TRAINING IN THE STATES (Photo Gallery)
As I browsed through the stories that I have published on this web site, I decided that I should go into a little more detail on our training in Nevada and California to sort of tie up the loose ends. Our first real shot at combat trraining came after we arrived at the Tonopah Bombing & Gunnery Range located near Tonopah, Nevada.
We were billeted in quick prefab type single floor barracks in the middle of this vast desert. Everywhere you looked there was sand and the barracks were brown in color, almost the same color as the sand under foot. The camp was located just a few miles from the town of Tonopah and was sort of a temporary training field, whereas Hamilton Field was a permanent air base. This was really a different type of country than to which we had been accustomed. The barracks were filled with double type bunks, one setting on top of the other, so all of members of the 362 Armament Department were housed in one building.
The location of our barracks was on the fringe area of the field and the back door of our barracks looked out toward a hill of sand that looked only 1 or 2 miles away. The front door opened to a paved path, which led to the latrine, showers, wash house, orderly room, mess hall and the balance of the squadrons barracks. We had a short walk to the mess hall and about a mile to the flight line. The thing that I remember most was that everytime I stepped outside the wind was always blowing very hard and the sand was always whirling around me. I always had to protect my eyes and most of the time when I got inside again my ears and nostrils would be loaded with sand.
Practically all of the work done on the planes had to be done outside, as there were no hangars, however the armament department had a small quickly constructed tent covered building in which we used to take the guns inside to clean and repair them. Although we had very few P39 planes at this time, the pilots did get some experience at strafing and bombing. During this time the group was still receiving some additional pilots and ground crew memers to fill the roster to capacity. It was also during this period of time that a strange thing happened-One evening after working on the line all day, I went over to the shower house to take a shower and after I returned to our barracks, I heard someone say "Is Hoyt Parmer in here?'" I yelled and this person came up and handed me my dog tags, evidently I had taken them off and hung them up while taking my shower and forgot them. He also said "I know you now, but I'll bet that you don't know me and we use to go to grade school together at New Point, Indiana." He told me that we had been best buddies in the 1st and 2nd grades and then his family moved to Clarksburg, another town in the county. Having no clue at all, I asked him who he was and he answered-Jim Morford, then it all came back to me. The story continues that we went all through the war together and ended up wiith our bunks side by side in England for over a year and a half and then in the same barracks in Neubiberg, before breaking up to go home.
I can remember one Sunday afternoon when we were looking for something to do other than toss a baseball or football around or get a pass to go into Tonopah, three of us decided to take a litttle hike to those hills behind our barracks that looked so close to us. We walked and walked, finally reaching the bottom of those hills and they didn't look small anymore. We were too tired to climb to the top for a look see, so we sat down, drank the last of the water out of our canteens and headed back to our barracks. That so called little hike took us over three hours and it was really hot that day. This little escapade made a big imprint in our minds-That in the desert, distances look to be much shorter than they really are.
The town of Tonopah was an interesting little town. It wasn't very large at all, but I do remember the newest and finest building to be the casino named the "Silver Dollar". It was appropriately named, as they had embedded in glass and reaching around the building a row of silver dollars or cart wheels, as we use to call them. I can remember that one evening an armorer, by the name of Beeson had been into Tonopah and didn't cash in the silver dollars for bills when he left the casino. He had the pockets in his pants & in his army jacket filled with silver. When we took them out and counted them, he had won approximately $400. The Post Office building looked modern, but not nearly as large as the casino. All of the other buildings in town looked like they had just been borrowed from an old western movie.
The Air Field also had a side arm, rifle and machine gun range located a distance away from the living area and all of us had to take trainiing on these various weapons. We enjoyed this very much and would make bets as to who would get the best score. I remember the rifle range area very well and how we hated to see the keepers of the targets raise "Maggies Drawers " when we failed to hit within the designated target. I can also remember my first try at firing the tommy gun, which is supposed to only be fired in short bursts. One time I squeezed the trigger a little too long and ended up firing almost straight up in the air. As you can imagine-that only happened once!
