Army/USAAF, Second Lieutenant
Memories of December 7th
To most people December 7th brings to mind that day in 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the United States into World War II. For me it also brings back two other dates. One year later on December 7th, 1942, I enlisted in the Army Air Force, served as a pilot until the end of the war, and twenty-six years later, on December 7, 1968, I retired from the Air Force.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor I was a senior in the class of 1942 at Andover, and the details of that day are still clear in my mind. It was a clear, sunny Sunday, and just after lunch I walked from my dormitory, Day Hall, to Cochran Chapel to the second floor rear where there was a room for cello practice, an instrument I played not too well, but good enough to join the Academy orchestra. At my arrival at Andover the music department somehow found that I played the cello. When I explained that I didn’t have a cello nor was I very good, the music department solved both problems by procuring a cello and arranging for me to take cello lessons from Gerard Haft, first cellist of the Boston Symphony. He not only came to Andover several times a month for lessons, but he
also played in the orchestra at concerts (you can see me sitting next to him in the photo of the orchestra in the 1942 class yearbook).
Around 2 p.m. I was returning from the chapel and ran into another student who told me of the Japanese attack. I was shocked! Although I knew we were having some disputes with the Japanese over our embargoing oil and scrap metal shipments to them, an unprovoked attack was unthinkable. Along with other students I spent the evening in my housemaster’s suite listening to the war news on the radio (students were not allowed to have radios, only phonographs).
The next day, Monday, the student body assembled in George Washington Hall for the daily meeting with headmaster Dr. Claude Fuess, who gave us further details of the Japanese attack, ending the meeting with a prayer for our ultimate victory.
For the next few weeks, life at the Academy continued much as usual. The major change was the news from the Boston Herald which normally featured headlines of major fires (Boston must have been a tinderbox in those days) but which now featured stories of German submarines sinking merchant ships off the New England Coast.
When we returned from the Christmas vacation in January we noticed that many members of the faculty were either enlisting or, if in the reserves, had been called to active duty. Many of the students talked of enlisting, but since most of them were only seventeen there was a problem. The armed services wouldn’t accept enlistees under age eighteen except with parental approval, and it wasn’t likely that any parents would give this approval to a student who was only months away from graduation.
However, I became eighteen on March 13 and along with several other seniors decided to enlist in the Naval Air Corps. I don’t remember telling my parents about this. We sent in the applications and awaited replies. When they came there were mixed results. I can’t remember how many students, if any, were accepted, but at least two were rejected. I was one, because at 5′ 5″ and 105 lbs., I didn’t meet the physical requirements.
A stranger rejection was for classmate Barnette “Barney” DeJarnette. The Navy’s letter to him read, “Dear Miss (sic) DeJarnette: The Navy is not admitting women to its flight program. Also, at 2′ 6″ you do not meet the physical requirements.” Barney was 6′ 2″ and would have made a great pilot. Sadly, after enlisting in the Army, he drowned during a landing at an island in the South Pacific.
Classmate George “Poppy” Bush was among those accepted for naval flight training. He was eighteen on June 12th, graduation day, and immediately went on active duty and to a distinguished career.
On July 4th I entered Yale in the class of 1945W on an accelerated program. Giving up on naval aviation, I decided to enlist in the Army Air Force, whose requirements were less stringent than the Navy’s. By late November I had gotten my weight up to 110 lbs., the Army’s minimum, and passed the physical. I was sworn in as a private in the Enlisted Reserves on December 7, 1942, and several months later was called to active duty for flight training.
Twenty-six years later on December 7, 1968—after three years on active duty during WWII and twenty-three years in the reserves—I retired. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the day I finally shuffle off this mortal coil happens to be on a December 7th?