ training. The number of washouts is terrific. If there is half of our number here in two weeks (our original number) it will be a great surprise.
Motor quit cold in a spin the other day. Recovered from the spin and the prop was still stopped. Picked out a field for a forced landing but at 3,000 feet I dove straight for the ground and she caught. Am flying from the front seat now and enjoying the increased visibility and added warmth from the engine.
My letters will probably be few and far between for a while but have no fear. Except for a slight nervousness I am fit as a fiddle and fat as a pig. Ate a huge steak last night and three mugs of good St. Louis beer.
Best love to all,
April 2, 1943
Just a note to let you know all is well.
I received another pair of socks from Frances via you and for God’s sake get her to stop. This is very embarrassing. What in heaven’s name do I need four pair for? I must write her and thank her when I get a chance.
Total hours to date 42:47, only 20 to go.
Expect a long weekend but doubt if it will be long enough to get home in and back.
Working pretty hard – flew three hours today, all acrobatics, loops, chandelles, snap rolls, slow rolls; I’m exhausted! The only checks our instructor has on us is the dual rides we take. They can’t see us from the ground.
Weather very warm and clear. Flew today at 6,000 feet and did three spins to get back down, each one losing 1,000 feet. Very tired but feelin’ good. Gonna go with some of the boys to see a three-piece hot Negro band hereabouts tomorrow night.
Love to all,
April 4, 1943 The Coronado Hotel, St. Louis, Missouri
Well another week has gone by like lightning and here it is April already with forsythia blooming in profusion out at Parks and the lilac bushes all thick with leaves.
This week was a tough one as far as flying went since it consisted mostly of acrobatics. Besides which they are continuing to rush us through in the manner we are gradually beginning to understand we must accept and make the best of. Many of us flew 3 hours a day all week with two hours of Link trainer (one a day) thrown in besides. Not to mention a pretty stiff exam in Aircraft and Engines which I passed with a 97 bringing my total scholastic average up to around 87.5. It certainly takes a lot of high marks to overcome the one poor mark I made the first week we were here and I was struggling with airsickness and a head cold.
The acrobatics we are doing are so much fun that honest to goodness sometimes I do six snap-rolls in a row and then just laugh out loud. Friday morning I flew upside down for 40 seconds just for the hell of it, then rolled out and went into a loop and then two slow rolls.
It’s flying all right now and when you learn how to do something like a snap-roll so that you perform the necessary actions on the controls without having to think about them it is just like being a bird and a lot like ice-skating where you have a huge lake all to yourself and can glide and turn with effortless ease.
Friday noon we were told that we wouldn’t have to fly on Saturday and says I to myself if I cut Physical Training and the one class I’d have on Saturday besides a few odd drill periods I’d have time to come home maybe. So I tried to get permission to get a pass but only to find the only furloughs granted are those requested by the Red Cross at the advice of the family physician for reason of sickness in the family. And no pass can be issued for a distance greater than 25 miles. Anyhow I said the hell with getting a pass. So I hitched into St. Louis early Friday afternoon and took a bus and three trolley cars out to Lambert Field (8-10 miles from St. Louis) all of which took a good hour and a half.
Out at Lambert they told me if a cargo transport came through and was heading for New York they could take me if they had room and a spare parachute but they (at the field) couldn’t tell when one was coming through and I’d just have to take my chances. An Army plane whether it was a transport or a bomber would have to have an extra parachute anyway. And if it was a bomber I’d have to have orders from the C.O. at Parks to get aboard unless I could talk them into it.
Anyhow I waited around in a Red Cross canteen they had there and chatted with a very pretty girl and had some coffee. At around five-o’clock we heard three B-24s were coming in. Then a while later we saw the first circle the field and then come into a perfect landing like some huge bird. It was painted pure white underneath and the top was green. It taxied over and as it drew up in front of the hangar with a roar from the four huge engines I was really overcome by the size of it. Then the motors stopped and we could hear a smaller electric motor start up and the bomb-bay doors rolled away from the bottom of the ship up the sides, and out popped a young lieutenant wearing coveralls and a leather jacket and laughing about something. The rest of the crew followed including two Canadian Air Force men. They all came into the canteen and sooner or later I was talking to the lieutenants. They were ferrying this plane to England evidently and this was a one-night stopover.
They talked a lot about flying B-24s, how much like flying a small plane it was, and lots of other things about flying techniques. I had a marvelous time. They were both about 30 (both pilots) which surprised me but evidently very much enthused with flying. Red faced and healthy looking. Later on the other two [planes] came in and one of the pilots was a real young kid and already had a captain’s bars on his shoulders. I talked to him for a while. He was just like a young college kid, sort of smart and quick but not too much on the ball outside of flying. Anyhow before the afternoon was over I had been all through a B-24 and I’m telling you it was some thrill. They are simply enormous. Unbelievable that such a monster could float in the air.
So after a while they all piled into some staff cars that called for them and I stood there with my tongue hanging out and started think how wonderful it would be to fly one of those giants instead of the P-51s or P-38s I’ve always been aiming at. At any rate I began to see that maybe I was taking too big a chance at wrecking my future chances at flying one by being A.W.O.L. for a weekend so I said to hell with it and headed back for camp, meeting some other cadets in town on the way, and having a steak and some good beer before getting back to camp.
So Saturday we hit town at about 3:00 p.m. and couldn’t get a room downtown and ended up at The Coronado which is about 15 minutes from the center of town and really a swell hotel and swanky but only $2.25 for single against $3 in The Statler. Had a couple of drinks and then decided I might as well buy it and get it over with – I mean a blouse to replace this G.I. sack I’ve been wearing all these months. There are only two or three of the fellows left in the barracks who haven’t got them now. When I first entered I said it’s silly as hell to buy a blouse because if you wash out there you are stuck with it, and besides, if the G.I. blouse is good enough for the men in Africa doing the fighting it ought to be good enough for me. But jeez you sure feel crummy when you’re with a mess of other fellows and you’re the only one in a sack. I had intended to wait until I had saved up enough money from two pay-checks but now I heard we’ll be paid again on the 17th and leave on the 18th for Kansas and Basic Training which wouldn’t give me time to get one. To make a long story short I walked into Famous- Barr (a big department store here) and the first one I put on fit like a dream, just a little too full around the waist. So I had it altered and taken in for the right shoulder which as you know I carry slightly lower than the left. So anyhow I’m out $32.50 until the Army gives me $250 allowance for my officer’s uniform.
And what a thrill it was to put it on in the store at 5:00 p.m. and walk out on to the street. I must have gotten 5 salutes thrown at me before I reached The Statler where Bill Connors was waiting for me. It’s not so much a thrill because you feel superior to the G.I. bunch and rate a salute, but it’s just good to know you look as spruce and correct as any officer. If you remember I told you our class (43-H) was the first class to be issued G.I. blouses and overcoats, the previous classes receiving all cadet clothing which is officers’ but must be turned in when you get wings.
Anyhow me and Bill and our blouses had a wonderful evening being introduced as lieutenant this and lieutenant that (which we corrected, but haphazardly). The hotel here is far enough from town to have us the only cadets and we were really something. We wound up with a casket salesman and a Botany Wool salesman and their wives and had a gay evening, very gay.
And then for breakfast I had three orders of wheat cakes and some scrambled eggs and coffee in the coffee-grill, then went to a movie at noon (awful) and now I’m getting ready to head back to camp.
I feel very conscience-stricken by the fact that I spent the $40 I was going to send to you but hope you will understand how important it was and can wait until the middle of the month.
Incidentally all this talk about being an officer should not mislead you into thinking it’s a sure thing. I’ll get through. But the fact I’ve bought a blouse should show you how good I think my chances are. Nevertheless I must warn you that a tiny error due to nervousness in the first 2 minutes of a check ride is sufficient excuse to wash a man out. I have seen a plane with a student in it for a check ride take off the runway, circle the field, and return in 5 or 6 minutes and the cadet climb down from the cockpit with tears in his eyes – washed out because he cross-controlled on the first turn off the field.
I’ve got to check-out now and head back for camp. Best love to you both and the rest of the family as well. Dad I know you’re flying with me! Once in a while I get a whiff of tobacco smoke from the empty rear cockpit and a voice says “Let’s see a snap-roll, son!”
April 13, 1943
Tomorrow sees us complete our 62 hours, Pop, and if you feel as good as I do about it we should have a bottle of wine together. We made it, didn’t we?
Two hours to go!…weather cold and windy. Leaving soon for Kansas. In a week, I guess!
Love to all. I get you letters and mean to write decent ones back but I never seem to get a chance.
Garden City, Kansas
After completing their courses and flying hours at Parks Air College, the aviation cadets of 43-H were transferred by train on April 22, 1943 and reassigned to Army Air Forces Basic Flying School (AAFBFS), at Garden City Army Airfield, about 11 miles southeast of Garden City, Kansas. The orders noted “It being impracticable for the Govt to furn cooking facilities for rations… a per diem allowance of $5.00 (five dollars) per day in lieu of actual expenses incurred for subsistence is authorized for the time to perform the journey by rail.”
Once a Kansas wheat field overlooking the Arkansas River, construction of the 1,584-acre military base outside Garden City that began in June 1942 had only just been completed when Dad and his 43-H classmates arrived in April 1943. There were 66 barracks to house 2,224 enlisted men and 26 barracks for 520 aviation cadets, officers’ quarters, administration buildings, a mess hall, a 150-bed hospital, and living quarters for Army nurses. The field had five active runways and adjacent taxiways, three large squadron hangars, and a large, paved parking apron.
Although my father’s next destination was Pampa, Texas, about 175 miles due south of Garden City, the cadets of 43-H were put on a train that took a circuitous, yet picturesque, 18-hour route through Oklahoma.
April 24, 1943 Saturday afternoon
Well, here we are after a long journey across Missouri and Kansas. We left early Thursday afternoon and spent the usual three hours in the St. Louis station. A long trip in uncomfortable coaches this time but broken by a five-hour stay in Newton, Kansas – a small, clean, typical Midwestern town whose simplicity and peacefulness had all of us thinking of home before we were forced to leave.
At any rate we sure ate that town out. When we reached there Friday morning I ate orange juice, two fried eggs, sausage and a double stack of wheat cakes, milk, and a bun. Then for dinner we had fried trout, green peas, and shoestring potatoes, pie ala mode (65 cents) and really never had a better meal for the price.
Our arrival here was the usual miserable and interminable series of waiting on lines. It was long after midnight before we hit the hay and I assure you that after the one hour’s sleep the previous night it didn’t need any lullabies to put me to sleep.
As far as we can make out from our short stay here it looks like a fairly good deal. The discipline is terrific, far more rigid than even Pre-Flight school was. But this of course will be compensated by the flying. And although the upper-class manages all formations they do not live with us and there is no hazing. The barracks are one story, divided into 9, two-man rooms with the latrine a stone’s throw away. As far as I am concerned this pleases me no end since the peace I find so necessary for concentration can only be shattered by one man. What also makes me happy is the banning of all radios.
We spent this morning drilling in the hot, dusty quadrangle in the center of the barracks. The annoyance of this was mitigated by an air show eight lieutenants staged above our heads. They were practicing for a show that will take place fairly soon. It was thrilling to see our first formation acrobatics wheeling in ever tightening circles or peeling off in slow rolls from a perfect echelon. The planes glinted the brilliant sun and filled the air with their noise, exciting us all no end and acting as a perfect welcome.
The food seems fair, the weather very warm and clear but filled with the sifting, brown dust of Kansas.
We will have no open-posts or motion picture privileges for five weeks and very little free time. But after the freedom of Parks it is almost a welcome change since the necessity of such a life, to keep one on the ball.
Walking back through the dusk with a good meal under my belt (followed by a bottle Budweiser at the cadet club and some ice cream also) watching some fellows throwing a ball high in the air so they could see it against the sky and be able to catch it…talking for a few minutes with a bunch in front of the barracks, then coming in and sitting down at this desk, it suddenly felt good to be a soldier, damn good.
Tomorrow we’ll probably have more drill, and PT. Easter Sunday means nothing to the Army, but Monday we’ll start to fly and by Thursday should solo. The ships are big, with radios, too. Everyone is anxious to get in them, lots of talk going on.
April 25, 1943 Easter Sunday
This letter will probably arrive with one I sent Mom and Dad so I won’t repeat myself knowing how you all compare notes. I did want to write you though and make a date for 1958 with Junior and Anne. I’d like to teach them both to fly if it’s O.K. with you and Larry. By that time you will own a small plastic and plywood cruiser of about 120 hp that will be spin-proof and easier to control than any automobile of today. Larry will be commuting in it to N.Y. every day, calling you by radio-phone as he takes off on the way home. But we can use my plane to teach the kids in if you want. It has dual controls since it’s an old job made in 1950 or so…
Did practically nothing today. Wrote a mess of letters and saw “The Hangman Also Dies” or something like that, which wasn’t too bad. Tonight they told us that when the had said we couldn’t go to the movies they had meant it. For the first five weeks we can’t go any place beyond an area of some 100 sq. yards.
Last night I was sitting here writing when the O.D. (Cadet Officer of the Day) came around to check on us and see that we were all here during Call to Quarters (8-9:30). When he went by the door I cackled like a chicken (this is as derisive as a raspberry – the implication being that the person it is directed at is a “chickensh__” which means he hasn’t our best interests at heart). Well much to my surprise he came in, said “Something funny, Mr.?”
“Nope,” I said.
“Don’t you come to attention when the O.D. comes in?”
“Hell no, it’s Call to Quarters.”
“Hit a brace, Mister.”
So I sort of came to attention, not a brace, and we stood there like that and then he went out. Well I got sort of worried because we’d only been here a day and although I was pretty sure there was no class system (like Pre-Flight) here because the upperclassman who’d been drilling us all that afternoon seemed like a regular guy and gold-bricked with the ten of us in his squad whenever we possibly could… Anyhow I had a mental image of myself on the ramp for a few hours and after 13 hours of that at Parks I definitely do not like walking tours. Well, I walked over to the O.D. room and after a few seconds realized he was just kidding me. So we arranged to have a fight (fake of course) when he made the after-taps check. At 10:15 he came in and caught me out of bed and we carried on a beautiful conversation in which I accused him of being chickensh__ and he told me to hit a brace. I refused and took and imaginary poke at him (knocking over my chair in the process) and after a little scuffling in the dark he left saying, “You’ll get twenty tours out of this, Mr.”
You can imagine how the story has spread with appropriate ramifications. I’m already known as “The Ramp-Tramp” but of course no one but the O.D. and me know it was all staged. Oh, jeez, what fun!
What really was good was the way we drilled yesterday afternoon. Like mad for a few minutes in front of the windows of the officers and then all 10 of us in our drill squad dove into the latrine for 15 minutes. Then out again and drilled like mad for 5 minutes. Then into the Px and had two bottles of Budweiser and a sandwich and some ice cream. Then drill some and then back to the latrine. This went on all afternoon. 5 minutes drill, 15 minutes gold-bricking.
One of the things that I know you all must wonder about occasionally is what a bunch of healthy misters like ourselves do about women. Well as you know we only had a few days off in Pre-Flight school and we just went into San Antonio to a dance or so or meet some gals in a bar and kid around with them. We never had a chance to make good acquaintances. And at Parks although we had plenty of time in town everything was strangely platonic for the most part with a few notable exceptions on the part of several men. Yours truly had one date in town and was bored to distraction with the gal. Then the Wednesday night before we left I met a gal in a juke joint a block from camp. Some local girl who could really dance and with whom I had a lot of fun. It was sad as hell to have to leave her at 12 and know I’d never see her again. But that’s the Army; just when you begin to meet people you get shipped off someplace.
Well I’m gonna get ready for bed. Really feel tired.
Love to all,
April 30, 1943
Just spent most of an hour trying to start our [coal] stove, but unsuccessfully. So now I’m sitting here at my desk cursing myself for wasting all that time when I could have been writing letters or studying. It isn’t very cold but is chilly enough for a fire.
Received my first mail here today since arrival. Your letter describing Dad’s trip to Boston and its unhappy conclusion – [Aunt] Grace’s death – left me with many mixed emotions. Mostly a sense of time, the passing of time, especially since it should happen so soon after the arrival of Larry Jr. One less, and one more.
Well I suppose you’re wondering what’s happening out here. Honestly, what I went through at Primary that first awful week is more or less repeating itself here only thank God I’m not airsick at least. Just frightfully confused and damn worried. If you’re wondering what I have to worry about let me describe the procedure upon climbing into the cockpit:
- Unlock controls
- Fasten safety belt
- Roll up wing flaps
- Set throttle
- Set mixture (gas & air) to “full rich” position
- Set propeller pitch to high
- See that gas switch is on reserve tank
- Check altimeter to 2,880 ft. (height of field)
- Turn radio on
- Turn ignition switch on shouting “switch on”
- Work wobble pump with left hand, primer with right hand, about ten pumps each
- Shout “stand clear” and flip energizer to left which starts a flywheel rotating
- After 15 seconds, flip same switch to the other side which engages the starter
- As soon as motor gets going change prop pitch to “low”
- Test magnetos
- Call tower – “Garden City Tower, this is one zero four – radio check over” to which the reply is “one-zero-four OUT”
- Release brakes
- Taxi to starting line
- Roll down flaps (which increase lift of wings)
- TAKE OFF
- Roll trim tabs back
- Climb 100 ft. above desired altitude at no time exceeding 90 mph or less than 90 mph
- Roll up flaps
- Change pitch
- Glide down to desired altitude.
This procedure must be done exactly as I have described it, and the first 17 in about 2 minutes. Now when you realize I’ve only been around this huge monster a few hours you wonder how I remember to do them all – I don’t. I always forget something or other. But at least I know where the 54 items in the cockpit are BLINDFOLDED. We will have our blindfold test before we solo. Also a test on the plane’s capacities etc. such as fuel, oil, temperatures and capacity…cruising speed, diving speed, RPMs (maximum, desired, minimum) and a thousand and one other things.
Not to mention Ground School. Honest to goodness I don’t know how the hell we do it all.
Gotta hit the hay now. More on Sunday. We have a new deal here – Open Post – but no one is going to town. No liquor, no women, no food there.
Love to all,
May 2, 1943 Sunday morning
Dear [Aunt] Francey,
And a very Sundayish morning it is at that. I’ve just been cleaning up my room, desk and trunk, listening to a radio in the next room tuned to the Southernaires and all that is missing is Dad’s cigar smoke coming up the stairs. In a minute I expect a black Buick will drive up to the door and I’ll run out and say “Francey!” How long are you going to be here?” before I can stop myself. Another thing that is missing is a cold jar of Texas figs in the downstairs ice box. But I’d trade those any day for the [Vultee] BT-13 [Valiant] sitting not so far away.
I thought the enclosed mailing cover might amuse you. The New Yorker still pursues me in its relentless fashion, usually some three weeks late. Next week I expect the one I read on the train coming out here and after that any that come will be new to me, since they don’t have them out here.
The authorities finally relented and extended us upper-class privileges such as going to the Px, movies, and Open Post. While another chap and I went to the movies here on the post last night some of the boys went into Garden City returning in the small hours fairly disgusted with the absence of women, liquor, $5 a pint bootleg, and not much food in town. This above-mentioned “relenting” really amounts to taking the chains off our legs and now we only have the bars on the windows.
As you have no doubt heard this deal here is O.K. We’re flying heavier, more powerful, and vastly more complicated ships. In a few hours we’ll begin soloing and shortly after we learn to manage these ships well we’ll start instrument flying, six cross-country flights (both instrument and open; night flying, and formation flying. It’s really exciting as hell to all of us and we’re pretty busy trying to remember where everything is and when we should use tabs, flaps, low pitch prop., etc.
The only mitigating instance about this hell-hole is the 3.2 beer obtainable after 5 p.m. at the Px or the Cadet Club. It has a faint kick (after 4 bottles) and is something like beer. It’s good to have around though and you’d be surprised what a difference in morale a bottle of beer will cause. (Very obtuse and vague English but you get what I mean).
So in another 4 months I’ll be back in N.Y. with the wings I hope, although you all will probably see me as a cadet several weeks before that if it can be managed. We get some choice of destination on our cross-country flights.
Best regards to Albert, etc. if you can catch him some morning on the way to the links. Also to your neighbors in 123 W. 93.
May 2, 1943 Sunday morning
Just wrote Frances a line or two. Told her it was so Sundayish here with the Southernaires on down the hall that all I needed was a black Buick to drive up in front and I’d swear it was home.
Had half-grapefruit, corn flakes, 4 eggs (fried) French toast (3 pieces) toast and jam and two glasses of milk for breakfast and then shaved and cleaned up my room. Thinking of Texas figs in a tall, cold bottle occasionally but nevertheless pretty damn satisfied with everything.
There are a few things I really need and would appreciate your sending me when you get a chance:
- My plain-toed leather-soled shoe
- A bottle of Higgins Black India ink
- A small pad of smooth paper (heavy enough to be completely opaque)
- A box of paper matches – we’re again in the matchless situation here.
- Some paste or glue in a tube.
The ink and pad and glue will be used for sketches I am making for “The Plainsman” our yearbook here of which I am Art Editor. It means a lot of work but I get out of drill by doing it so what the hell. Intend to cover the inside front and inside back cover with little tiny sketches in ink plus decorations. The book will have 34 pages and contain all the graduating class plus instructors. It suddenly occurred to me that here I’ve been so careful not letting you know the exact number in our class yet we will be allowed to send the yearbook home which not only shows their number but pictures as well. For your information there are 197 of us in 43-H here. Of this number probably 160 or so will go on the Advanced School. The rest being washed out or something. Before we leave we will be divided into two sections, one of which will go to twin-engine Advanced to become bomber pilots and the other to single-engine to become Pursuit pilots. Although I still think I want pursuit I’m afraid I’m too old. So will probably end up in Twin-Engine.
Gonna quit now and write Mrs. Francis and some other people. Best love to all.
May 5, 1943
Soloed today! Almost as excited as the first time I went up alone at Primary. Just three take-offs and landings but the pattern seemed tremendous, even at 120 mph, and the ship still seems big too.
Came back tonight to the barracks and opened the shoes that came today. Gee they sure look marvelous. I’m gonna wear them Friday for the parade. Gen. [Henry H.] Arnold [Army Air Forces Commanding General] will be here. Big doings since they are dedicating the field.
Saw some captured German films tonight. Horrifying. Propaganda and shots of Dunkirk, machines, machines, and destruction. Even the music seems macabre.
I’m sending you my watch which got the escapement pivot broken when some sonofabitch turned my bed upside down. It was under my pillow and flew across the floor. I think you’d do best at Altman’s where I got it. This guy that turned my bed over is going to pay for it.
Weather very warm with the strangest sky because of the dust I’ve ever seen. Tonight!
Best love to all and thanks a hell of a lot for the shoes.
May 7, 1943 Friday 8:30 a.m.
Well this is an opportunity I might not have again in a long time so I might as well make the most of it don’t you think? I’m up in the dispensary waiting for the MD to dish out a few pills for a rotten cold I seem to have caught damn it…felt it coming on all week but there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Yesterday we flew for 50 minutes and it certainly was nice. The day before we had been up to six-thousand feet…above the clouds practicing stalls and that was very beautiful. But as I was saying, yesterday we practiced turns and stalls and what are called coordination exercises, meaning you put your nose on a point on the horizon and wave your wings alternately to the left and right. Then at five hundred feet we tried flying the rectangular course which means you must keep the star on your wings on a road and then when you come to the corner you have to turn and keep it on the road that’s at right angles to the one you were just on if you get what I mean. It’s all very difficult and although not physically strenuous you cannot imagine the terrific nervous strain of trying to fly a specific turn or course exactly as it should be done and still be relaxed.
Fortunately as far as this cold is concerned even if I do miss today’s flying I won’t be missing much since it is very cold out this morning and even was snowing at around eight o’clock. We haven’t worn the fleece-lined pants we were issued yet but I imagine the boys will be wearing them today.
I suppose Dad would like to know “how I’m doing compared to the other boys in my class?” Well each person is so completely different when it comes to flying that really there can be no comparison. Some fellows seem to be getting turns O.K. but can’t do stalls or fly level. Other fellows can’t figure out the traffic pattern quickly enough upon returning to the field. Each person can do some things better than others. Then, too, there’s the question of different instructors. For instance some of the instructors have had their boys in spins already or let them land the ship. Others like mine seem more inclined to let us get confident of our ability to control the plane before we try anything dangerous or difficult. Many of the instructors are inclined to cursing and swearing at the students when they do something wrong while ours is always quiet and calm but can yank that stick around to where he wants it pretty damn quick so that your stomach is left a few hundred feet up in the air upon occasion…
I still feel pretty rotten, not so much distress from the cold but just uncomfortable. At any rate I didn’t miss any flying today. It was too cold and windy. The red flag was up and nobody flew. Temperature around 21º and very, very windy. I sure hate this weather!
Best love to all,
May 9, 1943 Sunday morning
Just spent a good hour cleaning up my room, including my desk drawer which had gotten into the usual condition (assorted debris and dust) because we never have to open them for inspection.
We’ve been having a three-day weekend – Friday afternoon the dedication exercises for the field were held in a drizzling cold rain. Yours truly wore an O.D. (wool) shirt and a sweatshirt under his khaki shirt and even so damn near froze to death. We stood motionless at “parade rest” while the Governor of Kansas [Andrew F. Schoeppel] made a speech and the fellows in back of me were snickering at the droplets of water hanging from the lobes of my ears. We also marched the entire length of the runway that fronts the hangars and is one mile long. We marched up and back or two miles.
Yesterday Chuck Collier (who is photographer on the yearbook for which I am making sketches) and I went into town and spent most of the day playing ping-pong in the U.S.O. Had a fairly good dinner and just wasted the rest of the day returning here in time to see the early show at the post theater. We had intended to go horseback riding but when we went out to the stables early in the morning no one was around so we went back to town. Last night we heard several of the cadets had gone out in the afternoon. One of them fell off and bruised his hip and another just fell off. They said the horses were wild as anything so maybe it’s just as well.
As for breakfast this morning goes I didn’t bother playing around with grapefruit or cereal but tossed off 15 pancakes and two glasses of milk and let it go at that. Still I would have liked some figs all right.
This three-day vacation from flying may be just what I need to pull me through the flying slump I was in on Thursday. I flew worse than I’ve ever flown. Just mistake after mistake and it’s a wonder I got back intact. Just the result of trying too hard. But a couple more exhibitions of half-wittedness and I’ll be out of here on my neck. So I’m trying to be relaxed and see what happens tomorrow. I think part of the trouble is with my instructor. I was about the fifth cadet in our class of 200 to solo and I really don’t think I was ready for it. Just made me nervous as hell. But the way I look at it is only a small percentage of those who get to solo in Basic ever wash out so the odds are still with me.
It’s pretty damn cold even today and we have a roaring fire in our little stove which is just like the one we had in 16 Halcyon [Terrace]. Only we burn soft coal in huge lumps. It burns quicker and smokier but by careful adjustment of the dampers will last all night. Due to my long experience in an advisory capacity at 16 Halcyon my services as Stationary Engineer are much in demand. Besides being Barracks Lieutenant (not honorary, just picked off at random by the C.O.) I am now Damper Director and render expert advice for the small sum of one cookie or other edible material.
That Garden City is sure one hell of a dead town all right. They boast of Snooker’s for beer (3.2) which is roughly similar to a Third Avenue pool parlor. The D.C. Restaurant (one of the three or four in town) which as far as I’m concerned gives me the D.T.s and one movie house showing a thrilling picture with Don Ameche which out of sheer boredom I saw last November in San Antonio. The thrilling dances at the U.S.O. and the K. of C. are frequented by flashing fourteen-year-old farm girls and 40-year-old village spinsters. Anything in between is never seen. So as far as we’re concerned the Governor of Kansas can take Garden City and the rest of Kansas and shove it up the Arkansas River (that miserable trickle which forms the south boundary of our field).
And as far as the fourteen-year-olds are concerned may I suggest your read “Trouble on the Street Corners” in this month’s Reader’s Digest. I’ve seen these children in St. Louis and yesterday in Garden City. And that is the only real evidence of the war we’ve really seen. As far as everything else goes these little towns and the big cities look just the same as any town. There is still food in the shop windows, gasoline in the service stations, and well-dressed people on the sidewalks. But the sight of these little kids fills me with an indescribable sadness. Just the first twinges of the horror we’ll all feel when we see our first dead men and realize what the hell it’s all about.
Another thing that amazes me is the fact that most of our flying instructors (who are all second lieutenants and have been through what we are going through) enlisted no sooner than last March. And we who enlisted in May are still 4 months away. It was just that they were taking them much quicker then and rushing them through. No 6 months before Pre-Flight of 4 weeks in Classification.
Before I close I must tell you what the fellow in the next room just said.
“That gal I was with last night, she sure was something. We’d been sitting out in the car for 3 hours and she turned to me and said, ‘What did you say your first name was?’ ”
May 11, 1943
Just time for a scribbled note. We just returned from classes; been really worked today. No free time at all.
Yours truly working on a mural for the Day Room as well as sketches for the yearbook. Received just exactly what I needed in a tremendous package from Frederich’s for which I don’t know how to thank you. Just arrived in the nick of time and saved me endless trouble trying to find the damn stuff in town.
Flying a little better but still not very well. Will try and find time tomorrow for a letter but I doubt it. We are really working hard.
Love to all,
May 14, 1943 Friday 4:00 p.m. at the Pilot house
Well I’ve got a half-hour or so before I go up with my Joe so maybe I’ll get time to write a letter.
We’ve had a formation for one thing or another every night this week. Get finished flying or work at 7:00 eat at 7:15 and then a formation from 8:00 to 9:30 or 10:00 with lights out at 10:05 so you can see we haven’t had much time for letters or even studying.
I’ve been working on sketches for a mural in the Day Room all this week during P.T. and Drill periods thereby missing pretty good chance of becoming Cadet Captain. But I’d rather do the mural any day. Cadet officers have a lot of work to do. Of course there is a certain honor attached, but as I said before I’d rather do the mural.
We didn’t fly much yesterday due to cold, cloudy weather. I just got two hours in. Today was also cold and cloudy but they are allowing us to go up dual. Our ground school is now closely associated with actual flying – and pretty difficult – weather and navigation each day and identification once a week.
I think the last letter I wrote you sounded sort of despondent. Well I’m doing a little better now and am not so worried about washing out. I’m still pretty far from what Dad call’s a “goddam good pilot” and what is know around here as a “hot” pilot or “H.P.” because of a certain slowness in learning to make quick, accurate decisions. In tight spots my decisions are usually O.K. but something else would have been better. That’s the difference between an H.P. and a pilot.
Tonight will end 3 weeks at this place and still so many in our squadron have not soloed, so I’m ahead as far as hours go. Will write again on Sunday,
May 16, 1943 Sunday morning
Well it is Sunday again! Ho hum! Got up at around 9:00. Shaved, showered, cleaned my shoes and made my bed, cleaned up the room and here I am, hungry but contented. Last Sunday I got up at 7:00 because that’s when we have breakfast but today I said the hell with it.
…I haven’t much to say. We’re still working pretty hard. Not too many hours in the air compared to what we had in Primary after the same period of time but soon we’ll be flying night and day. Last night they flew until long after twelve o’clock.
Finally decided that most of our difficulty here seems to be trying to unlearn what we were taught in Primary. The technique for this plane is very different and usually you’ll find when a fellow has made a mistake it’s because he instinctively did what he learned in Primary.
…We were talking last night about being split up when we leave here. Some will go to Pursuit of Single Engine Advanced and other to Twin-Motor. It will really be the breakup of the 200 of us that have been together since November. They are all a swell bunch of fellows; we all know each other by first names now – 200 of us – and when you realize we’re all about 22-25 you can understand what a good time we have. I’d do anything for any one of them and they’d do the same for me. It’s a good set up and 43-H is the best damned group of fellows you’ll ever see. We’re proud as hell of our class and we’ve got reason to be. We were the best group in Pre-Flight and in Primary more of us got through than 43-G and 43-I put together.
Well, more later in the week!
Love to all,
May 23, 1943 Sunday morning
Well here it is Sunday again and if you could see what’s going on here I’m afraid you’d have grave doubts as to the sanity of this part of the Army. Five or six men are out in front of the barracks playing marbles in the warm spring sunlight. One man is playing with a yo-yo and your eldest son just returned from a thrilling game of hopscotch with six or seven other nitwits and a few dozen watching. Some of the men (?) were trying to get up a game of cops and robbers but they couldn’t get enough fellows to be the robbers. We’ve really gone stir crazy.
Last night we had Open Post but I stayed here and finished reading “Saboteur” in the Saturday Evening Post which I though was pretty darn good. Also read the rest of it and some things in this week’s LIFE. We have Open Post now but I’m too lazy to go into town and will probably write a few letters and see “The Ox-bow Incident” at the Post theater this afternoon.
Before I forget it I have $10,000 worth of government insurance which is being paid for me until I become an officer…. Five or six fatal accidents here have started many men writing their wills but yours truly has no material possessions of any sentimental value and no cash so there’s nothing to will. Anyhow in accordance with the usual American philosophy I never think it will be me that will get it – maybe some other guy, but not me.
…This week we start instrument flying which should be quite something. I have about 31 hours in these planes which is about 93 altogether in the air. I’ll be glad to reach 100 this week since even if you wash out then you have a good chance for liaison piloting.
Yesterday we spent all afternoon at the flight line shooting the bull and watching the steady drizzle and swearing at the low ceiling.
Friday my instructor showed me how to fly at 160 mph 6 inches above the ground. This is really some thrill as you can well imagine. We also did some wheel touching at 100 mph. As far as I’m concerned these planes are good for nothing. I’d rather fly a PT any day but once in a while you get a new ship that really has some pep. Dive until you reach 140 or 150 and then pull it up at 75º and gain 700 or 800 feet in 10 seconds.
…Still can’t make up my mind whether to ask for bombers or pursuit. Our upper class is leaving today. Only three men didn’t receive their choice of Single-Engine School or Twin-Motor School. If I think I’m hot enough I’ll try for Single-Engines with the hope of 3 or 4 months transitional at Mitchel Field after I get my wings. Well that’s the way it goes, slow but sure.
Did you like the watercolors in this week’s LIFE? Of Army Air Corps training? We didn’t fly those Stearmans they showed but we are flying the BT-13s as you know.
I enjoyed Mother’s description of the Brillo that was a mouse. For the past few nights we’ve been having mouse hunts here also. My bed is against the front wall of the barracks and there’s a two-inch space between the front of the barracks and the big coal bin. Well we’ve been trying to catch a mouse which boldly scratches right next to my head. Last night I gave up in disgust and filled the cover of the ash can with ashes and filled up the hole between the coal bunker and the barracks.
Just received Mother’s letter of Thursday and Friday. Gee whiz that dinner of Thursday sounded good. Our food is lousy here. We get all the milk, bread and jam, peanut butter we can eat but outside of good salads the rest is pretty poor. Seldom cake or good desserts. Lots of Jello, what the hell! Who cares as long as we can fly?
See you in three months.
Love to all,
May 29, 1943 Saturday night 5:00 p.m.
Well I started to write you a letter a little while ago and then decided before I did that I’d have a fig. So I opened the bottle and holding it in my left hand I started fumbling around in that khaki bag where I keep my toilet articles looking for my spoon. Somehow or other the next thing I knew I had neatly dumped half the juice and a few figs into same. Don’t ask me how! I just did. So after cleaning up the mess I put some of the cookies in a paper bag and walked over to the hospital to visit McGriff who has been there for the past few days. Arrived to find him out to supper so I left the cookies and returned. He has been suffering from fatigue – very extreme.
Well I don’t know what the occasion was but it sure felt like my birthday yesterday and today. Yesterday a big box arrived from Gimbels. My goodness you sure shot the works! We ate the rum things up with the exception of one which I cleaned up just now but we ate saltines and jam and I had six figs last night when we returned from classes at 10:15 p.m. Boy did that ever taste good!
This morning we had a stiff inspection for an hour or so and I worked the rest of the morning on the yearbook. Then just before noon the candy arrived. Unlike the first package this one was horribly mauled though still intact…at any rate I’m so stuffed with candy, crackers and cookies I feel like a kid at the fair. As you know we have very little spare space so there was great arguing here last night as to which fellow was going to bunk which article for me.
Best of all was my wrist-watch which also arrived today. You can’t realize how miserable I was without it. My other watch ($1) works intermittently so I haven’t been using it. Thanks a hell of a lot, Dad.
We start night flying Monday night. Shoot three landings with our instructors and then we solo. This should be rather exciting and it’s about time because this aerobatic flying is getting boring. I was thinking today that driving a car at 60 miles an hour on the highway is much more dangerous. This sounds funny but it really is true and you’d realize it if you had flown a few hours. Of course we have accidents here but most of them are just stupid mistakes.
My last hours of dual flying have been instrument and that is the closest to real work I’ve come to in the Air Corps. You pull a hood (like a baby carriage hood) over your head and then the instructor tells you what to do. And even straight and level flight requires intense concentration. If you look away from the instruments for three seconds when you look back you’ll be all upset.
Well anyhow this finishes another week here and leaves only four more here and only 12 weeks before I get my wings. I still won’t believe it until I see them. Many men washed this week. Three out of the 16 left in our barracks and five or six more slated to wash out very soon. Most of them seem to be washing because they are said to be “dangerous” or because they can’t seem to coordinate.
