Reserves Before the War & Life at the Airbase
My military career began in my sophomore year in medical school at which time I signed up for the army reserves. I would be proud to say that this was a great stroke of patriotism but since there was no war, or threat of war, that is not the way it was. We were in the depth of the depression and many of us were struggling financially. The $10.00 a month offered by the army for attending a class once a month and going to a camp for six weeks looked too good to pass up. Little did I think at that time that my commitment would turn out to last eight years and would include four years of active duty.
The six week camp duty at Camp Carlyle came at the completion of our sophomore year in medical school. Most of us had never heard of Camp Carlyle and were surprised to learn that the army had a camp devoted entirely to the training of medical personal. This medical training center is in Pennsylvania near Gettysburg. At Carlyle, we learned to drill as well as learn the organization of the medical corps of World War I. We thought this entire six weeks was a lark despite living in army barracks, early rising, senseless drilling in the hot sun and being aware that we were learning nothing that would be of future use. Oh yes, we did learn something: We learned to salute our superior officers. I believe that a big part of the enjoyment of that summer was that we escaped text books and frequent examinations. This was particularly a joy after our sophomore year which had been unusually intense.
A few weeks before finishing my internship, I received orders to report for active duty . on July 6, 1940 to a new air force base that was just opening near Phoenix, Arizona (Luke Field). At that time I was 27 years old. War had not been declared and would not be declared for another six months. Roosevelt knew that the war against Germany was not going well and thought that it was probable that our country would eventually be brought into the conflict. Calling out the reserves was part of the preparedness program Luke Field is in the desert about twenty miles from Phoenix. It was July and temperatures of 110 degrees in the shade were not unusual. The buildings were all one story without air conditioning. Dust was everywhere.
After living in an apartment in Phoenix for a few months, Merrily and I found a small rental house in the outskirts of the city. This was before modern air conditioners were available.. To cool our house we used a swamp cooler. A swamp cooler is essentially a box of excelsior so arranged that water drops on the excelsior. A fan draws air through the water soaked excelsior and the evaporating water cools the room. It means that the cooled room has one hundred per cent humidity but that is better than sleeping in a room that could be as hot as 100 degrees. One day in December as I was putting in a winter lawn, Merrily rushed out and declared. "The Japs just bombed Pearl Harbor. I remember my exact response, "Where the hell is Pearl Harbor". As we all remember, Roosevelt declared war immediately and the tempo of the war preparedness program took a sudden leap forward.
As the base was just opening, things were quite primitive. This included our medical staff. We had very few specialists at this time so we had to do the best we could with what medical personal were assigned to our base. I, with one year's internship, was made chief of the medical service. Our EKG's were being read by an urologist when I took over. I found that one of the majors on the base had been hospitalized with complete bed rest for a week with the diagnosis of a coronary heart attack. Even with my limited experience, I could see that his tracings were not typical for a heart attack. On further study it became apparent that one of our newly trained technicians reversed two of leads of the EKG which led to the erroneous diagnosis. Of course the major was immediately returned to active duty.
At our base both Chinese and American pilots were trained. This was the last of three stages of flight training. From Luke Field the men went on to combat planes. Our planes were AT-6's, which had a single engine and were made by North America Aircraft Company.
Soon after war was declared, a number of men who had considerable experience as pilots in civilian life volunteered to join the air corps. One of these at our base was Barry Goldwater) who came in with the rank of captain and on full flying status. Barry at that time owned a large department store in Phoenix and he and his wife, Peggy, were a popular couple and well established in Phoenix. Barry was handsome, self assured without being at all arrogant. It was soon evident to those around him that he had a very thick skin. To illustrate this, here is a joke that Barry told on himself. He stopped at a golf club in California and said to the pro, "My name is Barry Goldwater and I would like to play eighteen holes of golf". The pro responded, "You are Jewish aren't you. Sorry, this course is restricted". Barry shot back, "I am only half Jewish, how about playing nine". I doubt that Barry had political ambitions at that time but we now know that the characteristics mentioned served him well in the political world.
After being at Luke field for about six months, I was promoted to Captain. Six months after this, I was sent to Randolph Field which was a school for training Flight Surgeons. This was a six week course of intensive study in taking special care of our pilots. We were particularly instructed in how to determine when pilots suffered such severe battle fatigue that it was not safe for them to fly. We had the unpleasant duty of grounding them if we thought it necessary for their own safety as well as the safety of their crew.
