THE ARMY AIR CORPS STRATEGY & BUILD UP
Between the first and second World wars the major military
air arm of the United States was under Army Command.
The air leaders, however, believed that aircraft opened up a
completely new concept of military force and that the
development of this should be vested in an autonomous
organization. Although the Army General Staff was not
sympathetic to these ideas, the Army Air Corps gradually
developed a doctrine of strategic air power linked to the
bomber aircraft. By the outbreak of the Second World War
in Europe, much of the technical equipment was on hand to
make this mode of warfare possible. Substantial numbers of
heavily armed bombers flying in close formation at a great
height, would be sent to attack war factories deep in the
enemy homeland. At an altitude of some five miles high the
bombers would be well beyond the effective range of the
then current antiaircraft artillery, while the close formations
would have the benefit of the massed fire from a great many
defensive machine guns to ward off intercepting fighters
that were able to climb to that height. Further, the
development of a precision bomb sight - the Norden -
enabled extremely accurate sighting to be obtained on small
targets from such high altitude. Practice bombing against
range targets in the United States had proved the extreme
accuracy of the Norden when operated by a proficient
This scheme was eventually accepted by the Army
Commanders and influential U.S. government advisers with
the result that the creation of a heavy bomber force with
such capability was a priority in the build up of the Army
Air Forces (a semi-autonomous organization)...created in
June 1941. While the massive build up of the Army Air
Force was going on, other branches of the military were
frantically building training facilities to accommodate the
mass of volunteers and inductees being brought into all
branches of the military.
Thus begins the story of C.B. (Red) Harper starting as a
raw recruit in Uncle Sam’s Army.
The great depression of the 1930s was quite an equalizer, as
it pretty well put the majority of people on the same social
standard which translates to “broke,” and for many that
meant in spirit as well as cash.
After High School graduation in 1936 I was accepted for
enrollment in Hardin-Simmons University at Abilene, Texas.
I possessed some virtuosity at tooting a clarinet and sax so
after a successfull tryout for their famous “Cowboy Band” I
was extended a limited scholarship that allowed me to wear
cowboy boots, chaps, ten gallon hat, purple neckerchief,
gold shirt and march in parades. We did the famous Hardin-
Simmons University Cowboy Band Cow Step which was
really a neat way to step around the ever present horse
fertilizer that abounds on parade routes. Unfortunately the
limited scholarship did not include room and board in the
dormitory. HSU was not a benevolent institution so after
two years of non payment of room and board I was asked to
depart those hallowed halls of learning until my cash flow
became pumped up considerably. So it was Hail to Thee
Purple & Gold and adios to the West Texas Baptist Vatican
- My Reluctant Alma Mater.
My two stolen years of college did help me get an
‘executive’ position at the Abilene Printing and Stationery Co.
I was one of two store employees there so I became head
janitor, chief honcho of shipping, receiving, delivery, inside
store sales, mimeograph sales, service and repairs and
merchandise re-stocking - all at a salary of $12.50 per week.
Several friends were members of the Texas National Guard.
The “Guard” was in the process of building up to allotted
strength with local boys before Federal mobilization, which
was only a couple months away. I was draft age, single and
a prime target to be drafted and sent to one of those far
away places like New Jersey where people talk funny so it
looked like the best thing for me to do to avoid the draft
was enlist and be with people mostly from Texas.
I enlisted in the Texas National Guard two months before
Federal mobilization in October 1940. We were moved to
Camp Bowie at Brownwood, Texas during construction of
the facility. I have never been sorry for my decision ~o enlist
because I became associated with some of the finest men
this world will ever see.
Two years Army camp life had passed since mobilization.
By this time the Army Air Corps had started recruitment for
select individuals who could fit their parameters for IQ and
physical condition. This interested me. I was able to transfer
into the Army Air Corps as an Aviation Cadet in July 1942
and soon received orders to report to Kelly Field, San
Antonio, Texas for pre-flight school.
