Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chapter 20

I was able to keep my nose clean and finally in August we graduated from Basic training. After graduation, my roommate, Del Anderson, and another friend, Cleve Jones, started for Utah before reporting to advance training at Mather Field. Cleve had been assigned to Luke Field for advance training and Del and I to Mather. Cleve had an old 1935 Ford coupe which he could not drive very fast because it threw too much oil. It took us 35 hours to drive the 700 miles to Salt Lake City. Fifty miles an hour down the road and every 50 miles we had to stop to add a quart of oil. Del and I jointly bought the Anderson car that they were trading in on a new model. It was to be in Del’s name, but we were to share payments and I was to have half-interest in the car.

In Utah, I had a very short visit with my folks and we had to start back for school. So my family drove me to Salt Lake to Del’s home to meet him. There in front of the house was our car—a 1940 Packard straight 8 convertible. It was shiny black with read real leather seats. What a car!
There wasn’t a mark on it and I couldn’t believe such power. Del drove out to the salt flats then invited me to drive a while. I put it in gear and started out and Del warned, “You started in high, don’t try to shift.” It started in high as easily as any car I had driven would start in low. During the trip home while Del was driving, I dropped off to sleep. When I woke up, the speedometer was registering steadily at 100 miles per hour. Del said, “I’ve been doing this for an hour.” I drove 60 m.p.h., he drove 100. We had an interesting night, both afraid we would scratch that beautiful car, and both completely exhausted. We had to report at Mather Field in the morning. Sometimes one would drive slowly and the other would run along the side to wake up. We made it in a reasonable time and managed to reach the field without a catastrophe.

After reporting in, we were assigned to a brand new cadet barrack. For the first time, we ran into the new wartime construction program. The barrack was of the typical two-story type, put together in a rush contract to make room for the mushrooming Air Corps.

We were among the first reporting in so we claimed a northwest corner room on the second floor.

The place had never been occupied and the surrounding area was all torn up due to construction. In the rush to get the building completed, the usual problems of construction were abundant—like doors and windows not fitting.

In Sacramento, the winds-blow and the windrows of sand from the construction site was two inches deep from both sides of each window. There was even a windrow of sand out in the hall where it sifted through the door that didn’t fit. Del and I were both dog tired from traveling all night and, of course, there was no air conditioning in the building and it was August in Sacramento. It was hot. We had to work all afternoon to get the room and hall fit for pigs to live in. To that date, it was the most miserable day in my life. But come evening, the weather cooled down and it became very pleasant.  At meal time, we went across to the also new mess hall to a very pleasant surprise. The place was immaculate. Food was served family style by uniformed waiters and the food was excellent. One of the waiters was immense. It turned out to be Buddy Baer, brother of ex-world heavyweight boxing champion, Max. Buddy was a fair brawler in his own right, but here he was waiting on cadets.

Advance training was much more relaxed—why, they almost treated us like people. Still we were confined from Sunday night through Saturday noon and there was always and inspection and parade Saturday morning. Bu the flying was fun and diversified: instruments, formation, and cross-country. Then there was the preparation for graduation. Uniforms to be made or fitted, applications for commissions, all very exciting with firm knowledge we had it made. It gives one a bit of confidence to know that we were one in 50,000 American young men who could get into the flying cadet program, and one in about four who could get into the flying cadet program, and one in about four who could make it through and to know that Uncle Sam had spent $50,000 on your training. But we still had to complete training.
My own advance training was very quiet and error-free but some of the other cadets were still having problems. Our first cross-country was uneventful, but then we progressed to our first night cross-country. One Cadet Wiser ran into an interesting problem. The trip was planned for each cadet flying solo to take off from Mather at Sacramento, fly Northwest to Willows, California, south to Pittsburg, California near Oakland and return East, Northeast to Sacramento. Mr. Wiser was flying well ahead of me in the line of aircraft following each other by about five minutes. I had just made the turn at Willows and headed for Pittsburg when I heard Wiser on the radio call the tower and tell them he couldn’t find the field. The instructor in the tower quietly told him to find Sacramento and Wiser said he was over the center of Sacramento. They told him to fly eleven miles due east and look out the right side of the plane for the field and they would flash the runway lights. This didn’t work so they told Wiser to turn on his lights. Still no success. After many more tries, Wiser panicked and said he was going down.

The rest of the story is from Wiser’s own story. He saw a lighted football field and decided to try landing in that. He started in an approach altitude but just before he flared out, the lights went out. Next he saw a row of dim lights that he thought might be a private runway near where the football field had been seen. So he proceeded to land along this row of lights. It turned out that the row of lights was a number of smudge pots along the top of a row of dirt from a trench throughout the football field parking lot and he had landed on the trench side. That had been barricaded from parking traffic by the trench. On the other side of the row of lights, cars were parked side by side, but he had picked the vacant side. He came safely to a stop, killed the engine, and climbed out to learn he was at Stockton, not Sacramento as he thought and naturally, Mather field was not eleven miles east of Stockton.

To finish the take of woe, the next morning being a Saturday two instructors were sent to return the downed aircraft. It was a time when all of the cadet corps was out on the ramp for Saturday morning parade. The aircraft landed and began taxing to the parking area. The pilot’s attention was diverted by the distraction of the cadet corps and he taxied right up to the wing of another T-6, the propeller throwing slices of wing like sawdust from a buzz saw, completely destroying one aircraft and the engine and prop of the other. This little story is included to demonstrate the perils that awaited unthinking cadets or pilots.

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