crew picture, 9/Nov/1944
lead crew returns from Metz mission
(Charles Webster is in rear row- 3rd from left)
As I write this, we are living on a small farm near Sharpsburg Maryland, one farm away from Antietam National Battlefield, where in September of 1862 about 27,000 combatants were killed or wounded in a one-day multistage battle. Every house and barn became a hospital and now, if still standing, is considered a historic structure.
Every few years around here someone, going through an attic or hay manger, comes up with a letter written in the aftermath of the battle. Some go ga-ga over this sort of thing, claiming that it brings new light into our national history. That is, even though the Civil War was fought only 135 years ago.
So, for some time I thought, “Perhaps I should write, even in boring detail, about my military experience in World War 2". Then, just a short time ago, the news media made a big deal about a tail gunner who recently passed away in Albany, N. Y. “The first flier to survive 25 missions in a B-17" The conditions I flew in were not as high risk as his, but I flew 29 missions. They say that 1, 000 veterans of that war are passing away every day, so here goes the rest of the story.
Notification of my draft status (1-A) was mailed to me 7/10/42 signed by Mr. R.C. Carter, one of the three-member local board # 371 at Glens Falls, N. Y. I was inducted Aug 1, placed in 'inactive reserve', and called to active duty effective Aug 15.
Now, it seems odd that I cannot recall the details of my departure. I boarded a train, probably at Glens Falls, but at that late date it may have been Fort Edward. Surely, several members of the family were there to wave goodbye. I was 21. I should remember who was there, but to my memory, it reads like 'The Green Green Grass of Home'.
Father had served in World War I at a very young age, not getting to France. Mother's parents were Quakers and she retained lots of that good mentality. I was far from a conscientious objector, but had no patriotic urge to serve. Throughout my teen years I had suffered a lot of back trouble, and considered myself unfit to be an infantryman. I was concerned that I would disgrace the family because of this lack of physical ability.
(I was more than 40 years old before I found out that my back problem was all due to muscle spasms, brought on by poor posture, and improper warm-up. High School coaches, in those days, were mostly interested in winning basketball games. In military training, with regular calisthenics, my back problems disappeared).
The lack of patriotic verve was partly due to a dislike of F.D.R. and his policies. Roosevelt's farm policies were never any benefit to us. He misled the American people regarding our involvement in the war and his anti-Japanese commerce regulations were one cause of the Pearl Harbor attack.
I do not remember much about the train ride to Camp Upton, either. We all must have felt like 'The Gambler' staring out the window at the darkness. Everyone was similarly affected; friendships were not made. At Camp Upton we were housed in tents that were up on wooden platforms, perhaps about eight to a tent. I believe this was an intentional shock treatment, because, after that, all kinds of barracks seemed pretty comfortable. In this tent, I observed the only case of real homesickness I've ever seen. He was physically ill. The reason was obvious. The sufferer came from way back in the woods; his family had no roots in the land; he worried that he might not be able to locate his family when the war was over. And, he couldn't read or write. I helped him write home. The army sure had to teach that one a lot, and certainly did.
A trainload was made up for a trip to Waco Texas. We were in Pullman cars, one up/one down. It took four days because war material freight was a more urgent cargo, and we waited long hours on sidings. Power was by soft coal steam engines, of course, and soot and cinders were everywhere. To reduce boredom and avoid motion sickness, I worked in the kitchen car, which was an open mail car with a stove in each end. The stove to be used depended on which way the car was moving.
The trick was to keep the scrambles eggs from slopping out of the cauldron, and limit the number of cinders that got in. Everything tasted sulphurous, and most of the recruits lived on those small boxes of cereal designed to be eaten right out of the box. -- My first taste of army waste -- as we approached our destination, all the leftover food was tossed out along the railroad tracks.
