Basic and Primary, Classes 44/D and 44E
This veteran was born on August 21, 1923 in New York City. In December 1942 I was a sophomore college student at New York University, studying aeronautical engineering, and finding concentration on the mundane engineering courses, pushed aside by the everyday events of war.
On December 2, 1942, I enlisted in the army aviation cadet program, and continued courses at NYU until called to active duty on February 23, 1943. The choice of this branch of service seemed to fit into a “hidden aviation career path” that I had started with a model airplane fascination several years before.
On entering the service my first “point of call” was basic training in Atlantic City, NJ where I learned marching, with group singing and that food production treat, also known as “KP”. We were quickly advanced from Private to the exalted rank of Aviation Student and shipped to Syracuse University, under the cloak of army secrecy (450 miles in only 24 hours).
After a few months at Syracuse University, with a few hours of flying time (only 40 years after the Wright Brothers soloed), and some book learning, we became Aviation Cadets. We traveled by train to San Antonio Texas for preflight school.
Nine weeks after that, I was in Brady, Texas for primary and basic flight training. The most noteworthy thing I remember is that Brady had a big sign in the center of town proclaiming it to be the “Heart of Texas”. I guess it was, or why would they put it on a big sign in the town square. Also notable were the 2 theatres each Saturday offering-two Hop-a –long Cassidy films in each.
My next step was twin engine, advanced flying in Altus, Oklahoma. Dust storms rose to 8000 feet and our AT-9 twin- engine aircraft sharpened our skills. These same AT-9 planes were condemned and taken out of service the next class. Upon completion of advanced training, I was a 2nd LT- “an officer and a gentleman”, and only 3 months away from being old enough to drink. WOW!
This 2nd LT was sent to Sedalia, Missouri, for transition training in C-47 aircraft. I learned such fascinating skills as night flying, day and night formation flying, glider towing, paratroop dropping, instrument and cross-country flying. I was still on my aviation career path.
October 1944, found me in a new phase of my aviation career path. I became part of a crew of 4, headed to the mysterious orient. In 5 days, I saw Brazil, Ascension Island, Gold Coast, Nigeria, India, the famous or infamous, Himalayan Mountains and my new home-Kunming, China.
I was now part of General Claire Chennaults famous “Flying Tigers”! My newly assigned unit, the 322nd Troop Carrier Squadron had just moved into a new billet directly under the main runway, landing path.
The squadron was indeed waiting for me. In addition to my pilot duties, I was given a special assignment-the squadron mess officer. Fortunately, I was given 2 highly qualified mess sergeants to run the day-to-day program-not part of my aviation career path. Unfortunately, they were both certified alcoholics. Somehow we muddied through and they were later assigned to another unfortunate new pilot. I then became a full time cargo pilot.
Flying in China was a particularly challenging situation. The weather was unpredictable and there was practically no real time weather information. Pilot reports from landing planes, was all we had.
Fighter escorts were unheard of as all of the aircraft fuel had to be flown over the Himalayan’s. Planes bringing in fuel used a lot more gas than they brought to get the cargo of 55- gallon gas drums to the front. Fuel brought to Kunming was then airlifted 2 or 3 times to get to an advanced base. At $. 50 a gallon stateside aviation gas cost $300 a gallon at the end of our transport chain in east China! The cost effective answer was to let the transport guys fly alone in bad weather or in the clouds. I did not have a vote!
Maintenance was done as best possible, considering that all parts, when available, had to be flown over the “Hump”. Probably one reason I had to cope with an engine dying immediately after takeoff and another permanently dying just after being shut down at an advanced base.
A blown tire at 90 miles per hour on takeoff caused a 2:00 AM crash, which destroyed my aircraft. It also made me a very fast runner. My cargo of 55-gallon gas drums and 500-pound bombs were inspirational!
Evacuating an advanced airbase ahead of the Japanese was also a great challenge. We had to omit going to our designated return point, because the field was socked in. Two of my roommates bailed out there that night. Our flight pressed on toward our home base, which was a real fuel stretch. After 9 1/2 hours flying, we got a radio fix from 2 locations in India, assuring us that we were directly over our Kunming base. Non-believers we were! I was the designated parachute jump instructor for crew and passengers. The reason? I was the only one on board, who had attended the 2- hour jump school lecture in Miami!
We jumped and landed on a mountaintop, a mere 268 miles away from where the bearings said we were. Not even close for government work! Five days later an army intelligence team hooked up with us and we got back home and into the flying business.
About 6 months later, we heard that some sort of bomb had been dropped on the Japanese, and then 2 days later another. That’s not much information for such a worthy news note. The bigger surprise was the surrender offer in mid August. I heard about it from the control tower people as I was preparing to land one of our recently acquired C-46 aircraft.
We were stunned, but not without reaction. I asked for permission to make a victorious fighter approach, with this lumbering elephant. My aircraft buzzed the field at 50 feet going 30 miles per hour above design criteria, shooting distress flares out of the top of the plane. Our audience referred to the performance as that of a “homesick angel”. We were very happy!
A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to bring Chinese troops into Nanking for the surrender of the Japanese to an all-Chinese delegation. The war between the 2 countries, which started in 1937, two years before the war in Europe started, was now ended. It was quite a ceremony. American flight crews could not leave the wing tip of their planes to assure that the Japanese understood that this was a humiliating surrender to the Chinese.
My war ended on December 10, 1945 when I turned my C-46 in at the Shanghai Airport and boarded the CVE Makin Island to return home.
Coming home was really great. Everyone was so good to me.
I was married about a month later to my “girl”! She really helped me get back into the college routine, a necessary step in my aviation career plan.
I completed my college under the G I Bill in 3 ½ years and had my degree in aeronautical engineering. With one child to feed, I found that flying was a bit of a budget buster. I turned to the Port of New York and New Jersey for a job. I started in 1948 as an administrative trainee and had a great career-mostly in airport management, which capped off my aviation career plan.
With my wife, we also built a family of 5 children, all in “helping others” careers. That is the most rewarding part of it all.
I have always been a believer in the “give back” doctrine. My share was being a trustee and active board member at one of New Jersey’s large hospitals. Did this for 40 years, including 3 years as its chairman.
I retired in 1985, having been at the highest levels of airport management, with, 5 college- educated children. Now bragging about 10 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren, -and over 62 years of a happy marriage.
A tough act to follow!It is now 105 years since the Wright brothers soloed and 63 years since I turned in that C-46. WOW!