feet rested on giant rudder pedals at the forward end.
It was a good plane. Consider this: We are about 50 years into the jet age and there are more than 500 of those old SNJ Warbirds still in action around the world. Some foreign governments use them as airforce trainers. In a few of Hollywood’s Grade B thrillers, I’ve also spotted SNJs painted with the red “meatball” rising sun insignia, serving as simulated Zekes, (U.S. forces used male names for Japanese fighters, female names for Japanese bombers. Zeke was the U.S. designation for the Mitsubishi Zero.
At Waldron, we concentrated on Torpedo Squadron attack formations, which demanded close teamwork.
We moved on to gunnery with practice at the machine gun range, on into basic dive bombing, glide bombing and low level bombing techniques, plus more navigation practice, using the Mark III plotting board.
As we neared the end of training at Waldron, the pressure mounted. In the middle of a lengthy navigation hop, two of us blew off steam by flat-hatting across a section of the giant King Ranch—a totally forbidden maneuver. We swooped down below tree top level and streaked across the grassy prairie lands. As we roared over a rocky rise and skimmed down over a herd of longhorn cattle, we may have started a small stampede.
It was a stupid, dangerous, damned fool thing to do. Not only did we risk our lives, we risked getting tossed out of Corpus if they caught us. They didn’t catch us.
About a week later, when the final lists were posted, I let out a whoop and a holler when I saw my name on the list of pilots accepted for transfer to the Marine Corps.
In the fifth month of my 21st year, I received Navy Department certification as a Naval Aviator and I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. As I stood in the hot Texas sun, while they pinned on my chest the Wings of Gold, I couldn’t help but reflect momentarily on that wintry day after Pearl Harbor, when I first told my mother that I was determined to go into Naval Aviation. Deep inside, I had never been certain during training whether or not I had the right stuff. But I doggedly kept at it.
Sure, I was proud. Proud to be in the Corps—proud to be a Marine Corps pilot.
I knew, however, there were severe