Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chapter 15 Kirkwood Observatory

Chapter 15


Near the southwest edge of the Indiana University (IU) campus, this observatory building was the center of most of the on-campus activities for astronomy graduate students. In it is a 0.3 meter (12 inch) refracting telescope, and on public nights there were a good many visitors.
Graduate students occupied the rooms on the south wing, and my desk was immediately inside the southeast corner, shown here in sunshine.
The Observatory was named after Professor Daniel Kirkwood, and the gaps in Saturn’s rings are named after him. Thus it was impossible to avoid the expression “Home of the Kirkwood Gaps” when explaining where we worked. We chose the name “Observatory Fantastique” as more nearly representative, however. We then organized ourselves into The Kirkwood Society. Each graduate student became the president of a subsidiary group, and we had our own stationary printed to use when communicating with the outside world.

Our stationary permitted us to have some contact with the outside world, and those who had letters from us never failed to respond. This page makes clear how some of our time was used in novel ways.
On the left one can see a list of our societies. They are, in descending order, the Kirkwood Bachelor Association, the president of which was always in dispute. The Kirkwood Kodachrome and Kopi Klimbing Klub derived from Art Cox’s trip to South Africa, where he climbed Kopis. The Kirkwood Primitive Dance and Drum Beating Society met for Indiana University Football and Basketball games. The Kirkwood Bird Watchers Society was incredibly esoteric. Charles L. Perry, the President of the Beard Raisers Club, kept practicing different beards for the president’s picture. Ray Grenchik, the owner of the Observatory’s principal protector, his dog Torreon, headed up the Kirkwood Society for the Protection and Care of Torreon and Undergraduates. Mary Connelly occasionally appeared on television—a very new thing in those days, and she was destined to head up the Kirkwood Television Guild. To belong, you had to appear at some time or another on TV. Arnie Heiser managed he Kirkwood Stone Lion and Idlers Association, an enviable assignment, and we all planned to one day have stone lions at the Observatory entrance. Tom Bartlett, a senior student from Denver University, was always concerned about our being overworked, and thus was a natural for the Kirkwood Anti-Slavery League. Our machinist, Marion Todd, was always assumed by the university to be a female, and we were ever answering the phone for a Miss Todd. He thus became the head of the Kirkwood Foundation for Lady Machinists.

The mantel of the fireplace was the site of the Kirkwood Museum, and Phil Barnhart kept order there. John Cox, our regular cigar smoker, became the keeper of the Kirkwood Fumatorium, and Arnold Klemola became our librarian, for wherever he was, his head was in a book. As time passed, presidents could change. The stationary, however, did not.

Addie Leah made a flag for us of blue satin, and she embroidered on it the constellation of Leo in yellow silk. The fringe came from a local funeral home, and was a donation. We took it to astronomical meetings, and to distant parts of the world as opportunities arose. Arlo Landolt carried the flag to the South Pole where he worked for a year.
Pictures documenting the flag and its travels follow:

At the Cannadian Border

At the High Altitude Observatory, Colorado

Here is a picture of Arlo Landolt just before he left for the South Pole. The flag was with him there for a year! And this picture shows us, but we're not quite sure just where!

The Society with faculty at Boulder, Colorado
Prof. and Mrs. Edmondson, Prof. Irwin, R. Brownlee, Arnold Klemola, J. P. Mutschlecner, Art Cox, Charles Perry, Tom Bartlett, Ray Grenchik, and Prof. James Cuffey.
By a camp fire in Colorado: Nancy Brownlee, Charles Perry, Wayne Brownlee, Jeanne Brownlee, and R.R. Brownlee. Notice that here we see a pennant on the Kirkwood flag pole. Those were added for places of unusual achievements.

The flag was used by a number of Kirkwood associates on their travels, and I include some of Dr. Edmondson’s daughter at the Coliseum, Samarkand, and in Rome.

Even Stone Lions notice when the flag passes by.

The flag is now in the home of the seamstress, though its color has changed rather dramatically in 50 years.

It continues to be taken on occasional trips.
In 2007 it made a trip to Antarctica once again. Our family flag, together with pennants appears in many pictures of our family outings. On the Antarctica trip, the flag flew just below the family flag.

There was much more to the Kirkwood Society than stationary and flags. We gave a faculty roast each year, collected artifacts for the museum and added just enough good humor to make make life not just tolerable, but delightful. Not all faculty members were equally pleased, and that added to our delight.

It would be quite improper to close these remarks about Kirkwood Observatory without printing a picture of a big campus event in 1916 (from the Indiana University Archive). It was commemorating the Greeks in some fashion or other. But the picture includes a covered wagon, and we were very pleased to see that. The observatory dome is completely washed out in the picture. Never mind. You know how domes are shaped.

We also noted that there is someone looking out of the Observatory Window. It was only natural that we would look at that person closely. A picture in our files taken at Yerkes Observatory gave us just the clue we needed.

Some things never change!

Wayne, Nancy, Jeanne, Addie Leah Paul Mutschlecner, Charles Perry, Bob Brownlee

Prof. Irwin, RRB, and Charles Perry. RRB and the flag on Long's Peak
John Irwin was my Thesis Advisor.

To the left, Goethe Link Observatory is shown. To the right are Professor Frank K and Mrs. Margaret Edmondson. Prof. Edmondson, better known to all of us as FKE, was probably the inspiration for the Kirkwood Beard Raisers Club. He inspired many activities, including travel.

Torreon, Ray Grenchik's dog, was a campus fixture. Occasionally he could be found at the Student Union, embarassing us all. Here is a picture taken upon one of his returns to Kirkwood Obwervatory with a trophy.

Finally, we must add a picture of the Cooke Telescope. It was our instrument for observing and documenting Asteroids, and provided a number of students with work and funding.

Chapter 14 Indiana University

Chapter 14

I had a scholarship to begin my graduate work at IU, but boy, resources were tight. There were five of us now, and we had housing in Hoosier Courts—housing essentially reserved for veterans and “deserving” married students. There were 8 apartments in each building, and a couple dozen or so buildings.
I needed extra money, so worked at odd jobs whenever I had the time. One of them was to demonstrate electric organs for an organ company by going to churches and playing organ music that I guessed they would like to hear. One had to be careful—too much Bach or not enough Bach is a very fine line to walk.
The second year I had a National Science Foundation fellowship and that was a very big help. The third year I was a University Fellow, and the fourth (this does go on and on!) I was a Swain Fellow. The Astronomy Department was located in Swain Hall, so being a Swain Fellow gave one a certain stature with astronomical undergraduates.
On the campus was the Kirkwood Observatory, and in addition to the telescope there was office space for a number of graduate students. The observatory phone gave us training in answering public calls, most of them being “I just saw something in the sky! Might it be a flying saucer?” We had to be on our toes in order to convince the caller that the object was quite OK, and that all was well. The phone was also monitored closely at about 2:30 pm or so, for that was when Mrs. Potter, the department’s secretary, called to give us the latest information from the chairman. Actually she just wanted to keep us in line. It was vitally important that we remember just who was in charge.
We had a very good observatory 50 miles or so from the campus, named for benefactor Goethe Link. In it was a 0.91-meter telescope, and the primary mirror was a Corning honeycomb test pouring for the 200-inch telescope at Mt. Palomar, California. The observatory building included a kitchen, sleeping quarters, and a small library. Because Indianapolis was relatively nearby—l6 miles or so—the sky brightness was always a problem.
It was possible to spend lots of time there. Many a long night was needed for my PhD thesis on eclipsing binaries.
Unfortunately, working all night did not release one from attending class the next day, and there were numerous weeks that I had only three hours of sleep per weekday in order to make my morning class.
Astronomy classes were rigorous, and my thesis advisor, Prof. John H. B. Irwin was a first class teacher. For me he was the source of many important lessons, not only for Astronomy, but for life as well. He did a lot of traveling, and his family was one that I greatly admired. In later years he would contact me to meet him somewhere in the world, and I was usually able to do so. This means that we were together in England, Chili, Greece, Germany, Switzerland, and France and also were together in a good many observatories in the US. I missed seeing him in South Africa and Ethiopia, and am not quite sure how that happened.
Sometime in the 1960s I was in South America, and I made it a point to visit John while he was spending a year in Chile. His purpose there was to take atmospheric measurements in conjunction to the establishment of the Astronomical Observatory at Cerro Tololo. Immediately to the south of Cerro Tololo was Cerro Morado, and John and his wife Ruth were living there.
John had a big van, and he was eager to take me to a very remote part of the Andes well to the south and “up” from Cerro Morado. When I use the word “remote”, it seems to be the correct one, but it does not truly convey just how far from anywhere John wanted us to be. There was a very primitive road but it was doable. We took fuel, food, camping equipment, and took many hours to make our way to a spring at an incredibly high altitude where John knew there would be water. (The dry side of the Andes is DRY, for we were in that part where it might rain once in a century.) Once on our way we came upon a Chilean sheep herder. He was exceedingly glad to see us as we were the first people he had seen in a couple of months. We offered him food, candy, water, clothing—what did he need? He politely turned down all our offers. He just wanted a wife.
The next day we were more than 12000 feet high and the road grazed the edge of an abyss so deep and dark that we could not see the bottom. Indeed we could not even see into it. How deep do you suppose it was? Well, right over there was a teetering rock about the size of the van. It was one of a whole row of rocks destined to fall in the very near future! Do you suppose I could roll that rock into the canyon, count the seconds for time of fall, and determine the depth that way?
As we had not seen anyone but the sheep herder, we were quite certain that no one at all was anywhere nearby. John assured me that there was no way I could roll that rock. That was certainly a challenge coming from a highly respected professor and all, so I went to work. It took me maybe 20 minutes of digging and thinking before I felt the rock tremble for a moment. Then I knew it was possible. Finally that massive rock very slowly began to move, picked up speed at an ever accelerating rate, then disappeared over the canyon wall. There was silence for perhaps twelve seconds, and then there was a mighty roar with countless echoes that are difficult to describe. Allowing for the speed of sound coming back to us, the depth must have been more than 2,000 feet. Rather than try to describe the sound, I will report that it inspired us to roll rocks for the next hour or so, and John worked every bit as hard to do it as I had done on the first one. It was a wonderful moment I particularly enjoy remembering, for I can drive almost any environmentalist right out of his mind with this story. I am one who has made a lasting impression on a magnificent canyon in the Chilean Andes. I know this is true, even if nobody ever sees it! In truth, we were only guilty of shortening the time Mother Nature was going to waste before she rolled those rocks!
Professors James Cuffey, Marshal Wrubel, and Frank K. Edmondson were my other professors, and there was much to learn from each of them. Prof. Edmondson was chairman of the Department, and it is to him that I owe much for his support for me and my family for those four years.
These four years are worth remembering, as the next chapter reveals.

