During the fall of 1958 I was a student at Texas A&M taking the last courses needed to graduate. Employment opportunities after graduation did not look good since all employers I had interviews with told me the same thing- complete your military obligation and then come back to see us.
There was a military draft of all men between the ages of 18 and I believe 35 years. Each month the draft board in your county of residence placed the names of eligible individuals in a hat and drew the number required to be inducted into the Army for that month. Deferments were granted for reason such as not being physically or mentally fit to serve, being a full-time student and family hardship cases. A persons draft status was reviewed regularly and updated. A status of 1A was eligible for draft, 1S was deferred for a full time student and there were others. I had a draft status of 1S (full-time student) and that would become 1A as soon as I graduated.
My options were few-go back home and wait to get drafted or join and complete my military obligation. I came up with a plan and in early November I headed to the recruiting office in Bryan, Texas. The office was in the basement of the Post Office, one big room with four neat desks lined up in a very straight row. Each service had a desk but only one was occupied and that was the Army’s desk. We introduced ourselves and he invited me to sit down. We chatted about this and that and then he asked what he could do for me. I said that I wanted to talk to the Air Force recruiter and that I was interested in joining and becoming a pilot. He informed me that the Air Force recruiter had been transferred and he had no information when his replacement was going to arrive. His suggestion was to come back the next day and speak with the Navy recruiter because the Navy, in his opinion, had a better flight program and more to offer than the Air Force.
The next day I’m back at the recruiting office. The Navy recruiter greets me by name as though we were old buddies from way back. We chit chat a bit and then it is down to business. He asked all sort of questions- why do you want to join the Navy and be a pilot, about my physical, medical and mental condition past and present, likes and dislikes, etc. Following that I had to take a short quiz on problem solving, comprehension and math. According to him I was qualified for the Naval Flight Training Program. There was one more step and that was I needed to go to Naval Air Station Dallas and have a physical exam by a Navy doctor and take a series of written tests. He wanted to send me to Dallas the next week. That was rushing things for me. Thanksgiving was a week away, then graduation a couple weeks after that and then the Christmas holidays. We agreed I would go to Dallas the first week in January.
I had been talking with the recruiter for a month and seriously thinking about enlisting in the military for a couple of month before that. I had not shared any of this with my family or my future wife. Just before graduation I dropped the bomb. The news was received as expected, my sanity was questioned and I had a lot of explaining to do. No one was very happy about what I was doing but they got over it, sort of.
January arrived very quickly, so it seemed. My recruiter kept in contact and had instructed me to meet him at Easterwood Airport in College Station for my trip to NAS Dallas. He was waiting when I arrived at the appointed place and time. He gave my a round trip plane ticket, some Navy paper work and instruction on who to look for when I arrived in Dallas, asked if I had any questions, shook my hand, wished me good luck and left. I headed for the ticket counter to check-in. Before I could hand the agent my ticket he asked where I was going. I said Dallas and then he said to go wait where the rest of the passengers were and someone would call us when the plane was ready for boarding. He never looked at my ticket.
The world for this 22 year old country boy was about to change. I had never been to an airport, I had never been this close to an airplane before and in just a few minutes I was going to be up in the air flying in one. The terminal building was a long narrow one story building. One end was ticketing and baggage plus some vending machines, The other end was the waiting area. Double doors on one side of the building led to the parking lot and double doors on the other side led to the ramp where the aircraft was parked. Doors on both sides were open and people came and left at will. There was no security check points, x-ray machines, full body scanners or agents doing body pat downs.
After a few minutes of waiting a guy shows up at the doors on the ramp side and says “Whoever is going to Dallas follow me”. He turns and walks toward the aircraft parked on the ramp. When he got to the plane he turns and says “Climb aboard, find a seat and make yourself comfortable. We’ll be taking off in a couple of minutes”.
I find a seat aft of the wing where I could see down as well as the number one engine. Somewhere I got the notion that this was the safest place to sit in an airplane. As the last passengers were settling down I see the no. 1 propeller start to turn. The engine sputters and finally starts spewing this huge cloud of smoke, enough to make the engine and wing disappear for a moment. I’m thinking that this can’t be good. The same thing happened when the no. 2 engine was started. After a second or two the smoke disappeared. I hear the cabin door close (where we boarded the plane) and the same guy who led us out of the terminal to board come walking up the aisle checking to make sure everyone had their seat belt fastened. He talks to the pilots and we start to taxi.
