WWII AVIATOR GLEN FOWLER: IN HIS OWN WORDS - Recalls War Memories

(12/07/2017)

UNITED STATES NAVY PILOT GLEN V. FOWLER

Active Duty January, 1943 - January, 1946

Presented November 7, 2002 Veterans Day Program

Calhoun County Committee on Aging
Ensign - United States Naval Reserve to January 6, 1953

FOWLER SPEAKING AT SENIOR CENTER VETERAN'S PROGRAM IN 2002

When Mike asked me to do this, I wasn't sure I could, something I've never done before.

I asked Mike, how much time do I have? I have plenty of material probably won't take me over 10-15 minutes to tell you all I know.

Of course, I don't know what you veterans have been through, the only thing I can tell you is my experience. That's what I'm attempting to do.

I want to take you back to Dec. 7, 1941, 60 years ago. Where were you then? Some of you weren't around then, though a lot of you were. Of course we know what this date was, the time the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor. The president came on the air and said "this is a date that will live in infamy," which means disgrace or dishonor.

This is what happened to the Japanese, they were disgraced and dishonored. At the time, I was going to college, Bethany College up next to Wheeling.

I remember it very well. In the Fall of' 42, my number was coming up, I was going to have to go into service. What am I going to do, would I go in to the Army, Navy, or Marines? What would be my choice?

I was thinking, I don't want to go in the Army, they'd probably put me in the Infantry and I don't want to go in the Army and have to lay on the ground, or sleep on the ground, long marches.

The Navy might be my choice, cause at night I'd have a good bed and dry, and of course there was always the possibility that the Japanese would hit the ship but that would be true of anybody, or any part of the service you'd go into.

We know that when we go into the military, especially during the war, we never knew what we were going to get into. I was almost 21, and Uncle Sam says "I want you" and he's pointing his finger right at me.

So I decided with a high school education I could go into the Naval Air Corp as a Cadet and learn to be a pilot, so that sounded pretty good to me.

I was working in D.C. at the time so I decided to join the Navy. I felt like Bernard Bell (Medal of Honor winner). When they asked him how he got out of "Booger Hole," he said, "I walked out".

So, how'd I get to D.C.? With my thumb. Back in those days, people would pick you up and this is how I got to D.C. I was in D.C. when I enlisted in the Navy in January '43, and I was taken in the Navy as a Naval Cadet.

But you don't start flying a plane just as soon as you join the Navy, so back to school we went for learning navigation, climatology, principles of flying, and to learn about the things you needed that they had for you to do.

Physical training such as gym, boxing, track, swimming, cross country, and those things-rope climbing.

There's two instances I'd like to relate to you. One was about the final tests in gymnastics - rope climbing, and that was to climb a rope, hand over hand, 10-15 feet up, and then do 10 head over heel rollovers and wind up in a head stand.

Boy, I thought, "I hope they don't ask me to do that, I'll never make it!" But I did it to my surprise. Lot of times we can do things we think we can't, and we can if we just try.

Another instance was about planting grass. At Chapel Hill, North Carolina, we took up sod by the single blade and replanted it like planting onions. In a few weeks the grass would grow together to make sod.

After the grass grew it was cut in blocks and placed as a lawn around new homes, especially, for quick lawn growth. This was a new experience for me.

In October '43, I was introduced to my first plane and after 10 hours of instruction we had our first solo. This was at Bunker Hill, Indiana, near Peru. And its cold in Indiana in October and November, and if the temperature was below seven degrees, we didn't fly.

It was too cold. We did have enough warm clothes, shoes, helmet and coats but our face was exposed. We had a mask on but the cockpit was open and it was cold. On those cold days when you came in, there was frost on the mask where you had been breathing, and the mask would be all iced up.

Then in Feb. 1945, I went to Pensacola, Florida. There we flew the SNJ, TBF (Torpedo Bomber made by Grumman, and TBM (Torpedo Bomber made by Martin - the Avenger) and Mr. Belcher that is here, worked on that TBM when he was at Martin. So he made the planes, and I flew them.

The TBF, I had always heard was the largest single engine plane that the Navy had, but looking through the material, it's the largest single engine plane in the world. That thing weighed 23,000 pounds, fourteen foot high and me being a country boy, that looked like a lot of plane. Which it was!

And on the plane we could carry a 2,000 pound torpedo or four five hundred pound bombs-also under the wings we had 8 rockets, four on each wing. In the plane there was three people, the pilot, the gunner and a radioman. They were in the back. There was only one seat for the pilot-you were on your own when you were flying.

In October, 1944, we went to Glenview, Illinois. Up on Lake Michigan, next to Chicago. We went there to qualify for carrier landing. We wondered why they would have carriers on Lake Michigan. No way could they get carriers in and out of there. Carriers were out in the ocean on military duty. They needed to train new pilots.

Someone got the idea that they had a couple of side-paddle boats like the old Mississippi River boats, with paddles on the side, so they took these two boats and took the super-structure off, leveled them off and built it for landing planes.

They were only 550 feet long. Carriers in the military were 800-900 feet long. Being short, we couldn't fly off, so we had to be catapulted off, every time. A catapult is a hydraulic boost and you're sitting still, and in 2-3 seconds later you're going about 100 miles an hour.

The USS Wolverine and USS Sable, those ships were docked in downtown Chicago. People would watch these planes in practice, when out walking around. There's 200 planes still in the bottom of that lake!