Chapter 13 Now, Back to School

Chapter 13

Nuclear testing had begun, all right, but it had done so without me. In February, 1946, I was out of the Army, and I returned to school in Sterling College.
Many veterans of the war were also enrolled; Sterling had a new President; there were many new friends; change was in the air.
Addie Leah and I had an apartment a few houses south of the campus. My goal was to have my B.A. by May, 1947, meaning I had to do it in one less semester than normal. Not only that, but being uncertain about majors, I chose to have a major in both math and science with a minor in education so that I could teach high school. Such goals meant there was not really any time to fiddle around. Although I was truly busy with class work, I managed to devote time to my music, and spent some great hours on the pipe organ at the United Presbyterian Church.
Before I graduated, I gave several organ recitals, and look back upon that achievement with considerable amazement. Surely it was someone else who did such things.
I graduated from Sterling in May, 1947, and shortly thereafter Nancy arrived. Two daughters! I am ready for a paying job.
Hired by the Osborne City Schools in Osborne Kansas to teach math and science in their high school, I did so for two years. I was also an assistant coach. We rented a house on the edge of town, and seemed to be doing well. I was elected the president of the teachers association, and that’s when I learned about the National Education Association (NEA), and what a narrow-minded set of people the NEA could be. Despite the fact that I enjoyed teaching very much, I kept feeling that I needed to search for more challenging work. I also concluded that thanks to the so-called GI bill, I could go to school and live about as well as I could by teaching school. So I entered graduate school at Kansas University in the fall of 1949.
Our first apartment in Lawrence, Kansas, was upstairs across the alley from a mortuary, and on our second or third night there in the middle of a violent thunderstorm a man appeared at our alley door. The lightning flashed just as he was about to knock, and he was silhouetted with arm raised. It was very frightening! He ran the mortuary, and informed us that he always employed whatever university student lived in that apartment as we were most likely available at nights if he needed us for emergencies. So I hired on, and learned quite a bit in my indoctrination tour of the whole business, and in the ambulance runs we made. Once in a while I went along to pick up the body of someone who had died to bring the body to the mortuary for the work to begin. Oh, the things you can learn in graduate school if you are lucky enough to have a spare time job.
I served as a graduate assistant to the math department while making astronomy my major subject. One semester I taught three algebra classes—one for the brightest students, one for students who were more average, and the third was for those who had failed the course before but still wanted (needed) the credits. That last class was a challenge beyond all my previous experience with math. I dreaded the class and had to breathe heavily before entering.
I had had a good start with my own math and physics courses, but even so a major in astronomy meant that I had to take a number of under-graduate courses in that field.
It happened that India was becoming two countries, and the Muslims and Hindus were redistributing themselves. A Hindu, Professor Sarvandaman Chowla, had to flee what was now Pakistan. It happened that he was reputed to be the world’s foremost number theorist, and KU hired him to teach as a way of helping him find a new place in the world. So, the university was now offering a course in number theory.
I managed to find a way to add this course to my schedule—as I remember, it was my only elective course. Professor Chowla’s English was not American English, and he lectured facing the black board, writing out the English with his right hand, and erasing it with his left. One had to be quick!
Though we rarely saw his face, one day he turned to us, and his face glowing, he told us that the great beauty of number theory was that no one had ever been able to find a practical application for it! Ah, the love of numbers!
Another day he presented to us a special lemma about primes of the form 4n-1, and after I returned to my desk in the Astronomy Department, I briefed Prof. Storer on the class, as I normally did. So I selected prime number 143 as a sample of such a prime, and whattayouknow, it did not work. We spent a several hours on the problem, and finally concluded that the lemma was supposed to be for primes of the form 4n+l.
The next class Prof. Chowla began, as usual, with the question, “Are there any questions?” despite the fact that there had never been any at all. I held up my hand, and told him that I thought the minus sign should be a plus. He stared at the ceiling, and in a matter of maybe 30 seconds did the calculations for all the primes from 3 to 143, confirming each calculation with the word “chess” for “yes”. (It had taken me two hours to do these) He seemed to be very surprised that I was correct, and asked for permission to work on the problem before the next class. Now each of the other students in the class was a math major, and being from the Astronomy department I was considered to be an alien. I had heard them discussing the lectures, and they were uniformly against them. They had no idea whatsoever that anyone would work on the problems at home. When we next met, Prof. Chowla announced that I was correct. From this time forward, every class began with the question “Was everything alright last time, Mr. Brownlee?” I never again heard those math students slur the astronomy Department.
But I had an “A” in the class, thanks to Prof. Storer wanting to hear what I had learned in each class!
Because of this episode, Prof. and Mrs. Chowla became our good friends, and we were entertained in their home in Lawrence. Prof. Chowla was born into a family of the highest social order in India—for example, he told me that he had never once dressed himself, as servants always did so. When he married, his wife performed that function. She was a wonderful person also, and told us some wonderful things about her remarkable husband. As their guests, we were served a dessert pudding that was completely covered with a leaf of pure gold. We were assured that it was OK to eat it, so we did. After the semester ended, we took the Chowlas in our old Ford to Colorado, and spent two weeks staying in places that I could afford. They were completely taken by the American West, and made many comparisons with India. Thanks to the fact that my Aunt Theresa had been in India for many years, and indeed was present for the separation of the two countries, we were able to relate to their experiences.
Professor Chowla subsequently spent time at the University of Colorado and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. His fame lives on. His friendship is still remembered, and treasured. Had I only been able to guess when I was barn sitting of the power of numbers, practical application or no!
Son Wayne was born in December 1950. My being a graduate student with three children was not unknown in those days, for many fellow students were veterans, and some years older than the normal student.
The head of the Astronomy Department was Professor Storer, one of my all time favorites. He and his wife Mary took considerable interest in us, and helped in many ways.
We were living in a wonderful old house in downtown Lawrence. It was originally in the category of a mansion, having been built not that long after the civil war. The windows were stained glass—and magnificent ones too—and our apartment was the entire third floor. Just before Wayne was born, the pot on the stove caught fire, and as Addie Leah attempted to put it out, there was a real explosion. She was badly burned on her right arm and hand. The explosion caused me to run to see what was happening, and I found parts of the kitchen on fire—window curtains were afire, and that window was at the top of the stairs—our only way out. The fire had to be extinguished. I did it by throwing pots of water on it, but I had turned on the hot water faucet instead of the cold, and had no time to correct my error. Thus I had some hot-water burns. Addie Leah’s burns were really serious, so once the fire was out, and Mrs. Walters, our landlady was on the scene, we left for the hospital. This happened only a couple of weeks before Wayne was to arrive, so there was some stress to be dealt with. As soon as Addie Leah had recovered from Wayne’s birth, she had surgery at the university hospital in Kansas City, and would be gone for a number of days. Mrs. Storer cared for the three kids for the first couple of days. Then, I had a friend take me to Topeka where I caught a plane to Hutchinson. Wayne was only a couple of weeks old. At the Topeka airport the girls had a wonderful time, and a lady waiting to take an airplane kept trying to find out from them just where their mother might be. They were much too busy to answer her questions, and so she fastened her attention on Wayne. Finally she asked the question: “Why are you taking the plane with this baby?” I replied that I only had two extra bottles of milk, and did not have time to take the train. At that moment the flight was called, and the poor lady never learned the true story.
One of the interesting facets of our life in Lawrence resulted from the fact that some Osborne High School boys also had rooms in Mrs. Walters’ house, so we pretty much lived as one big happy family—and that included Mrs. Walters.
It took me two years to obtain my Masters Degree, but I enjoyed every minute. I was encouraged to get my Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Indiana, so in the fall of 1952 it was on to Bloomington, Indiana.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Chapter 11 Navigation

