Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chapter 21

On Saturday night, Del and I always dated together in our car. We would share the driving until he started to feel too high then he wouldn’t. Then I would because he was drunk—and me a good Mormon teetotaler. On Sunday, the car was mine to go to Church. There were three branches of Mormons in Sacramento. I started to attend the North Sacramento branch and be came acquainted with President Larson and his family. Although I had attended Church in Santa Maria when I could, and at San Jose while in Basic, I now had wheels and could go every week I was in town.

Of course, we did travel a bit. We both bought our uniforms from a tailor in Stockton and had to go there every Saturday for about a month. Then we would often go on to San Francisco after that.

As time passed, the instructors formed a basketball team to represent the field. Most of the players were young officers but the team was open to anyone. Don Cosner of Montana State University was the coach and the athletic officer responsible for physical conditioning of the cadet corps. Very shortly Del and I, of all the cadet corps, were invited to play with the Mather Field pilots. They practiced off base and Don gave us permission to go practice a couple of days a week which gave us liberty a couple of evenings a week. Occasionally we would see other cadets who didn’t have liberty in town until it seemed like half the corps were out every night.

As October came, war talk was more and more dominant in news. Japan, Italy, and Germany had signed a tri-axis against all the free world. England was taking an unmerciful beating from bombing and now missiles. It seemed pretty obvious that we were soon going to be dragged into the War if England was to be saved or the axis ever stopped. In China, Japan was stepping up its long time offensive and it’s only obstacle was the Flying Tigers, a group fighting American pilots flying old P-40 obsolete aircraft, but doing a whale of a job stopping the Japanese advance. Del and I decided we would join the Flying Tigers as soon as we graduated, 30 October 1941. We even made application and were tentatively accepted, but on 15 October 1941, the war was so imminent that the army refused to release any more pilots to join the cause.

About this time, our instructor friend on the basketball team arranged to have both Del and I assigned to Mather as instructors. This sounded good to me and I was looking forward to a fun basketball winter. But it didn’t work out that way.

A few days before graduation, our friend informed us that the base commander had heard about our basketball deal and raised Cain with the conniving [instructor]. Of course, the last week or two was all excitement; each pilot wondering where he would be assigned and the assignment list was kept very secret by the commander.

The last few days before graduation were exciting, but relaxing. Flying was finished, ground school was over. Just a couple of lectures on being commissioned and dry runs for graduation. Uniforms were complete and brass and wings all purchased. I had invited Aunt Mary and Uncle Bill to come—[it] was too far for my folks to come.

The morning was a cool clear October 30th. Graduation exercises started at an unbelievable 0900 and nothing to do except eat a luscious breakfast prepared for graduating cadets. Put on the beautiful hand-tailored pink and green uniform with Sam Brown belt, swords were not required. Everything less bars and wings. Many of us stood around out in the area talking and visiting for the last time. We all knew we were parting but no one yet knowing where we would be assigned. Everyone expressing his hopes and dreams. Most of us wanted to be fighter pilots, but secretly wishing we would make the grade to be chosen as instructor pilots. The priority of selection was that the very best pilots were retained by the training command, first going to basic training and secondly to advanced. Since Del and I had come under the Commander’s wrath for the basketball deal we both expected a tactical assignment. Since we were the supposed bomber advance, we expected to go to bombers somewhere.

At the appropriate time, my guests arrived and I escorted them to favorable front seats and lined up for the exercises. With due waiting, we filed in and were seated. They had a few remarks by local and visiting brass. Then the Adjutant proceeded to read the lists of assignments. The Adjutant drolling: “The following 2nd Lieutenants will report to Moffet field no later than 2 November 1941. Andrews, Bryson—YIKES—second on the list among the top assignments to basic school at Moffet Field. I had enjoyed Moffet and was pleased to return there. A few minutes Del received his assignment to Mather Field and we were parted. But like opposite particles, we always seemed to bounce back together. Del’s family and Salt Lake girlfriend were down and his mother pinned on his wings. Then we went alphabetically down to me where Aunt Mary pinned on my wings and bars and I was a brand new 2nd Lieutenant, United States Amy Air Corps. We all received orders to active duty on 31 October 1941.