My most recent civilian job had been payroll clerk, stock clerk, truck and school bus driver, and go-fer, for Earl T Carswell's International Trucks agency. (He also sold Studebaker cars, those prewar cars that drove like Mercedes). So, I was assigned to the Quartermaster Corps, driving trucks around the airbase. That included the garbage trucks, but inmates from the brig handled the actual garbage. We also delivered vehicles, including Jeeps and motorcycles, from the depot at Arlington, Texas to other bases. All the while we had drill training and regular callisthenic routines to build up muscle. I wore 81/2 shoes when I left home. They issued 101/2 G.I. shoes and in a few weeks they were just right.
There didn't seem much chance of advancement in Quartermasters, so I applied for aviation cadet training. They gave me a bunch of written tests, and acceptance came soon after.
Randolph Field near San Antonio was the officer-training base for the Air Corps. There was very strict discipline, upper and lower class hazing levels, but probably nothing compared to peacetime training. There were long cross-country runs; a six-minute mile was acceptable. Drill practice was almost all parades with hundreds of us standing in the sun for hours. A lot of men fainted and had to be carried away on stretchers. The band played mostly standard marches, but there was some humor with things like " In der Fuhrer's Face". There was class work in navigation, Morse code, naval and aircraft recognition, etc. One certainly had to "graduate" from this phase of training, but there was no increase in pay.
Then we went to a small airfield at Brady Texas for primary pilot training. We flew Fairchild P.T.19 single wing planes made in Hagerstown, Maryland. It was a pleasure to fly, I enjoyed all the exercises, and always felt safe, but my instructor did not pass me. I wrote perhaps my only sad letter home.
I still have my pilot's log. It shows me getting a failing grade on both the 15 and 20 hour check. I did pass landing checks. A military pilot, Capt. Stevens, went up with me for about 45 minutes of spins, rolls, etc. and he recommended elimination. It seems I never asked my civilian instructor what I was doing wrong and he never volunteered to tell me. All he did was tell me what he wanted me to do next. I flew 33 hours as a student and 9 hours solo. The instructors and testers were probably right, and I might not have survived as a pilot; i.e. did not show natural flying ability for combat.
In the late 1950s, we lived in Irving, Texas, surrounded by American and United airline pilots with whom we played bridge and poker. These pilots said "Anyone who can drive a bus, can be trained to fly an airliner". But that's not combat.
To obtain a commission and continue flying, the alternatives were navigator or bombardier, and this time the choice was left up to the Air Corps. Among the tests there were a number involving hand and eye coordination. I had played the guitar and am somewhat ambidextrous, so made the bombardier column and was sent to Childress, Texas for ground and air training with the Norden bombsight.
This Norden bombsight was a very accurate analog device. It was considered top secret. Whenever we flew we had to take it out to the plane and install it, then remove it, never leaving it in an unattended aircraft. We carried those heavy Model 1911, 45 caliber Colt Automatics whenever we used the device. I practiced with the model 1911. Nobody warned about ear protection. Between that and putting up with aircraft noise, I lost all my hearing above 4500 cycles by age 24. The rest of my hearing remains near normal, but no piccolo, no warblers, and 'fifty cents' and 'sixty cents' sound alike.
During training, each of us had gone through a high altitude simulation. About ten people were involved in each test. We entered a vacuum chamber shaped like the inside of a plane. The air pressure was gradually reduced. At "10,000 feet" most of the trainees were instructed to put on oxygen masks. Two or three were left without oxygen and were given tasks. When we got up to about "18,000 feet" the card shuffler couldn't keep the cards off the floor, and the one writing a letter home kept on writing but forgot to move his hand forward. Then the guinea pigs were given oxygen and brought back to their senses. It was a powerful lesson. They mixed up the records of one such test and I had to do it again, but was never the guinea pig.
The training pace was intense and left little time for recreation. Most of the airbases in Texas were out in the boondocks, anyway. The nearest town was big if it had a movie theater, and midsized if it had a bowling alley. This drove people from the big cities up a wall, but it wasn't too bad if you were accustomed to living on a dirt road. You could walk anywhere during the war without fear of personal assault. I walked into a small town bank and borrowed $20, no questions asked. Just signed a note to pay back $21 next month. On several Sundays, I went to small churches. The mess halls and barracks were recreational. All northerners were 'damn yankees' but in good taste. There were people from bluegrass areas who drove New York City people to distraction with that almost discordant singing style.
