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.

1 comment:

Wenda said...

I love reading your stories. Some I've heard, maybe more than once, but I am reading a lot I didn't know. My favorite picture of you and mom is the one where you are walking with Aunt Donice. I am facinated with the life you two have shared. Keep writing your experiences for us.