Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Cadet Story

By: Tom Garcia
Copyright © 1986, 1999, 2005 Tom Garcia
Eighth Printing

May be distributed to historical researchers, historical archives and any former Aviation Cadet or student officer who was a pilot or navigator trainee. e-mail comments to -


In January, 1985, I accompanied my daughter, Kathy, to Wilford Hall USAF Medical Center in San Antonio for what turned out to be a four week visit. We arrived on a Thursday evening and it was raining. By Friday morning everything was white! San Antonio had experienced a record 13 inch snowfall.
During the next weeks I lived in one of the old two story aviation cadet barracks, now converted to double occupancy rooms but still having the communal latrines I remembered from years before. The large ventilator fans had been removed from the ends of the buildings during the modifications and in 1985 the rooms were fitted with individual window refrigeration units.
My 1954 cadet barracks was part of the United States Marine Corps Lackland Base. It looked about the same except for the different color paint and the window coolers. The many large trees planted in 1960 were now mature. My old chow hall was closed but another identical cadet dining facility (there were three in 1954, one for each cadet squadron) was still in use and I ate many meals there during my 1985 visit.
The trip provided me with some spare time so I jotted down notes for a story concerning my experiences at preflight some 31 years earlier.
Seeing Lackland brought back many memories. I was assisted in my research by the staff at Lackland's base newspaper, the Tailspinner. Also, by Ernie the bartender at the Officer's Club (he has been there forever). TSgt. Jerry Mitchell at the Base History Office also assisted me.
Later I determined to add some color by incorporating information obtained from cadets of earlier classes. Harry Bradshaw of the Aviation Cadet Alumni Association helped me in this matter.
As this story was not written to be a particularly great literary effort, nor definitive in any way, nor for commercial publication, I decided early on that I could and would put in anything I wanted, including sections from Navy and Marine pilots. Some student officer pilots are here as well.
My thanks to all who contributed. The best part of writing this story was meeting so many of you, in person, by tape, letter, or telephone. I hope you enjoy reading the story. I can assure you I had a lot of fun writing it................

Our military bus turned off the main highway and onto Lackland Air Force Base, home of the Aviation Cadet Preflight program, near San Antonio, Texas. The first thing I saw out of my window on the right side of the bus was what I took to be the Cadet Club, all lit up and bustling with activity on this Friday evening, the 26th of March, 1954. A crowd of cadets, men and women (the women being from the O.C.S. program), sat at tables on the patio, in the warm Texas night air. I noticed big pitchers of amber beer were much in evidence and music from a juke box at the edge of the patio was blaring out the latest Eddie Fisher hit tune. The sight caused me to turn to my seatmate on the bus and remark, “I’m going to like this place.”
In early 1940, with the war in Europe having commenced the previous year and the United States rapidly gearing up for defense, Brigadier General Frank Lackland, Commanding Officer at Kelly Army Air Field, San Antonio, Texas, came up with a suggestion: Make use of the hill to the west of Kelly for the needed training facility expansion the evolving military situation demanded. As the Army already owned the land the plan was quickly approved.
Even before the new area could be made ready the Army was doing its best to produce more pilots. In January 1941 it was reported some 7,000 flying cadets were in training. This was slightly more than double the number of active duty pilots in the service at the time. There were 28 civilian contract flying schools turning out “primary” graduates in a 10-week course. These fledgling pilots then went to “basic” in Alabama, Texas, or California for another 10 weeks of training. Finally, “advanced,” usually at Kelly Field or Brooks Field, both in San Antonio, finished the program. A person could go from civilian status to pilot and officer in just seven and one-half months.
Note: USN pilot training output was 708 pilots in 1940 and 3,112 pilots in 1941. Some of these pilots went to duty in USMC.
To back up a bit, I’ll tell you of a cadet who got into the program just about the time things were really getting rolling, but in the pre-Lackland era. He’d heard about competitive exams to be given for “flying cadets” while he was a sophomore at the University of Alabama. As he was just ready to drop out of school anyway, due to lack of funds, he inquired further and found the exams were to be held at Maxwell Field, in his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama. The Air Corps provided him with a list of subjects to study prior to taking the tests. In February 1940, John Granberry took the tests; they lasted five days. “I was able to go home at night, though many of the boys traveled from other places and stayed at the base. The subject list helped because I spent two weeks studying the things on the list and it seemed to help me during the exam. Lt. Pellam Glassford was in charge of giving the academic part of the exam. There was a physical exam too. The hardest part to pass was the ‘Snyder Index’, a composite of your respiration rate, heart rate, blood pressure, etc. I, and a lot of the fellows, flunked the first time. Nervous, I guess.”
Granberry received a letter of acceptance during the latter part of March, about six weeks after taking the tests, ordering him to duty at Tuscaloosa Municipal Airport, Alabama, a contract primary flying school. He reported in on May 14th, 1940. “I took the train to Tuscaloosa, about a hundred miles from home, then a civilian bus to the airport. As soon as I got off the bus the upper class was all over me! ‘Suck in that gut, mister’, and all that kind of thing. The first two weeks consisted of military drill along with some ground school. Then we started flying the PT-11 and the PT-13D. My class designation was 41-A at first but the course was shortened and we were given the new designation 40-H. After Tuscaloosa we, along with all the rest of 40-H from the other contract primary schools, went as one class to Randolph Field, Texas. That really made me mad when I found out the very next class, 41-A, had both basic and advanced right there in my hometown, Montgomery. Ours was the last class to go from Tuscaloosa to San Antonio. At Randolph a Lt. Henry J. Amen was the Commandant of Cadets. One thing I remember was ‘pecking’ and here is how it worked:
“Two underclassmen would be made to stand toe to toe, facing each other. Then we would have to lean back, but not quite far enough to fall over. Then, slowly lean forward, ‘till our noses touched. The idea was to keep from laughing, which was very hard. Laughing cost you lots of gigs. After Randolph we went across town to Kelly Field for basic and we graduated from there on December 20th, 1940.”
Note: If you were stationed at Luke AFB when the base was reactivated in 1951 you may remember that Colonel Henry Amen was the commanding officer.
Jim Moore, now of Front Royal, Virginia, is the first aviation cadet I have heard of who took some of his training outside of the CONUS. Here is his story.
“I signed up for cadet testing in 1940. At the time I was a graduate of Syracuse University, a political science major. That’s what they were looking for, university graduates. Testing was in Brooklyn and only lasted one day. Of the 100 to 110 tested, very few passed. The physical exam mainly dealt with eyesight: A very close examination by the eye doctor.
“I didn’t go to preflight, just straight to flying school at a small base in northern Illinois, near Chicago. We flew Stearmans, off the grass; there were no other runways. No upper class, either. One class at a time at that small base. My class was 41-I. After 25 hours in the air I washed out. Not too long after, I went to bombardier school at Barksdale. The course was a short one in those days and I was scheduled to finish in early 1942. Then came a surprise, I would transfer to Hickham Field in Hawaii, still a cadet, and await my commissioning there.
“In Hawaii we had two B-17’s and six B-18 “Bolos” for our training. Then a day I won’t forget - December 7th, 1941.
“The junior officers decided to open their own mess as a way to save money. My small group of aviation cadets was allowed to use the regular officer’s mess as we had none of our own and it wasn’t appropriate for us to use the enlisted mess. It was first come, first served, to join the new subaltern mess. I wanted in on it, so I was in line before 0800 that Sunday morning in order to sign up. A number of airplanes started ‘beating up’ the airfield and we thought, ‘the Navy is at it again.’ It was way too realistic and just about immediately we knew it was the bona fide thing, not any kind of a drill.
“The planes were low and strafing, kicking up dirt around us. I didn’t see anyone hit. You have heard people say, ‘They were so low we could see the pilots’. Well, it’s true, we could.
“What [later] seemed to be an absurd announcement came over a bull horn, telling us to get into uniform and report to our duty stations. Can’t fight a war out of uniform, I guess.
“I drew a .45 pistol and was sent to guard the bombsight storage shack. The Operations Officer told me to shoot anyone I didn’t know who tried to get into the shack. Seeing as how I knew very few of the people at Hickham that was a tall order.
“When the day was over we had lost both B-17’s and all the B-18’s but one. My graduation date was moved up and I got my commission before the month was over. Right away I started training, there at Hickham, for a navigator rating. Then I crewed up and my pilot was Major Walter Sweeny, later to be Commander of the Tactical Air Command. He was a good guy and helped me get a Regular Commission. Because of him I was able to stay in the service for 28 years, retiring as a Lt. Colonel.
“One other little tidbit: The day after the attack the only remaining bomber was loaded up with four 600 pound bombs and sent out to look for the Japanese fleet. Sweeney was the pilot and I was the bombardier. Is that a first, a cadet flying combat? Fortunately we did not find the fleet in our little B-18. The only bomb we dropped was one 600 pounder on Hickham Air Base but that is another story.”
Preflight didn’t exist during most of 1941 but another program served as an elimination course and as pre-military school as well. This was the “Civilian Pilot Training Program” administered by the federal government’s Civil Aeronautics Administration. It was a free course for cadet hopefuls (and others) which was open to individuals between the ages of 18-26 who had two years of college. Actually, most of the trainees were still in college. The program was a four-month course, conducted at some 900 different locations throughout the country. Ground school, at selected colleges, provided the students with 72 hours of instruction, for which the government paid the institutions $375. Those students going on to flight training at local airfields would receive 35 to 40 hours in the air. Flight training operators were paid $870 for this course. During the spring of 1941 some 20,000 men were in one of the phases of the C.P.T.P. course.
On June 15, 1941, construction work began at what would eventually become Lackland Air Force Base following exploration of the area for unexploded “dud” bombs from the prior use of the land. It had originally been an Army Air Corps practice bombing range. Plans called for the installation of facilities to house up to 2,088 cadets at the new Aviation Cadet Reception Center. This would not be a permanent base as were nearby Randolph Field, Fort Sam Houston, Brooks Field, or Kelly Field. Rather, much [but not all] of it would be a “tent city,” that being the fastest way to get the project going. On November 12, 1941, the first class of cadets commenced training at the still unfinished base. This was the class to be known as 42-F and one of its members was Frank K. Everest, reporting for duty from Fairmont, West Virginia.
Frank “Pete” Everest, now a retired B/General, was sworn in at Dayton Ohio, on November 7, 1941. Four days later he was in San Antonio where he became one of the first of the many to follow at the new training site. His class designation was 42-F. It was Lackland’s first cadet class. As Everest tells it: “They didn’t call it Lackland when I was there. It was still part of Kelly. We were up on the hill and we called that area ‘caleche flats’. There were barracks for us, brand new ones. Our upper class was a whole bunch of captains, majors, and colonels. We would have rather had cadets for upper class! Some of the things I remember are the mud and caleche and how we tracked it into the barracks and the mess we had to clean up. And, how we got eight inoculations at once, in one day. That caused a few of the people to pass out. We left in December for primary flight school and I don’t remember our having an under class at preflight although it seems there should have been one. Maybe we left San Antonio before they arrived.” Note: Everest’s autobiography, “The Fastest Man Alive,” was published in 1958.
Ted Baumann, now of Orange, California, was to have entered the Army in January 1942, but received notification to report early, shortly after Pearl Harbor. He was sworn in near his Ohio home, in Columbus. Then, he went by train to San Antonio for preflight. His class was 42-G; he arrived just as 42-F was departing Lackland. Baumann remembers things were “disorganized” at that point in the program’s history. “We had barracks but the classes a little after us were in tents because there were too many students for the available buildings.”
Not all of 42-F went through preflight in San Antonio, or anywhere for that matter. Bill Barker, now of Tucson, Arizona, passed his entrance exams in August 1941 and was scheduled to report to primary flight school at Visalia, California, on December 11th, 1941. This date stayed firm as he couldn’t have made it there any quicker than the fourth day following Pearl Harbor. He reported on schedule and there was no preflight for him. How he bypassed San Antonio or one of the other preflight bases is something of a mystery as he traveled past all of them during his trip from Kentucky to California. Later he would wash back to 42-G but he still remembers his 42-F days at Visalia and in particular this: “For the first three or four weeks we flew in civilian clothes as they didn’t have any uniforms for us.”
