RESEARCH WARS

Your Subtitle text

DALHART AAF 8-14


ARTICLE 8


Five men killed, two seriously injured in a glider accident in January, 1943


This is the eighth article in a series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD

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

On the night of January 25, 1943, a WACO CG-4A glider crashed just after a nighttime takeoff from Dalhart Army Air Field.  In recent interviews with Major Leon B. Spencer, US Air Force Reserve (ret), and former Dalhart resident Randall F. “Buzz” Montgomery, both men provided many details about that fateful night.

Major Leon Spencer was a glider pilot in WWII and trained in a WACO CG-4A glider at Dalhart AAF before being transferred to South Plains Army Air Field (SPAAF) in February, 1943 to complete his training.

According to Spencer’s research, a problem developed shortly after the WACO CG-4A Glider was towed into the air by a Douglas C-47 Skytrain that night.  The tow rope accidentally came loose from the tow plane when the glider had insufficient altitude to return to the airfield.

It descended straight ahead where it collided with a windmill, located just north of the airfield, and then into a concrete building.  Four students and the instructor were killed instantly from blunt force trauma, while two other students were seriously injured.

Randall F. “Buzz” Montgomery was working as a teenager at Dalhart Army Air Field at this time.  He also recalled the glider hitting a windmill and then crashing into a building, but thought that it was a concrete house possibly intended to be used as someone’s living quarters.  However, no one was inside the house at the time of the accident, said Montgomery.

“The house had concrete walls and a wooden roof with two windows.  The glider hit a nearby windmill and then crashed into Coon’s house,” remarked Montgomery.

In Article 7, Montgomery described Mr. R. S. “Uncle Dick” Coon as a major businessman in Texas.  Coon lived in the DeSoto Hotel whenever he visited Dalhart on business.  Coon was involved in the ranching business around Dalhart and acquired a lot of oil and gas mineral rights, as well.  He traded a lot of cattle on the market, said Montgomery.

More information about the concrete house was obtained from archived sources of The Dalhart Texan on microfilm at Texas Tech University’s Southwest Collections / Special Collections Library.

According to the January 26, 1943 edition of the Texan, the location of the glider crash was about “a mile and a half northwest of the base.”  The newspaper account went on further to say that the concrete house stood “high on the north bank of Rita Blanca creek, just west of the Rock Island and U.S. highway 54 bridges about a mile and a half southwest of Dalhart.”

The article continued by quoting Jim Matthews that the cement house was built in 1910 for the late R. S. “Uncle Dick” Coon.  Bob Troup, who was one of Dalhart’s first citizens, had the contract to build the structure.

According to Spencer’s research and The Dalhart Texan’s January 26 article, seven men were aboard the glider when it crashed during a routine training flight, immediately killing five of the men.

Those five men are listed below followed by the two injured men.  Except for the instructor, Flight / Officer Bradford K. Root, all of the men on board the glider were student glider pilots in training at the airfield.

The pilot of the glider was Flight / Officer Bradford K. Root, 25, son of Henry K. Root, of 124 First Place, Rochelle Park, New Jersey.  Root was married to Edna Clair Root, who resided in Dalhart.

The first passenger listed was Staff Sgt. Claude C. Bruce, 34, son of Mrs. Cora E. Bruce of Elmo, Kansas.

The next passenger aboard the glider was Staff Sgt. James E. Hyatt, whose address was listed as 1802 Pierre Ave., in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Staff Sgt. Ernest J. Forbes, 25, son of Mrs. Julia M. Glaesmer of 406 Pine St., in Red Bluff, California was also aboard the glider when it crashed.

Rounding out the group of student glider pilots killed in the crash was Staff Sgt. Philo N. French, 24.  French was the son of Mrs. Louise L. French, 718 South Seventh St., in Springfield, Illinois.

Two other men aboard the glider survived with serious injuries.  One of the two men was Staff Sgt. Bernardo Fernandez, 23, son of Manuel L. Fernandez, of Pinole, California.  The other man was Staff Sgt. Harold Kolom, 23, son of Louis Kolom, 3720 W. Douglas Blvd., Chicago, Illinois.  His bride was living in Dalhart at the time of the crash but her name was not revealed.

