Ray and his Piper Cub

Ray and his Piper Cub

Chapter 2 - Pre-Flight Training: The Saga Begins

After I reported to Atlantic City, I was exposed to Army inoculation, ill-fitting uniform distributions and the famous "short arm inspection" to check for venereal disease. Most of us hadn’t had the foggiest idea of what we were supposed to do when we lined up in a row and were told to "strip ‘er down" by the sergeant who then proceeded to demonstrate. In red-faced embarrassment, we quickly caught on and followed suit. This was a procedure we were to grow familiar with as we moved from base to base. Also of interest during our basic training was the fact that it largely took place in Convention Hall, a large amphitheater which the Army considered outdoors. So there we were in full length great coats and army packs, marching, sweating and cursing. It wasn’t long before many of us were down with respiratory ailments which often ended in fatalities. Marching through Chalfont alley with the beckoning ladies in the establishment windows also exposed us to another reality of Army life.

From basic training, the air cadets, of which I was one, were sent to pre-preflight training at college training detachments located at various college campuses around the country. I was sent to Colby College in Waterville, Maine. The purpose was to upgrade our math and engineering background. Having had two years of night college at Cooper Union in New York, I qualified early and went on to the Air Corps Classification Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Colby college assignment was an important one for me since it exposed me to a predominantly French-Canadian population, many of whom were delightful young ladies working in the rug mills. It also inadvertently directed me towards pilot training in an odd fashion, as follows.

Part of this phase of training was ten hours of flight instruction in a small Piper Cub. At the conclusion of this flying, my instructor put his arm around my shoulder and said, "Son, are you good at math? When you get to the classification center, tell them you want to be a navigator." That did it I had been leaning towards navigation. Now it was pilot training, I had something to prove.

In Nashville, I went through the Army Air Corps psychomotor and psychological tests with the inevitable question, "Do you like girls?" Evidently, there were grave concerns about homosexuals filtering into the system. I guess I gave the right answers, although at that stage of my life, homosexuality was a vague concept to me. I qualified for pilot, bombardier or navigator training, so I was given my first choice, which was pilot training. However, I learned later it would have been pilot training anyway, as this was the great need at the time. So off I went to pre-flight training at Maxwell Field, Alabama. I found it most interesting since we were subjected to strenuous physical training, discipline and subject matter covering flight theory, engineering, engine mechanics, and Morse code, as well. Off course, I was impatient to move on to primary flight training and our marriage plans mentioned earlier.

The following excerpts from my correspondence with Doris will give a view of my life, thoughts and how completely absorbing the preparatory phases of my training had been.


March 1943 Pre-preflight training Waterville, Maine

Dear Doris,

Have you ever seen an army mail call? It’s a sight you’ll never forget. Everybody has that look of anticipation on their faces and how the faces light up when the letters start coming their way. What makes it still more interesting is the way everyone is waiting for that certain letter. Here’s one from home, here’s one from Jack and here’s one from another relative. These are put aside quickly without more than a glance. Then it comes. A look of rapture and embarrassment slowly spreads on a reddened face. Everyone else knows it’s "the one" and the remarks come accordingly. But he’s oblivious to everything, and he grabs the letter and heads for his room.

About my course here. April 5, I will start flying. This preliminary instruction will last about a month, after which I will be sent to be classified at Nashville, Tennessee. About nine months from that time I hope to have my wings.

Here’s to a firm, everlasting and rather unique friendship.



X marks washouts

X marks wash-outs


May 2, 1943 Pre-preflight training Waterville, Maine

Dear Doris,

Gosh, I was certainly relieved when your letter arrived. You see, I’m leaving for the classification center at Nashville, Tennessee tomorrow. It would have taken quite a while for the letter to have caught up with me. The bright spots in a soldier’s routine aren’t many and not getting a letter from you would have left an extremely empty spot to fill.

As far as the graduation ball went; well, everything feels rosy after the first few drinks. Somehow, though, I couldn’t help thinking of Brooklyn and whom I would have given my right arm to be with.

Give me all the up-to-date news as the newspapers here are the usual, small town bunk: "Mrs. Jones had a baby etc." and "John Smith’s barn has burned down." I did manage to reserve P.M. in town, but am always a week behind.