I have talked to a number of different individuals who were members of class 42-F and I had a hard time finding anyone (just Pete Everest and one other) who went through preflight at San Antonio or any other base.
Edward Lane of Midville, Utah, who trained in the West Coast Training Command (42-F) had this to say: “I’d been in school at the University of Florida and had some military training in the R.O.T.C. So, that was my two years of college, still required when I signed up. Then, many of us waited seven, eight, or even nine months to go on active duty as there was quite a waiting list. I reported to Hemet, California, which was my primary training base. Military training was worked in alongside the flying phase. We were the last of the ‘flying cadets’ and when San Antonio, Santa Ana, and Maxwell got started up the name was changed to ‘aviation cadet’. Oh, another thing, we were the last to get the $500 bonus. That was a bonus to be paid upon discharge, $500 per year of active duty. In 1946 I argued with finance in Douglas [Utah] about it because they had never heard of the bonus. I won and got my $2,300 pro-rated for a little over four and a half years service.”
This story is supposed to be about cadets but considering the “free form” the tale has evolved into I can put anything in it I want. And I want to put in something about Bascome Neal, an officer who went through a version of preflight tailored for commissioned personnel. The orders were very impressive: “Special Orders No. 259, War Department, Washington, 5 November 1941. By direction of the President ... Bascome L. Neal (O-366498), first lieutenant of Infantry, is relieved from duty at Clemson Agricultural College, South Carolina, and assigned to the Aviation Cadet Replacement Center, Maxwell Field, for training in the Air Corps pilot course.” Neal was at Maxwell from November 9, 1941, through December 31, 1941. “I vaguely remember some academic work and Air Force orientation, such as drill and ceremonies. I recall a Colonel Luper who was the school (or training) commander as being a very strict disciplinarian who demanded precision drill performance and rigid attention during class instruction. As a student officer I was exempt from some close order drill and later from some formations in primary, basic, and advanced. At the flying schools I was permitted to live off base and meet principally flying schedules and some other special formations.” Student officer status sounds nice, doesn’t it? Colonel Neal is now retired in Hampton, Virginia.
The last 42-F class member I talked to was Robert Greene of San Rafael, California. He entered the Air Force on November 4, 1941, and then reported to Maxwell Army Air Field, Alabama, Southeast Training Command, for preflight. Yes! Another 42-F who went through preflight! Greene doesn’t remember having an upper class or a lower class. He thinks the previous class was leaving as the new one was arriving and their paths didn’t cross beyond that. There was no hazing by anyone and he believes the course might have been four or five weeks in length. After Maxwell he moved on to primary at Jackson, Mississippi. “It was a long time ago. The main thing I remember is it was all sort of confusing to us poor civilians. I was still at Maxwell when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.”
Actually, he needs a book, not just a chapter. His name is Michael J. Novosel, of Enterprise, Alabama. Someone had to be the last combat pilot of World War Two to retire from military service and Mike has the honor of being that person. His military career started prior to World War Two. In 1941 Novosel was a Staff Sergeant stationed at Wichita Falls, Texas; he was only 18 years old. He applied for flying training and took the required tests, including the physical. At about Thanksgiving time he got the word - he had passed everything. Next it was preflight at Lackland, in early ‘42. Novosel won his wings with class 42-K.
Following advanced training in B-24’s and in B-29’s he flew in the Pacific Theater with the 58th Bomb Wing as a B-29 Aircraft Commander.
In 1964 (skipping his service in Korea, for lack of space) we find Novosel a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force Reserve and an airline pilot with Southern Airways. Requesting Vietnam duty he was told his services were not required. Hearing this he resigned his Air Force commission and joined the Army. Because of his civilian helicopter experience Army Flight School consisted of “a 30 minute check ride and then I was off to Fort Bragg.” He flew most of the helicopters the Army had and later told me, “From World War Two through Vietnam I flew all three of the Bell Cobras. The P-39 Airacobra, the P-63 Kingcobra, and the Huey Cobra gunship.” As a UH-1 Huey helicopter pilot he earned just about every award in the book, starting with his 59 air medals [career total - 61] and working up to the Medal of Honor. He is the only individual to have been awarded both the Air Force Command Pilot Badge and the Master Army Aviator Badge. Chief Warrant Officer Novosel retired at Fort Rucker, Alabama, on November 30th, 1984, after a military career spanning 44 years. The flying part all started with preflight in San Antonio. [1999 update: Mike has written a book. It is “Dust Off: Memoir of an Army Aviator” published 11/1/99 by Presidio Press.]
“THERE I WAS . . .”
Bob Stevens, noted author and artist, entered the cadet program in August 1942 with 4,020 other hopefuls. The class designation was 43-E. He graduated on May 20th, 1943. By then the class was down to 1,876 for an approximate 47% washout rate. (Some cadets were lost in aviation accidents.)
On November 17th, 1942, 28 trainees entered the Woman’s Flying Training Detachment at Houston’s Municipal Airport in Texas. Three months later the program moved to Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas. There were 25,000 applicants for the program due to a lot of publicity. It was a natural for newspaper stories. One of the attractions was that famed pilot Jacqueline Cochran was in charge of the program. All in all, 1,930 applicants were accepted for training and 1,074 won their Women’s Air Force Service Pilots wings. Their record was outstanding, flying all types of military aircraft from fighters to bombers. Thirty eight of them died in the line of duty.
Maylen Echols hadn’t finished high school. He had dropped out. While taking a correspondence course aimed at getting him a high school diploma he took the cadet exam in Tucson. It was 1942 and the Army was hard up for warm bodies. Diploma or not, Echols was pilot material. In February of 1943 he reported to basic military training in Fresno, California. While there he tested for his high school GED and received his certification. Next it was preflight at Santa Ana. Echols recalls, “There was no harassment, no hazing. The upper class didn’t bother us. We were all too busy. Plenty of marching, though.” Then, a CTD at the University of Utah. “We got ten hours flight time, in Piper Cubs.” Back to California. “Primary was in Ontario. While I was there they switched over to being a basic [flight] school. We just stayed there to finish up and get our wings.” Echols went on to B-24s and combat in Europe. After the war he took a job with a telephone company. Recalled for Korea in 1951 he instructed at the B-29 school at Randolph Field. After that it was back to the telephone company and a long and successful career. He is now retired in Mesa, Arizona.
Earl Baum, of Tucson, Arizona, reported for induction in the spring of 1942, at Fort Crook (now Offutt AFB), Omaha, Nebraska. After being issued a uniform Baum was told to go home and report back a month later. He did just as told. Upon his return to Fort Crook he was once again told to go home, wait a month, then come back. The next time he presented himself for duty he was chewed out for “improper uniform.” Says Baum, “I hadn’t ever been shown how to wear a uniform!” In June 1942, he was on his way via train to Santa Ana, California and navigator preflight. “I’d been a freshman in college at Creighton University [Omaha] and didn’t have the required two years of college but the good Fathers let me challenge courses, take tests, and build up my official transcript for enough credits to satisfy the two years. Training at Santa Ana was supposed to be 13 weeks. I got hurt on the obstacle course and that’s why I was there for so much longer. Four months in the hospital added to the normal program length. They wouldn’t let me leave until I passed the obstacle course. My first class designation was 42-07 and I kept washing back ‘till I finally ended up in 43-13. These were navigator/bombardier classes. We were together as a group and never mixed with the pilot cadets. I met some interesting people at Santa Ana, people such as Cecil Babcock. He had gone to Canada before the war and enlisted in the R.C.A.F. They sent him through flight school and he became a flying sergeant. Then he flunked a physical and was discharged. Babcock could pass the A.A.F. eye test for navigators so he ended up back in the states and in my cadet group. He eventually graduated, too. After Santa Ana I went to Sacramento and won my wings on September 11, 1943.”
A second lieutenant’s pay back in ‘43 was $150 plus $75 flight pay. There were various other allowances available including overseas pay.
By April, 1942, the base in Texas was being called the San Antonio Replacement Training Center and it was divided into two areas of activity: The Army Air Force Preflight School (Pilot) and the A.A.F Classification Center for the other induction needs of the Air Force. On July 4, 1942, that portion of Kelly Field to the west of Leon Creek became a separate command, the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center, or, as abbreviated, S.A.C. The initial training period for cadets was 4 ½ weeks but complaints from the bases that received cadets further down the line caused this period to be doubled to 9 weeks, effective with classes entering on September 9th, 1942.
Cadet recruiting was helped by such things as the popular 1941 Paramount movie “I Wanted Wings,” staring Ray Milland, William Holden, Wayne Morris, Constance Moore, Brian Donlevy, and Veronica Lake. Lake, appearing in a film for the first time under this name, plays a seductress who pursues Holden while Constance Moore is a photographer who comes to shoot a story and ends up falling for Milland. The film earned an Oscar for special effects. Many magazine articles featured stories about cadets and their training bases, particularly the “West Point of the Air,” as Randolph Field, Texas, was known. Alan Ladd did not hit the big time until his 1942 movie, “This Gun For Hire” but he was in a movie in 1941 titled “Cadet Girl.” Don’t know what it was about. Of note: The West Point class of 2006 had the first cadet (a female) who had parents both of whom were West Point alumni.
More about “I Wanted Wings.” The basis for the movie was a book of the same name by Colonel Beirne Lay. The book was about his experiences at flight school in about 1937 (that is when the book’s first edition was published). I have the “photoplay” edition, published in 1941 with eight film stills.
Hap Arnold wrote a book purporting to be the lowdown (for prospective cadets) on the cadet program. Well, someone wrote it, and Arnold’s name was on the cover with author’s credit. The book was widely advertised in publications such as Flying Magazine.
Later there were popular songs such as Charlie Spivak’s 1942 recording (featuring a vocal by June Hutton) of “He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings” and the 1943 Joe Loss number, “Silver Wings in the Moonlight.” Margaret Whiting had a big seller in the latter tune, recorded with Freddy Slack’s band.
Other music that comes to mind includes: “The Army Air Corps Song” by Alvino Rey, Bing Crosby, and many others. . . . “Keep ‘Em Flying,” Gene Krupa (1941). . . . “Let’s Remember Pearl Harbor” was recorded by Sammy Kaye ten days after the attack. In July 1942 Kay Kyser and his Glee Club recorded the million seller “Praise The Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” The flip side was a patriotic number with an Air Corps connection, Harry Babbitt’s “I Came Here to Talk For Joe.” Another well remembered tune was “Comin’ In On a Wing and a Prayer,” Golden Gate Quartet (1943). (I have a 78rpm disk, Okeh 6713, with “Comin’ In…” on the “B” side of a song called “Run On.” That same song (“Comin’ In”) was number one on the charts in the summer of ‘43 by the Songspinners. And, the Four Vagabonds recorded it a cappella as there was a musician’s strike at the time.
Country music fans listened to Roy Acuff’s “Cowards Over Pearl Harbor,” Red Foley’s “Smoke On the Water,” and Elton Britt’s “There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere.” I have the latter on a modern Elton Britt CD and on an original WWII era 78rpm record, the 1942 Bluebird 9000. I have a Bob Wills version of “Smoke…” on Okeh 6736 with the “B” side, “Hang Your Head in Shame.”
Song Notes: Harry Babbitt recorded a version of “Silver Wings” for Kay Kyser in May 1942. Though the song was written for a female vocalist Babbitt changed a few of the words. He wanted to record it as a tribute to his brother, recently graduated from flight school at Randolph Field, and his new sister-in-law. Babbitt later served two years in the Navy. His boss, Kay Kyser, achieved some notoriety in the press as an alleged draft dodger. Another “Silver Wings” recording, perhaps the best one, was done by Alice King, singing with Alvino Rey’s orchestra. Diana Shore also recorded the song.
Class 43-D
Arthur Bruggeman, who eventually retired in Tucson, Arizona, decided to look into joining the Army Air Force in August 1941. He took a train to Buffalo, New York, some 90 miles from his home, to talk to the recruiter. Arriving on September 5th, he was given the particulars as to enlisting and then told, “Go home and think it over. Come back when you’ve decided.” Bruggeman’s reply was: “I don’t have enough money to go home and come back. How about taking me now?” They did. He spent a week at a base at Niagara Falls, processing, then went on to Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, for basic training. Next, it was Lowry Field in Colorado and armament school. Finally a duty station, the 20th Bomb Squadron at Langley Field, Virginia.
