458th Bombardment Group (H)

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On December 7, 1941, Jean and I were at the matinee at the Mercier Theatre in Perryville, and as we left the theatre we were told the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. We lived only a block from the theatre, and rushed home and the radio was giving constant coverage of what had happened. We knew, as millions of other did, that this meant war. Jean and I were married in February 1941, and I had started law practice in August 1941, about three months before Pearl Harbor.

In January 1942, I enlisted in the Army Air Corp to become a pilot. To get into the Cadet program I had to pass a written test and had to lose 26 pounds in six weeks. I was 25 years 3 months old. (26 years was the maximum age for acceptance as a cadet). I passed the written test because about 50% was on vocabulary, and the math was not too difficult, but the part about aviation was difficult because I had never flown in a plane, except for a 15-minute ride in a Ford tri-motor plane and had never touched the controls of an airplane. The weight loss was a bigger challenge but I got down from 211 pounds to 184 pounds in six weeks. Also, I had to sign a statement that I would not claim an allowance for dependents as long as I was a cadet.

In April 1942 I was sworn in as a cadet, but because the pilot training program was crowded, I was not called into service until August 1942. On October 22, 1942, our son, Curt Milton II, was born. Technically, he should have been Curt Milton Jr., but we didn’t want him called Junior so we always called him “Buddy”. Jean and I and the family still call him Buddy, but everyone else calls him Curt or Dr. Vogel, since he is now a Vascular Surgeon. Simple mathematics will indicate that he was conceived in January 1942, the same month I enlisted as a cadet. Jean and I seriously discussed the implication of having a child with the impending war, but both of us decided we wanted a child although sheer logic and conservative common sense would have ruled against that decision. Personally I knew Jean could possibly be left alone with the child, but I also knew the child would be well cared for because Jean had a teaching degree and would give the child her complete love and affection. Our parents also would be there for her, even though when we told them that Jean was pregnant it was obvious they questioned the wisdom of our decision to have a child at that point in time. Buddy was born while I was in pre-flight training at Santa Anna, California. I tried to get leave to be in Odessa, Missouri, where he was born, but the army told me it was not an emergency, (I certainly thought it was!) because babies were being born routinely every day. Whether it was a boy or girl was not our concern, as long as the child was healthy, but I admit I was more than proud and pleased it was a boy, because at the time I was living in an open barracks with 30 other guys, so having a boy cut down on the normal good-natured kidding I was getting since I was complaining about not getting a leave and was obviously very nervous about the whole affair. Buddy was a healthy baby and he and Jean joined me during primary flight training in December, 1942, when Buddy was only six weeks old. Except for my overseas time, they were always with me at various stations from California to Langley Field, Norfolk, Virginia.

In May 1942, a month after I was sworn in as a cadet, I quit the law firm because I was to be ready to report somewhere with a few days of notice (7 days, I believe). Jean and I went to Odessa, Missouri, to wait for the call to come. As it turned out, the call did not come until August. Since it was the harvest season, I was fortunate enough to get a job at the farm of Earl Osborn, Jean’s uncle, near Odessa. My work consisted of helping harvest grain and hay, including getting wheat and oats to the threshing machine and also carrying the grain from the threshing machine to the grain storage bins. After threshing time, we gathered hay from the fields and stored it in the barn. I also chopped weeds and cockle burrs from the corn fields. Since the corn was at least five feet tall and much of it was in creek bottom fields, this was very hot work, and I remember sweating so much that I actually could pour out some water from my heavy work shoes. Doing this work was a real benefit for me, because it got me into very good physical shape, and although we had large and excellent meals, I didn’t gain any weight and had an excellent sun tan. My orders finally came in early August, 1942, to report to Kelly Field near San Antonio, Texas. Kelly Field was an old Army base but all we saw was a new area with new two-story army barracks which seemed a part of a Texas desert. There was no grass or anything green, just sand, dirt, gravel and rocks. We had a lot of drilling, at least four hours a day, a lot of calisthenics and a lot of running. We also picked up rocks and gravel and also scrubbed the barracks, inside and outside. In other words, they kept us busy from dawn to dusk. In addition to the above, we also ran the obstacle course almost daily, and as any GI can tell you, that is quite a challenge. Those two months on Uncle Earl’s farm in June and July turned out to be a real break for me because I was in excellent shape and was able to cope real well with the weather in August in Texas.

Kelly Field, TX 1942

The plane we flew was a more powerful single engine trainer, a B-13 I believe. During our two months at Taft several things happened that I remember. Although I was only able to leave the base about one day a week, it was great to be with the family and I remember putting diapers on Buddy. Since they used safety pins and I was afraid of hurting Buddy, I developed a gentle but firm dexterity in my hands which I found was very helpful in flying the stick-shift airplane, particularly in flying on instruments, since it gave me a better feel on the controls. We also started night flying. One night while practicing landings with the instructor, the instructor told me to land and after landing he got out of the plane and said “Vogel, I think you are ready to do this on your own. Do you?” I of course said “Yes sir” and I then taxied out to the runway and took off and flew around for a few minutes and then made three or four touch and go landings. When I got out of that airplane that night, I really felt great, because I knew I could fly the airplane, not just by mechanically following instructions. I could make the airplane do what I wanted it to do. I never lost that feeling of being fully in control of any and all planes I flew later. Two cadets were killed in separate planes when they crashed while making their final approach for a landing. Whether it was pilot error or mechanical failure I never found out, but what happened later I do remember. Others of us were flying that same afternoon and after we landed we ate at the mess hall and went to the barracks. (I was in the same open barracks with about 30 guys). When we got there, all of the belongings of these two cadets were gone and the beds were realigned so that it appeared that these two cadets had never been there. This same procedure was also followed while flying combat. Also, the next morning at pre-flight briefing, we were told what might have happened to prevent it from happening again, and then the briefing officer said, “Your odds of living just went up because a certain percentage of cadets die during training.”