STORY: THIS IS IT !
July 31, 1995
We had completed twenty - four missions as an intact crew, and had gone through briefing for our twenty- fifth mission. All our friends came by and wished us well , and made jokes such as " I can take your place." We were jubilant, and the well wishers were happy for us. First, for about a month, we would be at home or getting medical treatment such as much needed tooth fillings. Then we would go on a bond selling tour throughout the United States which could last for as long as six months. After that our crew would move intact to the Japanese Theater as an experienced B-17 crew.
While we were waiting for transportation to our airplane, Eddie Knauth came over to me and asked, "How do I look?" I told him I thought he looked OK but he said " I think I'll check with the Flight Surgeon." I followed Eddie as he walked over to the Flight Surgeon, and told him," I feel punk." The Flight Surgeon looked just a moment and said, " Didn't you look at yourself when you shaved this morning ?" When Eddie admitted he had not shaved the Flight Surgeon said ," You have the worst case of yellow jaundice I have ever seen. You are grounded . Report immediately to the hospital." We were stunned. We did all we could to get Eddie released and even told the Doctor, "Eddie looks like this all the time." Another crewman offered," I have seen him looking a lot worse. I think Eddie is part Chinese" All of this did no good, and soon we had a replacement Radio Operator.
This immediately changed what our future plans would be. Since we would not be flying our twenty - five missions as an intact crew we would have a short leave in the United States and thence go to Japan. There was nothing we could do. We were committed to fly that day.
We flew our twenty fifth mission on February 4, 1944. It was an easy mission and there was little battle damage. On our return to Ridgewell David buzzed the airfield big time and not in a safe manner. We were lower than the tower which was deserted quickly but as we flew by the Tower Control Officer fired a red flare at us which lodged in our number two engine nacelle. As a result of this wild ride, all buzzing was banned at this base. After we landed and parked this old bird, many of our friends came out to the pad. They were as proud as we were of our accomplishment
The crew was given a special dinner that night, and Colonal Leber had some nice things to say about us. We were presented some awards including the Distinguished Unit Citation and a letter from Winston Churchill. I also received two more Oak Leaf Clusters.
Our crew was as follows:
We were a dedicated crew, and liked and respected each other. Hutchens was a great pilot. I thank the Lord for helping us survive twenty five combat missions over Germany at this crucial time in the war.
I have enjoyed writing these letters and hope you have enjoyed reading them.
I had been concerned about the progress of the atomic bomb. The following is of interest.
In October, 1940, a meeting took place in President Roosevelt's office that was to have great consequence for mankind. The caller was Alexander Sachs, Wall Street economist, a Director of the Lehman Corporation , and an amateur scientist. He wished to discuss nuclear fission.
The President had received some preliminary briefing from one of Elizabeth Dilling's alleged Communists, Albert Einstein, in a letter which said, "This new phenomenon would lead to the construction of bombs. A single bomb of this type might destroy some of the surrounding territory.
Dr. Sachs came armed with another letter from Einstein and a memorandum from Dr. Leo Szilard. The President was bored and not particularly interested but Dr. Sachs refused to be fobbed off, and began to read aloud the letter from Einstein. Once the president's attention had been caught, the Doctor read on through to the end.
"Alex"," said Roosevelt then, "what you are after is to see that the Nazis don't blow us up."
Roosevelt set the building of atomic bombs in motion that very night. He also insisted that Dr Sachs come back to see him at the White House late that very night.
The morning after the celebration dinner we were still stunned that we had completed twenty five bombing missions against the best of the Luftwaffe airplanes and pilots and the best Flak guns concentrations the Germans could put together. The Nazi 88 gun was tough and many fliers felt that if they ever met the Kraut that invented it , they would kill him on the spot. We also were apprehensive about our future assignment. We discussed the future, and came to the conclusion that we would have fifteen days home leave, fifteen days in a hospital facility, and then would begin training as an experienced B-17 crew to go to the Japanese theater in a combat assignment. This was not nearly as good as the expected six month War Bond tour in the United States
David was offered an immediate promotion to Major if he would stay in England and fly lead. If he had taken this offer he would be flying lead alternately with Colonel Lord who was later flying lead when he took a head-on and was killed with all of his crew. Lead was the number one target by the Luftwaffe pilots. If the lead is knocked out, the formation goes askew and is easy pickings for about two minutes. David declined the offer. He told me he thought it was too risky and I am glad he declined. If he had accepted I would have tried to stay with him as his navigator.
