World War II weather officer gave FDR the all clear in Tripoli

U.S. Army Air Corps Veteran Owen Brough Jr.

U.S. Army Air Corps veteran Owen Brough, 96, was raised on a farm in East Tremonton, Utah.

At his graduation from Bear River High School in 1934 he received a $100 scholarship from Union Pacific for a “Future Farmers” project.

“The money paid for my tuition and books for my first year at Utah State University,” he said.

In March of 1937, Brough went on a Mormon mission to the British Isles. He spent the first three months in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

“In June, we rode bikes to London to see the coronation of (King George VI).”

As a sideline, Owen started pitching for a missionary baseball team — the Rockdale Grays — in a semi-pro league in northern England. The team won the British National Championship that year.

After returning home in 1939, he met his future bride, Alice, on a blind date. The couple has been married for 72 years.

After marrying, he worked on the farm while attending Utah State.

“Then along came the war,” he said. “I had my pilot’s license — I took flying lessons in college — but because I was married, I could not get into Air Corps flight school.”

He took his basic training in Texas, where, “We marched every day for two months.”

To remove himself from the daily grind, he volunteered for Kitchen Patrol (KP) duty.

“I ate steak every night and I got to sleep all day,” he said, laughing.

He trained as a meteorologist and spent several months at airfields in Oregon and Washington, and attended weather forecasters school at Chanute Field in Illinois.

Brough, who was tapped to be an officer, was sent to officer’s training school in Miami. He graduated three months later as a 2nd lieutenant and was assigned to Paine Field in Everett, Wash. where he served as a weather officer.

Every day, he drew the weather maps used by pilots flying in and out of the airfield.

“I learned to forecast pretty good,” he said.

Two months later, he received orders to go overseas. He was sent to the East Coast, and was aboard a transport ship on New Year’s Eve, unsure of his destination, but headed somewhere across the Atlantic in a large convoy.

“There must have been 400 ships. They were as far as the eye could see.”

About 20 days later, they arrived on the west coast of Liberia in North Africa where he and about 25 officers and 100 enlisted men were assigned to Robertsfield.

“I spent eleven months forecasting weather for flights across the South Atlantic through the dangerous, thunderstorm-riddled Intertropical front.”

Weather predicting was a “do-it-yourself” proposition in those far-flung environs.

“There was no information out there in that ocean,” he said. “We had to figure out where the big, bad thunderstorms were.”

That meant gathering as much information as possible from pilots flying in — and deploying other aircraft to scout the conditions in the open sea.

They’d transmit the data, by code, to pilots of the C-46 cargo planes flying in from Brazil to Liberia, England, or the China-Burma-India route.

Fifty to 200 planes were shuttled through the area every night.

“I guided several thousand planes through that front,” he said.

After about a year, Brough and his men were transferred to Libya, where they opened a new air base in Tripoli.

The fliers relied heavily on Brough’s ability to predict the movement of fog.

One day when the fog was starting to roll in, “a lieutenant colonel came in for a weather report. I told him, ‘You better leave in the next 15 or 20 minutes or you won’t get it off the ground.’”

A big plane, with curtains over the windows, sat on the runway ready for take-off.

“It was President (Franklin) Roosevelt. He was going to the Yalta Conference.”

“While stationed in Libya and Liberia, I was fortunate to fly as a weather observer on many flights and visited Brazil and many countries in central, west, and north Africa.”

When he returned home after the war, he resumed college at Utah State. With the help of the GI Bill and assistant-ships, he earned Bachelor and Masters degrees in Agricultural Science.

He earned a Ph.D in Agricultural Economics and Statistics from Iowa State University in 1950.

Later that year, he began teaching at Washington State University, where he taught graduate courses, performed research, and sat on a number of policy committees. He was promoted to full professor in 1957.

In 1962, he took a one-year leave of absence from WSU and accepted a special assignment with the Ford Foundation. He and his family — which by now included son, Steve and daughter, Sally — moved to the Middle East to assist in the development of an economic-research and statistics department in the Ministry of Agriculture in Lebanon, Syria. They later moved to Beirut, and the one-year leave stretched into two.

He returned to WSU for a year, but “the desire to continue work overseas pulled me back to Beirut as director of agricultural programs in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.”

He helped develop an agricultural college at the University of Aleppo in Syria and was later assigned to the American University in Beirut to start a Ph.D program in plant science.