Chapter 11

As a boy, I liked the word "navigate”. It implies travel, a certain excitement, perhaps obstacles, and a dash of cleverness. From the earliest moment that flying for the Army Air Corps looked possible for me, I set my eyes on the goal of becoming a NAVIGATOR. Never mind that everybody else wanted only to become a Pilot, or that even I scorned becoming a Bombardier! Looking back on my Army career, I can understand now that it was pure chance that I did become a navigator, and that my repeated selection of navigation as first choice probably meant nothing whatsoever to the United States Army Air Corps. "How many bodies are to be assigned to labor battalions today? Five Hundred? How many men are on the roster from A to L? Four Ninety? Take 10 from the Ms!" That's how the army was run, and perhaps that's even optimistic, for the initial question of how many, probably had no answer. They just needed to clear out 500 guys to make room for a new set arriving tomorrow--more likely, tonight!

Because I liked navigation--everything about it--I did well at it, and was selected as an instructor after graduating from Navigation School. Incidentally, that selection may have saved my life, for many men in my graduating class were killed in Europe. They got there just in time for some of the disastrous B-24 bombing raids, had the worst of it then and later, and not too many survived. Because of my "extra" duty, when I finally hit the combat trail, I went to the Pacific, and got there at the very end of the war, so my survival was almost assured.

It is a curious fact that people either have the genes for navigation, or they do not. With the correct genes, they are easily taught, and demonstrate that they can absorb pertinent knowledge of all kinds while in the air. Hear that? The pilot has changed the power settings a bit; note the time. The change of the shadow on the sextant says the heading has been altered by a hair; note the time. What is the pilot doing? Check the altitude, note the time. As a navigation instructor I soon learned which students were primed to be good navigators. Instruction could help, but that ability to sense a mini-alteration of direction or altitude or shadows was born in them. They had it. To a very few students, navigation was a matter of numbers and math. While they might be very good at reducing sextant observations to a position on paper, a fuzzy concept of true north was a tell-tale defect, and could be fatal over the Pacific Ocean.

When our B-29 crew was assembled stateside, every person had had a lot of flying time, and had seen navigators, good and bad. Thus, initially, every heading I gave was questioned, every position double checked if possible. But things went very well until one flight, scheduled to last for 22 hours. Upon arrival at the flight line I had a pretty good tooth ache, went to the medics for a pain reliever, and was grounded instead. With that, the system reached for a substitute navigator. To make a very long story short, he had the wonderful luck to become hopelessly lost over the ocean west of California at a time when the plane had lost all radio capability. Major Gover finally took over, and flew directly east, figuring that he would hit North America somewhere. He did so, and discovered they were right at San Francisco. An emergency landing was made there as the fuel tanks were almost empty--they ran out as they were taxiing, as I recall--and they arrived back at base a day late. But my reputation as a good navigator was now firm, for not once had I made a mistake that jeopardized their lives. It is also true that over the ocean that vast expanse without railroads, or ridges, or seasonal plants or distant terrains gives amateur pilots doubts about their abilities; they begin to trust the navigator; they have no other option!

Once I happened to save us all. We took off at night from Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. It was another 22 hour mission, and we were to fly first to Florida and off the east coast, then return to Arizona. When training missions were to be this long, on a few occasions we had a spare navigator aboard, and the two of us divided up the hours. This time I agreed to begin navigation after 4 hours, so was sitting by the window when we flew over El Paso. Because the plane was loaded with more fuel than we care to remember for these longs missions, we started out flying at low altitude until we had burned off enough fuel to climb to high altitudes more efficiently. I noticed that we were quite a bit off of the pre-flight expected course, so I immediately got interested. When I talked with the other navigator, I found that he had not noticed anything. I then began checking everything and discovered that our pre-flight winds were quite wrong. Also, the night sky was inky black, stars were of no help. Because I had flown over the area many times during navigation school, I immediately remembered Guadalupe Peak located just to the east. It was more than 8,000 ft high, and our altitude was only 6,000 feet and we were headed right for it. After some more calculations I went to the cockpit at the appropriate time and told the pilot to do a right turn of 45 degrees, fly for three minutes, then do 90 degree left turn for three minutes, then to a 45 degree right, we’ll be back on course, but we will have flown around Guadalupe Peak. He did, and we did. Sometime later, the B-29 that took off from Tucson behind us, on the same pre-flight course, flew into Guadalupe, and all were killed. We gained this information when we returned to Tucson the next day. This event demonstrates that one must be eternally alert, and it was a demonstration to me personally that sleeping was dangerous. From this time forward I had a policy of sleeping only a few minutes at a time, and my fellow crew members honored this vow. This particular event did not do my reputation any harm.

On another mission, this one from Tucson to San Diego to Portland, then to Walla Walla and return, we experienced a very significant explosion in the stacks of engine number 3—the inside one on our right. An area to the rear of the engine was blown away. Flames trailed a long way behind the wing. Our B-29’s gunners sat in plastic domes that jutted out from the plane to give them more visibility. When the right gunner’s station was engulfed with flames, he decamped immediately. One of the crew rushed back to take his place to report everything he could see. We were not losing any more of the wing. The pilot discovered he could not shut the engine down, and in a few minutes determined that the gas flow to the engine was unchanged, so we were not losing that much fuel. It was night. He decided to continue flying. This explosion happened as we were flying south, west of southern California, and it was not too long afterward that we turned to the east to attempt to reach home base in Tucson. While the flames were steady, every minute or so there was another small explosion, evidently where some fuel had accumulated. This noisy and thought-stimulating ride continued all the way to Tucson. It was my job to keep the pilot informed about distances to any place we might be able to land if we had too, so I was too busy to worry a great deal. It was navigation with a different twist. We arrived at Tucson on a magnificently clear night at an altitude of 10,000 feet. This meant that we could be seen at a distance of about 100 miles. Not only that, but it was a quiet night in Tucson until we came over the horizon. The base commander was awakened by the bangs, called the base and ordered everybody to get us down immediately. They did not need any prompting.

This event was a very big one for Tucson, and the following day everyone was asking everyone else if they had seen and heard of those terrible explosions in that flying airplane! After we landed I made it to our rented room, and Addie Leah was up and waiting, insisting that she knew from the first noise that was my plane! I had a very fine welcome! Later that morning we boarded a bus for the base, and the bus driver took the occasion to tell everyone aboard what he had seen and heard, and how exciting it was. He had a good many details. As Addie Leah and I were getting off the bus, he asked me if we had heard it, and that’s when I said, “Yes, I was on it!” We stepped down without an opportunity to say more, but it was a delightful moment. You should have seen his face!