Incidentally, ( I had forgotten about this) a Lt. Plant was our first co-pilot back in Walla-Walla, Washington. Although he was a two cushion B-17 pilot he was an excellent pilot, a really nice guy, and flew excellent formation. He never seemed to tire, and his flying was ultra smooth. He had an absolutely charming wife who often joined us for supper back at Walla- Walla. I was still in the airsick phase and when she was there it was like a breath of fresh air. Later, Lt. Plant was separated from our crew and was made Aircraft Commander of another B-17 and another crew. We then got a new co- pilot, Lt. Tex Stephens, who could not fly good formation which meant David had to do almost all the formation flying. Lt. Plant later followed us to England and was killed in a head-on while flying on a mission over Paris.
Colonel Leber talked to me and told me he was recommending me for pilot training. He also me offered an assignment to West Point, but I declined this- I didn't want to spend another four years without a wife. He said he was sure I would be a good pilot. Col. Leber was a West Pointer and was always nice to me. When we were both bunged up and were side by side in hospital beds, all I wanted to eat was an orange, and he got me one.
We received our travel orders, and our crew was separated - no two were on the same ship. I took a train to London and thence to Liverpool. The ship assignment for me had been a French luxury liner before the war, and for me it was like a cruise ship of today. There were only about 120 flyers aboard the ship which normally carried about 2000 soldiers. For instance, there was one waiter per person in the dining room. If you wanted another steak there was no problem. My room was not in the hull but was on the top deck and was kept immaculate by the attendant.
After moving slowly with the aid of tugboats out of busy crowded Liverpool Harbor, we sailed into the Irish Sea and formed up with a battleship on our left and an aircraft carrier on our right. By direction of the U.S. Commander in the battleship the convoy slowly formed into three long lines of empty freighters and petroleum tankers riding high in the water showing their Plimsol mark. The convoy gradually picked up speed and we were joined by a battle cruiser on each of the four corners of the convoy. Forty seven destroyers were pinging in the distance rocking about forty five degrees in each direction. Our ship was gyro stabilized and rocked very little but pitched a lot. We saw no enemy action for the entire trip but I knew there was a guttural voice somewhere in the distance saying, " Catch you later when you are full."
It took us ten days to cross the North Atlantic mainly because of the storms. The waves were enormous and we were slowed to steerage way for days at a time. The battleship was little affected by the waves even though the waves would course over the bow and rise to the bridge. The waves would cover the bow of the carrier and the propeller, still turning, would come completely out of the water. The wave on the bow would speed down the deck and run off the stern. Our ship's behavior was similar- bury the bow, the propeller would come out of the water and sound, "chop chop chop chop " then the stern would bury. As the successive storms abated, we began to pick up speed, and one night the feel of the ship changed. The waves had diminished, and the engines were at maximum power. On deck, I realized we had left the convoy, and I could see shore lights. I watched the lights for a long time, then went to bed. The next morning when I awoke all was still. I looked out the porthole and there was the Statue of Liberty not fifty feet away looking at me straight in the eye.
I was home!
But not really home: I still had a long way to go. I had breakfast, tipped the waiter ( the first and only time while in the service) for he had treated me well. I set my suitcase and duffel bag in the hall and took a personnel boat up the Hudson River to Fort, Dix, New Jersey. We motored past New York City, and the City to me was breathtaking with the towering buildings and the smaller buildings and factories that lined the shore.
When we arrived at Fort Dix, we signed some papers, received our orders and train tickets (coach) home. My orders were for a fifteen day delay in route then to report to the medical facility at Miami Beach . Because of train scheduling, I could not leave until the next day, so I visited a friend who lived in downtown Manhattan. We had a good visit and a good dinner. I also visited a grocery store. After England, the food displayed was enormous and there were no lines or queues as they were called in England. A store in England would have one hundredth as much as this and the line would be a half a block long. I asked a clerk," Are there other stores like this one." She looked at me, puzzled at the question. " I mean all this food" She replied " Of course. This is really a very small store."
My orders called for me to report for pilot training in thirty days to Pryor Field in Decatur, Alabama. I think Colonel Leber had a lot of pull and had written some letters to accomplish this assignment.