To get the feel of the bombsight we used instruments that were mounted on tall ladder-like wheeled vehicles. They were battery powered and could be steered over a big aerial photo that covered the floor of a gym-style room. This was a good simulation, and inexpensive. For actual bombing practice and evaluation, we flew in twin engine Beechcraft A.T.11s with pilot, instructor, and two students. The targets had bull’s-eyes and 100 foot rings so one student could be scoring the results while the other made bombing runs. A pattern of at least three targets was used to save time. We dropped 100 pounders that contained sand for weight and 4 pounds of black powder for day or night spotting. The A.T.11 didn't offer a stable platform for aiming, but from 4000 feet we usually were within 200 feet. We practiced as high as 11,000 feet, which was probably the limit with no oxygen equipment.
It seems there were no washouts in the bombardier class. A few students did not receive commissions, were given "Flight Officer" status instead. This must have been based on class work, not on ability to hit a target, and hitting targets was mainly a matter of following proper procedures under pressure of time. My commission date, 5 Aug 43, was just ten days short of one year of active duty.
Furloughs, usually of 14-day duration, were granted between phases of training. The urge to go home was compelling, even though half the time would be spent in travel. At our pay scale, the only affordable, available transport was by rail and on a coach car. From mid Texas, that was: one day to St Louis, next day Chicago, and Third day Albany. Even though you were in good physical shape, your ankles would swell up.
On one such furlough, I met my future wife at a “round and square” dance at Hidden Valley, one of those popular and successful dude ranches that were operated at Lucerne, before and during the war. Her name was Dorothy Meehan, and we corresponded throughout the rest of my service time. She must have written 100 letters.
I soon learned that she was nee Slocum and more a war veteran than I. Her first husband had also been a bombardier and he was M.I.A. and presumed dead in combat duty over the Mediterranean. A native of Oakville, near Waterbury, Connecticut, she was working as a legal secretary for firm that seemed mostly involved with helping clients get the materials and machine tools they needed to carry out their war related contracts. Understandably, she didn't want to lose another husband, so we did not marry unti11945.
Full crews were made up and B-17s assigned at Dalhart, Texas. Very little stateside training was involved as combat crews. We spent a week at Pyote, Texas for gunnery practice on towed targets and drone aircraft. I don't recall any bombing practice with the B-17. From there we went to Gander Lake, Newfoundland via Kearney, Nebraska and Presque Isle, Maine.
At Dalhart, there was a small room off the dining hall lined with nickel and dime machines. No bigger slots were allowed in the command, we were told. Those 15 machines were making a profit for the officer's club of about $30,000 a month. This was all open report on the bulletin board, nothing underhanded. I was reminded that at Randolph Field all aviation cadets were required to belong to the "Aviation Cadet Club" and 50 cents was taken out of your pay just like your laundry bill. This "club" was a mezzanine in the Gunther Hotel where there was nothing but some food and drink machines and a few old easy chairs. Cadets didn't get to San Antonio much to use this "facility", Thousands of cadets went through Randolph Field. One can only speculate what really happened to the thousands of dollars that were taken in.
Pyote was a town of perhaps 200 people once, but when we were there the school was boarded up and most buildings empty. Someone said that the oil wells had dried up.
Kearney and Presque Isle were just whistle-stops, but, along the way, our orders were changed from “restricted” to “secret”. We were told to take both summer and winter clothes to give no hint of destination, although December, it was warm in Kearney. Remember, it's always cold at high altitude. When we came down at Presque Isle, though, the temperature just didn't come back up.
At Gander Lake we waited almost two weeks for favorable weather. A ski patrol had been based there and had left a hanger full of all white painted ski equipment, which we used for recreation. We were assigned in half-crews to be ferried across the Atlantic by Air Transport Command pilots and flight engineers. This not only put experienced aviators at the controls, but also put two new B-17s in England for each crew delivered. We heard that our weatherman worked prewar for a florist organization, predicting Easter weather for flowers to be shipped out of Hawaii. He was good. We had a 90-knot tailwind all the way and made the crossing in less than eight hours. Airspeed, conserving fuel, 147 knots.
