Graduation at Last! Together Again

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 Doris’s decision to join me.

She located a room with the Sasser family. The son’s 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 wasn’t 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 Doris’s 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 Doris’s 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 wasn’t 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-51’s 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; couldn’t 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 couldn’t thank the check pilot enough, he smiled and winked and that was that, the wings would be mine.

After this incident, came graduation. I was able to visit the Sasser’s 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.
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