Most of the men are leaving for town now but yours truly has seen Garden City once and that was enough. It’s about as exciting a spot as Bedford, N.Y. I’ll just stay here and read the S.E.P. and catch up on my correspondence. And eat stuff!
We also start “buddy rides” next week. Three-hour cross-country flights with one man under the hood and the other acting as observer. We land in Colorado on one of them but most are within a radius of 200 miles. Weather was very hot today for a change – with thunderheads rumbling in the distance and fresh winds, etc.
So yours truly is pretty bored at present but hopes to be able to tell you about night flying later in the week. As far as we’re concerned this is a good deal because even if we do fly until after midnight we have the extreme luxury of sleeping until 7:35 the following morning, and where else in the Army does reveille sound at 7:35?
Incidentally the sun sure seems screwy out here. It’s out at 5:30 a.m. which seems all wrong.
So when anyone tells you the Air Corps is exciting or glamorous you tell ‘em I said they’ve got the wrong idea. The closest thing to excitement in flying is flying 10 feet off the ground at 160, besides combat I mean.
See you at Mitchel Field in a few months. Whoopee!
Love to all,
June 2, 1943 Wednesday 4:15 p.m.
Dear Mom and Pop,
Just received a long letter from you and thought I’d write one now since it will probably be my only chance until next Sunday…
Well we flew Monday night in such Stygian darkness as you have never seen. Flew dual for 20 minutes then shot three landings dual. Then the instructor climbed out and I flew solo, just shooting five landings and staying in the pattern. I must admit I was pretty damn scared and my heart was in my mouth most of the time. The only way I can describe the sensation of night flying is to compare it to driving a car 80 miles an hour on a road that is lit by candles and your headlights are out. There is an eerie stream of greenish fire from the exhaust which lights up the right side of the cowling and wing and certainly doesn’t make you feel very comfortable. One of the fellows told me when he finished and got out of the ship he reached down and patted the ground. The runways were lit by small flares and there was a floodlight on the spot where the ship is supposed to come down three points. Really very exciting.
Tonight we fly again and land with no floods but can use our landing lights. Yours truly is in the 5th order and must take off within 30 seconds of 12:50 and then am through for the night but must hang around until everyone is done which will probably be 3:30 or 4:00. We can sleep until 7:35.
Have been flying a lot of instrument time under the hood. Solo time a few of us have been meeting 30 miles north of here and “buzzing” fields in formation which is a lot of fun.
Friday I’m scheduled to fly an instrument cross-country with another cadet as observer, only 220 miles or so.
I’m supposed to be working on the yearbook now instead of PT with the other boys. The weather is stifling with terrific wind and the air is filled with dust. I can barely see a fence a quarter of a mile away. It must be at least 92º F.
While you people are worrying about gasoline it might amuse you to know I use roughly 10 gals. A day of such super-octane gasoline as would make that old Studebaker’s radiator water. These planes use about 25 gallons an hour although one I rode used 40.
Love to all,
P.S. How about the moron that wore all his clothes on his wedding night because someone told him he’d be going to town around eleven o’clock.
June 3, 1943 Thursday night
Well the boys are plenty P.O.ed tonight and justly so. Our C.S. commanding officer is giving us two hours of drill from 8 to 10 because we talked on the way to the mess hall last night. Besides which practically every man will be walking tours this weekend. Six hours for yours truly due to lack of a haircut, nametag last week, and towel improperly folded this week.
We didn’t fly last night as expected. After chow we dressed for the line and were all set to fall out. Then the O.D. Came around and said “no flying tonight” so with a howl of joy we hurriedly undressed and dashed over to the movies to see “The Human Comedy.” Well there we were with bags of popcorn and enjoying ourselves and right in the middle a voice says, “Squadron II fall out for the flight line immediately!”
So we walked up the aisle “sonofabitching” and “goddamming” and ran back to the barracks and changed once more – still terrific wind blowing – then out to the pilot house for an hour’s lecture then they decided no flying so we all dashed back to the show – which, incidentally, was lousy.
Starting “buddy” rides tomorrow. One man under the hood and the other as observer. That’s all, gotta drill.
June 5, 1943 Saturday 2:30 p.m.
Was it your son James who implied flying was becoming boring? Never let it be said.
Last night, just before sunset, we piled into trucks and drove out ten or twelve miles to the auxiliary field No. 2 with our parachutes, the radio truck and all the necessary equipment. The sky was grey to the east but in the west was one of the most gorgeous skies I’ve ever seen and the view through the rear of the truck was something I’ll never forget. The rich green fields against a dark sky and the picture framed by two cadets, their faces sunburned and looking even redder in the warm light.
When we go to the field we piled out of the trucks and threw our parachutes on the ground. The set-up looked like this –
Cadets were grouped into about six orders of six men each. Each man was supposed to take off within half a minute of his allotted time. For instance the first man took off at the “H” hour which was 8:15. He went to a predetermined “zone” for 45 minutes and then at 9:00 p.m. was supposed to enter traffic and shoot landing for 45 minutes – as many as he could in that length of time. The second man took off at “H” plus 01 and returned to shoot landings at 9:01; the third man at “H” + 02, and so on. Well the first order flew in their zones but then the ceiling of clouds moved down to 4,000 feet so they eliminated the zone flying. Yours truly was in the fifth order and my time was “H” + 2.05 – which made my takeoff time 10:20 – only since we were just shooting landings the time would have been 11:05 for take off.
We lay on the concrete using our parachutes for pillows and close together for warmth. Smoking innumerable cigarettes and commenting on each landing. As each ship flew around the patter we could see its lights. Then as they came on the approach the lights would grow larger and suddenly they’d switch on the landing lights 200 feet off the ground and bathe us all in the eerie glow. As they came by the control would shine a spot on the ship to see the number and off the ship would go. The static from the radio would be broken every few seconds by some communication from the home base or a ship in the air or a ship on the take-off point. Also the roar of the motors as each man gave it the gun as soon as he had landed and had the ship under control.
At 10:30 the ceiling was down to 3,800 feet and the base called off flying.
“All the men who have not flown will fly these ships back to the base,” Captain [William F.] Crowley said, “so gather around and I’ll assign ships.”
“Roger!” (like “O.K.”)
“Roger,” I said and putting on my chute and grabbing the cushion I use I headed down the line in the darkness. 201 was at the end. I climbed in, filled out the “Form 1 & 1A” and started her up. The dashboard is black and the dials and hands of the instruments are radium treated so they glow yellow in the purplish fluorescent light which is on a goose neck from the left.
One by one as we were ready we taxied out the line towards the take-off position. As each man passed the control he would radio his number.
“Control No. 2 from two-zero-one this is Cadet Carmel ready for take-off, over!”
“Two-zero-one from Control – repeat call when on take-off point, over!”
So at last I taxied to the take-off point and said, “Cadet Carmel ready for take off, over!”
“Two-zero-one, Cadet Carmel, the runway is clear. Take off when ready, over!”
Then I rolled down some flaps, tested the throttle and took off. The hatch was open, the motor roaring, and in the light rain I couldn’t see a damn thing. Suddenly when I was no more than 100 or 150 feet off the ground the red light which is part of the fuel-pressure warning system flickered like mad and then burned steadily. I made sure the selector was on the “full” reserve tank and worked the hand fuel pump on the left side of the cockpit like anything. The light still stayed on and then my motor quit cold. I pushed the stick forward and started gliding down, then switched to the right tank and tried the pump again. Nothing happened. Then I realized I’d have to land, so I switched both landing lights on and all I could see was the reflection of them in the rain. A few seconds later I saw the ground come into view beneath me not 50 feet away. Wonder of wonders it was no farmhouse but just dirt, good old dirt with a high wheat field to my right. I broke the glide and settled down pretty hard and rolled for 100 feet. PHEW!
“Control #2 from two-zero-one, Cadet Carmel. I have just made a forced landing. Am uninjured and the ship is O.K. Over!”
“Control #2 from two-zero-one, over!”
No answer! So I repeat this twice more. Then I hear a plane say, “Control from one-three-four, a ship has just made a forced landing due east of the field, over!” and for the next few minutes the earphones fairly rattled on my head while I tried to get them, they tried to get me and some half-wit at the main base was saying, “Tower from five-zero-eight frequency check short count one-two-three-four-five-five-four-three-two-one over.”
Finally a ship started to circle above me, then swooped within 10 feet of me and I waved my arms. He said, “Control #2 from one-three-four, the ship is two-zero-one. Right side up and the pilot apparently O.K. He waved his arms. Over!”
So for the next half hour while the ship circled above me I walked around the plane I had landed in and saw it was all O.K., smoked a cigarette and stood in the rain wondering where the hell the crash-car was. All afternoon and even when I had take off a few minutes before I’d had hiccups from over indulging in some date sticks which had arrived at noon. I suddenly discovered they were all gone.
When Captain Crowley arrived in the radio truck I was leaning against the wing and nonchalantly munching a Baby Ruth which I had fortunately discovered in my pocket.
Three or four mechanics swarmed over the plane and found it to be O.K. they started it up and she ran perfectly! SO after inspecting the comparative merits of the plowed ground the ship was on and the knee high wheat field next to us, Captain Crowley climbed in and with the exquisite skill which has made him the admiration of all, taxied into the other field, revved up his engine for 10 minutes and then took off, his landing lights brilliantly shining against the rain, wheat tips flying in all directions and THE EMERGENCY FUEL PRESSURE WARNING GLOWING BRILLIANTLY also.
We dashed (or rather bumped) back to #2 through the wheat. I was almost a mile from the field. When we got back there we waited until Crowley came back in another ship with Lt. Pennell (our flight commander). Lt. Pennell climbed into a ship which had no battery and he flew the dark ship back to the main field. Captain Crowley went back in the ship he had brought Pennell over in and I went back in the radio truck at 45 miles an hour over dirt roads, scattering hundreds of rabbits before us.
It was one o’clock before I got to bed and morning found me being congratulated and made much of. It was the only night forced landing in which both pilot and plane emerged unscathed. Yes, I was damn lucky. The skill was Captain Crowley’s, taking off in that mess rather than detail two mechanics to spend the night there with the ship. What a flyer!
When I wrote my statement today Captain Crowley said the fuel pump was defective on the plane. He said he was pretty scared coming back, but he flew it in high pitch which helped somehow.
So you eldest son will no longer go around saying, “Scare me!” I’ve got the hiccoughs!” to other cadets like he was doing early in the evening last night.
The date sticks are marvelous and also a package of coconut thingamujigs arrived today and sure taste good.
After all the complaining I’ve been doing about food here, today for lunch we had:
Roast chicken (marvelous)
Corn on the cob
Lettuce and tomato salad
Radishes, pickles, onions, celery
Which is pretty damn good but they’ll have to go a long ways before they make up for the past few weeks.
Two and a half weeks to go here! Will be ordering my officer’s uniform in three weeks!
Love to all,
June 13, 1943
Well this week saw our first cross-country flight successfully completed. A beautiful, sunny day. Warm, with cumulus clouds above and visibility of close to 50 miles. We didn’t land at the two fields of the triangular course but rolled ten turns of flaps down and “dragged” the field at 10 ft. – 100 miles an hour. At each field there was a control ship (parked) with which we established contact and requested landing instructions some five miles before.
One of the fellows was considerably surprised when on requesting landing instructions he received the following in a decidedly feminine voice: “Jeezus Christ two-three-one, drag the field, drag the field!” When he did he saw a girl in a white dress standing on the wing of the plane. Some local girl I guess had come out to the field and struck an acquaintance with the officers.
Last night I took off at 9:00 p.m. wearing just my undershirt under my coveralls (and pants of course) and it was so warm I flew with the cockpit open. Looked up at the stars and half moon and sure felt good. Climbed to 5,000 ft. and just flew around for an hour. Went over to Dodge City (50 miles away) and looked down on the little cars, a train pulling into the station, lights from tiny houses. Very beautiful and peaceful up there, the engine purring smoothly and the air so still I could take my hands and feet off the controls; the instruments gleaming out of the darkness. It sure was wonderful. After an hour of this I came down and shot ten pretty good landings and then taxied in. Since we were at the auxiliary field we couldn’t go home for quite a while. Sat around and smoked until 11:30 and then jammed ourselves into a truck for the fifteen miles home.
Slept until 10:00 this morning, had a milkshake for breakfast, wrote some letters, had a steak for lunch at the civilian restaurant, saw a rotten movie (“China”) and then wrote some more. Then had evening chow, ‘n here I am.
I have put in a preference for twin-engine first; observation second; single-engine third – and signed “yes” to the question “would you accept an appointment as an instructor?” Although I originally wanted singe-engine for the sheer excitement of flying I now think I can always return to it after learning twin-engine technique whereas the other way around it is very difficult. At any rate I should know in about 10-12 days. We leave here a week from next Sunday.
Nothing much else to say. I’m working on the mural now so it looks as if I’ll get through Basic having attended P.T. just twice. The mural is pretty fair…
Best love to all,
June 20, 1943 Sunday afternoon
Well today being Sunday and there being no officers around I thought I’d take the opportunity of using one of the typewriters in the office since it’s much easier writing a letter on this thing than in my usual fashion.
Well I guess I’m finally through Basic and it seems almost too good to be true. I should have said almost through since I have four or five hours of formation flying to et in tomorrow but that hardly matters. We’re through ground school with the exception of a test in Airplane Identification. I don’t know what my final average was but it should be somewheres around 94 which is better than Primary.
Latest Latrinogram has us leaving for Pampa, Texas on Saturday afternoon. Pampa is in the northern panhandle not far from Amarillo, Texas and only about two hundred miles from where we flew last week on our cross-country trip to Oklahoma. All this is provided I get sent to twin-engine and not single-engine. Single engine school is definitely in Eagle Pass, Texas, three miles from the Mexican border.
This week was by far the most exciting I have put in since I started flying. Besides the cross-country trips which are always fun we had a night cross-country into Colorado and that was really thrilling. Flew at 6,000 ft. with a cigarette in my mouth and the full moon making the earth below easy to see. I only had one scare and that was just after I made a turn around Scott City. I saw a plane coming at me and it seemed as if the plane was really coming right at me because the lights got farther and farther apart (I figured they were the wing lights). When I had dived down suddenly to 5,500 ft. and looked up for the plane to go over me I realized it was the wing lights from two planes both of which were a good mile away. I felt very foolish. We landed in Colorado, took right off again and twenty minutes later landed in Syracuse, Kansas…took off and then returned to this base. About a three-hour trip and certainly very fascinating.
Yesterday we flew four hours of formation flying which certainly was something. You can imagine what it must be like to fly five feet away from the next plane after all these months of being told the closest you should come to another plane is 300 ft. We made several landings in formation which are rather unusual in that you never look at the ground but keep your eyes fastened on the lead ship which levels off and makes the landing. If you are on the ball and in the correct position when you follow him the ship will come down correctly. Most of the time in the air is spent nursing the throttle and rudder. Trying to keep from falling behind the lead ship or advancing…besides having this to worry about you have to keep on the same level as he is and at the same distance apart. In contrast to ordinary solo flight the plane is skidded in or out and never banked in. It requires quite a bit of concentration especially in rough air when an updraft will send you 20 ft. above the head ship or drop you below it and will make him bounce up and down.
So the yearbook has finally been sent off to the printers and now I only have the mural to worry about. This should be done by Wednesday but if it isn’t that’s just too bad….
After all the complaining I’ve done about the food here I should certainly not fail to mention that the last few weeks the situation has certainly improved. We get marvelous salads, mixed and otherwise which although they cannot equal yours certainly come close. Also excellent chicken at least twice a week, expertly cooked and of first grade quality. Not to mention all the milk our little hearts desire, good bread, and all the butter we can eat. Always plenty of radishes, celery, etc. and in fact it’s damn good. Besides which we get carrots at least once a day (they figure if you give a man a carrot he can fly at night) and damn good Jello which you know I have always been partial to.
So all in all I feel pretty darn good. For one thing I know this plane inside out and can really feel sure of myself in it which certainly makes for happier flying. Next week at this time I’ll be on my way or there already. Sure feels good.
I meant to tell you that after all these months of looking forward to getting my wings the other day I realized how lately I’d begun to forget about the darn things in looking forward to flying a B-17 or a B-24….There are plenty of 2nd Looeys around but not many can fly a B-17.
Although my father’s next destination was Pampa, Texas, about 175 miles due south of Garden City, the cadets of 43-H were put on a train that took a circuitous, yet picturesque, 18-hour route through Oklahoma.
Pampa Army Air Field, also known as the “Eagles’ Nest of the High Plains,” was a twin-engine advanced flying school located in the Texas panhandle, 13 miles east of Pampa along Texas State Highway 152.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began construction of the 2,500-acre site in June 1942; the field was up and running by the beginning of August. The base had three asphalt runways, taxiways, a paved parking apron, several large hangars, a control tower, skeet range, and munitions depot.
Most of the buildings on the base, including administrative offices, a mess hall, infirmary, and barracks (set out in street-like grids around the parade ground) were intended for temporary use, and although built on concrete foundations, were framed with plywood and tarpaper.
June 27, 1943 Army Air Forces Advanced Flying School, Pampa, Texas
Well after a wild week we finally arrived here in Texas and now have everything all arranged and start work tomorrow.
When I say a wild week I really mean it. Monday we noticed the presence of a few crickets in the barracks, maybe six or seven in each room. Tuesday night it was a bit worse but by Wednesday it had become a veritable plague. You know I have no particular fondness for insects so you can imagine what it was like to try and live in a room infested with crickets. We struggled in vain trying to rid our rooms of the pests on Wednesday night but it seemed as if the more we killed the more arrived. At eleven most of us had given up the battle and had gone over to the latrine where we sat in a dejected fashion and goddamned Garden City up and down. Then someone conceived the brilliant idea of sleeping outside. So we spent the night outside the barracks under the stars. It was swell. Warm and clear with thousands of stars above and no crickets below.
Then Thursday night we had our graduation dance in town. I had been in town only once before and so enjoyed walking through the peaceful streets in the gathering dusk. Small houses, not too close together, and looking awfully nice, only they made me sort of homesick. The dance was fun. I like the girls out here. Awfully simple and unaffected and eager to please. Young, most of them, and I feel like Grandma when I say they all look beautiful to me, even the ugly ones. Friday afternoon we went to town again and had a beer and then sat in the cool shade of the village square and read magazines. Had a steak for dinner and saw a movie, then returned to camp.
Put the last touches on my mural at 3:30 Saturday afternoon and we left at 3:45. Needless to say no one felt sorry. The train left the station at 5:30. We were in Pullmans which were so old that it wouldn’t have surprised me to see a brass plate at one end saying, “In this, his first car, Henry C. Pullman first applied his theories on train hostelry.” What completely P.O.ed us was when they started to make the berths up we discovered that although there were plenty of berths the government had only paid for a certain number to be made up and that number was sufficient to sleep one cadet in and upper and two in the lower so of course there was a lot of griping and we found that by an even worse stroke of luck 8 of us were assigned to two berths (uppers and lowers) so we cut cards and yours truly, for the first time in his weary travels with the Army, slept alone in an upper.
Pampa is southwest of Garden City and if I described the circuitous route we were forced to take to get here you’d say why don’t they send you by bus? Well they didn’t. It may suffice to tell you that after eighteen hours of traveling (weary traveling) we came into Gage, Oklahoma, a city we had flow to on one of our cross-country trips. It was exactly one hour by air from Garden City!!! A couple of hours later (2:30 p.m.) we arrived in Pampa and piled into buses for the 14-mile ride out to camp.
I really enjoyed the trip very much. The country changed from the flat, endless wheat fields of Kansas to the rolling plains covered with scrubby grass and sage which typify the West in my mind. Then as we neared this place we began to see what could be termed the foothills of the Rockies; places where the ground was very hard and surrounded by soft dirt which washed away leaving a landscape like this:
Since we followed a dry arroyo or I guess it could be called a river (but no water) the country was more interesting than to either north or south. Cottonwood trees along the edge of the riverbed and always the feeling of vast expanse of land, in all directions.
Well I suppose you’d like to know what I know about this place. It seems like a very good deal. The barracks are not divided into rooms but although I much prefer the privacy we had at Garden City it really doesn’t bother me. The mess is swell. We can smoke in the mess hall. From all accounts we’ll be flying AT-17s first and then later AT-9s. The 17s have 225 horsepower in each motor, the 9s 45 hp.
What greatly relieved me was the news that only one man washed out of the class that is preceding us.
It sure feels good to be here, to see things left by the men that were left in the barracks before us like a card: “Rollin G. Smith, Lieutenant, Army of the U.S.” lying on the floor and the card a pair of wings were fastened to, with the indentation of the wings still on it. Makes us realize it’s only a few weeks to go.
According to some of our upperclassmen the class that just left pretty much got what they chose when it came to Transitional Training. Also some of them got 10 days’ leave, others five days and some none at all. We’ll just have to hope I’ll be stationed near N.Y.
Fellow was just telling us the graduating class got B-24s, B-26s, B-17s, and 13 got instructors jobs.
Well I’ll have a lot to tell you later this week when we’ve started to fly these babies…
Before you start pawing the old geography book trying to locate Pampa I’ll let you know it’s in the panhandle.
More news later.
Love to all,
June 28, 1943
Thought you might like to know what has been going on.
Well nothing much!
Had our second “64” or complete physical. Been signing hundreds of papers, applications, etc. Were photographed this morning in khaki with our bars on! It felt good to be a Looey for three minutes!
Been hearing what we have to buy. Incidentally it was very fortunate I bought my blouse. This is a small post and since you can’t get away unless you have the correct uniform, some men who didn’t get blouses (six or seven) will have to put out $35 for some awful looking stuff. As it is I think I’ll have enough left over from my $250 clothes allowance to fly home. Sure hope so!
This afternoon we spent on the line working on the [AT-]17s – tore down the cowling and were shown how to give a 25-hr. inspection. Got covered with grease! I also started up the engines in one plane. These planes are enormous; room to lie down in the cabin even. We are allowed to take Cokes and sandwiches on cross-country trips. Found out about retracting the landing gear and flaps, etc.
Food is marvelous. We are wondering how long it can last. I know you civilians cannot possibly be eating as well as we are. The payoff was when we had hot biscuits and honey which would do justice to any woman’s kitchen.
Just ordered my calling cards and announcements – we all did. They will be delivered by Aug. 15 we hope!
Love to all,
July 4, 1943 Sunday night
We sure put in a wicked week and even today had little time to ourselves. Believe it or not I had a comic book in my locker for three days trying to get a chance to read it. Honestly those comic books fascinate me. They are modern fairy stories I guess but I sure get a kick out of them because they are so our and out American. Take one serial called “3 Aces” for instance that shows roaring, diving planes and men with blazing machine guns. On one side of this (the title page) is a panel in which it says:
“The U.S. Marines, at whose name the treacherous back-stabbing Japs quail……and THE THREE ACES, each man a nemesis of many a Nipponese vulture, combine to strike at the heart of cunningly camouflaged Japanese bases. Then…..caught in a deadly trap, they meet the ultimate test of courage together, to vanquish the enemy with “LEATHERNECK LUCK!”
Or one that reads:
“Forgotten for these many years is the island of Cotelleria, where ill fortune stalks the brave and the cowering, the strong and the weak, the right and the wrong!
Since ancient times it has lain, a sun-baked welt on the deep azure of the Mediterranean, awaiting all those who chose to pit their luck against the hands of fate! And here, Congo Bill, famed Globe Trotter and adventurer, stumbles into a mysterious band of evil marauders who dare to challenge…. “THE CURSE OF COTELLERIA.”
Department of rich, fundamental prose. Very basic and modern. Try reading one sometime. The sheer illiteracy of it is marvelous. I can’t help but compare it to the Victorian novels, I mean the run-of-the-mill stuff, not those works which still exist but the tripe, which has been forgotten, based on the same phony values.
And yet I was thinking the other day how unglamorous the Air Corps is to us who are in it. Exciting at times I’ll admit but not the kind of glamour you civilians imagine. I mean no slightest touch of movie glamour. I guess everything loses the glamour you suppose it to have when you understand just what goes on. Like a week in a carnival – boy that really showed where the glamour wasn’t. Incidentally thanks for the [June 28, 1943] clipping of the WeeGee Photo of the Zacchini girl [Miss Victory, Eglie Zacchini]. I never met her but I remember Hugo Zacchini talking of her one night when Bob [Woodbury] and I had coffee in his trailer.
During the Depression, when Dad and his friend, Bob Woodbury, were 17, they spent two weeks working for Hugo Zacchini’s circus act in Ohio. The summer job never quite got going because the carnival couldn’t draw crowds with a 25-cent admission fee being too high for most. Zacchini canceled the rest of his performances and drove back to New York City. Because there wasn’t enough room for three in the cab of the canon truck, Dad and Woodbury took turns riding in the mouth of the canon, with the edges of the barrel up to their armpits, all the way from Ohio back to the city. “It was wonderful,” Dad said. Bob Woodbury became an inventor/designer of survival materiel for the Army.
Well you two sure act as if I was through here already. In fact you’re more sure of it than I am! I still won’t be sure until I feel those wings on my chest!
Yes, we had a tougher week than we’ve been used to. Reveille at 5:15 a.m. and evening mess at 8:30 p.m. and no spare time in between – and I mean no spare time.
I went up as a passenger with Chris and my instructor after I’d had two hours of instruction and Chris had sat in back. Was so sleepy I fell asleep and dreamed I was back in the barracks. The instructor turned around and saw me so he pushed the stick and I flew up as far as my safety belt would let me and woke up wondering where I was.
The ship is pretty nice to fly but not as much fun as a small ship. It’s big and lazy like a 40-foot boat compared to sailing a 15 foot. You’ve got more to worry about in a 40-foot sailboat but you can go further. Yet it’s still more fun sailing a 15-foot catboat. I’ll probably solo Tuesday. Never fly this ship alone but I’ll solo with a student who has already soloed.
That’s about all the news. We are working very hard and not getting much sleep but eating the finest food you can imagine. Plain, good food, well balanced and plenty of it. Fresh salad, fruits, all the milk we can drink (10 of us drank 12 quarts tonight) biscuits, rolls, what a life!
I doubt if I’ll have time to write you before next Sunday.
No gripes whatsoever, except we haven’t been able to send our laundry out since our arrival. I washed six pair of socks tonight and felt virtuous as hell. We haven’t been paid since the last time I sent you money, but should be this week!
Love to all,
July 8, 1943 Thursday 9:00 a.m. 5,500 ft. up
As I am writing this we (Chris and I) are flying over Wellington, Texas. The weather is cloudless with a slight haze and visibility of about 30 miles. We will be in Oklahoma in a few minutes and then we will land at Wichita Falls and refuel. The ship is trimmed so well that Chris has both hands and feet off the controls and is smoking a cigarette. I have my maps on my knees and am writing this on them. I will be pilot from Wichita Falls back home. We should be back by noon. This trip is equal to flying to Lake Placid and back.
Just landed and will have an hour or less before we leave. Just had a Coke and looked at some planes. This is Sheppard Field and there are more planes than I’ve ever seen at one place. Some new thing I can’t tell you about. Everything is planes and scaffolding around planes and plane parts and engines and ramps and tubing and concrete. Very mechanized appearance.
Well, I guess I’ll run along now. From where I am sitting in a hangar I can see a huge B-17 (Fortress) and so many B-25s (Billy Mitchells) I can’t count ‘em.
Love to all,
July 10, 1943
The package with all the wonderful chow was waiting for me when I returned from Link Trainer this morning. Fortunately on the day when I am Barracks Guard (while the other men are at PT) so that I had a chance to get them unwrapped. Everything is in good condition, nothing broken….
Yesterday they assigned me a peanut-brain named Buckner to fly to Wichita, Kansas with so it wasn’t so much fun as if I’d been with Chris. But anyhow I got the biggest thrill yet when we landed almost in front of the Wichita terminal and while they were servicing our ships some of us walked through the gate as people were coming out to get on a big transcontinental flagship (transport) that had landed in back of us on the same runway. We walked into the terminal and saw all the busy activity of a station – I mean the desks of the various airlines crowded with people buying tickets and majors and colonels walking around. People waiting for their planes and staring at us in our flying clothes which are sort of glamorous anyhow. I mean they are soft wool khaki with a pocket in the knee and zipper fronts. Fit very well.
We bought ice cream cones and talked to some pretty airline clerks and really felt good. It’s different to know you’ve got a ship outside being gassed up and you’re going to fly it than to be waiting as a passenger. Crowds of kids and young boys lining the guard-rail as we walked by to get into our planes. Vanity all is vanity but damn it I felt good. On the way back this lame-brain was pilot and I was co-pilot. There were cumulus clouds between 6,000 and 7,000 ft., scattered, not a ceiling, so we started flying at 4,000. Then it was so bumpy I suggested 10,000 which was our assigned altitude anyhow. So we went up two miles above the ground and 1,000 ft. above puffy cumulus clouds. Simply elegant. But Buckner got nervous for some reason and insisted on flying at 5,000. Then he got all excited when he couldn’t see one of our checkpoints. What a dope!
Buying some of my uniform tonight if I get a chance. The store is open until 10:00 this week which gives us an hour after supper to buy stuff….
Love to all and thanks loads for the food!
P.S. final average in Naval Identification 97%
July 11, 1943
Nothing much doing. Going to do some washing in a little while.
Got back from Wichita Falls O.K. on Thursday; good trip. Have only flown an hour since then due to low ceilings yesterday. We flew at 75 ft. from an auxiliary field 18 miles away the ceiling closed in so suddenly.
Went into town last night with another fellow. We had a poor steak and a good pint of Scotch. Tasted good. The first drink I’ve had since St. Louis. What a town Pampa is! Men in soiled and faded dungarees, silk blouses, ten-gallon hats and high heeled boots. Hard bitten faces lined by the weather, plenty of people but strangely dressed, even the women. Then we came back to a dance for us (43-H) in the big hall. Danced until 1:30. Finished the pint and several bottles of beer and talked until 2:15 or so.
Thought you might like the story that someone sent me. I thought it pretty good. It’s said to be true and I don’t doubt it.
It seems a guy in the R.A.F. who fought over Holland and France and came back after being grounded on a raid with a most magnificent bottle of brandy. No entreaties or threats of his mates would persuade him to open it, and at last he even transferred it to a large flask that he carried constantly in his flying suit. It accompanied him, in its virgin stat on many mission, until at last he was shot into the sea and floated gently on the bosom of the ocean in his Mae West. This was the moment, he decided, for which he had waited so long. And so he drew out the flask, drank it to the bottom, and became completely drunk. In this state he was rescued, and as he stood swaying and dripping on the deck of the rescue vessel, the captain said he thought the flyer should go below and rest. With the unflinching pride of the highest branch of the service the airman drew himself up, and said, “Sir, I know when I am not wanted, and I’ll leave,” and marched over the side.
Well gonna do some flea-sacking and maybe see a show later.
Love to all,
July 11, 1943
Dear [sister] Jeanne,
A funny thing happened yesterday. You know we have a control tower on the field in which the radiomen sit and control traffic. Well I had never been up in one so since flying had been called off because of low ceilings I walked over there yesterday.
On my way up the stairs a voice from above said, “Well for gosh sakes! Jimmy Carmel!” and when I walked up through the trap door who should be standing there but Bill Lang the heavy-set blonde fellow who used to work in F7Gs with me and also used to take care of our Buick and even your car I think. Gee it was good to see him. He’s a sarge and is a radio operator. Been here since February. He said Ed Silk, another guy I knew in high school, was also down here and I guess I’ll see him soon. We’re going to try and get together some time and I even thought of asking Bill to watch me graduate next month.
If you really want to get me some part of my uniform how about making it a flight cap which looks like this and is about 7 3/8.
I’m going to get as little as possible down here in the way of clothes, hoping to be able and shop in New York in September. The cap can be what is called “pinks” or even tropical worsted would look O.K. for wearing with the tropical worsted shirt & pants I am getting down here….
Some Charter League in New Rochelle sent me a carton of cigarettes, a good pipe, and a pound of Prince Albert, a pound of Gimbels hard candy, and some razor blades and a comb. Sure a damn good city!
Best love to all,
July 18, 1943 Sunday afternoon
One more week gone, six to go.
So after a week of comparatively easy flying but long hours we were all tired but not too tired to go to a dance at the Pampa Country Club. The informality and genuine friendliness of these people is charming to observe. The club was about as much of a country club as the caddie house at Saxon Woods Golf Course is. Just a substantial little clubhouse, locker rooms, etc. on the edge of a nine-hole golf course. No pool, tennis courts, or even badminton. Also on the edge of an oil refinery. But the people sure are nice. All the girls young, smooth-faced, and slightly on the hefty side. All of us about the same age. Little drinking, not far removed from the church dances of a few years ago.
I dance and talked to one Jenny Lind, fair of face and form and with the delicate tinkling laughter of the 1880s. Very sweet and dumb. Also with Mary Johnson and Nell who was a typewriter pounder at the sub-depot here at the base. Music from a phonograph and a full moon and just cool enough to be pleasant.
The weather has really been awfully pleasant. We are rather high here in Pampa and it has never reached the peak where we felt desirous of removing our ties.
One of the chaperones at the dance was a Mrs. Yeager whose husband ran the Little Print in New Rochelle 11 years ago. I nearly lost my lower jaw when she said she was from N.R. They used to live on Gramatan Ave.
Finished one bottle of figs this morning. So far I’ve only gotten three gigs – “crackers in cubicle” – three demerits.
Gonna see “Stage-Door Canteen” now. No more news anyhoo!
Love to all,
July 20, 1943
This morning we flew formation for five hours. Most of it was at 50 feet – really thrilling. We went over to an almost dried-up river 60 miles from here and flew up it. The day was really beautiful – puffy cumulus clouds casting purple shadows over the rough green country. In the distance we could see those peculiar flat-topped hills which so typify the West. Flying formation in these “Calico Bombers” (so-called because they are canvas-covered plywood affairs) is easier than the BT-13s we flew in Basic and since the two-place cockpit is very similar to the big bombers it didn’t take much imagining to pretend we were on a mission in B-24s.
Anyhow I was practically deaf and dog-tired after lunch so I gold-bricked this afternoon, securing permission from our flight surgeon to spend the rest of the day sleeping. And I really slept!
Thank you for your offer of an identification bracelet. I’d like that very much. The lighter in weight and simpler the design the better I like them. The back should be engraved with my name and officer’s serial number which I don’t know yet so it will have to wait I guess. But thank you and I’ll take you up on the idea!
This is our last week of day flying. Sunday night we fly for the first time at night and from then on we fly only at night with the exception of a few more cross-country trips including one to San Antonio for three days to go up in the pressure chamber they have down there.
Well it’s taps already and another day gone. What really makes them see to fly is the fact we have so little time after supper before taps, just a half-hour. Back in Garden City we had three hours all to ourselves!
July 21, 1943
A beautiful morning – cloudless sky, clear blue with a wonderful coolness in the air and dew on the grass. In the west there is always a strange pencil-like streak across the horizon from the [Cabot] carbon black plant south of Pampa. Against the clear sky it always looks as if somebody had taken a soft crayon and drawn a single heavy line from west to north. As the sun gets warmer and heats the ground the warm air rises and takes with it the smoke but every morning it is there again.
Yesterday we flew formation, most of it at 50 ft. above the ground. The sky was full of cumulus clouds and the shadows were grape-juice purple. When you fly formation you must keep your eyes on the lead plane, out of the corner of your eyes you see color contrasts more sharply. Then when the copilot takes over you get a chance to look around – towards the north the low, flat hills and below, the yellow sand of a dried-up river bed, close enough to see rabbits. Once in a while a group of horses grazing peacefully look up startled and gallop off. Once a mare next to a tiny colt reared up at our plane and pawed the air as if to defend her young against this monstrous roaring affair. With three planes there are six of us flying and close enough to share our enjoyment by facial expressions.
It would all be so wonderful if we weren’t so conscious of being tired most of the time. Fortunately the program is beginning to slack off and every other day we get a free hour or so, like now when I am writing this.
In answer to your questions –
The Army presents us with a gadget called a Val-Pack which is a super-duper officer’s canvas carry all. It holds most everything. I think if I need anything else I rather get it when I get to New York.
Officer’s belt, size 32, have the Army officers’ insignia on the buckle. The belt is web-khaki.
You won’t be able to get an aviator’s watch even if you wanted to. We are required to have at least a seven-jewel watch but since the one I have keeps good time I hate to think of your spending any money on another.
I think I could use a nice soft wool khaki bathrobe, not too luxurious, about a size 40.
Outside of that I can’t think of anything except if you ever happen to come across some Gillette THIN blades I sure could use ‘em!
Gonna go to class now,
Love to all,
July 22, 1943 Thursday 9:00 a.m.
Thanks for your long letter that I got yesterday. When you write a letter you certainly write a letter.
The reason I’m writing at this odd hour is that our upperclassmen have most of the planes down in San Antonio. We’re just sitting around or trying to find a comfortable place to sleep without getting caught at it. I’m writing this from the catwalk of an unused control tower next to our pilot house, some fifty feet above the ground. From where I am I can see the entire field.
I’m surprised to hear I haven’t told you what kind of planes we are flying. Well here goes.