Orders to Kelly specified that any military unit identification
such as chevrons, hash marks, shoulder patches, piping on
caps, decorations or brass attached on any military uniforms
were to be removed. Upon arrival, all personnel were
assembled on the parade ground for further orders. Most
came straight from civilian life and wore civilian clothing. A
few like myself who were in the military wore plain (31 issue
khaki shirt, pants and cap. All had some sort of luggage.
The guy on my right was fresh from civilian life and had on
a new tailor made summer officer uniform consisting of
blouse, trousers and 50 mission crush cap complete with
Rayban dark green pilot sun glasses. He was the “twitchy”
type and continually hummed and sang a hit parade thing
called “I don’t want to set the world on fire - I just want to
start a flame in your heart,” which was particularly annoying
to me standing out there in that Texas heat. I knew within
reason that the old Master Sergeant in command of this
mob was going to split a gut as soon as he laid eyes on that
cat. Well, behold ye.. .it did happen. The old Sarge did a
double take as he scanned by that thing and made a bee line
for him. I thought “Hot damn - the fun’s gonna start now.
The Sergeant stuck his nose against that kids nose and
screamed “Arsonist, I’ll build a fire under your damn ass
and just where in hell did you find that clown suit you got
on. You damn well better git them rags off now and I mean
like right now Do-you-hear-me-boy? You’re just standing
there offending the hell out of me boy’ The kid swallowed
and said, “Right now, Sir ?“ Old Sarge said, “You got ear
trouble ass hole? If you don’t have that costume off in 60
seconds I’ll rip it off for you - now-do-you-hear-me-boy?”
The kid had it off in the allotted time and stood around
there for the next hour in his pink boxer shorts underwear
that had little red hearts printed all over, wearing nothing
else but his argyle socks, brown oxfords and those Rayban
shades. My first reaction was that this looks like my kind of
outfit - never a dull moment.
The first order of business was a double time march to the
barber shop where all bead hair was removed and then we
ran to the quartermaster warehouse to be measured and
fitted for our cadet uniforms.
We spent the rest of the evening until lights out - scrubbing
the barracks from ceiling to floor - cleaning the latrine and
floor until we could eat off of the floor. Everyone was
exhausted and sleep came soon after lights out.
At 05:00 the bugler sounded reveille, the orderly exploded
through the door beating two trash can lids together and
loud speakers were playing “Glenn Miller’s version of the
St. Louis Blues March” loud enough Co have been beard in
St. Louis. The orderly was screaming “fall in for roll call in
ten minutes - you ugly flight bananas.”
After breakfast, wearing only gym shorts and tennis shoes,
we lined up to run to the hospital for physical exams. Yes,
as a cadet you didn’t march anywhere but in a parade. The
rest of the time you ran. Upon arrival at the hospital, we
removed our clothing and about 5,000 guys stood around
naked as a jay bird until physicals were complete late in the
A couple of mildly interesting things happened that day.
The first incident took place as we were in a long line
standing side by side. The doctor had on a rubber glove and
was checking testicles for abnormalities and also for signs of
hernia problems. He had finished with the guy next to me
and stepped in front of me, looked kind of puzzled, went
back to the fellow he had just checked and the kid grinned
and said, “Yea doe, I got three of ‘em.” The doc grinned
and moved back to me.
The other incident was a small skinny kid sitting in the floor
eating bananas like a monkey. He was two pounds under
weight and the doctor told him if he could eat enough
bananas to get his weight up to minimum, he was in. I’m
proud to report that he made it.
A considerable amount of hazing was carried out by the
upperclassmen, something that has been a necessary part of
cadet life and handed down from the West Point system.
Hazing is theoretically employed for wrong doing, careless
attire, an untidy room or just for the hell of it. Distasteful
and humiliating as it was, some hazing was probably useful
in disciplining us to cope with problems that would face us
in years ahead.
