‘Wings of Freedom’ Warbirds landing in Palm Springs today

"Witchcraft," a B-24J Liberator, is displayed by The Collings Foundation in Bremerton, Wash. June 19, 2012. Witchcraft, a P-51C, and B-17 will be in Palm Springs Monday, April 22 until Wednesday, April 24 offering walk-through tours and rides. (Photo/Crystal Chatham)

A trio of classic warbirds are headed to Palm Springs this afternoon as The Collings Foundation lands its national Wings of Freedom Tour.

The foundation is flying in a pair of World War II heavy bombers including a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress nicknamed “Nine O Nine” and a Consolidated B-24J Liberator nicknamed “Witchcraft.” Also on the tour is a P-51C Mustang fighter with dual controls.

The B-24J and P-51C are the last remaining flyable aircraft of their type.

The warbirds are scheduled to land between 12:30 and 1p.m Monday and will be in town through midday Wednesday at Atlantic Aviation, 145 N Gene Autry Trail in Palm Springs.

Tours of the aircraft interiors and exteriors cost $12 for adults and $6 for children under 12.

Tours are free for WWII Veterans.

The foundation also offers flights aboard all three aircraft. Flights on either the B-17 or B-24 are $425 per person while P-51 flights are $2,200 for a half hour and $3,200 for a full hour.

The Collings Foundation is a non-profit educational foundation devoted to organizing living history events that allows people to learn more about their heritage and history through direct participation. The Nationwide Wings of Freedom Tour is in its 24th year and visits an average of 110 cities in over 35 states annually.

The Collings Foundation's B-24J Liberator is the last flyable aircraft of its make. After World War II, many of the heavy bombers were scrapped and few remain today. "Witchcraft" is seen here during a tour stop in Bremerton, Wash. last summer. (Photo/Crystal Chatham)

British Army officer survived Battle of Dunkirk during World War II, later served on Queen Elizabeth’s ‘High Court of Justice’

Edward Eveleigh joined the British Army reserves in 1936, while attending Oxford University in England.

“When the war clouds gathered in 1938, I was called up, but only for six weeks,” he said.

He returned in time to take his university exams.

“But I was called up again in September, 1939, about a week before war was declared by Great Britain on Germany.”

The British Expeditionary Force, which had served in World War I, was started up in 1938 after Germany annexed Austria. When the German Army invaded Poland on Sept. 3, 1939, France and Britain, having pledged to support Poland, joined the fight.

“My regiment left for France to be deployed close to the border with Belgium. However, I was sent to the base depot. I was the only non-regular soldier.”

Eveleigh was assigned to the 3rd Military Artillery Regiment, which served with the expeditionary force’s I Corps.

He was stationed in the town of Saint-Nazaire, in western France on the Atlantic coast.

“I lived next door the well-known La Baule resort where I remained for five months in a very comfortable, furnished house. Not a bad way to spend a war.”

“But it didn’t last.”

Sometimes the dangers lurked in surprising places.

“I remember on Christmas Day of 1939 I looked out of my bedroom window and saw a mine being carried straight towards my home.”

The French, in an effort to create a defensive line, set mines in the water along the coastline. One of those mines broke from its moorings and was floating straight for the home, built right up against the ocean.

“It threatened to explode on the rock beneath me. By sheer luck, the wind changed when the mine was about 100 yards away and I never saw it again.”

“In May of 1940, I was posted to join my regiment close to the Belgian border. At the base, they told me to take off all signs of identity from my uniform. I removed the buttons, the cap badge, and my two lieutenant shoulder stars. After I had been on the train for about four hours, the military police arrested me on suspicion of being a spy. I claimed to be an English officer, but they were not satisfied and said I had no means of identification. I spent the next 24 hours waiting to be identified by one of my fellow officers.”

“Then the peaceful existence was shattered by the German’s invading Belgium.”

“By telephone I sent the order for the 3-ton lorries (3-ton trucks known as ’3-tonners’) to report to me. After a long interval, three gunners reported to me. The artillery man thought I had ordered three gunners, so we delayed our advance considerably.

“As we made our way towards Belgium, we encountered hundreds of civilians coming in the opposite direction —away from the invading Germans.”

Eveleigh was given the order to withdraw.

“I had to turn around and go in the direction I’d come from.”

He jumped onto the side of the 3-tonner to direct the driver, but he slipped and fell under the vehicle which ran over his right leg.

“Normally, I should have been directing targets for the guns, but instead, I remained at the gun position. Then some Messerschmidt’s (German fighter planes) machine-gunned us and I did the 100 meters in about two seconds,” he said, laughing.

Eveleigh, who usually carried a walking cane, dropped it when he made a break for cover.

“When I emerged from the ditch in which I had sought safety, I looked for my cane until my sergeant major said, ‘We broke it up, sir, we thought you did very well without it.”

“Subsequently, I took up position as a forward observation post on the edge of a wood forest.

Eveleigh and another soldier had missed their night’s sleep.

“We dug a hole in the ground in which we could crouch if attacked. We were in fact shelled and small trees around us fell upon us until we were released by our comrades when it was decided that we must join the forces withdrawing through Dunkirk.”

The Germans had pushed through France, and the British, having been pinned down — with no where to go but into the ocean — were forced to evacuate from Dunkirk.

“We destroyed our guns and immobilized the vehicles which we had to leave. The beach at Dunkirk was full of our men.”

Two of his men reported to Eveleigh they’d been on leave when the retreat was ordered.

“They had been three days catching up with us only to reach us at Dunkirk. An hour later, the Stuka bombers flew over, and they were among the dead.”

Dunkirk is full of little mounds, and the men raced to get down into a spot where the mounds dipped. Eveleigh was able to avoid getting hit by the explosions.

“Just over half-way through the evacuation, I was lucky enough to be able to join others embarking upon a paddle steamer for England. We had an uneventful passage to Yarmouth. I spent the next year in England until America declared war on Germany in December, 1941.”

“In June of 1942 I was sent to Canada — I traveled on the USS Monterey which was not yet turned into a troop ship. Myself and five other officers traveled from London to the Port of Liverpool when we boarded the ship at 7 o’clock in the morning.

“We went straight to the dining room for breakfast where we were offered almost everything from caviar to bacon and eggs.”

It was a welcome change from the British rations.

Eveleigh spent a year in Canada as an artillery instructor.

He returned to England and became a barrister (lawyer) and later, a justice (judge).

Sir Edward Eveleigh — he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II —— served as one of the justices of “Her Majesty’s High Court of Justice.”

In 1977 he was appointed by the Queen as one of the Lords Justices of Appeal on the English Commonwealth Appeals Court.

The court of appeals in the second most senior court in the English legal system. Only the Supreme Court of England is higher.

The notation in The London Gazette, dated Oct. 4, 1977, read:

Crown Office, House of Lords:

“The Queen has been pleased by Letters Patent under the Great Seal bearing date the 30th of September, 1977, to appoint Sir Edward Walter Eveleigh, Knight, one of the Justices of Her Majesty’s High Court of Justice, to be one of the Lords Justices of Appeal.”

