Charles Everard Dills

Advanced Flying School
Craig Field, Selma AL
AT-6, Texan

~15 March-28 May 1943
Class 43-E

      We were up all night on the train from Courtland. As I remember we were standing the whole way. The train stopped at the field and we were marched to headquarters, carrying our barracks bags over our shoulders.
      I still remember my cadet military serial number, 17 053 690.
      This was a "permanent" base with low yellow stucco buildings with a southwest character to them. I was a assigned to a room with two others, a boy named Milton Dixon and Charles Wesley DeFoor III. It soon came out when our birthdays approached in April that he was one day older than I. Since my name always came right after his, I got the inevitable nickname of "Junior".
      We were flying AT-6's here and were to learn more formation flying, gunnery, aerial combat and altitude flying. It was a hectic time and my memories are kind of jumbled. But a few patches stand out with clarity.
      We tried to always appear busy. We would practice taking a 30 caliber machine gun apart and reassembling it. And anything else we could think of because there was a group of insructor pilots that would walk around the flight line and if they saw a student that "caught their fancy" they would single him out, take him on an unannounced check flight and if they didn't like what he did they could wash him out on the spot. They were of course called the "washing machine"!
      One of our friends was a Jewish boy by the name of Solomon Abrams. I liked him but he did not have good judgement. One day when he had been cut out of the pattern once more than he could stand, he dove below the plane that cut him off and landed ahead of him. This is very dangerous and he was washed out on the spot. Instead of being angry, when he went around to say goodbye, he smiled ruefully and said that he was surprised that he made it as far as he did. The pilot that washed him out probably saved his life and perhaps someone else's. He seemed to realize that. I saw him much later. He came back from the Mediterranean on the same boat I did. He had become a navigator, had been shot down over Ploesti and was one of the air crews that was liberated from prison camp by the Russians!

      I went down to Kissimmee Florida in March 2006 and flew an AT-6 for an hour. I was shocked at how well I did. Here is a picture of the event! I'm in the front seat and I'm doing the flying, even the takeoff and landing!
      I even did a roll with a little advice from my instructor, Chuck Gardner of Warbird Adventures. The first roll dished out. This is the second one!

      We were trained in the Link Trainer. This was a ground device for instrument training. You got in, put on your seatbelt, pulled the "canopy" over your head (It was opaque!) and proceeded to fly this cockpit using only the instruments. The instructor outside had lots of ways of giving you problems so they could see how you would react.
      One day I was scheduled for a session in the Link and almost right after it for an altitude flight. The Link was way down the line so I ran back afterwards and my instructor was tapping his foot by his plane with a student in the backseat and the other student in his plane. I hurriedly went to mine, got in, and started the engine.
      We took off, formed into a V. I was on his right and we started to climb. When we got to 12,000 feet, I obediently set my oxygen regulator to 12000 feet and had my mask on.
      The regulator we were using was not the "demand" type we got later. It was a constant flow type and when you set the altitude it set the flow.
      As we got higher and higher, I kept adjusting the regulator for the increased altitude. When we got to 21,000 feet he told me to get off to the side and do a series of stalls, which I did. He wanted us to get the sloppy feel of the controls at that altitude! He then told me to do a snaproll, which I did. But in doing so, I had increased my speed and I wound up out in front of them. He told me to do a 360 and rejoin formation.
      I did and lost 3000 feet! All I could think of was, "What am I doing at 18000 feet?" So I climbed back up and looked for them for fortyfive minutes. I tried calling them on the radio but I didn't speak louder as you have to at altitude because of the thin air. They heard the carrier wave but never heard my voice. They saw me wandering around and wondered what I was doing. I never did see them.
      I was under the influence of "anoxia", oxygen deprivation. I had the classic symptoms of no judgement and tunnel vision.
      Finally, after being unable to find them, I realized the period was over and I started to descend. When I got down to about 8000 feet it was like waking up and I had a splitting headache. After landing the instructor, after my explanation, asked me, "Didn't you turn on the oxygen bottle in the backseat?" I told them I had never been told about it and that since I had trouble getting back in time from the Link trainer I thought everything was ready to go. I had a spitting hangover for the rest of the day. I had been at altitude for almost an hour around 20,000 feet with no added oxygen!