More about the January 25, 1943 glider crash at Dalhart AAF will be discussed in the next article.

Montgomery is now 85 years old and lives in Montgomery, Texas.  He plans to visit Dalhart in the fall of 2013.  Spencer lives in Prattville, Alabama and attends the glider pilot reunions annually.  The next glider pilot reunion is scheduled for September 12-14, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri.

More about glider pilots and their upcoming reunion can be found online at the National WWII Glider Pilots’ Association website at www.ww2gp.org.  Readers are asked to visit www.researchwars.org for more information about Dalhart AAF.



=========================================================================








ARTICLE 9

Funeral services held at base chapel following the glider crash at Dalhart AAF



This is the ninth article in a series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD

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

In the last article, a WACO CG-4A glider piloted by Flight / Officer Bradford K. Root with six other men on board had crashed into a concrete house after hitting a windmill.  The best records indicate that the crash occurred in the early morning hours of Tuesday, January 26, 1943.

According to Major Leon B. Spencer, USAFR (ret), Lieutenant Charles “Chuck” Harruff piloted the C-47 Skytrain which pulled the WACO glider into the air that night.

In a recent interview, Spencer said that “there were other C-47s towing gliders that night, all participating in the advanced training of glider students, who were required to be proficient in night as well as day landings.”

“It was envisioned by the military brass in Washington that many of the glider missions in Europe would be night landings behind enemy lines”, remarked Spencer.

According to Spencer, the tow rope between the C-47 and the WACO glider accidentally came loose from the tow plane when the glider had insufficient altitude to return to the airfield.

The glider descended straight ahead where it collided with a windmill, located just north of the airfield, and then into a concrete building.

As the night wore on and the glider had not returned base operations, the air field’s personnel became concerned.

Glider students were roused from bed to form a search party while tow pilots began making low searches over the area with their landing lights on.  It took search parties five hours to locate the crash, said Spencer.

Five of the seven men on board had been killed immediately.  Those men killed were:  Flight / Officer Bradford K. Root; Staff Sgt. Claude C. Bruce; Staff Sgt. James E. Hyatt; Staff Sgt. Ernest J. Forbes; and Staff Sgt. Philo N. French.

Ambulances were summoned to the scene to transport the deceased and the two critically injured students to the base hospital.

Flight Officer Leon Dyson, a friend of F/O Bradford K. Root, was given the sad duty of accompanying the base chaplain to inform Mrs. Root, who was six months pregnant, of her husband’s demise, commented Spencer.

In a recent interview with former Dalhart resident, Randall F. “Buzz” Montgomery, he recalled stories that his high school friend Jimmy Newman told him about the recovery of bodies from the glider crash.

Montgomery was a teenager working at the air field at the time of the crash.

Jimmy Newman was senior to Montgomery at Dalhart High School.  They both played on the football team.   Montgomery thinks that Newman graduated in the class of 1943.  Montgomery graduated in the class of 1945.

Newman drove a taxi in Dalhart.  He was an independent taxi operator.  He charged 25 cents for fares within Dalhart, but the charge increased to fifty cents when he took persons between Dalhart and Dalhart Army Air Field.

Newman told Montgomery that he walked up the hill to where the glider crash occurred on highway US 54 the morning following the crash on January 26.  Many others were there helping with the recovery of bodies and the rescue of two survivors.

Newman said that recovering the bodies was “one of the most horrific experiences of his life”, said Montgomery.

According to The Dalhart Texan in their Tuesday, January 26, 1943 edition, the funeral services would be held the following morning at ten o’clock for the five fliers who were killed.  Services would be held at post chapel with Chaplain R. A. Deitch officiating and Chaplain Kenneth Combs of the South Plains Army Flying School at Lubbock assisting.

The glider school would furnish a military escort from the Peeples Funeral Home in Dalhart to the chapel.  The aviation cadet detachment members would serve as pallbearers, noted the Texan.

"Full military honors will be accorded the men, in keeping with the tradition of the Army Air Forces for which these men gave their lives", a glider school officer was quoted as having said.

