WWII Diary Chapter Five

Chapter 5

In Training

I entered the service on April 15, 1942. We left early in the

morning from the railroad depot in Canandaigua for Rochester where

we went through the induction center on State Street. From there

we left for Ft. Niagara near Buffalo. It was still cold weather

and they drilled us on the parade grounds in heavy army overcoats.

One day I had a terrible headache and every step I took marching

made it hurt more. They asked for volunteers to take a test for

the Air Corps so I volunteered just to got out of marching. I had

such a headache that I didn't think I did very well on the test.

If I hadn't had that headache my war years would have been

entirely different.


The first three or four days I wondered what I had gotten myself

into and would have given anything to have been able to have

gotten out. That soon passed and the rest of the time I wouldn't

have missed the experience for anything. We were only at Ft.

Niagara for about a week before being sent by train to Fort Bragg

in North Carolina. This is where we were to take a 13 week

training in field artillery. We trained for the 105 gun which was

medium size, the shell being about five inches in diameter and

about eighteen inches long. We would haul it around on a truck and

set it up at a gun emplacement. The first time we shot it there

were several officers there and the target was on a hillside about

a quarter mile away. We fired the gun and watched for the hit.

Nothing happened and we just stood waiting. We never did find out

where it went. After the officers left we had a good laugh!


The land there was red sand and the trees mostly pine. It was very

hot and muggy as we were there in June, July and August. We wore

one piece coveralls and every time we got back to the barracks we

would step in the shower with our clothes on and would dry off in

about 10 minutes. We had to got up at 5:30 am and pick up all the

cigarette butts and papers on the grounds before breakfast. This

was loads of fun when it was raining... We spent most of our time

in marching drills, rifle range, obstacle course and 1earning.,

about the big gun. The drill sergeants were mean, miserable and

yelled at us all the time. They yelled at me continually for being

out of step while marching. I couldn't figure out why because I

was always in step. After 13 weeks, I could have easily killed

both of them.


The obstacle course was about a mile long through woods, gullies

and across water. I had such a competitive spirit that I would

run the whole route and try to finish first. Some guys would walk,

take short cuts and really goof off. It didn't seem to make any

difference how you did it, but I still ran all the way.


The food was not too good and I especially remember when they served

spare ribs. We sat seven to a table and if the bowl started at the other end of

the table by the time it got to the last person there would only be

bones 1eft. The PX did a big business selling candy bars in the 

evenings. I remember one time my stepmother sent me a package of

goodies. She put in some pickled seckle pears and just wrapped them in

wax paper. The entire package was a squashed mess smelling of vinegar.


We were not allowed off the base during this period.

When we had Saturday afternoon and Sunday off we wrote 1etters

home did laundry and rested. I finally had time to make friends,

especially with the men in my barracks. There was one man from

Canandaigua and several from Buffalo, Syracuse and western New

York. You can make good friends in a short time when you are

that far from home. Ray Smith was in the Army too and I kept

in touch with him even though we moved around a lot. We used

to write gooey love letters to each other saying how much we

missed each other. I took pictures and the ones that were so

black they were nearly blank I sent to him "with love" It is

a good thing no one saw those letters or they surely would

have thought we were gay. (It is interesting that I never did

run into any of that type in the service) There were all types

of men in this outfit and they were from all over the east coast.

Some couldn't read or write and one was straight out of the

Kentucky backwoods. It made you wonder how they were taken

into the service. There was one, Cliff Boll, who could neither

read nor write so he got several of us to write his letters to his

girlfriend. He was a real character so we wrote torrid love

letters and included all the fantastic things he was doing. When

he got a letter from her, we would all gather around and read it

to him. I often wonder what happened when he went home

on leave. I was accustomed to writing a lot of letters an I wrote

to my dad, four sisters and three brothers. I also wrote to Duke

and Mabel Montanye and Mabel's letters back were the longest of

any I received. She would write about everyone in Cheshire,

especially the Bunnell boys, who were always getting into trouble.

Their barn burnt down, the house burnt down, the tractor tipped

over and they would wreck cars. When I read her letters, all the

guys in the barracks would gather round and I would read them

aloud. Just like a serial on TV. Mabel wrote long letters in such

a delicate hand that it must have taken her forever, but she wrote

every month.


Marion Bunnell was in the service and he was home on leave when he

ran into a wooden guard rail on the curve south of Cheshire and

the rail went through the windshield. He was hit in the head and

should have died, but after much surgery he survived. He was left

retarded and was given a 100% disability from the government. I

can't remember the year, but soon after the war Al Bunnell and

another guy held up a bank in Rochester and were chased all the

way-back to Canandaigua before the police caught them down on

Coach Street. He spent several years in prison.


During training while loading the logs that braced the big guns, I 

broke a finger on my right hand and consequently had difficulty doing 

my laundry and writing letters. The medics put a splint of two tongue 

depressors on it and I still have one knuckle that doesn't bond. 

Sometimes at night we would have an alert drill and drive all the 

vehicles from the motor pool into the pine woods. Sometimes I would 

have to drive one of the big personnel carriers and I would grab 

blankets or anything big to put behind me so could reach the floor 

pedals. We drove without lights up steep banks and around curves in 

that deep sand. It was pitch dark and quite an experience. Then we 

would stop grab our gas masks and run into the woods as far as we could 

and lay on the ground. We were supposed to put our gas masks on, but we 

never did.


One day I was laying in my bunk looking at my gas mask hanging on the 

wall and decided to get it down and see if it fit. it was filled solid 

with cockroaches! Guess what would have happened I had put it on out 

there in the dark in the woods some night! The washroom had a cement 

floor and when we went in there at night We would turn on the lights 

and wait for the cockroaches to disappear. The boy from the Kentucky 

hills spent all his extra time doing laundry for others for a small fee 

and we all thought he was just too stupid to know any better. At the 

end of the 13 weeks, however, we were given a three day pass. Nobody 

had any money except the hillbilly and he went home for the three days

and really lived it up. Sometimes the brains are not where they think 

they are. I used my three days to visit Ken Montanye who was at Ft.