We fly two ships, mostly the AT-17 which has two, 225 hp engines; about a thirty-six foot wingspread. The commercial equal is a small transport called the Cessna Bobcat. It has room for about five people in some. Others just have a single seat in the rear. The pilot sits on the left with most of the instruments in front of him. The co-pilot on the right with a duplicate set of controls and the engine gauges etc. on the panel in front of him. The ship climbs at 100 mph, glides at 90 mph, and lands at 60. Cruising speed is between 130 and 140. It is “redlined” or dangerous above 180. It is of canvas & plywood construction and is therefore known as the “Calico Bomber.”
The other ship is the AT-9 which looks like – well the heading of this paper. It is an all-metal ship, considerably heavier and consequently higher powered. Only room for pilot and co-pilot. Whereas the 17 has electrical motors for retracting gear and lower flaps the 9 has all hydraulic systems. The nine glides at 115, climbs at 120, cruises at 140-150, and lands at 90. It is seldom used for cross-country trips.
We don’t get any bombing practice here although we learn bombing theory in ground school. We do get formation flying though, both night and day.
When we leave here with our wings we go to schools where we fly the actual ship we will fly in combat. We get bombing, cross-country, etc. and plenty of formation flying.
These ships handle very much like a 30-foot sloop. They respond to the rudder the same way and the sensation is very similar.
Incidentally when I get home I can take any member of my family up for a ride with the exception of the breadwinner which lets you out! So solly please! Maybe Jeanne or Larry would like a ride. I’m afraid your old lady would be a little airsick. Maybe Larry would go out to Mitchel Field some day with me and report on my ability. I couldn’t take him up in anything but a PT-19, BT-13, BT-14, AT-17 or AT-9.
I still think sailing is more fun than flying. I’d rather have a 30-foot sloop – a nice one – than an airplane any day.
Well that’s enough for now.
July 27, 1943
Well our yearbooks from Basic finally arrived and I am fairly well satisfied with the reproduction of my decorations. I really was afraid the writing would be too small since everything I drew was reduced half-size…. Anyhow you’ll see some recording of what went on there even if most of the drawings can only be understood by cadets. For instance, the little sketch of a fellow with his foot on something and shouting ‘Stand Clear!’ – that was what we used to shout before we flushed the toilets because it meant anyone in the shower was practically scalded to death when the cold water shut off…
Anyhow we flew five and a half hours of formation this morning. Most of it very low, low enough to see the faces of people in doorways of the houses we flew over, a child with a toy dump truck looking up in amazement, cattle rising startled from their drinking and lumbering off in all directions. Once we saw some vultures rise from a dead rabbit. I sure was tired by noon…
Well five weeks from now on a Tuesday night I’ll be in a plane or train on my way home. But although I look forward to this with great eagerness I also know there is a strong possibility of our not getting a leave. I keep reminding you of this because I don’t want to have you feel as if, well, as if I hadn’t told you.
Best love to all,
July 28, 1943 Sunday 1:30
This week has really been tough on letter-writing. I’ve bee struggling with a drawing for our new year book which I managed to finish yesterday. I think it will look pretty good….
Bought two beautiful pair of French Shriner shoes this past week. Really very comfortable. I wore one into Amarillo Thursday and never knew I had shoes on. We had open post and so decided we’d see what Amarillo is like. It is 50 miles from Pampa so we took a bus. On the bus was a pretty girl with a two-year-old boy. She was on her way to see her husband who is a Marine captain flying torpedo bombers in the South Pacific. She hadn’t seen him in 17 months. He wired from Los Angeles.
When we got to Amarillo we got two adjoining rooms with a shower in between (me and Monty, not the Marine captain’s wife!) and a bottle of California Burgundy that we finished before supper. We had a steak and some California Chianti for dinner and then went to a place called The Nat on the edge of town. Met a girl from Detroit who had buck teeth – she could eat corn-off-the-cob through a picket fence but she had won four silver cups jitterbugging in Detroit and could dance like an angel. The curfew sent us back to the hotel at midnight. On the way we met some fellows we knew at Parks. They had washed out there and had just graduated that morning from bombardier school. One of them was catching the 1:45 a.m. plane for New York – he had a 10-day leave.
Up at six o’clock and found the train to Pampa would be four hours late so we got a hitch and got back to Pampa at 9:30. A 70-mile-an-hour ride in a taxi got us back to camp on time. Then that night we flew formation. I could hardly stay awake. We got to bed at 3:45 a.m. that night. Then yesterday we flew a swell cross-country…
Thanks for the New Yorker. I liked that article about the Norwegian bombing Berlin. In fact I like the whole magazine.
Tomorrow we turn in our cadet clothing. Just three weeks to go. We graduate August 30, on a Monday. The weather has been very warm down here and no rain for days and days…
So this week will see us complete ground school thank goodness. Also we should nearly finish day flying. Next wee we will probably be in San Antonio for three or four days, then the last week we fly once or twice and finish up everything.
The Chris I always fly with is Andy Christensen or A.L. in the book. The other Chris is also in our crew of six men but I’ve only flown 12 or 14 hours with him. He’s from Long Beach, California. Andy worked for Schrafft’s for a few years, then for the National City Bank on Broadway near the circle as a teller. His wife works for Eastern Airlines.
Andy “Chris” Christensen, one of my father’s best buddies from Primary and Basic Training, soon became co-pilot in the B-17 crew of Fordyce Chamberlain. On March 4, 1944, engine failure forced them to abort their mission to Breslau, Germany (now Poland) and the Flying Fortress crashed in Yugoslavia. All nine crewmen were killed. They were buried after the war in St. Louis, Missouri.
The Chamberlain B-17 (#42-5874) was assigned to the 15th Air Force, 99th Bomb Group, 416th Bomb Squadron. The other crew members who perished were Homer J. Ackelson, Edwin W. Brindley, Donald Fisher, Charles R. Ford, Charles W. Risen, Ralph V. Wheatley, and Henry R. Winston. (Source: Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 3523).
I also have flown with Bob Cole who is in our crew. He’s from Yonkers. Most of the men in our barracks are from California or New York (Buffalo, Rochester, etc.) with two or three rebels from Louisiana and one poor Texan who gets hell from us whenever the weather is hot or cold or it rains. We’ve also got a hayseed from Nebraska (Crantz).
Love to all,
August 15, 1943 Sunday 10:00 a.m.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Well Mother’s letters to me always mention food to me sooner or later so I consider it only fail to admit I have just consumed one-half of a beautiful honeydew melon from Arizona with a diameter of nine inches and a taste which words can do no justice. Also a bowl of Rice Krispies.
We had open-post last night and were supposed to have a dance with Jack Teagarden’s orchestra but the bus broke down and they won’t be here until tonight. So instead I read “Pride and Prejudice” becoming more and more conscious of its greatness. I get the same delight out of it as I did from War and Peace, although War and Peace is still the greatest novel.
Everybody is telling me I can say what I want today and I’ll be right. Whenever anybody has been asking me the date I’ve replied in days left before the thirtieth.
This afternoon we’ll probably fly a few hours, then the dance tonight, and tomorrow morning 47 of us leave for San Antonio all the way across (or down) Texas where we will spend the better part of a the week going up twice in the pressure chamber. Volunteering to go down there in effect puts the seal on my acceptance as a B-24 pilot. I’m still hoping to get one of the two P-38 assignments this field will be sent but probably will be satisfied with the B-24s. We heard a little more about the possibilities I could be sent to any of the following:
Transitional School – B-24; nine weeks of learning to fly B-24s divided into three phases. The last phase being where I pick up my crew and fly anyplace in the U.S. for three weeks. The choice is with me.
Operational Training Unit – O.T.U.; three months of training in a squadron which upon completion of training could be sent abroad as a unit.
Replacement Training Unit – R.T.U.; training with crews for replacing planes in foreign squadrons as vacancies arise. Training can vary from one week to six months.
Troop Transport Command – it is very possible a few of us will draw these assignments.
Central Instructors School – 6-8 months or longer of instructing cadets. Valuable flying experience but a not much desired assignment. Very boring compared to combat.
Air Service Command.
But actually none of us will know until the 30th. Right now I’d bet $25 you’ll see me Sept. 2nd. I wouldn’t bet $50.
Love to all,
P.S. Capt. Hank Greenberg [of the Detroit Tigers] ran the mile with us Thursday and played basketball and baseball for an hour with us – boy what a big fellow!
August 22, 1943 Sunday afternoon
I can’t for the life of me remember when I wrote you last. So if I repeat myself forgive me!
The belts arrived…they are very handsome and the fellows in the barracks borrow them each night when we have our dress parades. During each day some cadet in the barracks is sure to retrieve an item of his uniform from the tailor and this naturally calls for him to put it on. Then the first thing you know five or six men have put theirs on and everybody is admiring everybody else for all the world like a bunch of sorority sisters. As for myself I still cannot indulge in such practices for I regard my own uniform with such a mixture of awe and admiration I can’t bring myself to try it on at once before the final day. Anyhow since my belts are the only ones in the barracks they are used quite often in this prancing and dancing we do.
Yesterday the 25 lb. box of candy you sent arrived and at this writing is being steadily and mercilessly consumed by the hungry horde. It is excellent candy even if it is made by the Mojud Hosiery Company. If this is an example of wartime conversion may I say I am in favor of it even if it means American womanhood must march the streets bare legged.
The pressure chamber was O.K. Stayed at 38,000 feet for fifteen minutes and felt no ill effects at all. Guess I’m all set for B-24s now. We flew back here Wednesday arriving in time for supper and a shower before taking off for Dodge City, Kansas and Wichita. Returned from there at 2:30 a.m. Thursday, hit the sack and awoke at 7:00 a.m. with my upper lip swollen like a baseball. Spent Thursday and Thursday night in the hospital with hot compresses on my lip. Friday it was O.K. – just a mosquito bite and my usual susceptibility. So yesterday we had a field day all day and open post from 5:00 p.m. until six tonight. I stayed out here and read and wrote letters. Now in a little while we’ll have supper and fly to God-knows-where.
So this is our last week – wow! Am going to fly to St. Louis if possible, spend Monday night there and take the train to New York Tuesday morning or a plane.
See you soon,
Graduation exercises for the cadets of Class 43-H were held at 10 a.m. on Monday, August 30, 1943 at the Pampa Army Airfield and my father received his wings, commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, and the longed-for home leave. He quickly made arrangements to travel to New Rochelle, New York for a week with his parents and family. On September 8, 1943 returned to Texas to begin heavy bomber training at the Army Air Forces Combat School in Ft. Worth.
Fort Worth, Texas
In June 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt had approved a $1.75 million project to build a military airfield in Ft. Worth adjacent to a Consolidated Aircraft factory that would produce B-24 bombers to supplement production at its main assembly plant in San Diego. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 the Army Air Corps in early 1942 decided Tarrant Field would instead become a specialized four-engine heavy bomber training school for advanced twin-engine Army Air Corps pilots such as my father, using planes from the nearby Consolidated factory. The school, with its light gray buildings and green shingled roofs at the southern end of Lake Worth, officially opened in October 1942; the base was completed in December 1942 at a cost of about $6.5 million.
September 11, 1943 (Saturday) Army Air Forces Combat Crew School Tarrant Field, Ft. Worth, Texas
Arrived here yesterday morning at 8:00 a.m. which is pretty good time considering. We reached Chicago at 9:00 a.m. Thursday morning and had a half hour between trains which what I call good connections…Naturally I was pretty darn tired especially since we were forced to stand from Oklahoma City but it was 3:30 yesterday afternoon before I got a chance to get to bed. Slept continuously until 8:00 this morning – more than 16 hours and I sure felt better when I woke up.
My room is simply the most beautiful you can imagine. I have a corner room on the first floor of a barracks. One window, next to my bed, overlooks a lake about as big as Schroon [Lake in the Adirondacks] and fully as beautiful. Next to the window are two huge trees and there are lovely trees along the edge of the lake which is just a stone’s throw away. There’s a little lawn, then a dirt road, and then some more grass then the lake with tiny cottages on the other side and rolling hills in back of them. It looks more like Mahopac than Schroon but I don’t know if your ever seen Mahopac so I compared it to Schroon. The water is very clear and blue and I imagine we’ll go swimming tomorrow. The weather very cool and clear; last night I slept under a blanket.
The officer’s mess seems very good. This morning I had orange juice (a big glass) cereal with sliced peaches, two eggs and bacon, hot-cakes and sausage, and two glasses of milk. Just finished a lunch of chicken a la king, fresh string beans, mashed potatoes, iced tea, and pumpkin pie.
We don’t have to do anything until 9:00 a.m. Monday, so I guess I’ll spend tonight and Sunday night in Dallas and come out here then, unless I feel like swimming. This lake is called Lake Worth.
The country around here is far beyond my greatest expectations. Beautiful trees and rolling hills…I can say in all probability I will be home October 20 for a day or so, or sometime around then. We do get our choice of destinations for cross country.
Everything is marvelous.
September 14, 1943
Well we went all through the plane yesterday afternoon although we didn’t go up. It sure seems like a big hotel after a tourist cabin. We were standing in the bomb bay and seven other students came down form the upper rear deck. We hadn’t even known they were on the ship!
In a little while we go to ground school – three and a half hours a day. The schedule is pretty tough and I don’t know how much time we’ll have to ourselves but am inclined to think it will be worse than even Advanced was.
There are several things I need, most important of course in my alarm clock (the electric one)…we are just lost without a clock here since we have no one calling us out but it is our responsibility as officers to be on time wherever we are supposed to be.
Dad! I found my wristwatch in my other bag and will send it to you together with the sales check guaranteeing it for one year. If you take it in to Altman’s before Oct. 9 you might be able to talk them in to fixing it for nothing. It gains a half hour every two hours. Might be just a catch in the hair spring.
I think if you send that laundry and the shoes to me via Railway Express it would be swell and less trouble than Parcel Post. Also when you do that you can include that bottle of Martin’s VVO!!!! I should have carried it with me but I never realized just what the set-up would be down here. Anyhow we have a swell club and those who so desire have a bottle (or bottles) with their names on it behind the bar and when you ask for a drink the bartender takes your bottle out. Really mix swell ones, too.
The weather was very hot yesterday but cool enough to sleep with a blanket. Bob Crossland and I walked across the road to the dock and tried to take the 16ft. sloop out on the lake yesterday evening but the sails are being cleaned or something and we will have to wait. Today we are going swimming instead of taking PT. What a life!
My barracks bag which I sent from Pampa must have been left in the rain for almost everything was soaking wet (or had been) and covered with green and white mold. Nothing really damaged I guess but an awful nuisance to dry out. My shoes had grown a fuzz all over the soles.
Liquor is very high down here or I wouldn’t have mentioned that V.V.O. but I hate to think of waiting until Oct. 10 before I have a drink!
Jack [Francis] looked swell and we had a lot of fun in Dallas. It’s even a better city than St. Louis and that’s saying a lot.
Love to all,
September 20, 1943
My negligence as far as letter writing goes is quite colossal. I can only blame it on our schedule here which is rather “inclusive” to put it mildly and makes what we went through at Advanced seem like a country club. We fly either from 5:30 a.m. until noon or from noon until 6 p.m. or from 7:30 until midnight and with three and a half hours of intensive ground school every day except Sunday plus four days P.T. you can really see how full a week is.
Unfortunately we haven’t been flying at all since the two majors who are in our crew of four are being pushed ahead to complete their course of four weeks as opposed to our nine. Also out of the eight ships in our squadron three at most have been in flying condition.
The washout rate here seems to be in the vicinity of 12% which is almost that of Basic school. The men are washed out and fly navigators or other odds and ends. I haven’t had enough flying to tell you whether I think my chances of getting through are good or not but in any event I am not worrying since the responsibility or responsibilities of a first pilot are really terrific, and not to be envied. We all leave here as first pilots and at that time are expected to know and be able to perform all the duties of our ten-man crews (with perhaps the exception of the bombardier). The supreme command of the plane rests with the pilot and I often wonder if I’m going to like the idea of so much responsibility, both for the lives of the other men and the ship as well as the success of each mission.
I have heard indirectly that Chris has already entered third phase of R.T.U. [Replacement Training Unit] training as a co-pilot and is now in Louisiana. This means he’ll go over very soon and with the few hours he’s got I certainly don’t envy him.
The ship seems O.K. but all the fun of flying is gone. It is simply enormous. You can’t even see your wingtips from the pilot’s seat and visibility is very limited consequently most flying is by instruments (which I have never particularly liked) and it lacks the kick the old PT-19s had. However, the importance of knowing what potential destruction one is controlling is a deep satisfaction. On the whole though, I’m satisfied with the ship. I believe it to be amazingly safe from all angles.
Fort Worth is not much of a town compared to Dallas. A few small eating places, a couple of fair hotels but not much to sing about. Its streets show the face of the war if you know what I mean. Girls walking in pairs and flashing smiles at officers, just giggling high school kids and also plenty of the other kind, driving by in cars and whistling.
Camp is still beautiful. Last night I slept under my blanket, raincoat, and bathrobe. We hope to get more blankets today. In a few minutes [Norman] Dicker and I are going for a swim, then mess, and we fly at 6:30 we hope – otherwise we sit out there and read tech orders.
Thanks for your letter today mom, I hope you had fun at Woodland and Dad at Wernersville. I really wish you could see this country. It has definite charm.
Love to all,
ARMY AIR FORCES PILOT SCHOOL (SPECIALIZED FOUR ENGINE)
Student Officer Detachment
Fort Worth Army Air Field
Fort Worth, Texas
September 23, 1943 Thursday Night, 11:30 p.m.
Thought I’d drop you all (southern) a line before hitting the sack. The reason I have the extreme pleasure of using this magnificent typewriter is that Captain Gambrell (commandant of Student officers) gave me permission to write a letter to the director of training (all very military and all that) which is in connection with what I hinted at when I was home…but I won’t know until I get an answer just whether it will be wonderful or not…it will if I get what I want.
Three (no four!) packages arrived yesterday but I was too late to get them until today…the charm bracelet is beautiful… I mean the identification bracelet, and so are the handkerchiefs. The laundry is good to get too although yesterday the laundry I sent out last week returned to the tune of $3.59 (but it was done very nicely). The candy is swell. Funny but I haven’t eaten hardly any candy at all down here and back in Pampa I ate an awful lot. Must be that we have enough sugar in our diet. The handkerchiefs are swell and don’t think I didn’t need them! I have read a few pages in the book and probably will find myself drawn to it later this evening unfortunately…. The New Yorker also arrived and I’m torn between those two and about five dozen letters I should write but probably won’t…. I eagerly await the V.V.O. which ought to be here tomorrow, I guess. I must mail my old watch home one of these days. Incidentally I meant to tell you Dad, that since I set my watch (the new one) on the train on the way out here I have not touched it except to wind it and it has not lost a minute.
Yesterday morning we flew down to San Antonio to take the two majors who are student officers with us to the pressure chamber since they had never been up. On the way down (we took off at 5:30 or thereabouts, just at dawn) we flew at 4,500 ft. and about an hour and a half before we hit San Antone we ran into a ceiling or rather the ceiling was four hundred feet below us, rippling, soft white clouds stretched out like a sea in all directions and the sun rising in the east and tinting everything with a pinkish glow. It was indescribably beautiful.
When we hit San Antone we got a clearance (oh, I forgot to tell you I was pilot all the way down!) from the radio station and flew out on the beam and then made a turn and let down through the clouds flying on instruments. At about a thousand feet the clouds ceased and we saw we were a few miles from Randolph Field. Made a fair landing and taxied the whole length of the field, feeling enormous next to the little training planes around. Stayed there at Randolph just long enough to get a clearance and pee and then we took off with my buddy, [Norman] Dicker, as pilot. On the way back we flew contact instead of above the clouds (instrument) and most of the time we were about 500 ft. above the ground. I crept down into the bombardier’s compartment shortly after we got on our course and by golly it sure was swell down there. You get an unbroken view of almost half the circle. A 360-degree sweep of horizon and you can look straight down and straight up.
When we were near Austin I noticed the country became rolling and even hilly and covered with fair-sized trees and lots of little lakes. Under the clouds, which by this time were beginning to break up, the green hills and rugged character of the country was very, very beautiful. Patches of sunlight making for contrast. Once we flew over a group of goats and they scattered equally in a dozen directions like trained ponies or something. Then as we neared the city of Austin we came upon a great twisting river (which must have been the Colorado) and the Captain took over and brought us down to 10 ft. above the water. I was all alone in the nose compartment and it was so wonderfully wonderful I was laughing like a halfwit. I turned and looked at the duplicate set of instruments the bombardier has and saw our airspeed was 190… Then out through the glass again at the water speeding by beneath us and the trees on the banks of the river whizzing by. Once we raised up in the air to turn and the wingtip seemed to be dragging along the sand of the bank. It was really a thrilling experience.
Well so that’s all. It’s almost midnight and I’m tired as all get out having been running around all day. Tomorrow we get up at eight and fly in the afternoon. We were supposed to fly tonight but two ships got stuck in San Antone and only one ship out of those left here was in flying condition so I had an hour of Link instead and a poor substitute I must say.
Love to all,
September 26, 1943 Sunday afternoon
Thought I’d drop you a line now since we might be flying tonight and I wouldn’t get a chance later.
All sorts of packages have now arrived including my rubber-soled shoes which arrived yesterday with the belts. I’ve just gotten them thoroughly soaked since Dicker and I just came back from a walk in the light rain that is falling. We had our trench coats on and our raincovers and smoking pipes, we walked near the dam at the end of Lake Worth. There is a Fish Hatchery down there and although the place was lousy with no-trespassing signs, nobody stopped us and we walked around a few small lakes. Plenty of lovely willows and huge plane trees (like sycamores) and soft grass with cattails growing in profusion along the sides of the lakes. In the soft rain the country seem to lose that rugged quality which I have so often described to you and took on the more gentle greenness which one usually thinks of in New England.
Last night we got through classes at 7:30. Had mess and then at about 9:00 headed for town. Arrived in town and found that the express office was closed (I had received notice of the arrival of the V.V.O. and alarm clock) so we went up to the officers’ club and drank some awful Portuguese brandy we had bought the week before. Then we went out to see what was doing and got picked up by three girls in a new Pontiac. They weren’t too beautiful but we said “what the hell” and since there were only two of us went back and recruited a chap we had seen at the bar. Then the six of us drove to a juke-joint on the edge of town and I paired up with the prettiest of the three and danced her feet off.
Dicker discovered the girl he was with (who owned the car) was the daughter of Colonel McShane who is engineering commander of this entire area, but that didn’t worry him much. The other fellow was named Bob Cole (exactly like a fellow we went through training with) and he was in the ferry command and just staying overnight at the field on his way to pick up a B-17 at Tulsa. He was quite interesting to talk to. The girls were pleasant but vapid and the evening would have been unbearable if it hadn’t been for the fact this one little gal I was with could really dance. We got back to the post this morning at around 4:30 having stopped with the girls in a hash-house for ham and eggs at 3:00 a.m.
Still not doing much flying but are more concerned with the problem of learning the intricacies of the hydraulic system and the electric system of this goliath we have. Naturally the course is condensed as is everything else in this training program so it’s rather difficult to comprehend all the little gadgets and valves, etc. in so vast a structure.
No news about what I was working on (the deal) but I should hear something this week.
So that’s really all.
Best love to all,
October 3, 1943 Sunday morning
This week has been rather an annoying one to say the least. We still haven’t flown since that San Antonio trip and I’m damn fed up with such a system. However they’re still paying me $8 a day for it and if that’s the way they want to do things it’s O.K. with me. Only I’ve forgotten how to fly the ship by now and I wonder what will happen when I do get one again.
I think you might remember my mentioning to you once that the reason why many men washed out in Primary, Basic, and Advanced was not so much a lack of flying ability in many cases but just a peculiar combination of circumstances. For instance if a man happened to get an instructor who left after just a few days and then received another and another the first thing he knew he was behind in time…up for a check ride and out on his ear. Well that’s what would worry me, because we have so little time we’ve got to be that much better when we do get around to flying or get out. I say would worry me if it weren’t for the fact that washing out of here means you can get practically anything you wanted. Three men washed out yesterday and two of them got P-38s. When I heard that I sure got excited because you know that’s what I’ve always wanted in the first place but couldn’t get from Advanced. So they can do whatever they want with me. Either way it’s O.K.
I think “Watch on the Rhine” was one of the greatest pictures I’ve ever seen. It was really an inspiring picture, and one which restores my faith in Hollywood. It just didn’t seem possible they could go on turning out DonAmecheAbbotcostelloalicefaylanaturner drivel indefinitely but it look as if that’s what they were doing. By gum that was a picture all right. I haven’t had a deep emotional experience like that in years.
In contrast we saw “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and although the photography was rather spectacular it sure was a rather insipid affair. Seems as if they left out what little meaning the book had and just skimmed the surface. Ingrid Bergman is beautiful though and I guess I should be satisfied with that.
The weather was lousy all week. Rain and cold and rain but it reminded me of Michigan and home too for that matter and besides I like wearing my trench coat more than anything so I rather enjoyed it.
Dick and I were in town last night on the prowl like a couple of tomcats but were too late getting in to meet up with anything and so satisfied ourselves with a number of Champagne cocktails (beer all sold out by the time we got to town) and returned here at 1:30. It seems funny that a state which will allow beer and wine sold over the counter won’t allow mixed drinks or whiskey. Sort of silly rather than funny.
So that’s the news. We’re going out to the line at 12:30 but I know damn well we won’t get to fly. Just have to sit around until 6:00 and maybe get some Link or Maintenance in the meantime. HoHum…
October 7, 1943 Thursday Night
This is a midweek letter, strangely enough but then this has been a strange week.
We haven’t had much more flying time. But we did solo last Monday morning and it was really a thrill. We flew up to Paris, Texas and soloed from there. I shot about four landings and flew around for a while and then we landed and picked up the instructor….
Yesterday noon we discovered we had nearly 26 hours until we were on duty again due to a reorganization of the squadrons necessitating much moving etc. do Dick and I headed for Dallas arriving there at about 4. Got rooms in the Adolphus, bought some Scotch and a bottle of wine which we left at the [Golden] Pheasant (restaurant) to be cooled and then back to the hotel and started phoning. I called Jack’s gal but she was busy and finally we made a date with a couple of gals one of Jack’s friends had mentioned. This was at 7:00 and we made the date for 8:45.
At 7:15 we heard much squealing (feminine) across the hall and investigated to find two little girls from Minnesota laughing at their costumes for an ice-show which opens up at the Adolphus tonight.They were both about 17 and awfully cute and simple. We spent a pleasant half hour chatting with them (they were even too young and unsophisticated to offer a drink to) (ending a sentence with a preposition). One of the girls had been in the Ice Capades in Madison Square Garden last year. They sure seemed to like skating and it amused me that these two giggling high school kids were capable of holding down a job requiring such grace and precision but then both said they’d been figure skating since they were six years old.
At 8:00 p.m. Dick and I went down to the Pheasant and ordered a pair of squabs ($1.25) and drank some of our wine while we were waiting for them. At 8:40 the squabs hadn’t arrived and we were very, very happy anyhow. I phoned our dates and told them not to drive down (they had a ’42 Ford convertible) until 9:15 because we were held up. Finally the squabs arrived and they were really worth waiting for. When we were almost ready to call for the check (at 9:05) the waiter came up with a bottle of champagne (imported) in an ice bucket and presented it to us with the compliments of a Mr. George Stewart who was up on the balcony eating dinner with his wife. Well we had a couple of drinks of that and then I went up and thanked them for their hospitality. They invited us out to their ranch to spend a weekend whenever we could. So we had to leave half a bottle of champagne to dash for our dates.
Picked up the gals and found them to be very pretty (surprisingly enough for blind dates). We went dancing at the Plantation and the girl I was with was sure some dancer. I had a marvelous time and Dick did too. They left us at the Adolphus at 2:00 a.m. because they both had to work today. Then this morning Dick and I got up late, had breakfast and returned to camp in time for PT at two followed by three and a half hours of ground school, supper, and here I am.
So that’s the news, such as it is. I hope you received the checks I sent. I would have sent more but for the first three months I have that $35 allotment to the bank in Pampa to get rid of and then I’ll be in the clear. My officers’ club, room and board etc. came to 45 bucks and then I must get some greens as soon as I get a chance…
Well is sure surprises me that you actually expect [brother-in-law] Larry [Marcus] to be drafted. I don’t see how they can possibly draft a man with two children. If he really does expect it why the devil doesn’t he get lined up with some defense job in a hurry?
When you get this you will have returned from Monmouth Beach all tanned etc. I hope you had a pleasant weekend and that it wasn’t too cold for swimming. My gawd it’s October so I guess it was. I was in swimming today for a half hour. Swam out from the dock and splashed around in the lovely water. I sure would like to be stationed here all winter. What a spot!
Love to all,
P.S. I almost forgot, but this is very, very important. Dad must go down to the Department of Records and get copies of birth certificates for me, mother and himself sometime soon. This is a technicality but necessary by all means. They go in my 201 file which is always in my possession and contains instructions and records in case.
October 18, 1943 Monday night
I guess you have been wondering what has become of your eldest son these days… at any rate there hasn’t been much to write about. We’re still not flying as much as we should be. We only flew once last week. And that was Monday morning. You have no idea how dull this existence can be when you hang around the flying line trying to interest yourself in the damn plane or Link trainer and wondering when they’ll get a plane so you can fly for a change.
The only thing that mitigates such a life is the weather and the surroundings. Actually this place is so beautiful I don’t give a hoot what they want to do with me. I’m just satisfied with the living conditions and past the stage where I feel peeved at the little progress we are making. The lake is simply glorious these days and although the weather has been cooler I was in swimming as recently as last Friday and would have gone today but I had an hour of Link to finish up so I had to forego such pleasure. They say Texas isn’t so pleasant in the summer. I mean this part of it but as for now it just is so beautiful I seriously think of living here after the war. Besides I like these Texans. I like all the women I’ve met and the men, too.
I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in Dallas. Dating two or three or four gals (but never more than two in an evening) and having a lot of fun. Saturday night Bob Crossland and I got dates and went out to the McFarlin Auditorium at SMU and heard the Don Cossack Singers in a program of choral singing and some dancing which was very beautiful. I would have liked to go to Dallas tomorrow night to hear Artur Rubenstein play Brahm’s Rhapsody in B minor and a Schostakovich polka (probably that one that simply makes me hilarious but I find myself almost broke (two weeks from pay day) and so will have to forego such pleasure.
It worries me no end about Larry as it certainly must the res of you and especially since I received a letter from Mrs. Francis this noon in which she said Reid’s husband, Al, is being drafted Nov. 22. What this must meant to them is certainly not very pleasant but at least Peter is past the baby stage and there’s only one of him while the thought of Jeanne struggling to raise Anne and Larry Jr. ever with your assistance, for the months before the war ends is pretty awful. Well I guess there’s nothing to do but hope that they’ll pick the least encumbered fathers first or don’t they work that way?
I’ve heard from Joe Guerry who is also worried about the same thing. What with this draft situation and the fuel situation not to mention the rise in food and rent prices I shouldn’t imagine this winter will be a pleasant one for anybody and I have the feeling next winter you all will look back on this as almost pre-war in the things you were able to buy and the scale you were able to live on.
So that’s about all. If I sound rather bored you can understand why. This protracted lack of flying has resulted in a more or less indifferent attitude on my part towards flying the B-24. I sometimes think anything would be better, at least anything that didn’t require this terrific procedure and complicated technique. The old days when we climbed into a PT-19, called an underclassman to crank her, and took off into the blue in the space of ten minutes was much more satisfactory.
Best love to all,
October 24, 1943 Sunday Afternoon
Well another week gone by already and still nothing much to tell you. The weather is still swell…cool at night and wonderful during the day. The lake getting cooler and really invigorating. I swam almost a mile Thursday afternoon and really enjoyed it.
Not doing much flying. We finished up our night flying one night this week and also had one afternoon of instrument flying but that was all we had during the week. In case you were still wondering what solo flight means in the B-24 well it means without an instructor. Whether he is along or not there is an enlisted man on every flight (usually a sergeant) in the capacity of crew chief. He switches the generators on and off and checks the landing wheels (which are only visible from the rear gunner’s windows) and starts and stops the aux. power plant (a little gasoline put-put under the flight deck) and does odd things like that. When we fly instruments solo we have an enlisted man as radio operator also. Then too sometimes there is another assistant engineer along.
No news about the long hoped for deal.
Spent Wednesday night in Dallas and danced the soles of my shoes off. Haven’t been drinking much though lately because I’ve found that it stupefies my thought processes (Jeez!) and makes me unable to concentrate or think clearly, I’d like to be able to comprehend everything that is happening and after five or six drinks I find the resulting dulling of the senses most annoying. So lately I’ve been having just one or two before supper and then swearing off the rest of the evening. I was also in Dallas last night and got a date and went to a rotten movie…. well at least I can say now “I’ve seen Bob Hope.” Had breakfast in the coffee shop this morning and then caught the 10:15 back to Ft. Worth. Went out to the line after dinner but we weren’t scheduled to fly so Dick and I just did an about face and headed back for the barracks.
Since I am flat broke and owe a couple of dollars here and there I would certainly appreciate a loan of $20 until next Monday, I hate to have you go to the bother and everything but I just don’t feel like borrowing from anyone around here and I could sure use some cash. If you would send it by Western Union as soon as you receive this letter it will save a bit of embarrassment (nothing serious) and as soon as I get my check next Monday I’ll return same.
Also Dad wanted to know how the “altitude” was. Well Friday night saw sea level. And that was that. But it sure was wonderful.
We are finished ground school… with the exception of a few classes in setting up a bombing run next week. This should leave us free after Wednesday for any cross-country flying they want to let us do but latest word has it that there will be no super-long cross-country flights as is usual around here due to the fact that we have so few hours etc. etc.
So all in all nothing is much different from when I last wrote you. My letters don’t sound the same even to me as the old ones back in cadet training did. Well I guess in those days there was a little more excitement. Here it has just been routine and rather boring. The ship is a good ship, the finest in the “heavy” class, good to fly when you get on to it, safe, dependable and with quite a personality. Do you remember when I wrote you that the AT-17 struck me as being a ship completely devoid of “soul?” Well this ship certainly has one; sort of an ox-like strength and ruggedness.
As you have probably guessed I have been seeing quite a bit of the same girl in Dallas. She is beautiful, charming and intelligent and we have had much fun together – as much as we could realizing how casual our emotions must remain because the future is so uncertain. We both realize that the pleasures of the present are a poor substitute for a companionship containing hopes and plans but we enjoy each other’s company and let it go at that by mutual agreement. Were these months before the war or after the war the situation might be different, but I do not base my thoughts on either the illusion that things are still the same they ever were nor will be the same. We like to dance, laugh and talk together and draw from this the semblance of an orderly world we know does not exist.
The other afternoon Dicker asked Captain Schaal (our instructor and the CO of our Squadron) just what a certain regulation in the list of Civil Aeronautics Authority Regulations applied to, there being some doubt in his mind as to the exact meaning of the words. Capt. Schaal looked at the sheet for a moment and then said he guessed it meant this and so, not that and that. I happened to look over their shoulders and saw that the while difficulty lay in the fact a colon had been used where a semi-colon should have been used. Substituting this change gave the wording instant clarity. Both turned to me with a look of wonder and Captain Schaal said, “You must have been an English major.”
“No, sir,” I said, modestly, “I’m just an American Lieutenant.” Nobody likes my puns.
Love to all,
October 27, 1943 Wednesday night
You both embarrass me with your observance of my slightest wish. I feel as if the only letters I write you are the ones in which I ask for something. The telegraph office notified me today there is lots and lots waiting for me in town and I shall collect same tomorrow noon. The telegram was awfully cute too and I assure you I shall do as you say.
I suppose I could have stayed around the post here until payday (Monday) and just reassured myself that I was broke and it was my own fault but somehow or other everything is so wonderful these last few weeks I feel full of hell and when we get as much free time as we will have the next four days the thought of hanging around here frightened me. Honestly it must be because the weather is so swell or because I feel so damn healthy or I dunno. Sometimes I think it’s partly because I realize that right now I’m living off the fat of the land and know that sooner or later I’ll be getting down to the real thing…combat.
It seems as if all my letters these past few days have also been raving about Texas (when they weren’t asking for something). Well it’s still wonderful. Yesterday it was cold and clear, not a cloud in the sky and the lake jade-green with white caps blowing spray across my window. The trees are turning, not with the depth of color of New England but more towards the ochre colors and the sun is still very warm and brilliant. Everything seems clear and crisp and bright.
We’ve just completed the last of ground-school. This last few hours was really fun since it consisted of eight hours of bombardier training. Do you remember seeing the picture “Bombardier” where they train the cadets on gadgets of steel tubing which simulate the bomb run? Well we went on those gadgets and got regular bombardier training. Looked through the regulation sight and set up drift, trail, airspeed, etc. as the framework moved towards a moving target on the floor. Pressed the trigger and dropped an imaginary bomb which struck a little lever making a mark on the target. More damn fun. I got a very good grade which means nothing except that my coordination is good and that I would have made a good bombardier.
Some stinking candy arrived from Gimbels yesterday. Thank you, Mom. We have been gorging on it fitfully. It arrived sort of mashed and crumbled and we thank you anyhow. It looked about as appetizing as those diabetic candies Grandma used to eat. I thought you’d like to know.
