THE ARMY AIR CORPS IN 1943 AND 1944
After arriving at Lincoln Army Air Base in the summer of 1943, I discovered the Air Corps to be beautifully disorganized, quite chaotic, and uncertain about most anything--even a tad flakey. The officers, like the rest of us, were new to all this, with grave ignorance about how airmen differed from soldiers. Officers were frequently 90-day wonders, and a good fraction of them were probably in a state of surprise for at least 45 of those days. We knew that we as airmen were different, and in retrospect I believe it was mostly in attitude, coupled with a lack of appreciation of how things ought to be. Everything was recently manufactured, whether it was our raincoats (our only apparel when we were marched off to the medics--who were also all new, by the way--for short-arm inspections and other indignities), vehicles, cots, clothes, blankets, tools or procedures. Attempts to apply old regulations just didn't work, and regulations were practically unknown, anyway. Clearly, entirely new approaches were necessary for the Air Corps, but nobody quite knew what they should be. But our faith was secure!
Now this is an ideal way to get an organization started, particularly when there is beginning to be serious doubts about how the war is going. We, the U.S., took a terrible licking when we first got to Africa, and there was general--even corporal--unease. War, when thoughts of survival creep in, is a marvelously integrating force, and certain motivations are naturally present. We worked hard, trained hard, and studied hard, and thought hard.
A couple of my hard thoughts were derived from concerns for my own future, especially when I finally saw that airplanes, and not horses, were the way to go. I'm no mechanic, never was nor ever will be, and I, like the guys at Ft. Riley had the idea that the mechanical complexity of aircraft was beyond comprehension. But I was greatly encouraged at Lincoln, and decided I should try to get into Aviation Cadets, earn my wings, and become a navigator. Once again I applied for a transfer, this time to Aviation Cadets.
By this time the entire government had had time to gear itself up for a long, long war, and really liked the idea of air strength. Men, mostly boys, were coming from everywhere. The colleges and universities were being raided for every young man, and for faculty to teach and train them. Boys couldn't get old fast enough, and it became easier and easier to join up by lying about your age. Most of these guys wanted to be aviation cadets. All manpower pipelines were really full. Once again I came to an appreciation of my own stupidity in not having joined cadets directly from college. It was just too late, and there was no shortage of recruits. But why not try anyway? I also applied for the Army's Specialized Training Program. My acceptance in both programs arrived on the same day, and I was called to HDQTS and given my choice--amid general surprise that a private would be picked for the cadet program--after all, the army already had me. I debated the alternatives for about 15 seconds, and took cadets. A couple of friends who went into ASTP wound up as corporals, teaching illiterates how to read, so I did the right thing, and was dispatched to Iowa Wesleyan for some college courses. I was back in school again, with a quart of milk to drink with each meal. SUPER!!
At this point I think I should break away from whatever thread of narrative exists in these ramblings to talk about Addie Leah.