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Dad in the Air Force

My Dad spent 26 years in the United States Air Force. Starting in World War II in the Pacific in 1944 and retiring in 1968. Some of his and my favorite memories are of the B-47 of which he served as the navigator bombardier during the mid 50's at the height of the cold war. The B-47 was our nation's first operational jet bomber and the predecessor to the B-52 which is still in use today. My goal here is to outline his career and what he did in the Air Force over the years.

I intend to outline the early years in the Pacific, the Korean War years, The Cold War years, and the years after that. I think that it is important to document some of this before it is lost for all time, and I'll be working on it over the next few months

World War II

What I know about the early years is that he went to flight school in Lakeland Fl. He learned to fly in a Steerman. It is a World War I biplane that was often used as a trainer during the second world war. He was the third to solo in his class after only 8 hours and 15 minutes of flight time. Once he soloed he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.

Dad in Flight School

Dad after soloing!

After soloing he moved on to Midland Texas where he learned to fly bombers training in AT-10. This was the location where he met my mother. They were married in Indianapolis only 6 weeks after they meet. He then moved on the Casper Wyoming where he attended B-24 school and learned to fly the B-24.

Dad had the attitude in the Air Force to never turndown a school. At the end of B-24 school he was offered Radar Bombardier School in Langley Field Virginia. He was able to take my mother along with him to this school. It was a good thing, because he went to the war next.

After the schools he was assigned to a B-24 crew in the Pacific. He was assigned to the 5th Air Force in Clarke Field in the Philippines. To get there they picked up a B-24 at Langley Field and flew it to California and then Island hopped to get it there.

The interesting part of the B-24 assignment was the his B-24 was painted all black and they were assigned antisub detail. They operated at night. The missions usually lasted all night where they would go out and look for running lights. Anything that had running light got a bomb. They didn’t have a chance. You see, the plane was all black, the engines had special dampeners and silencers to make them very quiet, so the plane was very stealthy. You could not see them from the water.

They had three missions to the Antes River in China. This was an 18 hour flight. Half the bomb bay had to be taken up with fuel to make the flight.

I know the he was involved in several crashes during the war, and one was very serious in which everyone on the B-24 but himself and one other were killed. This crash occurred at Clarke Field. They had a full bomb load and a double crew. The crew normally consists of 11, 6 officers and 11 enlisted men. A double crew meant that this plane had 24 men on it! One trained crew and one in training. They took off and had the number three engine shot out. They feathered it and returned to base. They came very close to making it landing only 500 feet short of the runway. The whole bottom half of the aircraft was scraped away and dad received bad abrasions to his back and a fractured clavicle. It is amazing but he still remembers the name of his doctor, Dr. Mondale. As a result of this crash he was awarded the Purple Heart. While he was recuperating his unit was transferred to Ieshema, an Island in the Pacific closer to Japan. He was in transported to Ieshema due to his injuries in an LST. During this transport a hurricane hit making that transport very hairy.

When the war was over to end there was no air craft for dad to be assigned to so he was assigned to 5th Air Force Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan. This lead to some interesting adventures.

Dad was on the battleship Missouri when the Japanese surrendered to US forces at the end of the war.

Dad was one of the first Americans in Hiroshima after the A-Bomb blast. He says the people told him the ground got so hot the they could not stand on it so they rushed into the river and drowned, and that is how a lot of the people that weren’t killed in the initial blast were killed. Dad has in his house two beer bottles that he found sitting on a bar. They are melted for the heat of the A-bomb blast. One is broken. It was dropped by my grandmother cleaning one day. Amazing that it can survive an A-bomb but can’t survive granny!

Dad by the Bottles from the Blast!

Dad has a lot of respect for the Japanese. He likes the country and I think he like it more than the state of California, which he hates. He consequentially had made arrangements to have my mother moved to Japan, so they could be together. Unfortunately, dad and his commanding officer got into an argument. What he saw was the Air Force was being taken over by civilians the didn’t fight in the was and were looking to what was politically correct. He had mad arrangements to have mom come to Japan, so he changed that, and came back to the States on the “General Collins” He dropped out of active duty till the Korean War in 1951 and B-29’s.

Dad did stay in the reserves during the time in between the two wars. Below is an article the appeared in the Indiniapolis Star sometime durint that time. We have no way of knowing the exact date of the article:


Korean War

After the Korean War started he was called back to active duty with the Indiana Air Guard and stationed in Alexandria, La. One night he was having a drink in the Officer’s Club at Pope AFB when a senior officer by the name of Weber Thomas Jr. told him he was not rated.Dad told him he could not do that.He went back to Alexandria, La and applied to return to flying status.Weber Thomas came in and asked for a copy of his suspension orders.There were none and he was returned to flying status.He was assigned to training in Randolph AFB in San Antonio, Texas.There were 2 of the b-29 crews that didn’t get assigned to serve in Korea but rather went into B-29s in the states as part of the Strategic Air Command (SAC). He was transferred to Salina Kansas.

SAC was the bomber fleet that was setup to be able to strike deep within the Soviet Union. Their bases were almost always buried deep within the United States to be away from enemy attack. I remember living in such places as Salina, Kansas, Galveston, Texas, Sedalia, Missouri, and Sacramento, California.