That’s all now. Gonna hit the sack since we fly tomorrow at 6:00 A.M. which means we get up at 5:15, shave and dress and walk to the mess hall where we eat. I haven’t varied my breakfast menu (although you can get practically anything) since I’ve been here. I always eat orange juice, dry cereal, two eggs fried, and two huge pancakes, two glasses of milk…. Ho hum what a life, wow.
Much love to all,
November 1, 1943 Monday 11:15 a.m.
Just came into town an hour or so ago to cash my check, get a few odds and ends and return to the post. Thought I’d drop you a note from here. Received a letter from Mother which I read when I got to town. Thanks for the fiver. As you can see you’re getting it right back! I wish was able to send more but since we will be leaving here within two weeks and I’ll have traveling expenses I thought I better hold on to a bit.
Yesterday we were supposed to fly until noon but didn’t get a ship so I caught the 10:30 bus to Dallas. Met my young lady at 1:30 and we drove out into the country to a beautiful lake. Spent the afternoon talking and then at 4:30 we went to church. You can imagine how much persuasion it took on her part to get me into any church much less an Episcopalian. The service was quite beautiful. If there hadn’t been so much getting up, sitting down and kneeling I might even have felt enjoyment. It surprised me however, that I, who once felt the need for such ritual and hocus-pocus, should be completely emotionally untouched by such goings on. I did feel a slight nostalgia for the old days, but that was all. And what nostalgia I felt was immediately erased by the spectacle of the deacon suggesting greater attendance on the part of the young folks (apropos of National Youth Sunday, which it was) in order that they might learn the “fear of God.” I had not thought that in this day and age an intelligent preacher would use those words but I guess I overrated him merely because of his position.
After church we drove to White Rock Lake and watched the sunset. A very beautiful park. Then we had a bite to eat, talked, and I caught the 10:10 bus arriving in camp at 11:30. We had expected to fly at midnight but they had canceled it and we found we wouldn’t fly until 6:00 p.m. tonight. This schedule will still be tough this week though.
Your mention of turkey sounds good although we’ve been getting so much good turkey down here I wonder if I’ll be able to look at another by the time I get home. If I do get home it will be for a few days beginning Nov. 16 but chances are very slim…
Best love to all,
November 5, 1943 Friday Night 7:30
Seems as if I haven’t written in a long time …but then I guess I did write earlier this week.
At least we’ve been getting a little more time in the old Bee Dash Twenty-Four… Right now Dick and I have about 73 hours which isn’t too bad.
The deal at which I have been hinting for the past two months finally did collapse, not with a loud crash but rather a gentle thud. It concerned a course of study (as temporary duty) at the American Museum for a period of one month after completing training here. I had to write [Henry (Hap) Arnold] the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces in Washington for the request but it was denied from the standpoint that my present training has reached the point where such training as I requested would not commensurate. Anyhow I tried.
Today Dick and I were up for three and a half hours with Captain Blair getting our instrument checks. Dick thinks we passed but I am not so sure. At any rate he didn’t tell us we had to go up again so maybe we did get by. The weather was very rough and we had a hard time of it, the sweat pouring off us in rivulets. If we did pass it means we are now qualified to operate as pilots with any damn airline in the country after the war which is certainly worth something.
Dad, you keep asking me to tell you something about flying. Well here goes.
We’ll take for an example the early morning shift. We get up at around 5:30 a.m. and shave and wash. Then we walk the block to the mess hall and eat breakfast (mine usually is orange-juice, dry cereal, two eggs and two big hotcakes and two glasses of milk). Then we hop on the bus. The bus is a long affair like they have on the boardwalk at Asbury, a big long seat pulled by a little truck driven by a little WAC [from the Women’s Army Corps]. It is still very dark.
When we get to the flight line we hop off, a few at each squadron. When we get into the flight room (a big room with benches fastened to tables and a Nesbitt Orange drink machine) we change our clothes and sit around until 6:30. It is still pitch-black outside. At 6:30, Lt. Ritchie (our new flight commandant since Captain Schall has left for B-29s) calls the roll. Then he goes back in the instructors’ room and emerges in a few minutes with some terse phrases such as “Painet and Tassin get out there and get 63 warmed up… Rhoades and Blair in 64, Dicker and Carmel in 61.” Then everybody dashes for the door picking up a blank piece of paper called a crew list which hangs by the door.
When we get out to the ship it is just barely beginning to get light and we make our inspection of the entire ship, checking tires, surfaces, inspection plates, etc. Then we get in and start looking things over inside. The crew chief (or engineer – an enlisted man) is already there. We check the Form 1, which contains the written report of the state of the ship. Then we get in the pilot and copilot’s seat. We take turns taking off. One day Dicker will be pilot and the next day I will. Then before starting we haul out the checklist (a printed cardboard list) and the items on it are called off by the co-pilot. Some of the things it calls for are accomplished by him, some by the co-pilot and some by the engineer. Finally the checklist says start engines and the co-pilot puts the list down on the floor and we start up. A fire-guard is posted at each engine or rather as each engine is about to be started and the pilot or copilot signals to him by raising the corresponding number of fingers which engine is to be started next. Then he uses both hands to manipulate a series of toggle switches and finally, as if by magic, the prop starts to swing. As soon as it catches the pilot moves the mixture control and throttle for that engine and gets it idling. The process is repeated for each engine. By the time all four are started the instructor (if one is coming along) is in the ship and we are ready to go.
The co-pilot calls the tower and asks for a radio check, the time, and taxiing instruction as well as stating our mission. Then we release the brakes, turn on one landing light (to taxi with) and head for the designated runway. The fluorescent lights on the instrument panel cast an eerie glow on all our faces. The engineer has his head and shoulders out the hatch in back of us and is directing our taxiing because the vision is so limited from the cockpit. When we are within 300 yds. of the runway we stop and put on the brakes. Then all four engines are run up together and then separately and each checked carefully. This usually takes about ten minutes. Then we receive another clearance from the tower and taxi out onto the runway, line up in the center and after one more clearance from the tower (all by radio of course) we’re off, the pilot pushing the throttles for all four engines almost halfway and then the co-pilot takes over and pushes them all the way up.
When the ship is rolling along at eighty or so the pilot pulls back on the wheel and the nose comes up in the air; a few seconds later we are air-borne and the pilot calls “wheels up” and the co-pilot pushes the necessary lever. When we reach about 800 ft. the pilot calls “flaps up-booster (gasoline) pumps off” then we start climbing at roughly 160 mph. and about 500 ft. a minute. Of course at each stage of the climb there are different power settings, RPM, etc.
When we reach the desired altitude the pilot pulls back on the throttles to a certain point and then calls for the co-pilot to reduce the RPM for each engine and synchronize them visually by observing the motion of a shadow visible across each blade. We are now cruising. Then for the next four hours we play with the radios (all four of them) flying the beam or the radio compass and learning what we can. We change seats at the halfway mark or sometimes every hour. The instructor always sits in the co-pilot’s seat (on the right) when he is along. We can get water from a thermos jug in the rear of the cockpit (or the flight deck as it is called).
Since it is still dark, with maybe just a line along the horizon in the east, we have position, formation, and navigation lights on. Inside the ship we have just the fluorescent lights. As it grows lighter we see the tiny lights of the towns beneath us take their place and lose their possibility of being stars. Sometimes, if the ground was warmer than the air there will be a ground fog and the lights of the cities and farms will gleam like jewels through the mass of cobweb-like moisture. At first everything on the ground seems dark, then you perceive tones of grey and finally as the sun is just getting ready to come over the horizon things begin to look green and brown and the lights lose their sparkling quality. Then when the sun finally does come up the long shadows of trees and buildings make the features of the earth apparent, much more so than they will be later as the sun is higher. By eleven-thirty, the sun is really high and we are sweating in the cockpit as we struggle with the radio or the controls. Then, at last, the instructor says “O.K. let’s go in” and the fellow in the pilot seat starts his let-down into traffic.
Soon we are down on the ground and taxiing to the line. There is much squealing of brakes and finally we are lined up with the white marks on the concrete, the brakes are on, the engines off and the flight is over. Then there is the Form 1 to be filled out with the name, rank, and serial number of each man aboard and we take off our chute harnesses and climb out the bomb-bay doors and head for the pilot house.
Well, That should tell you a little about it at any rate, and that incidentally is about all I have to say right now.
Thanks for the tie, Pop, which arrived this week and also for various letters from Mom, Pop, and Jeanne (about the latter I feel most guilty since you write me so often and I never write you…well at least you know what I write Mom and Dad is meant for you and Larry as well).
As for the money order, something tells me I might be abegging some of that back before the 15th since I misjudged the amount of my Mess bill, expecting it to be $45 like last time and having it turn out to be almost $60. Then I had to get some greens at $20 having but two pairs of pinks to my name.
Best love to all,
Seven months after leaving Texas, Norman Dicker, with whom Dad spent so much time flying and entertaining themselves during their time in Dallas, was forced to ditch his plane in the Pacific. On June 18, 1944 Lt. Dicker flying a B24-J (42-73185) took off from Mokerang Airfield on Los Negros at 2:00 p.m. on a weather reconnaissance flight making radio reports every half hour flying within 100 miles southeast of Peleliu Island, then to return to Mokerang Airfield. The weather was overcast and stormy forcing it to fly to the New Guinea mainland. Low on fuel, the crew of 11 decided to bail out at approximately 2:30 a.m. The B-24’s last reported position was between Long Island and the northern coast of New Guinea, heading towards the northern coast of New Guinea. Two of the crew successfully bailed out: Lt. Raymond L. Schlager and S/Sgt. Donald M. Budge. The other crew members perished. (Source: Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 6116).
November 17, 1943 Aboard train en route Salt Lake City
Well it’s certainly been a long time since I’ve written, and I don’t know whether you’ll be able to read this the way the darn train is tossing around.
We left Ft. Worth at 6:30 p.m. Monday afternoon and have been traveling ever since. Fortunately we have really good Pullman accommodations and even have a separate berth for each fellow which all goes to show you it is sometimes good to be an officer.
We are headed for Salt Lake City and by the time you receive this will be there. The country is beautiful. We’ve been through Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Wyoming, the flat, endless plains gradually rising in elevation. We hit Denver last night at 12 and slept in our berths in the station. Arose at six took a taxi uptown and ate breakfast in the best hotel. At 9:30 we left Denver and ate breakfast again at 10:15. The flat plain on which our train traveled most of the morning had a range of snow-capped mountains on our left twenty miles away. The country became more rolling and higher towards three o’clock and we were climbing steadily. The top of our climb was reached at around 4:00 p.m. and we were on a high windy plateau more than 8,000 feet in elevation. We waited for a half hour up there and then started going down.
The sun is almost setting behind another range (or the same one) still on our left beyond a vast rolling plateau of ochre colored grass, bare of trees, rocks, or signs of human habitation. It is a very austere and lovely sight.
We will wait in Salt Lake to be assigned to our unit for actual combat training and then we begin to pick up our crew. I’ll write you from there.
Much love to all,
P.S. This has been a troop train (only officers) the entire way which explains why I couldn’t tell you where or when I was leaving. We picked up another bunch of officers (Air Corps) in Kansas someplace.
November 20, 1943 Saturday afternoon, Salt Lake City
Imagine a fair grounds, huge brick buildings, trampled grass, grandstands, faded signs and cinder roads, once teeming with the produce of the state – rich harvest apples, melons, beets, white-face cattle, horses, sheep; and now overrun by the wealth of the nation. A thousand (?) bomber pilots, gathered from schools all over the country to spend a few days in crowded squalor and then to emerge as combat teams. The contrast between to old days when peaceful crowds swarmed through the buildings admiring prize cattle, etc. and now when a multitude of men (each worth roughly $40,000) sleep in two-decker beds in endless rows or mass before the loudspeakers and receive their assignments is a terrific one.
Everybody is here. We are meeting friends we have not seen since we started training. At each formation you hear, “Well I’ll be darned! How are you? Where have you been? Is Fred here with you? He did! No kidding!” Endless hand-shaking, back slapping and general hubbub.
Pilots and co-pilots are grouped together at the fairgrounds which are several miles from the air base. At the base itself are navigators, bombardiers, radio-men and gunners. I have seen a pile of barracks-bags containing the personal equipment of enlisted men stretching out a quarter-mile across the flat sandy soil. Can you imagine what a problem it is to receive, feed, house and keep track of a fair-sized city which moves in one week and out the next?
The city is very beautiful. In almost any direction you look great rugged mountains, their tops sometimes hidden by clouds, rise from the flat land in breathtaking beauty against the sky. The air is cold and smoky – a huge haze as bad as St. Louis sometimes. Downtown is much better than St. Louis however. Tremendously broad streets and sidewalks, clean and neat!
Right at the moment I am sitting on the balcony of the hotel [Utah]. Frank Beauregard (who came to N.Y. with me on the train? He went to Liberal, Kansas for transition and we met again here) is sitting opposite me. We came in town at 3:00 p.m. after our afternoon formation. I have been put on the alert list and will leave for I don’t know where sometime Monday. Dicker has already been assigned his crew and leaves tomorrow. Frank and I don’t have to be back until 8:30 tomorrow morning but since I am broke and besides there are no hotel rooms to be had in town we’ll probably sleep at camp. Sometime I’ll tell you what that barn out there is like.
Will write you when I reach my next post. It could be in California, or Florida or any state in between!
Much love to all,
P.S. When I had just finished this letter I looked up and saw Ben Ehrich walking by. He’s a lieutenant in the Quartermaster’s Corps. We’ve just talked for two solid hours. It was really swell to talk to someone with some spark for a change. Going out to eat now.
As with so many of the air bases hastily constructed as the United States geared for war with Japan and Germany, business leaders from Casper, Wyoming traveled to Washington, D.C. in early 1942 to pitch the merits of their town. They focused largely on Casper’s 5,200 ft. elevation and the powerful zephyr winds out of the west that whipped around the back side of Casper Mountain, creating enormous lift for large aircraft to quickly reach higher altitudes for formation flying or bombing practice.
The delegation to Washington was successful, the selected site approved – a high, flat plateau nine miles west of Casper on U.S. Highway 20-26, alongside the tracks of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad – and the Army Corps of Engineers broke ground for the massive new Army Air base in April 1942. Within six months the field was operational with four, mile-long concrete runways (to compensate for the higher altitude than most bases) and some 400 buildings to accommodate the 2,200 Air Corps personnel and the hundreds of civilians required to operate the base.
In the spring of 1943 Casper Army Air Base transitioned from training B-17 Flying Fortress crews to 10-man B-24 Liberators crews, providing advanced training in navigation, gunnery, bombing, flight engineering, and much to my father’s annoyance during his three months there, very little actual flying.
November 24, 1943
After much waiting around and endless confusion we left the fair (?) city of Salt Lake Monday at 6:00 p.m. in three of the oldest coaches I have ever seen. Every available seat was occupied and it was not very comfortable. Towards evening it grew dark (as it usually does) and a man came through the cars with a little flare on the end of a stick. He turned a thumbscrew with an attachment on the same stick and lit the gas mantles with which the cars were equipped. The soft yellow light flickered down across the threadbare green plush and the checkered linoleum floor. I could almost imagine the bustle ladies and high-collared gentlemen of another era sitting back and remarking on the “elegance” of the furnishings – a mental image of a mustachioed dandy in a checkered suit casting a sideways glance at the high-buttoned shoe and ½ inch of black-stockinged ankle across the aisle (oh the BRAZEN HUSSY!)
We ate from paper plates and drank from paper cups. There was a field kitchen set up in an empty car ahead. It was not bad.
We arrived on a siding at the edge of camp at 6:30 last night and stood in miserable cold for what seemed an interminable time. Finally we rode in trucks into camp. I took a shower and hit bed more dead than alive. It was very cold.
On the train I met my crew.
My co-pilot is Ralph Simmons, 25, from Louisiana or someplace down there. He just graduated from twin-engine school and didn’t want [B-]24s or any four-motored ship. He is small, dark, and slight. Tough but not too smart. He’ll be O.K.
My bombardier is really something. His name is Arthur Michalzik from Milwaukee. He’s 21, 6 ft 3 ½ inches, blonde and handsome as hell. He speaks what I mistook to be pure Chicagoese but I was 90 miles off. It is an accent as fascinating as any Brooklyn accent ever was. He’s a swell fellow and I think he knows his stuff.
Charles Mixon, my engineer, is small, good looking – reminds me a lot of Courtney Weaver. He’s 28, married, seems intelligent and conscientious.
[John] Prout, the radio-gunner, is medium-sized, the average G.I. A poorly shaped jaw with the lower teeth slung forward gives him an appearance of stubborn strength. I hope he knows his radio although his ability as a gunner will be more valuable.
Simmons, Michalzik, and I sleep in one fairly big room. There is another bed for our navigator but I don’t know his name yet or when he will arrive.
The weather is bitter cold. It’s snowing. We will be here until Feb. 24th. I had tetanus, typhoid, smallpox, cholera, and typhus shots this afternoon – my arm hoits!!
Hope you all had a pleasant Thanksgiving.
P.S. Casper is a town of 10,000 in east-central Wyoming, el. 5,121 ft. … 9,000 ft. mountains within 30 miles a range of snow-capped peaks to the east.
November 29, 1943
Not much news. Still struggling getting organized.
My baggage and that of the other Ft. Worth pilots never arrived at Salt Lake – lost someplace in transit – and is still someplace between Salt Lake and here. It gets found and then lost again. Consequently I am struggling along with three pair of pants, one pair of shoes, etc. – very uncomfortable. Had to draw a complete new set of flying equipment to fly with until my stuff does arrive (if ever).
We flew Saturday afternoon – three hours – just an orientation flight plus a little instrument flying. Fortunately I made a swell landing which gives me added prestige with my crew. They all seem to be good fellows and I think we’ll make out O.K.
Yesterday morning we shot automatics, rifles, Tommy-guns, and carbines for five hours. A lot of fun. The weather is very cold with a bitter wind blowing continuously. Right now I must eat dinner and at noon we go to classes, from noon until 7 p.m.
The schedule seems pretty rough but I’m used to it by now. The only thing that really annoys me is the fact the latrine is 100 yards from the barracks, but this is mitigated by the fact the mess hall is open 22 hours a day and the food is good.
The responsibility is sure terrific. I’ve got to worry about my enlisted men, their wills, etc. and see that they get to their classes on time, etc., plus my bombardier and co-pilot. Phew!
Lots of love,
December 4, 1943
Four letters, no five! Arrived today and yesterday from Mother, Dad and Jeanne. Phew! It sure is nice to get them.
Tell Jeanne, in answer to her question, as far as I’ve heard it gets colder here towards Feb. & March, sometimes staying down at 30º below for a few days. The only reason I can imagine their having a field in such an uncomfortable place is to train us for flying near the equator. This would be the only logical explanation – logical from the standpoint of how the Army usually does things. Actually I believe it has something to do with the altitude. Casper is 5,500 ft. above sea level, almost as much as Denver I think, and a mere 5,000 feet more in a plane justifies (and warrants) the use of oxygen. Since all runs are made at 18,000 or better the conditions are easily simulated in this country.
Dad says according to his figures we are 275 miles from Salt Lake City and the trip should have taken about five hours. Is he kidding? The Army never takes the shortest route between two places! It took us almost 26 hours. We went by way of Alaska.
Yes, I would like some good Scotch if it is possible to get any in N.Y. It is impossible out here unless you’ve been trading with the same place for 10 years. Actually things aren’t too bad in town though. You get mixed drinks across the bar. So if you can’t get a bottle don’t worry since I am not a drinker in any sense of the word. I can get along very well on an occasional highball in town and beer on the post.
I’ll probably have lots of time the next few days since the entire post is restricted due to reorganization. I think every post I’ve been on has reorganized while I was there. What they accomplish nobody seems to know. One G.I. told me he moved (by orders) back to a barracks he was in 14 months ago. He still does the same job.
We are 120 miles from Yellowstone, within easy flying distance of an afternoon but unless we sneak over there I don’t think I’ll get to see it since it is all a restricted flying area.
Yesterday afternoon we heard our baggage from Ft. Worth (practically my entire outfit including all flying equipment) was out in front of the gym. We picked it up when we got through school last night at 7:00 p.m. Some G.I.s had kindly pulled some of it into their barracks since it had rained a bit. But most of the stuff had been out there since last Saturday. Six days on the post and nobody knew anything about it. In the meantime we had heard it was in Salt Lake; lost; burned, etc. and also heard two telephone calls to Salt Lake concerning it had been made on Wednesday. Well that’s how the Army works. At any rate it sure was swell to have some clean clothes and a different pair of shoes for a change!
This picture shows seven men. In the bombardier’s compartment will be Mike and the navigator, and a gunner. In the waist, behind the bomb bay will be two gunners and a turret gunner. In the rear turret will be another gunner. As the ship is now with just six or seven of us flying 30 more men could climb aboard and I’d never know they were on. There might be a slight difference in the trim of the ship but not much. (I told you once we flew back from San Antone and to my amazement 16 men walked out of the rear! I’d never seen them get on!) What a ship!
Best love to all,
P.S. This field abounds in combat pilots and engineers. I’ve heard some wonderful tales. We have a navigation instructor who flew 27 missions to Rangoon from his base in India. He called it the milk-run and his description of several exciting trips was certainly something to hear. Our squadron C.O., flight C.O., several instructors and hundreds of men on the field have all seen combat. It is nothing to eat dinner across the table from a first Looey or a Captain with three rows of decorations – from the Pre-Pearl Harbor ribbon to the Flying Cross.
The Sgt. instructing my engineer, Mixon, has seen 300 hours of combat and arrived here last month – his first time in the U.S. in four years. He explained this was unusual; he had service in Hawaii.
December 13, 1943
Not much news. We have not flown in more than 10 days. This is very annoying as you doubtless can imagine.
I’m pretty sure we’ll fly tonight. We have a new instructor, thank goodness. Captain with 300 combat hours. Yeoow!
Today we talked for two hours to a Sgt. who had bailed out of a plane (B-24) in China (enemy held territory) made a delayed jump from 18,000 opening his chute at 1,000 ft. He has been in the States less than two weeks. I can’t tell you how he got back but it sure was interesting. He had plenty to say.
Weather pretty warm today. Rumor has it we might leave this field for warmer territory soon. Got a letter from a friend who was sent to Idaho. I just missed that shipment by two numbers. He left Idaho Dec. 4 and is now in California 40 miles from Death Valley, 90 miles from L.A. – nearest town, pop. 4,000, 40 miles away.
December 18, 1943 Saturday night
Well today certainly was like Christmas! We had school from noon until 7:00 p.m. and between classes I kept running over and picking up packages. The huge box containing the date sticks, etc. arrived and nicely spoiled my supper. Gee they are good! I blew pieces of date stick into the harmonica in the general excitement (this is at 7:30 before dinner).
Also there was a swell package of Schrafft’s candies, cookies, etc. from Ruth, Bob & David. The same assortment as Ruth & Julian sent me and for which I have not yet thanked them; I wish you would send me their address. Also a wonderful book from Frances & Albert, really a beautiful thing. There are some marvelous things in it and the paper and printing are so beautiful.
What amused me a bit was the fact you nicely wrapped your package, Dad, in the cardboard I used to send home my civilian shoes from San Antonio more than a year ago. Did you notice that? The snake jumped out of the little jar like it was supposed to, also. The dates are very good.
The remaining gunners on my crew arrived Wednesday and I met them yesterday morning for the first time. There are four of them – two washed out pilots (like Mixon, Prout, and Michalzik all are) and two just general Army men. Brown, Williams, Heller and IANNAZZI – which is a fine name to shout into the interphone during a battle.
“Iannazzi, Iannazzi!” I’ll say.
“Where?” will come back in unison from all the other gunners.
They are all good-looking men and I really feel glad I was lucky enough to get a crew without some of the specimens I’ve seen around. I’m not saying that physical appearance is indicative of ability by any means but you do have a bit more confidence in a crew that looks clean-cut and alive.
I assigned Brown (Harry O.) to the rear turret, Heller (very small and stutters) to the ball-turret, (otherwise known as belly turret), Iannazzi to the nose and Williams to the top. Then last night we weren’t scheduled to fly but I took them out to an empty ship and found Brown could get in the rear turret but couldn’t move inside. So there was a big reorganization. I tried every man in every turret. The result:
Heller, Vincent O. – tail turret
Iannazzi, Ed – belly turret
Williams, Ben – nose turret
Brown, Harry – top turret
Prout, John – radio man and waist gunner
Mixon, Charles – engineer and waist gunner
Michalzik, Arthur – bombardier
Simmons, Ralph – co-pilot
? (arrives tomorrow, I hope) – navigator
Carmel, James – pilot
So now I’ve got four more to worry about, see that they get their flying equipment, back-pay, immunization, etc.
Tomorrow we drop bombs for the first time if Mike feels we are coordinating. We really haven’t had much practice together so we might not. Anyhow the whole bunch of us are checked out night and day solo which is a relief. Now we should begin to get some time.
Glad to hear you got the watch. I sure need it and would appreciate it an awful lot if Dad would take it down to Omega. And I don’t want you paying for it either, Dad, because I don’t. Let me know how much it is.
Well it’s 11:30 and I’m supposed to get up and look alive at 5:00 a.m.
December 25, 1943 Christmas night
Well it was hardly noticeable – Christmas I mean!
We took off last night at 10:30 after two hours of struggling with the ship. Every time we’d get set to start up the engines a fuse would blow or something else would happen. Since the ship has roughly some thirty fuse boxes in as many different places when something blows it often takes a half-hour to find where the fuse is. The bomb sight was also erratic and Mike was down in the nose with an instrument repairman sweating with the sight for an hour.
Anyhow we did get off the ground eventually and climbed to 20,000 feet donning our oxygen masks enroute. It took a half hour or so to get up there and the ship didn’t trim up well at all so that by the time we did level off I didn’t know where we were. Mike, John, and I carried on a three-cornered interphone conversation concerning our whereabouts and each of us got madder and madder since at that height the interphone usually fades almost out and besides the oxygen mask so constricts the facial movements (upon which transmission with the throat mike depends) as to render unintelligible even the most careful diction. Besides which I was trying to check up on the three men in the tail (Heller, Iannazzi, and Williams) who had never been up on oxygen before (except in the chamber) and for all I knew were not getting enough…
Well eventually I gave up trying to understand John and using the radio compass headed back for Casper. The ship was poor and didn’t trim up right which is very annoying since it means you can’t take your eyes off the instruments a moment. Casper turned out to be under a mass of broken clouds. We located our bombing targets momentarily only to lose them under floating clouds also. I then called flight control requesting permission to descend beneath the clouds and was assigned a different set of targets at 12,000 ft. We came down and took off our masks (out of which poured a half-cup of condensed moisture) which was very much of a relief. We made two runs on the target only to discover one of my flight instruments was erratic making all bombing haphazard.
This was the pay-off and I turned and headed for the base more than a little irritable. We landed at 1:30 and I wrote up two solid pages of remarks about the ship which still did not compensate the wasted flying time. At this stage of the game we can’t afford to merely fly but must accomplish what we set out to do in the way of training. Anyhow we finished our reports and left the line at 2:30, ate breakfast (ham & eggs, toast and coffee) at 3:00 and went to bed.
This morning we arose at 11:15 and had a good Christmas dinner with turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and all the fixings. Then we went to school. From 3 to 5 we were scheduled to attend any of our enlisted men’s classes to check their attentiveness etc. I visited the turret school first and found the men had been dismissed so I got some time in the Consolidated rear turret into which my knees would not fit and my posterior consequently overhung the edge. I talked for a solid hour and a half to the Sgt. who teaches turrets and learnt more than I ever could in any class. He told me many things such as where the program failed and where it was sufficient. Both John and Mike will, as a result, find themselves attending Turret School in their free time which will no doubt annoy them.
I don’t remember whether I have written you since the arrival of the check which saved the day – I was down to 30 cents and by golly I sure needed it. Thank you both for always being so propitious. You are right incidentally about there being nothing I need. I really have everything. If I have everything I should be happy and you must know I am. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to have some responsibility. Also the work we are doing now is very interesting, more so than just the hack flying we were doing at Ft. Worth. I am beginning to feel for the first time as if I were part of the effort and that thought is indeed a happy one. It will be even happier when I drop my first ton of bombs on Japanese territory. I often wonder how Mike or John feel when they realize how little chance there will be of their using their newly acquired skill after the war. With me it is different because even if I only fly my own ship the Army has taught me an awful lot. This training has been for me, so much more than mere adventure which unfortunately it will only mean to the greater part of the Army…
Quite some time ago I noticed a lot of writing on the window frame in our latrine. It interested me because it was not the usual latrine art. Evidently…someone discovered he had a pencil in his pocket… his serial number 39609299 was repeated endlessly on all walls….
Well there you have it! Sort of sad, isn’t it?
We fly tomorrow at 5:30 a.m. That’s sad, too. In a different way.
January 5, 1944
Am having the same trouble writing letters I had back at Ft. Worth. Just have to drive myself to answer letters I should have answered ages ago.
Oh nothing much new has happened, feel fine, etc. etc. just more or less disgusted the way things are going. We still haven’t flown as an entire crew in almost two weeks now. And I get very much annoyed at the people who run things.
Yesterday afternoon half of us (crew 580) flew to Ogden, Utah (just above Salt Lake City). It was a very beautiful, though cold trip. The bleak, desolate expanse of snow-covered hill and mountains seemed barren and dead like a forgotten world and as we approached the huge mountains which protect Ogden again I had the sensation of complete unreality. Mountains rising through scattered clouds; jagged, theatrical peaks – for all the world like the Japanese prints (or is it Chinese?) and even above the roar of the engines the serenity and great silence of such majestic scenery could be felt by us all. It was awesome to fly at 12,000 feet with jagged peaks on either side almost on a level with us and only a mile apart (the range has a pass at Ogden) and then to see Ogden on the floor of the plains to the west of the range – in about 5 miles of forward motion through the pass the mountains drop down 6,000 feet to the level plains.
We landed on a beautiful field (Hill Field) almost in the shadow of the mountains and soon were eating dinner in the field cafeteria. We tried to take the ship we were calling for but it was not ready so at 10:45 we started back for Casper again carrying the extra crew. We got to bed at 3:00 a.m. Quite a good day for a change.
Today it was almost zero with a bitter gale blowing Tuesday’s three-inch snowfall into strange designs around our BOQ [Bachelor Officer Quarters] and cancelling flying for tonight.
January 9, 1944 Sunday morning, 7:30 A.M.
I’ve just returned from the Link Trainer dept. having arisen at five thirty and gone over there at six for Link from 6 to 8. Unfortunately there were no Link instructors ambitious enough to get up at this ungodly hour so all I did over there was write a long overdue letter to Dallas. At eight o’clock I’m supposed to go to PT at the gym but since I have a slight cold and a heavy cough I thought I’d come over to the Infirmary and get some medicine and an excuse from PT. The doc doesn’t get here until 8:10 which accounts for the fact that I am using this swell typewriter.
Thursday we had school until noon (if I remember correctly) or maybe it was until 7:00 P.M. anyhow I got into town at around 8:30 and got a room with Mike. Because of the terrific snow that day we had been excused from flying Friday morning. So I slept late Friday morning and had late breakfast and then spent most of the afternoon writing letters and also after dinner wrote letters far into the night. I hadn’t written various people in so long they had really added up and I got rid of most of them in one fell swoop.
So yesterday morning I picked up two swell enlargements I had made from a negative Carole sent me and if you are lucky you might receive one of them. It was certainly the best picture I ever took of anybody. Then we came back to camp, dressed and went out to the line. We were supposed to fly a three-ship formation but one of the ships had put-put trouble (a put-put is a two-cycle gasoline motor which is very similar to an outboard motor. It sits under the flight deck where the fumes can annoy the pilot and supplies electrical power for various things before the ship takes off. When we get in the air we turn it off and there are generators on each engine to supply electricity) and had to fall out of the formation even before takeoff.
So we flew a two-ship formation which is more fun anyhow. After two hours Captain Sargeant (who was the instructor in the other plane) said they had generator trouble and they dropped out leaving us up there to get some instrument time. We were solo anyhow. Instead of getting instrument time I put Ralph in the pilot’s seat and I let Mixon get up in the co-pilot’s seat and fly the ship for a half-hour. It was very funny, especially since Sgt. Brown, the top-turret man was sick anyhow from the bouncing around I gave him in formation. Mixon would get the ship into a bank and increase the bank and the descent at the same time and the ship would go into a screaming dive before Ralph would take over and level off. It was very funny to me to see someone have so much trouble because at this stage of the game it seems so easy and natural to fly the ship that I can’t understand why anyone should have any trouble. We had been up there solo about an hour and it was almost dusk when they called off flying since the drifting snow had covered the runway lights and we would have had to land in the dark with just our landing lights. So we came down and landed. We were fortunate though in having a ship that had all heaters operating and you’d be surprised what a difference that makes in our morale and what we can accomplish in the air. It makes all the difference in the world.
So today we are supposed to have two hours PT and then some British Radio Procedure and then we are off until 3:45 when we have some special sort of a review for a change and then have supper. After supper we fly until 2 a.m. and then we are off until noon tomorrow at which time we have seven hours of school. Then we fly Tuesday morning until 2 p.m. at which time we are off until Wednesday noon. On Wednesday noon we fly again (just like yesterday) and from there on the schedule repeats itself.
We heard yesterday that all flights to any fields other than those of the 15th Wing have been prohibited so I guess that kills my plan of landing at Mitchel Field one of these days. Instead we will have to fly to Boise, Idaho, Pocatello or any of about ten other fields within a thousand miles. At least we will get an overnight trip out of it which is some consolation.
I haven’t been able to get my mail since Wednesday Jan. fifth so don’t be annoyed with me if this letter doesn’t answer questions you asked me which haven’t reached me yet.
Incidentally I did have some pictures taken of me in town but the proofs were so lousy (my fault entirely) that I had two more taken Friday and those should be better, beyond the shadow of a.
Much love to all,
January 13, 1944
Well, much to my surprise, turning a quarter of a century [on January 11, 1944] was as painless and ordinary as any other birthday. We flew Tuesday morning and got awfully disgusted because Mike and John couldn’t find the targets. We were at 20,000 feet and it was only -10º so we wasted a morning.
At around three in the afternoon we went into town and got ourselves rooms [at the Gladstone Hotel]. Then we had a few drinks, dinner (before which I picked up a birthday check from Larry & Jeanne) and then a few more drinks. Wound up the evening at the Crystal Bar dancing with some local gal I never even got around to exchanging first names with.
Then later back in my room with John and Mike and in walked five or six enlisted men on crew 581. One Sgt. Fowler (their radio man) with a wonderful sense of humor, talked steadily for two hours and had us howling with laughter the entire time. I have never seen anyone with greater natural ability to satirize. It was wonderful.
Due to another reorganization (believe it or not) we did nothing all day Wednesday. Slept in the hotel until ten, had six wheat cakes and four eggs for breakfast. Then slept in the afternoon. Had a couple of drinks before dinner. Then after dinner over to the 114 Club where we all lost some money and I met my gal Mamie (the rancher’s daughter). Took her home at 10:15 and the rest of the boys called for me at her house at 10:30. Then back to the field.
This morning up at 4:30 and supposed to fly at 0830 only two ships available and naturally 580 didn’t get one. So at 11:30 they released us. During the morning I took Mixon, Brown, and Heller up to the Quartermaster’s and we all got some warm socks and heavy underwear. Now we are off duty until noon tomorrow.
It seems as if all my recent letters have included some beefing about the little flying we were doing. It is still that way and getting worse instead of better. When you realize we have a measly 55 hours after almost two months here it certainly seems like very little and indeed it is. But if tha’s the way they want to do it tha’s O.K. by me. I’ve given up hollering. At least I know we’ve already got 10 times the training bomber crews were leaving for combat with a year and a half ago. In those days a copilot’s first ride was often overseas…
The weather is disgustingly warm today – 24º this morning and about 38º now with fierce and mighty winds. I’m going into town in a few minutes to get out of the wind and to scout around for a dancing partner for this evening. Ho hum!
…These Barbarians out here! They don’t know what a “frosted chocolate” is or that a juke box could have a few things besides “No Letter Today” or “Ridin’ the Range” – or that when you give somebody long-stemmed carnations it doesn’t mean just because you haven’t got a big vase you should cut off all but six inches of stem and stick them in a mayonnaise jar. Oh the beautiful West!
Thank you both for your birthday present which arrived today. It was very sweet of you especially after your Christmas extravagance and also when I know it should be going in the other direction. Part of it will go toward our crew photo which we hope to have taken next week and which I think you will value more than the portraits which are being printed and should be ready in two weeks. With the rest of it I shall invest in a Parker 51 which I can get in the PX for $10. This pen I am using is not very good any more.
Speaking of money (who was?) I’m going to hold on to my December pay in hopes of a February leave. Some crews which went to Boise are on a 15-day leave now but we seem to be a special bunch at this field and God knows what they are going to do with us. At any rate I’m taking the optimistic view.