With a train ticket in my wallet, an olive drab suitcase in one hand and a duffel bag in the other hand, I was in the enormous Grand Central Station in downtown New York City early the next morning. The Station was crowded with soldiers and civilians, and it appeared that there was no room for me to even get close to a train much less get on one. As I was standing back looking for some way to get on that train, an MP sergeant walking past me said, " Just landed from England?" I replied, "Yes, and I believe I could get back to England easier than I could get on that train." He said," Follow me." And I did. As we walked toward a side entrance, the Sergeant added ." I can't get you a seat, but I can get you a standing place which won't be too bad. Maybe someone will get off later ." I replied " Thanks," and in a minute I was standing in first class. The train filled rapidly, and with an "All aboard!' from the Conductor , the train pulled out of the station and we were bound for Alabama.
The seats were saved for civilians who had made reservations earlier, and I had no problem with this. However, I could not look out the window because of my height, but I improved my comfort by going to the Dining Car. At this time, the railroads probably served the best meals in the United States, and I proceeded to eat a very leisurely breakfast. The meals provided some sitting, but it was mostly standing.
I went home, and Mother fried chicken for breakfast the first morning. I also visited my aunts and uncles and friends.
Mrs. Wall, the local matchmaker, had selected my future wife, but I excused myself and took the next train to Auburn. With a little help from Alabama Polytechnic Institute, I found out that Margaret Buck was in a Home Economics class and would be there until Four PM. I immediately hiked over to the Home Ec building and went in . In the front row, wearing an apron, and holding a pan of hot biscuits was Margaret. She offered me a hot biscuit, and I discovered it was the best biscuit I had ever eaten. She hugged me and told me she loved me, and that was the happiest moment of my life.
I stayed in Auburn several days visiting Margaret between classes and eating supper at an old hotel located one block east of Toomers Corner. Harriet McGuire, Margaret' s room-mate, ate supper with us one night and I was glad she did- I had run out of things to say. Margaret and Harriet seemed to really enjoy each others company but often I did not know what they were talking about. I was no better. All I could talk about was flying. Margaret was so absolutely charming. I wanted to ask her to marry me but while I was making a lot of money now, what would I do after the war was over? I was in no position to get married.
The next morning I left Auburn headed for Miami Beach where I was housed in a deluxe beach front hotel . For five days I had physical exams including a flight physical. In the afternoon I had dental work. When I left Labrador headed for England I had no cavities. When I arrived at Miami Beach I had thirteen cavities. The next ten days I spent on the Beach then I took a train for Pryor Field at Decatur, Alabama.
After arriving at Pryor Field, I reported to the Commanding Officer, a Second Lieutenant who had never had any combat duty and never wanted any. I was a First Lieutenant which was an unusual arrangement. He, I, and the cadets were the only military personnel on the Base. Even the cook was a lady civilian. I assured him that all I wanted was to learn to fly an airplane and he seemed glad to hear that. However, he made a few telephone calls, and the protocol would be as follows:
I found a bedroom for rent in downtown Decatur in the large old two story home of Mr. and Mrs. Jackson. They were in their late sixties and they treated as if I were one of their children. As I grew to know them, we would sit on the porch in the evenings, sip ice water, and enjoy each other's company. I had a large bedroom on the second floor with a bathroom down the hall which I shared with a Pryor Field instructor. We talked a lot, and he seemed to enjoy sharing his knowledge with me. I also rode with him back and forth to work.
Pryor Field was the beginning of Primary pilot training. The airplane we would learn to fly was the Stearman PT 17. It was a big two winged airplane with two open cockpits and a 550 horsepower radial engine, and was a very safe airplane to fly. Most cadets walked away from crashes in this plane, but the second day I was there a senior cadet tried to give his girl friend a show and tried a slow roll at two hundred feet . He lost it, dived into the ground and was killed.
In the PT 17,the instructor sat in the front seat and the cadet sat in the back seat. Communication was one-way; instructor to cadet using a gosport. A gosport is simply a tube with a funnel on the instructor's end and headphones on the cadet's end . If the cadet did something wrong, the instructor would stick the funnel out into the slipstream which would almost blow your head off and then he would chew you out and you could not answer.