What you did when coming in on carrier landing, was watch this landing signal officer with flags something like a ping-pong paddle only bigger, and he would pick you up on the right and he'd bring you around with these paddles and if you was going too fast, he'd give the signal to slow down, and if you're too low, he'd give you the signal that you were too low, or too high, he'd give you the signal that you were too high.

You were to watch him and do what he told you. You were pretty safe to land. When you come in, you're coming in just above stalling speed, maybe about 95-100 knots. Stalling speed was about 90, so when he gave you the cut, you pushed the stick forward, then pull it to your gut and sit down on the deck.

This one pilot, was making an approach, motor went dead, and boom he went into the water. And he said it was cold, of course the water is cold up there at that time in October and November He said he thought he'd freeze, but they had the boats there ready to pick him up. He wasn't in the water very long. But they got him out, and got him there someplace where they could take care of him, and took all of his clothes off, and of course he was freezing.

Somehow he lost his balance and fell back in to a heater, and burned his butt, that's what he said. Said he wasn't able to fly for three or four days.

And then we went to Salton Sea, California. That was a big trip for me, never been any place of course, I was in Washington, but never been the other way.

From West Virginia to Chicago, down to Kansas City, we went the southern route to Albuquerque, Nm, near The Grand Canyon. If you've never been there, the beauty of the landscape, the desert, the rocks, the formations of the different colors of rocks, that was a great experience. Looking back now, I know why I was disappointed about the trip. I didn't know what was ahead and I didn't want the trip to end. We went to Salton Sea close to San Diego for night flying. Never having been to Salton Sea, that's what it is, just salt and sand. It doesn't rain there. One of the guys had been there 2 or 3 years and said they had just had a little sprinkle.

December '45 they were shipping us out to go overseas to go into combat, we had two or three ships. They were actually carriers, USS Bennington, USS Admiralty Islands, and USS Boganville. May of '45 I was flown from Okinawa to the USS Swanee, CVE 27, that is on my license plate. If you see my car, that's my car license, If you see that you know where it came from. Air Group 40, USS Swanee.

Here's where things really got rough.

What have I got myself into? This is war! Scared? You bet!

Thinking about it, you know I wasn't the only one in harms way, a lot of other guys had a job too. And we have to think about, freedom is not cheap. We have to pay for freedom.

We have to think about people at home, Mother and Dad, brothers, sisters, girlfriends, neighbors. We think too what happens to people. We have to think about the Army man that's in a bunker, the enemy throws a grenade in, six or eight guys there, one closest to it, knows they are all gonna be blown up, so he falls on it and takes the blunt himself.

This is what we have to feel like when we go into service, we have a responsibility and the possibility of losing our lives.

Our combat zone was Okinawa, between Okinawa and Formosa. A chain of islands that we needed to keep-air fields so Japanese couldn't take off or land. We bombed the runways, air traffic control towers, and anything that we found there that was military, radio stations, etc.

Every day we had someone out looking for submarines,that was part of our duty too, we had to go in all directions from the fleet, we had to protect them.

Our target runs were from 10,000 feet. Strike an airfield or anything we were looking for. The fighter planes went ahead of us. They would go in and drop the bombs and clear the way for us. The TBF's, being a big plane, could not dive or pick up much speed. A 40 degree (dive) was maximum. Our top speed was 280 knots. We're at about 350 miles per hour.

If we went any faster than that, we'd tear our wings off. So the fighters went in and dropped their bombs, strafed the target, came back up, then we'd start our run at about 5000 feet, they could catch up with us, get ahead of us and give us protection .

Thinking of protection-I remember a test pilot that was in the Navy earlier. His squadron made a strike against a Japanese fleet that was back in a cove and they thought they would go in low and surprise them and wouldn't be in any harm. The Japanese were waiting for them. He was the only one that came out alive. Those were the things that the early pilots ran into. During the later part of the war, we didn't have the exposure they did.

The most exciting flight that I had while I was in service was when I ferried an Admiral from the ship to Okinawa. I don't know why they picked me, the junior pilot, I never had near as many hours as did some of the other guys. But if you get an assignment, you have to do it.

We were about half way on the flight and had an oil leak. Oil was coming back across the fuselage and the wing of the plane. We landed at Okinawa alright. And they took care of that for us, so we could make the return trip.

December 6, 1945 we were at the signing of the Peace Treaty of the Japanese on the USS Missouri.

I have a foot note there, "McArthur and me!" Of course there were a lot of other people there. The cost of the war, I read this someplace, one quadrillion - one plus fifteen zeros.

The cost to train each one of us pilots was $40,000. Forty thousand dollars was a lot of money back in '42 and 43.

That's about the extent of my talk.

Anyone have any questions?

GLEN'S FOOTNOTES

There's a book out that tells about what America was really like, Name of it is ONCE UPON A TOWN, written by Bob Greene. (Glen commented about this book and how North Platt, Nebraska rallied to the call of doing something for the military people).

Every day we wrote home. Moving around, we didn't get mail every day. Some days, we'd get maybe 15 letters from home. Some of the boys who got the popcorn balls in North Platt, Neb. went back to Nebraska and looked up those girls, whose names and addresses were in the popcorn balls.

The book is in the library and I told some of the folks here at the Senior Citizens Center, that they should get this book from our library. It's a great book.

It's a love story between a country and its sons.

If that isn't love:
The ocean is dry,
There's no star in the sky
And a sparrow can't fly.


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