The B-29

The only thing I know dad saying about the B-29 is that it always leaked oil. One time they were assigned the job of flying a general from Texas to California. They had preflighted the aircraft to make sure it was ready to go and all was well. When the general arrived for his flight the B-29 had developed an oil leak and they had to cancel.

Cold War

Dad was transferred from Salina, Kansas to Ellington AFB for 6 months of ground training on the then new B-47. After ground school in the B-47 dad was transferred to Mather Field in Sacramento, California. The Air Force’s first new all jet bomber was the B-47. We were only there for about 9 months. I was about 6 years old and my brother Terry was born just before the move to California.

To digress a little, dad had gone to California early, and mom had my brother and we flew out later. We flew from Indianapolis to O’Hare on a DC3 that was air conditioned. Then to California on a DC6. The flight on the DC3 was memorable because mom freaked out because of the air conditioning. It seams that she thought the airplane was on fire. This was unusual, most of the time when we traveled from base to base we drove.

After California dad was transferred to Whiteman Air Force Base near Sedalia, Missouri. This was the first home of the B-47 and our home for 3 and half years. While there I have very vivid memories of my life. One of the most impressive memories I have is going to an open house at Whiteman AFB and being allowed to go into dad’s airplane. I remember going all through it and even going up into the cockpit and looking out over the wings through the bubble canopy. Looking down at the flight control yoke which was all black and seeing a purplish blue script B-47 in the center. What an amazing experience for a boy about 9 years old. I wonder if today, if I was on a B2 crew at Whiteman if I would be allowed to do the same for a 9 your old son. Same advanced technology just 50 years later.

The B-47

The B-47 had a crew of three, a pilot, a copilot, and navigator/bombardier. Dad served as the navigator/bombardier. All three had to be able to fly the plane. The bombardier actually flew the plane during the bomb run.

Dad flew lots of missions. There were missions where he would take the aircraft off and just fly for 24 hours straight with no where real to go. The idea was that in case of attack we would have a group of aircraft in the air and they could be redirected to their targets with out being caught on the ground. I don’t know how he could stand it. The living space on a B-47 is very small and cramped.

They would fly to the UK and back on two week missions. The B-47 crews used to love those missions since they could go there and bring back lots of stuff including booze duty free. There weren’t any customs agents on Air Force bases.

They had Pacesetter competition. This competition consisted of all the B-47 crews and the general idea was to navigate to a spot somewhere in the ocean, be the best as refueling, and be the tops in navigation. They had to drop a 2000 pound piece of concrete on a predescribed spot. The crew that came the closest wins. Dad’s crew won three years in a row! This wasn’t an easy thing to do because the bomb runs were done at tree top level until it was time to drop the weapon, then the plane would rise to 40,000 feet. Navigation was only by the stars, no GPS!

At some point during this time dad was offered the chance to be in on the ground floor of the start-up of the B-52’s. He was offered this because he was certified as a pilot, a navigator, and a bombardier. Dad turned it down. I think he was crazy, but he didn’t want to live in California. He told me that he would spend the rest of his career in California. He would have been on the first B-52 crews and then would be involved in training future B-52 crews. All this work would have been in California. Dad hates California! It would have been better if it had been in Japan!

Dad has a big sweet tooth. This sweet tooth has lead to Dad down fall in the Air Force. Late in 1959 he was diagnosed with diabetes. This immediately cost him his flying status. The B-47 crew was broken up and Dad was sent to Communications school in Kessler AFB in Bloxi, Mississippi. All in all I think he said he had about 30,000 hours of flight time. Not bad when you think about it.

After Communications school, Dad was transferred to Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, Alaska where he was assigned the Chief of Maintenance of all of the Communications of the Air force in Alaska.He had 303 people working for him all over the state.This required a lot of flying to keep up with all of those people.

While in Bloxi, Dad was able to show that he could control his diabetes with diet, so he was returned to flying status, but not to a bomber crew. Once he was transferred to Alaska he was assigned to be the navigator in a C-124 Globemaster. The biggest challenge he had with staying on flying status in Alaska was getting in the required night flying, when it is light all the time. One of the missions that the flew with the C-124 was to fly to Attu Island, which is the last island in the Aleutian chain.It lies about 1500 miles south west of Anchorage and is a very long flight.

The C-124 Globemaster

Below are two of the fighter planes that Dad didn't fly but were on Elmendorf AFB in Alaska when we were there in the early 1960's after he went to Communications school at Kessler AFB. Both os these plans were supersonic and took off directly over out house in Alaska straight up! They are the Delta Dart and the Delta Dagger.

Mom by a Delta Dagger

The Delta Dart

When we left Alaska Dad finished his career at Grissom AFB in Peru, Indiana as a Communications Officer and I attended high school in Monticello.He never flew again or did I believe he cared to.I think he just got burned out on the whole thing.One of the interesting things about Grissom was that it was the fastest aid force base at the time,The home to the B-58 Hustler.The B-58 was the fastest jet bomber we ever built! The B-58 had a top speed of over 1600 mph compared to the B-1 Lancer which can reach only 825 mph!