Starting the engine was done by two men turning a hand crank on the left side of the engine. The two cadets would crank faster and faster until the inertia starter was making a high -pitched scream. Then the cadet in front would remove the crank and quickly get out of the way of the propeller. The other cadet would check that he was out of the way and say loudly " Switch on." The cadet in the cockpit would yell, '"Switch on," the cadet on the wing would pull the handle to engage the starter, and get off the wing very quickly before he was blown off. The engine would then roar to life.
The training began with learning to taxi, takeoff, and land. On the ground, the engine blocked the view so we always taxied in a zig zag line. Take off was simple: line up with the runway, advance the throttle to max, keep a little back pressure on the stick, and the plane would take off by itself. After takeoff, climb to 300 feet straight ahead. Then, still climbing with reduced power, do two separate 90 degree turns, leveling off at 500 feet. Now you would be flying downwind parallel to the runway. When you reached the end of the runway, close the throttle and make a 180 degree turn to the left. At this point, your wings would be level, the nose beginning to come up for a three point landing and quickly you were rolling. Then the instructor would push the throttle forward as and indicator not to stop. Then he would say," touch and go" and you would take off and repeat the process. The third day I had completed six hours of flight instruction and after one takeoff and landing the instructor did not push the throttle. I let the plane roll to a stop and waited. The instructor slowly climbed out and said," Take her around, Willie." I did, and walked away from the landing. Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing. From this time on , I always flew the airplane. No instructor ever took the controls away from me.
Next was learning to fly the airplane. The initial training was in recovery from stalls. A stall is when the airplane stops flying and begins to fall toward the ground. Stalls are still a problem today but the emphasis is avoiding stalls by techniques that alarm the pilot that the airplane is approaching a stall. And today, warning devices include lights, horns, a piccolo sound, a girl's shrill scream blasting in your ears, and a stick shaker. All of these require fast and dramatic action. A jet will lose 10000 feet in a stall.
In training we went beyond approaches to stalls and did full stalls including power on and power off, straight ahead, turns to the right and turns to the left. These practices continued but added spin to the left and spins to the right including one, two and three turns. We then added precision spins and forced landings. Immediately after spin recovery, the instructor would hold the throttle back and say, "Forced landing." Looking around and finding a suitable landing spot- usually a cotton field-I would almost land, but the instructor would push the throttle forward and say ,"Take her home, Willie." Once he told me I was too nervous and to fly back to the field inverted. It didn't help my nervousness one bit. I had negative feelings about spins but my friend at the Jackson's told me," A spin is the easiest maneuver. It's all automatic. Neutralize the rudders and pop the stick forward." And it was. Being able to handle a spin easily gave me a lot of confidence.
Somehow, in the midst of this, Margaret and I decided to get married. She talked with her parents and set a date of July 15, 1944, in Atlanta, Georgia, and made a lot of plans for that date. I was scheduled to fly that day and could not avoid it. The invitations were recalled, but on Friday of the next week I visited the Flight Surgeon. I told him, " Doc, I'm sick, I can't fly tomorrow." He looked me over and said, " Son, theres nothing wrong with you. what's going on?" I replied, "Doc, I want to get married tomorrow." He said," That's no problem. Why didn't you just say so? " and wrote me out an excuse. So Saturday, July 22, 1944, Margaret and I were married at her grandparents house at 733 north 43rd Street in Birmingham. The following Monday we returned to Decatur and happily started our long and tumultuous life together in a two room apartment in downtown Decatur.
I graduated from Primary with no demerits, nor did I have to take a check ride which was the usual practice, and was transferred to Courtland Air Force Base at Courtland, Alabama, for basic training in a more complex airplane- the BT13. The BT-13 was all metal, had an electric starter, a high pitch and low pitch propeller and flaps. It also sported a plexiglass canopy and a radio. Take off was with the propeller in low pitch, and the ready room displayed a slogan:
"A simple slow leak was a
fellow named Mitch.
The training in the BT13 was similar to the training in Primary, but the BT13 was twice as fast as the PT17. Spins were wicked, and more than three turns was almost a prelude to a bailout. Two spins required a difficult and heart- wrenching recovery. My instructor and another cadet were practicing spins, got in one and could not recover. With the ground rapidly approaching, the instructor told the cadet to bail out. The instructor bailed out and the plane came out of the spin but the cadet, for some reason did not bail out, and flew back to the field with no problem. The instructor gently floated down and landed in a cotton field, and the farmer brought him back in his fertilizer truck.
