In the mid ‘40s, eight young boys from Letcher County decided to go into the military. We all thought we were going to be flying those airplanes.
All of us were under age, and none of us had finished high school. One of the boys was a little older than the rest of us, and he was doing all the talking and making decisions for us.
We left Jenkins on the bus for Roanoke, Va. We stayed in a hotel where our large room had about 25 men in it. The next day they took us to a building for medical examination. There were hundreds of young men being checked out by military doctors.
I lost track of the guys from Jenkins and Burdine except Dickie Anderson, whom I knew all my life.
We were then taken into a large room and sworn into the Army Air Corps. Dickie and I never saw the other six boys from our hometown. They took us back to the hotel, telling us we would leave the next morning for Fort Meade, Md., where we would get our military clothing and board a troop train to take us to Sheppard Air Field, Tex., to begin our basic training.
We found out late that the other six young men did not pass the medical examination, or they had asked to be sent home. I will not embarrass them by naming them. Some of them are no longer with us.
When we got to Fort Meade, it was very cold and had a lot of snow on the ground. We got our first GI haircut. The barbers were only allowed seconds to shave our heads.
Every young man got four shots. This was my first shot, and they hurt. Some of the guys passed out.
We were let into a big, cold warehouse and clothing was thrown to us. Most of the clothes did not fit, and when we got to our barracks, we exchanged clothes with each other until we found something that somewhat fit. You could not wear civilian clothes in those days.
The next morning we boarded a troop train for Texas. From Maryland we went through Pennsylvania and a lot of tunnels. Some of the guys made the mistake of opening some windows, and when we went through those tunnels the smoke from the old coal engine almost choked us to death. We were on the train about three days. I had never been away from home before and this old boy was homesick.
When we got to Sheppard Field, we were put into groups of 100 men, which would become a Flight. Dickie was put in one of the Flights and I ended up being the only Kentucky boy in my Flight. I was very sad not knowing anyone in my flight.
We were assigned a drill instructor, and the one we got was a sergeant from Hazard. He had been through the war and decided to stay in the service. I’m sure glad he did. Because we were from the same part of the country, we became friends. My dad was a coalminer and so was his dad.
He spent a lot of extra time with me, showing me how to make my bed the right way, how to salute, and shine my boots. I then would show the other guys what I had learned from him. He later taught me how to march our Flight.
After the first week I was marching them everywhere we went. I think because of me, our Flight never had to do any K.P. The other guys liked that. I thought the other men would be upset with me, but they were not.
At the rifle range I knew my way around guns of all kinds, being an old farm boy who was raised on a 100-acre farm. None of the men had ever had a gun in his hands before. I showed them how to use their guns, how to set the sights and the right way to shoot.
The second time out to the range, we all made sharpshooter. We were told that had never happened before. Our sergeant was so proud of us.
Our Flight got so good marching that we always led the other Flights on the drill field.
After our basic training was over, our captain wanted to keep me at Sheppard Field to train the next Flight coming in. My Hazard sergeant talked him out of it.
I saw Dickie Anderson many times on base, at the P.X. and mess all. He was not shy like I was, and he was having the time of his life. He was sent to cook’s school. In those days, cooks, military police, and motor pool were the career fields you wanted to stay away from. Promotions were very hard to get in those fields.
I was sent to radio school. That was not my first choice, but I would be flying, and that’s what I always wanted.
I only saw Dickie one other time since our training days. I was home on leave the same time he was there. He had just returned from London, England, and had married a girl from there.
Dickie later retired from the Air Force.
Contributing writer Everett Vanover lives in Fairfield, Calif.