I felt myself carefully up and down, from head to toe. Unbelievably, I was alive, I kept telling myself.
I was probably in a daze. But I was apparently unhurt, except for a slightly bruised left shoulder.
Around the site of the crash, thick fog continued to swirl. It was surreal. I had no idea of my location or direction. I slowly began making my way downhill through heavy hillside brush, still packing for some reason that damned parachute.
After wandering for perhaps a half-hour, I heard a rooster crowing in the distance. Heading in that direction, still in the fog, I reached a fence line and a plowed hillside field and eventually a farmhouse.
As I mounted the high front steps, a startled farmer came to the door. He welcomed me inside, poured me a stiff cup of coffee, listened to my story and then drove me all the way back to the Livermore NAS in his old pickup.
At the main gate, the astonished Marine guards refused to let me enter. Who was this guy climbing out of a battered old pickup, walking up in winter flight gear with helmet and goggles and no written pass, carrying a full parachute pack under his arm?
They checked on the phone with somebody and within a minute or two, a jeep bearing a Navy lieutenant came roaring up. I was immediately taken to the CO’s office for debriefing followed by a quick physical.
By nightfall, I learned the full and tragic impact of that day’s fog-bound turmoil. Three other missing planes turned up safely, over in the San Joaquin Valley. One other plane was lost. Somewhere near Mt. Diablo, one of our cadets spun in and was killed. A fellow named Chapman. The flight officer of the day faced a potential court martial.
Two days later, I was back in the air.
I went on to pass my aerobatics check flight. And in mid-January, with 92 hours of flight time in my log book, I completed my primary flight training and received orders for advanced training at the Naval Air Training Center in Corpus Christi, Texas.
My final flight in Livermore with check pilot A. G. Epp came on my 21st birthday, January 14, 1943.