STORY: THIS IS IT !
I became close friends with another Cadet named Bill Rennhack. We went to Chapel together every Sunday. One Saturday afternoon the Sergeant came into the barracks and asked for our attention. We had not been given permission to leave the Base, and since no one had any money because we had missed the last two paydays almost all were present. When we were quiet, the Sergeant said in a quiet voice, "I need two volunteers." When asked what for he would not tell, but said he would not force anyone to volunteer. Rennhack was standing beside me and said, "The sergeant is an OK guy. Lets help him out." I was fixing to explain to him about Sergeants and volunteering when Rennhack said loudly," Mr. Goodman and I volunteer." We slowly walked up to the Sergeant with Rennhack pulling me by the arm. As we walked, I tried to think of something I could do to get out of this - fall, break a leg, or knock Rennhack down, but nothing that I could think of seemed workable. When we reached the Sergeant, He smiled. I thought to myself, "Hes enjoying this." But he said, "Get dressed, and in fifteen minutes a Staff car will pick you up and take you to a dinner and dance at the Houston Country Club. Be on your best behavior and have a good time."
I did not believe this for one moment - I had been suckered by too many Sergeants. But in fifteen minutes the Staff car was there was there, and in thirty minutes we were eating rib eyes at the Club. With Rennhack, I was eating crow.
Sitting across from me was a young, beautiful , and charming girl named Rene'. Soon she and I were dancing and talking. She was a sophomore at the University of Houston and was a member of a sorority. She was making good grades in school and she was an only child. I was wishing the night would never end but it did, and I had had a wonderful time.
Rene' gave me her telephone number, and told me to call her. We soon were allowed to leave the Base after the Saturday morning inspection and parade. I was properly dressed, and I hitched a ride into town. I called Rene'. She promptly came to get me in her snow-white Packard convertible. She was wearing a white silk dress with light green accents. She was a beautiful girl with long blond hair, and was painstakingly well groomed. I had never even touched a Packard before. I was impressed by the Packard, the silk dress, and her beauty in that order. I have always admired silk and linen dresses. She drove me to her house to meet her family. The house was very large; it looked like a high school. Her parents were very hospitable to me and tried to include me in their luncheon conversation, but I was out of my league. We ate in the Garden room, and were waited on by two serving maids. It took about an hour to eat lunch, and I was used to eating lunch in ten minutes. I had no idea of what I was eating, and I was an absolute failure at making conversation - I did not know what they were talking about. I quickly decided Rene' was out of my league - what could I offer her ? I never saw her again after that day. What a dope I was - she had not asked for anything, but my preconceived ideas were all wrong -the man drives, the man picks up the check. Here, with the world turned upside down, I am looking at trifles. We could have had a good time together.
Not all at Ellington Field was fun and games. We had eight hours of ground school a day and at least two hours of night homework. We were , in effect, taking the college equivalent of forty hours of courses about subjects of which we had no prior knowledge. The courses included the most basic method of navigating, dead reckoning, or as most commonly called, DR. DR is based on the fact that if you fly on a magnetic compass course of 90 degrees and fly one hour at 150 MPH, you will be at the end of that vector, or if I had flown this heading and speed from Pell City, I would be over PDK (Peachtree- De Kalb) Airport in Atlanta in one hour. Adjustments are required for compass deviation, magnetic variation, and wind drift to obtain the proper compass heading. Indicated airspeed must be corrected to true airspeed for altitude and to ground speed based on wind. This is dead reckoning , and from my experience is accurate and dependable.