Spencer’s research revealed that the service began with prayers by the two chaplains.  A serviceman’s quartet of Pvt. Larry Manion, Pvt. Harold Harkholt, Pvt. E. J. Windom and Pfc. Floyd Cunningham, sang “Abide in Me.”  A memorial mass was conducted by Father Daly.  Servers for the mass were Flight Officer Richard F. McKenna and Staff Sgt. Hansel. 

The highest ranking officers on the base joined in the tribute to the deceased airmen.  They included Lt. Col. Robert Crowder, post commander; Lt. Col. Donald R. Johnson, executive officer; Captain Ernest Kelly, post adjutant; Major David Hopkins, director of training; Captain Marvin J. Birdwell, commandant of students and Lt. James Moore, school secretary.

A military escort would also accompany the bodies to the various home burial places as designated by relatives, stated the Texan.

The two men who survived the January 26 glider crash with injuries were Staff Sgt. Bernando Fernandez and Staff Sgt. Harold Kolom, said the Texan.

Both Fernandez and Kolom were sent to the base hospital at Dalhart Army Air Field.  Both were listed in serious condition.

More about Fernandez and Kolom and the aftermath of the fatal glider crash of January 26, 1943 at Dalhart Army Air Field will be discussed in the next article.

Newman later played college football and then worked for the Rock Island railroad in Dalhart before heading for Las Vegas, Nevada.  He worked for Hilton Hotels there until he retired.

Montgomery is now 85 years old and lives in Montgomery, Texas.

Spencer lives in Prattville, Alabama and researches the glider program of WWII.  He turned 89 years old on September 6.

Persons interested in the glider program in WWII should visit the Silent Wings Museum in Lubbock or online at www.silentwingsmuseum.com.

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


=====================================================================

















ARTICLE 10




Two student pilots initially survived the glider crash at Dalhart AAF


This is the tenth article in a series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD

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

In the last article, funeral services were held for the five men who died upon impact when a WACO CG-4A glider piloted by Flight / Officer Bradford K. Root with six other men on board crashed into a concrete house after hitting a windmill.

The crash occurred in the early morning hours of Tuesday, January 26, 1943.

Those men killed were:  Flight / Officer Bradford K. Root; Staff Sgt. Claude C. Bruce; Staff Sgt. James E. Hyatt; Staff Sgt. Ernest J. Forbes; and Staff Sgt. Philo N. French.

According to the Dalhart Texan’s January 27 article, Chaplain Russell A. Deitch of South Plains Army Air Field (SPAAF) in Lubbock said these kind words at the funeral for the five men:

“These men were willing to lay down their best – their lives for their country.  America was riding in their glider Monday night – the spirit of giving all for their cause.”

Referring to the relatives, friends and loved ones of the deceased, Chaplain Deitch went on to say that freedom’s fight is not all glory for those in uniforms or for those at home.

“It is often tragedy and heartache for your loved ones.  But you must find great and proud comfort in knowing they have not died in vain and that their valiant spirit will be carried on by their comrades”, reflected Deitch.

The Texan commented that at the conclusion of the entire service muted taps was sounded by Staff Sgt. Meyer Sheff.  After that, the flag-draped caskets were carried to a line of olive-drab funeral vehicles and the procession drove away towards the main gate – the last departure for five gallant members of Uncle Sam’s armed forces.

The two student pilots who survived the January 26 glider crash with injuries were Staff Sgt. Bernando Fernandez and Staff Sgt. Harold Kolom, said the Texan.

Both Fernandez and Kolom were sent to the base hospital at Dalhart Army Air Field.  Both were listed in serious condition.

The next mention of the two surviving glider pilots in the Texan was on February 1 which said that Staff Sgt. Kolom appeared to be “on the road to recovery”, according to the latest report from glider school.  However, Staff Sgt. Bernando Fernandez was still listed in critical condition.

The next mention of these two men in the Texan was on Thursday, February 4 when it said that both men’s condition remained unchanged.  Fernandez was still listed in critical condition but Kolom was “improving steadily.”