However, I must say that being on the humiliating end of
the thing could leave some doubt about it’s usefulness. I
once laughed when a certain obnoxious upper classman fell
and busted his ass. I found myself standing on tip toes, nose
in a chalk circle, flapping my arms and screaming five times,
“I’m a silly shit for laughing,” Oh well, “C’est la guerre.”
Stanine tests were given to determine qualification for pilot,
navigator or bombardier. The results were pretty well even
as about one third of the 5,000 went to each category at the
finish of preflight school. I was elated to be placed in the
pilot training category.
At the conclusion of preflight school, it was Uvalde, Texas
for primary flight training. The base there was called
Hangar Six and like all the other primary schools scattered
all over the United States, it was civilian owned and the
flight instructors were civilian. Each school had a small
cadre of Air Corps personnel for administrative purposes
and a sprinkling of military pilots to give periodic
proficiency check rides to the student pilots. It was a relief
to finally get to fly an airplane and quite exciting to say the
least. We were flying Fairchild PT- 19 airplanes with open
cockpits. My instructor was Mr. L.Q. Wise and I liked him.
He was tough as a boot but fair.
There were episodes in the lives of some of us fledgling
birdmen that might bear notice. After 11 rides and 9 hours
flight time, my instructor got out of the airplane in the
middle of the field and said, “Son, you’ve been trying to kill
me for 9 hours now in the air. I’ve had about all I can take,
so I’m getting the hell out of here. Now you fly this ground
loving thing and try not to do anything dumb.”
The next day. I was out practicing spins in an air space set
aside for that purpose. I had rolled the plane to the right
and left for a look below to be sure no one was under me
before doing a spin. I looked above me just before going
into a spin to the left and saw a pilot descending in a
parachute. I followed him down while circling around him
until he was safely on the ground and after a short search,
found his crashed airplane. He waved to me, so assuming
he was okay, I flew back to the main airdrome to report the
incident. My instructor saw me come in early and came out
to the plane. After hearing about the crash, he crawled in
the back seat and I flew him to the downed airman. He
took over the controls and landed in the farm field, let me
out and picked up the downed pilot and flew him back to
the main base. A vehicle was sent to get me. When I
arrived back at the base I hunted up the pilot that I had seen
parachuting down to find out what had happened to him.
He said he had kicked his plane into a spin and when he
popped the nose down to recover, his safety belt wasn’t
fastened and he was thrown out of his plane. He said there
he was sitting in thin air.... so he popped his chute.
Many amusing events that took place during primary flight
training is a shining example of taking kids in their teens and
early twenties from the streets of Brooklyn, ranches in
Texas, farms in Iowa and the Dakotas, machine shops in
Detroit and the oil fields of Oklahoma and making combat
airplane pilots out of them. They made a lot of mistakes in
learning to fly and put a lot of gray hairs on the heads of
their old barnstorming instructor pilots who were the men
who flew the Spads and Pee-Shooters from Randolph in the
20s and 30s. But by all that is holy, these were the kids that
rose to fight at Pearl Harbor. They fought in the Coral Sea -
Bougainville, Rabul and Burma. Across North Africa,
Ploesti, Sicily, in Italy, Salerno and Anzio. They bombed
and fought in day-light over Europe - Frankfurt, Cologne,
Schweinfiirt, Regensburg, Hamburg. They fought over the
heads of Allied Soldiers from Normandy to Berlin.
They fought from the Sahara Desert to the Aleutians. They
won the skies and blasted the islands of New Guinea, Ulithi, Saipan,
Leyte, Luzon, Iwo Jima, Okinawa - and on to Japan
and to final victory over the Rising Sun and the Swastika.
How they became those “Marvelous young men with their
flying machines,” can best be described by instances like the
following. Primary training bases had auxiliary landing
fields, usually several miles from the main terminal. These
fields were used for landings and take offs to relieve traffic
congestion at the main airdrome.