This reorganization I mentioned earlier in my letter is again playing havoc with our flying time. 50 new crews (500 men) arrived on the field today and under our new schedule which will last until January 30th we can hope for no better than two planes a day. This means if 580 flies once in the next two weeks we will be lucky. Should you feel anxious on our account let me reassure you that I spare no effort in gaining additional instruction for my crew whenever possible. I have impressed them with the importance of attentiveness and alertness these last few weeks and I think we are very much on the ball. If I did not feel certain of the quality and extent of our ability as a crew when it came time to go overseas I should not hesitate an instant to refuse. I think we will be ready when they want us.
I enclose the two signature cards and shall make an allotment as soon as possible of base, quarters, rations, etc. which should come to $185 a month. This will leave me with some $100 a month overseas and flying pay. I’m not too sure of the figures. At any rate I will make the allotment effective as of March 1st providing we are not still in the States by March 30th which is very possible.
(John is just amusing himself by endeavoring to stop Mike’s loud snoring. He puts his fingers on Mike’s chin and pushes his mouth closed. Then he tries putting two fingers over Mike’s nostrils. Nothing does any good, he still snores).
Mike and John are really swell guys. We understand each other and have fun no matter what we’re doing or where we are. I really feel as if I have the best bombardier & navigator anybody could ask for – also two good friends.
Much love to all,
P.S. Since you sent me my watch back (two weeks?) it has gained exactly eight seconds! I’m terribly proud of it.
January 16, 1944
Just time for a note before I hit the sack. We fly at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow and for once I’m gonna have enough sleep – unless the two New Yorkers distract me.
Had seven straight hours of ground school this afternoon. What a nuisance.
[Navigator] John [Glunt] in the hospital with a bad throat, no temp., feels fine, they grabbed him however. Be out in a couple of days. Rest of the crew O.K. – pilot still coughing darnit!!
Would you send me my red flannel shirt and my skiing cap if you can find it? Also any wool mittens not the ski mittens but I think there is an old pair of wool mittens around someplace. There might even be an old pair of fur lined mitts someplace.
Flew once last week! Whoopee!!!
Love to all,
January 20, 1944
Just a quick note before I hit the sack. We fly tomorrow at 6:00 a.m. I must confess I am more interested in tomorrow night when Mike and I have a double-date with two of the cutest WAC lieutenants you ever saw. We both took my lieutenant out Monday night and drank Scotch and talked Army for hours. She is the Recruiting Officer for this district and very smart. We get along swell. It seems funny as hell to kiss somebody wearing a uniform though.
We flew last night at 20,000 until 2:00 a.m. trying to drop bombs but the inverters (which convert the DC current of the ship into AC current for the bombsight) wouldn’t put out enough juice and we only got two bombs out. Mixon swiped a huge thermos jug when we were in Ogden and we had it along last night with hot coffee. At 10,000 feet, just before we came down, we had some and it was sure wonderful. It was so pitch black last night it was almost like flying in a fog.
Glunt is back from the hospital. His throat is still not too good. I suspect he is allergic to something he’s eating but of course who am I.
Thanks for the Times clippings, Mom. The ARPAD one was really funny. And your clippings always retain the odor of the green box on your dresser and add a nostalgic note to your letters.
The weather was very warm today – at least 40º all day. Wonderful. I can almost imagine what spring in this vast sea of sky & wind must be like. Clear skies & fresh air in such abundance as to blot out even the memory of crowded cities and the women with the baby carriages beneath my window in the museum.
Fred Mason seems to be getting very important at the Museum. He’s director of something-or-other now Etta writes me.
Best love to all,
January 27, 1944
Thought you might like the enclosed pix. How do you like “Big Stoop?” When I sat down to write this letter my hot bombardier was lying on his bed “recuperating between letters” (as he put it) and had left all his writing material scattered around including the back of an old envelope with “apologize-apoligize saing-saying-saing” written on it. Anyhow I’m “apoligizing” too for not having written sooner.
As you can see by one of the enclosed pictures (which incidentally I want back in the next mail!) I have good reason to be busy in town and busy we all have been for the past two days – in town.
We were supposed to fly Tuesday morning but it snowed so we didn’t even get out of bed at 4:30. Went into town at noon and got a room at the Henning. Tuesday night I had dinner with my little squirt of a lieutenant and we went dancing. Wednesday morning (yesterday) I slept until 1:30 p.m., had breakfast and fooled around for a while. It was still snowing. Then at 3:00 I called for the midget and her pal and we had afternoon tea at the Gladstone coffee shop. Then later when she came home from work John & Mike joined us for a Scotch ‘n soda and then we had dinner at the Waldorf (similar to that place that used to be on the corner of North & 5th) a joint but all the restaurants out here are joints – with tiled floors and slot machines and stuffed elk heads all over and corny juke boxes, and weather-lined faces under light colored Stetsons. And no fresh vegetables.
Then the midget and I went back to their room (she lives with Lt. Johnson, another WAC) and had a drink with Johnny & some Lt. she was with – Mike’s competition (fortunately going to Topeka tomorrow). Then they left to got to a dance out at the base but we went to an awful movie which we walked out on.
Up this morning early for a change and out to the base for a change. Had Gunnery Lab and took a .50 cal. Machine-gun apart and put it together a few times. Then Link trainer, lunch, and here I am. The weather seems to be clearing and we might fly tonight. I sure hope so…
Mike and I came down with a very good C.E. (circular error) after bombing the other day. If we can keep it up I’ll leave here next month with silver bars instead of gold – the ten best crews usually get ‘em.
Enjoyed Dad’s witty letter today and expect to see the little cakes tomorrow – and the much needed shirt and mittens.
January 31, 1944
Just a note to let you know all is well. We officially entered “Third Phase” last night and should be finished here in less than three weeks.
Drove my Lt. & another WAC Lt. 30 miles out of Casper into the mountains yesterday afternoon. They wanted to check up on the recruiting possibilities in a little town out in the hills. The weather was beautiful – clear and cold. The staff car I drove was a new Ford. It was the first chance I’d had to see any of the local scenery and it was a lot of fun.
Came back into Casper and we had tea & cinnamon toast at the Gladstone, then they drove me out to camp and I had two hours of bomb trainer. We flew last night from 9:00 to 2:00 and dropped 10 good bombs. All the HEATERS WORKED! Slept until noon today.
My gal has gone off recruiting this week and I’ll be able to take it easy this week! Until Sunday at any rate!
As for writing Caroline, Pop, I suggest since I don’t, maybe you shouldn’t. I haven’t written her in quite a while. Things were getting too romantic to suit my taste. I think maybe she wanted to get married or something after the war.
The red shirt and much needed mittens arrived this afternoon and I am sitting here at the desk with the shirt on. It caused quite a sensation. Tomorrow I’ll wear it flying!
The cakes didn’t get here yet and I imagine when the do they’ll be awfully stale.
That’s all the news!
Much love to all,
P.S.Thanks awfully for the shirt and mittens. I don’t think I’ll need any A&F mittens. With these wool ones over wool gloves I guess my hands will be plenty warm.
WE FLY AT 5:30 tomorrow. G’nite!
February 7, 1944
Just a note from the Flying Line where we are “sweating out” a ship. Last night we briefed at 4:00 p.m. and were supposed to take off at 6:00 but something was the matter with our four radios and we didn’t get off until 9:00. We flew almost to Salina, Kansas and return. It was a lovely evening and the moon was almost full. As soon as we were at an altitude above this field I set the Automatic Pilot and never touched the controls until we returned to the field at 2:00 a.m. Tilted my chair back (they tilt way back like a barber’s chair) and drank hot coffee from a huge thermos jug we now take with us and ate wonderful turkey sandwiches the mess-hall had fixed up for us.
Tonight we were supposed to fly to Pampa, Tex. and Amarillo and return but the ship we had evidently had an inefficient crew the previous flight because they had shot up one of the vertical fins with fifty caliber bullets and I thought it should be repaired before flight. So as I said before what we are doing is waiting for a replacement which in all probability we won’t get tonight due to the fact there just ain’t any.
Latest rumor (and a good one) has it that we will stop training with the Sperry sight and Auto-Pilot like the B-17 has. Since we’ve been doing all our training with the Sperry it may be that they will ship us to an OUT to repeat this entire period of training we’ve done here [with the new Norden bombsight]. Well as much as I desire to get into combat that won’t make me mad because after all extra training is extra training.
I think the A&F [Abercrombie & Fitch] mittens will be unnecessary. I think leather or even canvas doesn’t permit air to get to my hands and they sweat and get cold much quicker. I’ve been using the woolen mittens lately and they work very well but then of course we haven’t had the cold weather lately that we had when I sent for them. In fact today the temperature was 50 degrees all afternoon and it was even not windy. Then also the last few ships we’ve flow have actually had working heaters so we haven’t been uncomfortable at all.
So that’s about all the news. Spent a pleasant Saturday night in town. Mike and I with our two WACs, dancing and drinking good Scotch at the Crystal Room (Hmm – you should see it). Then we slept until noon Sunday and got out to the field in time for briefing at 4. Today as I said before we’ve had the same schedule. Tomorrow afternoon we have school and then fly the following morning from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Then I think we’re off until 4 p.m. the next day…not bad.
Much love to all,
February 16, 1944 Tuesday 5:30 p.m. (At the Air WAC Recruiting Office)
I have just tried to enlist in this outfit and been refused. I wanted to enlist since I don’t feel that I am meeting enough girls in the outfit, which I am in. You might infer that when I speak of outfit I am bemoaning the fact my shoulders only bear yellow bars but on the contrary when I speak of outfit I mean “organization!” This is not a bad typewriter, in fact it is rather good but I still miss the exclamation point. Typewriters should be designed with exclamation points.
Started a letter to you last Saturday when we were sweating out the weather at the flying line but just as I was halfway through we were told in all probability the weather would clear up in a few days but we could go home then which we promptly did. Later the weather cleared up but by that time everybody was all over the place so we couldn’t fly anyhow.
This morning we were up at 4:30 and at the line at 5:30 and spent the morning sweating out 169, which had gotten cold during the night (it was -4) and #1 and #4 wouldn’t start. We were scheduled to slow-time the ship which means you fly one engine without the full power because it has just been changed, followed by an instrument check and then gunnery and bombing.
Well we sweated out the ship all morning, gradually eliminating all of the many missions we were going to accomplish. Finally at twelve they had gotten #4 started and #1 was still temperamental so we all left to eat lunch. Then returned to the line and continued waiting and running out now and then to see what they were doing. Trying to start it had fouled all the spark plugs so they decided to change them. Then one of them broke off inside the engine, at three o’clock, so the Captain finally admitted there wasn’t much sense in our hanging around any longer and we left. Took a shower and dressed and ran out of the barracks just in time to catch a lift to town. Since the car went right by the Post Office I dropped off and came upstairs for a visit at this office and there we are.
Learned today that Major [Richard] Lavin, our one time Group Commander, is no longer our Group Commander and contrary to what we expected will neither accompany us to Topeka or overseas. I had quite a chat with him this morning and he seemed to think we might possibly spend quite some time there in Topeka, then finally some of us would fly overseas in our own ships and some of us might go by train and then by boat, depending upon what sort of replacements they need and where. Its all pretty indefinite, one never knows what they are going to do with one and consequently when it comes to the burning question of a leave you are as well positioned to answer the question as I am. At any rate the time grows short, and we expect to ship out of here for Topeka early next week, although rumor had it today that we might get a ten-day extension of time to complete our work here which as you might have surmised from various letters is not very complete.
Casper is still quite a little hot-spot but I will be glad to get back to even the semblance of civilization as I imagine Topeka must be. Part of my dream world here, and a good part, is about the kind of a meal I am going to order when and if I do get back to someplace where one can order a meal. It’s going to have such delicacies in it as fresh pineapple, and fresh peas, besides lots of other things.
So that’s about the news and very little it is at that. But then so little happens, we fly so seldom, etc. I shall be glad to leave.
Much love to all,
February 18, 1944
Well I’ll start this letter but probably won’t have a chance to finish it. I’m at the flying line again and it seems as if every time I start a letter to you two they come out of the office and tell us we can go home.
We had school all day yesterday and at five I went into town and claimed my old room (231) at the Henning. Took a luxurious shower and shave and then called up my little WAC who seemed somehow to have gotten hold of a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label. Se we had a couple of drinks and really got an appetite so that when we went out later to the Riverside we could have eaten anything. As it was we ordered a pair of T-bone steaks and when they arrived with a tremendous bowl of shoestring potatoes and fresh green peas they really looked glorious. I started on the tenderloin side of the T-bone and that first bite was almost unbelievable it was so good. The steak was about 1 ¼ inches thick and about 8×10. The other side was just as good as the tenderloin. I honestly haven’t eaten beef like that in years. It tasted like the way I remember steak used to taste back in 1929 when you had a good butcher. Gee it was good. And the orchestra was swell too. We danced and danced and had a few more S and S.
Slept until noon today, then had dinner at the Gladstone, or rather breakfast. A jelly omelet (tough) and some swell wheat muffins and honey and a piece of delicious mince pie with ice cream. And milk and coffee. Then came out to the base, got dressed, and came out to the line. The first ship we were assigned turned out to have a hole in its side so I refused to fly it and the second ship which we got at 8:30 gave us all sorts of heartaches and we finally gave up when we couldn’t start #1 engine.
Well we were told today where we are going. And it seems like a pretty good deal. At least we’ll be down south again and that will mean an awful lot to us who are very tired of this weather. And maybe the ships we’ll have will be better where the weather is warmer. I don’t know how long we will be down there but at any rate my chances for leave are definitely brighter.
Don’t write to me when you receive this letter as they will only have to be forwarded. I’ll write you when we reach our new base. Guess we can leave the line now and hit the sack.
Thanks to both of you for your letters which arrived today. Somehow your descriptions of the snow leave me cold. I’ve gotten to hate snow and cold weather so much I don’t think I’ll ever want to live up north again. EVER.
Much love to all,
When the bitterly cold Wyoming winter made night bombing practice too dangerous – frozen instruments and disorientation had caused airmen to bail out over the sparsely settled plains and perish – the crews were transferred to Alamogordo, New Mexico. The enlisted men went by train; my father and his three fellow officers – Ralph Simmons, John Glunt, and Arthur Michalzik – rented a car and drove south through the mountains.
Alamogordo, New Mexico to El Paso, Texas
The “A” shaped runway layout of Alamogordo Army Airfield, about six miles west of Alamogordo, New Mexico, was originally designed to replicate the runways of British air bases as part of a British Overseas Training Program for Royal Air Force crews in the early stages of World War II. When the U.S. entered the war in 1941 the Army Air Corps made plans to train its own crews at Alamogordo and in February 1942 began construction of a training airfield and within three months air and ground crews began arriving for advanced training in American B-24 Liberator, B-17 Flying Fortress, and P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft.
After the exhilarating drive south through breathtaking scenery of Colorado and New Mexico, Alamogordo’s high desert airbase, spartan barracks, and nearly dead town was quite a let down for my father and his crew.
February 27, 1944 Sunday night, Alamogordo Air Base, Alamogordo, New Mexico
Well we sure had a beautiful trip down. Something I’ve always wanted to do – travel from way up in the Northwest to the Southwest. If you look on the map you’ll see we went 1,000 miles from almost on the same parallel of latitude as Milwaukee to the same as Dallas.
We left Casper Thursday morning and my mid-afternoon we were in Cheyenne trying to get a tire. We had a flat 30 miles outside of Cheyenne and the spare was none too good. So after much dickering and drink-buying we persuaded the ration-board to give us a tire – which they did, a brand new one – and we went on to Denver.
In Denver we stayed at the Hotel Albany which we reached at 8:30 p.m. Had drinks in various parts of town. And our room was wonderful; a big new hotel with the very latest improvements. We had a double room with twin beds, venetian blinds (a corner room), the most magnificent bath, radio, etc. for $7.00.
Friday morning we drove off in a wet snow storm which cleared very soon and drove to Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Trinidad and on to Roswell, N.M. which we reached at 10:00 p.m. Friday night. Got a simple room next to the bar on the first floor, not so good but at least a place to sleep. The next morning we drove into the mountains and through the Rio Hondo Valley which I shall describe in detail later as I will describe the entire trip. Came into Alamogordo at noon. The boys arrived on the train at around four.
We have a bare barracks in which we are trying to get along, worse that any barracks we’ve had in the Army yet. Food seems wonderful, town very small. No food in town, no people. Haven’t started work yet, weather warm and rainy all day – but at least warm.
El Paso seems like a good town. Alamogordo, it steencks.
March 1, 1944 Wednesday night
Well leave it to the Army. We’re moving again! Just as we get all set here, everything signed, barracks, etc. they decide to move us. So by the time you receive this I’ll be at Biggs Field, El Paso. Chances for a leave in April looking much better; if we had stayed here nothing doing.
Went over to El Paso and Juarez, Mexico Monday night an got these stockings – one pair for Jeanne and one for Mother…they are pretty cheap ($2.30) and might be worth it. I can also get real silk for about $2.75 – let me know how they wear and size, shade, etc.
I also got a bottle of Martins V.V.O. for only $7.00… I could also get King’s Ransom or House of Lords. They had also all kinds of perfume but I didn’t know what to get. Almost got “Shalimar” which sounded strangely familiar but I didn’t know what you want….
I ate enchiladas and a whole roast Mallard duck ($1.25) which was wonderful even if it did get cold while I was walking Mike around the block. He had had shots (four) early that day and the reaction hit him pretty hard. On the way out of the restaurant the poor sap passed out cold for two minutes and there I was trying to hold 190 pounds of bombardier off the floor with jabbering Mexicans all around.
He was all O.K. after a while but I began to shake like a leaf and had to have three Scotches to get me sober again.
The weather is deliriously warm! It is dusk and I am sitting by the open door at the end of the barracks. In the distance is the silhouette of the San Andres range, 40 miles away across the white sands.
All day it was at least 70º. We flew yesterday in light jackets, ordinary shoes, etc. No gloves.
El Paso, Texas
Dad’s disappointment with Alamogordo was short-lived. After three days they were transferred to 330th training school at Biggs Army Air Field in El Paso. The official order lists crew No. 136-27 – Carmel, Simmons, Glunt, Michalzik, Mixon, Prout, Williams, Iannazzi, Brown, and Heller – by rank, serial number, and their respective room or barracks assignment at Biggs Field, a former airship base that had recently undergone a $10 million expansion to accommodate crews and heavy bombers.
March 4, 1944 Combat Crew Headquarters Saturday afternoon
Ralph and I left Alamogordo yesterday at 1:45 and arrived here at 3:00 p.m. It is only 86 miles but what a difference. Like coming back to civilization.
The rest of the boys arrived later by motor convoy and when they arrived it was to find Ralph & me all unpacked, our new lamp (which we swiped at Alamagoo) fastened to the wall above our table and ourselves freshly showered and shaved.
The field is very new, much more concentrated and easier to get around in than Alamogordo and apparently much more efficiently controlled than any other field we have been on. Our BOQ is spotlessly clean, gas heated again for a change. Ralph and I are in a little room and Mike and John next door and beyond them a wide hallway leading to an indoor latrine for a change.
The mess seems even better than at Alamagoo (which was much much better than Casper) and the Club is really very beautiful with the latest edition of The New Yorker handsomely bound in leather waiting for me and a bottle of King’s Ransom Scotch with a sticker on it behind the bar.
Also on the field are 15 WASPS or women pilots, all young and very interesting looking. Very feminine looking too, considering the fact they pilot the tow-target ships (B-26s).
Last evening we went downtown to El Paso and had a Chinese dinner (not too bad) and then went over to Juarez where we bought the King’s Ransom. Then we came back and went to bed pretty early.
This morning I ate grapefruit juice (big glass), two fried eggs, three huge hotcakes, two doughnuts, milk & coffee. Then we were processed all morning and at noon we had good hamburgers on good buns or cold platter of ham, baloney & cheese, onions, plain lettuce, radishes galore, celery, olives, delicious cake and excellent ice cream, milk & coffee – fine food and nicely served. All of which would do justice to even 138 5th Ave.
Tonight Mike and I were supposed to have dates (blind) with two nurses for a dance at the Club but we were told this afternoon we had to fly at 6:00 p.m. so we may not be able to.
This field seems like a swell deal all around (as you probably have inferred by now) and we sure are glad of the chance to get more training. We will probably be here until April 3 proceeding from here to any of the same bases I mentioned before, delay in route depending on whether or not we are far enough ahead in our training.
I think I forgot to mention that Ben Ehrich was stationed at Alam. And we had two very long talks. He expects to be in that hell-hole for the duration – what a life!
My crew is all O.K. and we should be flying as an entire crew in a couple of days. Tonight I guess it will be just P, CP, E, and B or N.
The weather simply wonderful – sunny and warm like a full spring day, cool at nights.
March 5, 1944
Just been listening to NBC Symphony playing Beethoven’s Sixth (Pastoral) and before that I think it was his Prometheus ballet. Very beautiful. But what struck me was that this is probably the closest thing to a Sunday afternoon I’ve spent since I’ve been in the Army. I almost felt homesick!
We danced last night at the Club and I bumped into Bruce Crisman who went to [New Rochelle] high school with me and whose pop owns that little liquor store opposite the end of Burling Lane. He is a bombardier and has been here quite a while.
Tonight Mike and I have dates with a couple of WASPS or WAFS – the girls that pilot the tow-target ships on the field here – ho! hum!
Just wrote Mrs. F. and guess I’ll drop a line to Cranbrook and the boys at American Museum [of Natural History].
For lunch (or breakfast) we had creamed chicken, celery & olives & radishes, corn delicious banana pie, and coffee. Boy what food!
Love to all,
March 12, 1944 Sunday night 11:00
This is just going to be a note because I’m plenty tired. Sort of like when I used to come home and just sit and stare…
We flew four hours this afternoon and just ate dinner. After we get down on the ground there’s a lot of work to be done such as putting gas in the ship, cleaning the guns, and filling out the hundred and one FORMS. I’ve gotten so sick of filling our forms I go crazy every time we come down from a flight.
Received about seven letters this morning, from you both and from Jack in Africa and various other people. My correspondence is really suffering down here.
Yesterday afternoon we were supposed to fly but we didn’t get a ship so we were off early and since school was canceled for this morning we went to the Club and danced. I had a date with a gal who works in the Officers’ Club at Fort Bliss. The day before, or rather the afternoon before, was our afternoon off and we went over to Mexico and had a lot of fun.
Things look pretty good as far as a leave is concerned and unless Mike can’t get over his cold (which has him grounded and is putting us far behind) we should be through here by March 23 and I should be home by March 25 or 26th for at least four days. If Mike doesn’t get better we will probably have to stay here and finish the required stuff.
This is a heck of a letter but I’m so tired I can’t think and school tomorrow at 7:30, so please excuse?
March 14, 1944
Thought I’d drop you a note since I’ve written two other letters and we still haven’t been assigned a ship. We are out at the line and I am in the Intelligence Office and my crew is playing horseshoes outside (with their shirts off) in the brilliant sunlight.
Looking out the window in front of me I can see John standing next to Ralph’s car (which we drive to the line every day) taking some sun-shots with his sextant and Iannazzi is sitting on the bumper watching him. It is very warm but there is a cool breeze blowing down from the mountains to our west and really it is a wonderful day.
Yesterday we flew the same mission we have been flying since we came here. High altitude formation and gunnery, landing at 8:00 on the button and getting to bed at around 11:00. This morning we were supposed to have another malaria lecture (we’ve heard the darn thing a million times already) but the medics got confused on the dates, and they never came around so Ralph and I went over and made out our income tax blanks, mine being just a string of zeros (no tax).
Tomorrow we switch to early morning flights (5:00 a.m.) for four days but tomorrow is also our day off and except for an hour’s P.T. at late afternoon we have nothing all day. So maybe tonight we’ll go over to El Paso and do some shopping, or to Juarez.
The leave proposition still looks awfully good but Mike is still grounded because of his ears and a cold and it may be just our luck to miss out on the leave. We only have about six more flights left and he must get out at least 30 or 40 bombs from 20,000 or we will not get by. I cover him up at night and everything but his ears are still inflamed.
So that’s about all the news such as it is. I received a V-mail letter from Jack [Francis] who seems to be having a reunion in Africa with half of New Rochelle, but is well and just waiting to be sent into the line. Also received a letter from Mrs. Francis who is evidently having a rough time with Peter just over pneumonia and Reid now having the grippe. Oh and various letters from various other people, such as Homer now at Maxwell Field, Ala. going through what I did at Ft. Worth only with a wife and an expectant one at that.
See you in less than two weeks, I hope.
March 18, 1944
Just a note to let you know everything is O.K. The prospect of a leave or rather a “delay en route” such as I had from Pampa to Ft. Worth was dashed to the ground the other day when they told us we would be leaving here via troop train for Topeka but they have “promised” that all crews which are O.K. and have no dental work, wills to be made out, etc. will be granted a “short” leave from Topeka. Just what this means I don’t know yet but I think I will still be able to get home for at least three days or maybe more, arriving probably on the 28th or thereabouts.
In the meantime they are certainly driving us but nobody is complaining for we all realize how important it is to get every ounce of training. For the past eight days our daily routine has consisted of arising at 4:00 a.m. and flying from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and not the easy flights we had at Casper either but rather the most difficult high altitude formation which leaves us all completely exhausted.
Yesterday I led an 18-ship formation, today, a six-ship, and also I have led two others, a six and 23. We have about three more flights at this base and that will probably be all the flying we will do until we are overseas.
Certainly feel as if I need a little vacation. Our crew has been just swell doing their work very well and I am very proud of them, but we are all very tired.
The weather is glorious. It only goes down to 10º F at 20,000 and that is warm. On the ground it is 65º usually…
Slept from 2:30 until now and am just about ready for supper. Haven’t eaten since 4 a.m. this morning.
Much love to all, will wire you from Topeka as soon as I arrive and learn the score.
Uncharacteristically, my father refrained from writing home for the next 10 days, quite possibly to avoid unduly frightening his parents with an account of his near-fatal training mission, flying on fumes, among one of his three remaining flights there (the story that he shared for the first time some 57 years later with my son). While Dad and his crew barely made it back to Biggs Field, thanks to Mixon’s quick thinking and deft fuel management, 26 others were not so fortunate that week. On March 21, only hours apart, two B-24 Liberators crashed due to engine failure a few miles south of the base killing a total of 19 crew members. Two days later a third B-24 crashed into Franklin Mountain eight miles south of Biggs Field killing all seven crew.
Having completed second and third-phase navigation and combat training in El Paso – including the scary training flight in and out of Mexico – Dad’s crew traveled by troop train to Topeka, Kansas. Here they picked up a brand new B-24J Liberator. Dad only managed to send off one letter before heading overseas.
March 29, 1944
Well as you can probably imagine we have been very, very busy running around here like crazy these past few days.
Today we were weighed and packed and received all new equipment when any of our stuff looked old. We also had a little school. The weather was miserable today. Cold, very cold and damp and this afternoon it began to snow quite heavily and still is.
Last night I was out with Katy who is a girl I know from Dallas. We sat and talked for hours. The previous night she had dated Mike and we had a swell party.
Tomorrow at 5:00 a.m. we are scheduled to fly but if the weather is still as awful I don’t think we well. If it is O.K. we will fly a calibration mission of about eight hours and then we will be ALERTED while our plane is checked once more and last-minute corrections made. Then we will leave as soon as it is ready. It will be good to get out of here back to where it is warm.
We’ll probably be at the P.O.E. [Port of Embarkation] a very short time before we go overseas – I mean really short.
Everybody is pretty excited. The ship is beautiful. We’ve named her WILD OATS with a good looking cigarette girl handing out a few bombs from a tray. [Mixon, the engineer, later said of Dad’s effort, “He was the only one of us artistic enough to do it.”]
Sent my empty foot locker and a full hand bag home today. I think you might find some odds and ends plus some of my junk which you can put up in my room.
Today I was issued a brand new Elgin watch (worth at least $60). It is very good and I might send my own watch (my most prized possession) home. It loses about five seconds a week and I hate to take it someplace where it might get shot up (how cynical!)
By the middle of next week I should be able to write you from ? but you’ll have my A.P.O. address before that.
Strange as it may seem I’m just as glad I didn’t get a leave. When I come home I want it to be for good, although I did want to see you two awfully bad. Also I feel if I go over two weeks sooner I can relieve some poor Joe who has had his 25 missions and needs a rest worse than I do.
I managed to get another $1,000 insurance policy, and at a very high premium, but I will drop it after the war and get cash. So I’m worth $11,000 dollars now.
Everybody is sure nice to us on this post, and in town.
“Wild Oats,” their twin-tailed aluminum bomber, one of some 18,400 built in the United States from 1939 until the end of the war, with the serial number 42-51371 J-5-DT, was made by Douglas at the plant outside Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was powered by four massive 1,200 horsepower Pratt & Whitney engines and could reach a top speed of 303 miles per hour at an altitude of 25,000 feet. Its normal cruising speed was closer to 200 mph.
The B-24J had a range of 3,500 miles and could deliver up to 8,800 pounds of bombs, nearly twice the payload of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. The plane required a crew of ten and carried ten, .50 caliber machine guns. Any movement fore and aft within the plane involved negotiating a precarious metal catwalk – about eight inches wide – above the bomb bay doors. As with most unpressurized aircraft in those days, oxygen masks were required above 10,000 feet.
“They told me to sign for it,” my father recalled, “so I asked the guy behind the desk, ‘how do I know everything’s on it?’ He was silent for a while and then asked me how I would know if it were fully equipped. We stared at each other for a long time. Finally I just signed for it and left.”
They flew their new plane from Topeka to Atlanta, Georgia and on to West Palm Beach, Florida. My father let his parents know all was well in a last letter posted from the United States:
April 3, 1944
Thought I’d drop you a note which for reasons you can probably imagine, will tell you absolutely nothing except the fact I am feeling wonderful. The ship is a honey and everything is Jake.
It was really swell to leave Topeka with its snow and cold weather although it wasn’t too bad when we did leave. All my little Topeka friends kissed me goodbye and it was très gai.
The weather where I am now is hot and it feels so wonderful it’s almost made me swear I’ll never go north again.
I’ve mailed you some odds and ends of personal papers. Take good care of them.
Everything is wonderful. I’ll drop you notes as often as I can and when I reach my theater I think I’ll be able to tell you where I am.
Much love to all,
The next morning, in Mixon’s words, the crew of Wild Oats “jumped off” to South America, flying across the Caribbean Sea, Venezuela, British Guiana, Surinam, and on into Brazil.
It was on this flight at 20,000 ft. over northern Brazil, my father recalled, that they spent a good hour dodging massive vertical columns of cumulonimbus clouds. “I kept weaving around these huge towers, spaced about a half mile apart,” he said, “and it began to get really annoying. As we approached the next one I turned to Simmons and said, ‘enough of this, we’re going through this one.’ Within a matter of seconds, we had dropped like a stone, not in a dive, just a flat fall – to just a few hundred feet above the ground. Somehow in the confusion and surprise I managed to gain control of the plane, which was obviously still flying at speed, pulled up, and we continued to base. It sure shook me up and I never did that again. It was pure luck that we didn’t crash right then and there.”
They landed at Val de Caes Field in Bélem, Brazil, a “marvelous, exotic place” my father said, where overnight the tropical humidity caused the new leather boots left next to his cot to turn green with mold.
The following day they flew a southeasterly course along the Brazilian coastline nearly 1,000 miles to Natal, on the northeastern promontory of South America and the closest point to Africa.
They took off from Natal’s Parnamirim Field early the next morning, leaving South America behind as they headed into the dark across the Atlantic.
“We had a terrible fight to keep awake in the hours before dawn after take off from Natal at 3:00 a.m. on a heading of 38º for Dakar. We were probably at 8,000 ft. and not on oxygen, and it was very warm and very humid. After we got on autopilot, perhaps a half-hour out, everybody except Mixon and I was fast asleep. Mixon was standing behind me, and I told him to keep hitting me on the back of the head and poking my shoulders. I really began to consider the possibility that somehow exhaust from an engine was getting into the cockpit or even that we had been drugged. Then I ran through what we had eaten and drank for breakfast (not much) and didn’t dare think we had all had the same. It was really scary.”
My father and the crew of Wild Oats logged the 1,800-mile transatlantic flight to Dakar, French West Africa in 11 hours and 22 minutes. From Dakar, Dad recalled, “we almost couldn’t find the pass through the Atlas Mountains in Morocco because the chart we had was wrong. We eventually did get through to land in Marrakech.”
In a short V-mail note written on April 7, 1944, Dad wrote:
It seems as if somehow I’d lost all track of time since I wrote you last and the fact that I’ve set foot (or wheels) on three continents since then also confuses things. We were in Brazil and it was marvelous. What a country! What we have seen of Africa is also very thrilling. Strange things and beautiful things.
We are all very well though a little tired, both because we’ve been working hard and also the change to the tropics I guess.
Everything is swell! I’ll write more when I have more time.
Much love to all,
They followed the coast to Fez and on to Enfidaville, the 376th Bomber Group’s base, about 60 miles south of Tunis. It was here Dad felt he needed to give the crew two days’ rest before continuing to Italy.
April 10, 1944 Somewhere in Africa, Monday after Easter
I am sitting on a canvas cot on a lovely thick mattress of straw, with my back against the wooden wall of the tent. The afternoon is very warm, the sky very blue, and the sun flickering through the grove of little trees in which we are situated is very pleasant. The trees are very much like young willows, perhaps thirty feet high and full of little birds which I believe are some sort of finch. It is very calm and beautiful.
Mike, John, Ralph, Mixon, and Brown have just left for town. I would have gone with them but yesterday when we were in I sat in the shade of a big tree outside of a café and proceeded to get rather drunk on some delicious pink Champagne (Imperial Maroc?) that was very cheap and utterly delightful. In my broken French I conversed most of the afternoon with a private in some French provincial outfit and towards the end of the afternoon I was really stinko having consumed at least two quarts all by myself. Naturally when I returned to camp I was quite ill and so today I am satisfied to lounge around.
The town was small but very colorful; streets lined with odd trees, many beautiful stores and a type of modern architecture prevailing throughout. A very functional design and really very good.
Of course we found ourselves attached to a little Arab who took it upon himself to show us the town. He wore a tattered nightshirt affair of wool and spoke excellent American English which he no doubt had picked up from others like ourselves. I spoke to him in French and we had much fun.
(I’ve just given a stale pack of Philip Morris to three very tattered Arabs who were sweeping around our tent. They immediately squatted down outside the tent and divided them with much excited conversation (I believe Arabic and French combined into sort of a patois).
These Arabs and even the mixtures of French and Arab I have seen are very noble of bearing and feature and are quite handsome beneath their filth and rags.
We should have left this particular spot yesterday morning but after all the flying we had done since we left the States I was very tired and decided to give myself and the crew a day’s rest. As it works out they got two days but I think they needed it as much as I and consequently do not regret losing the time.
The little towns we have flown over in the hills are very interesting. From the air they appear to be similar to the pueblo constructions of our own southwest and I imagine they are indeed similar. Often we saw huge ornate estates high in the hills. The hills themselves were very bleak and lonely, as wild as our own country. Believe it or not from where I sit I can see snow-covered mountains in the distance, very much the same sort of mountains as we saw at Ogden, Utah.
It seems strange to be trying so hard to remember the little French I know but I enjoy struggling with it. I like Spanish too.
All in all this country impresses me with its great natural beauty and apparently untouched wealth. South America was the same way only to a larger extent and very damp, whereas here it is dry. I like what I have seen of both continents and really believe that just as our West was once the Land of Opportunity so today these countries are. With a little stake I have heard it said one can quickly make a small fortune in rubber, cattle, or perhaps some of the things our country needs.
Things are very closely rationed as you can probably imagine. We have no milk, butter once a day, cigarettes and candy limited, but it is not much of an annoyance yet.
So that’s the news and I guess it will be two weeks old when you receive it, or more.
Much love to all,
“We left Africa from Tunis,” Mixon recalled in a letter to my father, “and landed at Manduria [Italy] the home of the famous White Tails, who were just coming in from a mission all shot up, flares going off. So the story goes, the 450th White Tails were guilty of dropping their landing gear [in sign of surrender] and escorted by enemy fighters into a landing field – then deciding they could make a dash for home…. But the Germans made them pay dearly [for the double cross]. You were given the choice of staying [among the fluster of the 450th] or going on to the 376th [Bomb Group in nearby San Pancrazio] which you wisely chose.”
San Pancrazio, Italy
On April 13, 1944, after two day’s rest in Morocco, and five days after leaving Brazil, they joined the famous Liberandos of the 376th Bomber Group in San Pancrazio, Italy. “San Pan,” as the American airmen called it, was about 10 miles east of Manduria in the heel of Italy’s boot. Here they reluctantly handed over Wild Oats to the 513th Bomb Squadron. “The top brass always got the new planes that were ferried over. We never saw it again,” Mixon said. (“Wild Oats” remained with the 513th Bomb Squadron until it crashed near Ancona, Italy, on October 16, 1944 due to mechanical failure).
April 14, 1944 Somewhere in Italy
Started just now to write a letter to Joe Guerry but decided maybe had better make sure your letter got in the mail so as to make certain you’d get it in 13 days instead of two weeks. As it is you’ll probably receive this the end of this month.
The reason I wanted to write Joe is that one time we were talking about painting from nature and I had mentioned how once or twice I’d actually seen a place where one could look in any direction and see material for a beautiful canvas. Well the other afternoon in North Africa I saw just such a place.