Then on Monday, February 8, the Texan reported the tragic news that Fernandez had succumbed to his injuries from the glider crash of January 26.  He died around 8:00 o’clock that morning.    He was 23 years old.  Staff Sgt. Bernando Fernandez was from Pinole, Calif, according to the glider school’s public relations office.

A funeral was scheduled at 9:00 a.m. on the following morning, February 9, at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Dalhart.  Fernandez’s parents, Dr. and Mrs. Fernandez, and a brother were already in Dalhart for the last rites.

The same article mentioned that Staff Sgt. Harold Kolom’s condition had not changed since the last report on February 1 which stated that he was recovering.

The next time the Texan mentioned Kolom was on Tuesday, February 9, when it stated briefly that Kolom’s condition was still listed as “not improved” according to the glider school’s public relations office.

Kolom was still receiving treatment at the base hospital.

Major Leon B. Spencer, USAFR (ret), who was a glider pilot in WWII and trained at Dalhart AAF in February of 1943, has performed considerable research on the glider crash of January 26, 1943 and its aftermath.

In a recent interview, Spencer said that the Accident Review Board determined that “future night flights at Dalhart and elsewhere were too dangerous without emergency landing lights and recommended to higher authority that sealed-beam landing lights be installed at once on all Waco CG-4A gliders.”

However, night flights at Dalhart continued unabated, noted Spencer.

“To my knowledge, landing lights were never installed on all CG-4A gliders, but I did see them installed on some of them.  In my five years as a glider pilot, I don’t remember ever flying a CG-4A with landing lights.  Flying at night in a glider was hazardous under any condition, especially when multiple gliders were in the air at the same time and in the same vicinity”, Spencer commented.

More about Fernandez and Kolom and the aftermath of the fatal glider crash of January 26, 1943 at Dalhart Army Air Field will be discussed in the next article.

Spencer lives in Prattville, Alabama and researches the glider program of WWII.  He turned 89 years old on September 6.

Persons interested in the glider program in WWII should visit the Silent Wings Museum in Lubbock or online at www.silentwingsmuseum.com.

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











ARTICLE 11



Aftermath of glider crash at Dalhart AAF in January, 1943


This is the 11th article in a series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD

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

In the last article, funeral services were held for the five men who died upon impact when a WACO CG-4A glider piloted by Flight / Officer Bradford K. Root with six other men on board crashed into a concrete house after hitting a windmill.

The crash occurred in the early morning hours of Tuesday, January 26, 1943.

Those men killed were:  Flight / Officer Bradford K. Root; Staff Sgt. Claude C. Bruce; Staff Sgt. James E. Hyatt; Staff Sgt. Ernest J. Forbes; and Staff Sgt. Philo N. French.

On Monday, February 8, the Texan reported that Staff Sgt. Bernando Fernandez had succumbed to his injuries from the glider crash.

A seventh glider pilot on board the WACO CG-4A glider survived his injuries.  Staff Sgt. Harold Kolom made steady improvement over the next few weeks indicating that he had made a full recovery; however, no other mention was made about him in the Texan after February 10.

In a recent interview, Charles Day, national secretary of the National WWII Glider Pilots Association, Inc., provided information from his archives showing that Harold Kolom later participated in two glider operations in Europe.  Kolom flew in Market-Garden and Bastogne according to Day.

Major Leon B. Spencer, USAFR (ret) and a WWII glider pilot who trained at Dalhart AAF, said this recently about the aftermath of the glider crash of January 26.

“Shortly after the fatal crash, Private T. W. McKinney, based at Dalhart, wrote a poem about the accident.”

“Years later, Leon Dyson, a mechanic at Dalhart AAF and a barracks mate of McKinney, sent a copy of the poem to Bill Horn, a former glider pilot and the publisher and editor of the Silent Wings publication”, commented Spencer.

The poem, shown below, was published on page 3 of the August 1976 issue of Silent Wings.

LAST NIGHT THEY DIED

The moon hung low in the Texas skies,

while the cold crept in for a ride at their sides

Seven brave boys with a chute in a pack,

took to the skyways, never to come back.

