Note: Milt's Memoirs are published here with the kind permission of Mr. Milt Zack and his Wife. The views expressed in the story are those of the Author. Follow Milt from his home in Boston, Mass., and eventually to the War in The Aleutians. Milt's crew eventually gets shot down by the Japanese and he becomes a Prisoner of War. Freedom is Not Free. Thank a Veteran for Serving. [The Webmaster]
The Aviation Cadet
PART I Ė THE CADET
It was early spring in 1942. I was 21 years old, single, living at home with my parents in Boston and working as a pharmacist. I had, of course, registered for the draft and, since the war was escalating in Europe and the Pacific, I knew it was just a matter of time before I was called up. However, like many other young men in my situation, my dream was to become a pilot and live the romantic life we read about in old WWI stories. For me, having been born and raised by Orthodox parents in the Boston area Jewish ghettos, it was particularly appealing. My life until that time had been rather sheltered and confined.
For many years, one of the requirements for pilot training was four years of college. In those days there was no money for me to attend college (college was not required to become a pharmacist in 1942, you just had to pass a board certification test) so I couldnít even consider applying. Then shortly after the war started the requirements were dropped to two years of college. Not long after, due to the huge demand for personnel, requirements were again changed and no previous college was required. Instead, they began a training program called Aviation Cadets, for which you could qualify by passing a written and a physical exam.
As soon as I heard about this program, I applied to take the initial exam and after a few weeks, was called down to take the written test, which was a 2-3 hour affair and was basically an IQ and aptitude test, with some testing of general knowledge. After anxiously waiting by the mailbox for a couple weeks, I was notified I had passed (with a very good score) and was asked to come down for the physical exam. This second process of elimination was not as easy for me as the first, and I was asked to go home and come back when there was ten pounds less of me. This I did after pretty much living on lettuce for awhile, and passed the physical the second try. At this point I was formally enlisted in the Army as Private in the Enlisted Reserve Corp, and told to go home and await further notification. This eliminated any concern about being drafted as I was already actually enlisted.
Finally, after about four months, in December 1942, I was notified to report to North Station in Boston, the main railroad station in that city. There we were checked In and told we were going by train to Ft. Devens, MA, our first active duty station. We stayed there 2-3 nights for more processing and paperwork, then it was back on a train to a base in Nashville, TN.
It was bitterly cold in Nashville, TN in December 1942 when we arrived. We were issued uniforms with the Aviation Cadet insignia, a propeller with wings, on the cap and blouse. That was an exciting day. Aviation Cadets was actually a separate rank, and were considered an elite corps then, something like the Green Berets today, and we were extremely proud to wear that insignia. It didnít hurt that we were being paid $75.00 month with insurance paid for, compared to a Privateís pay of less than $30.00 per month, out of which they had to pay their own insurance. This just fed our egos even more.
But then the reality set in and we were put into our places pretty quickly. Our first greetings were by men advising us we would be sorry. These were men who had washed out of the program, which apparently wasnít hard to do. We were then assigned to barracks, with 40 bunks per barrack, and a pot bellied coal stove on either end. We froze our tails off, especially those with bunks in the middle. Each night a man was assigned as a fire guard to make sure the stoves didnít go out. We found out that as Aviation Cadets, we were still human and could suffer like everyone else.
Barracks life was a rude awakening for most of us. We were basically civilians in a uniform and knew nothing. So when we were told there would be an inspection every Saturday morning, it didnít mean much to us until one man, who had been in the service for awhile told us what had to be done. He taught us how to arrange our closet and footlocker to military standards, which included how to fold socks. And how to make a bed with "hospital" corners tightly enough so they would pass the quarter bounce test. And also that the officer doing the inspection would have on white gloves so everything had to be spotlessly clean. Friday nights turned into the worst night of the week for most of us. In addition to all the cleaning and folding and straightening, we had to memorize our serial number and ten orders regarding guard duty so we would be able to answer spot questions thrown at us during inspection.
Nashville was a classification center so, besides trying to stay warm and learning how to clean a barracks, our time there was spent taking tests. Prior to the testing we were asked to put down our preference of specialty, pilot, navigator or bombardier. Of course we all put down pilot. Why else were we there? Then there were the battery of physicals, dexterity tests, IQ tests, aptitude tests and interviews with the psychiatrist, who asked probing questions like "Why do you want to fly?".
After all the testing, but before the results came in, my career took an unscheduled hiatus. I got the mumps.
