Biography of Darrel M. Blizzard

8th A.F., U.S.A.A.F.

     I was attending Penn State, first semester, after graduating from Hershey Industrial School (now called Milton Hershey School...people used to think it was a reform school instead of an orphanage) in 1942. I knew I was going to be drafted before I could finish; so I quit at the end of the semester with the intention of joining the Army Air Corps, because I, like everyone else, didn't look forward to being drafted into the Army. However, just after I checked out of college, Selective Service froze enlistments because everyone was doing the same; consequently the Army wasn't able to make its quota. I went to work in the shipyards in Baltimore till they finally called my number...and then they put me into the Air Corps anyhow! Was inducted at Camp Hill, just across the river from Harrisburg, in April of 1943; and did two hitches of Basic Training in Miami, Fla.

       The two hitches were a result of my being accepted into the Cadet program at the end of Basic, but the next phase - College Training Detachment - was full ; so I had to wait three months till the next class started. Thus the second hitch in Miami Beach...tough duty! And the second tour of Basic was much more bearable...I knew the ropes by then!!

        I guess I most enjoyed throughout my career, outside of flying, a time here when we were singing in formation while moving from our hotel to Lincoln Field in Miami Beach during Basic Training...still remember some of the songs: " We are the Air Corps cadets; the best Miami Beach has seen as yet!"

       The College Training Detachment was in Raleigh, North Carolina. At Raleigh, CTD. We all got 10 hours in a Piper Cub (no solo - just instructor time) to see if we were suuited for flying. There were five students assigned to an instructor, and the flights were given in alphabetical order by name, an hour at a time. The guy who preceded me each flight was named Bishop; and every time he went up he got airsick and tossed his cookies in the plane. Each time I had to follow as soon as he got out because there was no time because of the tight schedule to clean it up. Needless to say, after riding behind him for ten hours, I was fully convinced that I could fly without getting airsick!

       After three months at N. C. State, Raleigh, N. Carolina, they sent me to Nashville, Tenn. where I got classified as a pilot; then got transferred to the Western Training Command, because the Eastern Command was loaded at the time. That's where the fun began in Santa Anna, Cal. Preflight School..."Are you a hot pilot, Mister?" "No Sir". "Why aren't you a hot pilot. Mister?" "What are you doing here if you're not a hot pilot?" ( Next upper classman) "Are you a hot pilot, Mister?" "Yes Sir!!". "Hey, get this, guys-here's a real hot pilot, come look at him!" (Mistake number two!) The hazing didn't really bother me, though, having been raised in an orphanage, I was fully able to take care of myself and used to discipline...in fact, it made my life a whole lot easier. Also having worked on a farm for those five years that I was in the "home" as we called it, I was in good physical shape, which put me a little ahead of most of the other recruits.

         In Pre-Flight school we slept in bunk beds. One time the guy who slept in the top bunk over me came home after a weekend pass all painted blue with the "crabs"! I was scared to death for a week waiting for something to drop down!! Remember I came out of a boy's orphanage almost directly from high school with a limited knowledge of the outside world!

         We were marching between ground school classes one day. There was a Marine Corsair base just south of us and a P-38 base north of us; and they were always practicing dogfighting each other over us. The sounds of the engines accelerating and decelerating all the time became second nature after awhile, so that you hardly noticed. This one day as we were marching, a P-38 began winding up and getting louder and louder to the point where the formation that I was in command of that day (we all took turns commanding our flight as part of our leadership training) just stopped marching without any "Halt" from me. Then we heard it crash, and the ground shook as we were standing there. It crashed about a mile away from the base, and no chute came out. That was during the era when the P-38s had a problem with a tail flutter at high speeds that caused several crashes so I heard. That's part of the reason I decided to become a bomber pilot. The rest of the reason was that I was looking forward to becoming an airline pilot after the war...which I did become.

         Next phase was Primary at Twenty Nine Palms. Twenty Nine Palms, Callifornia was a Primary flight school...and that's just what it was, twenty nine palm trees, a bar\restaraunt, and I believe, a gas station-sitting out in nowhere in the middle of the desert, just east of the San Bernardino mountain range! I doubt that there were more people in the town than trees! Except for all the sand (which got into everything), I rather enjoyed it.

