Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Doughboy to Flyboy

My dad didn't fly jets like my brother in law Tom but he did fly. His interest in airplanes came about after several years of selling bread. How he got from delivering bread to grocery stores in Jacksonville, Florida to flying for the Army Air Corps in Panama is an interesting story.

Daddy went to the University of Florida after high school, but starting college in 1930 wasn't exactly great timing. He had saved some money and had an uncle who was a history professor at UF but he still ran out of money after one year.

He found a job selling bread and moved to Jacksonville. While there he met Harvey Dobbs, who sold for a competing bread company. He said they used to move each others bread products out of sight or to the bottom shelf since they delivered to the same stores. The competition actually helped them develop a friendship that lasted for over 50 years.

Harvey's father Arthur Dobbs was an inventor and when Daddy went to Miami with Harvey on a trip he met his father and got hooked on airplanes. Arthur Dobbs was mechanically inclined and invented a carburetor system for planes that allowed them to fly upside down. He had his own plane and took my Dad up flying.

Daddy said he decided then and there he wanted to fly planes. He hung around Mr Dobbs for a while, flew every chance he got and even went to New York with him trying to sell the carburetor to the military.

With no money and no experience the only way to fly was to find someone else who had a plane. Uncle Sam was the obvious choice so he contacted an Army recruiter. They of course told him whatever was necessary to get him to sign. He held off when they wouldn't guarantee he could fly and I guess he didn't want to end up cleaning latrines.

Finally he found out he could take a test and qualify for flight school. Having always been a good student he decided to enlist and on July 18, 1936 at 24 years of age joined the Army Air Corps. He was shipped off to the France Field at the Panama Air Depot. He left Brooklyn, New York on September 1, 1936 via a troop carrier. After a while in Panama he was able to fly the WWI era planes they had down there.

His dream was flight school at Randolph Field in Texas so after getting up in the air in Panama he started applying and doing whatever was necessary to get into flight school. Finally on September 30, 1937 he was sent from Panama to the Air Corps Primary Flying School, Randolph Field, Texas.

Unfortunately he found flight school was a lot harder than the flying he had done in Panama and he was now over 26 years old, past the age of other recruits. After six months he was disqualified from flight school for a "flying deficiency." My Dad was not one to give up easily, a trait he never lost. He was sure he could pass flight school, saw others get a second chance and after all his work wanted one for himself.

He contacted an old friend from Perry, Florida who now happened to be a United States Senator from Florida. Claude Pepper went right to the top, Brigadier General James Eugene Chaney who at the time was Assistant Chief of the Army Air Corps. Unfortunately the Army didn't appreciate a lowly Air Cadet trying to pull strings and denied his request. He never got back into flight school but stayed in the military and eventually flew as the bombardier on bombers with the 9th Bomb Group in the Pacific theatre.

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