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Moving on down the line in 1943

Editor’s Note: This is another in a series from Charles Eurey recounting flight training during World War II.

Christmas 1943  was over and the new year had begun. It was time for us to leave Lemoore and the beautiful San Joaquin valley and head for colder weather in La Junta Colorado. Man, what a change from the  mild climate of the San Joaquin to the snowy climes near the foot of Pikes Peak.

It was cold when we arrived at La Junta, with about eight or 10 inches of snow on the ground. We were housed in little hut-like structures, four men to each hut. Our quarters were heated with a coal stove that was tended by an enlisted man. We didn’t have to worry about that. The latrine was in a centrally located building that served a number of the huts. That meant that we had to dress in order to go use the toilet, shave or shower. It wasn’t too bad unless you had to make a trip in the middle of the night. Oh man, that was a chilly trip.

At La Junta there were two classes of cadets, upper and lower. We were the lower. The upper class had been there a while before us and were about half way through their training. When they graduated we would move to the upper class and a new lower class would come in.

We were there to train in the B-25 and I was elated about that. It was a great plane, the same one that General Jimmy Doolittle had flown off of a carrier to bomb Tokyo earlier in the war. That was an unbelievable feat and I still marvel that it could be done. The B-25 is a very stable aircraft and it had a speed that far exceeded anything we had flown thus far. It was a real combat plane.

We were quickly introduced to the ground and air activities. Of course there was the usual school work: Morse code, aircraft ID, weather, and our old friend the “link trainer” that taught us how to fly blind.

One thing that was superb at La Junta was the food. It was the best I had in the service. For instance the cooks would make my eggs over-light, just the way I like them. Every meal was good and best of all we didn’t have to wash dishes. No more KP duty. What a relief.

We were immediately involved with flying. First we had to be checked out by instructors since the B-25 was much more powerful than what we had been flying, with a top speed of around 250 miles per hour. However, it was an easy plane to fly.

We flew as two-man crews, pilot and co-pilot. We alternated flying the two positions. Also, we did some cross country flying and on some occasions were tempted to fly low, especially if we saw a herd of cattle that we could buzz and watch them run. This was not part of the proscribed training and in fact was severely frowned upon by our superiors.

The biggest hurdle to flying at La Junta was the weather. The upper class had priority since they had to get a specific number of hours in before they could graduate. Therefore they got first dibs, which sometimes meant that we had to go to a 12-hour schedule:  twelve hours on the flight line and twelve hours off to do our chores and sleep.

But this was advanced flight training and when we graduated we would get our wings and commissions as Second Lieutenants. That made it much easier to put up with  the cold weather and the hectic schedule. I knew I could endure it for a bit longer.

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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