Jackson in South Carolina. We met in a small dusty Southern town 

halfway in between and stayed in a tourist home. There was nothing to 

do in the little town so we just visited and walked the streets. I 

traveled by Greyhound bus and it was so crowded I had to stand up in 

front next to the driver. When I arrived back at base they were getting 

ready to ship the men out to their next outfits. I received a letter 

telling me that I had passed the test for the Air Corp and the company 

commander told me to stay there and not leave with the rest.


The camp was empty for a week except for the sergeants who were 

instructors and myself. I did KP duty and cleaned barracks until the 

next group arrived. The next thirteen weeks I spent working around the 

base and when they went an maneuvers I drove the supply truck. We would 

go ahead about ten miles and I would set up the officer's tent, Wood 

floor and cots. The new group would hike the ten miles and pitch their 

pup tents. I Just crawled under a truck and slept in the sand. 

Sometimes during this period I got a pass and went down to Ft. Jackson 

and stayed a few days with Ken in his barracks. Nobody knew what to do 

with me so they just gave me jobs and I had my share of washing pots 

and pans and peeling potatoes.


When this group shipped out, I got an order to see the camp commander, 

a colonel. I didn't know what to expect but found out that I had been 

listed as AWOL for the prior three months as they couldn't find me. I 

was supposed to be at home waiting for them to call me! This is the way 

everything went for me in the service. I could have been home living on 

that big $21 a month and not doing all the dirty work. My orders 

finally came and I went to Nashville, Tenn. by myself, probably by 

train to the classification center. At the center we had three days of 

intensive tests of all kinds to find out what we were best qualified 

for: navigator, bombardier or pilot. Naturally, everyone was hoping for 



The tests were from morning till night and covered everything from 

physicals, eye, hearing and coordination to reaction time. The test for 

depth perception was particularly interesting. At the end of a long 

tunnel about a foot in diameter and dimly lit were two wooden pegs. You 

had to pull them with strings until they were opposite each other. 

Another one involved a board in front of you while you sat at a desk 

and the board had little red lights with switches below them. When a 

light came on, you had to turn the switch off and you had to move 

quickly to keep up. Another was a small hole in a board with a wooden 

peg that would just go in without touching the sides. While you held 

the peg there, the instructor, Wolfgang Loganowiche ( I remember him 

well and later read somewhere that he was a famous German scientist and 

inventor) would yell and holler at us. He had a tremendous loud voice 

and would sometimes sneak up behind you, yell, wave his arms and stomp 

his feet. Ht would scare the daylights out of you and every time you 

moved the peg would hit the sides and the loud buzzer would go off.


We also had written tests with a time limit so we had to work fast. I 

used to skip all the math problems as I was so bad in math. I didn't 

realize until later that it was a good thing I skipped the math as the 

men who were good at it probably got sent to bombardier or navigator 

training. Of course we really wanted to be pilots instead. The notices 

were posted after three days and we were about worn out from the long 

days of testing. I was lucky to be chosen for pilot training. This was 

where I got used to standing in line and waiting. We had to wait in 

line to get our issue of Air Corps uniforms and I stood in line from 

8:00 am until almost 4:OO pm for my clothes. We couldn't get out of 

line to get any dinner as we would lose our place. I now had all my 

army clothes as well as my Air Corps cloths and everywhere I went I had 

to make two trips carrying my barracks bags. When I got to my next 

base, I either sent my Army clothing home or turned them in. I can't 

recall which.


We were next sent by troop train to Maxwell Field in Alabama. Somewhere 

on the trip we had to get off the train and spend the night in the 

train station in one of those little southern towns. It was cold so we 

made a mountain of barracks bags in the waiting room and then we 

climbed up on them and tried to sleep. We arrived at Maxwell in 

September and trained there through November. The first few weeks were 

just like college with hazing and all that by the upper classman. We 

had to sit at attention in the dining room and eat with our eyes 

straight ahead and our shirt buttons touching the table. You couldn't 

look at your plate so really didn't get much to eat. It was probably 

just as well because later we had a Sunday dinner with half a chicken 

each. The chicken was a green color and when I lifted a wing the 

feathers were stil1 there. Needless to say, most everyone got up and 



These three months were about the hardest I experienced. I used to be 

the first one up in our barracks at 4:30 am and got everyone else up. 

It was nice to get to wash and shave before the others made it crowded. 

It was just like going to college and they told us it was the 

equivalent of two years of college. Besides getting up at 4:30 am we 

had classes all day and homework until 11:00 pm. We had classes in 

airplane engines, theory of flight, math, physics, and similar 

subjects. During the evenings I helped others with physics and they 

helped me with the math. I was 27 years old at this time and older than 

most of the others. I was always happy and cheerful in the morning and 

got everyone off to a good start.


Some of the math problems were very difficult. If you took off from an 

aircraft carrier at a certain compass heading and flew at another 

heading to the target, what compass heading would you take to return to 

the carrier if it had also changed to a different heading? You had to 

also take into consideration your air speed and the wind direction. 

Bomber pilots had a navigator to tell them where to go and a bombardier 

to drop the bombs. A fighter pilot had to learn all of these things as 

he was up there all alone. We worked like this for three months and it 

was tough.


I found out that Red Hayes from Bristol Valley was a sergeant mechanic 

there at Maxwell Field. He used to go to all the Saturday night square 

dances and was a good friend of mine. He was married to a southern girl 

and lived off base in a nice brick house. Sometimes on Sunday I would 

go out to their house for a southern fried chicken dinner with pecan 

pie. One time another service man and I went to church there. I don't 

know what denomination it was but the minister would rant and rave and 

wave his arms for about three minutes then they would take up a 

collection. After about ten collections we were out of money so got up 

and left.