When I reported to sick call and they diagnosed the problem, they had trouble figuring out what to do with me, they had never had a case of mumps on the base before. They finally decided to put me in the quarantine ward with a bunch of measles cases, but in a private room with strict instructions to stay there and not go anywhere near the measles ward. That was to protect them and me.
Mumps in a grown man can be very worrisome, and part of my treatment was an injection that was supposed to keep the infection from traveling to the nether reaches. A side effect of these injections was an extremely uncomfortable flush, like an exaggerated hot flash, and this was repeated every day for 3-4 days. However, I stopped complaining about these after the doctor came in one day and took me into another room where there was a second case of mumps. This poor guyís face was swollen much worse than mine, and when the doctor asked him to drop his pants, I saw he had one testicle swollen so badly it looked like a pink balloon about to burst.
Of course, when I was recovering I got very bored and lonely and decided to take a walk and visit with the men in the measles ward. As a result, the night before I was to be released, I came down with the measles. This, of course, delayed my return another week or so, and I was getting very anxious about what my test results were. Did I wash out? Did I pass? If so, for what training? Finally someone came in and told me I had not only passed, but I qualified for pilotís training. I felt much better after hearing that news. I was still on track in spite of childhood diseases.
When I was finally released from the hospital, all the men I had come in with had already gone on to their reassignments, so I was with a whole new batch of guys. I guess to give me something to do while the new group was doing things Iíd already finished, they put me on guard duty for 24 hours, the one and only time in my military career. My station was a generator in the middle of nowhere. It was a miserable time. I was just out of the hospital, I had no overcoat and was freezing cold and, to top it off, every time the generator came on around every 2-3 minutes it scared the daylights out of me. The duty was two hours on and four hours off and I was never so glad to see the end of 24 hours before in my whole life.
Finally the pilot trainees received orders to Maxwell Field, Alabama for preflight training, which would be a two month course, and I left Nashville with absolutely no regrets.
For the first month of training at Maxwell, we were underclassmen, and were put through much of the same initiation by upperclassmen as you hear about in the military academies. We never walked anywhere, we had to double time in formation. At mealtimes, each table had an upperclassman assigned to it to insure that each cadet ate a "square meal". This consisted of sitting at attention on the front 3" of your chair, looking straight ahead, and eating your food by bringing a forkful up straight from the plate, then, making a 90 degree turn, put the fork into your mouth. For a month I didnít see what I was eating, which was probably a good thing. (Growing up in an Orthodox Jewish household, I had some very serious psychological food quirks. For example, I couldnít eat pork without gagging on it, although bacon for some reason was OK. I missed many a meal in the service because of this.)
We were housed in six-man rooms, each with only one desk and chair. If an upperclassman walked into the room, everyone screamed "Attention" and jumped up. Whoever was sitting in the chair was obligated by tradition to hook a foot around a leg and throw it at the upperclassman, who of course was expecting it and dodged. If an upperclassman stopped and asked you a question, there were only three acceptable responses; "Yes, sir", "No, sir", and "No excuse, sir." One of their favorite tricks was to stop an underclassman who was double timing his way back from the soda machine with his unopened coke (there were no bottle openers, one learned how to open them using a space in the desk drawer) and ask for a drink. The answer of course had to be "Yes, sir", followed by handing over the unopened coke, which disappeared with the upperclassman to his room. But after a month we became the upperclassmen and things began to look better.
Preflight training consisted of classroom and physical training. I loved the classes. Before I left Boston, I had taken a course given by one of the high schools there for those interested in flying so I had a slight advantage. The course had covered, albeit very basically, navigation, math and meteorology. In addition to these we studied physics, which came easily to me and I enjoyed it. Many of the men were having serious problems with the studies. Some of the Cadets were college graduates, and even some of them were having trouble with the class work, so I felt a bit superior about my good grades. Physical training was just the opposite. I detested it and was terrible at it. The running area was called the Burma Road, and I was always the first to start and the last to finish.
We put in a heavy day. Classes for about 7 hours, then physical training, then retreat formation for half the cadets on alternating days to lower colors and parade. Between PT and parade was a window of ten minutes to shower and dress. Remember, there were 6 men to a room, and each room had one shower. We learned how to move.
Finally we graduated, and in the evening bought the traditional hamburger and coke for all the underclassmen, and prepared for the next step, flight training.
Milt's War - Index
|Getting Into It|
|Prisoner of War|
|A New Home|
|The Beginning of The End|
|Waiting for Liberation|
|Recuperation & Vacation|
|Sharing Our Stories|
Returns to Main Index
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