Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chapter 25

Before we left Albuquerque, we took Syl to the doctor to see if it would be alright for her to travel so close to her delivery date. The doctor examined her and said the baby would probably be a couple of weeks away and besides, if he decided to come, it just as well be in Utah or Nevada, or California. But we took it very easy all the way.

After a weekend in Utah, we arrived back at Merced without difficulty and without a child. At the base, they said we would be receiving orders soon so just to wait them out, which meant a few days of free vacation.

In about a week, orders came assigning part of our P-38 group to Roswell, New Mexico, which wasn’t where our P-38s were. Others were assigned to other bombardier training schools around the country. We were all very upset—but orders are orders. My orders said to report to Roswell Airbase no later than 12 July [1943].

About this time, I forgot all about travel and orders because Syl said it was time. We rushed to Merced General Hospital [Sybil corrects this to Mercy Hospital] where all military maternity cases were sent and got the poor doctor out of bed at midnight. He came and examined Syl and saw that everything was alright, but then went home to sleep again. Finally morning came and still no baby, but periodic pains. Then noon, then night again and still no delivery. All night at the hospital again holding Syl’s hand when she hurt.

Came morning and still no progress. At noon doctor came and examined her again and said there was no progress. At noon, the doctor came and examined her again and said there was no progress and that I had better go get some food. So I went back to my in-laws where I was staying, for lunch and a shave, but rushed right back to the hospital to be with Sybil again. Only she wasn’t in her bed. Someone said they had taken her to the delivery room so I rushed up to the delivery room just as a nurse was coming out. She took one look at me and said, “Here, have a son” and handed me my son, still wet and just on his way to be cleaned. So I followed her to the next room where she again took him and I started back to see Sybil. She was all very happy, but very, very tired. After a few minutes, they ran me out so she could sleep, and I waited to see my son, Britt, in the nursery before leaving for a few winks of sleep myself. That night before going up to see Syl, I stopped by the nursery to see my son when the nurse put him back in the crib, I put a small pair of boxing gloves on the foot of his crib. This created a good laugh for lots of people.

Months before he had been born, I had come home from work one night to find Syl busily knitting, which is something she didn’t do too often. She allowed she was “Knittin’ for Britain,” a popular project during the early days of the war. So for a few days the baby was named Britain, then the name was shortened to “Britt” and that was to be his name. And it was: Britt William Bryson.

Sybil, Vern, and Baby Britt, 1943
A few days after Britt was born, I received orders to report immediately to Roswell Field, New Mexico. The day after Sybil returned home from the hospital, I had to leave for my new assignment. On the way across the country, I spent the first night at Kingman, Arizona at the Officers’ Quarters at the gunnery school there. Next morning I looked up an old friend who was stationed there and he gave me a tour of the base. The final shooting range we visited was a mobile trap range, where he invited me to shoot. I was put in the back end of end of a half-ton pickup truck and a box of shells was placed in a rack above the cab. The truck was driven about a twisting course through a wooded area and the clay pigeons were through toward, away from, beside, and against the direction of the moving vehicle. I was supposed to hit the sailing birds. The birds came and went at all angles and FUN! I never had so much fun shooting in my life. I managed to break 18 or so, which I was told was very good, but it was a real challenge to make the course.

Without incident, I travelled on the allowed 35 minutes per hour until I reached Roswell. It is a dull town sitting on the high plains east of the Sacramento Mountains. The town was small and there were a lot of G.I.s there with nothing much to do. So the rapport between the military and the townspeople when from bad to worse. Of course, there were absolutely no houses to rent.

I reported into the base and was sent to a B-17 student squadron. It was just in between classes so they didn’t know what to do with me because they didn’t expect any students at that time. Finally it was decided that I had been sent there to pilot aircraft carrying student bombardiers, a job I considered the bottom of the professional ladder. I insisted I was supposed to go to a P-38 squadron but there weren’t any such squadrons there. Reluctantly I began flying T-11 bombardier trainers. Many of the people that had volunteered for the P-38 group were also assigned with me.

A couple of days after I arrived, I went to town one evening to start looking for a house. I drove down the main street and didn’t see a real estate office, so I started at a service station to look up an address in the telephone book. When I asked the attendant to use his directory, we struck up a conversation about Roswell. I told him I had just moved there and was going to call a couple of agents looking for a house. He said he had been renting a house and was about to move and maybe if I went up to see his landlord, I could rent his house. So I went to see his landlord and promptly rented a nice clean 2 bedroom house for $55.00 a month. I thus agreed to let the service station attendant share it with me until he moved about a week later. And I promptly moved in.

Many of the other couples who had been assigned to Roswell at the same time were totally unable to find quarters of any kind. One couple lived in a converted garage, and they were fortunate, because another couple rented a former converted chicken coop.

My job at the base consisted of flying bombardier students while they were practicing dropping bombs. The AT-11 type aircraft is a twin Beech converted to a large glassed-in bombing compartment in the nose. The student would sit in the nose of the aircraft and aim the bombs with a Norden bombsight. The pilot would fly the aircraft at an assigned altitude in the direction indicated on the pilot’s direction indicator. Conversely the pilot could engage the automatic pilot and the ship would stir itself by directions from the bombsight.

It was extremely dull for the pilot; our only excitement consisted in dropping some of the student’s bombs by visual or dive bombing techniques and have a competition with the student to see who could come closest to the target. The students were generally quite willing because the pilots could get better scores which were then credited to the student.

The large nose on the aircraft made it impossible for the pilot to see out the aircraft to the right or straight forward. The student was supposed to sit in the right seat on the ground and warn the pilot of obstructions on that side of the taxi strip. One day, not long after arriving, I was making a right turn on the taxi strip, when POW!—stopped on the runway. Even though the student was supposed to have warned me, of course, the pilot caught the blame. I got an immediate invitation to visit the Base Commander. After a short explanation of how it happened, Col Horton said, “Bryson, I ought to make you pay for that, but I can’t afford to report another accident, so forget it.” It turned out the Col. was an old acquaintance from Moffet Field days and we spent the rest of the time talking about old times.

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