We were doing more precise flying- hitting altitudes within ten feet, turns were three degrees per second. and on landing, turn off the runway at the first turn off. We also began night flying. One night sixteen of us made a night cross country flight and all were caught in a bad storm cloud. I was the only one that managed to land at the Air Base, and all were frantic that no one else showed that night. The others landed in fields, on roads , in trees. There was significant damage to planes to planes and some injuries. The only reason I managed to get back was that as I was flying on a heading of 90 degrees at 3000 feet when I realized I could not see any ground lights. I was in a deep dark cloud. Next I encountered significant turbulence and the instruments were needle, ball, and airspeed with no artificial horizon or gyro compass. I immediately did a 180 degree turn and flew out of the cloud. I then called the tower and told them the situation and they put me in a holding pattern. In about ten minutes they called and told me to return to the field. I think in flying you need to do the safe procedure rather than following instructions.
They were still washing out students and at this stage forty percent of the original class had gone to the Infantry. I managed to get through Basic with no problems. I think most of the failures were due to fear of the instructor and or fear of the airplane.
I moved on to Shaw Field at Sumpter, South Carolina for the advanced class. I started out in the AT6, a very fine airplane. In addition to all the features that the BT13 had the AT6 had retractable landing gear with an associate horn. If you made an approach to landing with the wheels up, the horn would blow loudly. One day (I saw this from right behind him) a cadet forgot to lower his wheels and he was on final approach (wheels come down on the downwind leg). The Officer in the tower told him," Pull up! Pull up! your wheels are up! Go around!" The cadet never changed course and pancaked in wheels up and went sliding down the runway with parts coming off. I pulled my wheels up and went around.
At the inquiry, the tower officer asked the cadet, " I told you your wheels were up and to go around. Why didn't you?" The cadet replied," I couldn't" hear you That damn horn was making too much noise." Dont laugh. Just a few years ago an airline L-1011, a sweet airplane, with three pilots in the cockpit couldn't decide whether the wheels were up or down and managed, with altitude hold, to crash the airliner in the swamps at the Miami Airport. All were killed. All the pilot had to do was pull back one throttle. If the horn didn't blow, the wheels were down and locked.
I did a lot of night flying. Night flying is much more difficult than day flying- you can't see the horizon or the ground, so you naturally use the instruments almost continually, and you are constantly concerned about vertigo. It only happened once to me. I was flying night formation when I saw the moon below me. This meant I was upside down. I broke out of the formation and got straight. One night I was in a holding pattern at 4000 feet on the north leg and there were eleven other planes practicing descents and landings from a holding position. When the tower cleared you to land, the procedure was to reduce power, drop the wheels and partial flaps, descend at 500 feet per minute to the pattern. This was slow, and the tower officer wanted to go home, and got on me twice for being so slow. On my third and last try, I was thinking of Margaret sitting in the Officers Club and eating a hot fudge sundae. When I received the last call, I put the nose down and pointed at the end of the runway. When the airspeed hit 300 MPH I closed the throttle, dropped the wheels and full flaps. and made a nice landing.
I apparently had passed the initial phase of advanced flying because I was assigned to multi-engine training as opposed to single engine training. I was glad - I did not want to be a fighter pilot . Fighter cockpits were too small and crowded for me. The training plane was the AT10, a spin off of the Lockheed Electra. The cockpit, instruments, and procedures were more complex than the AT6. For instance, the AT10 had a fuel crossfeed which was open on take off but closed in flight. The checklist was read by the copilot and the pilot replied to every item as opposed to the simple GUMP (gas, undercarriage, mixture, prop of the AT6). Visibility forward was excellent, and it was simple to taxi straight ahead as opposed to the zig-zag taxi of the single engine.
Initial training was basically day and night takeoffs and landings on fully lighted runways and dimly lighted grass fields. The grass field lights was a flare pot at each end of the field and the landing lights on the plane. The best way to land was to be very close to the ground at the first flare pot, close the throttles, and use the light from the backfiring engine to see the ground. Ground loops were common. There were always about six planes taking off and landing at the same so there was a lot of radio talk, and the temporary wooden tower kept up with the positions of the planes. One night the tower Officer said "Air Force 270, where are you?" The reply, "In a tree." Tower "270, Cut out that ----!. where are you?" The reply " I really am in a tree. " And he was. He had gotten too low on final approach. That ended the flying for the night.
