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DALHART AAF 15-21


ARTICLE 15

Spencer trained in the WACO CG-4A glider at Dalhart AAF in early 1943

This is the 15th article in a series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD during WWII.

John W. McCullough, Graduate Student in History, Texas Tech University

One of the many student glider pilots who trained at Dalhart AAF in WWII was Leon B. Spencer.

Spencer was born in Montgomery, Ala., in September, 1924.  He enlisted in the service, the US Army Air Corps, when he was 16 years old on October 17, 1940.

On Saturday, October 11, 2011, while at the National WWII Glider Pilot Association’s reunion in Oklahoma City, Okla., Spencer gave an interview about his experiences as a glider pilot during WWII.

Spencer first trained as a glider pilot at the pre-glider, or “dead stick”, school at Spencer, Iowa.   He was a Staff Sgt. during that time.  He then trained at Vinita, Okla., in the fall of 1942.  That was his basic glider training.

He was then sent to South Plains Army Air Field (SPAAF) in Lubbock but there were too many students and not enough gliders for training; so the Army Air Forces sent Spencer and his class to Dalhart AAF.  Of the 96 students in his class, about eight or ten were student officers.

They arrived at Dalhart AAF on a Sunday afternoon in January, 1943, from what he recalled, and they were scheduled to start flying the following Tuesday.

“So we immediately started training to fly CG-4A’s.  Each instructor had four students.  On every flight, all four students flew; of course, one would be the pilot and one would be the co-pilot and the other two would be passengers, and there was the instructor, of course”, explained Spencer.

“But rather than fly just one at-a-time, every flight, all four students were in the glider; one would be flying the glider with an instructor, or one would be co-pilot, and the other two would be sitting in the back, you know, as students, to acquaint us with the CG-4A.”

“We only got 12 hours of flying in the WACO; 6 hours as pilot and 6 hours as co-pilot.  Just before we were scheduled to graduate, the Air Force had decided to turn the airfield into a twin-engine school for training.”

Besides his class of 96 students, there were about four or five other classes training at Dalhart AAF when Spencer was there.  These other classes had about the same number of students as Spencer’s class.  All these other classes graduated ahead of his class.

When asked to describe Dalhart AAF, Spencer replied, “When we first arrived there and got off the bus, I thought it was the most desolate place in the world.  It was devoid any anything except a few old tarpaper buildings and things.  There was a typical WWII wooden control tower.”

“They kept us so busy while we were there we never got into the nearby town.” 

He did not recall anyone at the base leaving to go into Dalhart.

Spencer explained that they had two weeks of flying time and also the ground school training which took another couple of weeks.

“Even at Dalhart, there was only a small number of gliders and a small number of tow planes, so you didn’t get to fly every day.”

When asked about hangars, Spencer did not recall any, but felt that there had to be some because they had to store the gliders and tow planes somewhere out of the weather.

He recalled that Dalhart AAF had an administration building, barracks, and the operations building, all of which were covered in black tarpaper.

He explained that the operations building was used to control the flight activities and was located very close to the control tower.

“The administration building took care of your special orders and all the administrative duties that were required for the military.”

“And, of course, there was a big mess hall which was also black tarpaper.”

The living quarters, or barracks, had pot-bellied stoves to help keep them warm in the winter.  One stove was located at each end of the building.

“We did not have double-decker bunks; we had single bunks at Dalhart in the barracks.”

The Air Force provided the glider pilots with warm, fleeced-lined jackets, flying clothes, pants, and boots.

“One of the things that we did on the flight line, we had big 55-gallon drums filled with material to burn to keep everybody warm.  Those were actually on what we called the apron.”

“We had light aircraft there, too; including two L-5’s, which were the high-powered aircraft with the 185hp engine.”

“There were twenty-five of the L-2’s, L-3’s, and L-4’s, and two of the L-5’s”, added Spencer.

The L-2 was the military name for the Taylorcraft light aircraft.  The L-3 was built by Aeronca.  The L-4 was built by Piper aircraft and was the military equivalent to the Piper Cub; the L-5 was called the Sentinel and was built by Stinson.

More about Leon Spencer’s time training in gliders during WWII will be discussed in the next article.

Spencer is now a retired major from the USAF Reserves.  He lives in Prattville, Ala., and researches the glider program from home.  He celebrated his 90th birthday in September, 2014.

Readers are encouraged to visit Silent Wings Museum on I-27 at Exit 9 just north of Lubbock to learn more about the glider program of WWII (www.silentwingsmuseum.com).

Readers are also asked to visit www.researchwars.org for more information about Dalhart AAF and call to John McCullough at (806)793-4448 if they can help with his research.



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ARTICLE 16


Post Exchange at Dalhart AAF made life more comfortable for the glider pilots


This is the 16th article in a series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD during WWII.

