Chapter 1 - Orange, New Mexico, Charleston-South Carolina
I returned from Tour in New Guinea with 90th Bomb Group and assigned to 18th Replacement Wing in Salt Lake City. Assigned to 16th Bomb Wing Davis-Montham Field, Tucson, Arizona as 4 engine Pilot. On arrival I was assigned to the 39th Bomb Group as an Instructor pilot in B-24 crew training (still a 2nd Lt). Clarence and Eleanor Wegner were based at the army base in Salt Lake. Clarence was my dad's cousin. As I had plenty of gasoline coupons they agreed to drive me to Orange, CA and to visit with Ewald and Nettie. They had a un- air-conditioned Packard and I drove it across the desert to Orange. Much to my impatience we had to stop in various shady spots along the route to cool the "old folks" off, but we finally got to Orange, CA. When I first arrived at San Francisco from New Guinea before I went on to Salt Lake City, I went to Grizzly Peak Ave, Berkley and meet Magee, Jane's step-mother and invited Jane to come to Orange for a visit. I still hadn't met Jane's dad, "Pat". After I got back to Orange from Salt Lake City Jane came down to Orange to meet my folks.
I remember they were surprised to learn that she was 17 years old, but they soon found that she was mature and I was lucky to have found her. The folk's friends, ie: Carlsons, Castos, etc. were very curious about this out of town girl who had "captured Bobby boy" when most of them had eligible daughters. My mother furnished an old family diamond she had for our engagement ring. Jane and I decided to get married in Tucson as soon as she was 18 in August. At this time I wrote a letter to Jane's dad asking for permission to marry Jane. He gave it and we were married on the 7th of August 1943 at the Base Chapel. We had a couple of my pilot friends from the Base to be best man and witnesses. I will only mention, sheepishly that I over-slept and was late picking up Jane at the Hotel for the wedding. I don't think I was over 1/2 an hour late. We first lived in a motel at the south end of town for a few weeks. One day we were at the Officers Club and a Lt. was posting a notice for a house rental in Tucson a few miles from the base. We rented it that same day. It was a small house in the back or side yard of a larger house. We liked our landlord and settled into home making, painting and fixing up this little home.
Jane wasn't much of a cook and Nettie wrote a cookbook for her to use with lots of her own and my favorite recipes in it. My daughter in-law Carol has this same hand written cookbook now. I had never been checked out as first pilot on the B-24 in New Guinea nor had I practiced many landings. However, I had no trouble passing the flight check for instructor pilot.
On the 4th August 43 I began flying as instructor pilot with newly formed B-24 crews at Davis-Montham. During a day flying session with a student crew (I was only checked out to fly as an instructor pilot during day time at this time) there was a B-24 accident on our runway and the field was closed while the mess was cleared. In the mean time the sun has set and it became very dark. My student pilot was barely checked out for days flying let alone nights so I figured that I could do better than him bringing in the plane on a dark night. We finally were cleared to land well after dark. The next day I went to my training operations officer to get written off as qualified for night transition. I got it. I was the only instructor with a DFC and combat time in this Training Group and I was put in for promotion to 1st Lt. during this period.
Oct 1943 a number of instructors including me, were reassigned to a newly formed 400th Training Group at Alamagordo, New Mexico. By the 7 October I was flying with the 608th Sq, 400 BG. I went alone to Alamagordo as the USAF said there was absolutely no housing available for any dependents. Jane drove our 1941 Chevy coupe back to California -she probably had only driven a few times before making this trip by herself. I remember I gave her a hammer to carry on the seat beside her for protection. A few weeks later Nettie and Ewald and Jane arrived in Almagordo. Mother and Jane took to the streets looking for a place for Jane and I to live. The was a REAL shortage of housing in Alamagordo but on the first day they found a room for us in a local home. The husband of the woman who owned this house was a sheep-herder who came home about every other week. Never did see him, only heard him when he did make his congical visits. We shared a single bath with the rest of the house.