As you probably know it is spring in this part of the world, just as it is where you are. Early one afternoon we landed in a field of yellow flowers and as I stepped out of the ship the radio operator [John Prout] handed me a little bouquet of little yellow flowers, some tiny crimson snapdragons, and little blue star-like flowers. The fields were just full of all imaginable kinds of flowers. In one direction was a pure yellow field, as brilliant as anything of Van Gogh’s palette and beyond it a green hill of such a spring-like shade as to be almost unbelievable.
Later in the afternoon I walked towards another hill covered with flowers and off on my left was as perfect a pastoral scene as you could imagine. A flock of sheep (black-faced Merinos) were grazing near a beautiful red-roofed peasant house. The delicate tracery of shade trees casting black lace shadows on its white walls. Overhead fluffy white clouds and a deep blue sky. Then before me were two or three camels beside an Arab tent, and further on some jet-black goats against a lavender hillside out of which cropped rocks which were covered with a pure, brilliant orange lichen. Really a riot of color and sunset! Good Lord! You never saw such beauty. Utterly calm and peaceful, only the planes to defile the scene. And how strange they looked!
It was bitter cold that night and some of the boys slowly realized the ropes on our tent were loose and it collapsed around us or rather upon us at 1:00 a.m. I awoke to find the stars above me and strange shapes groaning under the heavy canvas on my left. What a mess!
Italy is very, very beautiful also. Tiny white cities in green hills or beside blue water. Clouds and warm sunlight, wild flowers all over everything, chestnut trees just budding, the grape vines in the fields showing tiny pink leaves, the grass very green and lots of little quick-moving lizards which tame very easily and will sit upon one’s shoulder for hours. It is warm when the sun is out but still very cold at night, but then we have plenty of blankets.
Our tent is close to the ground and rather crude but we will improve it as we gather odds and ends and make additions, etc. The mess is very nice and the club (where I am sitting now next to the fireplace) is very comfortable. The food seems O.K. but of course you know we have none of the things like milk and butter you have in the States. And all of the things you have rationed we don’t have at all.
We will start work pretty soon I guess and I’ll be able to tell you more than this drivel I’ve been writing. Needless to say we are all well (though dirty – they are fixing the pipes or something and I haven’t had a bath or shower since early in Africa). A bit more rested after our trip and eager to going on our missions…
That’s about all the news, or all I can tell you at any rate.
My squadron is a very old one and a good one too. The fellows seem like good Joes and of course there is no formality or anything like that.
Much love to all of you and I’ll write soon again,
Sitting in my tent with the local citizens sweeping the gravel outside is like sitting on our porch with John and his boys clipping the grass. Continual jabber-jabber and you think they are mad at each other only they laugh every now and then.
I hope to go to the opera tomorrow night.
Everybody is very, very poor and very hungry. These poor Italians, how much more miserable they are than the French!
April 27, 1944 Somewhere in Italy
Since I last wrote you I don’t believe we have flown, strangely enough, due to one thing or another. The weather has been rather cloudy for one thing and also I had a sore throat which grounded me for one day. I got the sore throat from too much singing on the way home from the city one night! I try and sing too low I think and I always get a sore throat.
At any rate we have some missions behind us and I imagine in a week I’ll be able to tell you I’ve been on at least four more.
We’ve lost one member from our crew. [Sgt. Harry O.] Brown, the top turret gunner is in a hospital not far from here as a result of a bullet wound and will probably be there for a month at any rate. The other night he was in the tent with the boys and somebody in another tent 100 ft. away was cleaning a gun. It went off and the bullet went through Brown’s leg and abdomen. I happened to be in the club at the time and they came and got me. I went to the hospital in the ambulance and stayed for the operation. It was a major operation of course, the first I’ve ever seen, and you can bet your life it was interesting. The bullet had gone through his left leg and abdomen and was lodged just at the surface of the other side of his right leg. They took X-rays and made an examination and then started giving him ether at 10:45. The two captains who did the job had just returned for a “rest” supposedly after nine months of work at the front lines. The Chief Surgeon (Captain Flood) looked and talked like Franchot Tone, calm and cynical, you know.
It took something like two hours to get Brown under the ether since he is built like a bull and is very strong. They did the operation in 1 ½ hours. I tried to stay through it all but every now and then I’d have to go out in the hall to recuperate. They cut a 10-inch gash in his belly and took everything out! And I didn’t stay to watch. When they sewed him up they had to perform what I think they call a “colostomy” since the bullet had passed through his rectum – rectum damn near killed him. But he is all sewn up and O.K. now except very uncomfortable, eating through a tube, etc. [“Harry Brown died a few days later (on May 2, 1944),” Dad recalled nearly 60 years later. “It was very sad. He was such a sweet kid from the South. He had flown only one mission.”]
The other day Mike and I moved into an empty tent that was next to us so now we are very much more comfortable. I made a swell chair and a table out of two frag bomb boxes and with the electric light overhead and nice sand underfoot we’re very snug.
Italy is still very beautiful, mid-spring now; flowers blooming in the fields in great profusion and everything young and growing.
In contrast to this is the Italians themselves who seem to be existing in a kind of numb and torpid apathy. Of course we do not speak their language, nor are we aware of what political action is taking place, nor do we see but a small part of the millions of Italians in Italy – yet this languor is very obvious and makes itself apparent by the absence of even a show of trade or business. The streets of the cities and little villages are bare of merchandise; most of the stores are closed or have next to nothing on their shelves.
There is much hunger and poverty, the black market flourishes of course. I would not say it looks dismal, but the general impression is one of stunned lassitude and like all things connected with war it is not very pretty to see.
We see a lot of Italian military. The Air Force personnel are very dashing. The officers in particular, with their powder blue uniforms, natty little mustaches, and spruce figures cut quite a figure on the city streets. In the air they stink.
Yellow jasmine crawls along the stone walls beneath the olive trees. The country roads are of white crushed rock, little red and little blue flowers.
Yesterday I was test-flying a ship that had a new engine and I flew up the coast and down the coast at maybe 30 feet off the ground for two hours. Little white fishing villages, row boats pulled up on the shore, people looking up at us and waving, little inlets, canals, ditches, roads, dunes, white houses, sheep grazing, sentry posts, olive trees, rocks, a city in the distance on a high ridge, olive trees – very, very beautiful.
Out of time on my hands, I’ve been reading whatever I can get my hands on; “The Old Curiosity Shop”, “Adam Bede” and other odds and ends people have left around. Our most recent magazine is a March 15th LIFE from last year. I also have been studying Italian off and on and can now speak a little and understand enough to get by. I’ve been concentrating on weather mostly. I converse with anybody I can and I think I’m rapidly becoming a nuisance.
Haven’t heard from any of you yet but imagine in three weeks I’ll begin to get mail. You’ll probably receive this with the last one I sent you.
If you want to send me a good book I should like it very much though probably I won’t get it for two months.
Tha’s about all the news I guess. Much love to all, Jim
May 2, 1944
Well after almost a month of silence mail began arriving in huge batches. Sunday I received the first consisting of one letter and six V-mail – four of which were from you and Dad. Then yesterday I got six more…and today I got about 11 (I think!) including some regular letters.
Pop, your V-mail technique is very pretty but highly illegible. Personally the way I feel about V-mail is pretty cut and dried – I hate writing it and detest receiving it. It seems two or three days quicker but it is such a nuisance it makes me angry to fuss with it. So if it’s OK by you and Mom let’s quit the darn stuff? I’m still sentimental enough to relish the personal touch of a letter much more than the semi-mechanical atmosphere of V-mail, regardless of the extra week or whatever it is it takes to get airmail here.
Have I written you since Saturday? Well I went into town [Lecce] (I can’t tell you where but it is 30 miles from here and fair-sized) early in the morning and didn’t come back until 9:00 p.m. spending the whole day riding a bike (15 cents an hour) and did some sketches of a church and the ruins of an old amphitheater. I found myself thinking that were it peacetime the opportunity to sketch and ride through the lovely countryside would be something to dream about and here I was doing just that and getting paid $10 a day for it. Ho hum! It’s a great Army. I really had fun though. The architecture is fascinating; wherever you look you see such nobility of design and flawless balance of structure – even in the most insignificant houses. Plus wonderful crumbling sculpture. Whatever there is seems to have no sham or artifice about it, nothing so blatant or ostentatious as our own Victorian influence. A house is either good because it is completely functional like the poor sections of town or good because the money spent on it was put into good design – as in the municipal buildings. Of course much of the architecture is very, very old and far along in decay (like Italy?) but even the new Fascist structures are well balanced – in appearance. Since Cranbrook, though, I’ve come to realize you don’t judge buildings by appearance, in fact that is the last consideration. The biggest is its functional value, whether it serves the intended purpose and to what extent. How good these buildings (the Fascist) are then I can’t really say.
When I was resting on a park bench three “ragazzi” or local urchins, two little girls and a boy (all about eight or nine) not too poorly dressed and extremely handsome, gradually sidled up and with much giggling sat on the bench next to me. Then with further giggling and whispering each tried to sit next to me – so that I was practically forced off the end of the bench. I gave them each a little square of hard candy (like sour balls only square) and you should have seen the excitement. Candy of any sort is practically non-existent for Italians and I’m sure these children had been told not to beg as many children do. Consequently there was much unwrapping and smelling and laughter – and “mille grazies” and “thonk yooo.” I wonder if these kids have things to make up for our “Goodie Shops” and the many kinds of stuff we used to get. Only I don’t think they do.
As you probably realize, we are not in the real “tourist” part of Italy. That is still in German hands, but it is still very interesting.
Our candy ration is really good considering there’s a war going on etc. but since we eat such peculiar meal we consume enormous amounts of candy. I came over with a dozen half-pound bars of Hershey chocolate (which I got in Topeka) and they are already gone. When I think back to when the sight of a person consuming a whole 5-cent bar of chocolate filled me with thoughts of gluttony, etc. and now see myself easily eat a half-pound bar in 20 minutes (and contemplate opening another) I wonder what I am coming to!
All of which is intended to show you that I would very much (in fact we all would) appreciate a fruit-cake and candy – anything eatable in fact – in cans or packages, even bouillon cubes would be swell. But now don’t go crazy and send me a hundred cubes. Just a few will be wonderful.
The missions are coming along nicely. I now fly formation almost automatically, often realizing (just like I used to with an automobile) suddenly that I’ve flown the last 15 or 20 minutes without even thinking about it – I mean while thinking of other things. We are in close formation from take-off to landing and that may mean 8 ½ hours, or even longer. It is very tiring of course but I am getting used to it and developing beautiful calluses on my palms from where I hold the wheel.
Your son James can now wear four ribbons on his chest! One for the theatre we are in; one for a squadron decoration some time ago; one for the Air Medal; one for the Good Conduct Medal (heh! laugh – but even so, the guys in the States wear ‘em!)
The weather has suddenly gotten miserably cold again. On a mission recently (very recently – in fact very, very recently) I wore four pair of socks, wool underwear (top & bottom) two wool shirts (one red) a wool sweater, wool pants, flying coveralls, a Mae West, my .45 caliber, a parachute, and a 25 lb. flak suit. I also wore an electric jacket, gloves, and slippers but they didn’t work. I was just warm enough anyhow.
Thanks for Jack’s address. I’ll write him and Mrs. F[rancis] soon. I can write him and the letter won’t leave Italy so it won’t take very long. I might get a chance to go over and see him in a few weeks (we get a three-day pass every so often) but I guess maybe they wouldn’t let me get so close to the front lines anyhow. In the meantime I guess I’ll just see him from the air every so often. Italy is funny. It’s so small and so definite in shape. I mean you can’t get lost. From the air the heel, the toe, the spur of the boot looks just exactly like they do on the map. You can always fly until you hit water. Then up or down the coast and there you are at some undeniable landmark.
Well I’ve rambled on and on and haven’t said much. But I’d rather write like this once a week than less more often.
We’re bombing the hell out of this country, don’t kid yourself. Whenever you read of raids made by planes (Liberators) based in Italy you can bet your boots we were in on them. And they are accurate raids.
Much love to all,
P.S. No v-mail!
P.P.S. Sure would like some good books.
May 12, 1944
Imagine my surprise to receive a letter from you (Mother) last Tuesday, May 9, postmarked May 1 and written the previous Sunday. It was like a telephone call almost. In it you mentioned being able to sit on our porch and look up into Rochelle Heights where a glorious magnolia tree is showing its blossoms just at a bend in the road. Well across the street from May’s old house is Heiman’s house (or was) which has a garden with three terraces of green lawn beneath it running down to the street. The tree is on the edge of the second terrace and has some purple iris at its base – so you see you ain’t tellin’ me nuthin’, kid…
Thanks muchly for the fruit cake which hasn’t arrived. As for cigarettes, we can get roughly three cartons a week if we wanted to, at five cents a pack. Since I smoke a pack every two days well – maybe I should send you some.
Believe it or not, every man got a bottle (1 liter) of excellent beer last night. Mike and I put ours in a bucket of very cold water before we went to a meeting and when we came back it was very cold and we drank it from our canteen cups with much smacking of lips and satisfied burping. With it we had a can of delicious American cheese and some biscuits from our K rations (which we swiped from our plane when we came here). Then tonight we all got a bottle of Coca-Cola, so you see we make out all right, all right. The candy situation is excellent, too. We get roughly 10-12 bars of assorted nickel candy a week which is plenty plus six to eight packs of good gum, not to mention little boxes (1/2 lb) of gumdrops, etc. Anyhow, the terrific hunger we felt the first few weeks has for some reason deserted us and we no longer have that irresistible urge to munch continually.
Did I tell you that when we went to the big city (one of them) to Brown’s funeral (which was very simple and full of dignity) we saw Marlene Dietrich in the Officers’ PX buying slacks for herself (and wearing slacks, too). I might have forgotten to tell you Brown (our top-turret gunner) did die [on May 2] as a result of that accident.
Yesterday Mike and I went in the truck to the beach and had a wonderful time in crystal-clear water (the Mediterranean of course) and running on the white, soft sand. The water was about like the Sound in late July.
I copied down the following part of a letter which I censored the other day and thought you might find amusing. You should have seen the writing. Legible but all over everywhere! Even so I am sure it is better by far than many other letters which go through the mails. The two V-mails (I received today) I also enclose. Please don’t send any more of that darned V-mail, huh?
“I am going to the show tonight, wont to come along. I am going with the Big Sweede an Steeve a Pollack you Don’t know then I thank. Yes Kid I got your sigearts an I would like to know who told you the read Cross wouse selling Cig. Hi they Don’t Even handle Cig. The Special Sirvis sells them to us at a nickel a Pack try getting them Cheaper then that. So Kid send me nouthing for I Don’t need any thang you Jest steck that money in the Bank OK.
Will I am going to the Show an I Don’t know anything ulse to right about
So I am sinding off
PS You will Love Texas Honey”
I guess she will, huh?
May 15, 1944 Monday night
The phenomenal success which you (Dad) have suddenly achieved practically floored me when I read about it in your letter of May 8 that arrived a little while ago. I’m sitting here eating an entire stack of Necco Wafers and trying to adjust my thinking as befits the son of Croesus. That is really wonderful news that things are going so well and when I say ‘I sure am glad to hear it’ I feel as if I were echoing the words of some of the boys whose mail I censor. I get the impression from these letters that things are pretty good back in the States and most people are making much money. But like these fellow who write their wives saying ‘Go ahead and buy that lot, Honey,’ I get the feeling I’d like to tell you to get that money into something tangible only I don’t know just what.
I have a sort of dreadful, pessimistic feeling that money won’t be worth much after the war and although that is not much of a belief to make decisions on I still think you two should get something tangible our of your success now while things are still good. If you could only go away for a solid month, just the two of you, and see some of the U.S. it would sure make me happy. Or maybe up to the Adirondacks this summer for a month. ANYTHING as long as you do what you’ve always wanted to – NOW.
The cigarettes you sent, Mom, in the date box arrived this morning but of course you realize now, after receiving my other letters that we can get all the cigarettes we need at five cents a pack so it is rather extravagant to send them Anyhoo you know I appreciate the thought, as the feller said. Actually I think I should also tell you not to send candy since we get all kinds of five-cent bars now and really are satisfied with that. I am still very much interested in the fruit cake however and hope it arrives O.K.
There is something I would like very much and which I can’t get over here and that is some decent sized writing paper with my name and address printed on it. Just 200 sheets or so, not too heavy like that stuff Dad used for so long, but a little heavier than this I am writing on now, and white of course.
I could also use a pair of swimming trunks (size 32 waist) since my trunks are in my overseas shipment which we sent from Topeka. It consisted of a duffle bag full of stuff we couldn’t take with us by plane and which they told us we’d get when we got across. But from what we hear around here one never gets that overseas shipment.
Well your son, James, has been leading a pleasant, in fact leisurely life. Friday and Saturday afternoons we went to the beach in the truck and was it glorious! We usually leave here at 1:00 p.m. and return at 5:00 p.m. Today also we went and had a wonderful time. The beach is so beautiful. It is crescent-shaped, almost as large a crescent as Rye Beach only the beach itself is only 75 ft. wide and is gently sloping towards clean dunes with long grasses growing in the sand. The sand on the beach is very white (coral of course) and granular but very soft on the feet. In some places the water has washed thousands of tiny shells (like those I will enclose) and they are very beautiful.
The water was warmer today than Saturday, almost 65º I’d say, about like Rye in August, and clear as crystal. If you can imagine what it is to lie on a GI blanket with a canteen of fresh water, plenty of cigarettes, just 10 or 20 of us on that vast beach – and the blue sky overhead, hot sun, a plane humming off in the distance – it is hardly like WAR. And then the ride back through the level fields, groups of workers in a line halfway across a rich brown field, wearing gay-colored clothes (except the men). They were planting today, bent over from the waist with their legs stiff and straight. The two-wheeled cart up by the road and the weary old horse standing by it. And over the whole scene the moving shadows of puffy cumulus clouds. A shadow passes from the field of grain a mile away and suddenly the orange roof of a little house seems to light up against the distant green. Or seeing a group of the most brilliant-colored flowers at the edge of the road; yellow, white, and purple daisies, little buttercups, red (so very red) poppies, and the purple thistle blossoms.
Then in the near field of brown a row of brightly colored figures (all bent from the waist, never kneeling), then maybe a distant field of green with the outskirts of a white village gleaming in the sun behind it. Wonderful!
Tomorrow afternoon we are going swimming again and I guess maybe I’ll take my sketchbook along (instead of reading “Lady Chatterley’s Lover like I did today)!
I found and Eyetie boy who does beautiful laundry work – ironing everything very well – a week’s wash for 50 cents. I couldn’t resist tipping him a pack of cigarettes.
So there’s a picture of Ingrid Bergman on the back of this week’s Yank magazine and everybody is happy. She’s everybody’s favorite.
So I’m sitting here at the desk I built wearing my slippers and fatigues and Mike is also writing. He amuses me no end. He writes the girl he is engaged to “Dear Lucille” and signs it “Love, Mike” and she writes him the same way. This paucity of expression tickles me for some reason or other.
My towel and shorts are hanging on the wire strung between the two olive trees in front of our tent. Some Eyeties who live in a tent 50 yards away are strumming a guitar softly. The sun has just set, the birds are singing their evening songs, and all is very good.
P.S. I got a letter from Jack today. He’s O.K. and says for us to get “that Goddam supporting arm on the beam” meaning the Air Force of course.
May 17, 1944 Tuesday morning 0945
I thought maybe you’d like to hear what our working day is like, so here goes.
Sometime before dawn a Sgt. from Squadron Operations pokes his head into our tent.
“Lt Carmel?” he says.
“U-u-nnh?” I say.
“Lt. Carmel! It’s 3:30 now. Trucks at 4:30, briefing at 5:00.”
“U-u-nnh,” I say and I lie there a few minutes cursing the war. Then I say, “Mike, are you awake?” and he says yes and we get up and start dressing. Over regular cotton underwear we put on long, heavy woolen underwear. Then our regular woolen uniform. On our feet we put a thin pair of socks and one woolen pair. Then our heavy GI shoes.
We walk over to our dimly lit mess-shack and get on the end of the line before a long window.
“Over light?” says the Italian cook.
“Yes!” we say and reach for our money. Two eggs cost 30 lire or 30 cents.
We put the eggs on top of French toast and we eat without talking for we are still half asleep. When we are finished we go back to our tent and pick up the huge bags that contain all our flying equipment. Mine weights at least 80 lbs. We carry them on our shoulders over to where the trucks are waiting in front of the Orderly Room. Only the officers and the radio-man of each crew are there. We pile our stuff on the trucks and each pilot goes inside the Intelligence Office and draws a sack of escape kits. The kits (which each man gets) are in two parts; one holds medical equipment and the other has money and maps of the country we will fly over. They are in case we are forced down.
It is just beginning to get light when we reach the Briefing Room that is across the field at Group Operations. All of the officers on each crew from all the squadrons are briefed there at the same time. We are told where we are going, what positions we will fly, what fighters and flak are expected and we see a chart of the target area. When briefing is over we pile back into the trucks and are taken out to our individual ships. We have 45 minutes before take off. The trucks go back to the squadron area for our gunners.
Just as the sun comes up we climb into our ships. (Of course some days it is later of some days it is still dark depending on the type of mission). We all start our engines at the same time and ten minutes later taxi out to the take off position. We are all in line according to our flying positions. The lead ship takes off first then his right wing man, followed by his left wing man; then the lead ship of the next element, and so on, at half-minute intervals.
We climb into the early morning and join the formation which circles slowly and gains altitude above the field. When we are all in place we “depart on course” continuing our gentle climb.
When the trucks left us at the plane I put on a wool sweater, my red shirt, my flying coveralls, a Mae West, my gun and parachute which would certainly sound like enough but as we climb I find I am getting cold so I unbuckle my chute and don my light leather jacket (A-2 jacket) and then buckle the chute again. I fly for a half-hour or three quarters of an hour and then let my co-pilot take over. The bombardier has removed the pins from his bombs (which make them “safe”) and is now in the nose with the navigator and the nose gunner who is in his turret.
Suddenly, so suddenly, I jump. The guns in the top turret go “pang-pang-pang-pang” and the cockpit fills with the acrid smell of gunpowder. Enemy fighters already? No, it is just test-firing. Soon the nose turret tests his and then we hear the dull “thub-thub-thub” as the tail, ball, and waist gunners fire theirs.
When we reach oxygen altitude the bombardier says, “Bombardier to crew, we are at 12,000 ft. Put on your oxygen masks!” and we all take off the earphones we have been using and put on our helmets (which have their own earphones) and our masks which fasten to the helmets and have a little microphone inside. Every so often the bombardier calls “Oxygen check!” and each crew member calls in over interphone and says he is O.K.
A half-hour or so before the target we put on our heavy flak suits which look like green aprons but weigh maybe 25 lbs. Our helmets (just like they use in the infantry) we keep within reach.
We reach the vicinity of the target and flak begins to burst around us in wicked looking black puffs. Miraculously we seem to be missing it all but then we hear a noise like stones in a tin can and a sudden burst of air in my face makes me notice a hole the size of an egg in our windshield – but I am too busy flying to look at it long. The co-pilot stuffs a glove in it.
Suddenly all our bomb-doors open and we know we are on the “run.” Everybody gets tense with excitement and the ball gunner’s voice is strangely high-pitched as he says “Clear below” to tell the bombardier our bombs will not hit another ship in our own formation. Then all at once it’s “Bombs Away!” and the ship jumps a bit and feels strangely light. Our bomb bay doors close and the tail-turret man says “Right on the button! Lots of fire!” and we all feel curiously relieved even though the flak is still bursting around us.
We decrease power and it seems strangely silent. We are descending slowly. In a few hours we are over water again, perhaps, and down to where we don’t need our oxygen masks. We take them off and light up our cigarettes. Boy, they taste good!
When we reach the field we peel off and land one behind the other, so close we often get the prop-wash from the plane ahead of us. We taxi off the runway and down the taxi-strips to our own revetments. Another mission!
The trucks are waiting for us and we jump on and head for our squadron. We are interrogated by the intelligence officer and we munch Red Cross doughnuts as we tell him what we have seen. When he is finished with us we go across the hall to the Infirmary and get our ration of Rye Whiskey – two ounces for each man. It burns our throats! We go back to our tents and take off our clothes and wash up for supper.
By 5:30 we have eaten and our mail is in our hands. We sit around and read the news from home and maybe write a letter or two. Another day is gone, another mission!
On the days we don’t fly we go swimming at the lovely beach on the Mediterranean. The water is cold and crystal clear. The sand is very white and the sun very hot. It’s a good life, alright!
Love to all,
May 25, 1944
Just a note to let you know all is well.
I received the bouillon cubes today and we will have a cup or two of the chicken tonight unless our weekly ration of beer (that we get tonight) leaves us in too pleasant a frame of mind to bother starting a fire. I enclose a package of the bouillon we have been using occasionally and suggest you brew a cup over a little fire in the backyard. Then put on a red flannel shirt and sit in a tent while you drink it – and listen to a distant guitar and you’ll have some idea of what it is like!
I also received 14 letters today…If you enclose odds and ends from the “Times” like you used to in your letters I should like that very much, so perhaps I’d know what was happening in Italy.
I know one thing – and that is we’re bombing Germany to bits. Some of the places we see look like where raindrops have hit soft sand.
In case I failed to mention it in my last letter we are one-third through. Figure how long I’ve been here and double it, add a month, and I should be home.
That’s all for now. Gonna get my beer with Mike.
Love to all,
May 28, 1944 Somewhere in Italy Sunday evening after supper 6:00 p.m.
Today I received a letter from you, Mother, dated May 17th which shows you how you can’t trust this eight-day business.
A new crew arrived last night bearing a box of magazines. Can you imagine with what ferocity I pounced upon the March issue of Harper’s? I spent a delicious evening reading it from cover to cover. The splendid article by Capt. [William D.] Banks was most enjoyable but the article of Fred Rodell’s on Wilkie was really revealing. And of course Dos Passos writes so well. In fact I was really stimulated by all the articles. Some New Yorkers also arrived in the same box but I haven’t had a chance to get my paws on ’em yet. The subscription you sent me has produced no result yet but I imagine some day I’ll get six weeks’ New Yorkers all at once.
Our candy situation has become so sufficient I have not been buying half of what we are allowed. Tonight we each received the following, which one of our crews brought back from Cairo:
Five packages Chocolate Snaps
Six “ “ Vanilla Wafers
Two “ “ Saltines
Six “ “ Nabisco Fig Newtos (NAB)
Six “ “ Cheese Tidbits
Two “ “ Necco Wafers
Two “ “ Cans Peanuts
Which as you can see is more than enough. I gave half my stuff to our men and even so this will be stale before we can eat it. So please don’t send me anything, huh?
Today we didn’t have to work but this morning I had to slow-time a ship with a new engine (like driving a car under 35 for the first 500 miles) for three hours. I let Simmons [co-pilot] fly in my seat and Mixon [engineer] in the co-pilot’s seat. I went down to the nose and tried to get into the nose-turret but couldn’t – too big! Then I fooled around down there and by the time I got back to the flight deck I was very air sick, believe it or not, my 700 hours pilot-time notwithstanding. Mixon said I looked green and I didn’t regain my color until I was back at the wheel! I don’t know what I’ll do if I have to ride as a passenger in a transport some day!
We buzzed the beach [at about 25 feet spraying sand and water] where our boys were swimming and then returned to the field for lunch. For dinner tonight we had roast chicken, corn, rice, and cherry pie. Not bad, eh?
Our outfit has been doing some of the most magnificent bombing ever before done. Record bombing, incidentally.
My Italian pal, a lad of 16 or so, brought me six nice artichokes yesterday which we ate raw midst a babble of Italian-English. My Italian is progressing slowly and by the time I leave here I hope to have a fair understanding but of course, as with all languages, one cannot get as much from books as from conversation, Joseph Conrad notwithstanding.
“The Great Impersonation” by E. Phillips Oppenheim was darn good and I’m sure glad you sent it. I should like very much if you would send me, after you have read them:
“Shark’s Fins and Millet” by Ilona Ralf Sues (Little, Brown)
“Cone of Silence” By A Fleming MacLiesh (Houghton, Mifflin)
“A Bell for Adano” by John Hersey (Knopf)
Since I would buy them for myself were I home, I’d much rather you pay for them out of my money, I really would.
You have no idea how much it means to me to be able to enjoy my beloved solitude once more. We have much free time here and the opportunity to read and think once more in private is as blessed as a relief from bondage, yea verily. I feel at last as if I were awakening from some frightful period of somnolence and once more resuming my normal life. To be able to read is as essential to my sense of well-being as to be able to wash. I am very happy.
Particularly, if you get a chance, you folks should read the paragraph about John B. Voris in the March Harpers’s “Personal and otherwise.”
Much love to all,
That was my father’s last letter as a free man until the end of the war.
From April 17 until May 29, 1944 they had flown 18 missions to Bulgaria, Northern Italy, France, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Austria. “We flew a different [B-24] plane every time,” Mixon recalled. Records for the 376th Bomb Group, however, actually indicate they were assigned plane No. 54, “Slow Time Sally,” on four missions.
“Our first mission was to Sofia, Bulgaria,” Mixon continured. “As I counted, there were 13 holes in the plane when we got back – all flak holes. Fortunately the 15th Air Force [operating out of Southern Italy] faced fewer German fighters in the air than the Allied pilots flying out of England.”
(Of the 19 missions flown by the 376th in May 1944, enemy fighters were encountered on only three occasions).
On May 24, the 376th Bomb Group’s mission had been to destroy the Messerschmidt airplane factory at Wiener-Neustadt, about 40 miles southwest of Vienna. The city, ringed by several hundred antiaircraft batteries, was one of the best-defended targets in Europe. Unfavorable weather – almost complete cloud cover – and an intense flak barrage hampered the mission. Subsequent photo-reconnaissance showed that the planes had missed their target. The 376th was ordered to return to Wiener-Neustadt on May 29, 1944. Ironically, the Germans had already moved the Messerschmidt factory underground. The target was a series of empty buildings.
May 29th was Whit Monday, a Catholic holiday in Austria. The 15th Air Force dispatched 530 bombers from its bases in Southern Italy with over 1,200 tons of bombs to blast what were thought to be Me-109 factories, hangars, and Wollersdorf Airdrome at Wiener Neustadt. It was a wonderful spring morning, warm with clear blue sky – what Felix Rameder, a German war historian described as “bomber weather” in a letter to Mixon long after the war. Rameder, as a boy, remembered the morning radio program being “interrupted at 8:39 a.m. with the message: ‘Attention, attention, heavy bomber formations are approaching Styria’ so we knew that they would come again that day. At 9:21 a.m. the air alarm was sounded.”
The third and fourth wings of the German fighter group 27 (JG27) scrambled to meet the massive B-24 Liberator formation over Amstetten at about 9:30 a.m., according to official Luftwaffe reports. The first two B-24s were hit at about 9:36 a.m. A few minutes later, two more American planes were downed. Then, between 9:54 a.m. and 9:59 a.m. Hauptmann Heinrich Wurzer of JG 302 shot down two straggling B-24s – his 19th and 20th victories – one of which was plane No. 54, piloted by my father.
Slow Time Sally, “the old B-24D we were flying still had its [pink] desert camouflage,” Dad reminded Mixon in one letter. “Getting to altitude with the squadron had been a real struggle, even with full throttle on all four engines. We had great difficulty keeping up even before the turn over Amstetten. We were in the back left wing of our formation as we started the final turn to the right. The lead bomber was perhaps flying slightly faster than usual which meant the outside planes had to fly at full throttle.”
“The attack on our plane was, as I recall, as we were turning from the northern heading to the east over Amstetten. The call came from [radio operator and top turret gunner John] Prout, “fighter coming in at two o’clock high” followed by the cannon shot through [co-pilot Ralph] Simmons’ oxygen distribution box at his right knee, instantly enveloping the cockpit in flames.”
“We began to slip behind and lose altitude because of our outer edge flying position,” Dad told me. “Orders about breaking formation were very, very strict, but I probably should have left the formation as we began to slip back, crossed beneath the formation and tacked on to the right side of any squad on the approach. We were 50-60 ft. below and behind our proper formation position when the Me-109 attacked.
“Mixon had just looked at his GI watch which showed 10:00 a.m. when we slipped back from our left slot and someone shouted [on the intercom] “fighter, one o’clock.” I looked and there he was, flying the perfect pursuit curve out of the sun. When his tracers found us, he hit his cannon switch.” As the shells hit the B-24, Mixon said, it “sounded like brickbats on a tin roof.”
“The co-pilot, Ralph Simmons, was hit and slumped over the control column,” Mixon continued. “We were on fire and going down. I went to the lower deck, and while snapping on my breast chute, opened the bomb bay doors about three or four feet and jumped, hands clear. I remember reaching for the ripcord handle and thinking ‘it wasn’t hard to find.’”
S/Sgt. Harry Fay, the tail gunner of a B-24 in the same flight, watched as “enemy aircraft approached [plane No. 54] from above at two o’clock, and shot, what I consider to have been a 20mm. shell, into the co-pilot’s side window, riddling all the glass across the pilot’s compartment. Almost a minute after the enemy aircraft had passed, plane No. 54 pulled up about 50 ft. above his normal position, crossed directly behind us, turned over on its back in the beginning of a dive, and headed almost straight down. Plane No. 54 dropped out of view at this point, but after we had flown far enough ahead, I saw the plane hit the ground and explode. I saw no chutes come out of this plane.” (Long after the war, Fay told me in an interview that “of all the things they told us during briefings, the main one was that the German pilots were well trained and were able to pick cripples out of the flights as if shooting ducks. Obviously someone saw trouble with your dad’s plane.”)
The Me-109 “seemed to be strafing the entire section,” according to Frank J. Clark, another eyewitness. Clark, the top-turret gunner in a nearby B-24 said “[the Me-109] passed within 100 yards above, and I saw a flash in the co-pilot’s window of plane No. 54. Shortly after, plane No. 54 rose slightly and peeled off to the right, passed under our tail, and disappeared from my view.”
The cockpit in flames, my father struggled to follow Mixon out of the stricken plane: “The ship was in a spin and my only clear recollection is the intense effort required to crawl along the floor from the cockpit to the bomb bay,” he said.
“Seconds after you and I bailed out through the bomb bay, and just after my chute opened, I heard an explosion which I assumed was from our plane which was in a flat spin behind and beneath me but I do not recall seeing this,” my father continued in his letter to Mixon. “I was still swinging wildly from side to side beneath my chute some 10-15 seconds after it opened when, looking straight up, I could see something tumbling down toward me from above. As it came closer and closer I realized it probably was going to hit my chute and I tried to pull the shrouds on one side to slip away from it. When the edge of the chute began to fold under, I quit that. The object passed within six feet of my chute, hissing very ominously. It was the whole tail assembly of a Me-109 [shot down, according to 15th Air Force records, by Harold H. Holliday, the ball turret gunner of plane No. 56, piloted by Lt. Ross S. Unks].
“You may recall that I got out in such haste that I did not remove my oxygen mask or goggles until perhaps 30-40 seconds after my chute opened. This probably saved my eyes although, as you may remember, my forehead was very badly burned, exposed as it was between my helmet and goggles.”
Mixon, like so many airmen who bailed out above 20,000 feet, had passed out from lack of oxygen. He came to, dangling from his parachute, at about 10,000 feet.
“I didn’t know at first what had happened, until my senses returned, and I could hear the flopping of the pilot chute against the main canopy,” Mixon wrote. “Suddenly I heard a burst of machinegun fire, and turned my head in time to look into the eyes of one of Goering’s finest fighter pilots. He came within ten feet of me in the chute. After passing, he went into a 360-degree turn, to make another pass at me and kill me, I thought. So I hastened my descent by slipping the chute, all the time keeping my eyes on him. Just as he got the nose of his Me-109 to me I hit some willow trees on the bank of a small stream. This broke my vertical speed somewhat; however, my right leg was badly broken just above the knee, and I received various bruises and sprains of both shoulders. I passed out again. Sometime later, German soldiers arrived.”
“Very shortly after I reached the ground,” Mixon told a post-war debriefer, “I asked an English-speaking German soldier how many of my crew members had jumped and were safe, and he told me that five had jumped, so I assumed that number were safe until I returned to the States and found out differently. It is my belief some members of the crew were shot in their chutes.”
“As with all who are taken prisoner, their first words to me were, ‘for you the war is over,’ ” Mixon recalled. “After a threat by one soldier, I convinced them to give me a shot of morphine from the first-aid kit strapped to my parachute harness, and also to cut the flying suit from my right leg to expose and straighten the leg. Sometime later they put me on a section of snow fence, loaded me onto the rear of a weapons carrier, and took me into a small town where they left me while they got instructions on what to do with me. Austrian civilians crowded around me and some even offered wine and cookies. Thank God they didn’t harm me.”
Between 10,000 and 3,000 ft., my father was also buzzed repeatedly by an Me-109 that “never came directly at me but surely passed within 20 ft. perhaps five or six times,” he told Mixon. “It caused me considerable concern but I did not remove my .45 caliber handgun from its holster, well aware that the pilot had more firepower than I did. I heard no gunfire.” (German fighter pilots also were known to fly in close, allowing the prop-wash from their engines to collapse the parachutes).
“The fly-by we both experienced was probably to draw attention to us for capture and to identify rank, but the suits we wore had no identification that I remember.