John W. McCullough, Graduate Student in History, Texas Tech University

One of the many student glider pilots who trained at Dalhart AAF in WWII was Leon B. Spencer.

Spencer was born in Montgomery, Ala., in September, 1924.  He enlisted in the service, the US Army Air Corps, when he was 16 years old on October 17, 1940.

On Saturday, October 11, 2011, while at the National WWII Glider Pilot Association’s reunion in Oklahoma City, Okla., Spencer gave an interview about his experiences as a glider pilot during WWII.

Spencer first trained as a glider pilot at the pre-glider, or “dead stick”, school at Spencer, Iowa.   He was a Staff Sgt. during that time.  He then trained at Vinita, Okla., in the fall of 1942.  That was his basic glider training.

After a brief trip to SPAAF in Lubbock, he arrived at Dalhart AAF on a Sunday afternoon in January, 1943, and they were scheduled to start flying the following Tuesday.

They immediately began training on the WACO CG-4A gliders which were towed by C-47 Skytrains.

When asked about some of his fellow pilots at Dalhart, Spencer recalled one named Bob Wonders who was a very close friend.  He bunked in Spencer’s barracks and was from San Jacinto, California.

Wonders was involved in a glider accident at Dalhart.

The instructor and another student in the same glider were killed in the crash which was caused by a wind storm or dirt storm as Spencer recalled; but Wonders and the other students in the glider survived although they were shaken up, recalled Spencer.

“A strong wind storm came up at night and he (the pilot) lost the horizon and he flew the glider and the instructor into the ground”, he explained.

Spencer added, “He lost his equilibrium; it was vertigo.”

“One thing about night flying that they cautioned us about, there was an effect called auto-kinesis.”

“And what auto-kinesis is, when you are flying behind a tow plane, you’re watching the exhaust from the tow plane, if you concentrate on that totally, a light on the road, will look like a car moving along the road, you’ll think it’s part of the aircraft moving and you fly towards that and you crash the glider in a lot of cases.”

“So if you stare hard enough it looks like it’s moving or something and sometimes it’s not moving or sometimes it’s a car on the road moving and not the aircraft.”

“So they teach you to look to the sides every now and then to adjust your eyes, cars on the ground, or watching a light of a building or something, a bright light.  It’s called auto-kinesis.”

Wonders was a passenger in the glider and not the pilot when it crashed.  He was only slightly injured and they just kept him overnight in the hospital, explained Spencer.

“Out of the twelve hours of flying, three hours was at night.”

Spencer explained that either the C-47’s or A-25’s would tow the WACO gliders up to about 1,000 feet to 1,500 feet and the flights did not last long.  They would take off fly you around the field, release the tow rope from the tow plane and land.

They landed on the grass beside the runways to save wear and tear on the gliders.  They would then rotate the students in the glider and take turns flying and landing the glider.

When asked about the condition of the grass next to the runways, Spencer said, “They were in good condition.  They were not wild grass.  You know it wasn’t like a golf course, but it was not wild grass.”

“What they used for night landings were smudge pots.”

“There were not runway lightings; we didn’t have any of that.”

“What they did was they put smudge pots at each of the corners of the area so we knew when we were flying we could see that and we knew where the field was and we knew which portion to land in.”

“And we had no lights on the gliders, either; because that was done later.  Later they added a landing light.  No lights on the WACO but the C-47 had landing lights.”

When asked about the food at Dalhart, Spencer chuckled, “Terrible; because these bases were built up so fast during the war, a lot of them were under-manned with partially-skilled people, so the food was not good.”

“We’d get hungry and go to the Post Exchange on the base and buy crackers and candy and stuff.”

“They sold things like tissues and smokes, tobacco.”

“Staff Sgts. made $96 per month but we got half of that in flight pay.  You earned fifty per cent of your base pay in flight pay, officially known as hazardous duty pay”, he explained.

Spencer said that he sent $50 a month home to his folks in Alabama.

More about Leon Spencer’s time training in gliders at Dalhart AAF during WWII will be discussed in the next article.

Spencer is now a retired major from the USAF Reserves.  He lives in Prattville, Ala., and researches the glider program from home.  He will celebrate his 91st birthday in September, 2015.

Readers are encouraged to visit Silent Wings Museum on I-27 at Exit 9 just north of Lubbock to learn more about the glider program of WWII (www.silentwingsmuseum.com).

Readers are also asked to visit www.researchwars.org for more information about Dalhart AAF and call to John McCullough at (806)793-4448 if they can help with his research.




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ARTICLE 17



Pranks livened things up for the glider pilots at Dalhart AAF


This is the 17th article in a series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD during WWII.

John W. McCullough, Graduate Student in History, Texas Tech University

One of the many glider pilots who trained at Dalhart AAF in WWII was Leon B. Spencer.

Spencer was born in Montgomery, Ala., in September, 1924.  He enlisted in the service, the US Army Air Corps, when he was 16 years old on October 17, 1940.

