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Columnist remembers: On the wings of the wind in World War II

Editor’s Note: This is an installment in a series of guest columns from Charles Eurey  on his  memories of flight training during World War II.

Our time to leave Lemoore Air Base was drawing near.  We would be going to colderclimes, namely La Junta, Colo.

That was going to be a big change, especially in the weather. However, in the next phase we would be flying one of my favorite planes, the Mitchell B-25.  I was going to miss the San Joaquin Valley and Fresno.  Flying the BT-15 and the twin-engine AT-17 in basic training had been a treat.

December was rushing by and Christmas was on the way.  I had been away from home for nearly a year. There had been times of loneliness, but on the other hand, I had been so busy that days seemed to fly by. Our hearts tend to turn home around Christmas, a time when we long to be with family and friends. But that would not happen yet.

It seemed such a long time since I had left North Carolina and traveled to Florida, then Illinois, then all the way across the country to California.

Sometimes I wondered why I was sent all the way from the East Coast to the West Coast.  You would think there would be many training fields closer to the East Coast. But who is to question the powers that be?

In retrospect I  am glad I was sent to California, because it is such a beautiful state, especially the San Joaquin Valley.  It’s such a lush, productive area that it brings to mind the Garden of Eden.

When I entered the Army Air Corp I was a private making $50 a month. That figures to $1.66 per day. Even then, it was not much money when you consider we had to pay for our personal needs.  When we started to fly, our  pay went up to $75 per month. This was due to 50 percent hazardous-duty pay for flying. A bonus you might say, but by any name it was welcome. After all, that 50 percent increase bumped me up to $2.50 per day. Don’t knock it my friend.

To people who have never been in the armed services it is hard to explain the camaraderie that develops among a group of strangers thrown together with no rhyme or reason. In classification at Santa Ana I ended up in a group who were mostly from the West and North.  My friend from home, Stern Warlick, had washed out and was sent to another part of the country. That bunch of Westerners and Yankees gave me the nickname “Rebel,” since I was from the South.

Later, when I was overseas, my radio man said he thought Rebel was my real name since that was all he had ever heard me called.

I don’t really know how it happened but we were becoming a cohesive, gung-ho group of young men. As we went along in training we noticed that familiar faces were no longer with us. They had failed to pass the tests and were washed out. That was a dreaded word that we didn’t want to hear, but it did happen and  the size of our group grew smaller.

The year 1943 was drawing to a close.   I was far from home at Christmas.

Oh how I missed the folks back home, but the best I could do was a phone call to hear those familiar voices again.  That was a real joy.  I had to remember not to call at nine o’clock Pacific time, cause that’s midnight back home.  I made that mistake one time and woke everybody up.

No matter how far you roam, there’s no place like home.  I can attest to that.

That’s  just the way it was … in the good old days.

Charles Eurey is a Lincoln Times-News guest columnist.

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