Sir Edward Eveleigh
Age: 95
Birthday: Oct. 8, 1917
Hometown: London
Residence: Palm Desert
Branch of service: British Expeditionary Force; British Army; 3rd Medium Artillery Regiment
Years served: 1938 – 1946
Rank: Major
Family: Wife Nell; two sons, Martin Eveleigh of Raleigh, N.C. and Richard Eveleigh of London; two grandsons, one granddaughter

Cartoonist Murray Olderman served as U.S. Army officer during World War II

Most people familiar with Murray Olderman know him as an award-winning columnist and syndicated sports cartoonist whose work appeared in hundreds of newspapers for the better part of 35 years.

But before Olderman, of Rancho Mirage, became a famous cartoonist, he was an infantry officer in the U.S. Army during World II.

Olderman served in the ROTC field artillery unit while attending the University of Missouri, where he majored in journalism.

In August of 1942, he enlisted in the Enlisted Reserve Corps. He went back to school for his senior year and wasn’t called to service until the following March.

After reporting to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, he was shipped off to Camp Roberts in central California for basic training in artillery.

“It was the first time I’d ever seen California,” Olderman said. “It was March and it was in that valley above Paso Robles and it was beautiful. Everything was green. It was gorgeous.”

In the summer of 1943, Olderman was sent to Stanford University in Palo Alto where he participated in the Army Specialized Training Program. There he spent a year of intensive study in French language and culture.

He met his future wife, Nancy, at Auten’s, a Palo Alto supper club.

“Then the program broke up and they assigned me to the 71st Division, which was on maneuvers in Hunter Liggett.”

The 71st Light Division maneuvered against the 89th Light Division on the Hunter Liggett Military Reservation in the mountains inland from Big Sur.

“We were all college kids and we all became mule skinners,” he said, laughing. “It was a mountain division, and they broke up a 75mm howitzer into five pieces and a mule carried each piece. We had to tend the mules. So we got instructions — it was very mountainous, very narrow terrain, and when you go on these narrow passages, you walk on the outside, because there was a shortage of mules, but no shortage of soldiers, in case you fall off.

“The war had intensified in Italy and they were training to go to Italy, and by the time we finished basic training we’d already conquered the mountainous terrain in Italy, so they decided to mechanize the division and sent us to Fort Benning, Georgia.

“First, we had to walk the mules to a train station in King City — 27 miles. They said if you volunteer to walk the mules to the train station, you get a two-day pass.

“I wasn’t really a country boy, so I held one mule and led the other mule. The farm guys, they were smart. They got on one mule and led the other mule. But I was afraid. Mules — you have to hold them by the muzzle because if you don’t they’ll turn around and kick you in the jaw,” he said, laughing.

“And when we got there, they gave everybody a two-day pass whether you volunteered or not.”

By the time the division arrived in Fort Benning, the Allies had already invaded Normandy, “so they pulled me out, because I was French-speaking, and sent me to Camp Ritchie, Maryland, a military intelligence center in the U.S. Army,” he said.

After completing this training, he applied to Officer Candidate’s School.

“I was sent back to Fort Benning, Georgia where I became a ‘90-day wonder’ — except it took 120 days by then.”

He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the infantry.

On his furlough, Olderman and Nancy made plans to meet somewhere half-way between the California coast and the deep south.

Olderman suggested New Orleans — but Nancy had already been there with her high school graduating class — she grew up in Texas — so she pushed for Chicago.

It was winter and it was cold, he said.

“Nobody meets in Chicago in February, but we did, and we got married.”

“After our honeymoon, I went back to Camp Ritchie, Maryland. I was supposed to stay there six months. It looked like the war was going to end. But six weeks after we were married, I was suddenly given orders to ship overseas as an infantry replacement officer because we had a lot of casualties in the Battle of the Bulge.”

It took two weeks to cross the Atlantic Ocean because the ships had to travel in a zigzag pattern to avoid German submarines lurking in the deep.

“We landed in England, then crossed the (English) Channel over to France and I landed in Le Havre two days before the war ended.

Olderman, who was put in charge of a group of replacement soldiers, took a train to Austria where he joined the 65th Infantry Division.

“We were on one side of the Enns River and the Russians were on the other side,” he said.

Many German prisoners were processed and released in Enns, where Olderman spent time at the Military Government office processing displaced persons from all over Europe In early June, the the men moved to a new location, about 15 miles from Enns.

“I was the only guy in my battalion who could speak German, so I was made the military governor of a little town called Nuehofen.”

After about a month, “I was called up to division headquarters because they found out I had a journalism background and they put me to work writing awards and citations.”

Those included a Medal of Honor citation for Pfc. Frederick Murphy, Medical Detachment, 269th Infantry Regiment, killed in action on March 18, 1945. . He also wrote a Distinguished Service Cross citation and Silver Star Medal citations.

U.S. Army Private First Class Frederick C. Murphy’s Medal of Honor citation

After a couple of months, “I was sent to Verona, Italy to be interviewed to join a new organization — USDIC — U.S. Detailed Interrogation Center.”

Gen. Mark Clark was put in charge of U.S. forces in Gmunden, Austria, and after getting word he qualified to join the group, he took a flight out of Italy.

“It was the first time I ever took a plane trip … a (C-47) over the Alps. No pressurized cabin, the door was open. I thought it was great.

“We processed military prisoners for the Nuremberg Trials. That was my main duty overseas. I has an editorial background — I was put in charge of the editing section, I edited all the reports.

“I did some interrogation. I interviewed Robert Best — an American journalist who became a traitor … he volunteered to broadcast for the Germans.”

Interrogations just involved talking.

“We didn’t use any water boarding,” he said.

“We also captured a lady named Hanna Reitsch, who was the Amelia Earhart of Germany. She was one of the last two people out of Hitler’s bunker in Berlin. She could reveal a lot of the inside details of Hitler’s life. We did extensive interrogations of her. I didn’t do the interrogations, but I edited the reports.”

While Olderman was out of the country — almost exactly a year — his thoughts were never far from his sweetheart back home.

“No matter where I was, every night before going to bed, I either typed or hand-wrote letters to my wife.”

He said each letter was about 1,000 words long — about 350,000 words in total.

“Nancy saved all of those letters. They were bundled in a carton and stored in a closet for more than six decades.”

Olderman took excerpts of those missives and wrote a book, “A Year Apart … Letters from War-Torn Europe,” just released this past week.“Nancy was already suffering from Alzheimer’s when I started the project and passed on Oct. 27, 2011,” after 66 years of marriage.