         My first instructor, who wasn't much older than I, was from Tupelo, Mississippi...a good old southern redneck who could handle a Stearman like it was a play toy! The first time he took me up, he asked me, after the initial instruction work, if I wanted to do some aerobatics. Naturally I said "sure"; so the first thing he did was roll it over on its back and fly for about five minutes upside down. As you know, a Stearman is an open cockpit plane, and here I am hanging by nothing but my seat belt with nothing between me and the ground but air. My hands still have the ridges in them where I was holding on to the bottom of the seat to keep from falling out. When he looked back and saw me, he started laughing his head off. I'm sure he did it to all his students on their first ride! He was a civilian instructor; and he got drafted, or enlisted, don't remember which, about two weeks later. The next one lasted for the duration of the three months I was there, and was an excellent instructor.

         The routine there was pretty rugged because we flew every day (weather was good in the desert), had ground school and PT. Not much time for anything else, except collapsing into bed every nite. We had off from Saturday afternoon till Sunday about 10:00 PM; and since there was nothing to do but go to Los Angeles by bus if you wanted to, it got pretty boring. To discourage everyone from going to LA, or to getting into trouble, every Saturday morning they would end PT with a run around a mile track; then double time up a mountain, the first half of which was sand. Needless to say, it generally worked! I went once to LA ; however, the bus trip allowed you about six hours in town before you had to come back...wasn't worth it to me.

         We had one guy in my barracks...name was Carlson...who went most every weekend, and would come back all drunked up, raising hell, and waking everyone up about mid nite, then collapsing into his bunk in a stupor. I finally got tired of it one nite, and decided to cure him. I got a butt can, emptied it, filled it about a quarter full with warm water and poured it very slowly, so as not to wake him, over his crotch. The next morning I saw him taking his sheets to the latrine and wash them. The nicotine in the can had dissolved enough to give the water a brown color; and he thought sure he had pissed himself during the nite. I never told him what had happened; and it DID cure his raising hell when he came in!

         The most important event there, of course, was learning to fly. After about eight hours of instruction time, my instructor pulled over to the side of the runway one morning after we had been shooting "touch and go" landings, got out and said "go ahead"! Usually it took about ten hours before you soloed; so he took me completely by surprise. The next five minutes you could not erase from my memory even with Altzheimers!! I suppose every pilot has the same feeling when he solos...even BETTER than sex! After that, I really got the hang of flying that slow, but very maneuverable bird; and I got to the point where I could do any kind of aerobatics it was capable of. Really hated to leave there. Stearmans were the best little plane I ever flew, after I got the hang of it.

         One event that took place, which I also will not forget, happened one afternoon just as we were finishing flying for the day. Over the mountain to the west there appeared a black cloud the likes of which I have never seen since...a really scary sight. The base people had experienced it before, and they got all of us out on the flight line in our sheepskins and gas masks...one on each side of a plane wing. Then a wind started to blow like a demon, that lasted for about half an hour. We had to hold onto the wings with the sand whipping us to keep them from lifting the plane off...even though they were tied down. One of them did break loose, and the wind picked it straight up and jammed it engine first into the macadam where it stood after it was over. They called it a Santa Anna windstorm!

     I didn't put any dates on this because I don't remember exactly; however, I entered the Air Corps in April, 1943, and I never stayed at one location for more than three months during the whole time till I was discharged in November, 1945. Some assignments didn't last three months, but all the periods of flying training did.

     Next stop...Lancaster, CA for Basic in Vultee "Vibrators", as they were nicknamed ( you always felt like you had spent the hour in a cement mixer when you finished a session),where I learned to fly formation (and loved it ), instruments (which I enjoyed when I got to the point where I knew what I was doing), night flying (which was not much fun), and, most important, just experiencing the pure joy of flying! After I got the hang of the plane, I spent hours, when I should have been practicing manuevers, just buzzing clouds and messing around.

     This was another school with civilian instructors. Mine was one of the best instrument instructors on the base. His name was Bob Hoover; and he still flys at air shows around the country doing aerobatics...has to be in his late eighties, now! His excellent instruction paid off for me after I got out, and was instrumental in helping me get a job flying commercially.

     He also was the reason I have never worn a ring on my finger since the day I was doing stalls under the hood. He wasn't happy with the way I was recovering after the stall broke; and after about the third one he grabbed the stick and said: "This is how you do it"! He shoved it to the firewall as hard as he could, and at the same time also shoved the throttle to its stop...ALSO as hard as he could. What he didn't know, and I never told him, was that had I not had fast reflexes, my ring finger would have been amputated by that throttle. Both throttles (front and rear cockpit) were mounted on one rod, as were the mixture controls.  Each control was operated by about an inch diameter ball mounted on a short piece of metal that connected at about a forty-five degree angle to the rods going through both cockpits. Problem was that the balls were situated such that they were only about an inch apart, the throttle above the mixture. Your left hand always rests with the thumb and forefinger resting on the throttle and the remaining fingers just sort of dangle below. When you were entering a stall, the power is off and the throttle is pulled back past the mixture control ball. When he jammed that throttle home, my high school ring caught between the two balls for a nano second, and I just managed to yank my hand out before they got opposite each other. With the leverage he had, my ring finger would probably have ended up in the front cockpit with him!! I have never worn a ring since...not even a wedding ring! Needless to say I DID learn to recover from stalls correctly!