At Langley Bruggeman found out his specialty was “excess” and his actual job was marching up and down the ramp at night guarding the B-17’s from enemy saboteurs infiltrating via rubber boats from German submarines. No Germans showed up so the job was rather boring. One morning after completion of his guard tour he decided to go to the cadet examination board and apply for flying school. He passed and went on, (with rather short notice, he was called back from leave), to the “classification center” at Nashville. In the summer of 1942 he reported for preflight at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama, to enter class 43-D. His upper class was 43-C and his under class was 43-E. As he remembers it: “The upper class seemed to resent the fact all of us in 43-D were prior service types while most of them had come straight from civilian life. I never saw any of them again during my career, nor did I run into anyone from my class or my under class either.”
His story should end there but something interesting happened to him during type checkout. All of the pilots (in training for B-17’s) were called to a meeting at the base theater and were told some of them would be immediately transferring to Air Transport Command. “It was done in a very arbitrary way,” as Bruggeman tells it, “Whether you stayed in bombardment or not depended on which side of the theater’s center aisle you were sitting on. I went to transports and stayed with them for the next 20 years.” Bruggeman’s class, 43-D, was one of the largest World War Two pilot classes. In August 1942 9,896 men entered training. Graduation was in April 1943 and a total of 5,275 received their wings. At the time there were 29 advanced flying schools nationwide. A quick calculation shows the washout rate was close to 50% although there were obviously some fatalities along the way as well.
Another person who enlisted in the Army, but not initially for flying training, was Joe Gable, retired in Tucson just a few hundred yards to the west of Art Bruggeman’s desert home. Gable, from Safford, Arizona, joined in May, 1940. He remembers when Claire Chennault visited his base prior to Pearl Harbor, recruiting P-40 pilots for the Flying Tigers, at “$1,000 per month, in gold.” Gable took the cadet tests in 1942 and was in San Antonio in early September of that same year in class 43-F.
Here is part of what he told me: “We hadn’t been allowed off post or to have visitors come on post since we started the program. It was Thanksgiving Day and we could finally have a visitor. My wife was staying in San Antonio so I was looking forward to having her come out for Thanksgiving dinner at the chow hall. A lot of wives and sweethearts were going to be up on ‘the hill’ for the occasion. That day I was on the tour path all morning. About 25 or 30 of us were marching up and down on the street in front of the chapel. In white gloves and class ‘A’ uniforms. It was hot too. I got an hour off at lunch time to eat with my wife and then it was back to the tour path for the rest of the afternoon.”
Colonel Gable told me another story and even though it was something that happened to him at primary I’ll include it here because it could apply to any cadet in any phase of training. Any phase where parachutes were available, that is. Gable continues: “It was 2 a.m. and an officer came around to the barracks on an inspection. He found a pencil on a desk, not put away, as it should have been. We were all ordered to get out of the sack and into class ‘A’ uniform. Then the ‘90 day wonder’ marched us down to the flight line where we drew parachutes prior to doing our double timing around the perimeter of the field, some four miles.”
Even after Lackland opened for business as an aviation cadet center there were far too many men in the system for all the training to take place there. The experience of Ric David typifies the alternate routes many took. David passed the cadet entrance tests in New York City, in June of 1942. Later that year he reported for Army Air Force basic training at Atlantic City, New Jersey. His billet was at the Ambassador Hotel, just off the boardwalk. He is quick to point out this was not resort living, as “The hotel had been modified from top to bottom, GI style.” Even though his group was taking a standard version of basic they were identified as being “aviation cadet trainees.”
Next in store for him was one of the College Training Detachments, at Syracuse University, New York. “We spent two or three months at the 65th CTD,” reports David. “It seemed to be a sort of holding operation. We did have classes to take up our time, so I guess we got something out of it.” After Syracuse David went to the Nashville, Tennessee, classification center. There the men took another battery of tests and were sorted into pilot, navigator, and bombardier subgroups. That only took three weeks.
Finally, in the summer of 1943 Ric David arrived at preflight, at Maxwell Field, Alabama, where the preflight program served cadets from the states east of the Mississippi. David was assigned a class number, 44-G, and found out 12 weeks could stretch out into 24 weeks as he waited for an assignment to a primary flying school to get, at last, into the air. He was finally on his way, in January, 1944, more than two years after his initial testing.
Kirby Nunn was a private in the Army who rode an Indian motorcycle in connection with his military police duties. He told me, “I got tired of that and applied for pilot training in 1942.” He reported to Lackland in December of 1943 and went through the usual preflight program, class 43-I. In due course he moved on to primary at Brady Army Air Field, Texas. There, he flew the PT-19 and he also washed out. Undaunted, he went back to Lackland for reclassification and another chance at one of the programs leading to wings and a commission. “It was tent city for me, they really had a crowd there,” he continues. “I could go one of two ways, bombardier or navigator and I went with the first one.” Then it was on to Ellington AAF, in Houston and another preflight. The first one didn’t count. “Our commander was Roscoe Ates, who had been the ‘stuttering comedian’ of radio and movie fame. He wasn’t funny anymore. A Lt. Mankuso was the one directly over us.” Nunn went on to graduate from the advanced school at Midland, Texas, in class 43-17. He was the outstanding cadet. “They gave me a letter and a nice plaque decorated with a bronze bomb. I think the documentation helped me make regular AF some years later.”
Note: Roscoe Ates was long in the tooth for military service. Born in 1892 (or 1895 in some sources) he volunteered for duty in 1942. His last movie prior to entering the Army was the 1942 release, “Palm Beach Story.” Ates was one of the “Ale and Quail Club” members on the train with Claudette Colbert. It’s a 4-star movie if you happen to catch it on the late show.
At this point in the story I’ll mention another group of future pilots who went through a completely different pipeline of training. This course might be described as the “separate but equal” program. These men received all of their training—preflight, primary, and basic at one location: Tuskegee, Alabama. They would go on to their own measure of fame and glory as members of the all black 322nd Fighter Group which would fly and fight with distinction in North Africa, Italy, and Germany during the years 1943-1945.
One of the Tuskegee Airmen was Hiram Mann, now a retired Lt. Colonel, living in Florida. He spent three days at Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio, following his induction, which occurred in March 1943. Next it was Keesler Army Air Field, Mississippi, where his segregated Negro company completed 28 days of basic training. Mann and four other black soldiers then moved on to Tuskegee Institute, a Negro college of some renown, for five months of College Training Detachment as Aviation Students. He did get some flying time during CTD, about ten hours in a Piper Cub. Then: “Upon completion of CTD we were ordered to pack our gear and we were shipped in 6x6 trucks all of about five miles to Tuskegee Army Air Field, Alabama, for preflight training. My class designation was 44-F.” All of Mann’s flying training prior to his commissioning took place at Tuskegee and his initial 15 months of service was devoid of any leaves or delays en route. [992 pilots graduated from Tuskegee Army Air Field during WWII.]
The U.S. Navy had a cadet program during the war and graduates took commissions in either the Navy or the Marines. Entrance requirements were much the same as those for the Air Force and the problems were the same for both routes to wings: Too many cadets.
Bud Lewis was a student at a military school in Lexington, Missouri, in December 1942, when all 22 members of his class decided to enlist in the Navy flight training program. The school was already a CTD with Navy V-5 students and Lewis was flying the Taylorcraft and Piper Cub with the civilian flying school part of the training. “The only difference,” he says, “is the V-5 people got it for free but my parents were paying for my flight time. I got 50 to 100 hours in the air.” Things moved slowly for Lewis and his classmates. The Navy seemed to feel they were a solid and secure future resource as long as they stayed at Wentworth Military Academy. He continues: “We expected to go to preflight at Iowa City but in September, 1943, we were shipped out to DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, for something called Naval Flight Preparation School.
NFPS was all theory [classes] with no flying. After that we expected Iowa City but they sent us to Madison, Wisconsin, for War Training Service (WTS) at the University of Wisconsin. We lived in fraternity houses and got some flying time in the N-2S and N-3N. Finally, in the spring of 1944, we went to Iowa City. The training was four or five months in length, no flying, a great deal of physical training. This was where we got the hazing but it didn’t bother me, coming from a military school. At Iowa City one half of the class was cut. They posted a list and the bottom half [of the class] was out of the program. Those people had a choice: Go back to being a civilian again, go to officer’s school (non-flying), or take seaman 2nd class status. They went all three ways in about even numbers. After preflight we still didn’t get to go to Corpus Christi or Pensacola or Jacksonville but we went to an “elimination base” at Norman, Oklahoma. That lasted two or three months and we did get some more biplane time, again in the N-2S or the N-3N.”
Then it was on to Corpus Christi where Lewis decided to sign up for the Marines as his father had been a Marine during World War One. He was accepted and received his commission in the Corps shortly before the end of the war. The USMC must have agreed with him. He spent 27 years in that service prior to his retirement in 1969.
The Cowboy
Deciding what to do after graduating from high school was a problem for many young men. Enlist? Start college? Or just hang around and wait for the draft to catch up with you? Gail Bell, age 19, had a farm deferment. After high school he took work as a cowboy/rancher in Arizona. Hearing about the cadet exams conducted at Tucson’s Davis-Monthan AFB Bell signed up and passed them in the spring of 1943. The summer and fall passed but he was not given any reporting instructions. Life wasn’t too bad in Tucson. There was a dance every Saturday night at the Pioneer Hotel with about 5 girls for every guy. Bell says, “I always made sure the gals knew I was waiting to go into the service and wasn’t a draft dodger.” Finally, on December 27th, he left by train for San Pedro, California, to report to the Air Force Reception Center. On January 5th, 1944, he departed California for Sheppard Field, Texas, and basic training. That was supposed to last four weeks but as Bell remembers it his class was held over and, “We repeated some of the training we had already had.” Then his group was ordered to take more tests. “They called them ‘stanine’ tests.”
Bell relates, “We were all called to the theater, about 300 or 400 of us. The place was filled. An officer took the stage and announced that by order of the Air Force the cadet program was going to be sharply cut back. There was a surplus of people in training. He said this same meeting was going on at other training bases all over the country and thousands of people were hearing this same speech.”
Of Bell’s 33 platoon members only seven were retained in the flying training pipeline. Bell wasn’t one of them. He was given a choice of gunnery school, mechanic school or clerk typist training. He took gunnery and went back to Arizona to the base at Kingman. After Kingman it was Lincoln, Nebraska to “crew up.” But, he came down with rheumatic fever and that finished his flying career.
Bell entered college after the war and received an commission in the Air Force through ROTC but he never went on active duty. He had a long and distinguished career with the University of Arizona.

Historical Note: USN started its Aviation Cadet Program in 1935. In 1942 various training programs were given “V” designations and flight training/commissioning became “V-5”. Students in training were “AvCads” or “AC” in written orders. On 22 June 1948 the term NavCad came into use as an acronym for Naval AViation CADet. The end came with NAVADMIN 138/93 canceling the program effective Oct. 1, 1993. There had been lapses over the years with the last run of the program being 1986-1993. The program was closed to civilians in 1992 and only nine active duty enlisted bluejackets participated in 1992-3. The official Navy word is that the program is “back on the shelf” so perhaps some day it will come back to life once again. Source: Navy News Service 11 AUG 93.

Another expansion of Lackland’s mission occurred in February 1944, when the navigator and bombardier preflight schools were moved from Ellington Field, Texas, to the S.A.C. facility. Next, in April of the same year, Officer Candidate School, O.C.S., initiated its long-term affiliation with the base. A version of the school, known now as the Officer Training School, O.T.S., remained there for some 50 years. (As of 1997 it is located in Texas at Randolph AFB.)

On September 23rd, 1944, President Roosevelt, during the famous “Fala address” campaign dinner speech stated U.S. aircraft production was 109,000 per year.