On Saturday, October 11, 2011, while at the National WWII Glider Pilot Association’s reunion in Oklahoma City, Okla., Spencer gave an interview about his experiences as a glider pilot during WWII.

Spencer trained in WACO CG-4A Gliders towed by Douglas C-47 Skytrains.  The C-47 was called the “Dakota” by the British.

When asked about his pay while a glider pilot at Dalhart AAF, Spencer replied, “Staff Sgts. made $96 per month but we got half of that in flight pay.  You earned fifty per cent of your base pay in flight pay, officially known as hazardous duty pay.”

Spencer said that $50 a month was deducted automatically from his pay and sent home to his folks in Alabama.

When asked if the amount of pay that he received as a sergeant was pretty good, Spencer said emphatically, “Very good; very good.”

“If you ate in the mess hall when you were a sergeant, they didn’t pay you a ration pay.  When you became an officer, they paid it to you but you had to pay for your meals; whereas, a sergeant didn’t, unless he was married.”

After Spencer graduated from Staff Sgt to Flight Officer earning his G-wings at SPAAF in Lubbock, his monthly pay increased considerably.

“Well, as a Flight Officers, we made $327 a month.”

“That was quarter’s allowance; that was base pay; that was flying pay; and ration allowance.”

When asked to sum up his time at Dalhart AAF, Spencer chuckled, “Quick”.

“As I say, we weren’t there all that long; they kept us so busy; I hardly ever saw anything on the base.  Between the flight lines and the quarters, the quarters was about all you ever saw or the PX (Post Exchange) maybe; because they kept us totally busy.  If we weren’t flying we were in ground school.”

“Well each barracks had showers at the end of the building.  They were just a long rectangular building and at one end was the latrine with showers, commodes, and sinks.”

“It was just a long thing with just six showerheads and eight or ten commodes and same amount of sinks.  Everything was open.  No privacy.  No privacy at all.”

There were usually two steps, as I recall, to the building.  The building was wood covered with tarpaper on it.  The inside of the walls were just two-by-fours.  They didn’t even put planking on the walls.  It was very cold.”

“Well, of course, they were trying to build them in a hurry.  The military service was growing at such a fast rate and they were trying to keep up with it.  The buildings were just slammed together.”

Besides Bob Wonders, Spencer also remembered another fellow glider pilot there, Carrol Timpte, but does not recall from where he came.

When asked about his flight instructor at Dalhart, Spencer replied, “He did a very good job.”

When asked about the instructor’s rank, he replied, “He was a flight officer.”

When asked about what he thought about the WACO CG-4A glider, Spencer replied, “I thought it was a mammoth aircraft because we had only flown small aircraft and small gliders.  So it was a behemoth to us.”

“Oddly enough, it was a simple-flying aircraft.  It was not difficult to fly; but looking at the aircraft, it looked like a dragonfly.  It was a very ugly aircraft as far as aesthetics.”

“We had all the instruments we needed to fly.  The only difference, we could not do blind flying in the (WACO) glider but the British did in their glider.”

The British flew the AIRSPEED HORSA glider which was much larger and heavier than the WACO CG-4A glider.  It was made entirely of wood whereas the WACO was made of an aluminum frame with canvas stretched over it.

The Horsa glider carried twenty-eight fully armed infantrymen along with a pilot and co-pilot.  The WACO CG-4A glider, known as the “Hadrian”, carried thirteen fully armed combat infantrymen, known as “glider riders” along with a pilot and co-pilot.  The co-pilot was often a medical officer.

Spencer commented about the glider pilots and how well they lived and worked together at Dalhart.

“We got along very good together.  As a matter of fact, we used to play pranks on each other.”

“We would come off ground school or something and we would have an hour before we were supposed to fly.  Guys would take shoe polish and put it in the edge of the shoe and light a match to it and we would call it ‘giving you a hot foot’”.

“Are you familiar with the term they call ‘short sheet’?  What they did when they would make the bed instead of spreading the sheet all the way down they would take the sheet and turn it back so you would only have half of it.”

“And so a guy would come into the barracks at night after he had been flying or something and try to get into his bed and all the sudden he could only go down about three feet.  We called it ‘short sheeting’”, he explained.

“Or they would fold the bed, the cot under it partially, so when he sat down on it, it would collapse.”

“You know, they did all sorts of pranks like that.  You get a bunch of guys together, you know, and all the things going on, they would do pretty much a lot of things.”

When asked about whether or not it ever snowed while he was at Dalhart, Spencer replied, “I don’t remember it ever snowing.”

When asked if it ever rained while he was stationed there, he chuckled, “No; gosh No!  Just dust and wind was all I ever remember about Dalhart.”

More about Leon Spencer’s time training in gliders at Dalhart AAF during WWII will be discussed in the next article.