I was in the second plane to take off. It was totally dark, Christmas eve. With me were Co-pilot William J. Dallas, Sgt Carl K Lunde, Sgt. Albert J. Senechal, and Sgt. Vincent A. Angione. The other half of my combat crew, Charles W. Mars, pilot, James G. Clark, navigator, Sgt. Raymond L. Foster, Sgt. Eddie NMI McGinnis, radio operator, and Sgt. Charles W. Dunlap Jr. were on another plane but I didn't know which one.
We lined up at the end of the runway and sat idling at 45 degrees so as not to blow dust at each other. The lead plane would then rev up each of its four engines as a last minute check, turn down the runway and take off. The number one plane did this and made a smooth take off but, when it turned left at about 500 feet, it lost lift and crashed into a wooded hill. Each aircraft carried extra 100-octane gasoline in tanks installed in the bomb bay, plus a regular full load of fuel. The crash must have burned several acres.
We waited several minutes. The control tower came on and someone announced that we would continue to a higher altitude before making the turn. And, that's what we did. That was my first brush with military loss of life; ten were killed. The only one I knew well was Flight Officer Paul L. Mazey, a fellow bombardier. The A.T.C. pilot was a captain as were most of the 1st pilots. The A. T .C pilot and co-pilot on our transport were both 2nd lieutenants.
Last minute changes may have been made, but my records show that those lost in this accident were: Capt William L. Hendershot 0428675, 2nd Lt. Frank E. Jackson 0521131, 1st Lt. Martin Berkowitz, 0794748, Sgt. Harolf F.Combs, 11098478, Sgt. James G. Windsor 13115723, Fit 0. Paul L. Mazey, 2nd Lt.Myron M. Goldman,O 691047, Sgt. Nicholas J. Fizanni, 13125131, Sgt. Wilbur R. Sanders,18189025,and Sgt. Vincent Cloeffel, 32765644.
For landing, each plane had a two syllable secret code name for identification. We were "Henpeck". The little airstrip in Wales was "Glutton Yoke". So, over the intercom it was "glutton yoke this is henpeck, over". And in reply "henpeck, this is glutton yoke, merry Christmas old chap". The whole trip was in the dark, but it was Christmas morning
There was one day of rest in Wales. It was dark and foggy so nobody saw anything of the place. Housing was little stone cottages with mattresses on stone slabs, a bit like living in Tierra del Fuego. Trains took us to our 8th Air Force bases. The crews were scattered. As far as I know no other crew in our provisional group went to the 303rd Bomber Group at Molesworth. You could form no lasting army buddies under this system of assignment.
At Molesworth, the pilots and navigators went up to become familiar with the approaches and layout of the fields. Air bases were only a few miles apart. The rest of us just waited for our first combat missions. After a few uneventful missions, one aborted, I became severely ill with 103-degree temperature. They diagnosed Scarlet Fever and, per regulations, I was quarantined for 21 days. The hospital occupied one of those old manor houses with 4-inch thick oak doors and what amounted to outhouses inside with a flush of water now and then. Penicillin for human use was not yet available to us, but we had sulfa drugs. Within 48 hours I was feeling fine but still had to spend 18 more days playing rummy with and being monitored by a very nice young nurse. There seemed to be no bathtubs or showers for the patients. The nurse washed top and bottom, then handed you the wet towel to take care of the middle.
While thus confined, two personal things happened.
1) Navigator, Dick Clark, was assigned to a training course to drop winged bombs. These were to be tried on targets in the Ruhr Valley where flak was intense but high accuracy not so important. From later reports, these devices were not very effective; there were a lot of them that spun in without flying very far. And,
2) The rest of my crew was shot down with severe flak damage and considerable bodily injury, such that only the man who took my place was unscathed and escaped capture. He, (the "toggeleer"), did all the right things, took trains, acted the role of a foreign worker, and finally paid a guide to take him over the Pyrenees via a remote pass. We carried real, not counterfeit, money in a waterproof packet. Anyway, most of my original crew spent the rest of the European war at Stalag Luft.