Now the C-47 roared and the pull of the rope,

they were happy and laughing at somebody’s joke

 

A gentle lifting as up in the sky,

In a glider flying last night they died.

Seven smiling pilots silver wings on their chest,

getting their hours soon the Axis to blast.

What’s wrong? For they could hear no more,

nor feel the pull or the C-47’s roar

 

Only a few hundred feet the altimeter read,

we must go down the copilot said.

Now don’t jump. It’s too near the ground,

spoke up the curly head to his buddies around.

We will ride it out, only God could see,

The black concrete on the Texas prairie

 

A crash and now a feeble few moans,

seven Yank soldiers in the night alone,

Five hours and then they found them,

five already dead.

There is not much to say, it had all been said.

They too have glory and we know they tried.

Take them home Dear God, For Last Night

They Died

 

“On Wednesday, January 26, 1994, fifty years after the fatal glider crash, the City of Dalhart held memorial services for the victims.  The National World War II Glider Pilots Association presented the city with a memorial plaque containing the names of all six deceased glider victims”, stated Spencer.

The plaque was placed in the local XIT Museum.  Representing the National WWII Glider Pilots Association was:  Ray Welty, Wing 4 (Texas) State Commander; past Wing 4 Commander, Leroy Erwin; National Wing Commander, Phil Casaus; Vice Chairman of the Executive Council, Theo Moore, and other guests including some glider pilots who trained at Dalhart Army Air Field. 

The mayor of the city of Dalhart, the honorable Gene Rahil, headed the local delegation which included Kevin Cadwell, president of the Dalhart Chamber of Commerce, Dessie Hanbury, director of the XIT Museum, and the welcoming committee from the Chamber of Commerce. 

The memorial service was conducted by Phil Casaus who introduced Dalhart Mayor Rahil and Judge David Field of Dallam County and Judge Ron Gordon of Hartley County.  Theo Moore led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance and gave a detailed history of the CG-4A glider.

Ray Welty gave the invocation, and John Devlin, a local Dalhart resident and a glider pilot member, introduced attending glider pilots Claude Bond of Lubbock, and Tony Colaccino, who graduated with the first class at Dalhart.

The memorial plaque will be permanently displayed in the XIT Museum for future generations to view.  The plaque not only honors those forever young airmen who died in that tragic accident but also honors all glider pilots who made the supreme sacrifice and who proudly wore their silver “G” wings.

Spencer lives in Prattville, Alabama and researches the glider program of WWII.  He turned 89 years old on September 6, 2013.

The material for his article was taken from a series of articles that appeared in the November 1976, March 1977 and March 1994 issues of the Silent Wings publication, published by Bill Horn of Dallas, Texas.  Horn is now deceased.

Other data came from the Dalhart Texan newspaper and from information provided by Randall F. “Buzz” Montgomery who worked at Dalhart AAF at the time of the accident.

The National WWII Glider Pilots Association will hold their annual reunion October 2-4, 2014 in Bloomington, Minn.  Anyone interested in attending should visit the Glider Pilot Association website at www.ww2gp.org/index.php.

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



========================================================================




ARTICLE 12


Spencer was in medical corps and pre-glider training before coming to Dalhart


This is the 12th article in a series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD

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 Alabama, in September 1924.  He enlisted in the service, in the US Army Air Corps (USAAC), when he was 16 years old on October 17, 1940.

“I had to get my mother’s signature.  I had to get my mother to sign for me because you had to be 18 to enlist; but in those days, they didn’t check birth certificates”, recalled Spencer in a recent interview.

“Because I was so young, my mother didn’t want me to leave the area; and of course, in Montgomery, you had Maxwell Field; now it’s Maxwell Air Force Base.”

“So the only thing that was open at the time at Maxwell was the medical corps.  So I joined the medical corps there”, he added.

The USAAC sent Spencer to Randolph Field temporarily to receive training in the medical corps.

“I graduated from the School of Aviation Medicine at Randolph Field, Texas, in February 1941”, he stated.

While at Maxwell Field, Spencer was promoted to Private First Class on May 1, 1941 and then promoted again to Private First Class, 4th Class Specialist Rating, on October 1.