He was later appointed director of the Arid Lands Agricultural Development Program.

While serving in that position, he helped get the new semi-dwarf wheat variety established in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, which included getting the new seed to farmers and the proper amount of fertilizer — always in short supply — for maximizing the farmers’ crop yields.

In 1976, the new research organization, International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) was formed and Brough was named its first director of operations.

He said his staff — which featured 150 people, including 40 Ph.Ds — were able to substantially increase the yields of the country’s wheat, barley, lentils, and garbanzo beans.

Its headquarters are near Aleppo — which today is one of the hotspots in Syria’s raging civil war.

“We had 20 nationalities and nine different religions or sub-religions represented on that staff,” he said. “We all got along well.”

Age: 96
Born: March 29, 1916
Hometown: Tremonton, Utah
Residence: Palm Desert
Branch of service: U.S. Army Air Corps
Years of service: April, 1942 – Sept. 1946
Rank: World War II: 1st Lieutenant; Retired from the U.S. Air Force Reserve as Lieutenant Colonel
Family: Wife Alice; two children, Steven Brough of La Quinta and Sally Brough of Palm Desert; two grandchildren.

World War II vet messed around with captain’s wife, got busted down to private

 

When U.S. Army Air Corps veteran Julius Hoffman was drafted in June, 1941, he thought he’d be serving just a six-month stint in the military.

Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 and everything changed.

“I was in for the duration of the war,” he said.

Hoffman, who was born in Montreal, Canada in 1918, played amateur hockey and skated in an ice show starring Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie, a three-time Olympic champion in ladies singles.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1936.

Hoffman, who was 23 when he went into the service, was first stationed at Mather Field in Sacramento.

“We were living in tents, and the kitchen was outdoors,” he said.

In July of 1942, his commanding officer told Hoffman he was going to help him get his American citizenship.

“This other kid and I stood before the judge who said, ‘If anyone deserves citizenship in this country, it’s you boys who are going to fight for us.’”

His problems started when he was transferred to Santa Ana Army Air Base.

“I had a little trouble with the captain’s wife,” he said. “She was older than me. She should have known better.”

“She met me, and we started talking and the next thing we knew, we were having silent conversation — at her place,” he said, laughing.

“Somebody found out and told the commanding officer. That’s when I got shipped out.”

Before he was sent to another locale, he was restricted to the base.

So he made up a fake pass to go into town.

“On the bus going back to the base, a Santa Ana police officer was checking passes. He looked at mine and said, ‘Where did that pass come from?’ He said, ‘Let’s get off the bus here,’ and he called my commanding officer … I stayed in jail overnight.”

“I was a sergeant but I got busted down to private,” he said.

His military future was not looking bright.

“I wanted to be a pilot. Needless to say, I got screwed up with messing around.”

He was sent to Williams Air Force Base near Phoenix — the first of many cross country stops, where he attended mechanics and gunnery schools, and other military trade schools — until his discharge in 1946.

He graduated from gunnery school in Fort Myers, Fla. in 1945.

“I got to shoot a machine gun in a B-24 bomber. They dragged a long flag (banner-type) target behind a plane and got to shoot at it. I thought, ‘Boy, this is not for you, kid.’ How I didn’t shoot down the plane I have no idea.”

“I went to 11 schools from the start of my service to the time I got out.”

He said all that schooling stressed him out.

Hoffman ended his career in a hospital where he was treated for ulcers. He received a medical discharge.

When he went back to L.A. after the war ended, he returned to the ice.

“I tried out for the Hollywood Wolves and played with them for a year until they disbanded. I was picked up by the L.A. Monarchs.”

Hoffman, a right wing, played until 1952, when his family convinced him to find steady work. Ice hockey was a seasonal sport.

“I had to find a job where I could make almost as much and not get my head knocked off,” he said, laughing.

He went into the hardware business in the L.A. and Orange County areas.

He married his wife Doris on Nov. 11, 1982, and the couple celebrated their 30th anniversary last year — just like they did the day they tied the knot.

“By ourselves,” he said.

A good friend was suffering with cancer, so the couple decided to get married in her apartment.

“We ordered pizza in and had champagne. We’ve been having pizza and champagne in for 30 years, every Nov. 11.”

The 94-year-old Hoffman — who still ice skates — went skydiving on his 90th birthday.