I was a bit lost, spent some time at a British-designed silo-like structure where aerialphotographs were projected, moving on the floor. I took some courses and was assigned as a navigator on two or three missions, but all I could do was dead reckoning. Not a very good feeling. If lost in bad weather, the pilot and radio operator would have to get you home.
THE LEAD CREW
Then, I was asked to lead a group (that is, do all the aiming) on a raid on Peenemunde.
( Webster's aerial photo of bombing run over Peenemunde)
We were told at briefing, that the plant was manufacturing rocket fuel. London was still being bombed by V-1 and V-2 missiles. Now, it appears that the plant was working with heavy water, taken from the Norwegians, and was into atomic energy research. Anyway, our group put 95% of its bombs within 125 feet of the aim-point. I never aimed better, but could never lose the reputation, and was asked to lead on every mission thereafter.
Being on the lead crew had several advantages:
The pilots had a great deal to do with getting the group on course with minimum drift angle, leaving only fine adjustments of the bombsight to finish the job. Most impressive was Robert Sheets who stayed in the service and made at least full colonel, and must have become a squadron commander.
lead crew photo following Hamm run, 25 Oct. 1944
Charles Webster, rear row, first from left
Capt. Robert W. Sheets, lead pilot, to his left
Another advantage of leading: You were scheduled far ahead, knowing about when your next mission would be. So, for the Summer of '44, I bought an inexpensive bicycle and went for all day or overnight trips to Cambridge, Huntington, etc. I rented a punting boat on the Great Oise River and looked at the swans. The English may want to be in England in April, but June is better. Then, you can read a newspaper on a park bench until about 11 P.M.
The B-17 went only about 150 M .P. H. Some of our missions were short. For example, when we tried to disable rocket launching sites on the Pas de Calais. Others were long. In the bombing of major metropolitan areas, I went four times to Berlin and three times to Munich. Some of the most immediately satisfying strikes were on synthetic fuel plants. These were Fischer- Tropsch-Process installations built next to brown-coal strip mines, making synthetic gasoline and diesel fuel. Operating as a wing, the first group would drop a few 1000 pound bombs, the next group a lot of 100 pounders and the last group would top it off with 12 bomb-loads of incendiaries. The plants would burn for weeks, so you knew you were impeding their war efforts without killing a lot of civilians. And yet, we had to hit some of them more than once, because the Germans would get them back on line.
General Curtis LeMay had been commander of the 8th Air Force, and his way of operating carried over, I believe, long after he went on to higher commands. Our squadron and group commanders were low-key with a respect for human life. We didn't have any George Pattons. We flew at the highest reasonable altitude, given the weather conditions. We were usually much higher than Payne Stewart was when he appeared to lose reasoning ability from lack of oxygen. Our guns would jam at minus 70 F, but so would the guns on a Messerschmitt. I was never in a situation where planes were going down all around.
Ground crew aircraft maintenance was remarkable. And Rosie The Riveter was at her best when assembling the Boeing 8-17. I can't point to any losses due solely to mechanical failure.
The most important consideration about the weather was what it would be like upon our return. Missions were scrubbed in beautiful weather, anticipating impossible landing conditions. There would be hundreds of planes up, and England is small. So, we operated like deep-sea divers, with electric suits, electric boots, oxygen lines,intercom lines, mittens, miserable working conditions, but we survived.
RETURNING FROM A MISSION
Upon return from any combat mission, each crew was debriefed for intelligence, and I suppose, psychological evaluation. At Molesworth we were greeted at the door with a one-ounce shot of the very best scotch whiskey. No shortage of scotch in Britain during the war. I had two ounces; the man ahead of me in the lineup was a Seventh Day Adventist. The best brands of cigarettes were 50 cents a carton and the P .X. threw in a half dozen cigars free. Smoking was almost universal. Lung cancer was not perceived as a probable cause of death. Although they ran on gasoline, once airborne, there was negligible risk of fire from smoking on military aircraft. I enjoyed a cigar as we climbed to altitude, but no crew member in my vicinity ever smoked when we were on oxygen. Flight surgeons warned us that smoking at high altitude was an unknown.