     He was the best instructor I ever had all the way through training, bar none. Incidentally, he was married, at the time, to Lorraine Day...a prominent movie actress in the late 30s and 40s. They later divorced, and she married the famous Yankee baseball manager, whose name escapes me at the momement.

     The only other event of note that I remember was that Kay Keyser and "His band of musical knowledge" gave a show in one of the hangers while I was there. You probably are too young to remember him, though.

     Off to "Advanced"...the final leg in pursuite of the Holy Grail, those silver wings!! (Always wondered what the actual metal composition was...looked like they were mostly pewter. I suspect I could find out somewhere on the Web.)

     Marfa, Texas is just a few miles from the Mexican border about halfway between San Antonio and El Paso...WAY out in the middle of nowhere! A twin engine school with Air Corps instructors, flying "Bamboo Bombers"...cloth covered Cessnas, light as feathers.

     To digress for a moment, I went by there about three years ago on a trip from California, just to see what was still there. Nothing remains except a lone pipe sticking out of the ground. Was told by the mayor of Marfa (who had been an instructor there during the War) that it had been leased to the military by the owner; and that when it was returned after the War, everything had to made as it had been previously. Was an odd momement for me to look out over that vast expanse of nothing, remembering all the activity that went on there.

     Several instances stand out in my memory from there. The first was one that made a lasting impression to this day. We were sitting in a class room located about fifty yards from the flight line having some kind of ground school which I don't remember. The students backs were facing the flight line, while the instructor could see out the windows facing the line. All at once he stopped talking and said: "Look"! Before we could all get turned around to see what it was, a Cessna that was being gunked down (washed down with a solvent) caught fire and burned within seconds to just a framework! I made up my mine then that if I ever so much as suspected fire in an airplane, I was leaving there, pronto!

     Another scary instance happened after I soloed, and was shooting "touch and goes" at an auxiliary field with my buddy in the right seat. Eugene Blundell was his name. It was a clear calm day with hardly any wind, and I was on final approach at about 300 feet when my left wing got caught in the prop wash of the plane ahead of me. That wing started going down because it was getting no lift, while the right one was still in its lift area. As I mentioned before, those birds were light as feathers, and I couldn't get the wing up, no matter how far I turned the wheel. It felt like we were going to do a snap roll right there at 300 feet; and I can remember letting out a scream because I thought we were headed in upside down! Just as it got to about a 70 degree angle, the left wing took hold again, and I got it righted to straight and level. Then I guess I was white as a sheet and felt like a fool; because Blundell sat there as if nothing had happened! I DID learn about prop wash, though!

     The last scary instance there happened when my buddy and I decided to go to Marfa one Saturday afternoon. The only attraction there was a drug store and one movie theatre...but anything just to get off the base for a little while. At that time there was very little gas available, and in that part of Texas there was hardly any auto traffic anyhow; however, what ever transportation that came along would stop and pick up a service man. (Quite a different situation from the Viet Nam era.) There was a waiting station at the main gate where everybody would stand and wait their turn for a car to come along. It came our turn and a car driven by a lone G I stopped, and five of us piled in. We were just pulling away from the gate when a big black car came from behind and cut right in front, forcing us to stop. A guy with a shotgun jumped out of the right side and the driver jumped out pulling out a revolver as both started back to our car at a fast clip. The guy with the shotgun got there first, and he hollered: "Git out!". We just sat there sort of stunned and didn't move. Then he brought that shotgun up to eye level and said, again: "Git out"!!. Man, all four doors flew open like they had springs on them! What had happened was that this G I, who was a Permanent Party man on the base, was on a week-end pass, had gone to Alpine (the little town about ten miles in the other direction from the base), gotten drunk, stole this car, and was on his way to Marfa. The Sherrif and his deputy were just far enough behind that they didn't see him stop to pick us up; and, of course, thought we were all in it together. The M Ps at the gate soon straightened everything out, and I guess the G I probably spent the rest of his week-end in the brig sleeping it off. I can still feel the hair on the back of my neck rising up as I looked down the working end of that shotgun!! So much for the Texas law...just like the wild west pulp magizines I used to devour as a kid!