During Spencer’s time at Maxwell Field, the Department of War created the Army Air Forces (AAF) as its aviation branch and shortly after that it was placed on an equal level to the Army Ground Forces according to the U.S. Air Force website (www.airforce.com).  This occurred on June 20, 1941 and the abbreviation USAAF was used instead of USAAC after that.

His final promotion at Maxwell occurred on December 1, 1941 when he was raised to the rank of Corporal.  Also on that same day, the USAAF transferred him to his new base.

On December 3, four days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Spencer arrived at his new home of Spence Field in Moultrie, Georgia.

Spencer received the following promotions while in the Medical Corps at Spence Field:  he was promoted to Sergeant on December 15, 1941; and he was promoted again to Staff Sergeant on January 1, 1942.

“My job in the Medical Corps was flight surgeon’s assistant.  At Spence Field, Georgia, I was the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of the Flight Surgeon’s Office”, said Spencer.

“Six months later, the glider program opened up and General Arnold sent a memo to all base commanders of all the air force bases soliciting volunteers to be glider pilots”, said Spencer.

“I wanted to be in the Air Force and I really I wanted to fly; I didn’t want to be in the medical corps.  So in June of that year (1942), I signed up for the glider program.  I had met the educational requirements and, of course, the physical requirements”, noted Spencer.

Spencer entered the glider program on June 15, 1942 and was transferred to the glider pool at Randolph Field to await further assignment.

“In the middle of June, they shipped me to Randolph Field to a pool to await the opening of a ‘dead stick’ school”, said Spencer.  Randolph Field was located in San Antonio, Texas and still operates today as Randolph Air Force Base.

Spencer explained what he meant by a “dead stick” school for which he was awaiting assignment:

“It was power training where you flew powered aircraft; but you would fly them at various altitudes, cut off the switch, and pull the nose up to stop the prop from wind-milling and you landed them like they were a glider.”

There were three levels of glider pilot training schools:  primary (more commonly known as a “dead stick” school or “pre-glider” school), basic, and advanced.

He was at Randolph Field for about two weeks awaiting assignment to a primary glider school.

The Army Air Forces then sent him to Spencer, Iowa for pre-glider training, or “dead stick” training as most of the glider pilots called it, explained Spencer.

Spencer and his group of student pilots arrived in Iowa in early July and left in September.

He logged 55 hours in powered aircraft while at Spencer, Iowa.

Another pre-glider school similar to the one at Spencer, Iowa was the Plainview pre-glider school which was located at Finney Field just north of Plainview, Texas.  It was run under an Army Air Forces contract by Clent Breedlove of Lubbock, Tex.

More about the Plainview pre-glider school at Finney Field is available online at www.breedlove-cptp.org.

Spencer then returned to Randolph Field to wait for an opening in a basic glider training school.  He stayed at Randolph Field for several weeks until his next assignment.

“I went through the glider program in-grade as a Staff Sergeant,” noted Spencer.

After completing his primary training at Spencer, Iowa, Staff Sergeant Leon Spencer’s next stop was Vinita, Okla., for basic glider 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 turn 90 years old on September 6, 2014.

Everyone is encouraged to visit the National WWII Glider Pilots Association website at www.ww2gp.org/index.php for more information about the glider program.

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


========================================================================






ARTICLE 13


Spencer flew gliders at Vinita, Okla., before going to Dalhart AAF



This is the 13th article in a series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD

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

Spencer first trained as a glider pilot at the pre-glider, or “dead stick”, school at Spencer, Iowa.  He trained there from July 11, 1942 until September 4, 1942 for a total of seven weeks and six days.

After training at the “dead stick” school at Spencer, Iowa, he was transferred to Blackland Army Air Base near Waco, Texas for advanced training; but at the time, the school was listed as elementary advanced training.

Spencer and his classmates traveled from Spencer to Waco by rail.

He was stationed at Blackland in Waco from September 7 until October 21, 1942.

“There were only a few planes and a few gliders and too many students”, he recalled.

So he only stayed at Waco for a few weeks and did no training there.  He was then sent to Vinita, Okla., for basic glider training.  He also traveled by rail from Waco to Vinita.