At Molesworth the showers were outside between barracks, a number of sprinkler heads piped over an area like a concrete tennis court. It was easy to use body heat to soap up, but getting the soap off took more water and that water was cold. There was one boiler room near the kitchens and mess halls, and someone had installed three bathtubs next to those boilers. Several times during the winter you could go over and really clean up. It is nearly sixty years now since my last tub bath in November 1944; all showers ever since.
There were little coke stoves heating individual rooms. I rigged up an oil burner from copper tubing and an old oxygen tank and used a small amount of waste oil to augment the coke; probably a very bad idea.
Most of the time we had bedrooms to ourselves. When I did have a roommate we never seemed to discuss anything personal or family, I don't know why. Then, that one roommate was killed in a midair collision over England. Oddly, that was more of a shock than a loss over enemy territory, because you knew there was a fatality. He must have mentioned me to his girlfriend back home. A letter came asking for details. I told her that I was not free to give details, that the security of others was at stake. It was painful and I was leaning over backward. My father wrote that neither he nor Hitler would learn any secrets from my letters. To this day, I don't know whether bereft families ever received details, as, for example, the ten that were wiped out at Gander Lake.
In May '44 my brother came to England from campaigns in Africa, Sicily, and Anzio. He outranked me, being a captain, and me still a 2nd Lt. He found his way to Molesworth for a short visit. I can't recall much of what we talked about. Certainly not about military affairs, just personal observations. I recall a strong feeling that the odds of both of us surviving the whole war were not good. A few days later, some of us were briefed that the continental invasion was imminent without saying where or when. I asked for three days and tried to locate his unit. Trains from London went out like spokes on a wheel. To go to another coastal point you had to go back to London and try another line. Probably, for security, all units scheduled for D-day were already incommunicado by that time.
On D-day our first briefing was at 0200 hrs. I was on three missions in twenty-four hours: the first a diversion to Brest where we hit a naval target, the second to the Pas de Calais area, the third to Normandy, a bridge. Then we went right back to our strategic work at fuel plants and industries as if nothing else was happening.
There was talk that we might make arrangements with the Russians to do shuttle bombing; being refueled and armed for a return mission, and thus going deeper into Germany than otherwise possible. This never materialized. The Russians and we weren't all that close, and questions of fuel quality, trained mechanics and logistics, were hard to answer.
I was on only one mission in support of our ground forces. We used the radio beam detectors that the pilot watches to align with the runway, only here our troops put out the radio beam to define their front line. The practice seemed risky.
By command of General Eisenhower, I became a 1st Lieutenant , 15 June. My last mission must have been on or about 16 November. The Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded 22 November. The military awards I received and the rank attained was not for acts of bravery. They were awarded for taking risks and carrying out the job of destroying targets. We were not "U.S. Army officers". We held temporary commissions in" The Army of the United States". I enjoyed the distinction of having a commission, but always recognized that it was given based not on leadership potential but on anticipated usefulness in carrying out some difficult assignments. I am proud of my work. Reconnaissance people rated me" as good a bombardier as the 8th Airforce ever had" in a written report, no less.
RETURN TO THE USA
No long troopship trips for we airmen! We were brought to the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Atlantic City for "R & R". This was not my cup of tea, I would rather have had the week to spend with my family than have buffet dinners with ice carvings and other elaborations. Besides, it wasn't in keeping with the fact that there was still a war going on and the really "greatest generation", our parents and our sisters, were on rations for most foods and were putting up with many other hardships. And, who was paying the bill?
Military life after combat duty was anticlimactic. The war went on. There was no mechanism in place to demobilize any particular groups, although there were plenty of newly trained people with the same M.O.S. and the product of more advanced training and equipment. There must have been thoughts of double jeopardy, such that, unless you pushed for it, you would not be sent from the European to the Pacific front. Also, naval aviators must have been in greater demand.