Spencer is now a retired major from the USAF Reserves.  He lives in Prattville, Ala., and researches the glider program from home.  He will celebrate his 91st birthday in September, 2015.

Readers are encouraged to visit Silent Wings Museum on I-27 at Exit 9 just north of Lubbock to learn more about the glider program of WWII (www.silentwingsmuseum.com).

Readers are also asked to visit www.researchwars.org for more information about Dalhart AAF and call to John McCullough at (806)793-4448 if they can help with his research.



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ARTICLE 18


Spencer and fellow glider pilots transferred from Dalhart to Lubbock


This is the 18th article in a series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD during WWII.

John W. McCullough, Graduate Student in History, Texas Tech University

One of the many student glider pilots who trained at Dalhart AAF in WWII was Leon B. Spencer.

Spencer was born in Montgomery, Ala., in September, 1924.  He enlisted in the service, the US Army Air Corps, when he was 16 years old on October 17, 1940.

On Saturday, October 11, 2011, while at the National WWII Glider Pilot Association’s reunion in Oklahoma City, Okla., Spencer gave an interview about his experiences as a glider pilot during WWII.

Spencer arrived at Dalhart AAF in January, 1943, around the time when the air field’s commanding officer was departing for a new assignment.

According to the Dalhart Texan, the base commander of Dalhart AAF in 1942 and early 1943 was Col. E. H. Underhill.

On Monday, January 6, 1943, the Texan reported that Col. Underhill was being transferred to Randolph Field in San Antonio.  Col. Underhill had been the commander of the glider school at Dalhart “since it was first established on a temporary basis at Amarillo last May.”

“At Randolph Field, he will be the director of training for and actually will head up a big instructors school.  It is a definite advancement, the announcement said.”

The article in the Texan went on to say that he will probably depart in the next few days but that his successor had not yet been disclosed.

However, a later article in the Texan from Monday, March 15, 1943, stated that Lt. Col. R. T. Crowder had been the commanding officer of the base for several months but left his position on March 15 for an undisclosed destination.

Like both Col. Underhill’s and Lt. Col. Crowder’s quick departures from the glider school, Spencer’s time training in gliders at Dalhart AAF ended abruptly one morning.

“They just made an announcement one morning that the school was closing and we were moving to Lubbock”, recalled Spencer.

“I don’t even remember them saying that it was a twin-engine school; they just told us the base was closing.”

“And like the day before, you know; and the next morning they told everyone to pack and they loaded us onto the training gliders that we had and flew us to Lubbock; but not with the student pilot with the instructors piloting the gliders.”

C-47’s were used to tow all of the WACO CG-4A gliders from Dalhart to Lubbock, he explained.

Spencer said that when they left Dalhart the air field had Douglass C-47 Skytrain’s, Lockheed C-60 Hudson’s, and a couple of Lockheed A-25’s there which were used for towing gliders during training.

Spencer said that there were no incidents towing the gliders from Dalhart to Lubbock but he did not recall how long the trip took but he did not remember it being a very long voyage.

“The C-47 flew at about 130 to 135 miles per hour”, he stated.

When asked how he liked riding inside the WACO CG-4A glider, Spencer replied, “Fine.  The aircraft bounced around a lot, you know if it was real windy or anything but I don’t remember anybody getting air sick or anything.”

When asked if the WACO gliders had seat belts in them, Spencer replied, “Yes, you had seat belts in each glider.”

He added that had it not been for seat belts some of the men hurt in prior glider accidents at Dalhart AAF might have been hurt pretty badly.

Once Spencer and his fellow glider pilots arrived at SPAAF in Lubbock they just spent their time waiting for graduation but did no further glider training.

“When we arrived at South Plains, we had about a week before graduation.  So during that week we spent most of our time at the Post Exchange, getting fitted for officer’s uniforms, which were “pinks and greens” in those days.”

They flew down to SPAAF during the day.

“We landed beside the runway like we did [at Dalhart]; that’s how all the glider training is done.”

“But most of the time that we spent there before actual graduation, we spent having our uniforms fitted, you know, because there was ninety-six of us, and we had to have, you know, uniforms fitted for graduation.”

“We had done all of our training at Dalhart.”

“The jacket was green and the pants were pink.  They were a pretty pink color”, he chuckled and referenced the mannequin at Silent Wings Museum Lubbock which is dressed in a “pinks and green” uniform.

At SPAAF, Spencer said that they lived in the usual black tarpaper building just like at Dalhart AAF.

They arrived at SPAAF on February 22, 1943.

“There was not a whole lot of difference between the two bases.”

“It was still windy and still a lot of flying dust”, he chuckled.

“There were more planes and a lot less students there because during that interim while we were at Dalhart, they had caught up with the backlog.  So there weren’t nearly as many students there [at SPAAF] as there were before.”

“The training had really gotten down to being rather normal without any long delays in training after you arrived there.”

