Friday, February 21, 2014

A Box of Senators

My dad had this old Muriel Senators cigar box for many years that he kept mementos in. Many of the items were from his early days in the Army and Air Force.

One of the more interesting was a telegram he received 76 years ago today.

It is dated February 21, 1938 and was sent to him at the U.S. Army base, Randolph Field in San Antonio, Texas by the U.S. Senator from Florida, Claude Pepper.

He knew Claude Pepper from his days in Taylor County, Florida where my dad was born.

Pepper was born in Alabama in 1900 but moved to Perry, Florida in the 1920s after graduating from Harvard Law School. He opened a law practice and in 1936 was elected to the U.S. Senate. They were only 12 years apart in age but when he sent this telegram he and my dad were at opposite ends of influence.

My dad had been in the U.S. Army for only two years, while Pepper was near the height of his power. He was a close friend and ally of FDR and known as one of the most liberal members of Congress.

That came to hurt him a few years later when he was voted out of the Senate after his opponents accused him of being a Communist. Both he and my dad had the nickname "Red," for different reasons. Pepper made a comeback in 1963 and served in the US House of Representatives for 26 years.

Telegram from Senator Pepper
The telegram says Pepper had contacted Brigadier General James Chaney who at the time was the Assistant Chief of the U.S. Army Air Corps. My dad had called Pepper to ask his help so that he could stay in in the U.S Army Flight School. He had been told they were washing him out so he did what he could to try and stay in. It didn't work and the local Colonel introduced him to a shovel for going outside the chain of command.

Dad had learned to fly several years earlier. He had to drop out of college because he ran out of money. Starting college in 1930 was bad timing considering the depression that was just getting underway.

Daddy at Randolph Field 1938
He got a job delivering bread to grocery stores in Florida and met Harvey Dobbs, a competitor from another bread company. They became a life long friends. Harvey's father had a plane in Miami and took Daddy up several to teach him to fly. Trying to get into Flight School was one of the reasons he joined the U.S. Army in 1936. Again, timing worked against him as the standards for pilots in 1938 were very high since there were not many planes and those they had were WW I leftovers.

If he had been born a few years later when they were trying to fill the cockpits of all the new planes being built to send to WW II battle areas, he no doubt would have made it without any problem.

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