      We went to Eglin Field for our gunnery training. My main memory there did not happen to me. Our two 30 caliber machine guns were in the cowl and fired through the propellor. There was a solenoid which fired the guns at a time when the bullet would go between the blades. This was one of the "great" inventions of WWI. It keeps you from shooting off your own propellor. But sometimes, rarely, it would misfire and shoot a hole through the propellor. When this happened it would unbalance the propellor and the engine would vibrate badly.
      This happened. And here we were at Eglin which had no facilites for changing a propellor and we had to get the plane a couple hundred miles back to Selma. What to do? Finally someone had a brilliant idea. They pulled the prop around and shot a hole through the other blade and then they were able to fly it back to Selma!! Field improvisation was needed.
      Charles DeFoor had married a Fort Myers Florida girl named Barbara Whitehurst. When we were at Eglin Field, he got into a poker game and lost $80. That doesn't sound like much now but it put him a month behind in pay. And he had a wife and no money to feed her!! So I loaned him $80. He paid me but by the end of the next month he had borrowed it back. This went on month after month and when he went down in the Mediterranean probably a year later, he still owed it!
      I was one of the few that was picked to check out in their very few P-40's. We were the first class where they re-introduced this after several of the airplanes were bunged up and had to be taken out of service for repair.
      We went through a very extensive ground school. We learned ALL about a P-40. We would go out everyday and sit in the airplane, memorizing the instrument panel, the switches and levers and procedures. Then an instructor would give us a blindfold check. We would have to close our eyes (I don't remember a blindfold!) and put a finger on whatever he called for. As time progressed we progressed to having our parachute on, being strapped in, connecting the throat mike and starting the engine. This went on day after day for two weeks.
      Finally one day I went out and got all hooked up, took another blindfold check, started the engine and then after a pause, the instructor said, "Well, take it up!" I was shocked stupid. I never believed they would actually let me fly this monster. I felt like a bucket of icecubes had been poured down my back. I must have had a stupid look on my face because the instructor looked at me hard, and then said "You're going to bring it back, aren't you?" A dumb remark like that was just what I needed. I "came back to life", taxied out to the runway, ran up the engine, pulled out on the runway and, with an act of some courage, pushed the throttle forward and took off. What noise! What speed! I was probably five miles from the field and several thousand feet in the air before I pulled up the gear or throttled back. What an experience. Flying a high-powered machine like this without any dual makes a pilot a Fighter Pilot. It's the experience that is well described by the statement that "A bomber pilot is strapped in his airplane, the fighter pilot has it strapped to him!" This is a somewhat subtle but critical difference in attitude that is most necessary.
      We got ten one hour flights. When I did my first loop, I was not prepared for the difference power makes. Usually, up to now, one had to pull it through the top of the loop before the airplane stalled. But in a P-40 this was not only not necessary it was almost dangerous. I got my speed up, pulled back on the stick and as I went over the top with no trouble, the G forces blacked me out totally. I woke up on the down side of the loop. Going unconcious made me let up on the stick, the G forces decreased and I woke up, going straight down. I pulled out straight and level and had no idea what I was doing. I went straight and level for twenty or thirty miles getting my senses back.