MURRAY OLDERMAN

AGE: 91
BORN: March 27, 1922
HOMETOWN: Spring Valley, N.Y.
RESIDENCE: Rancho Mirage
BRANCH OF SERVICE: U.S. Army, 71st Division; 65th Infantry Division
YEARS SERVED: March, 1943 – May, 1946
RANK: First lieutenant
FAMILY: Wife Nancy (deceased); three children, Lorraine Imlay of New York City, Marcia Linn of Homer, Alaska and Mark Olderman of Indio; five grandchildren; one great-grandchild.
“A Year Apart,” is Olderman’s 15th book. It’s available for purchase on Amazon.com

British army vet survived Battle of Dunkirk, served in Commandos during World War II

Frank Hunt fought in the British army, survived the Battle of Dunkirk and served in the British Commandos — an elite fighting force formed at the request of Prime Minister Winston Churchill — during World War II.

Hunt joined the army in 1939, the year Hitler’s troops invaded Poland, marking the start of the war.

After the declaration of war on Germany, the small British army — “ill-equipped and unprepared” — was called on to fight against the Germans, who were mowing through Europe, invading and occupying every country in their wake.

The British army was dispatched to France to help hold the German advance.

“We didn’t have very good tanks at the time — we didn’t have very good anything,” Hunt said.

German Stuka dive bombers pummeled the troops from the air, while the tanks — armed with 88 mm guns — pounded the Allies on the ground.

The British anti-tank guns were no match for the German Panzer.

“You had to get right on top of them to put sticky bombs on the tank,” he said. “The bombs had a wooden handle and you’d smash it on the track of the tank and get the hell out of there. If you were unlucky enough to get hit by a bullet while carrying that bomb, you’ll be looking down on what’s happening from heaven.

“We were in a bad situation, the French had been Hitler’s secret weapon. He had a lot of French people who were being paid money to give him information.”

Hunt talked about a nearby home that was frequented by the German army.

“We had orders to shoot and kill every French person in and around the house. When they came out to hang clothes, we’d shoot and kill. It was cruel.”

“You just managed to look after yourself and your mates — and they would do the same for you. We killed a lot of French people — we shot women and children. We shot them because of what they were doing for the Germans.”

The Battle of France began on May 10, 1940, as German troops pushed through to the English Channel, penetrating the Allied front lines. The maneuver separated the British Expeditionary Force, the French 1st Army and the Belgian army.

The Allies were surrounded, with no place to go but into the ocean.

The Battle of Dunkirk — the defense and evacuation of the Allies — began May 26.

“Someone had to stay behind to be the last to go out, to put up a fight. They lined us up and said, ‘You. You. You,’” Hunt said, pointing — demonstrating how the men were chosen. “I happened to be one of them they said, ‘you’ to.”

“We had rifles and machine guns and we dumped ’em in the ocean. We were guarding the beach with pick handles as weapons.

“The people in England — anybody who had a boat that could go across the (English) Channel — came over to pick us up. You had to wade out in water up to your chin … while they were bombing us. The Stukas could fly 50 feet from the water.”

He said they received cover from Allied aircraft, including American and Canadian pilots during the evacuation.

Hunt eventually caught a ride on a fishing boat.

“It wasn’t very big, but it moved pretty quickly and it carried a lot of people. It got us back to England.

“At Dunkirk, if they (the Germans) had enough boats to follow us over there, they could have taken England very easily.”

Just months after the men returned to England, the Germans launched “The Blitz” — a sustained bombing of London and 15 other cities in the United Kingdom that lasted nearly 37 weeks.

“People were living in the underground stations — they’d take their mattresses down there. They were bombing the hell out of us.”

After the events leading to the Dunkirk evacuation, Churchill called for a force to be assembled and equipped to inflict casualties on the Germans and bolster British morale, according to historical accounts. Churchill told the joint chiefs of staff to propose measures for an offensive against German-occupied Europe: “They must be prepared with specially trained troops of the hunter class who can develop a reign of terror down the enemy coast.”

“We were really pissed off with the Germans; I joined the Commandos. They paid a little more than the British army. The more you got paid, the more you got to blow up things.

“I learned a lot very quickly. They’d tell you how bad the Germans were, ‘Here’s what you’ve got to do,’” Hunt said, his voice trailing off. “It hurts. It lives with you forever,” he said, without going into specifics of what he was ordered to do to the enemy.

“Before I knew it, I was in Egypt.”

But the commando soon found himself in some big trouble.

“I got 56 days in jail. I hit an American officer. I hit ’im because I didn’t like his face. I could have been court martialed and shot.”

One day, Maj. Vladimir Peniakoff came to visit Hunt in jail and told him about a new outfit he’d founded — Popski’s Private Army, a British Special Forces unit attached to the British Eighth Army.

PPA was the last and smallest of the three main irregular raiding, reconnaissance and intelligence units formed during the North African Campaign.

Its official name was No. 1 Demolition Squadron, PPA and it was formed specifically to attack German Field-Marshal Erwin Rommel’s fuel supplies, in support of General Montgomery’s offensive at El Alamein.

Hunt, who was recruited because of his experience in the Commandos, was let out of jail early to join the elite fighting force.

“We were about two days short of catching Rommel,” Hunt said.

“It was interesting. It was exciting,” he said of his time with the PPA.

Hunt, who earned the rank of sergeant, said he had a good relationship with his men.

“They liked me because I would never ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do. I never said, ‘You. You. You.’ If you don’t volunteer, I’ll take your place.”

He was later deployed with the British army to Italy, where they joined forces with Polish troops to fight the Battle of Monte Cassino.

“There were two monasteries on the mountain,” he said. “We were positioned just below that mountain. The Germans were just yards away. They had the tanks dug in there.”

The British were armed with Thompson sub-machine guns, also known as “Tommy guns.”“The amazing thing was at nighttime, with all the bullets flying around and the bombs bursting, the nightingales would come out and sing.”

The British were dug into a cavern-type shelters, inhabited by no less than three men, Hunt said.

“Only one of you could sleep. One would walk (guard) close by, the other was there to chase rats away. One was watching out for the Germans, the other one was watching out for the rats,” he said, laughing.

They British weren’t able to move the Germans out because of how well they were dug in.

“One day we said, ‘Give up or we’ll drop gas and drop incendiary bombs and burn you out.’ That’s how we got past the Cassino Mountains … but we still had the Germans and the Italians to fight.”

By then, the American troops were moving along the Italian seaboard, clearing the way along the coast.

When the British army got to Rome, the Germans had already retreated, and the troops continued to Florence.

“The Germans had done so much damage to Italy, pretty soon the Italians were on our side,” he said.

When he returned home for a 28-day leave, his parents were relieved their son, who had been wounded in North Africa — “I got hit with a bullet in the leg,” Hunt said — was OK.

He said his parents were informed that he was wounded — but never received an update from the British military.

“My mom was a wreck,” he said.

Sadly, his mom had already lost another son — Hunt got the bad news when he returned home. His eldest brother, Albert James Hunt, was killed in France.

Hunt said he still has nightmares about the killings and the brutality of battle.

“The things I did were wicked, but it’s what I was trained for,” he said.

“There’s no necessity to have a war. Every person has a mouth. You can talk your way out of it. All that war is over is power and money.”