Jane went back to California with the folks and drove our red 41 Chevey back to New Mexico. We slept in our room but ate most of our meals at the base mess halls. They let the wives eat there also. They were always running out of the regular items on the menu and would revert to some kind of eggs. Our best friends were two crew members and their wives, The husbands were to go overseas to Italy when they finished their B-24 crew training at Almagordo. Lt and Mrs. Buffas and Linc and Jerrie. Linc was a bombardier and he was killed later when his plane was shot down in Italy. Buffas went to live in New York after the war. My job here was instructing new B-24 crews on formation flying, bombing and navigation missions, gunnery practice, both at ground targets and towed targets. As it was at Tucson the crews had not flown together before they arrived at Almagordo and the pilots all needed more instruction on flying the B-24's. The flying area was over New Mexico desert. We would go north as far as Albuquerque, east towards west Texas and south to El Paso. We would go west towards the Arizona border. Bombing and Gunnery practice was done in the area between Almagordo and Las Cruces. After a few months of cold weather and snow at New Mexico, flying training missions almost Every day, our training group was moved on Dec 8 1943 to Charleston Air Base at Charleston, S.C.
We rented a room in a large home in old downtown Charleston. Jane was pregnant so before David was born we bought a small 2 bedroom frame house in a new housing development between the city and the air base. We had to buy furniture etc. I remember the house was heated by a coal stove at the end of the hall between the two bed rooms. The base let us buy coal very cheap at so much a car trunk load. We had to pick it up ourselves from the base coal pile. Dirty stuff both getting and using it in the house. David Robert Wegner was born at the Navy hospital, Charleston Navy Yard on March 16 1945. Our neighbors at this housing track were Lt Jimmy and Hattie Briscoe and next door was a Navy Lt, his wife and his sister. I gave him a ride in the B-24 one day and I was suppose to go on a sea trial for a new destroyer from the Navy yard where he was assigned. Due to flight scheduling I missed this ride. Hattie Briscoe was a Home Ed major and a wonderful cook. At least we always said she was. When ever we were invited over to eat at their home we always ate late and it seemed there was never enough. So as we said it always seemed good because we left still hungry for more. They probably taught this in her school. Most of our entertainment was at the Officers club on base.
The training group started getting additional instructors returning from the combat theaters. Ensenberger's were one couple. We visited them after the war in Memphis where he had become a mortician. Blantons were another couple. My first Flight was on the 19 Dec 1943 for 3 hours. Probably was a test flight on a B-24. From Dec 1943 -May 1945 I was A 1st Lt. assigned 400th Bombardment Group, 610th Bombardment Squadron (H) as instructor pilot training replacement crews for European theater. We would receive new B-24 crews with the pilot having completed transition school in B-24's. The remainder of the crew were all new to the B-24. We first re- checked-out the 1st pilots and then started crew training in bombing, gunnery, and navigation missions. Towards the end of the training we gave the co-pilot 5 landings from the right seat. Most missions were scheduled for 5 hours and I flew with a crew from 10 to 15 times a month. If we didn't fly we were assigned ground duties in the control tower or Base Operations.
During their training at Charleston the crews were required to make several long five-hour cross- country navigation flight. When some of the crews didn't get back until after 7-8 hours flying we would put a check pilot or navigator on their next navigation flight. I remember one of these flights I made. We were to fly from Charleston AB to Omaha, Nebraska and return. The navigator was supposed to use celestial and dead reckoning. It was generally clear for the whole flight and I kept track of our position by the plane's radio compass and following our position on my map. As we approached Omaha I noted it off to our right about 10- 15 miles. No word from the navigator so I let him go another 15 minutes. Since we seemed to be heading for Canada, I called the navigator on intercom and asked him about our arrival at Omaha, our returning point. He replied that we haven't crossed over Omaha yet. I asked him about his estimated time to Omaha and he said we had passed it some 20 minutes ago. I finally got through to him that maybe we might have passed to one side of it and we shouldn't keep going on without thinking about this possibility and maybe starting a search for Omaha. He got the point and I hope he remembered it when he left Charleston and flew overseas.