      One day, as I was taking off, I became aware that I was losing hydraulic pressure. I had started retracting the gear but I immediately reversed this and helped pump them down with the hand wobble pump. This was critical because if you lost pressure with the gear up there was a good chance that the tail wheel would not come down and lock. Also there would no flaps available to me when I got ready to land. I called the tower, told them what was going on and requested an emergency landing. They put me on hold and called Captain Chandler, head of the P-40 unit. I think he got rattled and got into another P-40 and came up and flew on my wing as we circled the field. He tried to talk with me on the radio but I could't understand him We had an early throat mike and they were terrible. Sometimes if you sweated, they would actually make burn marks on each side of your Adam's apple!. I thought he was trying to tell me something I didn't know or had not already done. We finally agreed to try to land. The south half of the field was grass so I asked permission to land on the grass hoping that if the tailwheel was not down that I would not damage things as much as on concrete. I came in much faster than usual because I had never landed without flaps. I remember it being 135 mph as I leveled off to touch down. I landed on the wheels and let the tail down slowly. Fortunately the tailwheel was down and locked and I rolled up across the runway, off a taxiway to the ramp and was met by a jeep. Several officers got out, motioned for me to cut the engine (hand across the throat) and I did. I got out and they proceeded to grill me on the spot about everything and all the emergency procedures. I was well trained though, answered everything to their satisfaction and I never heard anything else about it.
      Captain Chandler was the kind of administrator I have no real use for. One of the other boys had an engine quit on him right over the field. He called and was cleared for an emergency landing. He set it up perfectly, BUT. Another plane had been waiting to take off at the yellow line on the taxi strip. He was told by the tower to hold his position, that an emergency landing was coming in. Instead he pulled out on the runway. Well it would still have been all right if he stayed there, but he started to take off. This completely ruined the chance for an emergency landing on the runway so the pilot veered slightly to the right and landed on the grass. It had rained recently and the ground was very soft. He landed, held it beautifully as long as he could but as he slowed down, the wheels sank lower in the muddy field and eventually the tail started coming up and he flipped over on his back. Among others, Captain Chandler raced out to the plane and when they got the pilot out, dazed but unharmed, he congratulated him for a good job. Several days later he got the boy into his office for an hour and chewed him out about it. When he didn't have any more time to think about it than the pilot did, he thought it was a good job. But on several days thinking, he thought of alternatives. This kind of stupid Monday morning quarter-backing is often seen in newspapars after the accident is several days old.
      They gathered us in a hangar one day for a talk by a visitor. An early Marine pilot, Major Al Williams (Tattered Wingtips) was the writer of a column in "Flying Aces Magazine" and a pilot for Gulf Gasoline. He had a highly modified Grumman F2F painted bright orange with blue rays on the upper side of the upper wing. I don't remember any of the talk except the impression I got of an interesting loner and pilot. We were all very impressed. He then put on a little display with his Gulfhawk. He started to taxi on the ramp and then lifted off! He did a number of maneuvers but the two I remember were flying sideways down the runway at probably 50 feet. And when he came in to land, he came in downwind, throttled back at the end of the runway, pulled it up almost to a stall and walked it around 180 degrees and down to the end of the runway. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it!
      It finally came to graduation time. We were getting quite elated. We were measured for our Officer's Uniforms and the anticipation was great! The day came, there was a ceremony and we were all standing around watching as families pinned the wings on their graduate. Of course, as usual, I had to pin on my own (boo hoo!).