“I landed so softly that I remained on my feet. I was some 250 yards east of a dirt road, in an open green field on a slight rise of land with a wooded copse about 150 yards behind me. I removed my chute, rolled it up, and ran clumsily in my fleece-lined flying boots toward the woods. It was a marvelous, sunny, peaceful morning; in the distance, the faint sound of a truck approaching with its siren on. There was no place to hide. The two-lane blacktop road to the west was about 300 yards from where I had landed.
“A black firetruck approached from the north and four to five uniformed men got out and ran toward me. I removed my boots and ran to the edge of the woods. The field was less than knee-high grain of some sort. As the men were still some distance away, I took my .45 cal. handgun out of its holster and threw it as far as I could into some bushes. With a small stone I scraped my name and rank from the leather tag on my olive drab sweater. I then turned around and faced the firemen with my hands up.”
The Seimetzbach parish register for Monday, May 29, 1944 reported “at about 10:00 a.m. an air battle of American bombers and German fighters over our village. Two four-engine bombers were shot down; one crashed in the woods of Hiesberg and the second a few minutes later at Seimetzbach. Both planes exploded and burned after hitting the ground. In our village, Seimetzbach, parts of one plane fell on House No. 1 and House No. 3 and both houses burned. Two parachutists from each crew were captured.”
Markersdorf Air Base Command also recorded the crash of “an American bomber, type ‘Liberator’ No. 54 about 50 meters outside the village of Seimetzbach. Of the crew, seven men were found dead, of whom the following five men could be identified: Bernard Boecker, A.R. Michalzik, John R. Prout, Vincent Heller, and Edward Iannazzi. It could not be determined at the time whether there were other burned bodies still under the wreckage. In all probability, no one had bailed out of this plane.
“Near this plane,” the official German report continued, “a folder of documents containing a number of maps and other flying data was found and safe-guarded. Furthermore, a gold ring with red stone and engraving, as well as money in the sum of $86, have already been turned in to the local Landwacht post by unidentified soldiers. It could not be determined to whom the money and the ring belong.
“Bombs exploded when the plane crashed,” the report concluded, “which resulted in setting three farm premises on fire, which burned to ashes.”
(Eventually 13 bodies were removed from the two planes by the German military and were brought to the civilian cemetery at St. Leonhard, Austria, for burial. Their remains were exhumed in July 1947 by the US Army and shipped to a US military cemetery in Liege, Belgium for reburial).
And, from the 513th Bomb Squadron’s base in San Pancrazio, the squadron’s historian filed his daily report for May 29, 1944:
“Twelve Squadron planes struck at the Wiener-Neustadt Wollersdorf A/D today in an effort to destroy aircraft factories, parked A/C and installations. Also aerial support was to be given to the Yugoslav partisans who are hard pressed by enemy attacks.
“Returning crews brought sad news in their statements telling of our squadron aircraft No. 54 having received a direct hit from 20mm. cannon shell fired by an enemy fighter in the location of the initial point, just before reaching the target. Observers saw it go into a dive, heading directly downward with all engines still operating, while one member of another crew saw the ill-fated plane crash into the ground and an explosion occurring.
“Those aboard were 2nd Lt. J.H. Carmel, pilot; 2nd Lt. R.L. Simmons, co-pilot; 2nd Lt. J.T. Glunt, Navigator; 2nd Lt. A.R. Michalzik, bombardier; T/Sgt. C.C. Mixon, engineer; T/Sgt. J.E. Prout, top turret; S/Sgt. B.F. Boecker, waist gunner; S/Sgt. B.R. Williams Jr., waist gunner; S/Sgt. E.J. Iannazzi, ball turret operator and S/Sgt. V.H. Heller, tail gunner. Our hats are off and heads bowed low in reverence to these airmen who so gallantly gave their lives for their country’s cause; and will not be forgotten by their many friends in the squadron in years to come. Lt. Carmel and crew joined our squadron not so long ago and had flown 18 missions over enemy targets. Bombs were dropped through heavy smoke screen upon the target and results could not be observed. Flak had been heavy and 60 enemy aircraft were sighted in the skies.”
My father was taken in the black fire truck to the small village of St. Leonhard where he was delivered to the local police station. The police chief showed him to a small bathroom with a mirror over the washbasin.
“I turned to wash up and saw my forehead was black,” my father said. “When I began to wash my face, pieces from my forehead came off, but it was not painful. Some bleeding and oozing, so I tied my khaki handkerchief over it. I was then put in a cell with a clean blanket on the bed and I lay down. That is when the shock took over. I got awfully cold and my teeth chattered. I must have been there an hour or so before the police chief unlocked the door and took me outside. Parked in front was a small open military vehicle with two Wehrmacht solders and poor Mixon on a litter. He was conscious but did not show the pain he must have been feeling.
“When I was picked up in mid-afternoon,” he told Mixon, “you were on the litter in the back, and since we had been trained to avoid telling more than ‘name, rank, and serial number’ we pretended we did not know each other. You looked pretty well, considering!
“We were driven northeast on a good asphalt road along a small, sparkling river with heavy pine woods on our right for about 45 minutes to Sankt Polten where we went first to a small hospital and unloaded you. I think I went in with you and we did say good-bye.”
Later that afternoon, Mixon was moved from the Sankt Polten Army hospital to Stalag 17-B near Krems, Austria, about 15 miles to the north. The camp had been used as a German concentration camp from 1938 to 1940 but began receiving French and Polish prisoners in 1940. By the time Mixon arrived, the camp held almost 3,000 American enlisted men.
“That first night May 29, 1944,” Mixon wrote, “the British bombed the adjoining airfield. The wards were overfilled with dirty, wounded men of most all Allied countries. Sanitary conditions were horrible. The inadequate supply of gauze next to wounds was washed over and over while paper was used to supplement it. Patients walked both ways from the operating room, with help. The stench, at night, with blackout curtains drawn was beyond belief.
“The next day, the doctor came with his orderly to put my leg in traction. To accomplish this, he drove a steel pin, with a hammer, through my shinbone without benefit of anesthetic. He spoke very little English, and with two orderlies holding me, with each blow of the hammer he would either say ‘no pain’ or ‘finish’. To keep from passing out, I would grab a shot of cold water from a Klim can.”
While he was recuperating from his first operation, a visiting Red Cross doctor insisted that Mixon be given better medical care. Three weeks later, he was put in an empty boxcar and sent to Lazaret 2A in Vienna, a former Roman Catholic hospital holding badly wounded Allied prisoners.
Meanwhile, my father had been taken to a small jail in Sankt Polten where three or four other American airmen were also held. The next day, they were taken to a suburb near Vienna. After walking for perhaps half an hour to the railway station, they boarded a train for Frankfurt am Main.
“The train ride seemed very long,” my father recalled. “We were on wooden seats and could look out the windows and see our route through Linz, Regensburg, and Nürnberg. We were under guard, of course, but I think there were so few of us that there were even civilians in the same car.
“The weather in Frankfurt was glorious. We had to walk through the center of a city that was mostly gutted buildings and rubble and angry pedestrians. [The city, heavily bombed in March, had been bombed again the previous day]. I was still in my flight suit; my head was bandaged. We were walking with the crowds and people came up alongside and yelled things at us. The guards kept them away from us. At one point a man thrust his suitcase at me, saying ‘here, here, take this’ as if he wanted me to carry it for him. I ignored him and kept walking.”
My father was placed in a solitary confinement cell at Dulag Luft [short for Durchgangslager der Luftwaffe], the Luftwaffe’s aircrew interrogation center in Oberursel, north of Frankfurt, to which all Allied airmen were sent after being captured. Unlike many captured airmen who endured days of questioning, my father’s interrogation was brief.
“I was not asked specific questions,” he said, “but the interrogator seemed to know my plane number, the wing, and squadron and I did not offer any affirmation.”
The German authorities at Dulag Luft allowed my father to write a short note home (in pencil) on a postcard-sized Kriegsgefangenenlager prisoner of war form.
On June 6, 1944 the American prisoners heard the news that the D-Day invasion had started. “We were elated,” my father recalled. ‘A few months and we’ll be on our way home’ we said. The same day, the Germans told a senior American officer, a major or colonel, that they would be leaving for Stalag Luft III the next day, and that “if all of us would sign a paper saying we would not try to escape from the train, we would be allowed to travel with our shoes on,” my father continued. “I got very incensed about this and persuaded several others that we should make no agreements of any kind with our captors. I felt if any German-speaking fellow captive wanted to make a break for it, it should be his choice. There was a lot of arguing but I don’t think anyone actually signed anything, no one tried to escape, and we all kept our shoes on the trip.”
On June 7, 1944, after a trip of some nine hours 400 miles across Germany, my father and his companions were escorted through the gates of Stalag Luft III, a prisoner of war camp for Allied officers. The camp was located in a pine woods area near the town of Sagan, in Germany’s Lower Silesia province (now Poland), about 100 miles southeast of Berlin. The camp’s six compounds – three for American officers and three for officers of the Royal Air Force – held more than 9,000 Allied airmen in all. Two-thirds of the prisoners were American. (By the time it was evacuated in January 1945, there were over 11,000 men held at Sagan).
Two months earlier in what became known as “the Great Escape,” 80 Allied officers had escaped from the camp’s North Compound via a 100-yard tunnel constructed some 30 feet below ground. Only three made it back to England. The rest were recaptured. Fifty were executed by Gestapo firing squads.
West Compound, to which my father was assigned, was the largest and last compound to be built at Stalag Luft III. It included 17 one-story wooden barracks, a cookhouse, theater (constructed by Russian POWs under the surveillance of German guards), and showers. A high wire fence surrounded the buildings. Inside that fence was a low strand of wire known as “the warning wire” – anyone crossing it could be shot by the “goons,” a general term for the German guards. High “goon towers” equipped with powerful searchlights were set at strategic locations along the perimeter. Armed guards with dogs patrolled the interior and exterior of the camp.
Each barracks had 13 rooms with 15 men to a room in triple bunks. By January 1945 there were 18 men in my father’s room. The roster for the West Compound of Stalag Luft III, a meticulously kept (and guarded) document, lists the vital details of each American officer and the few enlisted men in the compound. According to the roster, my father’s roommates in Room 12 of Block 171 included: Alvin C. Berry; Charles F. Anderson; William H. Baird; John E. Brenish; P.S. Collier; William P. Hays; Harold Henschel; Luther D. Moore; Robert E. Ryan ; Benjamin Weeks; Edwin Rubadue; William C. Hudson; Marquis (Mark) A. Fjelsted; Chester P. Tracewski; and H. Joseph Houlihan. (The last four officers were in the crew of “Hulcher’s Vultures” a B-17 hit by German flak over Konigsborn on May 28, 1944. With both engines shot out Fjelsted, the pilot, crash-landed the flying fortress near Mengsberg, some 50 km southwest of Kassel, all ten crew members were taken prisoner).
The rooms were about 10 by 12 ft. Heat came from a wood or charcoal burning pot-bellied stove resting on a sheet of heavy galvanized metal.
My father recalled that his bed was on top of a triple-decker bunk, against the west window wall. The beds were “made of pine and had eight removable pine slats about 5 inches wide,” he said, “with about 3 inches of space between them. Toward the end of the year we began to requisition these slats for fuel for our little stove. By the time we left Sagan, most palliasses [crude burlap bags filled with straw or wood chips and used as mattresses] were in danger of falling through. Occasionally a top one would give way and its occupant would fall on the guy in the middle and both would crash through to the man on the bottom. This would provide good wood for the stove for a few days, but new ones were tough to come by.”
Mixon was still in Vienna, recuperating from the operation on his leg. “While I was there some four months,” Mixon wrote, “my treatment by the Sisters was good, especially by the head Sister, Marie Admirabilis, whom we called ‘Little General.’ She could chew out the guards at the locked door better than any German top sergeant. On one occasion she smuggled a bottle of white wine into us, hiding it in the folds of her dress.”
During the summer, Mixon underwent a second operation. The ether was of such a low grade, he said, that “I gave our interpreter, Henry Rietzel, ten packs of cigarettes to have me put to sleep with an injection for the several-hour operation… The operation involved driving a grooved one-quarter inch rod from the hip down the center of the bone, joining the two sections of my leg together. The operation was not successful.”
When the Allied air raids over Vienna became intolerable, Mixon again bribed his interpreter with cigarettes to have him returned to Stalag 17-B at Krems.
“We arrived at the train station in Krems on October 17, 1944. I was on crutches, and had my worldly possessions in the cardboard Red Cross box given to prisoners. The Lazaret was still the same; stopped up toilets, over-crowded with wounded.” After a short stay, Mixon was transferred to the Revier of Stalag 17-B, at the end of a barracks adjoining the Russian compound, where he was to remain until the end of the war.
My father saw no one at Stalag Luft III whom he had known before. Looking back, he recalled a “nice guy named [Alvin] Berry in our room. We played bridge, poker, and other games ad nauseaum.
“Berry was the fellow who once, in the middle of the night, while we were all snoring away, spoke out loud and clear, ‘I’ll bid two diamonds.’ I woke up and could hardly believe I had heard this. ‘I’ll bid two spades,’ I replied. He came back by raising ‘four diamonds’ and this went on for quite a while. One or two of the other guys woke up and were vastly amused. Berry had absolutely no memory of anything like that game in the morning.
“The endless chatter in our room was mostly about home, food, girlfriends, the war, and dirty jokes. At 25, I was older than all but one of the others, and more educated. There were no arguments, no bad feelings. Just endless boredom. Endless talk about food. Real palpable hunger. I dreamt repeatedly of huge, walk-in fruitcakes. Walls from which to grab chunks and fill one’s mouth and munch in rapture.”
Most “Kriegies” (a contraction of the German “Kriegsgefangenen” for prisoner of war) joined a combine – a group that pooled rations and took turns cooking. My father, however, agreed to be cook for the 14 others in their room. “I remained in that job all through our eight months,” my father said. “Although there was a kitchen in each barracks where you could take turns at a bigger stove, I never used it because at mealtime it was too many guys in one hot room.”
According to Kriegie roommate, Marquis (Mark) Fjelsted, my father was “a culinary artist; that is, with what we had to eat, which wasn’t much.” Apparently he “was also the room’s prestidigitator. He taught us all how to juggle potatoes, cigarette packs, and anything else they gave us,” Fjelsted said.
The prisoners received a steady flow of Red Cross food parcels, “occasionally British parcels, and some supplementary food from the German kitchen like tall, three-gallon canisters of potato soup, a daily loaf of German glutenbread – very, very good quality dark, slightly moist, heavy bread – and sometimes blood sausage, an awful-tasting concoction which only one or two of us could eat,” my father said.
An American Red Cross parcel, designed as minimal food for one man per week, began as a half-parcel a man and remained at that for the whole time. It contained two packs of American cigarettes, a D-bar of chocolate, a one-lb. can of Klim [powdered milk], graham crackers, a can of Spam, sardines, margarine, jam, tea or ground coffee, and cube sugar. Each of these cardboard cartons was about 12x12x5 inches and weighed about 8 lbs.
“Breakfast consisted of one slice of German bread with jam and tea. Lunch was equally frugal as breakfast, perhaps a slice of the weekly loaf with a slice of Spam, or jam. In our room, we pooled most of the food from our seven weekly Red Cross packages, but each man kept his cigarettes, which were the only money we had, and perhaps his D-bar and candy, if any. I would decide what to use from our food locker to prepare the ‘big meal’ and that would usually also depend on what we had received from the Germans, if anything.
“Against my advice, my roommates decided they wanted to have a ‘big bash’ for Thanksgiving, so for two or three weeks before that gruesome event I held back certain non-perishable things like canned food and Klim and some of the D-bars, raisins, and graham crackers. The ‘feast’ turned out to be probably three times what each Kriegie would normally eat. I ate sparingly. Most of the others felt stuffed before they were halfway through their plates but kept on anyhow. Four or five of them lost everything before lights out and the rest admitted feeling awful all night. Did they learn anything from this? Nothing.
“When Christmas arrived they demanded another feed and even though I gave them somewhat less than the Thanksgiving debacle, they ate until they were satisfied, then regretted it. Each of those gustatory events ended with real cakes I had made with Klim, D-bars, raisins, and scarce sugar. (Months later in Paris, it took several days before I could hold all I wanted, but in two weeks I regained the 35 lbs. I had lost as a Kriegie).”
The routine at Stalag Luft III seldom varied. There were two appels or roll calls a day, one after breakfast and one in the evening when the men were all called out to stand in rows by barracks, five men deep, in the central compound and reply as their names were called out.
“Normally this might take 20 minutes but it could take as long as an hour or more if the Germans thought something was amiss, or if someone didn’t show up for some reason. If the goons or the ‘ferrets’ (prowling guards that specialized in escape detection) became suspicious, we could stand out (in all weather) as long as four hours while the barracks were methodically searched.
“Between the morning appel and lunch there were a number of options such as walking and talking around the perimeter of the compound for exercise, visiting the library [in the senior officers’ mess] where there were reasonably good books (censored), reading notices posted outside the camp’s central building, or dropping in at various rooms which had activities of one sort or another.
“Mail call was daily. And although I wrote all the letters out I was allowed, my parents did not know I was alive until late August. Mail sent to me by my parents was on a small very limited one-page government form. I began to receive packages from my family in late September. Barbara Fleenor, a girlfriend I had met on the train from New York to Texas after I had received my commission and had had a week’s home leave in September 1943, wrote me on ordinary blue stationery, at least once a week, sometimes more than four pages about what she was doing, what the weather was like, what wartime was like, just her normal sweet chatty self. Her letters never even appeared to have been censored!”
Despite sending out numerous letters to his parents, only two were ever received; the that mentioned Mrs. Mixon, and second, poignant letter dated November 16, 1944 in which he had enclosed the small, one-inch pair of sterling silver wings from his forage cap, the pin posts leaving tiny indentations in the paper.
There was entertainment, too, ranging from American films passed by the German censors (five in the seven months my father was there) to Kriegie plays. “Most of the summer of ‘44,” my father said, “the guys involved in the theater worked hard on the script, scenery, and costumes for a musical review staged in August and again in October. The rehearsals seemed endless and one song, something called ‘They’ll Never Believe Me,’ drifted across the compound day and night, and still rings in my ears…”
By November 1944, the weather had turned bitter cold. A desperate search for firewood by “POW Intelligence” had discovered a new source of fuel beneath the floor of each barracks.
“Under the floor of each unit was a six-inch thick layer of sand intended as insulation filled in below the parallel floor joists,” my father said. “The sand was held in place by pine slats resting on strips nailed to the inner bottom edge of each floor joist. Each block had at least one secret hole in the floor just big enough to squeeze through. The ranking officer in each unit was required to appoint a ‘wood detail’ on a rotating basis rather than a volunteer system.
“When my turn came up, I slithered through the hole and found that lying on my back, my nose was about six inches below the slats. The proper procedure was to pull and writhe oneself along in the Stygian darkness until reaching a section with the slats in place. By pushing up one end of a slat, the sand would fall on and around you, and the slat could be removed. When you had about five slats you would bundle them together and a co-worker at the access hole would pull the slats back to the hole, detach them, and give a couple of tugs on the line so that you could take up the line. I had almost completed my required half-hour of this when a sudden appel was called. The German guards could do this at any time of day or night whenever they became suspicious. I had heard the warning knocks from above and the required procedure was to remain absolutely silent without moving until the all clear knock was heard on the floor above.
“I did as I was supposed to and could hear the goons come in and search our barracks. But as time passed, I became increasingly panicky. In trying to restrain my panic, I resorted to every known source of support, beginning with God, and moving on to my sense of honor (can’t let my buddies down), and from there to women, my past work as a civilian, school days, and so forth. The claustrophobic sensation was so overwhelming during the next two hours that I cannot to this day recall it without a sense of dread and terror. Eventually the ferrets left our block and at last I heard the ‘all clear’ knock on the floor above me.”
The only currency in the camp was cigarettes. “I quickly discovered that a pencil portrait sketch of a fellow Kriegie was worth a pack of cigarettes,” my father said.
Roommate Joe Houlihan’s first reaction upon hearing my father’s name after nearly 60 years was, “Oh yes, the artist!” Mr. Houlihan recalled, among other things, a picture my father made of him soaking his badly infected feet in a big tub. Incredibly, Mark Fjelsted still had that sketch, and more. The torn piece of heavy brown paper, folded over several times, had been carefully preserved in his wartime log book. The little book, with its faded green cover, was kindly sent to me by Mr. Fjelsted. It contained three more of my father’s Kriegie creations: a pencil portrait of Fjelsted; a simple Christmas card, signed by each man in the room; and Fjelsted’s personalized 1944 Christmas Dinner menu created by Dad.
“I cut hair also – one haircut for one pack of cigarettes,” my father said. “I smoked seldom, but the cigarettes were exchangeable for D-bars. My roommates profited from some of these trades. Canned food could also be exchanged for cigarettes and some of the guys in our block also developed trade with the goons. Just before we moved out of Sagan a Kriegie in our block was able to exchange two cartons of cigarettes for half a suckling pig, sliced longitudinally as if with a razor.
“Fierce and prolonged gambling went on in many rooms. Matchsticks were used for chips and careful accounting was kept. It was mostly poker and bridge in our room. None of us played in other rooms in our block. Some guys played for cigarettes, the cigarettes spread all over the bench or table. Guys from other rooms would drop in occasionally to schmooze. We discussed the war’s progress and what news was squeezed out of makeshift radios which seemed to be hidden around, but I knew of none in our block. Certain things were considered contraband by the goons, such as knives sharpened as weapons. Getting caught with contraband or for opposing or openly disobeying goon regulations was enough to be sent to the cooler.”
I finally had the opening to ask my father what he had done to deserve two weeks’ punishment in the cooler.
“It was rather embarrassing in retrospect,” he said, “because it was just carelessness or disbelief the ferrets could be as thorough searchers as they turned out to be. Searches were irregular. No reason was ever given, and they were never announced in advance, so there was very little time to hide contraband or other material that they could interpret as criticism. It could be for fighting, or making fun of German authority, or even the goons themselves, or trying to escape [several single escapes were attempted from the camp but only one was successful. One man who spoke fluent German was disguised as a doctor, and actually made it out of Germany.] It could be for talking back to a goon or refusing a direct order. Usually it meant everybody out of the blocks, standing in formation but at ease for anything from half an hour to two hours. I’d guess we probably averaged one every two weeks.
“I had visited a room in the central building that offered free such things as pencils and paper, pads, and limited art supplies. I chose a small watercolor box, some brushes, and a small pad of watercolor paper. I started with some designs, then I think I tried a self-portrait, and then an imaginary landscape into which I put some figures in military action. I had trouble drawing US battle helmets, getting confused between our war and World War I. The next thing I knew I was drawing good German helmets. The finished sketch when colored in looked pretty good. I added a sarcastic caption in pen and ink: ‘Our glorious troops are advancing rapidly on the eastern front at Aachen,’ a place from which, facing annihilation, we knew they were rapidly retreating. I showed this to our guys and then casually put it in a book I had taken from the library and forgot about it.”
(Unprompted, Joe Houlihan provided a detailed description of the drawing and recited verbatim its biting caption. Chuckling, he remembered the famous sketch being put up on their door – and the consequences. Al Berry, on the other hand, recalled a completely different watercolor being pinned to the door – one of Stalag Luft III as seen in the future, with sagging barbed wire and vultures peering down from atop the guard towers).
“After the next search some days later,” my father continued, “I didn’t even notice it was missing. Nor did I ever get it back. My block officer (who may have been captain rank and had a real bedroom with one other Army Air Force lieutenant at the main entrance to our block) let me know I had been ordered by the authorities to the cooler for two weeks and I should get my toiletries and towel and report to the commandant’s office. Everybody commiserated with me and tried to cheer me up. They offered candy and cigarettes (not allowed, unfortunately) and I turned myself in for solitary confinement.
“A nice old white-haired jailer greeted me at the door, showed me to a clean and not-too-small ‘cell’ with a nice cot and a blanket and a little table and stool. In fairly good English he explained the routine and how to summon him. As I recall, the door had a peephole for the guards to look in but I could not look out. By standing on the bed I could look out a little window at nothing worth looking at. It was so wonderfully quiet! No endless chatter. No interruptions to the progress of my own thoughts. Blessed silence! The kindly old German guard dropped in occasionally, not because it was required but because he really admired and liked us kids. The food was good, if only because it was different from the usual, and was adequate. It had been some time since we had been presented with boiled cabbage and potatoes (mixed) and it tasted just great. I think I even had a warm shower or two. No sensation of any other prisoners, no noise of other doors opening and closing, no annoyances. After two weeks, I emerged refreshed and invigorated and began to think of other ways to get back in.”
According to Joe Houlihan, when somebody else from the room got into trouble, much to the amazement of his roommates, my father volunteered to serve the man’s time in the cooler.
Dad was not alone in discovering the luxury of the cooler. It actually became a problem at Stalag Luft III. Gustav Simoleit, a German officer, reported that “the demand for arrest became so urgent and numerous that the arrest rooms were sold out for many months in advance.”
In early December 1944, perhaps anticipating the possibility of a camp evacuation, the commanding officer in the West Compound insisted that every man walk at least ten times around the compound each day to stay fit, the equivalent of about seven and a half miles a day. Since his arrival, my father had been doing this much “and perhaps more, sometimes jogging, too.”
“The [15-minute] jaunt was just around our compound, not past the other blocks and camps. Fortunately, in mid-December a shipment of brand new regular Army shoes – just like we had been wearing when we were shot down – arrived in camp and I had claimed a pair, my old ones being pretty well shot. Also, some time in December, my Aunt Frances had sent me a wonderful pair of olive drab wool socks she had knitted. I had kept these aside, perhaps having worn and washed them only two or three times. I also had the olive drab wool sweater I had worn on our last mission.
When we began to think we were really getting near to moving out, perhaps just after Christmas, with the consent of my roommates I began to hold back a small amount of raisins, nuts (part of a Christmas package which actually had made it through the mails), D-bars, and chocolate, with the idea of parceling this out if we ever had to leave in a hurry.
“About mid-January, I combined all this food and filled a tin baking pan I had made [out of Klim cans] which was about an inch deep and cooked this conglomeration very slowly on top of our little stove, taking great care to see that it didn’t get too hot and scorch the bottom. When cool, I cut this concoction into bars but left them in the pan until they were cool enough to remove. Each of these bars were wrapped separately so they would not merge if kept in the pocket. My guess is that I probably made four of these for each of us. When I think how hungry we were all the time, I must have had to argue a bit to get those guys to agree but those dumb little 300 calorie bars came in handy later on.
“I had a composition box about the size and shape of a shirt box that would hold six clean shirts. We all began packing that Saturday morning [January 27, 1945], some with homemade knapsacks, others with empty Red Cross food cartons and crude straps or strings to hold them by.”
By the afternoon of January 27, 1945, the advancing Soviets of the 4th Guards Tank Army, 1st Ukranian Front was only 20 km from Sagan. Tensions were high as prisoners waited to see what the Germans would do – evacuate the camp, allow the Russians to liberate the prisoners, or worse. Eventually the order came to evacuate Stalag Luft III. The German high command apparently considered the 11,000 POWs to be most useful as hostages.
“In the early hours of that morning we had heard long sessions of heavy artillery, rolling like far off thunder. We knew the move out call would come in the early hours of the evening [troop movements in daytime were easy to bomb or strafe] but we probably finished up all food in our room in the late afternoon. Before the move out order came at about 8 p.m., we each received one whole Red Cross food parcel. (While some tried to carry the whole parcel, others, myself included, only took D-bars and chocolate).
“We assembled in the Vorlager [the front camp] as for an appel, and then waited and waited and waited. It was very cold, perhaps in the 20s. There was fresh snow on the ground. Eventually we began to jump up and down to keep warm and beat our arms on our backs like skiers waiting for the lift. I had good wool gloves and a hat which had earflaps I could pull down.”
The Americans left the South Compound of Stalag Luft III shortly after 9:00 p.m. Eventually my father’s group from the West Compound moved out at about 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning, January 28. The North, Center, and East compounds followed in intervals throughout the early morning hours. By 7:00 a.m. the camp was empty. Some 23,000 Red Cross food parcels were left behind as well as hundreds of thousands of books and millions of cigarettes, not to mention personal items the prisoners could not carry.
“We had guards marching with us and at the start there were two guards at the head of each block. We were six abreast, maybe even eight.
“After marching a couple of hours (still with my guys) we’d ask one of the guards ‘how much further?’ and always get the same answer of ‘Ach, five or six kilometers.’ They didn’t know. None of the guards who marched with us were guards we had ever seen before but they were the same genre – fiftyish, graying, not unfriendly, not talkative either. We knew they were really scared that the Russians would catch up to us. We had been told not to talk to the guards, not to leave the ranks, never to leave the roads. But within the first few kilometers, the men had to stop with their clumsy loads or to relieve themselves, and then rejoin the ranks.
After at least three hours without a stop I began to move forward, remembering from hiking that it is always better up front and much easier than being in the rear, trying to catch up. At that point, or maybe even earlier, I moved ahead of my roommates, never to see any one of them again, ever. My identification tags hanging inside my shirt began to rub against my breastbone and annoy me, so I pulled it up and wore it outside my shirt and sweater. It was annoying even there and I eventually put it in my pocket.
[Years later, in a note to Mixon, my father enclosed a rubbing of the Kriegie dogtag “for your information and also to prove I was there in case you had any doubts. My number was apparently 5528 and you can see this on both halves of the tag (which was obviously intended to be broken apart, one part remaining with the body and the other held with the rest of the records). It says: ‘Krgfl.d.Lw. Nr. 3 Sagan.’]
Marching nonstop in the cold and snow, my father, like everyone else, soon began to tire.
“We probably stopped at 3 a.m. because enough men began to protest. By this time, hundreds of exhausted German civilians were walking with us on the outer edges of the road, silently trudging along. No children, just adult country folk pulling carts, carrying impossible loads. They, as we, were beginning to discard objects, both household and personal items, even suitcases, or the things they thought no longer mattered. We began to see boxes of cigars and cartons of cigarettes [left behind by South Camp officers ahead of them on the route]. Bedding, pillows, clothing, all the debris of dwellings. Objects from the Red Cross boxes also began to appear among the litter. The roadside and ditches began to look like a garbage truck with broken sides had preceded us.
“Not everybody had thought of taking water, and there were shouts now and then, ‘Water stop! Water stop!’ After the first stop, I had moved up much closer to the front, but also began to notice more men in trouble at the side of the road. At one point I saw one airman put his arms out straight at the shoulder and march straight ahead although the road was turning left. Others went out into the field after him and got him back beside the road. His face was very blue and his eyes were open but saw nothing. Someone stayed with him hoping for an ambulance. I never saw one. It was very cold, perhaps 20 degrees Fahrenheit and snowing.
Mark Fjelsted, Dad’s friend and roommate at Stalag Luft III, became a career Air Force officer after the war. He retired in 1973 as a C-5 pilot at Dover Air Force Base. Lt. Col Fjelsted died in 2009 of complications from frostbite suffered 64 years earlier on the forced march from Stalag Luft III to Spremberg in January 1945.
“All of us were dead tired. Many began to show the signs of extreme fatigue, myself included. Colored pinpoints of light began to appear in the sky, moving rapidly in all directions. It was very hard to concentrate. I’d make up my mind to sit down on the side of the road for a minute or two, then forget what I was thinking, then start all over again. Finally I guess I did sit down and it may have been a brief 10-minute stop. A Kriegie was standing in the road next to me and I looked up at his pants. In the dim light I was astonished to see he was wearing a chased codpiece. The flourishes and curls were beautifully engraved and it was extremely beautiful, in pale reds and greens.”
Not long after, still in the dark morning hours, there was even “a kind of group hallucination. We were scared, terribly tired, and cold. ‘Planes! They’re coming to strafe us!’ someone shouted [thinking the long column of prisoners and civilians was being attacked by German or Allied fighter planes]. Another voice shouted, ‘here they come!’ and we all dived into the ditches on both sides of the road. A tremendous rattling and banging arose down the road behind us.”
Sprawled in the ditch, my father looked up to see the source of the noise: It was “a man standing in front of the seat of a wooden wagon behind a runaway horse, hanging onto the reins and trying to stop the horse. Someone stepped out and grabbed the horse’s bridle. We all climbed out of the ditches and began trudging along again.”
In the rear of the column German guards suspecting the commotion was a mass escape attempt, had fired several rounds, hitting some of the POWs.
“In reality, no planes ever strafed us,” my father said. “Some poor soul a mile to our rear must have shouted ‘strafers!’ and others picked it up. It was mass terror. Nothing more.
“In the early morning light we stopped at a barn [near Friewaldau, some 26 km from Sagan] for a few minutes, or maybe a half-hour and had a little food and something hot to drink. Then back to the road. I was still marching with Americans, but I suspected the Canadians were just ahead.
“By early afternoon, near Preibus, some 43 km from Sagan, I saw a couple of fellows break ranks and move off the road toward a medium-sized house a hundred yards away or so. I joined them. The door opened to our knock and a rather short man, neatly dressed, gray hair, fiftyish, said, ‘Hello! Hello! Come in, come in! Welcome!’ and the three of us moved in quickly and peeled off our coats and packs. There were other Kriegies sprawled on the floor in all directions. It was a clean, pretty house, like suburbia here. And warm!
“Our host spoke good English. He said he was a Russian POW and had been in Germany six years. The Germans had requisitioned the house, stationed him there, and given him instructions to take in as many of us as he could. He showed us into the kitchen, cooked up something or other which was very wonderful, and we had no sooner eaten when he took us upstairs showed us the bathroom (with hot water!). We washed and conked out.
“I can’t remember whether I spent the night or not, but I had a long talk with our host. He told me what had happened to him in the past six years. He taught me to say, ‘Zvastute, soldat’ and ‘Do swedanie’ and other Russian phrases. I gave him my home address in New Rochelle and told him to come to see me any time after the war. His was the only face on that dreadful march that I can still remember.”
The march from Preibus to Muskau was again at night, rainy and cold, but the ranks of marchers were better organized. There were fewer stragglers and civilians. The airmen were given a day and a half to recuperate in a huge pottery factory in Muskau. Hypothermia had been common from the beginning and many POWs stayed behind at hospital in Muskau. About 200 officers from the West Compound (including my father) by now had caught up to the 2,000 men from the South Compound. The following day this group was marched another 25 km to Spremberg.
On January 31, 1945, having marched 54 miles they were loaded into “40 & 8s” – boxcars originally meant to hold 40 men or eight horses. Fifty men with their packs and one guard were jammed into each boxcar for the 48-hour trip to Stalag VII-A near Moosburg, about 35 km northeast of Munich. The boxcars were so tightly packed that men had to alternate standing and sitting. Many men were sick with dysentery, there was little ventilation, and one bucket to relieve themselves.
Although my father recalled little of this horrific trip, he did “remember being terribly crowded and thirsty – and terrible smells. As far as I can recall, we were on that train until we reached Moosburg in the middle of the night and had to stay [in the boxcars] until they could unload us in the early morning [of February 2].”
Originally an enlisted men’s camp for 14,000 French prisoners, Stalag VII-A was a nightmare compared to Stalag Luft III. There was little food, sanitary conditions were horrendous, and dilapidated, vermin-infested barracks meant to hold 200 men were packed with as many as 500 men by the end of the war. As the weather improved, some POWs were moved outdoors, sleeping on straw under makeshift tents or in foxholes. Eventually some 130,000 POWs of all nationalities and ranks were held at Moosburg (though the majority were Allied prisoners) making it the largest POW camp in Germany. It was also the last to be liberated by US troops.
The period from February to late April 1945 at Stalag VII-A remains a complete blank for my father. “I could have been ill and in hospital with something other than dysentery; maybe the three months were so awful I have blocked it out of my memory.”
For Mixon, signs of the war’s imminent end came in early April 1945 as the Soviet Army advanced toward Vienna. The Germans’ reaction was to march some 4,000 of his fellow American POWs at Stalag 17-B (those who could walk) away from the Russians and toward General George S. Patton’s troops advancing up the Danube River. Mixon, still immobilized, watched as the Americans marched out, setting “fire to their belongings, including GI wool clothing and blankets, in the streets in front of the barracks. When late afternoon came, and the water was turned on, we tried to put out the fires but to no avail. About midnight, all hell broke loose, and we were bombed from the air by Russian planes dropping antipersonnel bombs. Fortunately, no one was hurt.”
The Red Army overran Stalag 17-B on May 9, 1945 and insisted that the remaining 75 Americans, including Mixon, be sent via Vienna to Odessa, on the Black Sea. Knowing that General Patton was much closer, Mixon refused. “The Russian means of transportation was captured trucks and every Russian I saw was drunk, parts of GI uniforms were scattered all over,” he wrote. “About two days later a small convoy of trucks and ambulances from Patton’s Army, led by an English major, came in and picked us up, without permission from the Russians. After being loaded and anxious to leave, we had to wait about ten minutes for an English soldier to boil an egg over an open fire; he said he hadn’t had an egg in five years.”