I was assigned to the air training command, at Midland, Texas, teaching ground school subjects to mechanics. I understood the material, but in my judgment, was not an effective teacher. We made regular flights in B-17s often going to distant U.S. airbases, and supposedly maintained our readiness for further combat duty.
There was a small library of paperback books at the Midland base. I had never been much of a reader. When I read H.G. Wells" The Outline of History" I began to think about how little formal education I could remember and how much I never knew. There were application forms to apply for study- by- mail with" The Armed Forces Institute" run out of the University of Wisconsin. I reviewed both algebra and trigonometry with a by-mail professor, which proved very helpful when I entered engineering school under public law 346.
After V E day it was all the more obvious that we would not see combat again. It was also much harder to keep a class of mechanics awake by explaining how a C-1 autopilot worked. The people of Texas treated the military with great respect and kindness
LIFE ON BASE
Neither my brother nor I were sexually active during military service. That was one of the few things I remember talking about when we met at Molesworth. Despite lurid accounts by author Kinsey and others, I think we were in the majority. One could not form any lasting relationships, and, as an 'officer and a gentleman' I didn't want to sully my record by showing up for venereal disease treatment. We did meet girls socially at nearly all bases, and those I met at places like Waco and Fort Worth were like first lady Laura Bush, disciplined, intelligent but not academia types, religious, but not fanatically so.
In all associations with Texans I was only slightly aware that we were in a segregated society. The Negro minority went about their assigned jobs, and there seemed to be a small population. Those recently from Mexico were concentrated in urban areas like San Antonio, and formed self-sufficient communities. Army friends would advise us “Yankees” not to get involved with "spiks" meaning Spanish girls, implying that it wasn't a safe practice. It was unclear whether the risk was disease, or getting beat up by a Mexican boyfriend.
So, it came as a shock when we moved to Dallas, Texas in 1954, to find that Texans were by far the most pro-segregation people in the country .In 1955, the Dallas County school superintendent suggested, meekly, that perhaps the system should consider integrating the first grade. He was promptly voted out of office. Later, of course, much more difficult adjustments had to be made.
And, at work, my company chose to follow "local customs." Negro employees had a separate dining area and separate rest rooms. This was done away with before I left Dallas in 1961. The changes in attitude over the past 45 years have been remarkable, and Texas is an example of enormous change at all official levels.
Joseph Goulden wrote in "The Best Years" about the threatened and real unrest among returning servicemen. Tom Brokaw wrote in "The Greatest Generation" about how returning servicemen went to the top of business and society. I escaped both categories. Five days after discharge I was studying Chemical Engineering at the University of Cincinnati under public law 346. I did a five-year cooperative program: half work half school with no summer vacations. Dorothy worked as secretary to one of the college deans, so we had financial stability. We were housed on the campus in temporary housing that was installed on what had been the clay tennis courts. There were 36 married veterans there, most studying engineering. We called the place "Vetville." My schooling had not been interrupted by the war, and by the time I graduated I was 29 years old, too old to ever make C.E.O. At Cincinnati, I shall never forget Professor R.A. Van Wye the coordinator who worked with industry to find us appropriate cooperative jobs. He was outstanding among so many selfless people who put hundreds of us on track, adjusting to civilian life. The civilian instructors who taught in the military and then back in the colleges, who were one half generation out of phase to serve in combat roles, were also a great generation.
Six years after my last military flight you still couldn't get me up in a plane. Others would take the morning flight while I took the sleeper train the night before. When trips got longer that practice had to stop. Does anyone remember the "Corvair", a twin engine job with those self contained steps to board it? It seemed unbelievably quiet and comfortable, compared to warplanes.
My Army experience "grew me up " in a hurry. The four years were like no others as far as personal advancement is concerned. I remain an advocate of compulsory military training; at least two years, right after high school.
prepared for publication by Jackie Quarters, '03 and Ben Smith, '03
edited by Mr. Rozell, 2002
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