FRANK L. HUNT

AGE: 91
DATE OF BIRTH: May 21, 1921
HOMETOWN: Ilford, Essex, England
RESIDENCE: Palm Desert
BRANCH OF SERVICE: British army; British Commandos; Popski’s Private Army, attached to the British Eighth Army
YEARS OF SERVICE: 1939 – 1946
RANK: Sergeant
FAMILY: Two daughters, Ann Smith of Simi Valley and Carol Symchak of Pleasanton ; six grandchildren; more than eight great-grandchildren.

Gen. Patton pinned Silver Star on U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Andy Allen

This is Part 2 of a story that ran in the March 24 edition of The Desert Sun

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Andy Allen served with the 7th Armored Division during World War II.
The division’s first major objective was the liberation of Paris.

On the march to Paris, “we never had any fixed battles—we had all these moving battles,” Allen said.

The division was the spearhead of the operation.

“I was leading the entire Allied Army — just like Mr. (Gen. George) Patton told me to do,” he said, laughing.

Allen came across a sign that said, “Paris, 10 kilometers,” and continued on.

“There was no shooting. I really didn’t know what to do. We were inside of the city limits of Paris by maybe 100 yards. I halted the column and called the battalion commander and he said to stop there. We sat there for well over an hour. Then word comes down, “Pull out, pull back to an assembly area. I got all my guys turned around.”

LINK:
Gen. George Patton’s persuasion pushed Andy Allen to be young officer

At the assembly area, Allen found out why they were stopped.

The Allied high command said French army Gen. Charles de Gaulle wanted his own troops to recapture Paris.

Part of the deal included allowing the German army to withdraw to prevent the historic city from being destroyed in heavy fighting.

While the Germans retreated, the division started toward the Seine, and prepared to cross the river in row boats.

“It was barely daylight when the P-47s (fighter planes), started strafing the far shore. That was our key to put the boats in the water and paddle across.

“I was in the lead boat,” Allen said. “There was almost zero opposition. We got a little rife fire, nothing serious.”

The engineers quickly got to work building a pontoon bridge.

“Those guys, worked, worked, worked. They did it on the run. Battle is a very confusing situation. They were so well coordinated.

“The whole division came over and we continued the drive through France. Our next objective was Reims. There was a big, beautiful cathedral there … we were told under no circumstances were we to fire any shots at that cathedral.”

Again, the men encountered little fighting, and pushed through, but they soon ran low on fuel.

After siphoning all the gas out of about half the vehicles and filling up the remaining vehicles, they were on their way to Verdun. The division’s next obstacle was the Meuse River, where there was just one bridge remaining.

Patton wanted that bridge saved at all costs, Allen said. The Germans had retreated, but, “we knew the bridge was wired.”

They could be hiding on the opposite shore, waiting to blow it up if Allied troops attempted to cross.

“We had to sneak up on Verdun,” Allen said. “I don’t know how an armored division sneaks up on anything,” he said, laughing.

“Two Frenchmen from the French Underground — they were tough and smart and they knew the area — offered to take us through the back roads and come in from the west.”

A colonel in Allen’s division warily gave him the green light to take his company up to the river.

The Frenchmen had a plan. It was a risky move.

“The colonel said, ‘I don’t see any alternative.’”

He told Allen if the plan worked, he’d be a hero.

Allen stopped the column when they got close to the riverside, and they laid low, keeping out of sight.

The Frenchmen each asked for a length of hose, then walked down to the riverbank.

The men used the hose as a makeshift snorkel and ducked into the water.

“They got all the way underneath the bridge,” Allen said.

The were to give a signal when they cut the wires.

But the enemy was alarmingly close.

“It was late in the afternoon and there were still a few German troops going across the bridge.”

An hour passed, but it seemed like forever, Allen said.

He finally got the sign. The Frenchmen had been able to locate and cut the wires.

U.S. troops moved forward and the Germans that didn’t make it across were captured and taken prisoner.

“With all the tanks and everything there, it was pretty crowded,” he said, describing the scene as the division crossed the lone remaining bridge in the dark.

“In the morning, General Patton came down,” to thank whoever was responsible for saving the bridge, Allen said.

“He asked the colonel who was in charge, and he told him, ‘Lt. Allen.’ He didn’t recognize me from the last encounter,” Allen said, laughing.

Silver Star

“I picked up two medals, including the Silver Star. General Patton pinned it on me.”

“Two or three days later, I got a call from battalion headquarters. They said, ‘The French people want to talk to you.’ The river crossing, from a strategy sense, it was a big deal for the French. I had to go up to a castle to pick up the Croix de Guerre.”

Croix de Guerre

The Croix de Guerre, a French military decoration , is awarded to soldiers — often of foreign military forces — who “distinguish themselves by acts of heroism involving combat with the enemy.”

Later, they went back to get the vehicles that had been left behind — by then they’d been refueled — and the division pushed on again.

“That gave the Germans time to set up real, honest-to-God defenses.”

When the division got into Holland, the opposition got stronger, he said.

“We got hit by a German counterattack. They broke through the company on my right … they pushed through behind me.”

“We fought ’em off until dark. In the middle or late afternoon, we got into a fight with a German tank. I had a bazooka.

“I’m not that good of a shot,” he added.

The tank didn’t notice Allen and his sergeant getting ready to load and fire.

“The first one hit and bounced off. The second one hit and bounced off.”

The tank’s turret swung around and the big gun took aim at the men.

Allen fired a third shot — but it didn’t do any damage, either.

“The tank starts coming toward me. I have no idea what to do. I said, ‘Say your prayers, boy. You’ve had it.’”

Allen paused and then said, “There is a God.”

“The tank hits a ditch just as he fires. The shell hits the ground 50 yards in front of the tank …the tank got stuck — it couldn’t get out of that muck.”

“A piece of shrapnel hits me in the left leg. That was a pretty good hunk of metal. You feel shock, but you don’t feel the pain right away.”

He was taken from the battlefield on a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance. He ended up at St. Mary’s Hospital in Paris, where he had surgery on his leg.

“I wanted to get back to my unit,” he said. “Our division had just pulled out of Holland. They took some severe casualties in Holland.

“When the (Battle of the) Bulge hit, our division was ordered to St. Vith,” in Belgium. “We were told to try to hold it for 24 hours. We ended up holding it for three days — at a severe cost. We probably lost half of our battalion, not just in fighting, but the conditions — I can’t imagine worse conditions. The ground was frozen, there was an inch or two of snow. Our winter uniforms were not all that great.”

Later, after Allen rejoined his men, the division made it to the Mulde River in Germany, where they met up with the Russian army , as the war in Europe wound down.

The citation for Allen’s Silver Star Medal presented by Gen. Patton reads in part:

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy while serving with the 7th Armored Division, in action in France, on 18 September 1944. First Lieutenant (Infantry) Andrews’ (Allen) gallant actions and dedicated devotion to duty, without regard for his own life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U. S. Army.”