These fields were fenced in with barbed wire and each had a
small one room house about 200 square feet in size and a
small attached porch in front. There was also what was
commonly referred to as a “two holer” out back that was
needed for obvious reasons.
Each instructor had from one to five students depending on
how many he had washed out on the way and he was also
assigned three airplanes.
One plane was for the instructor to fly dual with a student
and the other two were for solo student flying. All solo
students not scheduled to fly the first period, would be
hauled by bus to the auxiliary field and when the first period
student’s time was up, he would land at the auxiliary field so
another student could fly the plane. The last students to fly
at the end of the flying session would land at the main
airdrome on completion of their flight and any remaining
students at the auxiliary field would be bussed to the base.
Several of us were sitting on the porch of the field house at
our auxiliary field waiting for our turn to fly when we heard
a popping noise coming from an adjacent corn field. The
noise grew louder and we finally caught sight of a student
flying with his wheels about two feet off the ground and
cutting corn stalks with his propeller like you wouldn’t
believe. He had obviously badly undershot the landing field
and was dragging his plane in full throttle. As he came over
the barbed wire fence, his tail wheel caught the fence and he
started dragging about 20 feet of fence and posts behind
him. He cut his throttle and the plane dropped to the
ground dragging all that junk behind him. About then, he
lost control of the plane and it started into a ground loop to
the left and was heading toward the stage house where we
Someone hollered “Here she comes,” and we all jumped up
and ran through the house.
Just as we came out the back door, the plane had circled the
house with one wing dragging the ground like a wounded
condor bird and the other wing pointing upward. We
turned and ran back through the stage house just as the
plane’s high wing tipped the “two holer” over on the door
with an instructor sitting on the throne. The plane finally
righted itself and the student shut off the engine. It was
then we heard cries for help coming from the “two holer.”
We righted the toilet and the instructor exploded out of it
with pants at half mast - madder than a hornet. As soon as
he got his pants buckled he grabbed the unfortunate student
and jammed him back in a plane and set sail for an
elimination ride. I’d have bet a little the kid got washed out
but he beat the “E” ride and later became a red-hot P-5 1
driver flying in the 8th Air Force in England. Some had it.
I managed to get myself in a little jam one day because my
instructor didn’t like the way I was messing up some lazy
eight maneuvers that were designed to improve
coordination and control. He grabbed the control stick out
of my hand and started cussing and pumping the stick back
and forth making the plane buck like a wild mule. Unfortunately for me, I had failed to fasten my safety belt
and suddenly found myself outside the airplane - hanging on
to the crash bar. I was swinging around and banging the
side of the bucking plane when the instructor glanced at his
side view mirror and saw me hanging out there. He
screamed out what I thought at the time to be the most
stupid question I ever heard in my life when he asked
“What in hell are you doing out there ?“ I screamed back at
him “I’m trying to get back in this damn bucking airplane.
That’s what I’m doing.!” I finally managed to crawl back in
and fasten my safety belt. He asked me if I had fastened my
safety belt and I nodded yes. He then flipped the craft
upside down and I immediately grabbed the frame tubing on
both sides with my hands and hung on for dear life. He said
he wanted to see my hands. I stuck one arm down, hanging
on to the tubing with the other. He announced that he
wanted to see both hands. I had to turn loose and hang
upside down in the craft with the safety belt restraining me
from falling out.
We lost about half the students in the primary class to
washing out. Fortunately we had no fatalities. Those of us
who graduated had sixty hours of exciting flying time. We
then went on to basic flying school to fly bigger planes with
a Plexiglas canopy over the cockpit, radio communication
and controllable pitch propellers. Really big time stuff.
After logging eighty eight hours in the BT-13 basic trainers
at Goodfellow AAFB, San Angelo, Texas, we moved on to
twin-engine advanced school at Lubbock AAFB and were
awarded our gold bars and silver pilot wings.
Sign Of Things To Come
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