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Remembering Pearl Harbor – Part 3

Charles E. “Chuck” Harris History

 Part 1 Part 2  Part 3

Becoming an Aviation Cadet

Early in this story I mentioned that one of the requirements for entry into the Civilian Pilot Training Program was an agreement to volunteer for the Army Air Force in case of national emergency. Shortly after Pearl Harbor my application papers were submitted. Notice to report to Hickam Field for my physical exam for aviation Cadet Training was received in July. During the exam it was determined that my blood pressure was too high. When I explained our 70 hour weeks at the Navy Yard, the Flight Surgeon recommended that I request a shot leave of absence from my job and go somewhere to rest. Commander Johnson was more than happy to oblige and gave Harry and me 7 days leave.

A week on the big island sounded like a good way to relax. We flew on a small commercial plane to Hilo, then by bus to Mauna Loa Mountain and Volcano House on the edge of Kilauea crater. There we learned the Hawaiian legend of Madame Pele, the Goddess of fire.

“Madame Pele is an ancient Hawaiian legend and in modern time is the visible of all the old gods and goddesses. Dwelling in the craters of Kilauea Volcano, she sends ribbons of fiery lava down the mountainsides to add new land along the shores of Hawaii. Apart from the legend, Mauna Loa is considered the tallest mountain on earth when measured from the bottom of the ocean.

After a couple of very interesting days at the Crater House we bussed on down to the Kona Inn, a beautiful resort on the very southern tip of the big island. Due to the way Harry and I were the only guests. What luxury and great service we received. The scenery was spectacular.

Then back to Hilo via the Kona Coast to finish out our week. On the way north we crossed several lava flows. Our bus driver was a native Hawaiian with great knowledge of the island and it’s history. He kept us entertained the whole trip; most of the way we were the only passengers. Upon arrival in Hilo we were among the very few guests at the Hilo Hotel.

On the evening before we were to fly back to Honolulu the southern sky became brighter and brighter as the sun went down – a gorgeous orange color. The few hotel guests collected outside to watch. The word got around that Mauna Loa was erupting!

As Harry and I marveled at the sights, a small Hawaiian boy came and stood beside us. Before long he started telling the legend of Madame Pele. The youngster tried to give the impression that he did not believe the legend, but it was obvious that he did. What a night to be in Hilo

The following day we boarded the plane back to Honolulu. Unfortunately, the windows of the plane had been painted over that week to prevent observation by passengers – a security measure. Consequently were unable to see the volcano eruption, though the pilot said we were flying near it. You can’t have everything.

Upon returning to work I was able to schedule a follow-up exam, and this time I passed. The Cadet Training Program and becoming an Air Force flier was something to look forward to.

The first week in August my orders were received to report to Hickam Field for enlistment. I was enlisted as a Private with immediate promotion to Aviation Cadet. There were forty of us in the group, mostly Army Sergeants who had volunteered for aviation duty. Eight or nine of us were directly out of civilian life. That first afternoon we were fitted with uniforms. (When I say fitted, mine didn’t fit very well.) The following morning we assembled for our first military indoctrination: close order drill, saluting, the manual of arms, etc. The Sergeants in our group could not fathom the stupidity of us civilians, now Cadets.

Our pay, as Aviation Cadets, was $75 per month, which was the $50 pay of a private, with a 50% bonus for flight duty.

One of the cadets was Joseph R. (Bud) Kenny bud and went through subsequent Cadet training together, received our wings at the same time in Roswell, New Mexico, and have been close friends to this day.

We were told that we could have a pass that afternoon, but we must be back in time for Retreat. “What’s Retreat some of us asked? The Sergeants just shook their heads in disbelief. Anyhow they soon got it across that Retreat was at 5:30 PM and we’d better be there.

I had long wanted to see the Dole pineapple factory, so this appeared to be the opportunity. After lunch I took a bus to the factory that had formal accompanied tours for visitors. I found myself following behind a small group of Naval Officers. The senior officer – Admiral Nimitz was quickly recognized. It was obvious is staff was with him. The group moved quite slowly, with lots of chit chat. I stayed behind afraid to pass, but always with the 5:30 PM deadline in the back of my mind.

When the tour was completed, the group chatted at the door for a few minutes then strolled down the walk to their waiting staff cars. Then more chat! I stayed at the door as long as possible then decided I’d have to bite the bullet and pass the group if I was to catch the next bus. As I nervously passed the officer, Admiral Nimitz happened to look straight at me. I saluted him and the Admiral returned my salute. I hurried on. How many soldiers or airmen have given their first off-base salute to a four star Admiral.

