Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chapter 34

Next day, we had to report to the Presidio of Monterey for additional orders. They gave us orders to report to the R&R center at Santa Monica after 30 days leave. We then drove back to Merced and then on to Payson to visit my folks.

Since Syl’s dad was a railroad man, the family could get free passes on the railroad so Syl talked her mother into coming with us to Los Angeles to pick up our son, Britt, while we were at Santa Monica. We had several unforgettable experiences at Los Angeles and round about. We went golfing for my first time. I didn’t break any par, but I beat the golfing buddy we went with and he was really ticked that I beat him my first time out.

We also got tickets to a UCLA-USC football game in the LA Coliseum. During the first three quarters and 13 minutes, USC made 2 touchdowns and one extra point. UCLA made zilch. Our golfing friends were very bored with the game and wanted to leave. With 2 minutes left, we finally agreed to go. As we were leaving, the crowd started to go wild and we were wondered what we had missed. We learned later that UCLA came back with two touchdowns and 2 extra points to win the game 14-13. We had missed all the action.

Probably the highlight of the whole adventure was a trip to R.K.O. Movie Studio. Beggs and Corbin lived in Los Angeles and so we got together and took them and their dates to the Brown Derby for dinner. Bill’s girlfriend was a stand-in at R.K.O. A leg stand-in. Whenever they wanted to photograph a pair of legs for the movies, they would use her legs. The other parts of the girl weren’t bad, either. She invited us to take a tour of the studio and volunteered to escort us. This was great. We took the 2 dollar tour, then, as a little extra, she took us to the make-up studio where we met Perc Westmore, the best known makeup man in Hollywood at the time. He decided I’d look cute with a mustache so invited me to sit in the make-up chair. After covering me with a makeup cloth to prevent makeup from getting on my uniform, proceeded to give me a full grown cookie duster, Clark Gable style. As he was working on me, the director came in and said he wanted to have the makeup changed on one of the cast. Perc said, “I’ll take care of it as soon as I finish the Captain.” Without looking, the director said, “Haven’t you finished him yet?” Then to me, “You should have been on the set long ago.” He proceeded to give me a good bawling out for being late.

Some explanation and introduction later proved I was not the Captain of his play. It lead to an invitation to go watch the actual filming of the movie. It was a nautical tale staring Paul Henreid and Maureen O’Hara. We met and talked with both the stars and really saw them making several short scenes for the movie. To an old farm boy and his wife, this was very exciting. [The movie was “The Spanish Main” which came out in 1945.]

After due time, I was assigned to Tarrant Field, Fort Worth, Texas, so I could be near the Brooke Medical Center. This was the world’s leading authority on Malaria. We collected our son and all our possessions, put them into our little car and trailer and we were off to Texas. Upon arriving at the new base, I stopped at the housing office and they had just received a new billing for a house to rent. I grabbed the slip and rushed to the address. It was 4008 Birchman, in Arlington Heights [Fort Worth], the better part of the city. There we met Mrs. Jones and promptly rented her completely furnished home. It was lovely. A nice, neat white house with a fenced backyard and a separate garage. Mrs. Jones was an artist and her husband had been drafted. She had decided to rent the house and go back to live with her folks until he came home. The house showed her very artistic touch and contained many of her paintings.

My work at Fort Worth was at first very dull. There were hundreds of returned combat pilots in a holding pattern with absolutely nothing to do. At the same time, the training squadrons were refusing to release pilot instructors for combat because instructors were claimed to be especially trained. After about a week of that nonsense, I went to the director of trainings office and introduced myself. After explaining my instructors background, requested that I be put back to work as an instructor pilot. He allowed he would arrange a flight check to see if I was qualified to be an instructor pilot. I passed with no questions. The director then proposed he send me to instrument school at Bryan, Texas. At first I was very unhappy at his delaying tactics, but then later was very glad to have been through the school.

Since we only intended to be at school for six weeks, we kept the house and just took enough to get by with for a short period. When we arrived at the school, we first went house hunting. We ended up living in a motel at College Station, Texas, right across the street from Texas A&M.

The instrument part of the school was no problem, but feeling confident in a little AT-6 aircraft after stepping down from a B-24 took awhile. The highlight of the school was the school commandant, Col. Duckworth. He had been one of the first pioneers in instrument flying and had some 12,000 total hours. He was continually in trouble with the AirCorps administratively, but was fantastic in inspiring students to be interested in instrument flying. Most of the students, like myself, were combat returnees sent there to get us out of the way. All the instructors were non-combat pilots. One instructor was even a cadet I had washed out of one of my squadrons back when I was a flight commander at Merced. It took someone with great ability and insight to motivate the students.

After completion of the Air Force instrument school, we returned to Fort Worth and again put in the holding squadron. After another visit to the director of training and another flight check, I was reassigned to a B-24 squadron as an assistant instructor. This meant I could only teach with another instructor pilot along. Generally this meant being completely free to teach B-24 flying while the regular instructor slept in the back end.

After a couple of weeks, I was called into the squadron commander’s office and asked if I would take two very troublesome students and see what I could do with them. These two students were from an old training command, a Lt. Colonel and a Major with many thousands of hours of flying time and good pilots, but they resented the young lieutenant who tried to treat them like cadets. I simply talked to them and treated them like senior officers. They soloed the first day I taught them.

An interesting thing developed while I was soloing them. For years since we were married, Syl could fly with me occasionally and she got to the point where she could fly very well. I had promised to solo her and help her get her license, but to do this, I had to get my commercial, instrument, and instructor’s rating from C.A.A. I had succeeded in getting the commercial and instrument rating and was working on getting my instructor’s rating at the time. As I sat on the end of the runway watching these students solo, they were shooting landings, one after another and I was sweating out each landing. I suddenly thought, “What if that was your wife.” Right there I decided no way. I never did get that instructor’s rating from C.A.A. and she never did solo.

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