Del and his family were eager to get away to Salt Lake for the weekend and I planned to go back to Oakland where Uncle Lou had reservations for all the local clan at an expensive restaurant. I don’t remember much from that weekend, but survived the danger of a mental explosion until I reported for duty at Moffet on Monday morning. None of my real close friends had been assigned to Moffet but I knew nearly everyone in the class to a more or less degree and several casual friends were assigned there. When we reported in, we were told that we could live on base, or off, at our choice. A couple of people I had played ball with a lot were getting an apartment and they talked to me about joining them. I looked at the apartment in nearby Mountain View and decided to join them.

Many of our class were assigned to the Philippine Islands to either the 19th Bomb Group or to fighters on the same field. They were given leave for two weeks and sailed for the Islands on 19 November 1941. Of the thirty one assigned, only one, Lt. Beck ever returned home and he was killed in a flying accident shortly after returning. Other pilot groups were leaving San Francisco for assignment in the Pacific area on the 9th of November 1941. One of these knew one of my roommates and came to our apartment to visit him. He had a pretty young wife of a month and she had to go back to Texas while he went overseas. During the discussion, they said they had to sell their car. John [my roommate] suggested I might be interested, so I went out to look at it. It was a coal black 1941 Chevrolet Club Coupe with read seats and lots of trim and white sidewall tires. It was a beauty. As we talked, he said he owed five hundred and fifty one dollars and needed $150 to get his wife back to Texas. Well, I had saved $150 and signed over his loan and I owned a beautiful new car. He had bought it after he graduated a month ahead of me and just drove it from Texas to California—less that four thousand miles. There wasn’t a scratch on it.

The services an officer had was unbelievable. We had unlimited credit at the P.X. and were provided with a long list of local merchants and restaurateurs who would give us 40% off and bill the P.X. Then we only had to pay the P.X. on payday. The military were very popular at this time and were treated very well by everyone. A far cry from a still-present sign on a bar in San Francisco that advertized, “Dogs and dogfaces keep out.” Dogface being a nickname for soldiers in the pre-World War II era.

I went regularly to Church in the San Jose branch and started to play basketball for them. We had a lousy team and were just able to field five players. At the same time, I was playing for the Moffet Field Flyers who became the California service champions for that year. During the year, the San Francisco branch was the big winners in the Church league. When they were supposed to play San Jose, we could only get three players that night. The coach asked me to get some of my friends to play with the Branch team. So, naturally, I recruited four or five players of the Flyers. We started with the Branch team and substituted in the Flyers and really shoe-laced San Francisco. You never saw such mad losers in your life. They had previously beaten San Jose badly and then to get waxed. Sure was fun from our point of view.

About a month went by of living in Eden. On Sunday, 7 December 1941, I had a date in San Francisco. As I drove up, I turned on the radio and heard [the Japanese] were bombing Pearl Harbor. I cut my date short and returned home to listen to the news. They didn’t know where the Japanese fleet was and [we] afraid they were coming to California or at least the West Coast. Much excitement. The next day all officers (unmarried) were ordered to move into the BOQ.s (Bachelor Officer Quarters) and a few days later it was announced that the Air Force was closing Moffet Field and moving all training bases further inland where they couldn’t be reached by carrier-born aircraft.

While I was living in the BOQ, I met an Airman 2nd Class named Jimmy Stewart. He was the famous movie star who had enlisted to serve his country. A group of officers took a special interest in him. Since he already had 1500 hours flying time in civilian aircraft and Lt. Sperry and Lt. Barnes coached him in BT-13s until he passed the examination and was given a direct commission, whereupon he moved into the same BOQ as I lived in—just a few doors away. I came to know him quite well.

However my stay there was short become on January 2nd, I was transferred to Merced Air Base where they were opening a new basic training school. I had been hand picked on the cadre of 80 officers to open the field. I wasn’t too happy about leaving Moffet and the San Francisco area, but then it was pretty close and no chance of staying anywhere closer. So, after New Years Day, I deported Moffet, and reported into Merced the same day.

Merced was also a new base such as Mather had been but at least I was now an officer and someone else had to clean my room. But it was back to living on a G.I. cot and eating at an officers’ mess. Most messes are we named. The area round about had been dug up for construction and there was no grass yet.  And there was the wind.  The two conditions made the field area less than inviting. We normally flew one half day and half free so many of us started heading for the mountains. Since I wasn’t interested in bars, I went along with those who went to the mountains hunting squirrels, of which there were millions. And the ranchers were tickled to death to have us hunt squirrels and rabbits. And thus ended a very dull winter.
Vern, 1942

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