     At just about the end of training there, everyone always looked forward to a long distance cross country flight that was supposed to be a navigation training mission; but was really a chance to buzz at low level anything you could see...deer, people, cattle houses, whatever. There were five students to each instructor; and you had to draw straws to see who had to fly with him, rather than having two students flying together. Guess who drew the short straw? Little did I realize,though, how lucky I was. This guy was pretty strict while instructing; but, man, I had the time of my life on that trip! I don't think he ever got more than fifty feet from the ground the whole time! I remember we were buzzing along an old dirt road and saw a car in the distance going the same direction as we were. There was a women in the passanger side with her arm out the window. He got down to about 15 or 20 feet as we came from behind, and just as he got even with the car, he ran the props through high pitch and back, and scared that poor women to death. I'm sure she had to stop and change her pants!

     Then came the big event...graduation day! That was a sweat job, too; because you didn't know whether you were going to be a Flight Officer or a Second Lt. Of course. everyone wanted to be a Second Lt. and hand a dollar bill to that first enlisted man who saluted you after you stepped off the stage, as was the custom. (The enlisted men used to fight for the space closest to the steps!) I guess pinning those bars and wings on was the second biggest thrill after the first solo in Primary! And our class was lucky, in that ours was the last, or next to the last class who went all the way through training, and got our wings. By that time (Sept. of '44), the Air Corps was closing down on pilot training; and the classes behind us were being made OLTs (On The Line Trainees); meaning that they taken out of pilot training and put into the ground forces...some really pissed off people!!

     So now I'm an officer and a gentleman...and a Second Lt. at that! The next lucky break was getting the assignment I wanted...B-17 Transition at Hobbs, New Mexico.  

       On to Hobbs. New Mexico, to B-17 Transition school, and to the middle of the oil country. Two important things I learned there...you have to polish your brass every day ( At that time, the oil wells burned off the natural gas escaping from the wells, and there was always a heavy concentration of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere that tarnished brass over night.); and that an unloaded B-17 will take off on three engines...at least on a flat, level runway. It's one hell of a job, though. We had to do that without using trim tabs...just using shear muscle power! I remember that I almost had to use both legs on one rudder till the thing broke ground and the dead engine got unfeathered. Was always afraid that I'd get a cramp in my leg...and what the hell would I do then? Holler for help from the co-pilot!!

     Two instances come to mind there. The first happened after my buddy and I soloed, and were flying the early morning shift (1:00 AM to 4:00 AM...the base flew on a 24 hour basis). The procedure was for one student to practice for two hours, then switch seats and the other would practice for two hours. The co-pilot was supposed to watch for other traffic; but what happened was that he would sleep for two hours. This particular nite, I flew the first shift, then switched and promptly went to sleep. My buddy ( the same Eugene Blundell that I memtioned in my story in Advanced), sometime after I dosed off, was practicing "360s"...a procedure whereby you are supposed to go into a 45 degree bank, and hold it until you return to your starting point. If you do it correctly, and if the air is calm, you will hit your prop wash where you started. He was doing this one to the right, and since the night was very clear and calm, he did hit his prop wash...with quite a jolt that woke me up! When I awoke I was looking out the right window, and I knew I was looking down, but I was looking at stars! I knew instinctively that something was wrong...you don't look DOWN and see stars. I came up out of the seat, grabbed the wheel with both hands and started turning with all my might! Blundell just looked at me like I was having a nightmare, or something. What happened was that we were high enough (about 7000 feet) that those burning flares from the oil wells looked exactly like stars from that distance, especially when you were only half awake. Again I felt like a fool; but by that time Blundell knew me well enough to expect anything, I guess!

     The other happened at the end of the training period. We had a cross country trip (this time a real navigation exercise) from Hobbs to Roanoak, Virginia and return... starting the trip at night. We were to stop and refuel in Roanoak in the morning. Each of us took turns at the wheel; and I drew the shift at about 1:00 in the morning. My shift took us over the Alleghany Mountains, and it was winter. Everyone else was asleep at the time; when suddenly I began to hear "pings" against the fuselage. The "pings" woke the Instructor pilot who was in the right seat at the time; and he proceded to ream me a new one because I had let ice form on the props and on the leading edge of the wings. We got it off with deicer fluid, and by activating the deicer boots on the wings, and a few more hot words from the instructor! Another lesson learned the hard way!