Even though we were being trained to be pilots, we still didn't know 

whether we would be fighter, bomber, transports glider or even a "wash 

out" (the term for not qualifying). At any time during training you 

could be sent to something else if they decided you wouldn't make it as 

a pilot. In most cases you would be sent to navigator or bombardier 

school. After graduating from Maxwell, I was sent to Primary training 

at Orangeburg, South Carolina. Every time we made a few friends we 

would be sent to different places and have to start an once again.

At Orangeburg we were a small group and this is where we saw our first 

airplanes. They were P17's, a biplane. Things began to get a little 

easier for us here and the food got much better. The only discipline we 

got here was the GIGS we got for anything wrong that we did, like 

getting in late at night or not being in the right place on time. For 

each GIG we had to carry a rifle and march around the square in the 

center of the base for one hour, usually at night as you were too busy 

during the day. I had to do this several times myself.


We were allowed off bass on our free time and it was about five miles 

to the small city of Orangeburg. There was a man who drove his car and 

would take six or seven guys at a time at $2 a piece, and he would just 

drive back and forth all day and most of the night. I don't know when 

he ever slept but he must have made a fortune during the war. When we 

didn't have the money we would jump on the freight train that went 

right by the main gate. It was an uphill grade and the train was so 

slow that we could hang on the ladders and steps if a flat car was not 

available. Five miles was not too long to hang on the side of a car 

which went to downtown Orangeburg. Sometimes we would see a movie or go 

to the service club which was in a large old house. I used to dance 

there with a little blond girl and when I went to the next base she was 

there also. I found out later they were called camp followers and would 

marry as many guys as they could and have the men's army life insurance 

put in their name. I never did go off the base very much after we 

started flying as that was the main interest.


When our large group left Maxwell Field, we were divided up and sent to 

several of the smaller fields to start flying. Some of the friends I 

made there went all through the rest of the war with me. I can't 

remember just when, but it was about this time that Lloyd Bruce from 

Missouri and I became close friends and we were together the whole way. 

He was my wingman, we were both shot down on the same mission and were 

together in prison camp.


I was at Orangeburg from November 1942 until January 1943. We were 

divided into groups of five students to each instructor. My instructor 

was Art Brewster and we got along fine. We had classes studying 

airplanes and motors and would fly for one hour a day. The student rode 

in the front seat and the instructor behind him. After the first ride 

he would let us do the takeoff and landing. In the air sometimes he 

would shut the motor off and it was up to you to figure out which way 

the wind was blowing and to find an open field in which to land. You 

needed to learn how to land on that field into the wind. When you were 

about ten feet off the ground he would start the engine and back up 

you'd go. You needed to be careful because if the field was level and 

your approach was right, he would let you land. You never knew which 

you'd have to do. When he stopped the motor you could usually find the 

wind direction by checking smoke from the smokestacks or something like 

that. Our days were easier as we would wait around for our turn to fly.


The plane we were flying had an open cockpit and, as it was cold at the 

time, it was very cold up there some days. We had the leather sheepskin 

lined flying suit and it was very warm. On warmer days we would just 

wear underwear under the suit. After six hours of instruction we were 

ready to solo. It was quite an experience and after you got up there 

all you did was worry about getting down! I had a bumpy landing but 

soon got better at it. Some days for a whole hour we would just take 

off and land over and over again for practice. After this we flew part 

of the time alone and part of the time with the instructor. This was 

the period when the instructors really washed out the ones they figured 

would never be fighter pilots and they were sent to other air corps 



I loved doing acrobatics with the loops, spins, rolls and upside down 

flying. My instructor took me up once and did an outside loop. I had to 

hang onto the iron bars in the cockpit and the blood all went to the 

top of your head. You would nearly pass out doing that one. He also 

showed me how to fly backwards. On a windy day you would slow the 

airplane down so it would just stay up and the wind would blow you 

backwards. You could look down and see the fields and buildings all 

going in the opposite direction.


One night we had to fly a triangle cross country course of about one 

hours time. We had not done much flying at night and we took off at 

intervals and started out all alone towards the first check point. I 

missed the first checkpoint and finally realized I was lost. I didn't 

know what to do so the first town I saw with enough lights, I flew down 

the middle of Main Street real low and got the name of the town either 

off the movie house or the bank and then looked it up on my map. I was 

way off course and had to figure my heading to the next checkpoint. I 

made it okay but was about a half hour overdue and they thought I had 

gone down. I didn't get reprimanded so I figure they thought I had used 

my head to solve my problem and did the right thing.


Almost all of our flying here was takeoffs and landings and in the air 

we practiced spins, slow rolls, snap rolls, and figure eights to get 

the feel of the airplane and develop our control. It was hard to get 

the plane out of a tight spin but it was an important thing to learn. 

The planes that we later flew in California were notorious for not 

being able to get out of a spin. I had 60 hours of flying time here and 

in January of 1943 was graduated from primary training school. We had 

to fly with the commanding officer for our final test. All five 

students with our instructor passed but a lot of the others didn't make 

it. Three or four from each group were the average to make it. We 

really liked our instructor and it was hard to part from him and go on 

to the next school.


In February and March of 1943 we were at Gunter Field in Alabama for 

our basic training. The airplane was the BT-13 with one wing and an 

enclosed cockpit. It was bigger, more powerful and flew like a truck. 

The controls were much harder to move but it was a safe plane to fly. I 

don't remember anyone crashing a plane in primary or basic training. At 

Gunter we started formation flying, night flying and instrument flying. 