In November, 1944, the other two cadet preflight bases, Maxwell Field, Alabama, and Santa Ana Field, California, discontinued their training programs, leaving San Antonio as the single source for aviation cadets. By July 1945, the war in Europe was over and the Air Force had many more pilots than necessary in the field and in the pipeline. Consequently, the cadet program went into its rapid deceleration phase. Actually, there had been too many cadets all along. Planners who fed men into the program had been going with the “worst case” predictions as to attrition during training and combat casualties overseas. Predictions were wrong; it had been a classic case of American overkill: “Better a few thousand too many than one man short.”
Note: According to the U.S. Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio an average of 40% of cadet pilots washed out during training. By the end of the war 250,000 completed their training.
Colonel Jack Stolly of Dallas, Texas, recalls “almost” making it to the preflight program at Lackland at war’s end. He took the tests for aviation cadet training while still in high school as, since 1943, a policy existed allowing 17 year olds to volunteer for the Air Force Reserve, with active duty being delayed until after an individuals 18th birthday. Actually, only 17 year olds could arrange to go directly from civilian life to the aviation cadet program. The Selective Service System (draft) had first call on anyone aged 18 and up. Draftees were sent to whichever service had a current need. One could end up in the Marines! After being sworn into the reserves Stolly finished his senior year of high school. In January 1945, he was called to active duty as a “pre-aviation cadet,” or PAC. Then it was three months of Army basic training at Keesler A.A.F.B. in Mississippi. He states: “There were thousands of us in the same boat. They then gave us all new tests and I was one of the 15% who survived as a PAC. The others went to gunnery, mechanic, radio and other schools, with no chance for pilot training.”
As it turned out, Stolly and his fellow PAC’s didn’t learn to fly either. He was sent to Marana Army Air Field, Arizona, a primary flying school built in 1942, for “on-the-line training,” which was supposed to be a temporary arrangement. Cadets from China, Turkey and India flew the planes while Stolly pumped gas into the ships and cleaned bugs off of the aircraft [Vultee BT-13’s] windshields. He was discharged in November 1945, after less than a year’s service. (Marana had just shut down, to reopen again in 1950. Its final closure occurred in 1958.) Sometimes entire cadet classes were derailed along the way. The story below illustrates such an occurrence.
A 17 year old, who wanted to fly for as long as he could remember, was Cliff Hofmann of New York City. He was sworn in as an Aviation Cadet two days before his 18th birthday, on March 13, 1944. A trip across the Hudson River to Fort Dix in New Jersey followed, where he received uniforms and shots. Then he rode a train to Keesler Field, Mississippi, for basic training.
“We were finishing up basic in June and I remember it well for two reasons. First, how sick we all were because everyone had food poisoning. Secondly, we were out on bivouac at the time and in the midst of all our misery an officer, the first one we had seen, came out to talk to us on a Tuesday afternoon [June 6th] to tell us it was D-Day in Europe. There went the cadet program and us with it.” Hofmann’s class was sent off to various aircrew training schools but not to preflight for pilot or navigator training. Some went to gunnery, others to on-the-line mechanic’s training. Hofmann went to Scott Field, Illinois, for radio school. But, it wasn’t an airborne radio operator course and he still wanted to fly, even if as an enlisted man. By a certain ploy, which perhaps should still not be revealed, Hofmann obtained a transfer in November, 1944, to flexible gunnery school in Harlingen, Texas. Hofmann recalls, “We started out with shotguns in a machine gun mount on the ground, shooting skeet. Then we practiced with a shotgun mounted on the back of a 4x4 truck, while being driven around a racetrack, past skeet houses launching the clay targets. We learned how to lead the “bird” and how to factor in our own speed and direction at the same time. Finally we trained in B-24’s with real machine guns and airborne targets, towed cloth sleeves. Our ammo had paint on the bullet tips (a different color for each trainee) and the cloth was marked by our hits. We also ‘shot’ at P-39’s with cameras mounted in place of the guns.” He was put in the B-24’s lower ball turret, made by Sperry, as he met the special qualifications for the duty: Under 5’6” in height and under 120 lbs. in weight.
“The B-24’s were old, worn out models, and hardly a flight went by we didn’t lose an engine. Sometimes more than one!” He then went to Lemoore AAF in California near Fresno [now Lemoore N.A.S.] for what was to have been a one week stopover, to “crew up” with a combat-bound B-24. “The week turned into eight months: March 1945 to November 1945. Even though the war in the Pacific wasn’t over when we arrived at Lemoore things in the United States just seemed to grind to a halt.” He remembers how hot it was at Lemoore and how he spent his evenings in the only air conditioned building open to the general public, the base theater. He went there just to cool off even if he’d already seen the “B” movie being shown two or three times before.
“We hitchhiked up to Sequoia National Park on the weekends to get away from the heat of the San Joaquin Valley.”
Hofmann then moved north to Hamilton Field, near San Francisco, and waited until April 1946 for his discharge; he was at the bottom of the list because he had fewer “points” than others awaiting their discharges. A stint in the Navy reserve followed, where he finally had flying duties as a TBM gunner at Floyd Bennett Field, Long Island. Later Hofmann transferred to the Marine Reserve and finally, following college on the GI Bill, he obtained an active duty Marine commission in 1950. He eventually decided to change careers. In 1997 he is a municipal court judge in Arizona.
To take up some of the slack at Lackland the Basic Military Training School for enlisted men, previously located at Harlingen Field, Texas was absorbed. This transfer occurred on February 1st, l946. The name Lackland Army Air Force Base became official on July 1st, 1947, shortly prior to the formation of the United States Air Force as a separate service.
During the years following World War Two continued aircrew production was required to replace attrition, but at a much-reduced rate compared to the preceding war years. For a while, at the end of 1945 and for most of 1946 [with apparently one exception, Randolph Field], all Air Force primary and basic flying schools were shut down.
Regis Ginn, now of Hermosa Beach, California, was a navigator during World War Two. At war’s end an opportunity presented itself: He was offered a slot in the first post-war pilot training class.
“A bunch of us were sent to Goodfellow Air Base in Texas. This was in the fall of 1945. Why, I don’t know, as nothing happened there. After a few weeks we all moved on to Randolph Field. There were no cadets in the class. We were all officers, most of us with combat experience. There were Flight Officers trying to get the blue off their bars. One man was a Lt. Colonel from the cavalry who felt he needed wings to move his career along in the rapidly demobilizing U.S. Army [Air Force.] Joe McConnell, who had been a B-24 navigator during World War Two, was there also. He became the top USAF Ace in Korea.
“We started out on Randolph’s west side flying the PT-13 in Primary. After that we moved to the east runway and AT-6 training. It wasn’t called basic in those days but was called ‘advanced.’ After the AT-6 you graduated, got your wings and went to a duty squadron for a field checkout in your mission aircraft. The training at Randolph took a year. The bases that had once been ‘advanced training’ were closed, that’s why squadron checkouts were necessary.”

Full page magazine ad from 1948. The A/C program was just getting rolling again. Most of the page is taken up with a large set of silver pilot wings in a blue sky, over clouds, and an F-80 passing by from left to right. The text (part): “Win YOUR wings with the Aviation Cadets. Next class starts March 1st, 1948.” Other info mentions candidate requirements, education, etc. How you can be “a full-fledged pilot”!!! And, get training worth $35,000. You can fly every kind of airplane. “Single engine, twin engine, four engine, JET!” Including flight pay you will get $336 a month. “Imagine the pride you will feel [upon graduation].” The only thing not mentioned is how you will feel when the gunnery range starts shooting back at you…….

When things got going again in the cadet program there was occasional publicity about the course. One of the civilians to read a newspaper story concerning it was the former flight line mechanic from Marana Air Field, Arizona, Jack Stolly. He took the cadet tests for a third time and passed again. By now he had the [once more] required two years of college so he was soon “in” and found himself at Perrin AFB, Texas, along with several hundred other aviation hopefuls. It was June 12th, 1948.
His story continues: “We immediately found out the base had been closed since the end of the war. It became our task during the rest of the month of June to reopen the place. By the first of July they had brought in about 200 T-6’s and instructors, and a dozen cadets from Class 49-A, who had arrived from Randolph Field to be our upperclassmen. (They entered training March 8th, 1948?)
To find out we were going to learn to fly in the T-6 was quite a shock because only a few years previous it had been the advanced advanced trainer.” In February 1949, Jack Stolly, still a cadet, went to Enid, Oklahoma, for his next training phase: The B-25 multi-engine course. This was his last school prior to graduation. He had never undergone the preflight training course. Considering his prior service it wouldn’t have served any purpose.
The cadet classes designated 49-A, B, and C, were the first in the recently formed U.S.A.F. On July 1st, 1949, Stolly’s class, 49-B, had the first parade formation of men to receive wings and be commissioned as second lieutenants while wearing the new AF blue uniform. That must have been a hot parade formation, wool uniforms in July!
Additional info about Class 49-B, from Jack Stolly, Class Historian and Reunion Honcho: Primary (which they called basic back then) was conducted at three bases - Randolph, Goodfellow, and Perrin. Advanced was at Barksdale, Enid [later renamed Vance], Nellis and Williams. Basic was in the T-6. Advanced flying training was in the B-25, F-51, and the F-80. Receiving their wings on 1 Jul 49 at the four advanced bases: 92 officers and 456 cadets.
Don Peters sent the following information about his class, 49-C. “We started out at Goodfellow. I arrived there on 6 Oct 48. There was no preflight as such. My first base was my basic base. My memory of it is that ‘basic’ was the name of our initial training, not ‘primary’ as it was called later, and maybe before, as well. Perhaps it was called basic because we were skipping the usual (‘till then) primary type training aircraft. Basic took about eight months. Class 49-A was there for a while, then 49-B, as the upper class, took us on for the next six months. Straight into the T-6 is what we did. Class 49-C was the third group to train (initial training aircraft) in the T-6. (Class 55-T was the last T-6 class.) About two-thirds of the class had some type of prior flying background as civilian or as military aircrew. I’d worked for Piper, ferrying aircraft for two years. The people with prior flying time did OK for the most part. Those without stick time didn’t do very well, and had a high washout rate. The T-6 was just too much for those with no aviation background.
“Our under class was 50-A, and they were with us only during our last two months at Good-Buddy. I recall the basic bases at that time to be Randolph, Sheppard, Goodfellow, and Webb. After basic I went to Enid, Oklahoma, for advanced [later called ‘basic’] in the B-25. The multi-engine aviation cadets mostly went to Enid, while the student officers went to Barksdale.
“When I got to Enid it was still Enid AFB. It was renamed Vance AFB on 9 Jul 49. I was given to understand Colonel (?) Vance had been the wartime commander at Goodfellow. As Goodfellow was already named after someone [as of 11 Jul 41] he [Vance] got the base in Oklahoma named after him. Advanced flying training lasted four months and we were the only class there. No upper class and no lower class. There were single engine advanced bases too, for class 49-C. They were Williams and Nellis. The Williams guys were in the P-51 and the Nellis troops flew the F-80. Graduation was on 30 Sep 49. Because the flying training program was so small in size [the end of the Berlin blockade in 1949 brought cutbacks in the already limited flight training programs] there were no advanced (as after-graduation-training was later called) training programs in existence. After receiving our wings we went to our destination duty stations and got ‘local base checkouts’ in whatever planes we would be starting our rated careers in.
“Multi-engine graduates sometimes went to single engine assignments overseas (Okinawa, etc.,) and the other way around, too, i.e., P-51 and F-80 grads going off to multi-engine duty. I went to Military Air Transport Service and checked out in the C-47 and C-54. No matter where you went, there wasn’t a lot of flying time because Congress was very tight with the money. For a while there was a RIF [Reduction in Forces] threat for the 1948 and 1949 classes. Lack of flying time for brand new pilots and then the Korea conflict suddenly coming up was a recipe for high accident rates. As reports from the field came in some people began to think of class 49-C as ‘49-Crash.’ Within nine months of graduation (due to the Korean War) we suddenly got into flying big time. It was ironic that more than a few pilots of our class found themselves back in the T-6. The ‘Terrible Texan’ was used extensively in Korea as a forward air controller, armed only with smoke rockets.”