Graduation of Class 43-E
Craig Field, Selma AL
28 May 1943

      This was a more traumatic ending than the usual graduation because now we knew we were that much closer to going overseas. We were due to be assigned to a "Replacement Training Unit". This is exactly what it was, training to replace pilots lost or rotated from overseas. My next station was to be Sarasota Florida. But first, they thought we needed a little rest and a chance to say "Goodye" to everybody so we got a ten day "delay enroute" to the next station which really meant twelve days leave!
      And here is my Officer's AGO Card. I got this one on a Reserve Active Duty tour at Wright-Patterson AFB Ohio in the late 50's.

      I wish I still had the original. There was a misspelling on the genuine one. At the top, it said "For Indentification Only".

      This is my original dogtag. If you could see this original you would see the amount of battering it underwent while I wore it for over two years. We wore two. If we got killed, the finder would take one and leave the second for the Graves Registration people.
      It gives my name, my serial number O-803354, the fact that I had tetanus shots in 1942 and 1943, had blood type O and was listed as a Protestant.

      We were supposed to give a dollar to the first enlisted men that saluted us and they were all over the place trying to get that first dollar. It was kind of fun though.
      I went in to Selma because I wanted to catch a train to Birmingham and then to St. Louis to see my sister, Helen. When I tried to board the train, there was only one passenger car and there was a black couple in it so we couldn't board. I went to Birmingham, sitting on a mailsack in the baggage car with several other "whites".
      When I tried to buy a ticket to St. Louis, the salesman said I could only get a ticket to Memphis. I gave up arguing with him and bought a ticket to Memphis. I learned my first travelling lesson here. I should have talked to the conductor on the train. When we reached Memphis I raced to the ticket window and asked for a ticket to St. Louis. He asked me what train I came in on. I said the train from Birmingham. And he said it had just left for St. Louis, "the next train leaves in 12 hours!" I tried a number of ways to get to St. Louis including trying to hitch a military flight from the Memphis Airbase but had to settle for the train 12 hours later!

      I just bought a watch. They claim that it is a copy of the one issued to me when I graduated from flying school. I have absolutely no recollection about that watch so I will have to take their word that it is a copy of the original.

      I don't remember much about the stop at St. Louis but then I went to LaMoure and saw Uncle JC. I also stopped to see Uncle Frank in Lisbon ND From there I went to Washington to visit Irene. I think she was a secretary for the Marines at the Pentagon at the time. Later she transferred to the IRS. Then I went on my way to Sarasota.

Sarasota Florida, Replacement Training Unit

      We lived in tents for the six weeks in late June and July. The insects were fierce. We were told about the mosquitoes that were debating whether to haul one of us back home to the swamp. And then the other mosquito said, "No, the big ones will take him away from us."

      I think it rained everyday at 4 PM. They would schedule flights to take off before the rain and land after. When we were flying we could see the columns of rain a mile wide and scattered around and we could fly between them! I don't remember much about the training, it was more of the same but more so!

      I do remember one slightly hair-raising occurence. I was taking off one day. I had cleared the ground and was at mid-field when the engine quit. Fortunately I had not yet started to bring up the gear. I don't remember if I had time to put down the flaps or not but I got it back on the runway and got on the brakes. I managed to slow it down and stop it about fifty feet or so on the overrun area of the runway. I seem to remember it being gravel. I felt a bit lucky. If it had quit thirty seconds later I would have had a real problem.

      I remember it being quite hot. We had to taxi fast to the runway, run it up and get off the ground fast to avoid overheating the engine.

      I don't remember going to the ocean much and as I remember, the water was too cold anyway, like California.

      I remember going into a drugstore in town and seeing a girl crying in a booth. I sat down on the other side of the table and tried to talk to her to console her. It appears that she had been dating one of the cadets in the previous class and he had gone. As I remember, we had one or two dates, a movie or something. I don't think she cried when I left but I'll probably never forget the name, Kitty Rhodes. I remember a pretty blond but have no memory of her face at all!

      It was here that I had my three obligatory obituary pictures taken, a full length, a 3/4s and a head shot. We didn't really believe it would be needed, but "just in case!"
      I was told much later that the family in Grand Forks didn't know that Aunt Lena, in Grand Forks was going blind until my picture arrived and she had to ask who it was!

      They did seem to be rushing us through. We flew and flew. We would get a coke and go to the blackboard to get briefed for the next flight. Then we would go out and fly. We would get a coke and go to the de-briefing. Then we would get another coke, etc. I got a bit sick of coke and I started smoking Camels to cut down on the cokes. I didn't quit till 1 September 1955.

      One day I was on an instrument mission. The instructor was in the second plane, watching while I was under the hood. Apparently he got bored so he told me to come out from under the hood. We were in formation, I was on his right. He beckoned to me to come in closer. I did. He beckoned again and I did again. This kept up until my left wing overlapped his elevator about two feet and about a foot below. Because of the spiraling air from his propellor I was strongly cross controlled! He decided to go down gently. By the time I noticed he was already starting down. There is a short reaction time before the controls take effect. So I "popped" the stick to get it started and my wing just touched his elevator. When we got down I asked if he felt me touch his tail with my wing. He said, "No, I thought it was an air bump! Yes, he was young too!

      When we graduated from here we were sent to the Embarcation Center at Miami Beach Florida.

Next Page


Home page

Please send your note to Charles Dills in California, USA.