Even my trip to the Pacific was special because of my being a navigator. Each of us on our B-29 crew was selected from the ranks of flight instructors--Pilots, Bombardier, Engineer, Gunners, Radio and Radar operator--everyone. (Radar was so new that we had radar, but none of us had ever seen one, and had no idea how to operate it. But neither did the Radar instructor!! He taught it, but had never seen one like the one in our plane, and had some difficulty making it work.) When we first got together, and discovered our pasts, we recognized the non-randomness of it all, and of course we were nervous, for things that appeared to have purpose in the Army are so rare as to be truly scary when they appear. It turned out that we had been selected to be the crew for an Air Corps general (who later became Air Force Chief of Staff). When we departed Lincoln, Nebraska for the Marianas, I was really eager to do a good job of navigating. From Fairfield-Suisun, near San Francisco, to Honolulu I chose to navigate using data only from my sextant, i.e., flying a celestial mission. I disdained using the radio, or any other navigational clues. It only took a few hours (the trip took 12 hours--B-29s were really slow compared to today's planes) for everyone on the plane to learn what I was doing. They dutifully left me alone, and I arrived at Oahu with only about a four mile error. We were traveling about 3.5 miles every minute, so that was considered excellent for those days. Nowadays, even going at 10 miles a minute, one should be within a hundred feet or so of where one thinks he is! I had "congratulations" from the general, and felt that going to war wasn't all that bad.

Flying on west from Honolulu we were forced to land at Johnston Island because of a fuel problem. (How could I have ever guessed that about thirty years later I would be spending lots of time there?) My first view of the place was truly impressive, for the runway took up most of the island. Technically it was too short for B-29’s to take off, but was paved down to the low tide level when the tide was out, and at those times it was long enough. The island was then much smaller than what it became in 1961-62. The plane’s wings seemed almost to touch the operations building—built narrow and long, parallel to the runway. Dredging was on-going, for they were trying to increase the parking area of airplanes. There was only room enough for two B-29’s to park. Taking off at low tide, we flew over the very first whale I had seen from the air. It was just to the northeast of the island.

Our next stop was Kwajalein, and we spent the night there. The battle for the island had destroyed every tree but one, at least that is what I remember. I was quartered in a tent at the western and northern edge of the island, and that tent was on the beach where the upper edge of lagoon waves was only about four feet away. The trade winds, always blowing from the northeast, were blowing directly across the lagoon, and whatever I tried did not prevent me from being bombarded by wind-borne sand. It was a miserable night. We flew on the next day to Guam, and I have keen memories of what that place was like, for Guam swarmed with planes and ships participating in a terrible war. From there we flew to Tinian.

Upon arrival we were assigned to the 58th Bombardment Wing of the 20th Air Force, the 444th Bombardment Group, and if I remember correctly, the 676th squadron. Subsequently we saw our General only on occasions. Shortly after arriving we were transferred to the 313th Wing, and the 504th squadron. The guys who dropped the atom bombs were in the 509th. As the 58th Wing had arrived on Tinian via India, then China after flying over the Himalayas, those guys were old grizzled veterans (maybe four or five years older than we were). Their brass had not been polished since they left home, and was a gloriously grungy corroded green. They tended to grunt and groan while talking, a little bit like gorillas. They were scornful about anyone who had just arrived, though eager to hear what was happening in the States. They were not much interested in letting us hear about India or China, although one of them did give me an ebony stick inlaid with ivory. I still have it somewhere in the house.

Before each mission there was a formal briefing in a relatively large building, and then the various squadrons met separately. Ours met under a nearby tree, with the colonel filling us in on our duties. He knew that everybody in his squadron was substantially better than any guys in those other squadrons—a very perceptive leader! I listened to his every word, always searching for implications about painful particulars the Colonel seemed to be sloughing over.

Actually, I was arriving on Tinian just in time to see the end of the war. These were momentous times, for the first atom bomb drop on Hiroshima was August 6, 1945, the second three days later, and Japan surrendered on the 14th. The formal surrender occurred on September 2.

After the nuclear drop on Hiroshima by the Enola Gay (assigned to the 509th Bombardment Group), that plane sat on the flight line just like any other B-29. Conscious that there was real history sitting there and our plane was parked quite nearby, I managed to get to the plane, crawl up into the cockpit, and then go back through the bomb bays. I did this quite alone, neither asking nor expecting to obtain permission. I wondered if the plane might be saved, and what the world might be like in the future by having us using the same energy as the sun, but mostly I just celebrated the thought that at last, the war could be over.

There were still momentous events to experience. I’m guessing it was about a week after Nagasaki when we started to Japan on one mission involving several hundred B-29’s, and after being in the air several hours we lost an engine, and returned to Tinian. The repairs were still being made when the next flight was scheduled. The 20th Air Force had decided to try to put 1,000 planes in the air just one more time, and that was really something. It is difficult to visualize swarms of hundreds of aircraft, but that is what I saw. The planes from Guam met our planes over Tinian and together they flew off to the north while I watched from the ground in wonderment, feeling the ground tremble with the sound. It was like a million bees had been rousted from their hive. The sound was an angry one, and I have not forgotten it.

Immediately after the surrender on August 14th, some of our planes without ammo flew at low levels to drop supplies in the prisoner of war camps in what is now South Korea. When those planes returned the crews were furious, for Russian troops traveling south through the peninsula had shot at them. The planes were immediately ordered (by local commanders) to return fully armed, and to shoot at anyone who fired on them. They did so, and came home with tales of flying past Russian troops at very low level, spinning gun turrets and firing as necessary. That was all it took, for the Russians did not fire at us anymore. Think what all might or might not have happened had the decisions been made in Washington, as is the norm these days!

One of my first activities was to ask for a jeep, and travel all over the island to get my bearings. As maps of the island were unavailable to me, I determined to draw my own. It survives, and when it became legal to do so, I sent it to Addie Leah to enable her to follow my island adventures. The map is shown, following:

At the upper left I have shown the headquarters area of the 504th squadron to the west and a bit north of Wing Headquarters. The location of the 509th is shown as “9th” group, and so on. The beach that figured prominently in the invasion of Tinian by US troops after Saipan was captured is well to the north, essentially west of the drawn airstrips. Note that the nearness of Saipan is clearly shown.

The island itself it 39 square miles, and my note, “very high hill, 600’ ”, the highest point on the island in the southeast part of the island is now listed in the books as 545 feet. Anyway a Kansas boy was impressed with hills, even putting in contour lines. There was more than one reason to be impressed with the hills, for the last Japanese survivors of the American invasion had taken refuge there. For a number of months they would come into camp areas at night looking for food, and would kill anyone they encountered. Whether or not any were still alive when we arrived, I do not know, but it made sense for us to be told that those hills were off limits.

Unbeknownst to me, Dr. Harold Agnew had carried the essential ingredients for one of the atomic bombs to Tinian, and flew in an accompanying plane on the bombing flight to Hiroshima. He was to become the director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and would be my boss in the years to come. He remains one of my biggest heroes. When I was at Los Alamos, I believe that I was the only employee then in the lab who had been on Tinian at the same time Harold was there.

In my files I found a good picture of Tinian taken from a
plane in my squadron.

Notice my squadron’s plane in the upper left part of the picture.

The four parallel runways constituted the largest aerodrome in the world in those days. At mission time planes would take off simultaneously, and I remember that as one plane was lifting off the runway, a second was in full power in the middle of the runway, and a third was accelerating for its run. Distances to Japanese targets were such that there could not possibly be extra fuel. For planes to arrive at the target together, they should take off at the same moment; well, four of them did, and there were four more shortly thereafter! The opportunities for circling in the air giving time for other planes to assemble were exceedingly limited.

The picture also shows clearly the Navy’s airfield with their two runways. Some ships can be seen in Tinian’s harbor.

I have transformed my hand drawn map to see how it compares with the picture. Not bad!!