ANDY ALLEN

AGE: 90
DATE OF BIRTH: March 24, 1923
HOMETOWN: Madison, Wis.
RESIDENCE: La Quinta
BRANCH OF SERVICE: U.S. Army; 7th Armored Division; 2nd Platoon leader, B Company, 48th Armored Infantry Battalion; 3rd Army
YEARS SERVED: June 1942 – December 1945
RANK: Captain
FAMILY: Marjorie (deceased); four children, Andrews Allen Jr., Genie Allen, John Allen and Philip Allen of St. Paul, Minn.; nine grandchildren

Ret. U.S. Navy Cmdr. Chuck Caldwell flew P5M Marlin seaplanes in the North Pacific

Ret. U.S. Navy Cmdr. Chuck Caldwell had two years of college under his belt at Louisiana State University when he enlisted in the Navy cadet program on Friday, Feb. 13, 1953.

He took his pre-flight (ground school) training in at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla; primary training at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, near Milton, Fla., and basic training at Saufley Field, NAS Pensacola.

He made his aircraft carrier qualification landing from Barin Field in Foley, Ala.

The cadets trained and flew in a two-seat SNJ Texan aircraft. Each student had to fly out to the Pacific Ocean and make six landings on the aircraft carrier, USS Monterey (CVL-26).

“It was easy, it wasn’t hard at all,” Caldwell said. “I was really surprised. I was very comfortable.”

He earned his wings — and a commission as an ensign — at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi.

But during training, when it came time for the cadets to be assigned aircraft, Caldwell was in for a big disappointment.

“I was a jet fighter all the way,” he said.

But there were no jet fighter pilot positions open. The only aircraft available were big-bodied ocean-going aircraft known as patrol flying boats.

“‘Seaplanes?’” he remembers asking himself. “I didn’t even know the Navy had seaplanes!”

He was assigned to pilot the gull-winged, twin-engine, piston-powered Martin PBM Marlin.

“I couldn’t believe that thing could fly,” he said.

The Navy Cadets, or “Nav Cads,” as they were known, were paired up with an officer and spent all of their time flying.

“We lived in a flight suit,” he said.

While Caldwell was in training, a new program was introduced, where two student pilots could go up with just a flight engineer.

“We were the first two students to take an airplane out without a flight instructor,” he said.

They were also the last. The program was canceled after they returned.

The men had not been briefed on the “do’s and don’ts” prior to their first flight.

“I bought three big cigars,” Caldwell said. “We taxied out of the bay and we took off. It was very exciting. We went up about 500 feet and lit up.”

The junior flight engineer accompanying the young fliers was not thrilled with the situation.

“He was scared to death,” Caldwell said, laughing. “So were we, really.”

The pilots proceeded to take turns doing “splash and dash” maneuvers in Corpus Christi Bay, flying down to the water and briefly landing, before taking off, flying up to 500 feet, and then repeating the action.

After doing a “whole bunch” of splash and dashes, the other pilot suggested they fly over to an apartment building were he and his wife lived.

“He said, ‘Why don’t we buzz her,’ so we banked over his apartment three or four times and his wife came out and waved.”

“Then we said, ‘Let’s go over where the fighter guys are. Let’s go over there and show ’em what a seaplane looks like at 1,000 feet.’”

He said there were planes flying all over the place and they wondered what was going on.

But the pilots had turned off their radio when they first took off — “We didn’t want to hear everybody talking to us,” Caldwell said, and they finally realized they were in the middle of the jet fighters’ landing pattern.

When they finally turned their radio back on, they heard their call name being yelled out over the airwaves.

“Nickel 55, where are you?! Land immediately and make the outside buoy!”

They tied up to the outside buoy, next to the seawall.

“The Blue Angels have been held up about a half-hour on their demonstration waiting for you guys to land!” said the officer who met them at the buoy. “Get in the boat and get the hell out of here!”

“So we sat on the seawall and watched the Blue Angels,” Caldwell said.

About a month later, after graduating from flight training in September, 1954, he was assigned to VP-45 (Patrol Squadron 45). He flew with the squadron, nicknamed “Pelicans,” for three years, and during the time, became, at the age of 23, the youngest plane commander in the Navy.

The squadron eventually transitioned to the Martin P5M Marlin; it’s primary responsibility was anti-submarine warfare.

“We could fire rockets, we could drop depth charges; we got nuclear delivery pilot training.”

The men learned how the nuclear devices were made, what they were used for, and how to deliver them.

When Caldwell joined the squadron, it was based at Naval Station Coco Solo, Panama, before moving to Bermuda in 1956.

Caldwell was eventually stationed on Whidbey Island in Washington State.

“We would deploy up the Aleutian Island Chain; we flew patrols out of Kodiak and Adak along the Russian coast … the U.S used to have submarines stationed out there to try to detect their subs. We tried to follow ’em if we could.”

The Russian subs were doing the same thing across the Pacific.

“They were right up against the West Coast,” he said.

The Russians also sent electronic emission detector (intelligence-gathering) trawlers to patrol the coast — “They looked like fishing boats,” he said.

“They tried to detect our electronic transmissions, and we tried to detect theirs. It was sort of a game you played.”

“Occasionally, we’d put a Playboy magazine in a watertight container and drop it near them. They’d go fish it out. The women would come out on the deck and moon us or pull their shirts apart (exposing their breasts),” he said, laughing.

He was later assigned as the carrier air traffic control officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CVA-12).

The Hornet had been deployed to the Pacific and was about to enter Hong Kong Harbor, “When all of a sudden, bells rang out … the captain was called to the admiral’s quarters. It was DEFCON 2, just below war. We did a 180 degree turn and headed out to sea.”

The Cuban Missile Crisis had begun.

“We had two or three destroyers with us and headed north. We were headed for Kamchatka off the Russian coast. Along the way, we picked up some cruisers, more destroyers, and carriers. We had a hell of a force …we got there and just sat there. It was touch and go for a while. It was foggy and miserable.”

The crisis eventually subsided and a few years later, he was off to another conflict: The Vietnam War.

He flew the Lockheed P-2V Neptune, a land-based patrol plane, out of Da Nang, South Vietnam.

“We flew escort for the river patrol force — without armament,” he said. “If attacked, we were to call fighters from the carriers.”

“We’d stand off the coast and circle, and worked with destroyers to coordinate maneuvers.”

One of his last military assignments was in Kodiak, where he served as operational plans officer, Alaskan Sea Frontier, attached to the Alaskan Command — a job he enjoyed, but base reductions in 1971 made it necessary for the Navy to relocate.

He wound up his career as acting-commanding officer, Naval Air Station Kingsville, in Texas. He retired in 1973 with the rank of commander.

 

Chuck Caldwell

Age: 79
Date of birth: March 28, 1933
Hometown: Baton Rouge, La.
Residence: Palm Desert
Branch of service: Naval aviator, U.S. Navy; VP-45; VP-1
Years served: Feb. 13, 1953 – 1973
Rank: Commander
Family: Wife Emily; three children, Cindy Augustine of Riviera, Texas, Christy Caldwell of Ramona, Calif., and Charles “Chip” Caldwell of Cincinnati; three grandchildren.

 

B-24 bomber pilot flew 40 combat missions in the Pacific during World War II

B-24 bomber pilot Robert G. “Andy” Anderson made it through World War II with nary a scratch on his aircraft.