     When I finished there, I was assigned to Plant Park, Florida (outside of Tampa) to pick up my crew that I would train with at RTU (Reserve Training Unit) prior to going overseas into combat. I was given a ten day "delay en route" to get there; and was fortunate enough to team up with two guys who lived in the same area as I...one of whom was a first lieutenant with a car on the base at Hobbs. We started out late in the evening that we got our orders; and it was so clear and bright with a full moon that we drove a good 50 miles without headlights through the desert (as I mentioned previously, there was no traffic on the roads in that era).

     Quite an experience for me, since I had no drivers license, and had never driven a car before; except when I was about twelve years old and my mother let me get the car out of the garage and drive it in fits and starts about one hundred yards to the house. But we had to drive night and day so that we didn't use up all our leave on the road getting back to Maryland; and then to Florida. As it was we only had about five days home. Also this was the first leave I had received since entering the service...over a year and a half! Didn't take me long to get the hang of it, though. Still, for some reason or the other, again I got the night shift!

     RTU...about the most important thing I can say about it is that we survived it!! Combat was a snap compared to all the close ones we had at Avon Park! After talking about it with my Navigator at the Reunion, neither of us can remember much about our crew got together, or how we got from Plant Park to Avon Park. Sounds odd, but it's true.

     But several instances are just as fresh in my mind today as when they actually happened...I guess because they were white knuckle events.

     The first one involved night flying. As I mentioned previously, my copilot had never set foot in a B-17 until we got to Avon Park; so I pushed him to the limit most of the time to get as much experience as possible in the short time we had. This particular night we had flown our allotted time and were coming in to land. I had Russ in the left seat in order for him to make his first night landing. He entered the pattern well enough, but on the downwind and base legs he didn't lose enough altitude; consequently, on the approach leg he was too high to land, so we had to go around. On the downwind leg I decided to change seats and land it myself; and in so doing we gained about 500 feet that I didn't notice. As a result, I was also too high on the approach. However. I still thought I could make it, even though we had a slight tail wind to contend with. But as I got about half way down the runway at about 50 feet off the ground, I realized that I was running out of space, and decided to go around. I slammed all four throttles home, had Russ pull up the gear and flaps, but our air speed was getting near the stalling speed. The words that I will never forget came from our Engineer whose job it is on takeoff to stand between the pilots and call out the airspeed, so the pilot can direct his full attention to the outside. At the end of this particular runway was a forest of pine trees which we were approaching fast. Roy is calling off the airspeed at 5mph increments; and all at once, I hear a break in his voice followed by a panic shout: "Clear them goddamn trees"!!...This from the quietest, calmest, most reserve member on our crew! Well, we DID clear them...just! The ball turret just scraped the top of one of them. Thank God it was dark, and the tower couldn't see how close we had come, or I'm sure I would have been called on the carpet, pronto! Needless to say, that cured me of changing seats in the traffic pattern!

     Another night incident...and none of this is necessarily in chronological order; in fact, I don't remember what order the events occurred in...took place at the end of our session about 3:00 A. M. one foggy morning. It was so foggy that Avon Park was closed, and we were sent to McDill field outside Tampa to land and wait until Avon cleared. When we arrived, along with McDill's night shift trying to land at the same time, we were met at the end of the runway by the usual jeep with the big yellow lettered sign on the back saying: "Follow Me"...the normal way of handling itinerant aircraft at a strange field. Their procedure is to lead you to the hardstand where you are to park; and to guide you into the small circle by hand signals, or lighted wands at night. Only this time, because of so many planes landing at one time, the jeep took us just to the entrance of the hardstand, pointed to where we were to park, and took off to get the next plane.

     The stands (made of concrete) just barely accommodate the size of a B-17; and to turn around so that you are facing out to the opening, takes a bit of snug maneuvering without braking one wheel solid while gunning the two offside throttles (We had always been cautioned not to brake the inside wheel solid because of the possibility of pulling the tire off the rim.). The trick is to stay as close to the outside of the circle as possible so that the inside wheel can be kept moving slightly. Most of the crew was asleep, and I didn't want to wake one of them to guide me; so I got as close to the side as possible in the dark, and started turning. I got about three quarters around when I felt some resistance...at which point I thought I had dropped off the edge of the concrete and was in some soft mud. I gunned the engines a little harder, and finally it broke loose. After I cut the engines and got out, I found out what the resistance was. The day crew had been working on a plane at that stand in the day, and had built a fire in an oil drum which they had left at the back of the circle, which I couldn't see in the dark. I had hit it just ahead of the elevator stabilizer and put a dent in the fuselage about a foot wide as it rolled over the drum.