We lost very few cadets from plane crashes during this my year at Luke Field. This speaks well for both the planes and the young men who flew them. However there is one that is memorable. We received a call that one of planes had crashed in a remote area in the desert. On reaching the crash scene, we found that the pilot had been killed and was still in the front seat of the plane. The cadet riding in the back seat was missing. We scoured the surrounding area and he was no where in sight. Obviously he had survived the crash and was able to leave the immediate area under his own power. Planes were dispatched to try to find him. He was found two days later wandering the desert. His nose had been badly broken. Both eyes were swollen completely shut and in his outstretched hand he held a cup. He kept repeating over and over, "Water, water". He had total amnesia for the entire event so we never did find out how he found the cup and how he survived so long in the desert. Oh yes, he was brought back to our hospital and the reconstruction of his face was quite successful. He resumed his training as a flying cadet.
The Chinese cadets who we trained at our base were bright and highly motivated. I am certain that they were carefully selected. Their response to having a relatively minor accident would be to get out of the plane and laugh. This often caused damage to the plane that cost many thousands of dollars to repair. Initially we had difficulty understanding this strange reaction. Finally we decided that this was their way of hiding embarrassment. Also, they had no fear of being washed out of the program as did our American cadets.
My next assignment after graduating from Flight Surgeons school was Roswell Field in New Mexico. Roswell was also a school for advanced flight training. However, here the pilots were taught to fly twin engine planes, the AT-11, which were made by Beechcraft. Most of our graduates went on to fly multi-engine combat planes such as the B-17 and B24. These two planes were the predominate bomber planes of the 8th Air force.
I replaced the Flight Surgeon at Roswell and for the first time I had my own office. The cadets again underwent physical examinations to determine if they were physically and emotionally qualified to continue with their flight training. Even though all of the cadets had undergone a detailed examination before being admitted to the flight program, there was a occasional cadet who was found to not qualify for further flight training. Whenever possible they were given waivers and allowed to continue their training.
In addition to training in twin engine planes Roswell trained glider pilots. Gliders were used to land troops as part of our landing force in the invasion of Europe. Taking a flight in a glider was quite a thrill. We were towed by a C-47 to a height of five thousand feet and then cut loose. It was up to the pilot to fly about for a short time and then land on the runway. It was strange feeling to be in the air with no sound except the wind.
After a few months at Roswell, I received orders to return to Randolph field for a ten day course in high altitude physiology. In order to reduce loses from ground fire (flak) our bombers flying combat missions were flying higher and higher. Flying at higher altitudes brought new dangers. The air crews needed protection against the extreme cold as well as the reduced oxygen level. At 25,000 feet the temperature could reach as low as 27 degrees below zero. The men were advised to use their oxygen masks when flying above 18,000 for any length of time. At 25,000 feet they were necessary even for short periods. The air crews were issued heavy jackets, trousers and helmets for protection against the cold. Even so, frost bite was not uncommon.
We were taught about the precautions that were necessary to avoid these dangers. After the course at Randolph Field, I returned to Roswell. Along with training of our own boys, we were training Chinese cadets. Once the Chinese completed their training, they returned to China to became members of the Chinese Air Force. Among my new duties was lecturing to our cadets on the hazards of flying at high altitudes. This included our Chinese cadets. For the Chinese cadets, I did this through an interpreter. I found this to be quite frustrating as I had no idea whether the interpreter understood what I was saying and, if he did understand, I questioned his ability to pass this information on to the Chinese cadets.
At Roswell, we medics had a very good volleyball team. The base had a league consisting of many teams since Roswell was a large well established base. We were able to defeat all of the American cadet teams but were humbled by the Chinese. Every time we spiked a ball there were two sets of hands blocking our spike. We swore that those little guys could jump at least ten feet in the air.
After about seven months at Roswell, I received orders to proceed to the 614th Bomb Squadron of the 401st Bomb Group at Glascgow, Montana. Here the air crews were just finishing their combat training. In just a few weeks after I joined them, our squadron of B-17s (Flying Fortresses) were sent to England to become part of the 8th air force. The air crews flew their planes over to England and we of the ground support went by ship.