Don remembers his formation training: “We were allowed to fly with no more than three aircraft, each one with an instructor aboard. Proficient or not, someone cooked up a ‘really big-g-g’ (as Ed Sullivan would say) show for our final two days as cadets.
“The day before graduation at Enid this is what happened: We lined up 48 B-25s wing-tip to wing-tip on the flight line. On a count from the tower we started engines from north to south at several second intervals. We taxied out to the parallel runways for takeoff. After all of us were airborne, we joined up in twelve plane elements and - believe it or not – soon all 48 were joined and headed in the same direction. On board were 92 cadet pilots and four instructors. It was quite a sight, as those on the ground later told us. Uneventful landings followed the base flyover. The next day we did it all again for the graduation guests and other visitors. That was by far the biggest formation I ever participated in.”
Don Peters is now retired after 34 ½ years with TWA. He lives in Westerville, Ohio.
Note: Vance AFB was named for Lt. Col. Leon R. Vance, Jr. He was an Enid native, a 1939 West Point graduate, and a Medal of Honor recipient. He was killed July 26, 1944, when an air-evac plane returning to the US went down in the Atlantic near Iceland. San Angelo AAFB opened in January, 1941, and later that year was named for Lt. John J. Goodfellow, Jr., a WWI fighter pilot, killed in combat September 14, 1918.
Levi H. Thornhill of Tempe, Arizona joined the Air Force in November 1942 and spent the war years in a variety of jobs, all having to do with aircraft. By war’s end he was a staff sergeant and, as so many others, took his discharge. Ninety days of civilian life was enough and Thornhill re-enlisted. In 1948 he qualified for the aviation cadet program and in February ‘49 he reported to Randolph for primary training.
“I was 26 years old by then, and had a private license, though I hadn’t done much flying since 1946. It was too expensive on the outside. Having been a crew-chief on the T-6, P-47, P-51, and B-25 helped, too. We were the first class at Randolph to go straight into the T-6. Going from an Aronca Champ to the T-6 was quite a jump! As primary and preflight was all-in-one we had a heck of a time doing flying, academics, military training, all at the same time. There were a lot of washouts due to ‘attitude,’ not that the person couldn’t fly. Our class, 50-C, started with 169 students and 41 graduated. Basic training was at Nellis in the T-6 and the P-51. I graduated on June 24th, 1950, the day before the Korean war started.”
Thornhill (“Philco” to his old flying buddies) is now an engineer with Rockwell International, working on the space shuttle project.
Defense spending took a big plunge after the 1941-1945 war was over. Things got moving rapidly again in June 1950 when North Korean (and later, Chinese) armed forces invaded the Republic of Korea, south of the 38th parallel’s demarcation line. Initial pilot requirements were met by calling up reserve forces followed by recalling World War Two crewmembers who could be quickly retrained for combat duty. But, when it became obvious the Korean conflict would not be a short campaign, something else had to be done to bolster the crewmember pool with new blood. Early in 1952 construction on more substantial facilities at Lackland began. Additional barracks, dining halls, classrooms and other structures were built, transforming Lackland to a major permanent base.
On November 3, 1952, the Preflight School reopened. The Korean war’s first class of pilot cadets reported for training during the second week of November and another eight year era of aviation cadet preflight training was underway.
Class 54-H, a very large class with more than 800 members, including several hundred foreign cadets, completed its 12 weeks of training at Lackland on February 7th, 1953. They were the first class to graduate since Lackland had [again] become a major Air Force base so they set the pattern for what was to follow. These trainees were all hoping to become pilots and upon graduation they dispersed to the nine civilian operated contract primary schools in operation at the time. A few weeks later the first navigator/observer cadets arrived, designated Class 54-01C. The navigator/observer trainees were segregated from the pilot hopefuls. They were assigned to different flights, military units smaller than squadrons. For some reason the two groups were kept apart during their military training phases, a carryover from World War Two practices. Classroom work was combined for both groups, however. As no one could come up with a good reason for this plan (two groups), it was dropped after a few months.
Bud Gammon of Ogden, Utah, took his entrance exams in late 1953 in Denver. He remembers, “There were 66 of us, including me and a friend of mine. We were both students at BYU but we were not enrolled in ROTC. The threat of the draft got us interested in the cadet program. This was after I saw a small advertisement in the local newspaper. Eleven of us qualified for pilot training and twenty-some were offered navigator training. My class was 55-M. At Mariana (Arizona) where I took primary flying training our Cadet Wing Commander was Larry Welch.”
Gammon later washed back to 55-P. He graduated and completed a 20 year career. Afterwards he obtained his college degree at Weber State. This led to a second career with civil service at Hill AFB where he was manager for the F-4 Flight Manual program. His friend washed out along the way (medical) and left the Air Force at the end of the two-year obligation.
Jim Fitts, now of Urbandale, Iowa, was a cadet in class 56-U. When I asked him if he remembered anything interesting about his preflight days he said, “A bunch of us got a ‘72 gun salute’ (many demerits and marching ‘tours’) but I don’t even recall what for.”
The gigs carried over to primary but he says, “We got some dirt on our upper class having to do with their returning late from open post and they never bothered us much after that.”
Primary was at Stallings, NC, in the PA-18 and the T-6. At Laughlin (Del Rio, Texas) his class skipped the T-28 and went straight into the T-33. He says his class was the first (at Laughlin) to do that. Jim’s first assignment out of basic training was in the F-94C. Jim was in the Air Force for 14 years, including a SEA tour in the RF-4C (following a three year GCI assignment). Then he got out and finished his 20 in the Iowa Guard. There he reverted to old cast off AF planes (unlike what today’s Guard flies) such as the F-89J, F-84F and the F-100. Now (1995) he is about to finish his airline career. He is with North West, flying the DC-9. His career total will be 30,000 hours.
It was late in the fall of 1953, and my grades in my second year of college were edging towards disaster. This caused me to wonder if I would flunk out by the end of the year. The only class holding my interest was the Army Reserve Officer Training Course (R.O.T.C.) and in that I was getting good to excellent grades. I was participating in all the R.O.T.C. extracurricular activities and my friends were one hundred per cent fellow cadets. I felt two and one half more years would be a long time to wait for the coveted second lieutenant’s commission.
During one morning’s coffee break several of us headed from the R.O.T.C. building to the student union for hot rolls, coffee, chocolate, or whatever. Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a table set up with pamphlets, photo notebooks, and other paraphernalia. Above the table, taped to the wall, was a large poster with an Air Force jet (an F-86) plus two sharp looking young pilots in flying suits. One knelt over a map while the other stood behind, pointing at the map. The caption at the top of the poster said, “I Know Where You’re Going” and at the bottom the message was: “Be an Aviation Cadet,” followed by, “U.S. Air Force.”
When I headed over to the table my pal Jack Petri said, “What are you going to do, Tom? Join the Air Force?”
“Oh, no,” I replied, “I’m going to try and talk that guy behind the table into transferring to the Army!”
As I looked over the materials and chatted with the Air Force recruiter he said he had two big items of council for me: Cadets could get a commission in 15 months via the Air Force program was part one. Part two was—“I can’t really talk to you or sign you up while you are wearing an Army uniform.”
A half-hour later I was at R.O.T.C. Headquarters asking, “How do I quit?” It was easy, sign a few papers and turn in my uniforms, which I did the next day. Reason for resigning? “To join the Air Force.”
The military recruiting station in Newark, New Jersey, ran me through a few preliminaries two weeks later and then I was on my way to Sampson AFB, in upstate New York, for preflight qualification testing.
The qualification requirements for cadet appointments were not very stringent. Just about any college student in the U.S. could have a good chance at passing the medical, written, and psychomotor tests if he put out any effort at all. Well, I guess the medical part of it did sidetrack a few of the applicants. Later, I found out a large number of men concealed some relatively minor medical fact; something that would have kept them out of the program if it had turned up at the time, which it didn’t.
You had to be between the ages of 18 and 26 ½ and a U.S. citizen. Oh, yes—You had to be unmarried as well. Prior to November 1st, 1953, applicants needed 60 semester hours (two years) of college but that fell by the wayside about the time I got involved with my enlistment. The recruiter told me, incorrectly, I should have the two years college “or pass a test indicating the equivalency of that level of education.”
When an airman applied for aviation cadets from the enlisted ranks, and the Air Force had an active internal public relations program towards this end, the entrance requirements were even more lenient concerning education. College credits had never been required for enlisted men and a high school diploma wasn’t even needed if the airman could pass the Armed Forces Institute High School tests with a minimum score of 35 on any one test and an average of 45 on all five tests. An actual case of a non-high school graduate being a cadet was very rare although I did run into one some years later. There were none in my class or in my upper class. The statistics as to cadet education were usually along the lines of 55-Q’s numbers, which were:
High school graduates- 41%. Some college- 58%. College graduates- 1%.
It was early January, 1954, and seasonally cold at Sampson, near Lake Geneva, one of the Finger Lakes. I felt sorry for the men and women taking basic training there. Sampson had been a Navy base at one time. During the war years some 400,000 Navy boots trained at Sampson. Shortly after World War Two the Navy put it in caretaker status. Six months after the Korean conflict broke out the Navy turned the base over to the Air Force and it went into operation for another six years.
An interesting bunch of people took the battery of cadet tests, people from all walks of life, with every kind of reason for being at Sampson. One of them was a guy from Queens, New York, named Ruane Burth and he had at least one outstanding quality: He didn’t seem to have any male friends back in Queens but he had unlimited numbers of female friends! This came in handy a little later.
Ruane Burth needs a little more space in the story so here it is. He and I are still friends some 46 years after our days at Sampson. I don’t have contact with anyone I have known longer than Ruane Burth. He washed out of the cadet program along the way but he is about the last one you would have thought would be a drop out. If there was ever anyone who should have been pre-programmed to make it Ruane was the one. He had a private pilot’s license at age 16. By the time he entered cadets he had three years of college, above the average. He was a little older and a little more mature than the rest of us. But, those things happen. I once told him, “Who knows, you might have spent seven years in the Hanoi Hilton if you’d finished the program and gotten your wings.” Following his Air Force duty (two years) he went on to a long career in the aerospace industry.
Late note: At the 40 year reunion of Class 55-Q in June of 1995 Burth told me more detail concerning his elimination from the program. His father was politically connected with some New York elected official types, specifically Congressmen and a Senator. Burth was asked to write each of them a note and tell them how things were going in the Air Force when he got a chance. That came during primary at Bainbridge. Burth mailed three letters at the cadet post office. The next thing he knew he was before the Executive Officer being asked to explain the three letters now sitting on the exec’s desk. Burth declined to open the letters as he was instructed to do. He stood up for his rights and in particular his right to privacy in connection with the U.S. mail system. (His blunder was putting a return address on the envelopes?) The executive officer quoted a regulation prohibiting a cadet from communicating with his political representatives without permission. (Did the executive officer make this up?) At any rate, shortly Burth had a no-notice check ride he flunked. Out of the program he went.
Now, back to Sampson. . . . The tests consisted of three main parts or sections. These were the written, medical, and psychomotor exams. The written part was of the “multiple guess” type, and quite lengthy. One written question I remember, because I happened to know the answer, was “Who painted the Blue Boy?” (Gainsboro.)
There were quite a few questions about motorcycles and my theory was the test writers figured anyone crazy enough to ride cycles would be crazy enough to fly military airplanes. [Military pilots are typically individuals oriented toward high-risk activities, i.e., combat]. Very few people, in the northeast at any rate, owned motorcycles in those days. In my hometown of 40,000 there was only one privately owned cycle, mine. Even so, the motorcycle questions required some reading between the lines. The questions asked were about prewar and early postwar [prewar design] Harley-Davidson bikes which had been out of production for five or six years. I was tempted to answer “none of the above” to specific questions but resisted and went on the assumption the questions were left over from some earlier era of testing, maybe 1945 or so.
The medical tests were straight forward, with a lot of interest being shown in the area of eyesight. How I ever passed the depth perception test I don’t know. In later years I couldn’t pass it but because the flight surgeons and medics all flew with me regularly [in helicopters] and knew I was a good pilot they overlooked that little problem.
The only information anyone had given me about cadet testing prior to my going to Sampson was this: “If you bite your fingernails you better let them grow out before you get to the test center, ‘cause if they see that it’s an automatic washout.” I didn’t bite my nails and I never noticed anyone being interested in them either.