“My claim to fame is I flew 40 combat missions in the Pacific and I never had a hole in any of the planes I flew in,” he said.

Anderson was in his freshman year at Iowa State College in Ames when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor catapulted the U.S. into World War II.

“Before the first term ended we were at war and everyone’s life was changed forever.”

In February, 1942, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps Cadet Reserve program, which required all flying officers to have the equivalent of at least a two-year engineering education.

Anderson was called to active duty on Feb. 19, 1943 along with hundreds of other Iowa State College enlistees and ordered to report to Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis.

“Our accommodations there consisted of cloth tents, canvas folding cots and a pot-bellied coal stove. The weather was below zero every night and the snow was at least a foot deep,” he said.

To try to stay warm at night, the men wrapped three or four Army blankets around their cots —fastening them with safety pins, nails, wire, or needle and thread.

“We threw our great coats over the top and then slid into the cocoon to sleep, but we were still cold all night long,” Anderson added.

After six weeks of living in the freezing cold, the men were shipped to various colleges in the Midwest to complete their required two years of engineering.

Anderson was sent to Iowa State Teachers College in Cedar Falls, and when he completed his studies, he was assigned to Santa Ana Army Air Base in California for pre-flight indoctrination and training with the Army Air Corps West Coast Training Command.

He qualified for all three officer positions — pilot, navigator, and bombardier.

“I thought about requesting navigator training, decided to request pilot training as that was why I originally joined the cadet program,” he said.

“All cadets had to have any wisdom teeth removed because those teeth often caused severe pain when a person flew at any high altitude. We went through an assembly dental line and lost all of our wisdom teeth with only about 15 minutes in the dental chair.”

Anderson’s stay at the air base was extended when a cadet contracted measles.

“The cadets in our barracks were relocated to a remote barracks on base and a contingent of mess hall technicians were moved with us to the area,” he said. “Twice, as the three-week quarantine was ending, another case of measles was discovered, adding another three weeks to our quarantine each time it occurred. I often wondered if that extra nine weeks spent in Santa Ana made a difference in my survival through 40 combat missions.”

His next stop was Mira Loma Flight Academy in Oxnard — a civilian-operated primary flight school.

“Our flight instructors were civilians, including a movie star, Bob Cummings,” he said.

During basic flight training at Chico Army Flying School the cadets learned to fly in formation and to fly and land at night.

The final phase of his flight training took place at Stockton Army Airfield where he received his silver pilot wings and a commission as second lieutenant.

Before he was deployed overseas with his B-24 bomber crew, Anderson married his longtime love Mary Jane “Duff” Duffy while stationed at March Field in Riverside County.

“When I went to the courthouse to get a license, I discovered that although girls only had to be 18 to get married without her parent’s consent, men had to be 21. Duff had just turned 19, but I was only 20 years and 111/2months old, so I had to call my dad and have him airmail out his consent.”

They were married at Riverside Methodist Church and spent their wedding night at the Mission Inn.

His first overseas stop was Kahuku Air Base on the northern tip of Oahu, where the crew continued training for combat. Two months after landing in Hawaii, the crew was flown to Saipan.

“Our primary missions at first were to bomb Iwo Jima, some 800 miles to the north. The average mission was over 12 hours long with only three minutes over land. We all took turns napping so we would be fresh when we reached our target.”

“Our first combat mission was our toughest and almost ended our combat activity, if not our lives,” he said.

The crew had been assigned to a B-24 that had been “abused by a pilot who flew it his last three of four required 40 combat missions.”

“We found out later that the maintenance crew already had to replace two engines he had burned up before it was assigned to us. We took off and flew in loose formation to near our target, Iwo Jima, without incident, but when we started to climb to our bombing altitude, one of our engines failed and we had to feather the propellor, jettison our bombs, and fell back from our squadron just as we saw five Zeros bank to get into position to attack the lone straggler,” Anderson said.

“We ducked into a cloud just as the Zeros were closing in on us. We realized our only hope was to keep hiding in the clouds, which were spaced about a mile apart. As we came out of the first cloud, we found the Zeros waiting for us, but before they could get into position to attack us, we were able again to duck into the next cloud.”

The Japanese fighter planes eventually pulled back, he said, but his plane continued to lose altitude and the crew dumped thousands of pounds of ammunition for the aircraft’s 10 .50 caliber guns.

“At the rate we were losing altitude our navigator figured we would have to ditch the plane several hundred miles short of Saipan,” Anderson said.

Not long after Anderson told the crew to get ready to dump the guns out the bomb bay doors, the armament was spared when the plane leveled off at 7,500 feet and made it back to Saipan.

“After seven more missions, we were assigned our own, new B-24,” he said. “We trained to be one of two designated squadron leaders. We named our plane ‘Times A-Wasting’ and had the appropriate Gooney Bird painted on the nose along with the inscription. We never saw a (Japanese) fighter plane after our fifth mission and finished our 40 combat missions without major incident.”

Robert G. “Andy” Anderson

Age: 89
Born: April 12, 1923
Hometown: Clinton, Iowa
Residence: Palm Desert
Branch of service: U.S. Army Air Corps; 7th Air Force
Years of service: February 1942 – September 1945
Rank: First Lieutenant
Family: Wife: Bette (first wife Mary Jane Duffy is deceased), four children, Barbara Knudsen of Normal, Ill., Frank Anderson of Longmeadow, Mass., David Anderson of Texas, Helen O’Reilly of Lake Oswego; eight grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren.

7 Medal of Honor recipients to speak at California State University, San Bernardino

 MEDAL OF HONORThere are three present day variations of the Medal of Honor. (L to R above): A wreath version designed in 1904 for the U.S. Army; the original simple star shape established in 1861, which the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Coast Guard have retained; and an altered wreath version for the U.S. Air Force, designed in 1963 and adopted in 1965.

MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENTS COMING TO TOWN

Something very rare is happening next week in the Inland Empire.

Seven Medal of Honor recipients are scheduled to speak Tuesday, March 12 at California State University, San Bernardino as part of the 6th Annual Stater Bros. Charities Dave Stockton Heroes Challenge Golf Tournament.

The Medal of Honor, the country’s highest military decoration, is bestowed on a member of the U.S. Armed Forces who distinguishes himself or herself through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and  beyond the call of duty.”

The men will share their stories of heroism and gallantry and the importance of teamwork, leadership, and dedication to America, and answer questions from local Jr. ROTC Cadets and members of veterans’ organizations from across the Inland Empire Region.

“It is an honor and a privilege to host this event for our community,” Jack H. Brown, Chairman of the Board and Chief Financial Officer, Stater Bros. Markets said in a news release announcing the event.

Photos of the men below include a link to their individual Medal of Honor citations at the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website.

