Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Igniting a Passion: My Grandfather's Journey: Achieving His Dream of Flight Part Two

Edwin now called “Ed” by his friends and family continued to grow on the farm. He prospered in school, making straight A's which honored him a coveted spot in the National Honor Society. Ed’s height and physical agility helped him excel in sports, which he played as often as he could.
Ed: “I loved school. I enjoyed learning and reading, but I also loved sports. Basketball was my favorite and I played it as often as I could. I studied hard, and made straight A's. I hadn’t really gotten an interest in girls yet. I was too busy with farm chores, study, and sports.”
Ed worked hard academically, but he had not forgotten his passion for flying.
Ed: “I would read articles on flying as often as I could. Sitting at my desk, I would open my textbook so it looked like I was studying, but I would actually be reading a flying magazine. One time my teacher caught me, and yelled, “Ed Wyrick, you better put that magazine away! Your attention needs to be on your studies!” I never understood why she cared so much because my grades were good.”
Although Ed studied and read about flying as often as he could, he felt in his heart that becoming a pilot was out of his reach.
Ed: “It was expensive to take flying lessons. There was a small airport in Joplin, Missouri and I could take lessons there, but we were poor and my Dad didn’t know how we would pay for them. My dad ran small little grocery stores. He had the idea that maybe we could trade groceries for flying lessons, but that didn’t really pan out.”
So, the dream of a young teen stayed at a distance, while the country wrestled with a deep economic depression. It was 1937; Franklin D. Roosevelt was serving his second term as president.  Roosevelt created many reform policies and work relief programs in hopes of stimulating the economy. One of those programs included the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which began in 1933. The purpose was to provide employment and occupational training for unemployed youths as well as war veterans, and Native Americans, aged 18-25 years. The program was established under The New Deal that President Roosevelt established. The CCC’s purpose served to implement a general natural resource conservation program in every state. The employees worked by planting billions of trees throughout America, constructing more than 800 parks, upgrading state parks, and developing public roadways in rural areas. Under the CCC, Roosevelt decided to implement a pilot training program, which was passed by Congress in 1939. The program granted schools across the nation funds to begin a piloting program. Joplin Junior College was among those chosen.
Ed: “The Depression was hitting us hard. Many people were out of work. At the time, now 1938, at the age of 18, I had finished high school. I began my college studies at Joplin Junior College. We didn’t have any money, but lucky for me I had an athletic scholarship for basketball. I can’t say that I studied hard during those two years. My mind was on other things like basketball, football, and girls. Also, I found it difficult to keep my mind on my studies. I wanted to pursue my dream of becoming a pilot. There was a heightening awareness of Hitler and the European conflict. I knew that something was going to happen soon, but much of the country did not want to get involved after what had happened in the first world war. As a country we wanted to stay out of their business, but pressure was mounting. I continued with my studies at Joplin Junior College. One of my professors knew that I had the dream to become a pilot, and he approached me one day with an idea. He stated, “Ed, the college is now offering a Civilian Pilot Training or CPT course under the Civilian Conservation Corps. I think you should try for it.” I signed up right away after passing the necessary physicals. There were thirty students in all, twenty-seven boys and three girls. The government mandated that 10% of flight students had to be women. The college hired an instructor from the local Joplin airport. He conducted one to two hours of ground school training and then instructed us in flight for the rest of the day. So, we started flying practice right from the beginning. I was 19 years old when I began the program. I was never really sure why President Roosevelt began the program, but I felt that he wanted a secretive way to train fighter pilots for the impending war. At the time, we were not a belligerent nation. The nation as a whole did not want to get involved with Hitler’s rampage, but the pressure was mounting. I had my suspicions, but at the time, I was just happy to fulfill my dream of becoming a pilot.”
Ed went on to finish his first round of flight studies with great success. He continued to play basketball, and completed his other studies. He felt the tensions mounting across the country due to the European conflict, so he decided to try and enlist as a pilot for the Army Air Corps.
Ed: “I was ready to fight Hitler. I wanted to get in my fighter plane, and fly over Europe, and do away with the evil that existed over there. I decided to try for the Army Air Corps. I was nineteen, tall and strong, so I thought the physical exam would not be a problem. There were several parts to the examination, and an eye exam was included. It turned out that I had a color vision problem. I could not believe it. I had already passed other physical exams with flying colors. I was rejected and not allowed to enlist. Devastated, I decided to try the Navy. The Navy had similar exams, and once again, I failed due to color vision problems. The Navy rejected me. I felt dejected, but I wanted to fly. I could think of nothing else.”
Ed went back to Joplin Junior College. He still needed to finish his studies, and he soon learned that the college was beginning an advanced flight school.
Ed: “It was the fall of 1940. I began my third year of college and I was about to turn twenty years old. My mentor and professor told me about the flight program and instructed me to enroll in the advanced flight school. I wanted to do it, but I needed money. My basketball scholarship was for only two years. As I approached another school year, I had to find a way to fund it. So, I decided to try football. I excelled and another lucky break gave way. I received another year of athletic scholarship, which allowed me to enter the advanced pilot training program. One more hurdle came up though. To enroll in the advanced courses I had to pass the color vision exam. First, I went to a medical doctor in town, but I failed, so I decided to drive out of town to Chanute, Kansas. I took the exam again and passed. That was a lucky break.”
For the next several months Ed pursued his studies, and stayed at the top of his class in flight school. He ascended passed basic flight skills to a more advanced aeronautical training.