“In the meantime, South Plains had been designated as the only advanced flying [glider] training base.  The other advanced flying [glider] training bases had been closed.”

“But the student load was much less in February.”

“Two days before graduation, which was 27th of February, we had a graduation rehearsal at the base theater in our sergeant’s uniforms; and of course the morning of the graduation we were all dressed in our ‘pinks and greens’.”

“We would line up and walk across the stage and the base commander would award us our wings and out the other door of the base theater.”

“We had a base theater at Dalhart but I don’t ever remember going to the base theater there [at Dalhart].”

Although he had much more time on his hands at SPAAF than at Dalhart, he did not remember ever seeing a movie at the theater at SPAAF.

There were ninety-six students who graduated including eight student officers in Spencer’s class.  Most were from the infantry or artillery who had joined the air force.

The base commander did not pin the wings on the student glider pilots, he just handed them to each student as they crossed the stage.

“They were sterling silver wings with the “G” engrossed on the shield.”

“We were ecstatic because we were now officers!”

Spencer regrets that they did not have a class picture made and he is not sure why his class had no class photograph taken.

“That really puzzled me because some classes had a class picture made but ours did not.”

Spencer never had any leave to travel into Lubbock during his second time at SPAAF in February of 1943.

They were still building buildings when Spencer arrived at Dalhart.

Two days later, he travelled to Ardmore, Okla., for his next phase of training.

The WACO CG-4A glider, known as the “Hadrian”, carried thirteen fully armed combat infantrymen, known as “glider riders” along with a pilot and co-pilot.  The co-pilot was often a medical officer.  It was made of an aluminum and wood frame with canvas stretched over it.

More about Leon Spencer’s time training in gliders during WWII will be discussed in the next article.

Spencer is now a retired major from the USAF Reserves.  He lives in Prattville, Ala., and researches the glider program from home.  He will celebrate his 91st birthday in September, 2015.

Readers are encouraged to visit Silent Wings Museum on I-27 at Exit 9 just north of Lubbock to learn more about the glider program of WWII (www.silentwingsmuseum.com).

Readers are also asked to visit www.researchwars.org for more information about Dalhart AAF and call to John McCullough at (806)793-4448 if they can help with his research.


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ARTICLE 19


  Spencer graduated in Class 43-4 Dalhart but ceremony was at SPAAF in Lubbock


This is the 19th article in a series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD during WWII.

John W. McCullough, Graduate Student in History, Texas Tech University

One of the many student glider pilots who trained at Dalhart AAF in WWII was Leon B. Spencer.

On Saturday, October 11, 2011, while at the National WWII Glider Pilot Association’s reunion in Oklahoma City, Okla., Spencer gave an interview about his experiences as a glider pilot during WWII.

Spencer began his glider training at Dalhart AAF on February 8, 1943.

At that time, the glider school’s first base commander, Col. Edward H. Underhill, had just left for his new assignment at Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas, on January 8.

Spencer described the final glider pilot classes that graduated from Dalhart AAF in February, 1943.

“There were probably about four or five other classes there ahead of us; but they graduated ahead of us because we was the last class to fly there.”

Each class had about 96 students in it according to Spencer.

The glider school began closing in late February, 1943 and the final classes of glider pilots were flown to South Plains Army Air Field (SPAAF) in Lubbock where the actual graduation ceremony occurred.

Spencer and his class of 96 men graduated in class 43-4 in Lubbock even though they actually finished their training in Dalhart.

“But let me mention something about that, alright.  There was also a 43-4 class at Lubbock so they had to identify us as 43-4 Dalhart even though we graduated at Lubbock.  They already had a 43-4 at Lubbock so they couldn’t have two 43-4’s at Lubbock”, Spencer chuckled.

“Two days before graduation, which was 27th of February, we had a graduation rehearsal at the base theater in our sergeant’s uniforms; and of course the morning of the graduation we were all dressed in our ‘pinks and greens’.”

“We would line up and walk across the stage and the base commander would award us our wings and out the other door of the base theater.”

Instead of actually pinning the wings on each glider pilot, the base commander just handed them to each man as he crossed the stage, noted Spencer.

“They were sterling silver.  They were sterling silver wings with the “G”, the normal shield of a regular pilot there, a “G” engrossed in there, in that particular place.”

“We were ecstatic, you know, because we were now officers; and before we had been enlisted men so it was a big change obviously and I was hoping my mom would be very proud of me, you know, for the graduation.”

When asked about a photograph of his graduating class, Spencer replied that they did not have a class picture taken and he was not sure why.

“No, and that really puzzled me because some classes had a class picture and some didn’t; but I’ve seen several pictures of graduating classes from Lubbock where they had class picture, but we had no class picture.”

Spencer never had any leave to travel into Lubbock during his second time at SPAAF in February 1943.