Harvey C. Barnum Jr., 1st Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps, Vietnam War

Salvatore A. Giunta, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, War in Afghanistan

Robert J. Modrzejewski, Captain, U.S. Marine Corps, Vietnam War

Robert M. Patterson, Specialist Fourth Class, U.S. Army, Vietnam War

Ronald E. Ray, 1st Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Vietnam War

James A. Taylor, 1st Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Vietnam War

Jay R. Vargas, Captain, U.S. Marine Corps, Vietnam War

Medal of Honor History

On Dec. 9, 1861 Iowa Senator James W. Grimes introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate  designed to “promote the efficiency of the Navy” by authorizing the production and distribution of   “medals of honor.” On Dec. 21, 1861 the bill was passed, authorizing 200 such medals be produced “which shall be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen and marines as shall distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action and other seamanlike qualities during the present war (Civil War).” President Lincoln signed the bill and the (Navy) Medal of Honor was born. The same medal is bestowed to members of the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard.

The U.S. Army Medal of Honor was established in 1862.

The U.S. Air Force Medal of Honor was authorized in 1956, and adopted in 1965.

Union Army soldier Jacob Parrott / Source: http://www.locomotivegeneral.com

The first award of the Medal of Honor was made March 25, 1863 to U.S. Army Private Jacob Parrott, who served with the 33rd Ohio Infantry during the Civil War.

The last award of the Medal of Honor was made Feb. 11, 2013 to U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha.

Medal of Honor Statistics

  • Since 1863, here have been 3,460 recipients of the Medal of Honor.
  • Today, there are 80 living recipients of the Medal of Honor.
  •  World War II
    • There are 11 Living Recipients who performed actions in the World War II.
    • There are 456 Deceased Recipients who performed actions in the World War II
  • Korean War
    • There are 11 Living Recipients who performed actions in the Korean War.
    • There are 125 Deceased Recipients who performed actions in the Korean War.
  • Vietnam War
    • There are 54 Living Recipients who performed actions in the Vietnam War.
    • There are 195 Deceased Recipients who performed actions in the Vietnam War.
  •  War In Iraq
    • There are 4 Deceased Recipients who performed actions in the War In Iraq.
  • War In Afghanistan
    • There are 4 Living Recipients who performed actions in the War In Afghanistan.
    • There are 3 Deceased Recipients who performed actions in the War In Afghanistan.
  • At one time, there were as many as five Medal of Honor recipients living in the Coachella Valley

Medal of Honor Memorial at Riverside National Cemetery

Sources: Congressional Medal of Honor Society, Doug Sterner, Home of Heroes website

U.S. Marine Corps WWII vet served aboard the battleship USS South Dakota

Bill Weed was majoring in economics at the University of Montana when he joined the U.S. Navy’s V-12 college training program in March, 1942.

The program was designed to increase the pool of commissioned officers in the Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II.

Weed opted to join the Marines.

“They were in the news then — they were starting to take back the islands,” Weed said. “I thought that was the place to be. I thought the training would probably be the best.”

Weed attended boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, followed by officer candidate school in Quantico, Va., where he was commissioned a second lieutenant in April, 1944.

“Angelo Bertelli, the Notre Dame quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, was in my class at Quantico,” Weed said.

When Bertelli was given time off to receive his Heisman Trophy, “They gave us all a leave,” Weed said.

After Quantico, Weed attended “Sea School” in Portsmouth, Va., and soon after completing his training, he received his overseas orders.

But instead of joining a land-based unit, Weed was assigned to a battleship — the USS South Dakota.

Weed sailed from San Francisco, across the Pacific, to the Ulithi Atoll in the Caroline Islands, where he went aboard the South Dakota.

The ship was attached to Task Group 38.3, one of four task groups assigned to the Fast Carrier Task Force — designated TF 38 when it was part of Admiral William Halsey’s Third Fleet, and TF 58, when the force was part of Admiral Raymond Spruance’s Fifth Fleet.

The Fast Carrier Task Force — the main striking force of the U.S. Navy — was made up of four groups of three or four aircraft carriers and their supporting vessels: destroyers, cruisers and battleships.

The ships of each task group sailed in a circle around the carriers. The supporting ships sailed relatively close by, providing anti-aircraft fire to help ward off enemy aircraft.

Marines manned the battleship’s 20 mm and 40 mm machine guns. There were nearly 150 of these high-powered weapons in place around the massive ship.

Weed was one of three officers in charge of a Marine detachment.

“I was responsible for controlling the machine guns on one sector of the ship — a quarter of the machine guns,” he said.

The USS South Dakota shelled Japanese-held islands before troops stormed the beaches.

Weed tracked Kamikazes and directed machine gun fire at the suicide bombers.

It was a tricky job — especially when the enemy flew over the fleet.

“When they go low through the formation and everyone is firing at it, you might get hit from another ship or hit another ship. You had to be careful.”

In February, 1945, the South Dakota operated with the task force in strikes against Tokyo, and against Iwo Jima in support of amphibious landings.

“On Easter Sunday (April 1, 1945) we were bombing Okinawa to soften it up for the invasion landing. The Japanese were sending Kamikaze’s from the home island to repel the landing.”

During the 82-day battle, Japan flew 2,000 Kamikaze missions, resulting in the destruction of destroyers, destroyer escorts, and landing ships. No major Allied warships were lost, but several fleet carriers were severely damaged, including the USS Bunker Hill. The carrier was hit by two Kamikaze’s, killing 346 sailors and airmen (43 more were missing and never found), and 264 wounded.

On July 14, 1945, as part of a bombardment group, the South Dakota participated in the shelling of the Kamaishi Steel Works, in Kamaishi, Honshu, Japan.

“Our ship fired the first rounds on the homeland of Japan,” he said.

The Japanese surrendered on Aug. 14, 1945.

“After the bombs dropped, we formed a regiment of sea going Marines and we went ashore — bayonet ready — and occupied Yokosuka Naval Air Base.”

The Marines were prepared in case the Japanese wanted to continue the fight.

“But we never had any trouble with the Japanese civilians.”

The Marines were at the air base when the surrender papers were signed aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.

It’s a sore subject, Weed said.

“We didn’t think the Missouri deserved to have the (surrender) signed aboard it.”

The ship wasn’t in many battles, he said, but understood the reasoning.

“It was (President Harry) Truman’s home state,” he said.

Weed served in the Marine Corps Reserve until 1964. He retired in 1979, at the age of 57, after 32 years with Merrill Lynch.

 

Bill Weed

Age: 91
Date of birth: Jan. 5, 1922
Hometown: Townsend, Mont.
Residence: Palm Desert and Spokane, Wash.
Branch of service: U.S. Marine Corps; USS South Dakota (BB-57)
Years served: March, 1942 – 1946; served in the Marine Corps Reserve until 1964.
Rank: Major
Family: Wife Marjorie; three children, William Weed Jr. of Pullman, Wash., Mark Weed of Bellvue, Wash., and Betsy Zeier of Westmont, Ill.; 8 grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren.