     For that I got called before the CO at Avon Park with my whole crew; and was read the riot act for not putting two of my crew on the wing tips as guides. He also handed me the 104th article of war for damaging an aircraft, and thus "aiding the enemy". I also got a $75.00 fine, my month's flying pay! I learned to scrutinize hardstands very thoroughly after that!

     I guess the hariest situation we had happened while we were practicing formation flying one day. Again I was trying to give Russ as much time as possible, since he had not flown much formation; and he was flying off the left wing of the lead ship...had been flying there for about three quarters of an hour, and with the sun in his face as well. I could see that he was getting tired, because he started to wander in too close from time to time; however, I let him continue...until he started drifting under the other ship's wing, then looked over at me as if to say: What do I do now"? I grabbed the wheel, cut the throttles and went under the wing to miss him! Only problem was, there was another element under and behind us; and with the throttles cut, I drifted right down on top of them. Thank the good Lord, that the plane beneath was flying off the right wing of his lead ship; otherwise I would have settled right on top of him had he been on the left wing! As it happened, we were losing just enough airspeed so that we were dropping behind him as our altitude got to his level. Our left wing just missed his tail by a couple of feet! Our navigator was the closest to all the action; and since we were flying at 30,000 feet, we were all on oxygen, of course. It was the navigator's job while at oxygen altitude to call an oxygen check every ten minutes or so. Shortly after we got things under control and back into formation again; I heard George open the mike and start to call the check, but nothing came out. He told me later that he was so scared that his voice couldn't make a sound! Thereafter, I did most of the formation work!

     Russ made up for that incident later, however. We were making formation takeoffs (where each plane waits for 30 seconds after the plane ahead has started his takeoff run, before you release your brakes to follow...the planes also alternate their positions on both sides of the runway) on a very calm, sunny morning with only a slight wind drift (probably less than 1mph) drifting from right to left across the runway at about ten degrees from the runway heading...nothing to cause any problems---so I thought!

     I was taking off on the left side of the runway, and the plane ahead was on the right side. When I started my roll and got about half way down the runway, the prop wash from the plane ahead had drifted onto my side of the runway, and it caught my right wing, the turbulence of which interfered with the lift of that wing while the left wing was operating in smooth air. As a result, I had to use a lot of rudder and reduced left throttles, trying to keep the thing in the middle of the runway. However, as I got about half way down the runway. I realized that I had to use full throttle on all to make it off the ground; and when I did, the plane just started heading to the left edge of the runway, and I couldn't get it back to center. That would have been OK, except that at the end of the runway and off to the left side was sitting the fire truck that always sat there on takeoffs for emergency purposes. We were headed straight for it; and I could see the firemen jumping off and running for their lives! Just as it looked like we were going to clobber it, Russ had the presence of mind to hit the flap switch for full flaps, and we ballooned right over top of it! My respect for Russ's quick thinking rose immeasurably after that!!

****

   I was about to board the Queen Elizabeth on my 21st birthday! Have a few remembrances of that! First there were nine officers in a stateroom meant to hold two people...and being officers, we had it better than the other several thousand troops on board! Our bunks were three or four high, can't remember for sure, and I got one that was on the top and cross ways in the ship; so that every time the ship changed direction (which was about every 10 minutes in order to avoid torpedos in the event a sub was tracking us), I was sliding back and forth during the night, to the point that by the time we reached Glasgow, most of the hair on the back of my head was worn off!

   A couple of other things stand out. We had an officer on board who could play the piano by ear...you just named the song and he could play it. I spent most of my time around the piano singing all the pop tunes of the time (quite a few of which I'm hearing right now by the Glenn Miller band in the background). I had been a glee club member in high school, and have always been a frustrated pop singer...Bob Eberly, who sang with Jimmy Dorsey, was my idol while growing up!

   We officers had the duty during abandon ship drill every day to direct traffic on the stairs (ladders) out of the hold. There were a lot of black troops on board in the hold; and those guys were so seasick that it was almost impossible to hurry them up on deck...really felt sorry for them.

   The other thing that sticks in my mind is the massive crap games going on twenty four hours! The top turret gunner on my buddies crew ran broke once, borrowed $10.00 from his pilot, and twenty minutes later came back, paid him the $10.00, and gave him twenty for the privilege of borrowing the ten! The only other crap games that approached that size that I have ever seen was on pay day at the shipyard where I worked before getting into the service! Glad I never learned the game...would probably have been wiped out in five minutes!

