Sunday, February 6, 2011

Chapter 36

After the war ended, the Air Corp started releasing people left and right. Because of my length of service and combat experience, I was listed as #3 on the base for priority discharge. However, I didn’t want to get out so I signed over on an indefinite volunteer situation. Because I was eligible for release, I received all kinds of offers for a job. The nearest I came to accepting an outside job was with American Airlines. They, like everyone else, had big dreams of expansion after the war. I received letters and interviews and all kinds of recruitment, but when I asked how much, they said, “Well, we start co-pilots at $225 a month for three years and then you can become First Pilot.” I wasn’t much interested in being a bus driver anyway, and I was making more than twice that much in the service. I decided to stick.

About a week after the end of the war, the base commander was released from the service and a new commander arrived. He was reported to be a tough old guy and started remaking the base into a peace time army. I took one look at him, one day, going past on his motor scooter, and knew what we were in for. Seems I knew the old gentleman before. He had been my commandant of cadets at Moffet Field and was still there as a Captain when I went back there to instruct.

About the second week he was there, he ordered a parade on Saturday morning. Knowing Col. Jumper, I arranged to be out of town.

The following week I was in base operations filling out a flight plan when I was slapped hard on the back by Col. Jumper. After a warm exchange of greetings, he asked, “Where were you stationed?” Answer: “Right here.” Second question, “Where were you last Saturday?” Answer, “I wasn’t there.” He answered, “So I noticed.” And we changed the subject.

About a week later, I was called into his office and told I was now Squadron Commander of a squadron of about 500 personnel. When I modestly said I didn’t know if I could handle it, he answered, “I know very well you can—I taught you.” The squadron was mostly a collection of former B-32 crew members put out of work by the end of the war. They, in general, were grouped into two distinct categories. Those who wanted out of the Air Corps as soon as possible, and those who wanted to stay in the service and were looking for a place to make themselves useful to avoid being discharged. I had two officers in the squadron, an executive officer and an adjutant. The adjutant turned out to be Lt. Coleman, who had been the operations officer in the B-32 squadron I was in. A change from me working for him, to him working for me.

After the war, the service stopped production of B-32s at some place in the production line where it was cheaper to junk the unfinished aircraft on the ground or ship it away for salvage. All birds ahead of that model were finished because it was cheaper to fly them to the salvage yard than ship them.

The salvage yard for B-32s was at Walnut Ridge, Arkansas. During the course of the fall, I made several trips to Walnut Ridge to deliver aircraft. On the first day of October, I was assigned to fly the very last B-32 that was finished off the line to the bone pile. It was a beautiful day as we left the office and headed for the flight line. It had been stormy, but this day it had just cleared beautifully. As we left operations, I asked Lt. Coleman, who was flying as my co-pilot, if he had a map. “Naw, anyone can find Walnut Ridge in the dark, you just fly out at 060 degrees until you hit Texarkana, then follow the railroad to Walnut Ridge.” So off we went happy to be back in the air after being on the ground in a job no pilot likes. We took off, headed out 060 degrees and turned on some music, and waited for the Arkansas River to show up. Soon we saw a river and a good sized town, so we steered a bit left to the town and turned north on the railroad track. Only, as we turned left, I looked down at the water front and here is a big warehouse with the word “Memphis” printed on top of the building. Memphis. That isn’t on the Arkansas River! That isn’t the Arkansas River.

In our enthusiasm for flying, we had over flown Texarkana and flown clear to Memphis Tennessee on the Mississippi River. So we did a graceful 180 degree turn and flew back to Texarkana, picked the correct railroad tracks and flew on to Walnut Ridge. When we got there, there was a C-45 crew waiting to take us home. It was the first day of the month and you have to fly 4 hours each month to get your flight pay. We had flown exactly 4 hours and 5 minutes. I was going on 30 day leave the next day and I could never convince anyone that I really had gotten lost.

Before I went on leave, the squadron was deactivated and the boss promised me a job as base operations officer when I returned from leave. That is the best peace time job there is for a pilot.

While we were at Bryan, one of the couples that lived near us had a big collie that played with Britt all the time. This gave me an excuse for buying a dog that I had always wanted. I was a pointer man and though I had never really hunted with one, I had read the many stories of field trials and followed old Pilot Sam [a famous Pointer dog] through the many years of his great career as the greatest field trial champion of all time. When I started looking for a pup, the first ad I spotted was for some registered pointer pups. They were out of a daughter of old Pilot Sam. I was sold. We selected a beautiful little female. Since we had a high fence around the back yard, this was perfect for a boy and a dog.

During the summer our second son was born. Syl started labor in the middle of the night so I dressed Britt and we all went to the hospital. I entered Syl into the hospital but the staff refused to permit me to wait with the baby so Britt and I returned home and went to bed. And he even slept. Early the next morning, I called the hospital to see if Sybil and the baby were alright. The hospital attendant reported that my wife was fine, but my baby had died and I should make arrangements for the burial. Of course, I was very sad, but I had to accept what we could not change and proceeded to make the arrangements. Then I met the undertaker at the hospital to pick up the body. I approached the front desk and stated that I had come for my son’s body. While one nurse was busy arranging the papers, another nurse, who just happened to be passing the desk, stopped and asked what I had said. I repeated, “I came to get the body of the Bryson baby that had died.” She replied, “Wait a minute, I was on duty in the delivery room and it wasn’t the Bryson baby that died.” WHOA!! Trying to be very calm, I caught her by the arm and turned to the other nurse at the desk and stated that we were going to find out about this, like now! The hospital manager was called and we all went to the nursery and there was my very tiny baby with “Bryson” on his armband. Two premature babies had been born in that night, one had lived and one had not, and I almost buried the wrong baby. During all the excitement, the nurse who had corrected the error slipped away and I never did find out who she was. But my son and I will be forever indebted.

[Forest] only weighed 3 lbs., 13 oz. and the next day or so, dropped to 3 lbs even. It was still touch and go, if he would make it or not. The day after he was born I had a baseball game with the base team and as I sat quietly dressing, some of my teammates noticed my behavior and asked what was wrong. I explained about my son and that he only weighed 3 lbs. Our big pitcher, who stood 6’2” and weighed 215 lbs., slapped me on the back and said, “That’s okay, he’ll be okay. I only weighed 3 lbs. when I was born too.”

In a few days, Sybil was released to return home, but the baby had to remain in the incubator for 6 weeks. The doctors wanted to feed him on mother’s milk, so for 6 weeks we had to take the milk from Sybil and deliver it to the hospital every day. Finally he was large enough to survive outside the incubator, but it had taken him 6 weeks to gain 2 lbs. When we got him home, where he could be fed regularly and properly with all the tender-lovin’ care, he gained 2 lbs. a week for several weeks and was as strong and healthy as a boy can be.

The Church in Fort Worth was very weak. There were only a few people and they met in a small, one room wooden shack. It was so dirty Syl said she felt uncomfortable going there with the children. But as always, they were wonderful people and we even had home teachers assigned for the first time. Because of my flying schedule and the problem with the baby, we didn’t make it to church regularly, but we went when we could.

No comments:

Post a Comment