U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lieutenant Bill Weed (in front, hands behind back) stands just to the left of Admiral William Halsey (speaking at microphone). The war over, Halsey relinquished command of the Third Fleet aboard the USS South Dakota on Nov. 22, 1945. / Provided photo

Hall of Fame outfielder Ralph Kiner flew patrol bombers during World War II

Just a few years before Hall of Fame slugger Ralph Kiner donned a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform and belted his way into the Major League Baseball record books — leading the National League in home runs his first seven seasons in the majors — he flew PBM Mariner patrol bombers over the Pacific during World War II.

Kiner, who was elected to the Hall in 1975 and has been a radio and television broadcaster for the New York Mets since the team’s inception in 1962, recently returned to the desert after living for the past eight years in Florida.

Kiner grew up in Alhambra, and was playing in a semipro baseball game in Pasadena the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

The news spread quickly, and Kiner, who was 19, joined the hundreds of thousands of other young men who lined up to fight for their country.

“We couldn’t believe we were at war,” he said. “The next day was Monday and I went down and signed up for the cadet program for Navy flying.”

Although he’d enlisted, he wasn’t called to duty until June of 1943 while he was playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, a Double-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, in the International League.

The outfielder’s first stop on his wartime journey was Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where he began his pre-flight training in the Naval aviation program. He continued his training at Saint Mary’s College near San Francisco.

During this time, Kiner obtained his pilot’s license after making his solo with only eight hours of flying-time experience.

“Then we went to Livermore (Naval Air Station) where we flew bigger and faster planes,” he said.

One of Kiner’s last stateside stops was to Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, in Texas, where he learned to fly the PBY Catalina flying boat. He was awarded his wings on Dec. 6, 1944 and commissioned an ensign.

Ralph Kiner’s Naval Aviator Certificate

He was briefly stationed at Naval Air Station Alameda on San Francisco Bay before being sent overseas to Naval Air Station Kaneohe, in Hawaii.

He flew anti-submarine missions in the Pacific, near the Johnson Islands, in the PBM Mariner, a patrol bomber flying boat.

“I was a navigator in the beginning,” he said. “The hardest part was celestial navigation. You got up in the hatch with a sextant and you identify stars … we had no landmarks — there was only water.”

“You’d check the waves, which gave you the wind actions … You draw a fix, and if you were within 10 miles of where you were supposed to be, you were doing a good job,” he said, laughing.

“Radar was just starting to come in. We didn’t have it on our plane.”

The aircraft was always on the water, he said.

“All take offs and landing were on the sea. As you started down the runway of water you got on the hull and that got your tail off the water. We got on the step of the water and then we got going fast enough to take off.”

Although he spent many months away from the game of baseball, he said the military life and physical conditioning — the men had to be able to swim in the pool for 45 minutes at a time — kept him in good shape, which he hoped would make for an easy transition back to the field.

“I didn’t really get a chance to play any baseball for 2 1/2 years,” he said.

“It was a tough life. You had to continue to abide by the schedule, get up in the middle of the night and stand guard duty. It was work. It was an education. It was a different way of living.”

Kiner was in San Francisco when the war ended, in August, 1945, then was transferred back to Hawaii.

“We figured we’d be in Hawaii for a long time — a year or more — when I got orders to go to Singapore. We were all set to go, then they changed my orders and I came back to San Francisco.

“Amazingly, most of the guys I played with re-enlisted to get air pay (about $75 a month). I wanted to play baseball. I wanted to get out right then.”

Kiner was honorably discharged on Dec. 5, 1945.

“The guys that stayed in the reserves got called back during Korea. That’s what happened to Ted Williams.

“Williams was called back. He had to serve time in the Marine Corps. He was one of the greatest hitters, if not the greatest hitter. He was more proud of being a Marine than being in the Hall of Fame.”

After Kiner got out of the service, he got back to work on the ball field.

“I played, I worked out a lot. I went to spring training with the Pirates and I had a tremendous spring. Thirteen home runs in about 28 games, and I made the team.

“I played center field for the Pirates in St. Louis. I got a hit in my first game.”

In the third game of the series, Kiner smashed the first home run of his major league career.

The first time Kiner arrived in Pittsburgh, it was 10 a.m., but it looked like it was nighttime.

He’d never experienced life in a steel-mill town.

“It was so smoky, you couldn’t believe it. Soot was almost like fog, all over the city. Coming from Southern California where there was no smog, it was harder to breathe. You’d wear a white shirt and an hour and a half later it would be dirty.

Kiner wore jersey number 43 his first year with the Pirates, in 1946.

“Back then, the higher number you had, the less chance you had of making the ball club. The good numbers were always low.”

“So the next year came around, and the player who had No. 4 was traded to the Boston Braves. I went into the clubhouse and I asked for No. 4 — that was a prestige number — and I got it.”

Kiner, a six-time All- Star who also played for the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians, wore No. 4 for all but his first and last years in the big leagues. The Pirates retired his No. 4 uniform jersey in 1987.

Kiner dated actress Janet Leigh, of “Psycho” fame, while she was in Pittsburgh in 1951 filming some scenes for the movie “Angels in the Outfield.”

Years later, Kiner was in the press box at Shea Stadium in New York, when he noticed Jamie Lee Curtis and her husband were in the room.

He asked his then-wife if he should go over to Curtis and tell her he dated her mom, and his wife told him he should do it.

Kiner started telling Curtis he used to play for the Pirates and, “With that, she jumped up threw her arms around me, and said, ‘Daddy! I’ve been searching for you all my life!’ ”

Curtis was only kidding around, but her quick response impressed Kiner.

“I thought the reaction was so fast, it was just stunning!” he said.

Kiner had an earlier encounter with another starlet from the silver screen.

In 1949, “I had one date with Elizabeth Taylor. She was 17 years old.”

Kiner was about 27.

“Bing Crosby fixed me up — he was one of the owners of the Pirates — and he said, ‘How would you like to go out with Elizabeth Taylor?’ ”

“He set it up with her agent. She was just starting out. I think she had just made ‘National Velvet.’”

The two went to see the movie “Twelve O’Clock High,” at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, then joined another couple for dinner at Romanoff’’s in Beverly Hills.

He said Louella Parsons — the movie/gossip columnist — stopped by the table for some chit chat.

There was no second date.

“She wouldn’t go out with me after that,” Kiner said.

Name: Ralph Kiner
Age: 90
Born: Oct. 27, 1922
Hometown: Alhambra
Residence: Rancho Mirage
Military branch: U.S. Navy
Years served: Dec. 8, 1941 – Dec. 5, 1945
Rank: Ensign
Family: Three children, Scott Kiner and Michael Kiner of Palm Desert, and Kathryn Kiner of Rancho Mirage; seven grandchildren

Baseball Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner, 90, talks about flying seaplanes in World War II as a naval aviator on Thursday, January 24, 2013 at his Rancho Mirage, Calif. home. "The hardest part is getting the nerve to come back," Kiner said of his first solo. After his military service, Kiner went on to play Major League Baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, and Cleveland Indians. His jersey #4 is retired in Pittsburgh. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975. After his playing days, Kiner became a broadcaster for the New York Mets and has continued with the team for over 40 years. Crystal Chatham, The Desert Sun