Ray as a pre-flight cadet

Ray as a preflight cadet


June 7, 1943 Preflight training Maxwell Field, Alabama

Dear Doris,

At long last, I’ve reached what is considered first base in the long run towards home plate - my pilot’s wings. Maxwell Field houses 8,000 cadets and officers all getting set physically and mentally for flying duty.

The West Point class system is used to enforce discipline. The upperclassmen have complete control over the lowerclassmen (called "Zombies"), putting them under continual pressure to eliminate the less dedicated cadets. Demerits are handed out for any infractions of the rules: dusty shoes, not saluting or replying too slowly to questions and so on. The demerits add up to one hour walking tours with a rifle and a cadence of 128 steps per minute.

Our routine starts at 5:30 A.M. with the blast on the loud speakers. By 5:55, we’re dressed, have shaved, cleaned our rooms and hit the "ratline"; an imaginary line along the side walk on which all turns are at right angles with eyes straight ahead, the upperclassmen looking for "gigable" (demerit) offenses. Then it’s off to breakfast, sitting at strict attention, eating with one hand, bread being broken into four pieces, no "dive-bombing" (dipping your head to meet the food). Each request for food must be prefixed by, "Sirs, does anyone else care for the bread? Please pass the bread." No eating until an upperclassman starts.

After being marched back, five minutes to shine your shoes and get to your academic classes consisting of math, Morse code, maps and charts, etc. At 11:00 A.M. it’s military drill for one hour, then lunch to 1:10, smoke time to 1:30, off again to chemical warfare class until 2:50, after which it’s physical training, calisthenics and a two mile run. At 4:30, it’s a shower and a first aid class until chow time. Then it’s smoke time 6:45 to 7:00 and 7:00 to 9:00 call to quarters for study time during which you are subject to upperclassmen’s hazing (sounding off at their request with Air Corps songs, codes and prayers). From 9:00 to 9:30 it’s shower and letter time. This is a six day routine. Sundays are free except for compulsory church attendance. By the way, every Sunday a picture inspection is held by the upperclassmen. How about one to represent Brooklyn ?

Forget me not,

P.S. During sleep time we can be awakened by the upperclassmen for a "pee" call.




July 1943 (after emergency home furlough from Maxwell Field)

Dear Doris,

Did I mention a couple of southern boys who are in my outfit now. Well, their biggest claim for distinction they profess is their personal attendance at two lynchings each. They enjoy reciting the details, even to the kicking away of the plank under the negro’s feet. One of them takes pride in telling how he and two other fellows beat a Negro to death, not the one they had been looking for, but his brother - used the policeman’s club who was standing by.

Still getting a postcard barrage from your old flame?

Hope you’re as well as I am. Physically tip top, but mentally - 1,200 miles is a long distance and writing doesn’t help that ache you put in my heart. Wonder when I’ll be seeing you again.





July 1943 After first furlough home from Maxwell Field

My Darling Doris,

I can’t tell you how miserable I felt after speaking to you last night. I had planned exactly what I wanted to say. Yet when I got on the phone, all I could do was act like a tongue-tied jerk. The feeling of loneliness does become overpowering at times. Gosh, how good even arguing with you would feel!

Went into town night after your call and how artificial everything seemed to me. It was the night of ‘44 C’s graduation dance and the young ladies of Montgomery were out in all their glory, looking coy, hanging onto the arms of their cadets, just as I had seen the same ladies doing the same thing with different cadets last month at my class graduation. Guess they hide out if they don’t get a date.

My lucky star was protecting me last night. I was looking for beer to drown my sorrows. Fortunately there was none to be had in town.





August 1943 (After return from second furlough from Maxwell Field)

My darling Doris,

For many hours now I have been sitting back, my, mind awhirl with thoughts of you and the time we spent together. It seems like the sweetest dream I ever had. When we were together I was completely content and happy with the world revolving around us. Whether it was at a movie show, down at the beach, or walking in the park, I always imagined I saw envious faces and my chest swelled with pride.

There were many interesting people on the train back to Montgomery. An old woman expounded on the virtues of the Soviet army, a chief petty officer returning home after two years in Greenland; spoke of losing a transport with eight hundred causalities.





August 1943 Pre-flight Training Maxwell Field

Hello Sweetheart,

Its a pretty established fact that we will be sent to Carlstrom Field. Arcadia, Florida for primary flight training next Monday. This field is called "the washing machine" because so many fellows wash out there.




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