Next we trained in single engine procedures. Because the AT10 did not have the power to maintain a given flight altitude or critical single flight speed , all single engine procedures were done with the "bad" engine at idle power so we could increase power quickly if we got into trouble. However, I quickly learned if you could make the pattern you could safely land. I think I flew over all of South Carolina with one engine at idle. The big problem was to feather the bad engine, never feather the good engine. A cadet by the name of Tyrone Philnik was learning single engine procedures. When the instructor feathered the right engine, Tyrone quickly feathered the left engine. The instructor looked Tyrone straight in the eye for a minute and said, " Quiet, isn't it?"
The next training was navigation and cross country flying. This included getting weather reports and preparing a flight plan. I quickly got into trouble on this one. The flight was from Shaw Field to Charleston and back over the swamps of South Carolina. All was fine for the first thirty minutes when BAM - it sounded like an explosion- the plane yawed to the right and a bad vibration started. I had a strong feeling a cylinder had been blown off the right engine. If so, there was a strong possibility of fire from a broken gasoline line. I immediately did a single engine procedure, feathered the right engine, turned off the gas to that engine, and went to maximum except take off on the left engine. The vibration stopped and I headed back to Shaw Field- about an hour away. All was going well with no vibration except I was loosing about fifty feet every five minutes. At this rate, I could not make it back to Shaw. This was the nearest airfield, and there was nothing but trees and swamp below. The trees were getting closer and closer. I had to do something or crash in the trees. Maybe I could get some power out of the right engine. So I restarted the right engine at idle. I had stopped the altitude loss. I increased the power and the vibration started again but I could climb. I reduced power to a respectable vibration, flew back to Shaw, landed, and parked the airplane. When I got out, I saw the problem was not in the engine but the right bottom surface had blown off. The turbulence was making the vibration. The mechanics and several instructors crowded around to look at the airplane.
I had passed again, and was transferred to Moody Field at Valdosta, Georgia for Advanced Transition. The plane to fly was the B25, the best twin ever built. It had twin Wright 2800 cubic inch supercharged engines which was tremendous power. It had power assisted controls which made it very light on the controls and a joy to fly. It landed beautifully because of the control stall wing design. I think it would take off and land in 600 feet. I practiced carrier take offs and landings and I think that was what we used. On a carrier takeoff the procedure was brakes on, full flaps , full power and release the brakes. When the air speed reached 75 MPH, stick full back and it would be airborne and climbing as the wheels retracted. On the landing approach, cross the fence at 75 MPH and 95 % power. At the end of the runway, cut the power and you are on the ground and rolling. On a normal landing you cross the fence at 120 MPH and touched down at 90MPH. It taxied about 40 MPH with engines idling.
Training was take offs and landings night and day, approaches to stalls, much single engine flight, day and night cross country, day and night formation flying , low visibility take offs and landings and radio navigation. On a low visibility departure we wore yellow goggles and used a green temporary windshield . This permitted you to read the instruments but not see out. The procedure was to place the nosewheel on the center line, go to full power and release the brakes , keeping straight with the aid of the gyro compass. At 100MPH lift the nose to 15 degrees above the horizon. When there was a positive rise of the altimeter start the wheels up.
The three runways were doubled so we had side by side takeoffs and landings. One cold and misty day I was walking to my airplane with my chute slung over my shoulder and watching a B25 cross the hot runway. Suddenly another B25 doing about 120MPH materialized out of the mist and hit the crossing plane in the middle. There was a tremendous crash, both tanks exploded and the 3400 gallons of gas made a huge fireball. I stopped a jeep and asked the driver to take me to the crash. I quickly realized I could do nothing. Even a wheel away from the crash was burning.
The next day we assembled and were told " Do not cross the hot runway without tower permission!" We all knew the six cadets who were killed and the crash and assembly made a big impression. I think we all resolved to follow this rule. About a week later I was flying copilot for a cadet I didn't know and the protocol was that the copilot did not interfere with the pilot. The cadet was taxiing to cross the hot runway and called the tower for permission . The tower was busy and did not answer, and there was a B25 landing on this runway. There was no way he could miss us. I reached over, grabbed the throttles and pushed them to maximum but the engines did not respond. I had pushed too fast so I had to go back to idle and push the throttles up slowly and the engines responded beautifully. The incoming B25 missed us by about one second. I pulled the throttles back and slowly taxied to the ramp where the tower officer was . waiting. I was still shaking, but I told the tower officer what had happened. The cadet argued that he was following the rules. He apparently was the type that would march into a whirling propeller. I heard nothing further from this but the cadet was off the field in an hour.