Psychomotor tests were done with old machines left over from 1942. An example of such a test was the “penny on the phonograph” turntable device. You held a wand with a 90-degree hook on the end and tried to keep it touching the penny as the turntable went around. [Via Les Strouse: "There was no way you could put pressure on the hook. Like trying to put pressure on a wet noodle!"] The test was scored electrically, somehow. Another testing unit was set up to look like the cockpit of an aircraft. You moved the stick and rudder pedals in such a way as to line up rows of lights with particular points as indicated on an overhead display. That old equipment was done away with a few years later as it couldn’t be kept in commission due to its age. [In 1994 USAF instituted the BAT tests for pilot hopefuls. These “Basic Attributes Tests” looked at motor coordination, motivation and prior flying experience.]
Evenings at Sampson were spent at the enlisted “tap room” or at a tavern just outside the back gate, in the company of several female enlisted airmen we had become acquainted with. We were a little bleary eyed for some of our tests the next day, particularly the early morning ones.
It was very cold during the nights and on at least one occasion we woke to find the water in the barracks butt cans frozen solid. After that experience one of our group earned the name “the coal man” as he made several trips during the night to the utility room to stoke the coal furnace and keep the heat coming. We made fun of him but he really did a good job for all of us.
Another person I met at Sampson was Warren Achenbaum, from the borough of Brooklyn. He was one of the smartest people I ever knew. That came through loud and clear during our five days of testing. On our final day we prospective cadets were gathered together in a class room to hear the news, good or bad, as to the results of the testing. There were two hot rumors going around as to how this final meeting would go and these stories were: The successful candidates get to stay in the room and the washouts are asked to leave. . . . Or, the successful people leave the room while those remaining are told they have failed some feature of the exams.
The names were called out. . . . “Achenbaum, Collins, Eglinton, Garcia. . . .” Wow! I knew if I was in the same group with Warren Achenbaum I had made it! Maybe we left the room, maybe we stayed, I can’t recall. The announcements that came were: “Achenbaum- Navigator. Collins- Pilot. Eglinton- Navigator. Garcia- Pilot or navigator. Which do you want?”
While working on this story I followed up on Warren Achenbaum’s Air Force career and found he spent four years in the service, as a B-47 crewmember in the Strategic Air Command. At that point he decided to call it quits. [In 1961 I came very close to hanging it up too, due to my distaste for S.A.C.]. Warren finished his college at C.C.N.Y. in the engineering field, and is now a successful corporation president.
Back to Sampson and the question as to pilot or navigator [actually called “observer”] - It didn’t take me long to make up my mind on that one as I didn’t really know what a navigator was and the Air Force recruiting drive usually stressed the jet pilot aspect of military aviation. As the bus headed back for Newark the next morning I was on cloud nine and I tried to envision my future military life, without really knowing anything about the Air Force, flying, or airplanes. The only thing I knew for sure was the Korean War initiated draft was still going on and: 1- Army draft service involved two years of duty. 2- Air Force enlistments, considered by most to be a softer kind of life than the experience of Army duty, were for a length of four years. 3- Aviation cadets who washed out of the program could complete their selective service obligation by serving a total of just two years in the Air Force combination cadet/enlisted time. Any way you cut it, that was a good deal! For those of us about to flunk out of college and lose a draft exemption it looked like an outstanding way to go, even if one had no intention of taking a commission and acquiring a further three or four year contract of service. Once you were in the cadet program you could quit if you didn’t care for it. Far enough along and you didn’t even have to go to regular Air Force “boot camp.” Finally, I could go to San Antonio and get out of the ice and snow of northern New Jersey.
Dick Epp, from Kenmore, New York, was an example of another “special interest” individual, if that is the correct term to use.
Most everyone did indeed have some particular idea as to why the program was the thing for him. Epp was an enlisted airman stationed at a very frigid and desolate outpost: Thule Air Base, Greenland. He saw an opportunity to get an all expense paid vacation back to his home state by signing up for testing. If you were stationed in Greenland you would be scheduled to go to Sampson for the tests and if you applied for the program the Air Force had no choice but to send you. When he passed all the tests he suddenly found himself with a one way ticket for a permanent move out of America’s “Northernmost [and coldest] Outpost.” Once in the training, like so many others, he got caught up in the momentum and forgot all about his original reasons for applying.
The two months between my testing at Sampson and my departure for preflight went by quickly. A job as a canvasser for the “City Directory” of Newark, New Jersey, took up my time as I waited. Just before departing for preflight several people told me I was “in for it” as they had seen a photo story about aviation cadets in a national magazine and it looked like a tough program. I never saw the story and perhaps it was for the best. Some years later I looked through copies of Colliers, Saturday Evening Post, and Life Magazine for 1953 and 1954 but was unable to locate the article.
Note: In November 1994 I found the story mentioned above. It was in Look Magazine, 23 Mar 1954, titled Air Force Cadets. Look was a bi-monthly that came out the second and fourth Tuesday of each month. It went out of business at about the end of 1970.
Nothing much happened our first night at Lackland. We were assigned bunks on the second floor of an open bay barracks and issued sheets and blankets and then it was lights out. Most of us were tired from a long journey so we were soon in a deep sleep. At about 0530 the next morning we were still sawing wood when the lights suddenly came on and all hell broke loose. “Get out of those bunks! Get dressed! What do you think this is, a country club? Get shaved and be quick about it!”
We had met “N” class!
Twenty minutes later we were rushing down the stairs with upperclassmen at each landing screaming -- “You better moovvve!” Move we did, at double time, out onto the still dark street, where we were formed up into crude ranks, and told we would be treated to some good Air Force chow. The mess hall was just across the street from our quarters.
About then one of the upperclassmen came up to me and said, “Where are you from Ace?” And, dumb as I was, I blithely replied, “New Jersey, sir.” What a mistake that was. It brought forth a tirade along the lines of: “Is your name Ace? Have you shot down five enemy planes? Were you born stupid or did your mommy raise you to be an ignoramus?”
Finally, it was time to proceed to the chow hall and eat breakfast. That didn’t turn out to be a lot of fun either. The morning menu featured the infamous military delicacy, “S.O.S.,” otherwise known as chipped beef on toast. I compounded the problem by letting the cook’s helper pile a large portion on my stainless steel tray. Soon, I discovered there were three major difficulties confronting me. First, upper class harassment at the long wooden dining tables left little time for actual eating during mealtime. Second, S.O.S. had the appeal (a few of you may disagree on this point) of something that could have been regurgitated by a weasel, or what I would imagine such matter to approximate, in both taste and consistency. Finally, dining hall etiquette required, absolutely required, under class cadets consume every iota of foodstuff on their tray and woe unto any who tried to get around that rule.
Bill Eglinton, a class member who flew to San Antonio with me from Newark, had never been away from home before and had never been on an airplane prior to the trip to Texas. While I don’t remember anything in particular about my first night in the cadet area at Lackland Bill recalls: “The upper class was so friendly. They encouraged us to relax, write letters home, etc., only to become the impossible ogres the next day with their ‘hit a brace’ and `square meals’ and beds ‘that would bounce a quarter.’ What a rude shock.”
Bill continues: “I guess I was one of the youngest in the class, having turned 19 on Oct 20, 1953, and getting in a cadet class by March of 1954 was pretty quick.” Eglinton was bound for observer school. He received his wings and commission in May 1955, ten weeks before the last of the pilots in 55-Q graduated from their training. He completed a 30-year military career and retired in the grade of colonel in Annandale, Virginia.
The remainder of the second day, 14 hours or so, was taken up with the drawing of uniforms and other supplies, receiving our GI haircuts, getting shots, being instructed in the soldierly arts of bunk making, floor mopping and polishing, latrine cleaning, area trash policing, etc. All of these duties were performed under the watchful eyes of those paragons of military stance and experience, class 55-N, who had themselves been under class swine a mere 48 hours earlier. But, they now had six weeks of military service under their blue web belts and it might as well have been six years as they were experts in their field when compared to the “dodos” in class 55-Q.
Uniform issue wasn’t remarkable in any way but I will say the people in supply did a very good job in the limited time they had available for each “customer.” Lackland was the home of the world’s largest Air Force Clothing Store. The clerks issued 19 tons of uniform items a day, seven days a week. We wore nothing but sack-like one-piece fatigue coveralls during our first few weeks as our khakis had to be altered to cadet standards at the base exchange tailor shop prior to our being able to use them.
Larry Jones, now retired from the Air Force and living in North Carolina, has this to say about those one-piece fatigues: “They were the worst looking abomination man has ever had to wear. They came in two sizes; too big and too small.”
Actually, all of 55-Q wasn’t in place yet, as our class didn’t officially start until Wednesday, March 31st, 1954, some five days ahead. The upper-upper class, 55-K, hadn’t graduated yet, and wouldn’t, until March 30th, so they were still in the squadron area. It was a little confusing to us new guys, what with all the stripes on all the upper class shoulder boards. In the few days “K” class spent in our midst we noticed they had much more important things on their minds than hazing their underlings and, mercifully, they never bothered us.
The Saturday noon meal was a replay of the morning’s bad scene. It seems Saturday is a day off for many of the mess hall workers and a lot of the patrons are away on pass so a minimal kind of a dinner is served. The fare was cold cuts and bread. I picked up a few pieces of bologna, thinking it would be something along the lines of civilian products of the same general appearance. It wasn’t. GI bologna is sliced in slabs three or four times thicker and, by some secret process, injected with huge quantities of rancid oil or fat. Once again, I had to eat it all. Finally - I learned my lesson. Never again did I allow anything to be put on my plate I wasn’t absolutely sure of, as far as edibility went.
(Note: In my 31 years of exposure to GI chow, I have had only three really bad experiences. Twice at Lackland in 1954 and once in 1985, again at Lackland! Watch out for their GI meat loaf!) (In 1999 I started eating several meals a week at the Brunswick NAS dining hall and the food was always at least “fair” but usually “good” or “excellent.” Navy meat loaf is up there at “excellent.”)
More cadets came in during the next few days, most straight from civilian life, a few from enlisted service, and one who made the mistake of arriving in his Civil Air Patrol uniform. The upper class had a field day with him. Note: On June 28, 2000, a basic cadet , a civilian, by the name of Roberto Flammia arrived at the United States Air Force Academy to enter the class of 2004 attired in combat fatigues including cap. He got lots of immediate “additional training” from cadet upper class.
There was a cadet parking lot just to the west of the barracks area and we got to police it on Sunday afternoon. All of our civilian clothes were to be locked up in the barracks storeroom and we were warned if any clothes or alcoholic beverages were found in our vehicles (I didn’t have a car) we would be subject to harsh penalties. During the tour of the parking lot I found myself looking out across the farm land towards the horizon, wondering if San Antonio was out in that direction and if I could “escape” on foot if things got too bad at Lackland. I never had the thought again, but it was there for a few moments that day.
The 3700th Military Training Wing was the cadet’s parent organization and in the wing there were three preflight squadrons, the 3741st, 3742nd, and 3743rd, at the “Gateway to the Air Force,” Lackland Air Force Base. Our big boss in the program was 37 year old Colonel Arthur T. Frontczak, though I never met him or even saw him. He was a pilot but had never been an aviation cadet. Still, he knew as much as anyone about such things as the cadet class system, having been a member of the West Point class of 1940. This command didn’t seem to do much for Frontczak’s career progression, as he never went beyond the grade of colonel in his 27 years of commissioned service. He did make bird colonel in 11 years and then he spent the majority of his service in that grade so I guess he didn’t have too much to complain about. I tried to contact him in connection with this story but he is deceased.
Every two weeks one of the squadrons graduated 500-600 cadets and concurrently took on a new group of the same size. As there was no way the Air Force could use that many aviators or the flying schools could handle that kind of a load there was trouble ahead. One wondered when the Department of Defense was going to figure out the Korean War was over and the pipeline flood should be cut to a trickle? Hadn’t the same thing happened just ten years earlier?