My bombardier and I with crew help built a dark room out of wood from bomb boxes (most everything on the island was built from wood from bomb boxes, for example the Officers’ and Enlisted Men’s clubs) and went into the business of developing film. We scrounged photographic supplies from the photo labs on the flight line, but had huge problems finding photographic paper. We had no enlarger, so had to do with contact prints. Once in a while we contrived to use an Air Force enlarger, but had to limit that to pictures of airplanes. Another big problem was difficulty in finding chemicals, particularly fixers, so many of our pictures faded or are light damaged. We printed pictures for friends, but for a price. We traded for tools—there were a few garden tools—and we had a hoe, and a spade, and a saw, etc. We loaned them out for coupons for cigarettes and alcohol, and then traded those for other perks. I don’t remember that money was the object. However we became richer than almost anybody could have imagined, for we traded a number of good things to some guys in the Navy for a plug-in coke and beer cooler. We were then able to cool drinks, and being the only guys in the north part of the island with such a remarkable bit of machinery, we did very well indeed.

Once as we were taxiing past the base photo lab in our B-29, on the intercom I asked the pilot if we could hold our position for a couple of minutes to allow us to ask the lab for chemicals they might be getting ready to throw away. He said, OK for a minute or so, and one of the gunners jumped from the bomb bay and ran to ask. He returned immediately with the news that the photo lab had just received orders to shut down, and the guy in charge was willing to give us whatever we wanted. Four or five of the crew ran in and brought out as much as they could carry. But our pilot said we could not stay any longer, so we promptly departed. At the end of that day one of the crew went back to the lab to see if there were more things we could take home, and he heard an amazing story. It seems that earlier that day the lab had been ordered to close, then a B-29 stopped by, took a good many things from the lab, then left. The lab guy failed to get their tail number. But shortly after the plane left, he had orders rescinding the earlier order to shut the place down. Now he was in desperate need! Our man was really sorry to hear about this, and commiserated.

One of the freedoms crews had was to choose to paint their airplanes in most any way they chose. And we had B-29’s by the hundreds, so there was no end of opportunities to get some interesting pictures. A few of these pictures follow, but perhaps the one of greatest interest is our picture of the Enola Gay, developed OK, but fixed with poor fixer.
The Enola Gay

With our arrival we fully expected that we would end the war (not knowing about atom bombs) and we adopted as our logo a witch on a broom that had but one straw. So our name? “The Last Damned straw”. Regrettably, I have no pictures of it.

Our dark room was pretty small, but viable. Too bad some of the pictures aren’t.

When our B-29 was preparing to fly to the Marianas the regulations were clear. We could take NOTHING with us that was not GI, i.e. General Issue. Hearing from friends who were already overseas, we were aware that we should bring such things as towels, magazines of any description, mirrors—anything that one could guess that the Army would leave behind. To make certain that rules were followed, each departing plane was searched three times—the night before leaving your continental base, the night before leaving the base on the west coast, and an hour or so before liftoff.

From High School onward I played the piano accordion. I had a good one, and managed somehow to have it with me after I was commissioned. So in Lincoln Nebraska, our point of departure, there it was. How could I get it past those inspections? The first night turned out to be simple, for the guys selected to do the searching were the enlisted men on the planes. (Army thinking was always fun to watch!) So, one of our gunners managed to be on the list to search our plane. Therefore I left the accordion on the plane. No problem, but no solution. In California, the problem was much more severe. For the search the night before, I kept the accordion off the plane, and with me. Still no problem. Now comes the last search, just before we take off. We are all at the plane, and I have with me the accordion—in its truly big black case. As mentioned previously, we were the crew of a General, and I figured that might help. But the solution is even more fun to remember! I recalled with considerable interest the famous story of Edgar Allen Poe, The Purloined Letter. Might it be possible to hide an accordion in plain sight? So the search of the plane began—and it was impressive indeed. We were amazed at its thoroughness! Things as small as a few cubic inches were being examined; they found our magazines and took some small things. Meanwhile the accordion in its case was placed about 5 yards in front of the plane’s nose wheel. The search complete, a guard asked “What is that box sitting there? “Don’t know” replied one of the gunners. “It must belong to the General”. Well now, that certainly seemed plausible, and the guards passed on.

This picture shows the accordion made it all the way to our Quonset on Tinian. It demonstrates that the will of an average American citizen to defy Army regulations was neatly in place, and he’d find a way to do so if he could. Regulations be damned!

Three other pictures show me in ways that only Addie Leah will remember. (Tinian had a piano--it was pre-war--and some of the keys worked!)

With the war over, the 58th activities were over, and we were transferred to the 313th bomb wing. We continued to fly missions of a sort, but it was a very odd time. There were any number of things that required aircraft—supplies, transporting decision makers, righting wartime mistakes, redistributing people to fill vacancies that were appearing everywhere, etc.

On one such flight some months later, while flying on a long mission across the western Pacific, I picked out a sea mount about 200 miles off course, and decided to use it as a visual check point since I could take advantage of the winds/pressure system at the same time. I was going to let the wind carry us that far off course, with a pre-flight heading, and then allow a contrary wind to drift us back on course. It was a clever ploy to get there using a "least action" principle, time and fuel could be saved, and at the same time I could obtain a confirming position. But I didn't say anything to the pilot. It might confuse him!

Hours passed. After being satisfied that all was in order, I had made an estimated time of arrival (ETA) for the sea mount, knowing that it would be easily visible from the air, and settled down to see it (the visibility was terrific that day). I started looking ahead. But I saw nothing. Then to the sides--nothing! But then, it was a bit early yet. In a few more minutes I looked again, crawling to various places in the airplane (it was a B-24) to improve my vantage point. Nothing. I looked underneath the plane through my drift meter, which I could rotate to look ahead or back. Nothing. A tight feeling crept into my chest, and as I checked my arithmetic, the unease gradually made its way to my stomach, and throat. I looked everywhere again, a bit wildly now, and decided that either the map was wrong, or I was lost. With that, I started all over from the beginning, redoing every calculation, checking every number, using my hands to trace out all headings, etc. At the same moment, I was almost in real panic, since I could find nothing wrong, the pilot called on the intercom. "Were we supposed to be flying past a coral head out here somewhere?" The fat was in the fire! Well, we were NOT supposed to be flying past a coral head somewhere. So a Yes wouldn’t quite do. But “NO” would also not be true. Did he find out about my plan? He couldn’t have! And how do I answer? If I say yes, he'll want to know all about it, and if I say no, he'll say then where are we? Finding it difficult to decide on an answer, I finally squeaked out a "yes". With that he said "Well, we're flying directly over something right now! I leaped to the drift meter, and found the cross hair splitting that bit of color right down the middle! And that's how I discovered that from anywhere except in the cockpit of a B-24 there is a blind region directly ahead, on the longitudinal axis of the plane, no matter how you look, you can't see something below and dead ahead. So this is how I came to know what it feels like to be lost while navigating. It is a terrible, horrible feeling.

I should explain what I was doing in a B-24. After the war had been over for a number of months, the old veterans of the 20th Air Force were being repatriated—a number of these guys had been away from home for years. So we young lads started filling in for them in a variety of ways. For example, I became a squadron navigator, then group navigator, finally the Standardization Board Navigator, that board checking to see that all navigators remained qualified and were obeying all the “standards.” It was from that position that ultimately I made my way back to the states. But during those post-war months I navigated a number of times in planes other than our own.

One beautiful day we were flying well to the north of the Mariannas, a bit south of Iwo Jima, and I saw a most remarkable meteorological phenomenon. Just ahead and at our altitude was a cloud maybe a city block cubed in size. And to my great amazement a huge amount of water was pouring out of the bottom of it. The falling water stretched for thousands of feet. This condition simply could not be sustained. Quickly telling Maj. Gover about this I asked if we could not circle the cloud in order to see its total demise. He agreed, and we circled at a decent distance, taking several minutes. Guess what? The rain continued to fall, and the cloud remained in what I can only call a steady-state configuration. This then was something so rare that doubters are justified in believing that we did not see it. It was a “singularity”—a place where Mother Nature was processing great volumes of water-filled air, wringing it out. Yet we had no sense of unusual air movements, or great turbulence. She was pretty much just doing her thing, and we were privileged to be there.

Now it was February, 1946. The war had been over for five months, and I was still in the 20th Air Force, on Tinian. Soldiers were being released from their military careers depending on how many “points” they had accumulated—one for each month of service. Additional points had been awarded for combat and overseas service. I had three years worth, but that did not amount to much. Because the 20th Air Force had in it a lot of B-29ers who had been overseas for a very long time, there were many people waiting for the long ride home. At about 4:00 am one morning, one of our crew’s gunners, who had been working at headquarters over night, appeared in our Quonset. “Brownie, Brownie” he whispered to me. “I have just seen orders being prepared for you to leave today to navigate a plane back to the States to take a load of guys getting out!” Now, that was real news. Because I am now a ranking navigator—still a second lieutenant, but with the job of a major, I have been selected to navigate a B-24 back to the States! I lay in my bed trying to think through all the possibilities of the news. Might this mean that I could also get out of the Army? Assuming it was true, what were all the things that I would need to do? Who did I need to talk to? Do I say goodbye to the crew? I immediately put together a mental list of all the essentials. It was a pretty long list.