At Vinita, Spencer flew gliders which were really single-engine powered airplanes with the engine removed and with the nose elongated for an extra, third passenger.

Spencer was stationed at Vinita from October 27, 1942 until December 11, 1942 for a total of six weeks and three days.

He logged 30 hours of basic glider training while at Vinita.

The three-place gliders were Taylorcraft, Piper, or Aeronca single-engine planes which had the engines removed and the nose elongated for a third seat.  A tow plane, such as the Vultee BT-13 Valiant or the Stinson L-1 Vigilant, would then be used to pull the three-place gliders into the air.

These gliders would usually have two students and an instructor in them.  Once the correct altitude was reached, the student pilot would release the tow rope and glide the plane back to the ground and land it.

In a recent interview, Charles Day, secretary of the National WWII Glider Pilots Association, gave more details about the three-place gliders used by Spencer at Vinita, Okla.

“These three-place gliders were the TG-5, TG-6 and TG-8, by Aeronca (TG-5), Taylorcraft (TG-6) and Piper (TG-8).  They were not sailplanes in the normal sense of a sailplane that could soar for hours under necessary wind and air current conditions.  They were high wing monoplanes similar to the WACO CG-4A glider.  There were 750 of these built without engines.  That is, they did not have engines removed.”

“Instead of mounting an engine, the wheel carriage was modified to give a lower stance as the nose framework was extended and modified to create a third seat in the airframe.  The idea of using these airframes was that of the then head of the then CAA in Washington, DC”, explained Day.

“Aeronca built the first one which was test-flown under Aeronca ownership as NX 34213.  That airframe was delivered to the USAAF and became USAAF #42-57229.”

“The then head of the glider branch under General Arnold, Major Lewin Barringer, flew that glider from the Aeronca airfield at Middletown, Ohio to Washington, DC through thunder storms and inclement weather proving the aircraft's ability as a glider.  It also established that the flying characteristics of the aircraft were very similar to the CG-4A as opposed to the characteristics of sailplanes or soaring gliders which were not so similar to the CG-4A”, commented Day.

“The accompanying photo, #94584, is a USAAF Wright Field photo and is of a three-place Aeronca glider numbered as NX 34213.  Based on the trees in background, I believe it was made at Middletown, Ohio as opposed to Wright Field”, said Day.

“I never established who the man in the glider was but he was either an Aeronca engineer or was John Harris who had been a WACO engineer/technician who was kind of conscripted by the USAAF into the glider branch at Wright Field and Clinton County AAF and served for the duration as a civilian”, he added.

According to Day, John Harris's daughter did not believe that the photo was of her father.

After finishing his basic glider training at Vinita, Okla., Spencer then went to South Plains Army Air Field (SPAAF) in Lubbock for a brief time before going to Dalhart AAF.

He ran into the same problem at Lubbock as he did in Waco:  too few airplanes and gliders and too many students.  He and his fellow students arrived in Lubbock by rail about December 12, 1942.  He was in Lubbock for advanced glider training.

“Since they realized they weren’t going to be able to train us, they couldn’t accommodate us, they gave us what they called a ‘furlough’ until early January (1943) because they had nothing for us to do and had too many students.”

“I took a train to my hometown, Montgomery, Ala., and spent my furlough (now known as “leave”) with my parents.

When Spencer returned to SPAAF in Lubbock after his Christmas furlough of 1942, he commented on his spare time in Lubbock.

“I dated a few girls, went to the movies and church and generally had a good time.  I was bored to death at SPAAF because we had nothing to do and the Army Air Force realized morale was low and gave us a break.”

Spencer would next be transferred to Dalhart AAF for his advanced glider 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 turn 90 years old on September 6, 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.


===========================================================================






ARTICLE 14



Spencer and his fellow pilots arrived at Dalhart AAF “ready to fly” in early 1943



This is the 14th 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 Alabama, 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 time learning to fly gliders in WWII.

Spencer first trained as a glider pilot at the pre-glider, or “dead stick”, school at Spencer, Iowa from July 11, 1942 until September 4, 1942.  He was a Staff Sgt. at this time, having been promoted to that rank on January 1, 1942.