These things were, of course, far beyond the thoughts or knowledge of the average 19 to 21 year old cadet. We were just trying to get along day by day or even hour by hour. Cadets had no news from the outside world except what we saw in the local newspaper headlines, there being a San Antonio newspaper display rack located just inside the chow hall entrance. It took us a little while to figure out how Texas journalism worked and then we quit taking the headlines seriously. Story leads in Texas don’t have a lot of actual resemblance to the accompanying articles. The headline is used to sell papers, not provide news.
An example of a misleading 1954 front-page headline (in Hearst’s Light) is this one: “SHERIFF SHOT.” If the local Bexar County sheriff had been shot it would have been big news indeed. However, over on page two you would discover the sheriff in question was not even in Texas much less in the San Antonio area. He was in Florida! Another headline, which got our attention because of our impending military careers was: “U.S. AND CHINA MAY GO TO WAR.” Wow! If that is going to happen maybe the Air Force will drop this silly preflight malarkey and get us shipped out of here to flying school ‘cause they are going to need a bunch of pilots and need them fast! That’s called the “grasping at straws” syndrome. The complete story, somewhere in the paper, was:
“U.S. and China risk of war termed great, some congressmen declare, if U.S. fleet, now patrolling off the coast of Formosa, is attacked by Chinese military forces.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to become well acquainted with any of the foreign cadets in our squadron. Every class had some foreign members; we had 36 of them, all potential pilots rather than observers; this was always the case. The largest contingent in 55-Q was from Belgium, and we had cadets from Turkey, the Netherlands, Italy, Cuba, and Columbia as well. Officially they were referred to as “allied” cadets rather than “foreign” cadets.
A pair of metal aircraft props sunk in the ground and a plaque announcing “B” Flight was the “Honor Flight” adorned the area immediately in front of my barracks. I never found out why we had that designation but it looked good and made a nice backdrop for photos. Our squadron was divided into eight flights, A through H, based on the cadet’s height, the tallest being in A Flight. Once in a while we did something jointly with A Flight or even with A through D Flights. I didn’t see much of the short guys in E through H. One person I remember is Bud Breckner. I think he started out in my barracks for a day or two, before moving to the unit to our east, A Flight. Bud eventually rose to the grade of Major General, almost (but not quite) a record for an ex-cadet of the 1950’s era. [On June 27, 1986, four star General Larry D. Welch, former Commander in Chief of the Strategic Air Command, was sworn in as Chief of Staff of the Air Force. He graduated from the aviation cadet program in 1955.]
The barracks were open bay, with about 30 cadets per bay, four bays to a building. Offices were in the area between the two lower bays and a day room was between the two upper bays. B Flight occupied one barracks building, 60 under class and 60 upper class, in their own bays.
Laundry facilities and storage areas were in the basement. Many cadets had never used a washing machine prior to coming to Lackland and that resulted in some funny occurrences. Bob Ashmore had apparently seen his mother use Purex bleach so he bought a quart at the BX and used most of it with one load of underwear and towels. Everything came out looking as though it was left over from World War One!
Larry Jones remembers the footlockers at the end of each bunk:
“All with the same brand of toiletries, in inspection order, none of which were ever used. And, tightly rolled towels and underwear. I still roll my towels when I’m going to the beach and my T-shirts and shorts when I go on a trip.”
President Eisenhower, by Executive Order, created the National Defense Service Medal on 22 Apr 1953. Those eligible were the people serving in the military during the Korean War Era commencing on 27 Jun 1950 and terminating on a date to be announced. (This turned out to be 28 Jul 1954.) We had our first service medal!
My nemesis during preflight was an individual in 55-N named Richard P. “Rip” Osterhuber. He was a cadet officer and delighted in hazing underclassmen. Sadistic would be a possible adjective to use in connection with him.
Mister Osterhuber paid special attention to me, or maybe he could spread so much trouble around in one day it just seemed as though he was picking on me all the time. To top it off, his hometown was Nutley, New Jersey, immediately adjacent to my hometown. That didn’t get me any points at all.
55-Q’s washout rate was the highest, at 20%, of any of the 12 classes which passed through Lackland in 1954, attributed, in part, to the activities of N class in general and Rip Osterhuber in particular. On the other hand, Osterhuber’s class, 55-N, had the lowest washout rate of almost any class in the history of post-Korean preflight, at 10%, perhaps due to “K” class’s easygoing attitude as “N’s” upper class. Overall average attrition rate for all preflight cadets during 1954 was 14%. [See dissenting opinion at end of story.]
A few of us came up with a theory about the class system and this is what we decided: A class having an easy upper class was rough on its under class, which class, in turn, was soft with its underlings. Sort of an up and down wave effect. We got caught in the bad part of the cycle, as the under class of 55-N.
Washouts occurred for many reasons and I’ll tell you about some of them now. The majority were for medical problems that hadn’t been screened out during previous examinations. One cadet in N class was found to be too short for flying duty and that was considered to be a medical elimination. We wondered if Lackland had a different size tape measure than Sampson or had the cadet shrunk? He missed a flying career by an eighth of an inch, despite hanging from a rafter in the barracks for two hours, trying to stretch himself, prior to taking his last physical. The next most popular cause for attrition was the self-initiated elimination, or, SIE, for short. A cadet who couldn’t take the guff of upper class harassment could go to the squadron office and quit. It didn’t take long to get moved out of the cadet area once a cadet was bounced from the program. The SIE’s in particular were moved out fast, so they wouldn’t contaminate the remaining troops.
Washouts went to the 3708th Basic Military Training Squadron, a unit consisting of ex-cadets, re-enlistees and people who had been in other basic training squadrons and washed back due to problems getting security clearances, medical difficulties, etc. Some of the enlisted troops (other than the ex-cadets) had been on permanent KP duty for months before getting orders to the 3708th and were no doubt glad be moving back into the system to be made ready for eventual transfer to a regular duty base. Unlike the other training squadrons, there was not a set period of time a person spent at the “08th.” An ex-cadet who had progressed to upper class prior to elimination could move on to his enlisted career in just a few days time.
Training officers could bounce people out for “improper motivation” which covered a multitude of sins. There were a few honor code violations, which caused a stray cadet or two to be ejected from the program. Cheating on a test would be an example of such a violation. Washout of cadets for academic deficiency (failing grades in the classroom) happened now and then. I remember such a case in my class. This surprised me because the academic course was at about 10th grade level.
Once in a while it came to light a cadet was married, a no-no. My bunk mate was married, but they never caught up with him. He went on to receive his wings and commission, only to be killed in an aircraft accident ten years later. Another case came to light when the cadet’s wife wrote to the squadron commander to complain her husband wasn’t sending enough of his paycheck home to her.
Military deficiency involved any violation of regulations, such as returning late from open post (pass) or having too many gigs. This would be a good place to tell you about the gig system. When any departure from the rules was observed an officer or an upperclassman would announce, “I’ll have one, Mister.” The expected response was - Slap your upper left shirt pocket with the flat of your right hand, then produce a white “gig slip” out of said pocket. Something such as a “cable” (thread) hanging from a uniform seam was worth one gig. Shoes not properly shined was an infraction good for two gigs. Late for formation cost four gigs. You were allowed a total of six “free” gigs a week, no more. Besides the gig slips one carried there were slips you placed at your bunk and in the latrine or hallway if you had cleanup duty in those areas. Mister Osterhuber once told me he would make sure I had enough gigs on my record at the squadron so I would never have an open post during my 12 weeks at Lackland.
Larry Jones recalls how his upper class caught some of his classmates coming and going with demerits: “When a faux pas was committed and observed by an ever present upperclassman, he requested the offender to get him a gig slip whereupon one would remove a slip from one’s pocket and write oneself up for the dastardly deed. When he departed one would resume one’s course of travel. But AH-HA! Now one only had two gig slips in one’s pocket. The Law clearly stated one was not to have two slips or four slips, but three. In this scenario the aforementioned upperclassman would have a heretofore-unseen cohort nearby. At this time said cohort would approach and inquire as to the number of gig slips in the pocket. Gigged again!” [You were supposed to carry extra forms in your back pocket Larry!]
Gigs beyond six were to be marched off on the “tour path” which was the street in front of the barracks. Marching was done in class “A” uniform, four hours on Saturday afternoon and two hours on Sunday afternoon. We got a ten minute latrine break once an hour. Hundreds of cadets pacing up and down the street in an elongated rectangle, leaving black heel marks on the asphalt that took most of the next week to fade away, what a way of life!
After two weeks of harassment by the upper class I finally got to see the inside of the Cadet Club. It wasn’t on a Saturday evening however, it was on a Sunday morning. Several of us were on detail as the cleanup crew. The cadet in charge of us was big hearted and let us buy a milkshake after we “GI’ed” the interior of the club building and that cold vanilla shake was one of the highlights of my six weeks as an underclassman.
As a base Lackland was run-of-the-mill, although it was quite a large post. There were no aircraft there, and it had neither airfield facilities (hangars) nor a runway. [Tony Bautz recalls having seen a few static display aircraft. He has a photo of an F-82 taken at Lackland in 1954.] Rated officers assigned to Lackland flew aircraft based out of Kelly Field. (There are better than a hundred aircraft at Lackland, on static display for motivational purposes, in 1991.)
The academic curriculum took up about 255 of our 524 hours of formal training time. All reading and writing courses had recently been dropped and some other areas had been beefed up. We had courses such as: History and Traditions of the Air Force, Military Law, Physics, Psychology of Flight, and Strategic Intelligence. Courses in mathematics were stressed, mostly applied math in one form or another. The one that gave the most trouble and caused a washout in my class was the course on plotting and interpreting graphs and vectors which had a direct application to navigation and winds aloft.
Eight hours of class time was spent viewing a lengthy and well done film documentary titled “The United States Air Force Story” and I never heard any complaints about that part of our training. Besides being interesting (with lots of shoot-em-up footage) there were no quizzes on the material.
A little over 50% of our formal training time was devoted to military training, cut up into such things as - Drill and Ceremonies, Military Customs and Courtesies, and Small Arms Familiarization. A lot of extra military training came after hours and on weekends, via the upper class.
One week after my arrival at Lackland, on April 2nd, 1954, a sad occurrence befell the Air Force. Those members who had been on board for a while and really knew something about the service’s history since it had become a separate branch of the military in 1947 were particularly affected. On that date General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, died at Walter Reed Hospital, in Washington, DC. The effect on Class 55-Q was a little temporary relief from upper class torment as 400 upper class cadets and six tactical officers from the three squadrons were flown to Washington to take part in General Vandenberg’s funeral procession. Mister Osterhuber was one of those who left for a few days. With all due respect to General Vandenberg, I have to comment as to what a nice weekend it was for me. [General Nathan Twining succeeded General Vandenberg as Chief of Staff on June 30, 1953.]
One of the more enjoyable things we did during our training was the course in water survival. Later I would have much more realistic courses but Lackland’s instructors made due with a rather small recreational type outdoor swimming pool. As I was already a good swimmer the course was more fun than anything else.
Then there was “Project X,” down on Leon Creek, an obstacle course, patterned on an almost identical unit at the Squadron Officer’s school at Maxwell Field. We had 10 hours to negotiate the various problems and we needed all of that time. At the end of the day we were dirty, tired, and hoping we would never see Project X again. By the time I got to Squadron Officer’s School [Maxwell AFB], five years later, it had been cut from that program so I didn’t have to take the training again.
One of the Project X problems was this: There was a small bridge which had to be crossed but saboteurs have blown it up. We had to figure out how to use the bridge because all of the surrounding area is radioactive and very dangerous. A number of wooden beams were supplied, none of which was long enough to traverse the bridge’s missing span. Below was a pit full of mud and water. Good luck!
The next problem involved a group of pilings, also over mud and water, which were the remains of a pier. A submarine was said to be waiting in the water beyond the pier. The mission was to transport a dummy with a broken back across the pilings. The catch (once again): The area surrounding and below the dock was contaminated with radioactivity and touching anything else but the pilings would have been fatal. (Not to mention cold, wet and filthy dirty.)
We all thought we were being graded by the training officers as to our potential leadership qualities so in the course of figuring out how to solve the problems everyone wanted to be a chief, no one wanted to be an Indian. It was probably a pretty funny sight.