Had he been given leave time, however, he might have enjoyed the new Soldiers Recreation center in Lubbock located in the Spikes-Sellers building at 1211 Thirteenth street.

It opened on Saturday, December 26, 1942, with 529 soldiers in attendance, according to an article in the Lubbock Morning-Avalanche on December 29.

George P. Kuykendall, chairman of the city defense recreation council, was notified of the success of the opening.

Only make-shift facilities were available to create the center making the large turnout even more impressive, said the Avalanche-Journal.

“Miss Leona Gelin, superintendent of the project, said the count did not include the young women who were present at the dance in the Center Saturday night.”

“The temporary facilities include ping-pong, table games of several kinds, a piano, a free juke box, magazines, writing tables and materials and seemingly most popular of all, a place to loaf.”

The Center was initially open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., but those hours would be adjusted to accommodate the needs of soldiers, added Miss Gelin.

Permanent installations would include “shower baths, a stage, a snack bar and various others.”

Miss Gelin asked that the following items be loaned or donated to make the Center more attractive to soldiers:  “pool or billiard tables; heavy duty couches, divans and chairs; and radios.”

“Donations were asked of the following:  card tables, magazines, smoking stands, ash trays, ping-pong tables, playing cards, dominoes, checkers, chess, other indoor and table games, phonograph records, popular sheet music and song books.”

Even before Spencer arrived at SPAAF his first time in December, 1942, the base had already become well known across the nation.

According to an article from the Lubbock Morning-Avalanche on December 4, 1942, Bing Crosby paid tribute to South Plains Army Flying School (SPAFS – the original name of SPAAF) during his Kraft Music Hall radio program.

“A nation of Bing Crosby radio fans were introduced to South Plains Army Flying School and Lubbock over a nationwide NBC network broadcast from Hollywood last night when the famous movie star saluted the large glider school and the city.”

“Lt. Thomas Brooks Skinner of Greensboro, N.C., was one of the featured guest artists on the program.  Lt. Skinner is now stationed at SPAFS, ‘Home of the Winged Commandos,’ and is among pioneer graduate-rated glider pilots in the nation.”

Lt. Skinner explained SPAFS, the glider pilots, and Lubbock to an audience of hundreds of thousands of listeners from coast to coast.

Only two days after arriving at SPAAF, Spencer travelled to Ardmore, Okla., by bus for his next phase of training.

More about Leon Spencer’s time training in gliders during WWII will be discussed in the next article.

Spencer is now a retired major from the USAF Reserves.  He lives in Prattville, Ala., and researches the glider program from home.  He will celebrate his 92nd birthday in September, 2016.

Readers are encouraged to visit Silent Wings Museum on I-27 at Exit 9 just north of Lubbock to learn more about the glider program of WWII (www.silentwingsmuseum.com).

Readers are also asked to visit www.researchwars.org for more information about Dalhart AAF and call to John McCullough at (806)793-4448 if they can help with his research.

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ARTICLE 20


        Plane crash in Taylorcraft L-2 cut short Spencer’s training and combat duty


This is the 20th article in a series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD during WWII.

John W. McCullough, Graduate Student in History, Texas Tech University

One of the many student glider pilots who trained at Dalhart AAF in WWII was Leon B. Spencer.

On Saturday, October 11, 2011, while at the National WWII Glider Pilot Association’s reunion in Oklahoma City, Okla., Spencer gave an interview about his experiences as a glider pilot during WWII.

After completing his glider training at Dalhart AAF and graduating at SPAAF in Lubbock, Spencer and with his fellow pilots was shipped to Ardmore, Okla.

“Of course, the officers travelled by private vehicle; you know, the student officers, most of them; but most of the glider pilots, the flight officers, went by bus or train.”

“So there was a lot more controls when you were a sergeant; but when you were an officer there were a lot less controls.  You could fly, drive, or whatever, as long as you arrived there when they told you to on your special orders.”

“So sergeants, they used troop trains and buses and so they pretty much controlled everything; but as officers they had a lot more leeway.”

“They had what they called, on your special orders, ‘TDN’ – ‘Travel Directed as Necessary’; or, the orders would read ‘Travel by Private Automobile – ‘TPA’.”

“As long as you were there by the date specified in your order (then you were ok).”

When asked what he did at Ardmore Army Air Field, Spencer replied in a disgusted tone, “Essentially nothing, because the base wasn’t completed.  They shipped us there, the runways weren’t completed; the quarters weren’t completed.  We had to live in private homes, rentals, outside the base in the little town of Ardmore.”

As for the type of training at Ardmore AAF, Spencer said, “None!  We got no training there because they had no aircraft and no gliders.  So it was another one of those futile trips; and, of course, we were there only a few weeks, two weeks, and we went to Bowman Field (Louisville, Kentucky) for continued tactical training.”

