As I remember it now, several endless weeks passed before I learned the results. Finally, an official-looking envelope arrived in the mail from the Department of the Navy. Inside was a congratulatory letter from the chief of the Naval Air Training Command informing me that I had been accepted as an Aviation Cadet in the US Naval Aviation Flight Program. I was ordered to report in sixty days to thenewly opened West Coast Pre-Flight School in Moraga, California, where the Navy had taken over the entire St. Mary’s College campus.
For the next few weeks, I continued to work at the shipyards. I think I quit about the time a new boilermakers’ union contract raised journeyman wages from $1.75 to $2.05 an hour. My working partner, Lew, surprised me by quitting at the same time. He said he was bailing out and heading back to the Southland. An inveterate Southerner, Lew couldn’t live with the brooding mists that drift across the skies of the Willamette Valley sometimes for weeks on end.
I remember very little of that last night across the road at Bernie’s Place. “A send-off for the kid,” I think Bernie called it. Or something like that. It was a blur of loud talk, explosive laughter, sweaty bodies crammed too closely together and raucous hollering back and forth across a crowded room. Clouds of cigarette smoke shrouded the air.
There I sat at a packed table somewhere in the middle of the uproar, crammed in with a bunch of genial, loudmouth roughnecks who insisted on buying me Boilermakers—shots of bourbon with beer chasers. How I got back home shall forever remain a mystery to me.
John Moore was bound for a US Army infantry officers’ training camp. Dick Lewis had enlisted in the Army Air Corps. I had my orders for Naval Air.
In the brief time remaining, the three of us decided to pool our savings and embark on a ten-day fling, high in the mountains of Idaho.
Our destination was the fabled resort of Sun Valley.
In its fourth season, Sun Valley was at the peak of its fame as a remote alpine playground for the celebrity set, attracting the likes of Gary Cooper, Sonja Henie, Clark Gable, Barbara Hutton, Ernest Hemingway and Ingrid Bergman. During that first year of the war, it also became a popular haven for wealthy European refugees.