   Took us four days to get to Glasgow; then we were transported to Ridgewell by train.

   My first impression of England occurred at a station stop along the way where we were stopped for just a few minutes. Our car stopped outside the actual station, but where the walkway from the station extended in front of a group of small houses. There was a fence in front of the houses, in front of which were a bunch of little kids who were begging all the troops for candy and gum. Of course we all were throwing stuff to them. In behind the fence was a little girl, about three years old who was holding her hand out through the fence, since she couldn't get out. There was a small hole at the bottom of the fence, and everyone was trying to get something close to the hole so she could reach it. Finally a piece dropped within reach, and just as she got her hand around it, a boy about ten years old stepped on her hand and took it away from her!

   That sort of shocked me, until I realized that these kids were really hungry...something I hadn't seen before, coming out of the Hershey Industrial School where we had plenty of food. In my short stay there, I saw other evidences of how hungry the war had made Britain.

   We finally arrived at Ridgewell on Easter Sunday; and no sooner were we assigned to our quarters, then the enlisted men in the hut next to ours insisted that we, being the new guys, join them in a beer and barbecue party in their hut. They had caught and butchered a goat that evidently belonged to the owner of the farm that joined the Base; and had cooked it in some kind of unsightly pan (probably something they had pilfered from the maintaince shop) over the coal fired little stove in the hut. We were all tired from traveling all day; and then the sight of that greasy, half cooked, goat and that warm beer was almost too much for my stomach. I hadn't ever gotten seasick, but that was the closest to it I had come!

   Our first assignment as a crew was to fly an orientation mission to familiarize ourselves with the area around the Base; and get a feel for the country side and the weather...which was always miserable!

   The first one we flew went well for a time. The visibility was about a half mile in a sort of soupy situation. I was flying along observing everything, when all of a sudden, I saw dead ahead of me, and coming straight at me at the same level, a Lancaster (a British four engine bomber). My natural instinct was to push forward with all my strength on to wheel to go under him...which I did! A split second later, he saw me, and did the same thing. As we approached each other, I was just a little bit lower than he was; so I just said to myself: "Buddy, you had better peal off, because I'm going straight down!" At the last second he did peal off to my right; and our wings missed each other by about two feet! I could see his copilot's eyes as we passed, which were as big as saucers.

   That all happened in less than three seconds...no time to do anything but react on both our parts. I've often wondered what that pilot was like; but I was always grateful for his reaction time!

   That flight ended after dark, and as we approached what was called the "funnel", which was a series of lights leading you into the traffic pattern at night, starting with the downwind leg of the pattern, a radio message came across saying there were "boogies" in the area...meaning enemy aircraft. Immediately all the lights go out and I'm left to land on the shortest runway on the field, and one I had never landed on before! Also my lights had to go out as well. Fortunately, there was a portable "tower" ( a mobile truck) at the approach end of the runway, in which was a man with an Aldes(sp) Lamp (a hand held, battery operated lamp with a red and a green lens to indicate "land" or "go around". The operator had enough presence of mind to keep that green light focused on me; and that was all I had to judge my depth perception as to where the ground was. I may have bounced once or twice, but I got it on the ground in one piece. Was glad I had paid attention to my night flying training along the way!

   The last training mission before stating combat was in a plane named "Tinker Toy"; which I found out later had been beat up pretty badly in combat. Maintaince had fixed it up, and we were to test fly it. As we started rolling down the runway on takeoff, gas fumes started filling the cockpit to the point where we had to open both windows to air it out. Needless to say I made a left turn into the traffic pattern as soon as I got airborne; and made the smoothest landing I have ever made in any plane in my life...the crew didn't even know we were on the ground! I also later found out that they had a green crew who didn't know its history test it, because no one who knew its history would fly it...so I was told.

   Then came combat. Every first pilot, when I arrived there, was required to fly five missions as copilot with an experienced pilot (ten missions, or so) before checking out as first pilot with his own crew. (I flew four as copilot, and the fifth and last as first pilot with my own crew.) Fortunately, I had my own crew, except for copilot, on all my missions.

   My first mission was with a first pilot who was on his 35th and last mission. He didn't bother to explain anything to me...just wanted to get it over with so he could go home! Our target was Bordeaux, France, some anti aircraft gun emplacements just across the Channel...and we were bombing from 12 thousand feet; not a good altitude under any conditions! The reason being that it would take too long to climb to 30 thousand (normal bombing altitude) for such a short run.

