Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chapter 18

            While things were going great in the in the sky, things weren’t going so good on the ground. The school work was a piece of cake, but the military was something else. For every military mistake, you were assigned so many demerits, or “gigs.” For each “gig” you spent one hour marking in full uniform with a rifle on the ramp. I received a few gigs for not making my bed right or not shining my shoes right but very few. They announced a policy of awarding ten demerits for each “Form 1” error and I collected 30 hours before the policy was announced but the error were discovered after. (Form 1 is the aircraft log filled out by the pilot.) Then one day I was asked to run an errand for one of the instructors while I waited to fly. I was sitting on an outside bench with my parachute waiting to fly. Being a good little cadet, I jumped up and started on the errand, leaving my parachute on the seat. Only while was gone, it started to rain. One of the military officers awarded 20 demerits for getting the parachute wet. There was a rule if you received more than 60 demerits, you automatically met the Board for elimination, but the Commandant looked at my reasons for the demerits and didn’t even form the board.

As the end of Primary training approached, it was necessary for me to spend every hour of every weekend walking off the demerits. On the last weekend before graduation, I was walking the ramp as usual. By now, we had become friendly with the cook so as we walked around the mess hall, we would duck into the kitchen for a few minutes and the cook would feed us ice cream. I was walking and eating with a friend named Martini (nicknamed Dry). We had just left the kitchen and walked half way around the mess hall to the front of the Headquarters building. As we approached the building, the commander came walking down the steps and said, “I want to see you” pointing to Dry Martini and me. I thought he had seen us goofing off in the mess hall and was going to punish us. We followed him into his the office where there was a photographer and a group of cute little models. The commandant introduced us and said they wanted to do an article on the school and we were to be their hosts. We spent the afternoon showing the photographer and the girls the field and the planes. That night we each were told to escort one of the girls to a dance which was sponsored by a group of starlets from the movies and the models were part of the sponsoring group. The next day, Sunday, the photographer took us and the girls to Santa Barbara to the Ambassador hotel where we spent the entire day swimming, dancing and posing. The next morning the commandant called us into the office (Dry and me) and thanked us for our good job well done and cancelled all our remaining demerits. Some way to be punished.

Without further incident, I finished the last week and graduated from Primary training on schedule with the rest of the class.

Vern's First Pilot's Licence
Between primary and basic training which was the next phase of pilot training, a group of us from Utah cooked up a trip to Utah. Five of us went in an old Dodge coupe with only one seat. We made a bed in the trunk and took turns driving and sleeping. We left Santa Maria on Friday and arrived home about six Saturday morning, and left again Sunday morning to report back to Moffet Field for Basic on Monday. I remember two things of my first trip home. First I had to whip my younger brother to get in the house and second I found younger brother had given Dad so much trouble wanting to drive my car Dad had sold it to get it off the place. I had regularly sent money home to make the payments and a little extra for the folks, but I learned little brother was getting most of both. End of sending money home.

Moffet Field was a combined CAA-Air Corps base at San Jose, California on the south tip of San Francisco Bay. The main features of the base were CAA’s own wind tunnels and the old Macon dirigible [blimp] hanger. The hangar was being used for aircraft maintenance and all flight training was done from the hangar. The aircraft were maintained in the hangar and the various flight squadrons had facilities along the office space long and 300 feet wide and about 200 feet high with half dome shaped doors at each end. Only one set of doors were opened at a time because pilots just loved to fly through the hangar if both ends were open. This was frowned on by the Army.

We were assigned to barracks along the parade ground. The barracks was a large brick building of Spanish tile roofed architecture, large enough to hold the entire cadet corps.

By now, I had become good friends with another cadet from Utah named Del Anderson. If every two people were dissimilar in social background, we were, but we became life-long friends in spite of that.

Del was the son of a well-to-do merchant who was the intermountain distributor for Maytag Company. The family lived up in the exclusive east side of Salt Lake City, and drove Packard cars. Del had attended University of Utah and belonged to the most exclusive fraternity. He had been the steady boyfriend of Priscilla Lane of the singing Lane Sisters. [He was] extremely good looking with dark wavy hair and about my height but a little heavier. As our friendship developed, Del had an ambition—to get me drunk, which was something he did frequently. My stated ambition was to make a Christian out of that Jack Mormon.

One of the things Del and I had in common was a love basketball. We got together a basketball group that gravitated to the gym whenever we had spare time, as well as during scheduled physical training. And pilots had to be in good shape.

Our common routine consisted of five days of training, Monday through Friday with drill, ground school taking one half day and flying the other. We flew mornings or afternoons, alternating by weeks. On Saturday we had a morning parade and afternoon Saturday and Sundays were free days, except for those on detention.

The entire basic training was operated by military personnel. The instructors were all officers, the commandant of cadets was Capt. Jumper, a very strict West Pointer. My flight instructor was Lt. Osgood who after a few weeks became squadron executive officer and then Lt. Buckner became my instructor. Evidently, I learned very quickly because I was never in detention in all basic training. The routine was very rigid and took a lot of concentration to keep the rules in mind. I was completely floored one Saturday when we were being inspected by the Commanding General. Earlier in the week I had caught an elbow in the lip which required about a dozen stitches to repair and my lip was still bandaged. As the General came to my bed to inspect our barracks, he stopped to ask how I became injured. I answered, “Playing basketball, Sir.” He said, “Sit down, and let’s talk about it. I love basketball.” After we had sat down on my bed, he quietly explained, “My feet are killing me and I just had to get off from them.” We sat and chatted for perhaps five minutes while his feet rested then he got up and finished the inspection. I learned even Generals hurt, too. But the rumor also spread, Bryson knows the general and none of the upperclassmen were quite as tough as before.

Toward the five week mark of basic, we cooked up an evening basketball game versus the upperclassmen. Del and I were starting guards on our side. It was an extremely good game, being nip and tuck the whole contest. With about 5 seconds to go, and us trailing by one point, I managed to slip in a fast break for a basket to go ahead. As the other team brought the ball in, they passed to a cadet Andrews from Oregon University at about the halfway line. He whirled and shot just as the gun sounded and both teams stopped and watched as the ball arched up and swished through the basket.

Things got easier after the fifth week of basic training. By now, all the remaining cadets had passed the last flying check ride we were to receive. We all knew that as far as flying was concerned, we had it made. Now it only remained to complete the program of training and to not become so cocky we flew a bird into a mountain or something. Pilots have a bad reputation for becoming overconfident when they reach the advanced stages of training and have accidents, usually fatal ones. We still flew regularly as usual, but advanced into night flying cross country, formation flying and instruments.

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