Time passed slowly in many ways, due to our being kept in a constant state of semi-terror by N class. They had us out in the squadron area doing the “duck walk” on the lawn, picking up minute bits of trash. Uniform inspections, locker inspections, cadet knowledge quizzes, all were to be expected whenever the upper class was in the area. The pressure was on and it did serve a purpose. Anyone who would break under the minor inconvenience of the preflight hazing routine would not be the kind of man you would want flying on your wing in combat, or so we were told.
For me, the hardest part of preflight was anything having to do with physical stress, such as physical training (PT), long runs, even “Project X.” This was because I’d never been athletically inclined, interested in sports (other than motorcycle racing), or in very good physical condition. The academics, upper class harassment, and “cadet knowledge” memorization requirements didn’t bother me at all. As a freshman in college I pledged for the Pershing Rifles, the R.O.T.C. organization somewhat akin to a fraternity. The upperclassmen in college hazed us as severely as anything N class could throw at me at Lackland.
Some 25 years later while trying to tell my son what to expect as a plebe at the Naval Academy I described all the physical exertion stress but didn’t even think to tell him about the memorization, etc. That was a mistake. He was in top physical condition, having been on his high school cross-country track team, a nonsmoker, etc. The annoyance of the upper class hazing routine came as a complete and shocking surprise to him. (He spent several years as an F-14 pilot with VF-194, the “Red Lightnings” and now [1990] flies one of the Navy’s few F-16’s in the aggressor squadron at the Top Gun School.) [1993 update - He flies the F-18.] [1996 update - The aggressors now have F-5’s.] [1998 update – He flies for American Airlines.]
Just about anywhere we went we marched as a flight. This was done to counted cadence, or, more popularly, to various songs and ditties. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” was a favorite, being handed down from class to class. Another was: “GI beans and GI gravy, Gee, I wish I’d joined the Navy. Hip-oh, hop-oh, bring out the mop-oh, Let’s go right or left. Am I right or wrong? You’re right!”
Mail call was a really big thing and what a thrill to get three or four letters in one day! I still have a picture Dick Epp took of me holding three letters from my girlfriend; they showed up at one mail call. She wrote faithfully, every day. I met her, a student nurse, through Ruane Burth, a few days after we returned home from Sampson. I tried to write to her two or three times a week and that was accomplished during my only free time, after lights out, sitting on the edge of my bunk and using the moonlight coming through the barracks window as my source of light.
We got our first regular paycheck of $109.20 after 5 weeks, plus some extra for the days in March we had been on active duty, less a small amount that had been advanced to us our first week. Cadet pay had recently been increased to that figure from the previous $75 a month, This amount was said to include additional pay for hazardous (flying) duty; but as the non-flying preflight cadets and those at flight school received the same pay the logic of this allegation was a little hard to follow.
During the period of April 14th to April 17th Lackland played host to the South Western Conference Boxing Meet, with the winners to advance to the worldwide all services boxing competition. The matches were held in a 10,000 seat open air arena. We were fortunate enough to be able to go to Saturday evening’s finals. We saw men from each weight class go at each other; the final bout was the heavyweight match. It was a lot of fun and a much better way to spend the evening than being confined to barracks.
Some of the upper class activities bordered on being illegal, even for the aviation cadet program. I was lucky in that I wasn’t one of those picked on for “extra” attention in these areas. The cadet they went after was Jack Le Tourneau, from Hughson, California. He had four wisdom teeth pulled one afternoon at the dental clinic. Later he was forced to stand at attention by some upper class cadets with his mouth wide open for an extended period of time while upperclassmen examined his surgery. All this while he was in considerable pain from the procedure. The upper class then put him in the broom closet and tried to knock him out with tobacco smoke, blown into the small vent in the bottom of the door. Jack, an observer, was one of the first Vietnam casualties, going down in a C-47 in February 1962.
Note: One 55-N class member later asked me if my sources on this incident were reliable as the story is almost unbelievable. This is firsthand information and one of my clearest memories of Lackland. It should have been reported to the 55-N Cadet Welfare Officer although I do not recall I knew of the existence of such a person at the time.
Our upper class graduated on May 11th, 1954, and we were very happy to see them go. It was the high point of preflight for me, with a score of A+ on the “milkshake” scale. On that same day the first of our under class arrived. It was class 55-T, if you utilize the designation given to the pilot portion of the class. This was the common way classes were identified at Lackland. The actual and official class number was T-10, a combination of pilot class 55-T and observer class 55-10.
The new class was much smaller than our class. Class 55-T consisted of 187 U.S. cadets where 55-Q had 519 U.S cadets and 28 foreign cadets. The cadet wind-down was at last gathering speed. Class 55-T’s washout rate, while not as low as that of 55-N, was about half the rate of loss in my class. This observation lends credence to our theory about the class system’s wave effect.
When we took over as the new upper class we also started wearing stripes on our shoulder boards, according to recommendations made by the departing class. Their recommendations for promotions to cadet officer and NCO status were one of their final acts before they moved on to primary flight school. One N class member was assigned to give us some practice drill and he let a number of people take over the chore for a few minutes at a time. Later he told me, “As soon as I heard your voice I knew the flight had its new drill sergeant.” I had been a speech major in college and had had lots of practice conducting drill during my R.O.T.C. experience so I was good at it. Dick Epp became a cadet officer and wore three stripes, one more than I’d been given. The new cadet wing colonel, top grade in the 3741st, was Dick Henry, from California, a little older than the rest of us. He was 23 and had more education as well: 2 ½ years of college. His vice commander was Nick Simon, who came from the enlisted ranks; he had been a staff sergeant. I got to know Nick quite well at basic flight school. He was a fine soldier and looked up to by his fellow cadets. We were all incredulous, to say the least, when he SIE’ed a few weeks prior to commissioning.
Flight Sergeant was a really good deal, the best thing going. I didn’t have to go to any staff meetings and my only job of any importance was forming up the troops for parades. To do that I put the officers and the guidon bearer at the front of the formation and lined up the rest of the men in ranks and files according to height. When this was done I usually had one or two people left over as I evened off the rear of the formation. I made darn sure I was extraneous to the squared off troop deployment and as they prepared to march off to Bong Field I could fade away to the barracks to enjoy a siesta.
I wasn’t too nasty to my underclassmen, except for my encounters with a particular individual named Bishop, from Delaware. For some reason I thought he wasn’t very motivated as to the seriousness of the program and he was taking it all too lightly. From what I have since heard, I was way off base on that opinion. So, if you are reading this, Colonel Bishop, I’m really sorry for the hard time I gave you at Lackland in ‘54.
As an upperclassman I did get to go off post a few times, even though Mister Osterhuber thought he had removed the possibility for me. We won a few parade contests, which resulted in a general amnesty for those owing weekend tours and that got me off the hook. Once several of us went to the San Antonio Zoo, which made for a nice Sunday afternoon outing. Another time we visited the Alamo in downtown San Antonio. And, no trip to San Antonio would have been complete without a stop at Tony’s Mirror Shine shoeshine parlor, on East Houston Street.
One Saturday evening at Lackland really stands out in my mind, as though it had just happened last week. It was the 5th of June, a few days before I graduated. I was free to leave the cadet area on the west side of the base, though I couldn’t go off post, and just to get away for a while I went across Military Highway to the east side of Lackland. Wing Headquarters was over there, as was the hospital and the Officer’s Club. Lackland’s original Officer’s Club burned down in 1949 and while waiting for construction of a new facility on the old site a former cadet dining hall was pressed into temporary use as a club. (The “temporary” club was still being used as the Officer’s Club 36 years later!) During those years the Officer’s Club and the N.C.O. Club had some top talent playing weekend dates and on this particular night Tex Beneke and his Glenn Miller style band was doing duty in the “Stardust Room” at the “O” Club.
I’d been a big Miller fan for several years, having been introduced to the Miller sound back in New Jersey at the clubs out on Route 23, the old Pompton Turnpike, in Cedar Grove. Miller’s music was still popular and featured on the juke boxes at the Colonial Inn, Clem’s Place, and Frank Daily’s Meadowbrook, that last place being a spot Glenn Miller played at in the 40’s. As I sat in the dark, out in front of the club, listening to the music, I tried to picture the scene inside as the officers and their ladies did their thing on the dance floor. My mind wandered to the unknown future ahead. Would I ever actually be able to live a life such as that, an officer, who could walk into any officer’s club anywhere, without being thrown out on the street, where I now sat? The goal seemed so far away. I didn’t know if I had any talent as far as being able to fly an airplane, much less the ability to make it through the 13 months left of my cadet training. Try as I might, I couldn’t visualize myself as a pilot and an officer. It was a melancholy evening.
During the last few weeks prior to graduation from preflight we did a lot of marching to the sounds of the hit tune, “Bongo - Bongo - Bongo, I Don’t Want To Go To Hondo!” — Hondo being a flying training base near San Antonio and good for about $1.50 in travel pay. We needed a bigger chunk of travel pay than that to finance our leave between Lackland and primary flight school. Also, we heard Marana, Arizona, was overrun with rattlesnakes and scorpions and you didn’t want to go to the base in Columbus, Mississippi, because it rained there all of the time and you would never get to do any flying. Winterhaven (in Florida) was supposed to be the garden spot of the contract schools.
Finally, the big day came. This was one parade I wouldn’t miss! It was Friday, June 25th, one day later than our scheduled graduation date, and we were more than ready to move on to bigger and better things. There were 433 of us out on the field, one proud bunch of men. The featured speaker was a Colonel McTague, Commanding Officer of the Observer Training Group at Mather Field, California. His talk was mostly navigator oriented, but we didn’t care. He told us a short story that must have been a favorite of his, about young tigers learning how to catch game. They had to “practice little jumps,” before going on to big jumps. “If they [you] do that properly the big ones will be easy.” [Mather was a pilot training base from June 1918. Undergraduate navigator training began in August 1941. Mather closed in September, 1993.]
On Saturday afternoon I headed out the gate and down the road to International Airport, bound for primary flying school. I’d be an under classman again, but so what? I’d be in the air and that was what counted. It never crossed my mind that Class 55-N was waiting for me at Spence Field, Georgia, and the first person I would see there a few weeks later, after my two weeks leave in New Jersey, would be none other than “Mr. Sunshine” himself, Rip Osterhuber!

What ever happened to “Mr. Sunshine,” Rip Osterhuber? In 1955 the active duty obligation for pilot graduates was either three or four years. If you wanted to go to one of the advanced training bases out of basic, i.e., F-94’s, B-29’s, helicopters, etc., you had to sign a four-year commitment. The three-year people typically got an exciting assignment on the DEW Line staring at a RADAR scope. There were, of course, exceptions and some three-year men got flying jobs. Osterhuber did a three-year tour flying C-124’s in MATS and left active duty in 1958. His first civilian job was with Aramco in Saudi Arabia. Next came a job as a corporate pilot with General Motors. Finally, into the scheduled airline business with United. He retired from United Airlines on April 1st, 1990 and now lives in Oregon.

As of 1 Oct 1990 UPT graduates all have a ten-year active duty service commitment.


Anton “Tony” Bautz of Cadet Class 55-N has written a complete summary of his Lackland experience. He was an A2C Radio Maintenance Man working on F-84’s at Dow AFB, Maine, when he received orders to report to preflight in February, 1954. Bautz, at 23 years of age, had been a U.S. citizen for only three months.
The initial treatment Bautz received from the white gloved 55-K upper class was, as he later described it, “repugnant.”
“I was ordered to cut my stripes off my uniform in a loud, sarcastic and degrading voice. This was insulting, as I’d worked hard for those stripes. Most of the upper class had been civilians before Lackland, but now they were the Lords and we (55-N) were the scum.
“I made up my mind to put up with it since all new arrivals were treated equally roughly and I wanted to become a pilot.”
Tony Bautz was one of the “N” class cadets selected for the Washington trip to participate in the funeral of General Vandenberg.
He remembers the C-124 flight to Washington: “Very exciting for prospective pilots!”
Bautz retired from USAF in 1972 after logging more than 5,900 flying hours. He was an AC-119K gunship pilot in Vietnam in 1970/71.

Labels: , ,