An hour passed, and then an enlisted man appeared at the Quonset asking for Lt. Brownlee. He informed me that I was to be ready to depart for the US at 8:00 a.m. I replied that I would have thought that the army would have been more considerate and would have given a man more time to get ready. His response was one of considerable surprise. “I would have thought you’d really be excited about it!” The moment he was gone I leaped from the bed, started packing like crazy and rushed to do everything on the list. I was really excited about it!

The plane chosen for the flight to the US was a B-24, for the 20th Air Force wanted to get rid of it. There were five crew members—pilot and copilot, the flight engineer, the navigator, and the radar man. The crew’s orders read that we were not—repeat NOT—eligible for separation. We were supposed to return to Tinian. With 6 passengers as I remember, we flew first to Guam, then to Kwajalein, then on to Honolulu. However, we developed a fuel leak (this was fairly common) and made an emergency landing at Johnston Island—the second time I had done so.

One of our passengers had arrived in the Pacific Theater on a troop ship from the US, and had heard nothing whatsoever about an International Date Line, so when I explained that we were taking off on a Wednesday morning but would be landing on Johnston Island on Tuesday evening, he thought I was crazy. So I made him a bet, and upon arrival the Radar Man hung upside down out of the bomb bay to ask the man putting chocks under the wheels what day it was. The Johnston Island guy responded that he had no idea. So I did not collect on the bet.

We flew on to Hickam Air Force Base and after a night’s rest, flew to the mainland, landing at Mather Field, near Sacramento. We went directly from the plane to a briefing room, and awaited a required debriefing “You are now arriving back in the United States”—etc. When the young airman came into the room he launched into a good, if hopelessly inappropriate, briefing “You now are leaving the United States for a tour in the Pacific Theater of Operations”.

Our passengers—each with dozens of points and brass that had not been cleaned or polished for years—glared at the young man like angry gorillas. Glancing up, he quickly realized his mistake, was flustered, so tried somewhat unsuccessfully to start the opposite lecture. Concluding that whatever he said was utterly superfluous, he started collecting our orders. Each person was carrying his own orders now, and our briefer started with the pilot on my right, then collected mine, then those from the other three crew members, and then collected the passengers’ orders, putting each set on top of the others.

Returning to the podium he read the orders on top, those of the last passenger. This man was a major, had more points that probably anybody in California had ever heard of, and had answered any question in a superior, maybe even hostile, manner. The next man’s orders were likewise, and so the airman quickly looked through each of the passenger’s orders, stopped looking, and said with some embarrassment “I see you are all here to be separated from the service, so we’ll cut you new orders as quickly as we can.” With that he looked to our pilot, and asked “Where would you like to go for separation?” My pilot’s answer was that he had no idea. With that the airman then asked me where I would like to go. I immediately replied that I would like to go to Denver, Colorado, to Ft. Logan. He wrote that down. The pilot then said he’d like to go where Brownlee goes, and then all crew members but one chimed in with that response. (The Chicago crew member was pretty sure that Chicago would have a place for him to be separated, and he was right!) We were thinking that we’d have to get all of this straightened out later, and should try to stay in the same boat, i.e. airplane. After the airman had elicited the necessary information from each person, he left us hurriedly and told us to relax until he returned with our orders. So we had about half an hour enjoying the atmosphere of the US, never doubting for a moment that when our orders were read, each one saying that this man was “not--repeat NOT--eligible for separation” we would have our orders to go back to the Marianas. But we all had leave coming, so the hope was that the orders would give us 30 days leave.
When the airman returned he handed new orders to us all, and the crew, save one, were ordered to Denver for separation. We were then given our choice of waiting several days until a place could be found for us on a troop train or a regular train if that were possible, or we could be released now if we were willing to hitchhike to Denver, finding our way however we could. We were given several days to find our way before the date to report. The crew huddled, decided to hitchhike, each of us truly excited for now we were certain that once the error was discovered we would be given some of the leave we had accumulated before returning to Tinian. How happy we all were!

Leaving operations, we made our way to an on-the-base bus station to catch a ride to San Francisco, but were immediately arrested by the MPs for being out of uniform. Explaining that what we had on was all that we possessed, and never mind that it was wintertime, we were allowed to go on with a warning to get winter uniforms pronto.

In San Francisco we were able to buy tickets on a scheduled passenger train the next day. I telephoned Addie Leah asking her to meet me in Denver, and we arrived there before she did, a couple of days later, so I was waiting for her at Denver’s Union Station when she got off the train. What a moment that was!!

Reporting to Ft. Logan early the following morning, we discovered to our surprise that nobody paid any attention whatsoever to our orders, new or old. We were just in line to be discharged. After we talked it over, I decided to fall out of line and report to the commanding general that was on the floor, and in charge of this very considerable chaotic scene.

“Sir! Lieutenant Brownlee reporting to make a statement!”

“At ease, lieutenant, what do you have to say?”

“Sir, there has been a mistake in the orders for me and my crew members, and we are not eligible for separation”.

“Well, I have your orders right here, lieutenant, let me read them.”

He asked for my file from an aide, and in a couple of minutes he had it in his hand.
“Oh, I see what you mean lieutenant. Your old orders DO say that you are not eligible for separation. They are signed by a brigadier general. But I have orders right here saying that you ARE eligible. They are signed by a major general—Me! Do you want out, or not?”

“Yes, Sir, I do” I replied, and he then said “Fall back in line”.

“Yes SIR!” was the best I could do.

Returning to my crew members, I gave them the word, and we were all out of the army by the end of the day. The man who went to Chicago? I don’t know. But, even after more than 60 years, the memory of that day is still fresh.

I got into Aviation Cadets to be a navigator, and being a navigator got me out!

Below is the one picture of our crew, taken on Tinian.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Chapter 10 Leaving Hondo

Chapter 10

The day to leave Hondo finally arrived. To my surprise I was ordered to go to Lincoln Air Force Base once again. We had time to prepare, however. I sold the trailer house and sent Addie Leah to Zenith to live with her parents, at least for the time being. Now it happened that she was pregnant with Jeanne who was only a few weeks from arriving, so home was the place to go. This occurred in March, 1945. I now knew that I was to be a crew member of a B-29, and would be sent to the Pacific. We were to leave Hondo Army Airfield in a troop train that would go to San Antonio, thence to Lincoln. It was scheduled to leave on a Tuesday. But all of our duties were finished by the previous Wednesday, so there were a number of days for which I had no duty. At that time, we were allowed to be anywhere within 50 miles of our base without orders, but to be any farther than that required orders. Knowing that I would be going overseas, and that I just seize any opportunity I had to spend time with Addie Leah and perhaps with the baby too, I resolved to find a way to skip the troop train, and hitchhike to Lincoln via Zenith. The problem was as follows; on Tuesday I must sign out at Base Headquarters where the Officer of the Day would check to see that nobody could sign out for someone else; I must also meet the roll call before the train left Hondo.

One of the instructors of my squadron was an Army Captain who had served a long while in Europe. He was a navigator for flying troops into Italy from Sicily and had any number of stories about that invasion.

Three times his plane was towing a glider from Africa to Sicily and three times the cable broke. Two times the glider pilot was rescued, and each time it was the same guy. The third time the cable broke, they flew low over the glider in the water, and he was shaking his fist at them. That was the last time they saw him!

The Captain had some medical problems, and wanted to take time off from the squadron whenever he could. I covered for him each time. If anyone called while he was gone I would say that he would be back soon. Well, guess what! This guy, my good friend, was to be the Officer of the Day on Tuesday. He agreed to sign me out when no one was present.

Now, what about that troop train? This was probably too hard to arrange, but I’d try. Discovering the man who would call the roll, I went to talk to him privately (actually officerly) explaining my problem and how important it was to see my wife and maybe my baby. Hearing me out, he said that is very difficult for him to remember anyone, and illegal to skip any names on the roll. But even he was amazed to see the name Brownlee, for that was his wife’s maiden name, and he would not be able to forget it, no matter how hard he tried.