I arrive back at Hickam in plenty of time for the Retreat ceremony. It was a thrill and honor to salute Old Glory as it was lowered. My first of many Retreat ceremonies.

The next few days at Hickam were involved in basic military training. One afternoon we were again given a pass and I decided to go back to the office at Pearl. Being the first one from the office to enter the service made me proud and happy. I could not have been treated better, Commander Johnson was especially gracious.

Basic training took up the best part of each day for the next couple of weeks. We then boarded a troop ship (the Etolin) for the voyage to San Francisco. The difference between the Matsonia and a troop ship, particularly in sleeping accommodations is the like the Waldorf Astoria and a shack on skid row. We had three tiered bunks in the hole of the ship, with very little ventilation. My bunk was the top one, which tested my athletic ability. After the first night, in which there was an appreciable amount of sea-sickness, a few of us decided to see if we could get away with sleeping on deck. The powers-to-be didn’t object, so the deck was our sleeping quarters for the remainder of the trip. In fact it was a treat to sleep under those tropical stars. About a week later the ship docked at Angel Island, a military reception and indoctrination station just west of San Francisco.

After a couple of days of orientation, we were issued travel orders to Santa Ana Pre-flight base, California. A ferry took us to San Francisco, with a short stop at Alcatraz Prison to drop off supplies. To be there and gaze up at those foreboding prison walls was and unforgettable experience.

Our orders gave us a couple of days in San Francisco, then railroad tickets to Santa Ana. Four of us, including Bud Kenny, decided to go all out and stay at the St Francis Hotel. The second night my sister Joan and brother-in-law Pete drove down from Sacramento to spend the evening. I hadn’t seen them in a long time. They naturally had many questions about Pearl Harbor. As a matter of interest, Pete shortly thereafter entered the Navy and later became a communication officer on Admiral Nimitz’s staff.

The pre-flight school at Santa Ana included aptitude test and designations for each of us as a pilot, navigator, or bombardier. My designation was that of pilot with subsequent primary flight training at Thunderbird Field, Glendale, Arizona; basic training at Minter Field, Bakersfield, California, and advanced training and graduation at Roswell Army Airfield, New Mexico. After receiving our wings and commissioned as 2nd Lieutenants, we remained in Roswell for B-17 transition (learning to pilot a four engine B-17 bomber) and then to Ephrata, Washington where we formed combat crews for subsequent service with the 8th Air Force in England

In conclusion, I can say that I’ve been a very fortunate guy to have grown up in the 30’s and to have been where history was made in the 40’s. These years were as great foundation for the remainder of a very happy life.

Appendix:

Charles E. Harris’s Insights on the Great Depression – outside of WWII perhaps the greatest influence on the lives of “Our Greatest Generation.”

The foregoing is a thumbnail summary of conditions during the Great Depression. I grew up in Paytte, Idaho, a small farm town sixty miles south of Bosie. My father was a fruit grower and I was the youngest of four children.

Small communities like ours certainly suffered during the depression, but it was large industrial cities with thousands of unemployed that were especially hard hit. The “Dust Bowl” states surrounding Oklahoma had one of the worst, if not the worst, drought in recorded history. Farms dried up and people fled by the thousands to the west, the so-called “Oakies”

When the depression hit with the collapse of the stock market on October 29, 1929 I was in the sixth grade. Our teacher had designated me as the class treasurer to collect “dues” for an end of school party in May. Dues were 10 cents a month. We had classmates who couldn’t pay it. I remember seeing a student in a lower class coming to school one day without shoes, his feet wrapped in gunnysacks. The following day he came with shoes given him by a neighbor. That may illustrate the difference between a small town and a poverty stricken city where care of your neighbor was apparently pretty much an absent quality.

An article by Cecil Ray mentions a few prices during the dark days. I remember the day that our Skaggs grocery (It later became Safeway) brought out the five cent loaf of bread. Milk was eight cents a quart, delivered. Hamburgers were a nickel, etc.

During the summer of 1933, when I was sixteen, I worked at the local cannery alongside men with families. Our wage was 15 cents an hour. Soon after Franklin Roosevelt took office as President in 1933, the National Recover Act (NRA) was enacted, and a minimum wage of twenty-five cents an hour was established. Prior to the NRA there were no laws affecting wages or working conditions. I can remember starting work at seven AM and quitting just before midnight, to return the following morning at seven. My mother was furious, but I was young and kept going. At sixteen things like that don’t bother you!

In that same year first class postage went from two cents to three cents. The public screamed.

It would be easy to go on and on with stories of the sort, but I trust that the above will give the reader a feel for the days of the Great Depression. May we never have anything like that again.

Charles E. Harris