World War II actually began in September 1939 when the forces of Nazi Germany began a ‘surprise’ invasion of Poland. It stands clear in my memory because my parents had sailed just days before from Europe to return home from a several months long business trip.
Letters from Mother had remarked about the several times daily air-raid siren “tests” in London, Paris and Rome. My memory is also clear about the “peace” meeting between Germany’s Adolph Hitler and England’s Neville Chamberlain, from which the British Prime Minister returned proclaiming “Peace in our time” – just days before.
So much for trusting a dictator!!
The United States officialdom, presided by President F. D. Roosevelt, affectionately referred to as “FDR”, loudly proclaimed our neutrality but proceeded to attempt to assist the Allies – that is England and France – since Italy had joined with Germany to form the Axis with the other small nations that had been taken over. War equipment and supplies were sent to the Allies by delivering them to Canada and flight training bases soon were established in North America.
Meanwhile, Japan was proceeding with its invasions, conquering and brutalizing the people of Korea and China and making similar plans for the oil-producing island nations of the South Pacific. All this despite the diplomatic protests by the more civil nations, including the United States. These diplomatic conversations were to continue for over two years – right up to December 7, 1941 – and even after the Japanese carrier force had set sail to attack the U.S. Naval and air bases at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on a Sunday morning.
Of course, morning in Hawaii means afternoon in Tulsa and my memory is still quite clear of my actions when the news came, by radio. As a 15-year-old high school junior, it was necessary for me to be studying for semester finals, with a radio music (big band swing) playing. The program was interrupted with the news that the “Japanese had bombed the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor.”
I went to the balcony railing and called down to my parents to tell them the news. My Dad claimed I was crazy, so my reply was that they had better turn on the radio.
On my return to class in January, I found that our school had hired a World War I artillery captain to give us “military training.” This was a private, men-only school, Cascia Hall, and, almost to a student, we initially took it as somewhat as a joke. However my three semesters of this training served me in good stead later as I am sure it did for the other students, who on graduation were called to duty by draft or enlistment. This military training resulted in the school athletics being called “The Commandos” after British Special Forces.
Being only 16 at graduation, it was my intent to have as much college in as possible before I became old enough for service. So I enrolled at Tulsa University to study aeronautical engineering. Because it had gone to three full semesters each year, it was possible to finish five semesters before that time and obtain a pilot license in the morning of July 30, 1945, before reporting for induction at Oklahoma City in the afternoon.
After reporting in Oklahoma City and spending the night there, we inductees were bussed to Camp Chaffee at Ft. Smith, Arkansas, for processing. Because of my high school training, I was designated as a squad leader there. Because of my college education, it was possible for me to finish the Army General Classification Test (AGCT) in half the allotted time. On leaving the test room to wait for my squad, I was accosted by a lieutenant demanding to know my name, where I was going and why. After being told, I was taken into his office. He informed me (under penalty of secrecy and threat of court martial) that I was to go to Air Forces Basic Training and would be given a field commission and sent to the CBI (China, Burma and India) Theater to command a mobile aviation gasoline testing laboratory.
After a week at Fort Chaffee, a large group of us were bussed to Sheppard Field for basic training. During the first two weeks it happened that, to his credit, then-President Harry S. Truman, D-Missouri, who had assumed office after the death of FDR, ordered the world’s first atomic bomb to be used on Hiroshima, Japan. Not receiving a surrender, he ordered a second one to be used on Nagasaki a few days later, which resulted in an unconditional surrender. This action was estimated to have saved 1,500,000 U.S. lives and at least 5,000,000 Japanese lives, so I have been eternally grateful to and respectful of him for that decision. The war’s end meant there would be no need for me in the CBI theater.
On completing basic training, six or eight of us were put on a train and told to get off when we reached Big Spring, Texas. I was given a telephone number to call for ground transportation. On doing so, it was answered, “Squadron E.” I reported our presence and was told, “We’ll send an ambulance.” I replied, “No one is sick or injured” and was told, “This is the base hospital and that is all we have – or you can walk.” It seemed that at every air base, Squadron E was operating the hospital. The base was Big Spring Army Air Field and was a bombardier training base, using twin-engine Beech 18s with a plexiglass bombardier nose.
We were all given different duties and mine was to be the acting hospital sergeant major. The base was in closing status, so the hospital had ceased surgical services. All of the years of medical records were being sorted, refiled, and packed to ship to St. Louis. So my job consisted of doing that (along with my WAC sergeant and a civilian employee) and ordering a plane and pilot for sending patients to a regional hospital for surgeries along with a records courier from our enlisted staff. My private pilot license experience was a help with that since I was familiar with aviation terms and logistics.
Upon the base closure, in November, 1945, two of my buddies from Sheppard and I were transferred to Enid Army Air Field, now Vance Air Force Base, again Squadron E. They went to the X-ray and Lab where they had trained and I was sent to the squadron office. There I served as morning report clerk and, being alone, as acting first sergeant. I found that about half of our squadron enlisted personnel were not on our morning report but in other squadrons, to the financial detriment of the mess hall. After an audit of all our personnel, a correcting report was prepared and, with help from the flight surgeon (a Colonel), I was able to get the records corrected.
After a career master sergeant was transferred in, I was sent to Fitzsimmons Army General Hospital the last week in May 1946 to attend medical technician school for six weeks. This was not welcome in my mind, but I made the best of it and I was thankful later. On return to EAAF, I was assigned as an ambulance driver with various medical duties until discharged in November, 1946. My entire duty was thus during the “official World War II,” which was from Dec. 7, 1941 to Dec. 31, 1946.
On discharge I returned to TU but changed major to geological Engineering and after two semesters, had to transfer to The University of Oklahoma to complete the course in December, 1949.