We were fortunate to make the trip to England on the Queen Mary. The trip lasted for six days rather than the usual crossing time of five days. There was a good reason for the longer crossing time. The Queen had no escort at all and this was the height of the submarine war. Her defence against German submarines attacks was to change course every seven minutes as it took submarines a longer time than this to set up the sights for their torpedoes. During the war, both the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth were used as troopships. Every German submarine commander dreamed of sinking one of Queens as each carried over fifteen thousand military personal..
For the most part, our crossing was uneventful. The sea was quite calm. Still one of my enlisted medics was very seasick during the entire voyage. There may have been other factors (other than the rolling of the ship) that contributed to his illness. The enlisted men slept in the hold of the ship in the area that is normally used for cargo. The soldiers were stacked three deep in hammocks. Every available space was filled. The area was hot and fume filled. The men were quite aware of the submarine menace. This part of the ship was built in a number of sections and if hit by a submarine, that part of the ship would be closed off and there would be no chance of escape. The men were fully aware of this.
Once, we were on the high seas, Captain Frazier, the staff captain of the Queen Mary delivered the following message over our the ship's speaker system." I call upon you officers and men to obey my orders to the very letter. I have but one task. It is the job of bringing this ship safely to port. And that job, God willing, I will do. It is not important that you, numbering some 15,000, arrive safely in the Firth of Clyde. But it important that the ship be brought safely to anchor there. Remember that. you and I are not indispensable. But the ship is. You will keep in mind, therefore, that all of your thoughts during the crossing will be directed toward her security". He continued, "Enemy forces will be at work. The Hun will try every device in his power to bring the Queen to harm. Submarines will trail us and German aircraft will harass us. They have done it before and there is no reason why they will not do it again".
Fortunately, "God was willing" and we sailed into the Firth of Clyde on November 3, 1943. The ship anchored at Greenock, Scotland. We were met by subs, destroyers and British planes flew overhead the entire day. We were unloaded by tender as there was no dock that could accommodate the Queen. Unloading 15,000 army personal required the entire day. We went immediately by train to Kettering, England. From there we were trucked to our base near Deenethorpe, about eighty miles northwest of London. We arrived at night under strict dark out restrictions. In the morning we awakened to a dense fog that lasted the entire day. It was the following day before we realized that we were in pleasant rolling country and the fields were still fairly green.
Deenethorpe was a small picturesque village at one end of our base. The houses and barns were built of stone. The main occupation was farming. This included the raising of hogs and cattle. On my first walk in the village, I encountered a native villager. He was quite friendly. I commented on the on the village being so picturesque. He stated in a heavy British accent. "Deenethorpe is but a tiny village". It was the first of many conversations that I had with the English and I never lost my fascination with their accent.
Our four squadrons were located along a public road and were separated from each other by about a quarter of a mile. The base was built by the British and was unique in some ways. First we were surprised to see that our four squadrons were not together. The British had built the base while there was still danger of bombing from the air. By the time we arrived, the British, and now with the help of the Americans, had control of the air in the daytime. The night raids, mainly on London, were still common. The building for washing and bathing was situated in a building separate from the building with toilet facilities. There were bath tubs and no showers. These buildings had no heat, so understandably, bathing was not a frequent event especially in the winter months.
Both the officers and the enlisted men were quartered in Nissen Huts. A Nissen hut can best be described as a corrugated tunnel closed at each end. There were cracks on the walls and in the ends. Each housed about thirty men. A small coal burning stove at the end of the hut was very difficult to light. Even when lighted, it heated only a small area of the barracks. Fortunately we had comfortable cots and plenty of blankets.
We arrived in England just after the completion of two bombing missions that attempted to knock out the ball bearing factories in Schweinfurt. This German town was one of the most important targets of the war. These air raids on Schweinfurt were on consecutive days and were very costly. The 8th Air Force lost fifty-nine bombers on the first mission and sixty on the second. We were not told how many fighter planes were lost.
In just a few days after our arrival in England one of the other Flight Surgeons and I visited a neighboring well established B-17 base to learn all we could about their organization. It was quite an informative visit but we were surprised to see how occupied the men were with their loses at Schweinfurt. Several of their planes had been shot down and many suffered severe battle damage. It was dramatically brought home to us that we had arrived in the middle of the air war.
