Graduation At Last! - Together Again
|Chapter 5 - Advanced Flight Training - Graduation
at Last and Together Again
As predicted, there was a quarantine period of two weeks after my group arrived at Turner
Field, Albany, Georgia so Doris was pretty much on her own after her arrival. This period
would be flying, flying and more flying; formation, instruments, cross countries and
single engine emergency procedures now that we were flying a twin engine aircraft the
AT-11, nicknamed the `bamboo bomber. It was a very airworthy aircraft but because of
lots of wood in its construction burned very rapidly in crackups. I was grateful for
Doriss decision to join me.
She located a room with the Sasser family. The sons room was available since he was
in the service. Mrs. Sasser was a lovely human being who made our stay very pleasant. The
family adopted us and were concerned with our well being. When Doris looked at the room,
Mrs Sasser at first refused to rent it because she felt it wasnt good enough for a
cadets wife. Under persuasion from Doris she finally yielded but insisted on reducing the
rental price. When Doris came back with her bags there was a fire in the fire place, ash
trays for Doriss cigarettes and a larger bed had been moved in. The following
morning there was a note left for Doris telling her to buy food and use the refrigerator
despite the fact that the room had been rented without kitchen privileges. Before long
Mrs. Sasser also had her Negro house maid doing Doris's laundry for her. No doubt much of
this came about because of Doriss charming personality and smiling face. The Sasser
family was an average working class family dominated by the thoughtfulness, gentleness,
and humanity of Mrs. Sasser.
Because of the hectic flight schedule with few days off, the cadet wives were allowed to
visit the base for a couple of hours in the evening. This led to a humorous incident worth
relating. The meeting took place in the cadet lounge with, believe it or not a chaperone
in attendance. I remember her as a prissy, middle aged volunteer who was frantic one night
when a power outage occurred, leaving the lounge in the dark. She could not cope with the
scurrying that took place as the couples took advantage of this opportunity for some
smooching that she considered improper. Her imagination got away from her as we were quite
discreet. She shrieked `Don't do that which of course was ignored. It was a barrel
of fun for us.
An incident that Doris recalls quite vividly emphasizes the racial problems of the south
at that time. The Sassers maid was unable to take shelter overnight during a flooding rain
storm, she was forced to leave in rain water up to her waist. A Negro who wasnt
hired for overnight service was expected to leave the premises. What would the neighbors
think - this attitude prevailed even at the Sassers.
A couple of instances took place during my training here that are worth recounting. One
the mid air collision of two formation flying aircraft killing all four occupants. It was
hours before the wives in town knew who the occupants were. The news of the collision got
out quickly thru the grapevine that exists on all military bases but no names. Another
stress borne by the wives following their husbands.
The other story is on a lighter note. On cross countries there were two cadets in each
plane. The time was split between the two, piloting and navigating. At one point in the
flight we landed at an intermediate field and then took off again. I was at the controls
on this flight the other cadet navigating. He called in, was given permission to land
which I proceeded to do although skeptically, since I could see P-51s on the ground.
At the conclusion of my landing roll and turn off I pulled back the canopy and called a
mechanic. He informed us we had landed at Waycross not Alma as intended. Max Mann the
navigating cadet's face was quite red. I compounded the problem by taxiing down to the end
of the landing strip and taking without permission.
By the time we got back we had a delegation of tactical officers waiting for us to lead us
to the ready room. The aircraft number had been taken down and relayed. Both of us were
held at strict attention for 20 minutes while being bawled out for dim witted behavior.
Fortunately since Max was navigating and he was 6 ft 2 inches, compared to my 5 ft 6
inches, the focus was on him. It is somewhat humorous to recall the scene even after fifty
years. Big Max myself and the major foaming at the mouth. By the way as I mentioned when
Max contacted the tower we were given the go ahead to land. Waycross and Alma were only 20
miles apart so Max actually got the go ahead from Alma to land and mistook Waycross for
Alma. Quite a coincidence. We both learned from this experience.
Just before graduation I came close to a washout. I was having trouble with my instrument
flying; couldnt pick up the cone of silence while flying a radio beam. The silent
zone gave you your location after intersecting and flying the beam leg. I was given a
check ride. Needless to say the pressure was on but the powers that he, were good to me.
The check pilot immediately noticed the problem which was not reducing the signal volume
which built up as you approached the silent area so that over the cone being deafened I
could hear nothing and therefore could not discriminate differences in volume. I often
speculate on what would have happened if my problem had not been spotted. I couldnt
thank the check pilot enough, he smiled and winked and that was that, the wings would be
After this incident, came graduation. I was able to visit the Sassers prior to
graduation in my new officers uniform without the wings or bars. They were as proud as
Doris and I were. I will never forget the scene on 12 March 1944, of the wives that
were present pinning on the hardware. It was the culmination of dreams and effort that
probably would not be surpassed again in peacetime for most of us. For Doris and myself
there was a feeling of pride for having completed a challenge successfully and grown as a
result of it. In addition, I felt special having completed pilot training; many had not.
Of course much of this feeling of being special was due to the brainwashing of fourteen
months of cadet training. Doris was also particularly pleased to have been the strong
support, as I must say she has been to the present, as companion, lover, sharer of dreams,
helpmate and mother of our lovely daughter.
After a lovely, and prolonged goodbye to the Sasser family we spent two weeks in New York,
during which we proudly displayed our wings; Doris wore a pair as well. There was time now
to relax and get to know each other's friends and family more completely.