After braving the sands of the desert and the casino at Tonopah for a few short months, the 362nd Fighter Squadrron was shipped out to Hayward Airdrome, located near Hayward, California. The 363rd, 364th & Group Headquarters were shipped to Santa Rosa at the same time. Hayward was a small city at that time, with this nearby small air field. Our living area was about 1 1/2 miles from the city limits of Hayward and the air field was about 1/2 mile down the road in the other direction. We ended up with almost similar type barracks with the double bunk arrangement again, one on top of the other. This was a much nicer area than Tonopah and we didn't have to contend with the blowing sand anymore. We were Located in a very fertile area of California, where many sugar beets, tomatoes, strawberries and apricots are grown. While in Hayward, we did a few bivouacs, dressed in full combat gear with back pack and rifle, march about 2 to 3 miles to a wooded area to pitch our encampment. We each carried 1/2 pup tent and would get with a buddy and together would pick a spot and erect the pup tent. Our mess sergeant with his group would go along and cook our meals in their field kitchen. After the evening meal, the Squadron Adjutant had generally arranged for a movie to be shown after dark. The following morning, after arising and washing up a little in our helmets, we ate breakfast chow and marched back to our barracks area.
The one thing that stands out most in my memory about Hayward was that just after we arrived all of the pilots had a problem running off the end of the runway when landing. The complaint being that the runways were shorter than those at Tonopah and that at Tonopah the planes had to be landed at higher speed, due to the difference in altitude. Bell Aircraft Company sent their Chief Test pilot down to help us out. His name was Jay "ScrewBall" Demming. His job was to show the pilots how to land the P39 with no problems. We understood that he held some classes with the pilots and then took his P39 to the end of the runway, took off and marked the spot where he became airborne and then touched down at that spot when landing, rolled to a stop, took off again, marked the spot again and touched down at that spot and rolled to a second stop, still short of the end of the runway. He then gave the field a buzz job when he left and the whole squadron went out to watch. He flew the full length of the runway upside down and only a few feet off the runway. On the side of his plane was a large picture of a base ball with a screw running through it. We talked about that flying exibition for quite some time.
Our pilots did a lot of skip bombing & dive bombing with the 100 lb. practice bombs and also a lot of tow target practice here. We had a tow target plane that would pull the white screen wire tow target and the pilots would make passes at it using various dip-painted ammunition. The tow target plane would drop the tow target after the practice firing and the Armament Department would retrieve the tow target and record the scores of the various pilots. At one end of the runway was a very large apricot grove and sometimes the tow target would land in the orchard. The owner told us that we could have all of the fallen apricots that we wanted, but to not pick any off the trees. Those tree ripened-fallen apricots were very delicious.
The P39's had 30 caliber and 50 caliber machine guns and either a 20 MM or 37 MM cannon located in the nose, depending upon the model. We had a special area where we would take the planes to boresight them in to the target. After boresighting them in, during the test firing of the cannons, the recoil force would actually back the wheels of the plane out of the pits we had dug to place the plane in level line of flight. The pilots diodn't like to fire the cannons very often, as they said it was a little scary. The other very technical job that the armament department had to do was to synchronize the two nose guns to fire between the blades of the rotating propellor. This was accomplished by means of a ratchet gear ratio motor and an electric impulse generator to trigger the gun at the proper time. They were connected by an impulse wire between the two. By rotating the propellor manually and moving the ratchet gears, we had to set the guns to fire at from 2 1/2 " to 4" behind the trailing blades of the propellor. This specific distance was to allow for the speed range of the plane when possibly firing the guns. Viincent Napoli and I were given the responsibility to do all of the synchronizing for the 362nd Fighter Squadron.
For recreation in Hayward, we would go down to their large bowling alley and bowl a few games. After bowling, we usually went over to the Shalamar Club for a couple of night caps. The people were very friendly here and sometimes we would get a free drink, which was always nice. There was a canning factory just a short distance down the road from our base and some of our guys got permission and worked part time, as the canning factory was short of help and it was tomato canning time for them. All of the people were very friendly here and we didn't even have to thumb a ride into town. We would just go out on the road, start walking and numerous people would stop and pick us up, generally taking us right to the front door of the place that we were going.
I do not believe that we could have intentionally picked two
places that were so totally different, as Tonopah and Hayward were. However,
we appreciated being able to spend time at both of these bases & found the people
living in these two areas very hospitable and friendly. Take a look at the Photo