A Lt. Vernon was my instructor and was the only instructor that ever invited me to his home for dinner. He was super nice to me. To give you an example, our squadron (all cadets and instructors) were standing attention in the ready room getting instructions from Captain Herdrich, the squadron commander. The minute he left I went to the latrine and vomited for about thirty minutes and they took me to the hospital in an ambulance. I ended up in a bed in the base hospital and after examination the Flight Surgeon decided I had appendicitis and they would operate the next morning. I had tenderness at Mc Burney's Point and everywhere else However, about midnight, a young doctor came in and asked some questions such as, " Are you married? Is your wife here? Is your wife pregnant? Is she nauseated? " All the answers were yes, and he told me that I almost certainly had "Sympathetic Sickness" but he wanted me to stay in the hospital one more day and see how I was then. The next morning I was weakened hungry, but all right. Lt. Vernon came by to see me and told me I had missed eight hours of night formation and eight hours of night cross country. If I could fly tonight and tomorrow night he would fly with me and I would graduate with my class. Of course I said yes and he sat down with me and we planned the two flights. The first night was cross country and I flew the light line to Miami and landed. I parked the airplane, and we went inside and had a cup of coffee in the pilots lounge. The next leg was to Nashville, Tennessee thence back to Valdosta. I took a shower and flew my day scheduled flight. It was easy- I was flying copilot for a cadet.
Tonight we would fly formation and I would fly on Lt Vernon'v wing. He took off first with his navigation lights on and. I was on his right wing in three minutes and he was moving out. As soon as I locked on, he turned off his lights His lights would be off and I would light up his plane with my navigation lights. We would go to Columbia, North Carolina , where we landed and visited a pilot friend of his. We went thence to Jackson, Mississippi, thence to Tampa, Florida, and thence back to Valdosta, Georgia. Lt. Vernon asked me for an ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) and I gave it to him. He told me we would beat that by fifteen minutes . He was right. We had a south wind that helped and we did a 360 degree approach to landing. When over the end of the runway at cruise, roll into a 60 degree bank to the left and at the same time pull the power to 15 inches of mercury, wheels and flaps full down, gas on mains, wheels green, mixture rich., roll out aligned with runway, ease it down to touchdown, keep the nose up to kill the speed, then lower the nose and release the wheel to taxi. But I could not release the wheel. I had to use my other hand and pull my hand off. I enjoyed doing this because this was the standard landing procedure for the 381st Bomb Group and I was feeling good and this was probably the last landing before graduation. I taxied the B25 to its parking place, got out and walked around the B25 with affection. The eight hours of formation was tough but it was made easier by the sweet flying qualities of the B25. I went to the barracks, took a shower, then slept a few hours.
I was awakened at nine and asked to report to my instructor in clean clothes and shined shoes. I did, and he told me that all the instructors had nominated me to fly with Captain Herdrich. With every graduating class some cadet is nominated to fly with him. This was a real honor. I thought about it and told Lt. Vernon, "I don't want to fly with Captain Herdrich. He doesn't like me." I had never even seen him close up, but there many stories of his toughness. My instructor said, "He doesn't like anybody but I want you to fly with him. Do it for me." I nodded, picked up my parachute and walked out to the airplane. The flight, after Lt. Vernon's good teaching, was routine. I only had one single engine trial and that went down smoothly. At this stage I was lost, found the beam, rode the beam to 2000 feet to the high cone, turned outbound for two minutes, made a 180 degree turn and descended to 1200 feet, hit the low cone, and descended to 400 feet. At this point, I took my goggles off and there was the runway and I was aligned with the centerline of the runway. I was prepared for landing, reduced power, and touched down like kissing the back of a pretty girl's hand.
I taxied to the tarmac and shut down the engines. Captain Herdrich got out and walked over to Lt. Vernon. When Lt. Vernon smiled big, I knew I had passed.
I then received orders to report to Ellington Field, and the orders contained a provision that I would not be assigned combat duty.
(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)
[We thank Bill Goodman
for writing these letters,