“I’m going to do it on my 95th and I made a date for my 100th,” he said.

Julius Hoffman

Age: 94
Born: Oct. 27, 1918 in Montreal, Canada
Hometown: Los Angeles
Residence: Palm Desert
Branch of service: U.S. Army Air Corps
Years served: June, 1941 – 1946
Rank: Private
Family: Wife Doris; three children, Lois Goldberg of Los Angeles, Cheri Pies of Berkeley, and Stacy Pies of New York; three grandchildren; two great-grandchildren.

Staff writer Denise Goolsby will profile desert veterans on Sundays. Contact her at (760) 778-4587, via email at denise.goolsby@thedesertsun.com or Twitter @denisegoolsby

World War II veteran played trumpet in Glenn Miller’s band

Robert Christoferson

U.S. Army Air Corps veteran Robert Christoferson played lead trumpet in one of Glenn Miller’s bands while stationed near Bedford, England during World War II.

His day job was control tower operator for a service base that was responsible for eight surrounding airfields.

Watching the aircraft come and go, he marveled at how the bombers — battered by anti-aircraft fire — were able to make it back after their missions.

“I don’t see how they did it with two engines out on one side, or part of the tail shot off,” he said.

When Christoferson arrived in Bedford in August of 1943, he found he could continue his fledgling trumpet career. He picked up the horn when he was a sophomore in high school and found he had some talent.

“I had good tone, and I was loud,” he said, laughing

He said there was a big, 20-piece band at the base, and they were looking for players.

It didn’t matter the experience level, he said. They were willing to train novice musicians.

Within three months, the band was playing all over.

“It was a thrill to play in front of monster crowds,” he said.

When Miller arrived in June of 1944, his band was deluged with requests to play.

“They had a load that was unbelievable, of requests, and recordings and personal appearances,” Christoferson said. “When they found out they needed more help, our band was drafted into special services, headed by Miller. That took us away from all our military jobs.

“We were the B band … while Miller and his main band were making recordings five days a week, 10 hours a day, somebody had to take care of these requests to play at different air bases. That was our job.

“‘Moonlight Serenade,’ ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo,’ ‘Pennsylvania 6-5000,’” he said, rattling off some of the songs on the band’s play list.

Christoferson had been playing a military-issue trumpet, but wanting to take his performance up a notch, he sent home for his new Buescher True Tone trumpet his mom bought for him for $300 in 1941.

“They got a hold of the Red Cross and contacted my mother. She sent the horn to me at the base.”

The new band was assigned a B-24 bomber — with the armament removed and outfitted for the musicians.

“We traveled around to all the bases in France, Belgium.”

Christoferson has a picture, dated Nov. 26, 1944, of himself and a couple of other U.S. Army Air Corps musicians. Glenn Miller also is in the photo and he’s holding Christoferson’s trumpet.

“He wanted to see this trumpet that they’d gone to all that trouble to bring over here,” he said, laughing.

It was the last time he saw Miller.

A little more than two weeks later, a plane carrying the famous band leader went down in the English Channel, on Dec. 15, 1944.

“He shouldn’t have taken off,” Christoferson said. “It was a miserable day. Rainy, windy. He had to leave to go to Paris. We were waiting for him. He never arrived.

“Miller wasn’t very outgoing — he was more of a technical guy,” Christoferson said.

“He wasn’t happy until he got the right sound, but he was an overall nice guy with a lot of talent.”

Christoferson said he’ll never forget the day he returned to the states after the end of the war.

“There were 20,000 soldiers all on the deck of the Queen Elizabeth.”

Nearly three days later, the luxury liner approached the coast of New York.

“Every boat that floated was in the harbor when we came in.”

Name: Robert Christoferson

Age: 89

Born: April 18, 1923

Hometown: Seattle

Residence: Palm Springs/Sun City, Ariz.

Branch of service: U.S. Army Air Corps; 8th Air Force

Years served: May, 1943 – November, 1945

Rank: Private First Class

Family: Wife Amy; five children, Jeff Wilson of Palm Springs, Ronda Ambrosini of Eureka, Randy Christoferson of Foster City, Paul Christoferson of Sacramento, and Marty Langham of Lansing, Mich.

Bandleader Glenn Miller (second from right) checks out Robert Christoferson's trumpet (Christoferson is pictured second from left)

Robert Christoferson