So on a Thursday I left Hondo, planning to hitchhike to Dallas. The guy who picked me up was going to Dallas, but after going quite a bit more than fifty miles, and army truck passed us, and sitting the back of the truck was my Military Policeman. As I had already left the trailer court, he was very surprised to see me, and waved happily. I had no idea who he was, and ducked my head appropriately. But I had not anticipated seeing anyone who knew me, thus discovering a brand new worry.

In Dallas I bought a ticket for Wichita. The regular seats were sold out, naturally, but one was available in the observation car on the tail end of the train. We were some distance out of Dallas when to my horror two military policemen entered the car. They were checking the identities and orders of every military person on the train. What now? My cavalry training was certainly going to be put to the test. When they got to me one asked “How are you today, Lieutenant? “Fine thank you”, I responded. “Are things going OK for you?” His answer was yes, and with that they finished checking our car, and disappeared.

I now had five wonderful days being AWOL to spend with Addie Leah (still no baby), and Dad and Uncle Mason agreed to get me to Lincoln before the troop train was supposed to arrive. It should arrive there on Wednesday afternoon.

During the Tuesday night, even though it was April, a real blizzard arrived in central Kansas. We left early in the Model A Ford, and immediately had all kinds of road problems. Unfortunately, there were huge drifts across the roads with some frequency, and early in the day nobody was yet prepared to clear the roads. Each block took digging (most travelers had shovels) and a single lane through the drifts was created. Dad and Uncle Mason would volunteer to direct traffic, and managed to shorten our time spent at roadblocks. Despite these heroic efforts, we arrived in Lincoln after the troop train!

A few days later I heard the following announcement over the base’s public address system; “Will Lieutenant Brownlee please report to base headquarters?”

I reported immediately, identified myself, and was told to speak to a specific major, which I did.

He said “Lieutenant Brownlee, were you on the troop train last Thursday?” Concluding that in these kinds of circumstances honesty is the best policy, especially as I could think of nothing else, I responded “No, Sir.”

The Major said, “I did not think you were! Since you came here on your own, you are entitled to mileage”. He was smiling big, for I think he had hoped that I would lie. “Report to the finance office where you can collect your money.” It was roughly 1000 miles from Hondo to Lincoln, and I collected about $80.

Jeanne was born about a week later. I immediately arranged to get a week end off, and hitchhiked to Hutchinson, Kansas. Addie Leah was in the maternity ward. Her doctor was John Brownlee, a cousin of Dad’s, and a much respected long-time doctor in Hutchinson. He had done the honors, and when I arrived he told the staff that I was to spend the night in the maternity ward so that I could be with Addie Leah and Jeanne. The head nurse was outraged, but that’s what I did. I left for Lincoln the next morning. I was now was a father, and was amazed by my emotions.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Chapter 9 Hondo Army Air Field

Chapter 9

Arriving in Hondo by train, we found the base pretty much as we imagined it would be. Despite its small size, there were three dining halls, and the class rooms were numerous. The purpose of the place was navigation, and we were supposed to think of little else. A picture survives of one of our visual aids.
This is a Hagner Planetarium, designed to help us “see” how 52 celestial bodies could show us where we were on the earth’s surface. Ideally one could measure the altitude and azimuth of three celestial objects of known position, and plotting those, hope that he was in the middle of the resulting triangle. And, sometimes that worked!

The officer in charge of our squadron was from the mountains of Virginia, as I recall. He had a very “southern” accent, and pronounced all words with an “ou” in them as “oo”. So “south” became “sooth”, and “out”, as in “fall out” was like this. “Fall ooot!” After the war was over, and I happened to be walking through an area of jungle in Guam, I heard a shout “Gentleman of the sooth, fall ooot!” It was an x-cadet from Hondo, and the first time we had seen each other since living there. He could not remember my name, but knew how to attract my attention.
Addie Leah was to arrive in Hondo on Saturday night of our first week. I very quickly discovered that there was no room whatsoever in Hondo for a spouse. Hondo was a very small town, and all available bedrooms in town were taken. In fact, many residents had renovated their chicken houses, and were renting them to cadets. Nothing was available. Our only option seemed to be to spend Saturday night at the USO, and then Addie Leah would start for Kansas on the following day.
I had Saturday off, and had spent the day realizing that the situation was hopeless. Walking along the principal street, I had to walk around two ladies conversing in the middle of the sidewalk, and I heard the following: “So I’ve decided to rent out that bedroom I have at the front of the house.” Instantly I said to her, “Rent it to me! My wife arrives tonight, and I am desperate to find a place for her.” Mrs. Wiemers was astonished, and I was convinced—and still am—that she was just making conversation, and really had no intention of renting a room. She tried to take back the statement, stuttered the beginning of a number of thoughts without being able to complete them, and finally, after what seemed to me to be an unforgivably long time to make a simple decision, said “When is your wife arriving?” Upon hearing that she would be on the late evening train, she said she would go home to prepare the room. She gave me her address, and fled eastward at top speed.
Was I happy? Wow! I now waited several hours for the train to arrive, and Addie Leah and I then walked the seven or eight blocks to Mrs. Wiemers’ house. (I also had Saturday night off, so I too had a place to stay!) Because her arrival was late at night, Addie Leah could not see the town or area at all, so I described it to her in such a way that she would feel better about it when morning came. That worked, for Mrs. Wiemers had a beautiful garden, and the eye could stop there avoiding the distant view of, perhaps, Mexico.
Hondo Texas was a true experience. It was a small town, totally awash with soldiers. This was not unusual for the state of Texas, for in all parts of the state there were military installations. And Texas claimed each one of us as citizens. Any military unit that trained in Texas was a Texas unit for the Texas press. We just had to get used to it.
Arriving there early in 1944, we stayed for what was in those days a very long time, for after graduating from navigation school, and getting my commission, I stayed as an instructor. Addie Leah and I purchased a trailer house as home, and did remarkably well.
We bought the trailer from a soldier who was in Sterling College with me. In a neighboring trailer lived one of our Military Police. He was a fine fellow, and we became friends. These facts are mentioned only to permit me to make the observation that Old Boys’ Clubs can get started quite readily without a lot of effort.
Sister Donice came to visit us one time, and we showed her the town, with a picture that documents her reaction to the place fairly well.
Our wheels on the trailer house entitled us to a tire ration coupon. I wrote a letter to Dad telling him that I had such a thing, but did not have any reason to use it. A few days later I had a letter back from him requesting that I send it to him immediately! This was the only letter I ever received from my father in my entire life. So one can thus understand that war-time rationing was a terrible burden, no matter how important!
As an instructor, I flew with cadets almost every day, racking up many hours in AT-7's. The plane, a Beechcraft manufactured in Wichita, was the principal plane used for training navigators.
As the instructor, I flew Co-Pilot, on the right hand side. Here we see the pilot and the Co-Pilot, and three of the six navigation cadets.
Usually we flew in a big triangular pattern, past San Antonio to Houston, then to Dallas, then back home. Occasionally we would have a longer trip, from home to a distant place, say, point A, then to a place even farther away, B, where we would spend the night. We would return from B, to C, to home. On those occasions the flight itinerary was subject to weather, distances, whims, etc.
A trip to the north was intriguing, for that meant flying toward Kansas, with maybe a stop in Wichita. But once, I had the option of plotting a flight directly past the farm. That was a moment! Surely something special had to be done. It did not take me long to realize that I could throw out a smoke bomb, standard equipment for AT-7s.
Smoke Bombs were to be used over the Gulf of Mexico, which we flew over frequently. Smoke was emitted when the bomb hit the water, and thus places of historical or other interests could be marked for whomever. (I was never able to think this situation through to any satisfactory conclusion.)
We were flying from the southeast to the northwest. I would guess that we were at about 5000 feet above the ground. We passed to the east of Turon, and there was the farm, ahead of us and slightly to the west, right where it should be. As we came over the corner of the county line road and the road past Wilmer’s, I had the cadet in the back put the bomb in the tube which launched such things, and “Bomb’s Away!!”
Nobody saw this historic event, though I wrote home about what I had done. A week or so passed, and then Dad had a visit from Wilmer, who was very excited. He had been walking in the field north of his house, and there was a strange and fearful object buried in the ground. “Come quick”. When Dad arrived at the spot, there were tracks in the field--a big circle with a radius of about l0 yards. Wilmer had walked around and around it before going for Dad! Fortunately, Dad by now knew what it was, and retrieved it, and all was well, though a discussion of visiting aliens had to be conducted.
When I was sitting on the barn, dreaming of the future, did I even dream of bombing the old home place? No! Whatever happened to the bomb? I don’t know. Maybe it is still in the garage somewhere.
On one occasion I knew that we would be landing at the Dodge City airport, and Dad and Mother were there to meet us. I also landed at Wichita once.
Altogether I logged about 500 hours flying in the central-southwest part of the U.S, and developed the capability to know where I was with a single glance out the window.
One time we flew to California, and returned through Phoenix, Arizona. But a vicious cold front got between us and home, and we could not fly through it, so we spend two extra days getting back to Hondo. When we arrived there I discovered that I had received orders to accompany a considerable number of instructors to Europe, but because I was not available, someone was sent in my place. I never saw any of those gentlemen again. I was kept on at Hondo for several more months.