Navigating by stars was very important since there was no other way to navigate over the oceans at that time. To become proficient, we had to learn the exact location and appearance of the forty plus navigation stars. I still remember the seven in Ursa Major- Duhbe, Merak, Phecta, Megrez, Alioth, Mizar, and Alkaid, and, in the Hunter, Beetelguice, Bellatrix, Rigel, Saiph, and nearby is Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. We spent frigid nights outside with the instructor pointing out these select stars to us. He would point to a portion of the night sky and say, " See that one . That's Castor!" It was almost impossible to tell which one he was pointing to. Then we would take our chronometers and sextants, take altitudes of selected stars, do our calculations, and plot our location. We knew we were at Ellington, but it was not unusual to make a calculation error or incorrectly identify a star. I once plotted my location in downtown Manhattan at 42nd street and Broadway. Another Cadet plotted his location in Westminster Cathedral and asked the instructor what he should do. The Instructor suggested he say a prayer, and he probably did.
We were doing math to solve a spherical triangle using the locations of three stars to determine our location. This is called a three star fix, and the solving is difficult even when we used an algorithm devised by a Lt. Ageton and named H.O. 218. There was a better way called the landfall method. It is based on the fact that the altitude of Polaris is the latitude of the observer.
To use this method, you cruise to the latitude of the destination, turn toward the destination, maintaining this latitude by additional Polaris sights until you reach the destination. The altitude of the sun at noon gives the similarly usable information, and the calculation is very easy. This is called a landfall; why, I don't know. Fred Noonan, Amelia Earhart's navigator, always flew landfalls, but he is quoted by the people who talked to him just prior to his final flight " I am going to try a three star fix on this flight." He missed his destination.
The two types of navigation , dead reckoning and landfall, were based on work by Nathaniel Bowditch. Nat was indentured by his parents for ten dollars to the proprietor of a large merchandise store in Boston. Nat was ten years old. He missed his parents but was happy because he was no longer cold nor hungry nor wore rags and tatters. He was bright and cheerful and a hard worker, and in time the proprietor began to treat Nat as a son. In his late teens the proprietor commissioned Nat as supercargo ( supervise the cargo ) on one of his sailing ship
This ship would carry merchandise from Boston to Africa, and slaves from Africa to Boston. There was a lot of spare time for Nat as he had no sailing duties. Curious, he asked the Captain how he navigated the ship. The Captain was baffled by the question - there was no science to his sailing. He finally said "Sail toward America until you find it , and when you find it, sail along the coast until you sail into Boston harbor. How could you miss America?"
After Nat returned to Boston, he spent some time with the navigator of an English Man O' War and learned their system which was the landfall technique. This system made finding the latitude easy, either with Polaris or sun observations. He secured copies of the English books, but the books had numerous errors. They also required long division, and American sailors could not do long division. So Nat learned about logarithms which only require adding and subtraction, and published his book on navigation with the use of logarithms and complete with instructions. He also corrected all errors that were in the English Book. The English navigators were his best customers for the books.
He then cleaned up the ship - no iron near the ship's compass and calibration of the compass. For determining boat speed , he used a log tied to a knotty rope thrown over the side of the moving boat. If five knots of the rope passed through your hands in one minute, your speed was five nautical miles per hour
On Nat's next trip from Africa, he sailed out of sight of land for the entire trip, and sailed into Boston Harbor on Christmas Day in a blinding snowstorm. He dropped anchor by the sound of church bells. He had set a new record for this trip. Now his book was a best seller.
We also learned Morse Code at a sixteen word- per- minute rate for use in radio navigation. There a large number of radio beacons in the United States, and many outside the United States. All are identified by a continuous repeat of the letters in Morse Code which identified the station. Birmingham is BH or " -... " . Memphis is EL (For Elvis ) or ".-.." I had trouble learning the Morse Code, but the Cadet who sat next to me could read it easily. He came from the hills of Arkansas, ate garlic as if it were peanuts, and dipped snuff. My only chance to learn the Morse Code was to get a key and sounder and practice at night. I wrote a friend in Birmingham , Alex Lemon, and by return mail I received the equipment. At night in the barracks we would have a large group practicing code. That little machine probably saved my neck and the necks of at least twenty other Cadets.