Ed: “I was now doing flying acrobatics. I flew a PT19. It was a biplane that was used to train cadets to become combat pilots. Although, I loved acrobatic flying, I knew that the program served as an avenue to train future fighter pilots. As I said before, at this time we had still not gotten into the war. Pearl Harbor had not occurred yet; no one was being drafted to the war effort yet. No one told me that I was training for combat, but I knew that is what we were doing.”
During this time Ed had learned of another avenue to pursue his passion of flight. In the fall of 1941, the Royal Air Force was recruiting American pilots to fight for the British in the fight against Hitler. This recruitment for young American pilots was led by the Clayton Night Committee.
Ed: “The Clayton Night Committee, led by a man named Clayton Night, saught to transport Americans over to Britain to fly in combat against Hitler. I thought this might be a great way for me to fly in combat since I failed the examinations for the Army Air Corps and Navy. So, I went to the interview, but at the age of 22 I didn’t understand the psychology behind their questions. During the interview, a stern RAF officer sat in front of me drilling questions on how committed I was in the cause against Hitler. I remember him staring me straight in the eye and asked, “What if King George wants you to dig ditches?” I told him that I just wanted to fly. The next day I went to see if I had made the cut. I glanced up at the roster to see a large slash through my name. I walked up to the officer and asked why he slashed my name off the list. He responded by stating, “I’m sorry but we want soldiers who want to destroy Hitler, not just want to fly.”
Discouraged, Ed got a job at the local Long Bell Lumber Company in Joplin.
Ed: “I felt that I had exhausted all possibilities of continuing my dream to fly. I could not afford an airplane or the gas that it took. I had been rejected from the Army Air Corps, Navy, and Royal Air Force, so I just got a job. It was toward the end of 1941. I worked as a shipping clerk, and played basketball for the company basketball league. That’s how I got the job. They wanted a good player for their basketball team. I enjoyed playing ball, but I hated the job. I was going stir crazy. I worked there about three months when the country got devastating news. I was driving in town with some friends when the news came over the radio stating, “Pearl Harbor was attacked.” I couldn’t believe it. I was more desperate than ever to find a way to fly. Something had to change. Something had to break. I had recently heard about a third Civilian Training Pilot (CPT) course being offered in Pittsburg, Kansas. The advanced course instructed pilots to fly across country and to be flight instructors themselves. I wrote to my old professor who had introduced me to the the initial flight program a few years earlier. He made a call and got me in. Elated, I packed my bags, quit my job, and hopped the first bus to Pittsburg. I finished the program in June of 1942.”
In the summer of 1942, the United States was almost one year into the war against Hitler. Thousands of men were enlisting into the Army. As a result, there was a tremendous need for fighter pilots to fly across the Atlantic, but the pool was shallow. Men needed to be trained, so the Army Air Corps sought out civilian flights instructors to train Army Air Corps cadets.
Ed: “The Army Air Corps recruited me as a flight trainer, but I maintained my civilian status. I moved down to Stamford, Texas to train the cadets, but this became problematic when the draft began. The civilian flight trainers were being drafted out of the program. Not long after beginning my work there, my parents informed me that I had received my draft notice back in Missouri. The Army Air Corps did not want to lose me to the draft, so they enlisted me as an Army Air Corps Enlisted Reserve. That way I was no longer subject to the draft. As a reservist I continued to wear civilian clothes. The other guys and I would go into town with our civilian clothes on, and the public didn’t know what we were doing. They’d look us up and down seeing that we were young men and began to mock us and saying, “Why aren’t you fighting the Nazis?” So, to keep us from further torment the Army Air Corps put us in full uniform. I was thankful for that.”
As an instructor, the color vision problem did not affect him. Ed continued to instruct future fighter pilots, with a small limitation of not flying at night.
Ed: “I was assigned five cadets every nine weeks beginning in June of 1942. I was 22 years old at the time. The instructors and I taught nine weeks on with one week off. Depending on the weather, we might not get any time off. There were three levels of fight training: primary, basic, and advanced. I instructed the initial primary training. It was a strenuous training program with a wash out rate of about 30%. It was my job to be the first to cut those that weren’t going to make the grade. That was difficult for me at first because I felt that a few cadets would have gotten it if they just had a little more time. One of my students in the first group that I taught was almost there, but I worried that he may have trouble once he reached the basic training. Well, I hate to say it but I was right. He washed out during basic, and the upper level instructors came down on me for passing him. I realized that I would have to get tough. Only the best could move forward. Once the pilots passed all three levels they had the choice of being a bomber pilot or a fighter pilot. It made no difference. It was the pilot’s choice. Once the young pilot chose, he was sent off in an airplane across the vast Atlantic to fight the Germans.”
The fighter pilot training continued for two years until the war began to wane and Hitler began losing ground.
Ed: “I continued instructing for two years. Nine weeks on, training 5 male cadets at a time, with one week off until September of 1944. This was my contribution to the war effort. The Army Air Corps did not allow me to fly as a fighter or bomber pilot due to my slight color blindness, but I was able to train hundreds of men to fly and fight for our country. In September of 1944, the government shut down the program. I was not sure what to do after the program ended, but soon came another stroke of luck that kept my dream alive.”
                                               Edwin "Ed" Wyrick Joplin Missouri High School
                                          Travelaire 4000 Secondary Civilian Pilot Training CPT (1940)
                                                Uniform for open cockpits. Cold in the winter months.
                                                         Trainer for Army Air Corps 1943
                  Flight line in Stamford, Texas. Army Air Corps Flight Training Detachment. 1942.


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