A Free Man – Paris, Naples, and Home
Booming artillery outside Moosburg on the morning of April 28th signaled the approach of Patton’s Third Army. On the morning of the 29th, the same day that Adolf Hitler committed suicide in Berlin, a combat team from the 14th Armored Division attacked the German SS troops (who had replaced the regular Wehrmacht guards) defending Stalag VII-A. After a two and a half hour battle, with bullets and shells flying over the prisoners’ heads, the Germans surrendered. Around midday the American flag was raised over the camp; in the early afternoon, American troops, supported by one tank and an Army jeep broke through the barbed wire fence. Jubilant, cheering, weeping POWs mobbed the tank. General Patton arrived within the hour. He addressed the men briefly before continuing on toward Munich.
The next day my father was able to send a short message to his parents from Moosburg on a V-mail form (that would take three weeks to arrive):
If you can picture the delirious jubilation that took place here yesterday morning when the American flag went up over Moosburg – then the joy at seeing a great tank roll in – we are still running around in a slightly bewildered manner. We know you have heard of our liberation and the excitement here is being duplicated. Freedom is delicious! I have so much to tell you and yet I want to see you rather than write on this form.
Everything is swell. Rumor has it that we will be out of this hell-hole in three days. I sure hope so. Start making all sorts or reservations. For plays, concerts, etc.? Also how about a reservation for a seat at that breakfast table along around Sunday May 14? We have plenty to eat here now but you know me, I’m dreaming of home! And soon!
“We were liberated by General Patton’s outfit after quite a noisy battle on Sunday April 29 – and then expected to be evacuated by air on Wednesday,” he wrote to his parents in a subsequent letter. “The weather was pretty lousy though and what happened was that we virtually became Third Army prisoners. Red Cross parcels were issued on Monday of course, but no food was brought in until Wednesday when we tasted our first white bread. We were not supposed to leave camp but many men went through the fence and returned with food ‘scrounged’ from neighboring AA outfits or artillery battalions…
“When it became evident we weren’t being moved out [over 100,000 Allied prisoners needing to be fed, given medical attention, deloused, clothed, and processed] many men began to leave without authority. I stuck it out until Sunday [May 6] and then Chuck Bouchard and I ‘took off’ and hitched a ride to an AA [American Army] outfit where we had a Sunday dinner which included many more ‘firsts’ in a year.”
Chuck Bouchard was also a B-24 pilot but with the 489th Bombardment Group, a unit of the Eighth Air Force flying out of Halesworth, England. He was shot down over France on June 2, 1944 on a mission to hit targets prior to the Normandy invasion and, like my father, was first taken to Frankfurt for interrogation then sent to Stalag Luft III and later, Moosburg. On the day of liberation, Bouchard had been able to shake General Patton’s hand as he walked through the camp.
“Bouchard and I were up at dawn that Sunday,” my father recalled. “We dressed and walked out of our barracks to the gate, found the gate open, walked out and started hiking north on a good tar road.
“Two US Army officers driving an open Jeep overtook us in minutes. They stopped.
‘Hi, guys,’ we said.
‘Hello! Where are you two going?’
‘Well, we just walked out of the prison camp. We want to go home.’ I said.
‘Come on, hop in. We’ll take you to our HQ up the road,’ the driver said.
“We looked at each other and didn’t even bother to discuss going back into that dreadful hellhole for our toothbrushes. I left behind everything I possessed. We jumped in with ‘thank you, thank you!’ They drove perhaps two or three miles, telling us on the way that this was Lt. General George S. Patton’s Third Army, 14th Armored Division and, if time hasn’t warped my memory, they said they were ‘an advance reconnaissance team’ and the rest of their unit would be moving up in a few hours.
“On the way we came up behind two German soldiers walking along the road. The lieutenant in the passenger seat drew his Colt 45 from its holster and hopped out. He talked to them for a few seconds, then relieved them of their guns. As he got back in he handed me one of them, a Walther 9mm pistol.”
“When we got to their field headquarters in Freising, they took us right away to their Commanding Officer. He immediately invited us to breakfast. Wow! I think the five of us sat at a round table in a sunny window. Bouchard and I proceeded to have cereal and our first eggs and bacon in almost a year.
“We were then taken by a sergeant in another Jeep up to Army HQ in Regensburg. After dinner a sergeant took us to a suburban house. We got out and walked up to the door. A nice-looking middle-aged woman and her teenage daughter came to the door. He told them to get out quickly. They were gone in a few minutes.
“The sergeant took us upstairs and showed us two rooms to sleep in and the most luxurious bathroom, the first we had seen in a long, long time. We had baths and climbed into our featherbeds. Both had fresh, clean sheets and the fragrance of that room and the bath almost made me weep with self-pity, but I sure slept well.
“The same sergeant picked us up at around 8:00 a.m., as arranged, and we went back to HQ and had breakfast. The CO issued us ‘temporary orders’ for transport to Paris [Army Air Force HQ] and we were taken out to the airport. We were told that we might have to wait all day, and again the next day until space could be found. Bouchard went someplace, and I was standing outside looking at a C-47 that had just arrived. The pilot walked from the plane and I smiled at him and asked, ‘You’re not going on to Paris by any chance, are you?’
“He said, ‘Yes I am, in a few minutes, but every seat is taken I’m afraid.’ I must have looked crestfallen, and he quickly added, ‘Of course, I’m going to go in here for a few minutes and if someone were to walk out, climb on, and sit down in the can, I just wouldn’t know anything about it, would I?’ Afraid to say thanks, or not knowing what to say or do, I gave him a look that must have made his day, certainly only half as much as his words made mine.
“I went back into the terminal but could not find Bouchard. Then I walked casually out on the tarmac, climbed up the stairs with no souvenirs of an unhappy year other than my German dog-tag. The entrance was in the stern and none of the passengers looked around. I just took a couple of steps into the head, closed the door and sat down, leaving the door open just a crack. No more than five minutes went by before the pilot and the co-pilot came in and walked forward without even looking in! I closed the door as the engines started up, my heart racing wildly. I’d made it! A few minutes after we reached altitude I came out and looked forward. There was actually a seat empty! So I sat down and buckled up and nobody seemed to notice.
“We landed in Paris around 6:00 that evening. They were all amazed at the speed with which I had arrived, a 15th AAF pilot so far from Italy? They said there was no way to get me back to my squadron or even the 15th AAF for maybe a week or ten days. Tough luck! I’d have to stay in Paris until after VE-Day on May 8th !
“They gave us fresh clothing, we took a shower and threw our old clothes away. The CO gave his sergeant instructions, and I received temporary orders billeting me in the Hotel Vauban, a very convenient building that had been taken over by our AAF. The Officers’ Club was, I think, in the Hotel Scribe that likewise had been taken over. I also received the necessary documents to get a complete new uniform, hat, shoes, and anything else I needed. I had my orders, all the cash I needed, and picked up my uniform – all before dinnertime!
“Bouchard appeared in Paris the following day. We started a regular routine of sight-seeing, and we found out that the eighth-floor restaurant in the Officers’ Club was exactly the same as another on the seventh floor. So we began eating our meal always on the eighth and then walking down one flight and repeating it on the seventh. By Saturday we began to feel less hunger and the double dipping was no longer necessary.
“My memories of that week, as far as what we saw and where we went have rather merged with the many later trips to Paris. It was a very exciting time to be there, as you may imagine.”
On Monday, May 7, 1945, his first day in Paris and the day of Germany’s unconditional surrender, my father “had breakfast at the Officers’ Club and was in the Place de la Concorde very early that morning.
“In the northeast corner of the Place there is a classic style building that houses the French Marine Ministry. On the side facing the Place there are a series of windows with their sills perhaps six feet above the ground. I scrambled up on one of those sills close to the Rue Royale. There were several other people and the place was filling rapidly with people in a very festive mood. By 11:00 a.m. the Place was jammed with happy people, singing and dancing. The whole Place de la Concorde kept filling up and I watched people of all ages (no small children, however. The crush would have made it dangerous) celebrating, singing, with bottles of wine and food and clouds of cigarette smoke.
“By 3:00 p.m. it was impossible to move in any direction and it stayed that way. Some girls persuaded me to jump down and dance and the couple on my right said they would try to hold my place. I did prance around a bit, hug the girls, someone offered wine. After about a half-hour of this I climbed back up and remained there, able to sit, thank goodness, I would think until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. Fireworks were set off at some point, and there was much cheering. Probably 200,000 people or more, just so happy. It was a noisy, colorful, very emotional experience.”
The next day my father finally found a quiet moment to write home with his good news.
May 8, 1945 1:30 p.m. Paris
Dear Mom and Dad,
Seems strange to be writing uncensored and in my own hand after all these months. At any rate here goes…
I wrote you a V-mail this morning but I imagine this will reach you first. Probably after the cablegram I intend to send as soon as we get paid.
We were liberated by General Patton’s outfit after quite a noisy battle on Sunday April 29 – and then expected to be evacuated by air on Wednesday. The weather was pretty lousy though and what happened was that we virtually became 3rd Army prisoners. No food was brought in until Wednesday when we tasted our first white bread. We were not supposed to leave camp but many men went through the fence and returned with food scrounged from neighboring AA outfits or artillery battalions etc. Of course, we had Red Cross parcels issued on Monday.
When it became evident we weren’t being moved out many men began to leave without authority. I stuck it out until Sunday and then Chuck Bouchard and I “took off” and hitched a ride to an AA outfit where we had a Sunday dinner which included many more “firsts” in a year. Then a jeep gave us a hitch to Freising where we caught another jeep to Regensburg. We kicked some Germans out of their room on the edge of the field and slept on a soft bed for the first time in a year.
The next morning (yesterday) we saw that if we followed the expected routine and had our names registered etc. it would be days before we’d leave so we simply hung around the field and hitched a ride on a C-47 which came in to evacuate some hospital cases. While we were on the field yesterday morning a pilot told us the 8:00 radio news had reported the war over.
At 2:45 I spit on Germany and climbed into the ship with no souvenirs of an unhappy year other than my German dog-tag. I carried nothing for I had left even my razor back in Moosburg. We arrived in Paris at 6:05 and dropped the hospital cases at Le Bourget Field and then flew over the Eiffel Tower to the C-47’s base. Caught a bus (after our first Red Cross doughnuts and coffee) and went through the city to headquarters. They gave us fresh clothing to replace the ones we had worn for a year; we took a shower and threw our old clothes away. Went out and walked around, ate dinner and by that time it was midnight. The city was pretty wild last night. Fireworks etc., much liquor. We’re billeted in Hotel Vauban. Can you picture the luxury of sleeping between clean sheets for the first time in a year? Or the many “firsts” in a year we are experiencing? Eggs, chicken, peaches, coffee, etc.
First impressions of Paris: Very sophisticated, advertising especially, beautiful women and beautifully dressed; fascinating stores, high prices, wonderful architecture. My inadequate French. Completely at home on the “Metro” or subway. Smells just like N.Y. City itself smells like N.Y. Am very much excited. In best of health and eager to see Paris.
Plans: Going to get some officers’ clothing this afternoon. Going to wire you as soon as I get some money which will be in about 20 minutes (a partial pay).
Expect to stay here and sight-see for at least a week. Chuck is going to Le Havre tonight for the processing etc. which will take 5 days. Then he will go home probably by air. I could join him but prefer to exploit this opportunity of seeing Paris. Will explain same to you in a later letter.
Should I describe the little cafés I have seen? The people? The fascination of it all? I will, after I’ve seen some more. Must get a French conversation book!
Love to all,
(a free man)
Although my father expected to fly home within the week, he spent the better part of a month trying to find a way back to the United States, either through the Port of Embarkation at Le Havre or via alternate routes. In the meantime he did his best to “absorb” Paris as he wrote in a V-mail on May 11 to Dr. Robert T. Hatt, his boss at the Cranbrook Institute of Science, and in a steady stream of letters to his family.
May 11, 1945 Paris
Arrived here last Monday having hitched a plane out of Germany. Was in time for all the celebrating and it surpassed anything I had ever been fortunate enough to see. Paris is very lovely – the weather has been perfect. Naturally I arrived here in rags and much of my time this week has been spent in getting a new outfit together but today I’m going to start sight-seeing. My stomach or rather my digestion has finally gotten to the point where it can keep up with my appetite and after a year of not much food you can imagine what that is like! Hope to drop up to Cranbrook and see you all during my leave. Am planning to stay here and absorb Paris until my money runs out – which will probably be in another week.
May 11, 1945 Paris (V-mail)
By the time you get this your errant son will be getting on the boat – which should put an end to the speculation as to whether I’m crazy or not! This past week has been mostly spent getting clothes, etc. I haven’t seen any entertainments as yet since the running around I’ve been doing by day has left me too tired by 9:00 p.m. to do anything but hit the sack. However tonight I guess I’ll go to the Folies Bergère.
Prices for food (civilian) and clothing, etc. are sky-high. Liquor as well. But perfume is pretty cheap and I’ll bring back all I can. Paris is indescribably lovely. I’ve seen some good art at Durand-Ruel [Galleries] and am going to the Louvre this afternoon but understand not much is on exhibit.
Love to all,
p.s. Guess I will leave here Monday or Tuesday
May 12, 1945 Paris (V-mail)
Don’t know if these letters are reaching you at all since I’m not sure the return address is sufficient. Anyhow I’ll keep trying.
Saw some awfully good pictures last evening at the Palais de Tokyo – the annual Salon show. Hundreds of contemporary oils. Good stuff. Went to a concert after supper – Gabriel Fauré (Pelléas & Melisande, Balade, Requiem) The Paris symphony or something, Charles Munch conducting. Awfully good.
Saw Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Louvre etc. on a bus tour yesterday morning. Will go back to various points I didn’t see enough of. District of books and picture stores I must haunt.
Paris very, very lovely – like a dream. Prices very high, though, about 10 times what they are in the States for comparable quality. Women all well dressed and reeking of Chanel #5. I don’t know how they manage to look so well dressed.
Am getting fat – and feel marvelous. Planning to leave here 18th May or 19th. See you about 30th I hope.
Love to all,
May 13, 1945 Paris (V-mail)
Still don’t know if these things are reaching you. Anyhoo…
Met a man named [Vincent] Sheean today, a war correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. Artist and writer. [Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 black and white spy thriller, ‘Foreign Correspondent’ was based on Sheean’s 1935 political memoir, Personal History]. We went down to the Salon show again and spent several hours discussing the thousands of paintings there.
This afternoon Nicolle, Colette and I made the rounds of the art galleries. We some lovely Matisse, Cezanne, Renoir, Roault, etc. as well as a Retrospective Exhibit. Also F. Leger and some other non-objective art.
Tomorrow Sheean and I are going over to the Left Bank to see if we can pick up some etchings or good prints. He has some lovely stuff he got recently. A Matisse lithograph for $40 and some pretty Marie Laurencin etchings for very little.
Last night I danced until midnight, met two more nice gals, spoke no English for hours.
Weather lovely, leaving Saturday, I guess.
Love to all,
May 13, 1945 Sunday morning 8:45
(General de Gaulle is just entering the Eglise de St. Augustin
de Paris [46 blvd Malesherbes] outside the window at which I am writing).
I’ve been intending to write you a decent letter all this week instead of the V-mail briefs but I never did get around to it. Since my address is so vague I’m not sure these letters will reach you anyhow but I have continued writing.
This week has certainly been exciting. We arrived here last Monday and when I realize today is my sixth day in this wonderful city it hardly seems possible.
It must appear strange to you that everything taken into consideration I should not be making every effort to get home as soon as possible. Well, there are numerous reasons why I haven’t been too eager. The first (and mostly selfish) is that I simply couldn’t pass up this opportunity to see Paris almost free of charge. The second is that latest reports had the embarkation points very crowded with men spending 6-30 days in tents up to their necks in mud. I wanted to avoid the “flap.” The third is that after a year as prisoner I felt the need of a week or so by myself, making my own decisions and readjusting my thinking to civilization. Of late, especially the past month, I’d become so impatient and irritable I wasn’t fit for society.
Last night I weighed myself again and found I tipped the scales at 168 which is roughly 13 lbs. more than what I weighed that winter at Casper. So you see I must be pretty healthy! I’m eating all I can get and since Paris is fairly hard-pressed for food it’s probably better for my digestion that that “all I can get” is merely the regular Army provisions. We can get French food but since the prices are sky-high and the Army has requested its personnel to eat only at the provided places that is why I haven’t attempted to sample the local cooking.
Wine is fairly cheap – compared to N.Y. pre-war prices – but actually outrageously expensive for Parisians. I have paid 80 cents for a glass of wine in a sidewalk café. Beer (only fair) sells at anywheres from 4 cents to 16 cents a glass. Cognac very expensive. Champagne, out of the question. The difficulty is not quantity, simply transportation into Paris.
The prices of civilian clothes, etc. are also sky-high. A canvas zipper bag worth $1.50 sells for $12. A knife worth 25 cents for $4.00. Costume jewelry at around 10-times its N.Y. value.
I haven’t tried to buy any books yet, or prints, but intend to spend some time next week seeing what I can get.
Yesterday I accomplished very little from the tourist angle. A chap I knew in Sagan has more-or-less joined forces with me as far as entertainment goes. Last night we saw the Follies Bergère. M. Dandy, a French comedian, was superb. The girls rather pretty; the humor quite sophisticated. The show itself definitely catered to the American clientele, but all in all I can honestly say it wasn’t much different from a good N.Y. burlesque. Not as smutty, perhaps, but comparable. The stage-work was really magnificent, not so much gaudy as ingenious and in good taste. Tricky sets changed with precision and almost unbelievable speed.
When I got off the “Metro” or subway a French Air Force lieutenant stopped me and started asking information. We started talking (in my broken French) and talked for an hour. He speaks no English and I speak so little French that it was very difficult but I did enjoy our chat and we arranged a continuation at a sidewalk café near my hotel for this afternoon at 2 p.m. I am gradually recalling my vocabulary (after 10 years of disuse) but my pronunciation is still fierce.
I have $6 left but expect to get another partial payment of $20 on Monday (tomorrow). If I can’t I guess I’ll have to leave here Wednesday – unless you did wire money as I suggested in the cablegram. Oil colors are fairly inexpensive and perhaps I might do a little painting.
What chiefly annoys me is the impossibility of buying the odds and ends Woolworth sells (which make life easier) and the little delicacies of menu I have been anticipating – but that can wait.
Strangely enough I have very little desire for liquor. We’ve usually had a bottle of wine with our evening meal (Bordeaux St. Emilion) but during the day I seldom have had more than 10 beers. The huge mess that feeds visiting officers (and at which I am writing this) is in a former hotel and the bar serves good martinis for 16 cents but I seldom drink more than four before dinner!
The weather is still so glorious it seems like a dream. In fact everything seems like a dream, chiefly this freedom. Just to be able to come and go in a big city, to get on a subway, or to walk down a street is such a delicious pleasure I sometimes find myself smiling foolishly at nothing.
Paris debonair, and nonchalant, and so sophisticated it makes N.Y. seem like a city of crude cavemen. All the women, even the lowliest peasant types, are neat and clean. Everything is clean and bright and smells wonderful. There is perfume everywhere.
The subway faces are much more interesting to me (or maybe it just seems so after a year of incarceration) than N.Y. faces. They seem more animated and lack that deadpan unfriendliness. A good-looking girl willingly indulges in banter or pleasantries with a stranger (even such as myself) and she obviously isn’t afraid it’s going to lead to anything.
Of course freedom is in the air and gaiety the password, but even so these people seem to know what’s what. Right now I am sitting on top of the world so everything is rosy. Maybe if I were less fortunate I’d feel how cold and impersonal a big city can be. Maybe I am mistaking “savoir faire” and the European higher standards of courtesy for something else but anyhow there is little here in Paris that offends.
The church bells of the city are ringing, it is a glorious morning. I am sitting next to a tremendous French window and almost within reach of maple leaves blowing in a soft breeze. I can hear children singing in the street some sort of parade I guess.
Just ate grapefruit juice, three bowls of oatmeal, three eggs, four cups of coffee, six pcs. toast and marmalade, served by a faultlessly uniformed waiter whose sensibilities must wince each time he has to serve a crude piece of toast in place of the exquisite melba of yesteryear – or hear “Hey, Garkon!”
So all is well, except I am eager to see you all and part of my enjoyment of this is still missing because I know you are still worrying. I dreamt of you all last night – both of you and Frances, also Joe Guerry and Jack. Well I’ll be home very soon.
Have tickets to the opera tonight – Le Bohème (how boring) but in French surroundings, très interessant.
P.S. Found I could only eat 18 doughnuts at one sitting! These Red X doughnuts are really good – after one year!
P.P.S. Have contacted Red X “Home Service” and have been assured any answer to my cable will reach me through them.
May 14, 1945 Paris (V-mail)
Today is a lovely, clear cool day – the kind of day to be on a the top of a 5th Ave. bus going up towards the Cloisters or something. But instead I am doing my sightseeing in Paris. Ho hum!
Found a cabled money order this morning at the American Express. You can imagine what a relief that was! It felt about as good, Pop, as that time you sent me $35 in Dallas – I had $4 left. I checked with the Red Cross for a message but they had not received any so I assume everything is O.K. with you all. I’ve been trying to make contact with some big shot who might be able to get me a place on a plane home but so far have not been successful.
I’m beginning to long for the homecoming, etc. but I just can’t get myself to submit to the flap at the Port of Embarkation where the situation is evidently still very bad. I’ve had too much of the sort of thing I hear is going on there and I don’t feel like attempting it, at least until later this week if all other methods fail. Might possibly try Marseilles, stopping off at the Riviera en route.
Saw La Bohème last night at the Opéra Comique and enjoyed it very much. Tonight I have two tickets for the concert by the Orchestra de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire under the direction of André Cluytens with Thérèse Cochet as soloist – Berlioz, Saint-Saens, Debussy and Ravel’s “La Valse.”
My French improving. Met a charming girl from Nancy, the daughter of a professor of medicine there, studying philosophy of all things. Speaks delicious English. Going to the concert with her tonight.
Tomorrow I am going to either Versailles or Fontainbleau, can’t make up my mind. My hotel room billet expires tonight and I might have to move someplace else which won’t annoy me too much since whoever cleans my room is evidently systematically looting it – just little things like a package of gum or a pack of cigarettes. Very annoying.
My weight has gone up to 173 which is the heaviest I think I’ve ever been!
Much love to all,
May 20, 1945 Sunday morning
Just finished a good breakfast – grapefruit juice, oatmeal, eggs, toast and jam, coffee, and doughnuts at the Mayflower Club. I usually eat at what is known as the Casual Mess (I’m not joking!) which is in a huge hotel at the Place St. Augustin but this morning I arrived there too late so I came over here instead.
I surely thought I’d be home by now – that is when we were liberated I thought that. It is fully as disappointing to me as it is to you to realize 20 days have gone by and here I am still in Europe.
The situation has been greatly complicated by the end of the war over here. In fact, I think if the Germans had held out another week I’d have been home.
Yesterday morning I decided that inasmuch as my hotel room was no longer mine I’d have to do some fast talking and also that perhaps things were better at the port. (Pardon me if this sounds disconnected. The radio in the lounge here is driving me crazy).
Anyhow I packed my bag and left it downstairs intending to pick it up at 8:00 p.m. and catch the 9:00 p.m. train for the port. But during the morning I heard that things were worse instead of better up there and the water supply had given out – 60,000 men all waiting to go home, living in tents, three-hour chow lines.
So I spent most of yesterday trying to get on DS (Detached Service) for England or Italy – or Marseilles – anyplace to get out of Paris and get somewhere to try and hitch a ride home. Thought perhaps I could get on orders to rejoin my group in Italy, if they were still there. But no luck. Couldn’t get official sanction.
Last night I wangled a government billet in a hotel near the one at which I have stayed since my arrival here. It was next to a big church and every time the bell rang the hour or half hour it practically knocked me out of bed!
If all this sounds confusing to you – I mean what I am doing and trying to do – it only reflects the entire Paris scene. Nobody seems to know what is going on. Everything is rather muddled. The department that is supposed to be taking care of ex-P.O.W.s who arrive here is actually merely a way-station. They don’t know what is going on at the Port because they are not responsible for shipping us. So everyone wanders around rather befuddled. Men return from the Port and try to draw partial-pay and billets here in Paris and then wander off again. No records are kept, except for pay, so each time I have drawn pay a notification reaches you that I am safe and well, etc. Well enough of that!
Paris is still very beautiful. I’d love to describe what is in the store windows because I know you (Mom) would be interested but I’m afraid I don’t know much about it.
The shoes (due to lack of leather) are mostly intricate combinations of straps etc. with those cork soles wedgies almost exclusively. Hideous. Makes ‘em all look like clubfooted women!
Costume jewelry is of rather poor quality. Nicely designed but obviously suffering from lack of good materials. Also rather expensive. An item which I know would cost $1.50 in N.Y. is around $15 here, but of course the 50f. dollar is all our of scale. Actually, to the French this must mean about $6 so not many are buying such trinkets.
The mother of a girl I met told me she can get no meat, eggs, or milk unless black market. She complained that Paris was so crowded she couldn’t even get an adequate apartment. I felt like saying something about liberty but decided I wouldn’t be very courteous!
If I find things are still awfully impossible at Le Havre I’ll just have to stay here until they get better. Perhaps do a little painting. And of course I’ve actually seen very little of Paris.
It was wonderful to get that telegram through the Red Cross. I hadn’t heard you were all O.K. since December. I wish you could write me but I suppose I’ll have left here before it would reach me.
Do you still hear from my little friends in the West & South? Also wish I knew how Jack F. was.
Do you remember getting a letter from me from Sagan in which I said, “I heard from Bob & Betty C. the other day”? Did you know I meant the British Broadcasting Company? I hoped you would know I didn’t know any Bob & Betty C. Thank the Lord all that is over with. I have nothing left to remind me of that year in Germany except my German dog-tag. No clothes I wore, nothing.
That’s about all the news. Hope to see you soon, early in June it looks like now.
Best love to all,
May 22, 1945 Paris
A lovely spring morning in Paris; warm sunlight, a cool breeze, the maples outside my window rustling and looking very pretty.
The sidewalks clean and fresh after yesterday’s rain. People going to work, shop girls’ heels clicking on the pavement, a scattering of men already in the cafés reading the morning papers and having the breakfast cup of coffee. The hum of traffic, mostly American jeeps. Everything very much as it would be if I were sitting at one of the big windows to the exclusive [University] club on the corner of 5th Ave. at 54th Street.
Only I wish it was N.Y. and not Paris. I’m eager to get back.
Hope this mess will clear up soon and we’ll be able to get out of here. Am going to try and get out by way of Rome tomorrow.
Love to all,
May 22, 1945 After breakfast
Well I just ate my first batch of pancakes since the last I had in Italy a year ago and I’m not joking. They were good. Of course I only ate 14 since I didn’t want to appear hoggish.
Slept last night in a hotel near Port Clichy which is out at the end of a subway line. Since the hotel is intended for QM men operating between Paris and Le Havre it is free and so I will probably stay there until I leave Paris. Somebody goes up to Le Havre each day and it will be a good way for me to go up if I should hear they have begun to ship men home.
It rained almost all day yesterday so I did very little. Sat around and read and ate. Weighed myself again yesterday – 174 lbs. which is getting a little on the heavy side isn’t it?
Wish I could hear from your but guess I will have to wait until I get home for all the news.
Have a date with a gal to go to a sketch class tonight at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Might go to Rome tomorrow morning.
Love to all,
May 23, 1945 Paris
Rainy day again today. Bought myself a raincoat this morning so I don’t really care.
Saw an awfully interesting natural history exhibit yesterday afternoon. Originally part of the 1937 Paris Exposition. Very modern and so technically superior to anything I’d ever seen that I was really dumbfounded. Might go to the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle cet après midi mais je ne sais pas – peut être j’irai au cinema.
More and more men coming into Paris from Le Havre saying nothing doing up there. A Lt. at the hotel at which I am staying is driving up there tomorrow and I may go along and see how things are. There are a lot of fields near here where one might be lucky enough to hitch a ride someplace on a plane but the effort required to get to them is hardly worth it. The transportation problem in Paris is quite acute – one goes by Metro or walks. No taxis and to carry one’s luggage est très difficile au Metro.
Everything O.K. Hope you are receiving these letters.
Love to all,
May 27, 1945 Sunday Bari, Italy
When I get back to N.Y. remind me to draw a diagram of where I’ve been these past few weeks. It should be something like a pane of cracked glass.
I just asked a chap next to me what day today was. I knew it was the 27th but was undecided as to whether it was Wednesday or Thursday!
Met a chap named [John B.] Metcalf [a bombardier] who was in my squadron and also at Sagan. That was Tuesday afternoon in Paris. We conceived the brilliant idea of rejoining our old outfit here in Italy. So that evening we took a bus to the airfield and waited around until 3:30 Wednesday morning. Almost got a hitch in a C-54 going home but the ATC are very fussy. We had to do some fast talking to get the hitch we did finally get – to Naples. Arrived there Wednesday noon.
Spent Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning sightseeing – beautiful town. Thursday afternoon we got a hitch to a field near where we used to fly. Ate dinner there and then they drove us be jeep to Bari which is 15th Air Force HQ.
Just realized I’ve been telling you this using the wrong days because we’ve only been here two nights. Anyhow we spent yesterday, Saturday, getting processed and this morning we should pick up our orders to report to Naples, probably today, maybe tomorrow.
At Naples we’ll find out whether we’re going home by plane or boat.
The weather is very warm, Italy filthy as ever, and as beautiful. Seems to be more food here than when I was here last year. But I’ll tell you all about it when I see you, which I can definitely say will be before the 15th of June.
Am very eager to get home now, really am, and I think if we hadn’t come down here we’d still be waiting in Paris or Le Havre. Incidentally our outfit (376th) went home three weeks ago! Nobody is here at all.
Tuesday 29 May will be one year since the accident – not a very happy anniversary. I was much surprised to read an eye-witness report in my file of the accident. I’d never known just what happened. Tell you about it soon.
May 30, 1945 Wednesday night, 7:00 p.m. Naples
We are now billeted at a former “spa” about five miles from the center of the city. We arrived here Monday evening from Bari where we had spent several days being interrogated etc. I don’t know whether I’ve written you since we left Paris. Anyhoo we came first to Naples, spent one night here and then went on to Bari.
We’ve completed our processing and now merely sit awaiting orders. It is possible we will fly but more likely we will go by boat. I can’t say when our orders will come through because I don’t know. At any rate I don’t believe we’ll be stuck here more than two weeks at the most. The food is good and we have a comfortable little room so everything is O.K.
I had typhoid, typhus and smallpox shots on Tuesday morning and have not felt very well since. Today’s symptoms were cramps and diarrhea, but there’s a great deal of difference in being sick like that when the toilet is indoors and 20 feet away and not like it was at Moosburg.
Thursday morning, 8:10 a.m.
Feel much better this morning. Ate a good breakfast and have not had to run for the john, so I guess I’m O.K. now.
That’s really about all the news. Guess we’ll do a little sightseeing in Naples this afternoon and maybe go to Capri tomorrow unless we are on orders, alerted for movement.
Read a good book “Earth & High Heaven” by Gwethalyn Graham, am sure you would enjoy it. Am very eager to get back to N.Y. and read all the novels, etc. I missed this past year…
That’s all now,
“In Naples, the 15th [Air Force] had taken over a huge sports facility that Mussolini had built in the 1930s,” my father recalled, picking up the story from his last letter home. “There were a great number of completely tiled chambers with an amazing number of faucets and hoses and other devices for athletes’ use as well as a bed and night table. Mussolini was a great advocate of physical fitness and there may have been as many as 300 of these chambers at one end of the sports field.
“I did some sight-seeing in Naples, the military having told me it might be as much as ten days before they could find a seat on a flight to New York. But after maybe three or four days I was told things were looking good for a flight and I should stick around the next day. In the late afternoon I took a nice little train by myself to a village next to Pompei, about a 20-minute ride. I had a good plate of pasta and a nice glass of wine at a restaurant near the entrance to Pompei. I ate outside, under an awning.
“When I got to Pompei and paid my fee, I joined the last group for the day, led by a nice gentlemen who said the same thing in German, English, and Italian. From the very start it was absolutely thrilling. Perhaps 15 tourists, we walked slowly and had seen half of the ruins when the tour leader led us to the exit gate.
“On the way to the gate I noticed several alcoves and rooms which suggested something to me. Why not stay all night? It took ten seconds to think, ‘What a red hot idea!’ and I let myself drift backwards in the group, then step sideways into one of the empty rooms. As far as I remembered, I had seen no other people or guards.
“My heart was pounding and I was trying to think what to say if the tour guide had counted us coming in and would miss me going out and return with ‘polizei’ …. After about 20 minutes my chances began to look better. There were no electric lights or floodlights.
“I strolled around for more than an hour. ‘Splendid’ is the only word I can think of to describe it. The mosaics were absolutely fascinating, and the rooms were obviously correctly laid out so that as it grew darker it became even more dreamlike. At about 10 p.m. a full moon rose and with my back against a wall I let myself doze off. I never saw, or even heard a watchman, or for that matter anything except a motor car or two in the distance.
“When morning came, I placed myself in such a way that I could join the first guided group but my luck was good and when the gates opened a few people entered and began to stroll around unguided, so eventually I became one of that category and was able to exit rather soon. The train ran frequently so I got back to Naples before 11 a.m. and immediately saw that a list posted for the next day’s flight west included my name.”
My father was flown from Naples on June 6, 1945. The C-47 refueled in Paris and the Azores, before landing at Mitchel Field, Long Island, the following day. He was interrogated for about two hours, underwent a complete physical examination, and spent two nights at the base.
The whole family “my mother and father, Jeanne and Larry, Aunt Frances, Uncle Bob, and Aunt Ruth came out to a USAAF reception for me and a number of other returning Air Force personnel, at which I was awarded a medal of some sort. Then my family took me to Thwaites, a fancy seafood restaurant on City Island nearby, at which there were speeches and toasts. I told them they could ask me anything about what had happened overseas but that after that evening, I would never talk about it again. Then home to bed at last in New Rochelle at 135 Fifth Avenue, the house my parents were then renting, having sold our house on Halcyon Terrace in 1937.”
“That being the end of May, I was on a two-month leave. I lived with my parents during this time, spending a lot of time at the beach. I think I must have gone to New York many times to see the museums and galleries and have lunches with Joe Guerry and others at the American Museum of Natural History.”
At about the same time as my father was flying from Naples to New York, Mixon was being taken by ambulance to Regensburg, then on to Paris in a C-47 hospital transport plane. Despite being told by a GI upon arrival in Paris that ‘you probably won’t have time for a hot meal’ before being flown back to the States, he spent a month at Le Bourget airfield outside Paris.
“Mixon arrived at Mitchel Field in a hospital plane while I was on leave. He entered the hospital and was held there for more than a week as I recall, while the medics from all over the country came to see him. The method of driving a pin into the bone had not been used here. While he was at Mitchel I went to see him and stayed perhaps an hour while we exchanged stories and tried to reconstruct what happened that awful May 29th the year before. That was the last time I saw him until almost 47 years later.”
During those first weeks back, my father recalled, “one of my friends from high school, Rufus Fairchild, was either out of, or on leave from the Navy and we played some tennis. My friend Barbara Fleenor was a stewardess for American Airlines and rooming with another AA stewardess in Jamaica, New York. Rufy and I drove over there for a sort of double date. The roommate was absolutely one of the most beautiful young women I had ever met, including on stage or screen. She also was so dumb it was painful, but Rufy fell madly in love with her, wanted to go back and forth to Jamaica any time when they were both there. We must have gone to see them five times in June and July. Rufy was totally smitten.”
When my father’s leave ended he was assigned to Ft. Dix in New Jersey.
“To regain my rating as pilot, multi-engine, I flew courier service in C-47Bs for the Army Air Force up and down the East Coast a few times, and got my rating. Barbara drove out from New York to see me one afternoon and we had dinner. I was just about ready to sign up for the Pacific Theater but [on August 6, 1945] we dropped the big one on Hiroshima.”
For my father, thankfully, the war was over. Mixon spent another year and a half in various hospitals, undergoing several more operations on his leg, before finally returning to Louisiana.
In the end, the 18 missions flown by my father and his crew represent a mere fraction of the some 1,693,565 sorties carried out during the massive air war over Europe. Their B-24, was one of over 17,000 combat aircraft lost in action. The crew members that perished – Simmons, Michalzik, Glunt, Prout, Boecker, Williams, Iannazzi, and Heller – accounted for eight of the 94,565 American air combat casualties in that conflict. As prisoners of war, my father and Mixon were two among almost 36,000 Americans held in Germany.
In human terms, what transpired on that last mission in May of 1944 and throughout the grim year that followed, was unremarkable, if only because thousands of pilots, navigators, bombardiers, and gunners shared and survived similar episodes – or worse. To most, once the war was over, it was not a matter of heroics; it was simply a former job, a duty, and therefore immaterial to the immediate task of establishing their lives and families.
But numbing statistics and inuredness to the horrors of war cannot diminish the value of these airmen’s individual contributions, the cost of their sacrifices, or the intensity of their valor.
For so many children growing up in the 1950s there was a great yearning to know their fathers as heroes; to somehow connect these men to the dramatic deeds and valiant battles that won the war and made the peace, prosperity, and freedom that lined the protective cocoon of our childhood.
Not all have been so fortunate to make the connection in time. Fewer still, from my children’s generation, will have the opportunity to share that time in history with their grandfathers, or to witness the happy ending to a war story like this one – in which Mixon finally found his skipper, and I found my hero.