He later trained at Vinita, Okla., from October 27, 1942 until December 11, 1942.  This was basic glider training.

“At Vinita, Oklahoma, I flew the Frankfort Cinema TG-1A and Aeronca TG-5A.   The TG-1A was classified as a sailplane, while the TG-5A was classified as a glider”, explained Spencer.

“The TG-5A was originally a light powered aircraft that was modified as a light glider.  The engine and cowling were removed and replaced with a newly designed nose that provided a third seat, a newer lower landing gear was fitted to give the aircraft a ground attitude similar to that of the Waco CG-4A, and an additional vertical fin was added to counter the increased side area of the extended canopy.”

“The three-place light gliders were the Aeronca TG-5A, Taylorcraft TG-6 and the Piper TG-8”, he said.

“The light gliders in basic training were towed by Stinson L-1A observation planes and Vultee BT-13 Valiants and BT-15 trainers, not C-47s”, he noted.

After finishing his basic glider training at Vinita, Okla., Spencer then went to South Plains Army Air Field (SPAAF) in Lubbock for a brief time before going to Dalhart AAF, but not before he traveled home by train to Montgomery for Christmas of 1942.

He commented on his brief time in Lubbock when he returned to SPAAF after his Christmas furlough was over.

“I dated a few girls, went to the movies and church and generally had a good time.  I was bored to death at SPAAF because we had nothing to do and the Army Air Force realized morale was low and gave us a break.”

When asked to describe his first time stationed at SPAAF, he said, “One of the things that was kind of funny was the fact that we had to stand in retreat formation every evening; and because it was so arid there we would be standing there in formation and sage brush, tumble weeds, would blow up against your legs,” chuckled Spencer.

Retreat is the ceremony where the soldiers lower the U.S. flag flying at the base at the end of the day.

Spencer and his fellow students stayed in wooden barracks that had black tar paper sides which had been built very quickly due to the urgent situation of the war.

Continuing with his memories about his first time stationed at SPAAF in Lubbock, Spencer said, “Since we were there in January, of course, it was cold, and they only had pot-bellied stoves, one at each end of the barracks; so we had to stand fire guard at night because they were wooden buildings.”

“One of the things that I really remember, was, we would leave in the morning for formation or ground school classes and in the evening when we would come back to the barracks, we had to rake the sand away from the door to be able open the door because the wind had blown sand up three or four inches against the door.”

Spencer and his class of student pilots were only stationed at SPAAF a brief time, though, and did no flying then.

“They had far too many students, so we did nothing.  We just sat around.  That was the reason they gave us furloughs to leave because it was just too many students and too few aircraft”, he explained.

To remedy this situation, the USAAF transferred Spencer and his class of student pilots to Dalhart AAF for his advanced glider training.

There were 96 students in his class, which included about eight or ten student officers.

They traveled in busses from Lubbock to Dalhart with a stop for a break in Amarillo.

“I’ll have to tell you a humorous thing.  The bus stopped in Amarillo and we all got off the bus and there was a liquor store nearby”, recalled Spencer.

“So the only thing they had during war-time was plum wine and things like that, or rum; so a lot of the guys bought a lot of rum and stuff.  So all the way from Amarillo to Dalhart we all drank rum and by the time we got there everybody was clobbered.”

“When we got off of the bus, the commanding officer of the base met us at the bus and he saw our condition and he threatened to court-martial because we were scheduled to have a physical examination the next day”, chuckled Spencer.

“But he didn’t, you know; he didn’t punish us.”

“I mean everybody was bombed!”

“And he threatened to court-martial us right there on the spot, because they was a lousy-looking bunch that got off the bus.”

They arrived at Dalhart AAF on a Sunday afternoon in January, 1943 from what he recalled.

When asked what he thought of Dalhart when he first arrived, Spencer replied, “I thought it was the most desolate place in the world.  The wind was blowing forty miles per hour and dust was blowing everywhere; but it was an ideal place to fly gliders because it was nice flat land.”

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 on September 6, 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.


=======================================================================




Website Builder