“I arrived there on the 1st of April, 1943, and went through very intensive ground training, combat training, much of it at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  We were sort of trucked over by six-by-six trucks for armaments training and stuff like that.”

“Since they had no gliders there at the time, we had to get our tactical flight training in powered aircraft.  We did what we called ‘dead stick’ landings again where you cut off the switch, stop the prop from wind milling, and land ‘dead stick’ like a glider, simulated; but they had no gliders there and we stayed there until December of ’43.”

“I was in an aircraft crash on the 10th of September ’43 there while at Bowman Field.  I crashed in a little town called Simpsonville, Kentucky.”

Spencer said that he was flying a Taylorcraft L-2 aircraft when he crashed.

“I was flying a brand new aircraft and it had different type of controls in it and there was a mid-air collision of two of the aircraft.”

“We were flying in what we called a ‘round robin’ where we would fly to one town, fly to another town, and back to Bowman Field.”

“And in route, two of the airplanes, when they were making a turn, ran together in mid-air and, of course, spun down and both pilots didn’t get out of the aircraft in time and it killed both of them.”

“So I flew down to see, you know, to see if they was alive or anything and what was the condition of the aircraft.”

“In the aircraft, they had a push-pull type trim tab where if you pushed it forward the nose would go down; if you pulled it back the nose would go up.”

“And right below it, two inches, was a throttle for power; and I was watching these two planes who had crashed into the ground, I reached up to push the throttle to go around again and I reached up and I grabbed the wrong control and pushed forward and flew the airplane into the ground.”

When asked how serious of a crash it was, Spencer calmly replied, “I spent eleven months in the hospital.”

“I crashed the 10th of September 1943 and I got out of the hospital the 18th of August ’44 – three different hospitals!”

“Crushed leg, you know, crushed ankle, and all sorts of contusions and abrasions; and I had insomnia for almost a year, what they call temporary size, severe brain concussion when I hit the instrument panel with my head.”

“I spent ninety days, I believe, at Bowman Field and I spent several months at Nichols General Hospital in Louisville and then, of course, down to Nashville for what they called a rehabilitation hospital because I had to learn to use my ankle again.  So we played handball and tennis and stuff like that as a means of exercising my ankle.”

Although Spencer referred to the result of his severe brain concussion as insomnia twice during his interview, he later corrected himself to say that he meant to say that he suffered from amnesia for almost a year following his crash.

“I still have problems.  This leg (the right one) is an inch smaller in calf than the other because the muscles never really re-developed.”

“I couldn’t remember any of the details about any of the accident, at all.”

Spencer said that his memory of the accident started coming back in small amounts over time.

“Little by little, as it occurs when you have amnesia; and some people have permanent amnesia, but mine was temporary after about a year.”

Spencer explained that he could remember his parents and other details of his life during this time but not any of the details of the crash.

More about Leon Spencer’s time training during WWII will be discussed in the next article.

Spencer is now a retired major from the USAF Reserves.  He lives in Prattville, Ala., and researches the glider program from home.  He will celebrate his 92nd birthday in September, 2016.

Readers are encouraged to visit Silent Wings Museum on I-27 at Exit 9 just north of Lubbock to learn more about the glider program of WWII (www.silentwingsmuseum.com).

Readers are also asked to visit www.researchwars.org for more information about Dalhart AAF and call to John McCullough at (806)793-4448 if they can help with his research.

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ARTICLE 21



Spencer Flew Co-pilot on a B-17 in Africa after Recovering from his Crash

This is the 21st article in a series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD during WWII.

John W. McCullough, Graduate Student in History, Texas Tech University

One of the many student glider pilots who trained at Dalhart AAF in WWII was Leon B. Spencer.

Spencer was born in Montgomery, Ala., in September, 1924.  He enlisted in the service, the US Army Air Corps, when he was 16 years old on October 17, 1940.

On Saturday, October 11, 2011, while at the National WWII Glider Pilot Association’s reunion in Oklahoma City, Okla., Spencer gave an interview about his experiences as a glider pilot during WWII.

After completing his glider pilot training at Dalhart AAF in February, 1943, he and his class flew to Lubbock because glider training at Dalhart was coming to an end.  The graduation ceremony was held at SPAAF.

From there he travelled to Ardmore, Okla., and then to Bowman Field, Kentucky.

He was involved in a plane crash at Simpsonville, Kentucky on September 10, 1943.  This resulted in Spencer being laid up in three different hospitals recovering from his injuries until August 18, 1944.

He finally recovered from his injuries and amnesia about a year after his crash.

Several months at Nichols General Hospital in Louisville was followed by rehabilitation at a hospital in Nashville, Tennessee for several more months for Spencer to learn to use his ankle again by playing tennis and related sports.

“Then they sent me from there to Laurinberg-Maxton, North Carolina, for tactical training, which was essentially the same training I had at Bowman Field so I got a double dose of it because I was virtually through with my training when the aircraft crashed.”