My instructor here was R.E. Umbaugh and I had thirty two hours flying 

with him and forty two solo. When we were flying solo in formation we 

were now developing confidence and were starting to do things like 

flying close to the ground and chasing each other around in the clouds.


We began doing more cross country flights to airports in the area. 

Sometimes we flew with other students and the one in the rear seat 

always flew the plane as that is where the instructor always sat. One 

time I was flying with Bill Bell ( the son of the founder of Bell 

Aircraft Inc. of Buffalo N.Y.) and he was flying the plane, with me in 

the front seat. When coming in for a landing he was going so slow I 

thought we were going to stall and crash. I yelled at him and pushed 

the stick forward and we landed okay. I was really scared and told my 

instructor I never wanted to fly with Bill again. He must have agreed 

with me because I never had to again.


During Basic training was our first experience with the Link Trainer. 

It was a replica of the cockpit of an airplane and was used to learn 

how to fly by instruments only. It operated about the same as the 

"mechanical bull" they have in Western nightclubs now. It was 

completely closed and dark with only the instruments lit up. It was run 

by a sergeant who would put it into a spin, upside down or any 

dangerous situation and you had to get back to level flight again. It 

was frightening and exactly like being in a plane in fog or a cloud. 

Fifteen hours of Link Training were required in Basic, Advanced, all my 

flying in California, even in England while flying missions.


At the end of March 1943 I graduated from Basic and went to Advanced 

Training at Napier Field in Alabama. We were beginning to know a lot of 

the other students and would stay together with them right on through, 

except for the ones who washed out. In Advanced we flew the AT-6 which 

was a faster plane and easier to fly. We had about the same schedule at 

this field flying one or two hours a day. There were several small 

level fields in the area that were used for practice landing and 

takeoffs. I had an Englishman for an instructor. After the Americans 

were flying out of England, some of the English pilots who had flown a 

lot of missions were sent to this country to be instructors as we had a 

shortage of them. Like school teachers, it took a special kind of man 

to be able to teach flying in a short period of time. They had to have 

a lot of nerve also to be able to get out of the situations an 

inexperienced student could get them into! The one I had wasn't worth 

much as he would fly to one of those other fields and let me land and 

then he would get out and stand around smoking cigarettes for half an 

hour. I was supposed to be getting an hours instruction and I was 

afraid I would be washed out. I went to the commanding officer and 

requested a change of instructors and got it. Perhaps others had done 

the same. I can't remember the name of my new instructor but he was 

tough and strict, which was okay with me as then I knew I would learn 



We now started to practice landing on instrument only. The instructor 

rode in the seat behind you in the AT-6 and when you were in the air 

there was a black hood that you pulled over the front cockpit. The 

instructor would then give you compass headings, height and speed and 

you would follow his directions to approach the field. Following his 

direction you would line up with the runway and begin coming down. All 

you could see were the instruments. If you were coming in perfectly, he 

would let you go ahead and land by yourself. On the other hand, he 

might take over the controls about 20 feet off the ground and take you 

up again. It was quite scary as you never know whether you were going 

to land or not. After we had the okay on these daylight landings, we 

were allowed to fly the planes alone at night.


The AT-6 was designed with places for machine guns in the wings and we 

were sent in groups to Elgin Field in Florida for gunnery practice. 

This was the field where General Jimmy Doolittle trained his crew for 

the bombing of Japan. They practiced for months at bomber takeoff from a 

field the same length as the deck of a carrier which had never been 

done. That was the only way they would be able to reach Japan. We were 

assigned there for about two weeks practicing by shooting at ground 

targets on a large restricted area. We didn't do any shooting at 

targets in the air, Just dove down shooting at the ground. I recall it 

being very hot and muggy there off the Gulf of Mexico.


After returning to Napier Field we were nearing graduation time. We had 

now developed a lot of confidence in our flying and fooled around when 

flying without our instructors. We would fly very close together and 

tap our wingtips and the wing of the plane flying next to us. Flying 

close to the ground was fun also and gave you a better idea of how fast 

you were actually going than you had at high altitudes. In Primary I 

flew 60 hours, in Basic 72 hours, and in Advanced 97 hours for a total 

of 220 hours. There were about 250 of us in the class and by that time 

we had become acquainted with most everyone and close friends with 

many. We went all the way through combat with some of those same 



After our final flight with the commanding officer we were ready

for graduation. We then filled out forms giving our preference for the

type of flying we wanted. Just before graduation they put on an airshow

for our benefit. Little stunt planes would fly straight up and all

types of fighter planes did acrobatics and speed. Naturally we almost

all wanted to get into single engine fighters so that is what we had

listed on the forms. I don't remember much about graduation except many

of the fellows had their parents there. We were now second lieutenants

in the Army Air Force which was a wartime addition to the regular U.S. 

Air Force.


We received $250 in $50 bills to purchase our new officers uniforms, 

lieutenants gold bars and our silver wings. We bought these clothes on 

the base and they were of wonderful material. After the war I wore the 

pants and shirts for years, and after they were too old, I wore the 

pants for hunting as they were very warm and wore like iron. I still 

have one of the wool shirts. We graduated at Napier Field on May 28, 

1943 and waited nervously to see the notice on the bulletin board 

telling us where we would go next. When they were finally posted I got 

fighter plane and was as happy as the others that did. Some pilots went 

to Twin Engine, Transport, Troop Carrier, Light Bomber, Medium Bomber, 

Dive Bomber, or Heavy Bomber. The poorest fliers went to Piper Cubs and 

flew observation over the battle lines to direct the field artillery. I 

am glad that I didn't go to Bomber planes as they were sent to a field 

in Alpena, Michigan and flew out over Lake Michigan. We had to report 

to the commander to receive our active duty orders and my friends and I 

were hoping we would go to the same place.