The days were turning cloudy and cooler after the hot summer days. The wind was picking up and blowing from the southeast. The word was that a hurricane was in the Caribbean and was headed this way, but there was no real basis for this rumor. We had no radios or newspapers. Slowly but surely the wind continued to blow harder, and the rain came in torrents. The cadets were all in their barracks, and there were sounds of loose debris hitting the barracks. These large barracks were shaking in the wind, and parts of the buildings were being blown away. As the storm became more intense, an officer appeared and ordered us to fall out (assemble in the street). Outside was bedlam. The officer was trying to get us into a formation but a loud shout could only be heard about three feet due to the express train roar of the wind.
I understood what he was trying to do so I fell in directly in front of him and stood at attention. Quickly a Cadet fell in beside me, and soon there were about 800 cadets in four ranks beside me. The officer came over to me and said " March these men to the Chapel." I saluted, stepped out of the formation, went to the four cadets on the end, and standing in their faces, said," Follow me." I happened to know where the Chapel was. Fortunately, I had gone to chapel one Sunday when I was walking demerits. It would have been terrible if I had gotten 801 men lost in a hurricane. I managed to get them to the Chapel where we spent the night in safety. Several barracks blew down and many were damaged. We were all wide awake listening to the storm. It would have been nice if the Chaplain could have been there to preach a sermon. He would have had a wide awake captive audience.
The next Saturday I did not go into Houston, but Sunday morning I decided I would go to a beautiful gray stone Episcopal Church we had passed going into town. Rennhack was walking demerits, so I was on my own. I quickly caught a ride almost to the door of the church. I was a little early, and looked around a bit. The lawns were a brilliant green and the church was beautifully landscaped with no trash anywhere. The blood red doors looked great beside the gray stone walls. Inside was a vaulted ceiling with all the trusses finished natural. I selected a seat in the back left corner, and watched the church fill.
Sitting there, I became aware of an older couple sitting behind me. I did not hear them come in. Soon the service began. I joined in with the singing and really enjoyed all the service. I did not have a hymn book, but I did the best I could. As the service neared the end, I heard the lady say( I was eavesdropping. I always do.) "I don't care what you say, I'm going to invite him home for lunch." I hoped she was talking about me - anything is better than Army cooking. The man replied "You don't know anything about him!" The lady said "Well, he sang all four verses of "Amazing Grace" without a hymnal. He can't be all bad." Then she spoke to me, introduced herself as Mrs. Pritikin, then introduced her husband and daughter. The daughter was a sophomore at Rice, and was very nice. I think they wrote the song " Just the Way You Look Tonight" just for her. She was wearing just a simple black dress with a tiny red tie at the collar, and was poised and elegant. I went to church and had lunch with the Pritikins every Sunday for the rest of my time at Ellington. I even quit getting demerits so I could enjoy a good Sunday dinner.
February 28, 1995
The Pritiken family had a long term effect on me. I had never been in a Christian household for a significant period of time in my life. I was more of an observer than an invited guest, but was treated more like a family member than a guest. For instance, after Sunday dinner, Mr. Pritiken and I would sit in the living room and read the Sunday newspaper. We talked about the news, and he would ask me my opinions about the war. He knew more about the war than I did. We had no newspapers or radios on the base.
The Sunday dinner was always a joy. All used careful table manners and dined leisurely. There was always talk, and all listened respectfully to whomever was talking. If someone said something that was not agreeable to someone else there was no commotion, but soft comments such as " Why do you feel that way ?" or "I understand ." There were no sharp corners but only softness.
Mrs. Pritikin set the tone for the home, and I quickly recognized the love and respect they had for each other, and their respect for others. Visiting in this home with this family made me realize they had something that I didn't have but wanted very much, and started me on the road to becoming a Christian. It was a sad day for me when I left Houston.
(this story is and remains the sole property of the author, Bill Goodman. It is presented here with with his gracious permission. All rights are retained by same)