At Laurinberg-Maxton, Spencer said that he switched back to flying gliders.

“We flew gliders instead of powered aircraft like at Bowman Field.”

According to his records, Spencer was stationed at Laurinburg-Maxton AAF from October 2, 1944 until February 12, 1945 for tactical glider training.

While he was stationed there, General George C. Marshall visited the air field.

General Marshall was the Chief of Staff of the US Army during the Second World War and thus was commander of all US Army forces in all theaters of operation.

Spencer provided a photograph of himself standing behind a vehicle with General Marshall standing to his left during an inspection.

“After I finished my training there, which was February of ’45, you can see the war is about over; so they made me an instructor and sent me to Sedalia, Missouri to instruct powered pilots, C-47 pilots, to fly gliders.”

Sedalia Army Air Force Base is in Knobnoster, Missouri, but it is now called Whiteman Air Force Base, explained Spencer.

“I instructed powered pilots, C-47 pilots, to fly gliders; taught them to be glider pilots in addition to their regular powered training.”

“I only stayed there a couple of months and they sent me to Blytheville, Arkansas.”

“I did the same thing there, training powered pilots to be glider pilots.”

“After a couple of months there, I received overseas orders.”

“They shipped me to Fort Wayne, Indiana to Baer Field for overseas shipment by air and while I was there the war ended in Europe.”

“They then shipped me to Greensboro, North Carolina where I ended up going overseas from Camp Shanks, New Jersey.”

“I went overseas in a heavy navy cruiser, the USS Portland, with a group of top secret radar specialists.”

Spencer’s destination was Le Havre, France.  After that he went to Lechfeld, Germany in early January of 1946 where he was assigned to the 305th Bomb Group to fly in B-17 Flying Fortresses.

“I flew co-pilot on B-17’s, four-engine aircraft.”

“What we were doing, this was after the war, of course, they had removed the guns from the airplane and put cameras in them and they were photographing Africa and Europe, for what they called aerial strip mapping.”

“Project Casey Jones is what they called it.  We were strip mapping Africa and Europe.  I was only there for a couple of weeks, Tripoli, North Africa.  It was called Mellaha Air Base.”

According to the website, GlobalSecurity.org, Mellaha Air Base was originally built by the Italian Air Force in 1923 following Italy’s invasion of Libya in 1911.

During the North African campaign in World War II, the British 8th Army captured Mellaha Air Base in January 1943.

The USAAF began using it as a bomber base in the spring of 1943.  It was renamed Wheelus Air Base on May 17, 1945.

“I also had an L-5 there which I also flew a lot of administrative flights and supply flights where I picked up parts for aircraft for the B-17’s.  I did all of that flying as first pilot.  Of course, I couldn’t fly first pilot on the B-17s so I had to fly co-pilot.”

“I flew a couple of the Casey Jones missions.  They were 15-hour missions.”

Spencer returned to Germany and remained there until August 1946 when they grounded all the glider pilots for the convenience of the government.

“They gave you a choice of remaining as a ground officer or taking a discharge and I took the discharge.”

Several decades after Spencer’s single-engine plane crash at Simpsonville, Kentucky, he travelled back there to speak to the 14-year old boy who first arrived at the crash scene back on September 10, 1943.  Spencer’s temporary amnesia prevented him from remembering anything about his accident in the Taylorcraft L-2A that day.

“Fifty years later, I went back to where I had the accident in Simpsonville, Kentucky.  In 1993, we had a glider pilot reunion in Louisville and so I went to Simpsonville”, recalled Spencer.

“Well first, I had written my cousin and asked him to check the Louisville newspapers about the accident and he sent me all kinds of clippings about the aircraft because the two guys were killed.”

“He sent me that so I knew the name of the person who was the first person at the scene.  It was a 14-year old boy.”

“I looked him up.  I drove over to Simpsonville and fortunately he still lived there, except he was in his sixties.”

“I met him at the post office and he took me out and showed me where the aircraft crashed and things, which I didn’t know before.”

“Of course, the first thing he said when he walked into the post office was, ‘I thought you were dead’”?

“He said, ‘I didn’t realize you survived the crash’.”

“And a year later, almost exactly a year later, I got a letter from his wife that he had passed away.  So I was very fortunate to get to see him”, recalled Spencer.

Spencer is now a retired major from the USAF Reserves.  He lives in Prattville, Ala., and researches the glider program from home.  He will celebrate his 92nd birthday in September, 2016.

More about the history of Dalhart AAF in WWII will be discussed in the next article.

Readers are encouraged to visit Silent Wings Museum on I-27 at Exit 9 just north of Lubbock to learn more about the glider program of WWII (www.silentwingsmuseum.com).

Readers are also asked to visit www.researchwars.org for more information about Dalhart AAF and call to John McCullough at (806)793-4448 if they can help with his research.

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