I got my orders to report to Hamilton Field in California with a ten 

day delay enroute. Naturally all the fighter pilots were split up now 

as we were cut down to squadron size and sent to different bases around 

the U.S. A lot of my friends, however were assigned to the same place. 

Al Johnson, a big Swede from St. Paul Minnesota, was going to Hamilton 

and the last thing I said to him was " I'll meet you in Cheyenne, 

Wyoming and we'll go the rest of the way together. We were to report to 

the 380th squadron of the 363rd fighter group. A group consisted of 

three squadrons and I still know all the fellows in the other squadrons 

although we didn't fly together.


Now for my first visit home in fifteen months! The parents of B. Bell 

of Bell Aircraft in Buffalo, had come to his graduation and I rode home 

with them. He was the one who almost crashed with me as a passenger 

back in training. He and I took turns driving and they took me all the 

way to Canandaigua. I was driving on a divided highway somewhere in So. 

Carolina when I was stopped for doing 35 in a 30 mph zone. I was taken 

before a judge and fined $10. Those rich Bell's didn't offer to pay it. 

It really made me mad to get fined for only 5 mph over the speed limit 

as I hadn't been home in a year and a half.


I can't remember much about my leave at home, but I must have spent it 

visiting with all the ones who did not go in the service. I had a good 

visit with the Montanyes and Lennie Pierce's family. When it was time 

to report, I went by train from Rochester to San Francisco. Bill Barnum 

and Al Bunnell from Cheshire gave me a ride to Rochester and we spent 

several hours having a big time in a bar before train time. We all 

staggered down to the depot and they poured me aboard. I survived and 

enjoyed the train ride across the country. The trains were always 

crowded then, but I enjoyed them. The train made an hours stop in 

Cheyenne, Wyoiming and I got off to have something to eat. The first 

person I saw when I entered the station was Al Johnson, the big Swede, 

standing there! That wouldn't happen again in a million years. We made 

the rest of the trip together and stayed overnight in a San Francisco 



The next morning we took a taxi across the Golden Gate Bridge to 

Hamilton Field. It was good to be back among all the fellows from 

flying school. We Just hung around there for a couple of weeks, not yet 

knowing what we were going to be flying. We had classes everyday on 

engines, aerodynamics, and air craft identification. They would flash 

silhouettes of friendly and enemy aircraft on a screen from all 

different angles and we had to identify them immediately. We also had 

classes in aerial map reading and continued to have them even when we 

were in England flying missions.


After all this time it is difficult to remember the correct sequence of 

events as we were stationed at four different locations in the 

following weeks. I will attempt to note all the events even though they 

may not be at the exact field. After a week at Hamilton we went by 

train to Tonapah, Nevada to start flying. We stopped for a couple of 

hours in Reno, Nevada and four of us headed for the nearest bar. I 

ordered four whiskey sours and told the bartender to just keep them 

coming. After the first hour the crowd had grown bigger and the drinks 

were still coming. I didn't know who was drinking them, but when I got 

the bill, I paid for 75 drinks! I had to help the others back to the 

train as they had a lot of trouble crossing several train tracks on 

their way back to our train. Tonapah was at the foot of a mountain 

range and the airfield was out in the valley toward the next range. It 

was flat country with nothing but sand and brush. The buildings were 

just wooden shacks and the wind blew the sand everywhere. It was in the 

food, in our beds, and over us most of the time. We arrived here on 

June 23, 1943 and were going to be checked out in the P-39 airplane. 

This plane was the one used in the early part of the war in the Pacific 

and had become obsolete. They were shipped back to the U.S. to be used 

for training pilots as all the new planes were going to the war zones.


The P-39 was a lot more airplane than any of us had ever flown before 

and with only one seat, we would have to fly it alone. The instructor 

took a group of us out to the plane and let each of us look in the 

cockpit while he explained how to start it and the different 

instruments. After about one hour's instruction, he asked for a 

volunteer to go first. Somebody volunteered and taxied out to the 

runway. He went down the runway and started up in the air. About 200 

feet up the plane went straight down to crash in a ball of flame. We 

went over to another plane and the instructor asked Who's next?" We 

used another runway and I was the third one to go. This was our first 

experience of losing a pilot and really made us all stop and think. 

When I took off I flew straight for a long time before I dared to try a 

turn. You just moved the stick a fraction of an inch and you were 

upside down. It was extra sensitive after the trainers which had almost 

needed two hands to move the stick. I didn't do any fancy stuff and was 

relieved to be on the ground again after making a fairly good landing.


After we were all checked out, we practiced takeoffs and landings and 

flew cross country in formation. I flew about 20 hours the two weeks we 

were in Tonapah. After our confidence grew we started doing things like 

flying real low down the straight section of the highway trying to 

chase the Greyhound buses off the road. The airplane numbers were on 

one side of the plane only so we had to keep that side away from the 

road so we wouldn't be identified. On July 5 we went by train back to 

Hamilton Field in California.


The rest of July and all of August we flew P-39's from Hamilton Field. 

From here we made cross country flights to Reno, Nevada, Oroville, 

California and Sacramento, California. We also started gunnery practice 

here. The P-39 had a 30mm cannon that fired through the nose of the 

propeller and the targets were along the shore of San Francisco Bay. We 

would dive down at the target and shoot the cannon. We also had 

practice at aerial gunnery. One of the planes was used as a tow ship 

and towed a cloth target about four feet wide and twenty feet long on a 

cable behind the plane. The tow ship would fly up and down the coast 

while the other planes would fly toward the target at 45 degree angles 

and shoot the 50 caliber machine guns which were mounted in the wings. 

Each pilot had different colored chalk on the bullets and they would 

thus leave a colored hole in the target when you hit it. I flew tow 

several times and you never felt safe as those characters were using 

real bullets. Just once someone hit a tow ship. Shooting from different 

angles at the target taught us how far ahead of the target you had to 

be to aim in order to hit it. We shot 100 rounds each and one time I 

had 51 hits! The tow ship had to fly low over the field and release the 

target before landing. We never liked to fly the tow ship as it was so 

monotonous flying back and forth for hours.