   We were in the slot under the lead plane in the lead squadron, which put us just under, and slightly behind, the bomb bay of the lead ship. As we approached the target, I'm all hunched down in my flak suit and flak helmet watching to see what happens next. The bomb bay doors on the lead ship open; and as I'm looking up into it, all of a sudden I see a big puff of smoke in the bomb bay! Right away I'm saying to myself: "My God, there goes the first one!"...thinking it had gotten a flak hit in the bomb bay. But my pilot just kept on flying without saying a word. We dropped our bombs; and then I found out that as the lead ship dropped his bombs, he also dropped a smoke bomb that the rest of the group used as a marker to drop their bombs. By that time of the war only the lead ship had a bombardier...all the rest had "togliers", usually a gunner who just pulled the trigger, so to speak. As I said, he just wanted to get it over with, and wasn't interested in my education!

****

   I flew "goony birds" (two of them-the "Choptank" and the "Wicomico", named after two rivers on the eastern shore of Maryland) for Chesapeake Airways, a small feeder line operating between Baltimore, Easton and Salisbury for about three years after the war. They were converted C-47s; and they flew just as easily as B-17s.

   Interesting story: At that time on the Eastern Shore, Purdue was just getting started with his big chicken operation. He would hatch the eggs there; but it was cheaper to ship the peeps to Gerogia to raise because the feed was cheeper there. He would rent one of our planes for the evening...we would rip out the seats, load boxes of peeps, fly them to Georgia, return, put the seats back, and fly passengers the next day!

   We were finally sold to Alleghany Airways which became All American, which became U S Air.

   Another story about the goony bird era: Our airline was not certified to fly instruments by the C. A. A. at the time; however, if you know anything about Maryland eastern shore weather, half the time in the spring and fall we flew instruments because the Baltimore airport (the old Harbor Field) was right next to the Sparrows Point steel plant, and the smoke from it would sock the field in a large portion of the time. We overcame that by memorizing our heading as we approached Love Point which is a point of land which projects into the Chesapeake Bay about 10 miles south of the airport (now the Dundalk Marine Terminal...Baltimore's major shipping point). What we did was head for the red cloud which was produced by the steel mill; and we knew how many degrees the runway was from it. We also knew that there was a power plant (still there) between the plant and the runway with a cooling tower that was about 100 feet high. As we let down into the overcast, whoever was riding right seat would have his head halfway out the side window looking for that tower; and when he spotted it, he would use hand signals to the pilot motioning right or left or up and down.

  Believe it or not we almost always made it on the first try, when Capital or American, who were really flying instruments sometimes took two or three passes to get in. I often wonderedt what the passengers might have thought if they had know what we were doing!

  Then on the return trip to Salisbury, it would quite often be fogged in by the time we arrived there. The procedure was somewhat similar, in that we homed in on the local A. M. radio station in Salisbury, and had memorized our heading, time and decent rate to the end of the runway. Only we almost always had an additional wrinkle there. The field was originially an auxillary field for the Patauxent (sp.) Naval Base during the war; and when it was turned over to Salisbury, the maintaince of it was also turned over. The airport manager had been a Hump pilot (Burma) during the war, and was used to minimum flight requirements, Consequently, half the time we had no runway lights. When that happened, the mechanic on the ground knew to bring his pick-up truck to the end of the runway and turn on the head lights. Since the airport was out in the boondocks at that time, any glow we saw we knew was the end of the runway; and I remember quite a few times when I landed there with about a ten foot ceiling! That Ridgewell training in similar situations really came in handy then!!

   Airline pilots today really have it easy!!

   Another "Goonie" story: When flying for Chesapeake Airways we had precious little time to hone and maintain our skills on thirty minute flights; and no money to make special training flights (gas cost money the airline didn't have). To get in our training time, we would pick a nice calm day when we had only two or three passengers, and one of us would go back in the cabin and tell them beforehand that we were going to feather one of the engines for practice, and not to be concerned. Usually we picked a time when we had all men passengers; but bear in mind that very few of our customers on the eastern shore of Maryland had ever flow before 1945, so it was somewhat risky even when they looked pretty stable.

   Problem was we never knew for sure whether we were going to get the damned thing UNFEATHERED again because we did it so seldom; and the maintainence was not all that great on the engines. However, it didn't bother us too much because everything was flat fields; and we usually waited until we were close enough to a landing strip...besides, landing a goonie on one engine wasn't much of a feat anyhow. Some of the passangers actually enjoyed the exercise!

----- Darrell M. Blizzard

        dmb17@juno.com

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