Chapter 8 More About Cadet Life

Chapter 8

I knew that wherever I might be transferred while in the service, Addie Leah would go with me. We were therefore forever trying to save train fares for future transfers. If we had enough money Addie Leah would go along. If not, she would have to return home. Either way we had to have some money for travel.
When my class was sent to Santa Ana, California, the next step in cadets, we were sent on a troop train. It took four days. All troop train movements were secret, and no one would ever tell us where we were going. It was up to the rumor mills and pure thought if we were to dope it all out. Troop trains were sidelined for any traffic, going in either direction. Meeting trains was OK, but when a train load of cattle passed going your way, that was really demeaning.
We guessed in Iowa that the troop train would be going to California, and via Ottumwa. As the train was standing in the rail yards there, some guys came rushing in hollering that my wife was at the back of the train. Sure enough Addie Leah and three other wives had guessed where we could be overtaken, and had found us! We were so happy to see each other again so soon after the most recent tearful goodbye! I don't remember now how long we were able to see each other there, but that goodbye was much easier than the earlier one. Addie Leah had demonstrated she could find me against all the odds, and she gave me hope that we were capable of getting together despite the best plans of the U.S. Army.
Troop trains are really boring. I matched pennies about 12 hours a day, and came out ahead by 19 cents. When it comes to coin flips, stick with heads.
In Santa Ana, a destination confirming all rumors, I was restricted to the base for 6 weeks, but after that I could spend Saturday night off base. We had a room at the “edge” of town; address 916 S Broadway, now a place well in the center of things. Our landlords were religious people, and liked Addie Leah (who didn't?) and this paid off handsomely for us a bit later.
While I was at Santa Ana, Grandmother McComb became ill, and the folks asked the Red Cross to request from the Army a leave for me to come home. This was of course a silly idea, but it was a natural one to originate at home, and why not try it? Well, it worked! An event right out of fantasyland! I first heard about it when the army came to tell me the leave had been granted. Released from the base, I raced to our room in town and we gathered everything together. The decision was this; if we had enough to buy two round-trip train tickets, Los Angeles to Wichita, we would, and Addie Leah could return to California with me when the leave was over. If not, we would buy only a one-way ticket for her. In those days a round trip ticket was a lot cheaper than two one-way tickets, and we knew we could never afford the latter. I had $15 in the bank at home, but naturally couldn't get at it now. We took a bus to Los Angeles, hoping and praying that we could buy two round-trip tickets. Mine would be a lot cheaper than Addie Leah's because I could get a military rate, but we could not guess the fares sufficiently close to know what the situation might be.
At the ticket counter in the Los Angeles Union Station, the clerk calculated the fares, and then we began to count out the money--a good portion of it in small change. Guess what? We were over the needed amount by 50 cents! Hallelujah! So we'd buy two round-trip tickets, thank you! Then the clerk, having watched us demonstrate our cash shortage, tried to talk us out of our decision, and into buying two one-way tickets only, reminding us that we could always buy returns when we got home. No, we said, knowing that there was not enough money at home to do that. So with tickets in hand, off to the train we went.
Now in 1944 all trains were loaded to capacity, and then some, and trains always left people behind to catch something later. There were usually twice as many people for each train from Los Angeles as seats and standing room available. So the train, not yet loading when we approached, was surrounded by a huge mass of waiting people when we got to it. My stomach sank--there was no way we could make that train! We'd just arrived too late and there were far too many ahead of us. And then a porter arrived on the outside of the crowd where we were, said he'd take our suitcases, get on the train and save seats for us! Hot Dog! He did just that, crawling through a window, and stayed with our luggage until we managed to get aboard despite the crushing crowd. And now, for the porter's tip. He awaited, very expectantly. My two quarters, that had appeared so ample a little bit earlier, now looked like nothing, as indeed they were! Fingering them slowly, I decided that the difference to the porter between one quarter and two would probably be slight, whereas the difference to me would be worthwhile. So I split with him. I did not explain because there was no opportunity to talk past the look on his face!
The trek to Kansas began nearly on time, and we arrived in Wichita 22 hours late, on the third day! We were in a car with many marines, and I eventually learned that if I were asleep, they would gather around Addie Leah for animated conservation, and would give her candy bars. She accepted them very graciously, and then saved half for me! Thus I managed to pretend to sleep during our hungrier periods. In Amarillo, milk was for sale at the RR station, two for fifteen cents. So we arrived in Wichita with a dime and right at midnight. Dad wondered if we would like to get a bite to eat from the all-night eatery before we started to Zenith, and we both said YES! The food was great!
Ten days of magnificent leave followed (three days were already gone) with Grandmother doing reasonably well, and Addie Leah and I spent our first consecutive nights together. Our return tickets put a real glow over every day. When it came time to return, I had closed out my bank account, and we arrived at the railroad station with $15--lots of money compared with the 25 cents we had the week before. Just as we were getting on the train, Dad asked me if I needed any money, and dug into his pocket, producing a $10 bill. Wide eyed, and with a gulp, I assured him that we had plenty. You understand by now that I still wished to avoid any event that could be construed as confirming that we had married too young. I was absolutely adamant that I would make it without help from home. As an aside to grandchildren who might one day read this, let me advise you that whenever help is offered, take it.
Now, when we got to Santa Ana, where were we to go? We had not been able to pay the rent on our room when we left and had told our landlady to rent our room to somebody else. But with luck, we hoped, she would fail to find a renter, and would still have the vacancy. This was manifestly ridiculous, for any room available could be rented in a few hours. So what happened? Our landlords wanted Addie Leah back and saved the room for us! The following week I was paid again, we began saving for the next transfer, and all was well.
Because I had lost ten days of training, I was transferred to a younger squadron. But this squadron was really something. There had been so many aviation cadets in the system that the Army had decided to experiment by putting people together in novel ways. A squadron might have all cadets of the same height, or age, or whatever. But this squadron was put together on the basis of IQ—everybody in it had a paper IQ of 140 or more, as I recall. Whatever, the difference was truly amazing. The place was filled with laughter, truly great jokes, inspiring vocabularies, and regular attempts to out-wit the system, though in retrospect, not that big a deal!
Each week an “E” flag was awarded to one squadron on the base, and there were more than a hundred squadrons. For one week that squadron could fly their flag in every formation, have some extra privileges and in general lord it over everybody else. However, it seemed to be silly to compete for it, for what chance did you have if every squadron’s 96 guys appeared to be just like any others? Ah, but they were not the same! Example: The “E” flag squadron could challenge other squadrons to a track meet, and could choose which events they wanted to include or exclude. Can you see the possibilities? I happened that I could do a standing broad jump over a broom handle held with both hands farther than almost anyone, so that event was added to each contest. Any cadet who had a specialty was seized upon to hone it. After winning the flag for the first time, we proceeded to amaze everyone by winning it twice—none had ever done that before—and then for the third time. So for the last three weeks of our careers in Santa Ana we were the “E” Squadron.
I was transferred from Santa Ana to Navigation School in Hondo, Texas. Very pleased with the decision to make me a navigator, I confess that I was quite surprised. I had always said that navigation was my preference, but never expected that to come about, given the obvious that Army Air Corps decisions almost always seemed to be random.
We arrived not on a troop train, but a commercial train, and actually ate in a dining car. This was WWII travel beyond all previous experience.