We started to fly more formation flights of two or three planes and 

another plane would try to "attack" us from out of the sun or from the 

clouds like an enemy would. This taught us to keep our heads turning 

all the time to keep track of the sky all the way around us. We would 

take evasive action to try to keep the enemy ship from getting behind 

us. We also did a lot of formation flying close to the ground which 

trained you to stay close together in formation. In the tomato and 

vegetable farms in the Sacramento valley the pickers would be out in 

the fields with crates stacked about six feet tall and we would fly 

down so low that we blew the empty crates over. I imagine we were 

cussed a lot! A couple of times someone would come back and land with 

telephone wire or fencing caught on the underside of the plane. I loved 

to do acrobatics and when I was up alone, I would do rolls and 

snaprolls and all the fun stuff.


We were on duty two days and had the next one off so we had plenty of 

free time and spent a lot of it in San Francisco. We found a rent-a-car 

place and started renting a car by the day. Instead of taking it back 

we would just pass it on to someone else. Sometimes we would keep it 

for two weeks and when it went back we would all chip in to pay the 

bill. One time we had a big Packard Clipper which didn't have any 

reverse so you had to drive it, park it, and keep it in places that you 

could get out of without using reverse Sometimes that was real ticklish 

in the city. I had this big black car when I had the first date with 

Lettie. I would get her home anytime between 1:00 and 3:00 am then wait 

outside in the car until she came out in the morning to go to work so I 

could give her a ride. I got used to staying up all night every third 

night. The other fellows were all finding dates so I had started 

looking one day and found her working in the candy section of a 

department store. I liked San Francisco and servicemen were welcome 

anywhere so I spent a lot of time in the best hotels and restaurants. 

We also found many "steak houses" in California and would eat in them 

frequently. They were small places with a couple of tables and a bar or 

counter with stools. All the menu consisted of was steak, salad, rolls 

and coffee but it was always good. I rode the cable cars a lot and 

helped them turn the cars around at the bottom of the hill. I found 

that all the head turning and watching while flying really sharpened 

your driving ability in a car. You saw all the traffic at once and 

could go through it quickly. We used to drive 60 mph across the Golden 

Gate Bridge when the fog was so bad all you could see was the white 

line in the center of the road. 0n my first date with Lettie we doubled 

with another couple. The fellow, Wes Hottdorf, flew with me and had 

been a member of the Chicago Mafia. He ended up flying P-38s in a 

different group in England.


On August 28 we went to another field in Santa Rosa, California and 

flew about the same type of training as we had been doing. We were 

still close enough to San Francisco to get up there often. At the time 

we were also still getting experience with the link Trainer. At this 

field we had a BT-13 and an AT-6 which we had flown in flying school. 

We could fly them anytime we wanted to and they were also used if the 

flight leader wanted to check on our flying skill as they were two 

seaters. Remember Pete Lenzi who had hitchhiked to California and 

Joined the Marines? He had been wounded over the Pacific and was 

recuperating in the Oak Knoll Hospital in California. When he was able 

to get out of the hospital for a day I had him come up from San Diego 

and I met him in San Francisco where we spent the day together. In the 

evening I took him out to the field and took him up in a BT-13. I gave 

him a wild ride with lots of acrobatics: loops, rolls and spins. I dove 

down almost to the ground then pulled up so that he disappeared down in 

the back seat out of sight. He really enjoyed the ride and still 

remembered it the last time I saw him.


We now started to fly a lot of formation with the planes in a V. It was 

not until later in the War that a formation of four planes was used. We 

flew formation at high altitude, low to the ground and cross country. 

Neil Ullo and Lloyd Bruce were now my closest friends and were in my 

flight. Neil was sent to a special gunnery school in Arizona for two 

weeks and when he came back he had to teach what he had 1earned to all 

the rest of us. Later I will tell how much this extra gunnery training 

helped him.


By this time we had developed our skill to the point where we got the 

fighter pilot attitude which was years later described as the 'Right 

Stuff'. We wore the silk scarf, sunglasses and rakish hat with a 

leather Jacket. In San Francisco I bought a pair of lumberjack boots 

that I was still wearing when I was in prison camp. We began to fly 

more aggressively as we knew the airplane better. The gunnery range was 

along an uninhabited portion of the California coast and we would fly 

down close to the rocks along the shore to scare the seals off the 

rocks. Some of the guys flew under the Golden Gate Bridge, but I never 

tried that. Out guy flew down into a football stadium during a game and 

he was reported and grounded for three days. He forgot to keep the side 

of the plane with the identification numbers away from the spectators. 

We were now flying two and three hours a day and a little at night. 

Landing a plane at night is a lot different than in the daytime. 

Altogether I flew about 155 hours in the P-39 and another 10 hours in 

the basic trainer while I was in California.


On September 22, 1943 I was granted a leave and prepared to go home. 