We get to the end of the runway and I thought something was wrong with the aircraft when the pilots were doing their pre-takeoff engine checks. Finally everything settled down, we taxi some more and then we start the takeoff roll with a deafening roar and a lot of shaking and rattling. After a bit the cabin levels out, we are now sitting in a comfortable upright position and then we became airborne. The engine roar was still there but most of the shaking and rattling stopped. A few seconds later I hear a different noise followed by two thuds and bangs. It took the flight home to figure out what that was (retracting the landing gear).
The aircraft I’m in is a DC-3 twin engine propeller aircraft with two main landing gear and a tail wheel. When the aircraft is on the ground its nose is sticking up and the tail is close to the ground. When boarding it only took four steps from the ground to the floor of the cabin. The door also is the boarding ladder. As one moved forward in the cabin you were walking uphill. It feel like sitting in a recliner when the plane is on the ground.
I’m all eyes and ears with my nose against the window. We make a turn and my first thought is I need to hold on or I will fall. If I leaned over this far while on the ground I would definitely fall but to my surprise I had no sense of falling. The next eye opener was when we reached cruising altitude and the pilot reduced power to cruise power. The first thing that came to mind was engine failure.
The weather was clear and I’m guessing that we were cruising at 5000 feet. There was no turbulence and the ride was smooth. I was busy sightseeing through the window and the next thing I knew was we were getting ready to land. The pilot made a “squeaker” (very smooth) landing. It appeared that we were going very fast after we touched down and I hoped the plane had good brakes and that there was plenty of runway left to get us stopped.
A sailor was at the terminal as my recruiter had promised. He provided a ride to NAS Dallas and I checked in. I was assigned a room for my stay, given a map of where the chow hall was and instructions of where and when I was to report the next day.
I had a busy next day and the first order of business was a head to toe physical. There were about 20 of us that were joining the Navy and this was our first exposure to how the Navy does business. We were given a form and told to complete our name and some other personal info. Next we striped down to our shorts and lined up in the passageway. From there we proceeded to the first station and had our blood pressure checked. The corpsman who did the test recorded the results on our form. At the next station we had our temperture and pulse taken and recorded, next was drawing blood for a blood test, then eye check etc. The doctors were the last stops. The first doctor listened to your heart and lungs, looked in ears nose and throat, checked reflexes with his rubber hammer, mashed around on the stomach and just a head to toe front and back look. The best was left for last. This doctor was sitting on a chair with a box of rubber gloves and a large jar of vaseline. One by one we stepped up facing him and dropped our drawers. He checked the tool and jewels and then had us turn our head and cough while he checked for a hernia. Then it was about face, bend over and spread then cheeks. The guys in the back of the line though it was funny until it was their turn. We got dressed , turned in the paper work and had to wait a bit until a doctor review each persons results. A few were called back to have something redone.
After lunch we were herded into a classroom and started taking a battery of tests. Each test had a time limit and the time varied from 10 minutes to an hour. The testing took the rest of the day to finish. A few of us had to come back the next morning for special tests that were not given during the morning physical. Mine was to do a hearing test.
That completed all the physical and mental testing and we were told that the results would be forwarded to our recruiter. Mine would be ready in about three weeks. By noon I was on my way to the airport for the flight to College Station.
By the end of January my recruiter called saying he had good news and I should come see him. He informed me that I qualified for the Aviation Officer Candidate () program. He had already written orders and all I had to do was say when and he would get a class date. The orders were not binding, I could still back out if I wanted to. I had until the end of May to make my decision and after some thought a date of 15 April 1959 was selected as my enlistment date. On the 13th of April I said goodbye to Mon, Dad and Patty and boarded that same DC-3 with a one way ticket for NAS Dallas. On the morning of the 14th I had another physical. Two hours after I was sworn in on the morning of the 15th I was on my way to the airport with a one way ticket to the Naval Air Basic Training Command at NAS Pensacola, Florida.
Little did I know how and by how much my life was going to change.
Next: 16 plus weeks of PreFlight training.