In about a week after arriving in England, we flight surgeons were sent to the headquarters of the 8th Air Force for a refresher course. Remember that much of our training as Flight Surgeons was developing skills in detecting pilots who were showing undue stress from combat. In such cases, it was our unpleasant duty in ground them before they became a danger to their crew. To our surprise, we were told that currently the air war was so critical that no pilot should be grounded if he was at all capable climbing into the pilot's seat of his plane. At that time the air crews were required to fly twenty-five missions before being relieved of combat duty. It was disheartening to be told that at the present time about one out of three planes were being lost in combat during this tour of duty. If we had any delusions about war being fun and games, they were dramatically shattered.
It was amazing to see how much stress the men could withstand before they cracked up emotionally. It was extremely rare to have any member of an air crew refuse to continue to fly missions. My respect for these young men is boundless. We had one pilot who became so nervous that he could hardly hold a cup of coffee with both hands and still he expressed no desire to quit. His plane was eventually shot down and we were quite certain that no member of his crew survived. The crew in one of the planes that was flying beside him saw the plane go down in flames and saw no one bailing out. I am certain that I would have heard from him had he survived as he was one of the pilots I knew best.
Being physicians and thus noncombatants, we flight surgeons did not fly on bombing missions. However, we were on flying status which meant that we were required to have at least four hours of flying time a month - as a passenger. We were classified as observers.
carried ten man crews that consisted of a pilot, co-pilot, a bombardier,
In a little over three weeks we were ready for our first bombing mission. There was much to be done during this period. The four squadrons of fighter planes that made up the 401th Bomb Group had each trained in a different area of the United States. Much organization was required to meld this large number of men, most of whom had not worked together before arriving in England, into a smooth working group ready for combat. This included formation flying as a group.Our commanding officer, Colonel Bowman, was a master at organization and should be given much of the credit for accomplishing this in so short a time. Those of us that had contact with Colonel Bowman soon learned that he was a personable, calm, courageous, considerate man. I cannot say that about all the commanding officers with whom I have had contact.
The three weeks of waiting in England for our bombing missions to start was the cause of considerable anxiety for a number of the combat crew members. Being aware of the large number of planes lost in raids on Schrienfort was still fresh in our minds. Fear of the unknown added to the anxiety. During this time, one of our top pilots came to see me about some of his symptoms caused by his anxiety. The pilot had some insight into situation and kept saying "I've got to get shot at". Taking him to see a psychiatrist at a neighboring station hospital was helpful. While nothing specific was done for him, assurance that anxiety was a frequent problem at this time of waiting for the bombing missions to start was quite common. Once he had been "shot at" a few times his anxiety lessoned as the psychologist predicted.
Our first bombing mission was on Breman, a large German shipbuilding center. All of our planes returned to our base despite having an unusual accident. In a combat zones, the pilots flew in tight formation. One of the planes flew into the plane above it sheering off the ball turret losing the gunner inside it. This was probably due to a lack of experience in flying in a large group. All of the pilots skill was needed to bring his damaged plane back to our base.
On the morning of Dec. 5, 1943 the little town of Deenethorpe, a quaint small English village, was nearly wiped off the face of the earth by one of our bombers. On takeoff, just after clearing the runway, the engines of the B-17 failed. The plane half skimmed and half flew over the ground until it hit an old stone barn. Eight members were able to get out of the plane without assistance. The navigator and the bombardier were in the nose of the plane and were seriously injured. The men from our base ran to the scene of the accident and were able to remove the wounded men from the plane. This required considerable courage as the plane was loaded with 6000 pounds of bombs. Men then ran through the village warning the villagers to run from the village before the bombs went off. Due to the heroic work of these men, no one was injured
Each mission required a lot of work and much coordination. The crews that were flying the next day mission were told the evening before. Since weather was always a consideration so often, the men were put on standby. This meant if the weather condition remained favorable, the planned mission would take place. If during the night it was decided that the weather prediction for the following day had changed for the worse, the mission was scrubbed. This was the air force term for calling off the mission. So often the men would go to bed not being at all certain that they would fly the next day. When a mission was scrubbed it was the duty for certain men to go through the barracks and tell each man on standby that the mission was scrubbed. At first I was surprised that the men on standby wished to be awakened to be told that they would not be flying the next day. On questioning the men, I found no one who did not wish this to happen. The men thought that they had a different level of sleep when on standby as opposed to knowing that they would not be flying the next day.
My Days at
Deenthorpe Air Base....