This was the second and last leave that I had during my three and a 

half years in the service. Four of my friends who lived in the East 

bought an old car for $75 and they drove it non-stop all the way to 

Pennsylvania and New Jersey. They sold it for junk and took the train 

back to California. There wasn't room enough for me to go-with them so 

another fellow and I took a bus to Sacramento, where there was a bomber 

base, and tried to hitch a ride east on an Army plane. There was a B-24 

Bomber flying to Omaha, Nebraska and we could ride it if we had 

parachutes. We tried everywhere to borrow a parachute and at the last 

minute I talked a captain into letting me take his (after a couple of 

hours of pleading with him). I agreed to return it immediately upon 

returning to California. We got on the plane and had to stay in the 

bomb bay section. The door on the side of the plane was about six feet 

by six feet and was open as the doors were missing. After we took off 

the cold air was terrible as it was night and the opening was right by 

us. We found a l2xl2 canvas and tried to fasten it over the opening and 

it blew right out over the city of Sacramento so somebody got a good 

canvas. We took all of the clothes we had with us and put them on, laid 

down in the bomb bay and nearly froze to death on the way to Omaha. If 

the bomb bay doors had opened it would have been the end of us as we 

were using the parachutes as pillows! When we got to Omaha, I left the 

other guys and took a train to Rochester. Somewhere in the past I had 

met an old sergeant who had given me some good advice about train 

travel. He said to buy a coach ticket and get on a first class car. By 

the time they came around to collect tickets the coach cars were so 

crowded they couldn't make you move. This always worked for me and I 

saved a lot of money.


Besides my luggage I had to carry that heavy bulky parachute all the 

way across the country and all the way back.( When I got back to base I 

put it on a P-39 and flew it back to the captain in Sacramento.) I 

arrived in Rochester in the middle of the night and took a taxi to 

Pittsford where I stood on the corner to thumb a ride. About 1:30 in 

the morning an old black man and woman in an old Model A Ford gave me a 

ride. They were so old I think they were scared of me but they were 

surely nice to give me a ride at that time of night and we had a good 

visit along the way. They let me out in Canandaigua and I walked home. 

I made it faster than a train ride even though I used a lot of 

different means of travel to get home that leave.


After my stay at home I took the train from Rochester to San Francisco 

and it was a trip that I'll never forgot. There was a girl with three 

kids under the age of 5 and she was traveling from Boston to San Diego 

to be with her husband, a sergeant stationed in California. We had a 

Pullman car and their berth was opposite mine. The kids spent most of 

the time crying or running in the aisle. There was a sailor sitting 

with me and we tried to help entertain them as best we could. After 

three days and nights with all that noise you can bet I was glad to 

arrive in California!


I took a taxi out to the base at Santa Rosa and the whole camp had. 

disappeared. The barracks were empty and all my gear was gone. It was 

real spooky and I didn't know if they'd gone overseas or what. I hunted 

around and found a caretaker who told me they had moved to Oakland, 

across the Bay from San Francisco. I called a taxi again and made it to 

Oakland just before my leave was up. While I had been gone, two of the 

guys had had to bail out of their P-39s due to engine trouble. Al 

Johnson was one of them and he landed in a lake. The next time I flew I 

spent the whole time listening to the engine for fear that it would 

quit. I kept hearing things that weren't there, but those planes were 

all old and anything could happen to them.


The lst weeks of our training here at Oakland were formation, gunnery, 

dive bombing, and simulated aerial attacks. We began to lose some of 

the pilots now. One took off over the Bay and the plane exploded. We 

figured there was gasoline in the cockpit and he must have lit a 

cigarette as he was always doing that (against regulations). When we 

flew low formation and came to any body of water, I always went up a 

lot higher than the rest and then dropped down again into formation. I 

wanted to make sure that I could glide to land if the engine quit. I 

hated water as I didn't know how to swim. Some of us had cameras and 

would fly close to each other and take pictures. I took a lot of 

pictures when I first entered the Army and don't know why I didn't take 

any all through my flying. I did take a lot while in England. Oakland 

was just across the bay from San Francisco and I used to take the "A" 

train across the bridge to see Lettie. This was the "A" train that the 

song was written about and it was the best way to get to San Francisco 

in a hurry.


While flying formation with these planes we would practice crossovers. 

The middle plane was a leader with a plane on either side and slightly 

behind. When crossing over the plane on the left would go under and the 

one on the right would go over when the leader gave the signal. It was 

Just changing positions. At this time it was early in the war and it 

was after learning more from combat experience that a flight was 

changed to four planes. One day I was flying the lead plane and I 

called for a crossover. The next thing I know the two planes came up 

right in front of me with pieces flying off in all directions. They had 

both gone under me and one had come up under the other and stuck right 

together. They fell together in a spiral and crashed to the ground in 

an open field. The pilot of the lower plant was probably killed 

instantly. His name was Cassadont and he was a real handsome dark 

skinned, dark haired man of Mexican descent I believe.


The pilot in the top plane was Hershberqer and after they crashed I 

flew down close and saw him crawl out of the wreckage and give himself 

a shot of morphine from the emergency kit. He had a broken back, but 

survived to join us by the time we were in England. I gained altitude 

and wiggled my wings to get the attention of anyone in the area. I saw 

a car heading for the scene so I gained more altitude and circled the 

area while calling "Mayday" on the radio. I finally got through to the 

emergency channel in San Francisco and gave them the location. Then I 

returned to base. I was lucky because it could have just as well been 

me in one of those planes.


In November of 1943 four of us went to Nebraska to pick up four P-39s 

from an abandoned air base in northern Nebraska up near the South 

Dakota border. Our flight was chosen and our leader was Thomas J. 

Tilson (called TJ), Lloyd Bruce, Neil Ullo and myself. the four of us 

were to stay together all through combat. 'TJ' was a nice looking blond 

from Teaneck, New Jersey and was what we called a " big time operator" 

in those days. He had girls where ever he went. His ambition was to 

dance in all the big ballrooms in the U.S and England. I think he 

eventually made all of them. Bruce was from Kirkville, Missouri and 

Neil Ullo was from California. Neil had been an electrician in Pearl 

Harbor when it was bombed and as soon as he was able to get back to the 

States he joined the service. Bruce and Neil were my closest friends in 

the days to come and after the war Lettie and I visited the Bruces in 

Missouri and after Lynn was born, we visited the Ullos in California 

during one trip to Utah. Lynn stayed with her grandparents in Utah that 



Now for the trip to Nebraska. We were real characters by now with our 

leather jackets, rakish hats and our 45's in our shoulder holsters. We 

had to protect these planes from the enemy even in the middle of the 

U.S.!! We were to fly by commercial airline to Omaha so we loaded all 

our gear into a small army truck and said goodbye to all our friends. 

We made the two and a half hour trip to the San Francisco airport to 

catch our plane. (It was the only time I ever flew in a commercial 

plane.) About four, and a half hours after leaving Oakland, we finally 

took off. About two minutes into the flight we landed at Oakland, 

across the Bay, on our first stop. There were all our friends standing 

there waving at us! We could have gotten on there and saved half a day 

of travel but that was the Army's way of doing everything. We landed in

Omaha, checked into a hotel and set out to look for the nearest 

nightclub. We had a steak dinner and the meat in the stockyard district 

was totally different from anything in the East. The steak was about 

two inches thick and you could cut it with a fork. As soon as we found 

some girls, we stacked all our guns on the table and danced the evening 



The next morning we left Omaha by train for Ainsworth, Nebraska. It 

turned out to be a little place about the size of Cheshire out in the 

middle of nowhere. The only one there to take care of the place was an 

old man wearing a beard. The four old planes were parked there and we 

didn't even know if we could get them started. To make a correction, 

the fourth pilot was not Bruce, but another fellow who was from 

Hastings, Neb. which was in the southern part of the state. We planned 

to fly down there and land at the nearest airport. We got the planes 

going and the old man wanted us to buzz the field before leaving, as a 

farewell. We took off, gained altitude, then dove down right at the 

building and the old man. We pulled up just as we passed over him and 

Neil Just missed the roof by inches. I found that the plane that I was 

flying had bad controls and you had to hold the stick way over to the 

left of the cockpit in order to keep the plane level.


We flew down to Hastings, Nebraska and stayed the night with the other 

pilot at his parents' house. Nebraska has always been known for its 

pheasant hunting so the next day we all got shotguns and sat on the 

fenders of his car and drove around all the back roads looking for 

birds. I can't remember if we got any or not, but we sure had a lot of 



We discovered that the planes did not have any oxygen so we had to find 

some way to get over the Rocky Mountains. We next flew to Ogden, Utah 

for fuel and when we landed the brakes failed on one of the planes. 

While we waited for it to be fixed, we wanted to get into town and had 

to sneak by the guards at the gate as we were not in uniform. We got 

through the gate and ran down the road far enough so they couldn't 

catch us. We caught a ride into Ogden. We were in a big department 

store when we saw the MP's coming after us so we got down behind the 

counters and ran all over the store until we lost them. We were never 

caught and made it back to the base safely.


I intended to ask Lettie to marry me when we got back to California and 

wanted to get down to see Mr. and Mrs. Clark while I was so close but 

couldn't get the transportation and didn't have enough time. We decided 

that as we had no oxygen in the planes, we could not fly over the 

Rockies and would have to fly down one of the valleys south to Las 

Vegas then to southern California and up the coast. It would be several 

days before the brakes could be fixed on the one plane so we decided 

that the three of us would fly on to Las Vegas and wait there for the 

other fellow. We started south with mountains on both sides of us when 

the clouds came down over the tops of the mountains. We were squeezed 

into a narrow valley and couldn't see ahead of us. We took a chance, 

continued on, and finally made it. Remember all this time I had to fly 

with the stick Jammed to the left and the right rudder pushed half way 

in to keep the plane level. My arms were very tired by the time we 

reached Las Vegas.


We stayed in a motel in Las Vegas just outside of town. At that time 

the city was undeveloped and the buildings were very far apart. The 

streets were mostly dirt. We headed for the nearest casino and started 

gambling. It was only a matter of hours and our money was gone so we 

wired back to Oakland and each got $100 advance on our next paycheck. 

We went back to the casino and after a couple more hours were broke 

again. The next day the other pilot caught up with us and we took off 

for California.


We flew in formation very close to the ground the whole way and 

whenever we came to a lake or other water, I would go up a couple of 

hundred feet above the others coming down to Join them when we were 

over land. We made it back to the base all right and the next day the 

planes had to be flown across the Bay to Hamilton Field which some of 

the other pilots did. The one who flew the plane I had flown from 

Nebraska could only get it a couple of feet in the air. He flew all the 

way across just above the water. It was just plain luck that got me 

there all the way from Nebraska.


I called Lettie and she agreed to marry me so I went to San Francisco 

and we were married the next day, the 23rd of November, 1943. I had to 

get special permission to 1eave the base to get married because we were 

now on alert to be shipped overseas. We were married by a judge in the 

Court House and stayed the night in the St. Frances Hotel. Early the 

next morning I had to get back to the base. Our orders had come through 

and I could not leave the base again. We were going to England and I 

was glad of that because it meant we would not be flying over water all 

the time. This was the way the Army did things: the ones trained on the 

West coast went to England and the ones on the East coast probably went 

to the Pacific.


We were shipped by train across the country to Camp Kilmer in New 

Jersey. We were crowded in the train and it was a long hard trip due to 

all the stops we had to make to wait for trains going the other way. 

Most of the guys played poker in California and on the train. Al 

Johnson was always borrowing money from me to play poker. He would 

always pay me back at payday and a week later he would start borrowing 

again. I didn't play poker so always had money and didn't mind lending 

it to him as he never failed to pay me back. We arrived in Camp Kilmer 

the first part of December and it was very cold there with a damp ocean 

wind blowing. We really noticed the cold having been in California. We 

all bought coonskin hats to keep our heads warm. We were fortunate in 

the Air Corps be able to wear almost anything without being out of 

uniform. I had a chance to get into New York City with Neil Ullo for a 

few hours. It was not enough time to get to see much ... just enough 

time to eat and buy Lettie a watch.


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