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Flight Training at Mt. Saint Marys in 1942-3

Carlton D. Weaver

My first year (1938) in college was at The Citadel. Near the end of my freshman year, Dad advised that I should not reenroll at The Citadel because my sister was starting college and we needed to reduce costs, so I enrolled at Marshall University, a WV instate school. I could not earn a professional engineering degree at Marshall, so in the fall of 1940, I enrolled at West Virginia University as a junior in the Civil Engineering curriculum.

In February 1941, family finances were still strained, so I applied for a job with Dupont, who was building a huge chemical plant near Morgantown. This was before Pearl Harbor and this plant was intended to assist the British war effort.

Before I learned the outcome of this application, I applied for flight training in the Army Air Force and learned that l met all requirements but one. At that time, all army air force cadets had to be twenty-one years of age and I was not old enough. I soon landed a job with Dupont in a surveying crew.

My pay was $160 per month, of which I saved $100 every month for my future education. A few months later, I became an office engineer in the office of the project planning and scheduling engineer. This was a huge project that required much planning to properly schedule the delivery of structural steel and other construction materials, chemical processing equipment, and especially the number of construction craftsmen on the job. For example, there were times when we had more than five thousand pipe fitters employed.

By this time Dupont had me classified 2-B and exempt from the draft, but I still wanted to fly. My mother had little sympathy with my desire. However, she understood all elements at play and in the spring of 1942 I received a plain white envelope addressed in my mothers unmistakable palmer method penmanship. The only thing in that envelope was a pamphlet entitled How To Win Your Navy Wings of Gold, that and nothing more.

The USA was now involved in WWII and requirements for prospective pilots were such that single eighteen year olds with a high school education that met the medical, psychological and IQ requirements were accepted.

I went immediately to the Navy Recruiting Station, and after two or three trips to Washington and the passage of time I was accepted. I informed Dupont and waited to be called. Before long, my employer gave me a Notice of Termination of Employment Due to a Necessary Reduction in Force. Dupont policy then gave two months pay and the promise of a job when the war was over, if you entered service within two months of termination.

I sent the Naval Aviation Cadet Selection Board a night letter explaining all of these circumstances and asked to be called promptly. Meanwhile there were then twenty cadets from the Boston Naval Aviation Cadet Selection Board already enrolled at Mount Saint Mary's College. The navy learned that one of them was married, so he was released. Many in this Boston group had little or no college training. I had two and one half years in engineering so the Navy was confident that I would have no problems with the science or math so they called me as a replacement even though I missed some ground school.

My orders were to report to Mount Saint Mary's College on December 24, 1942. I arrived in Emmitsburg on Christmas eve in darkness after a bus trip from Morgantown to Grafton where I boarded a train to Washington then a cab to the bus station and a bus to Emmitsburg. Not being trained in the promptness required by military orders I decided to find a hotel in Emmitsburg rather than report as ordered. It was Christmas Eve in a town with which I was unfamiliar and where I had neither friends nor family. My room was on the main street with a good view of the street which was snow covered with little vehicular traffic but with an occasional horse drawn sleigh full of carolers. It was Christmas Eve scene I'll never forget.

The next day (Christmas) I reported in at Mount Saint Mary's. The Father that received me asked, "Son are you a Catholic"? I was surprised because I expected to be to be reprimanded for reporting late and furthermore I was a protestant having grown up in a county in which there were only two denominations. One was either Baptist or Methodist or neo-agnostic. I soon learned that the Father was only concerned with my religious needs on this sacred day. I was not reprimanded for reporting AWOL for my first day in the Navy. I should also report that I collected two months pay from Dupont and did go to work for them six years later after completing my education.

The ground school at Mt. St. Mary's was routine with classes in mathematics, aircraft recognition, theory of flight, etc and we flew when the weather was good, which was infrequent. It was a cold and snowy winter. When we had time off (week ends) some five or six of us would rent a car and driver and go to Gettysburg, Hagerstown, Westminister and/or Frederick. I have vague recollections off a March of Dimes party in

Gettysburg and hearing the Jimmy Lunceford orchestra in Hagerstown. There was a place near Emmitsburg where young people went for conversation and possibly a beer and dancing and a downtown restaurant that we enjoyed. Memories of sixty years ago are fuzzy but I remember a few names. The mathematics professor was named Mac something. We called him Mac. Father O'Donnell learned to fly with us and loved by all. My flight instructor was named Richard Skiles. Two girls our age that I remember were named Gloria Cardinti and Helen Fraley.

Our flight instructors and the planes we flew were connected with a contract operator who served the Navy. We did not have navy uniforms but were issued surplus green CCC uniforms. For those too young to remember, the CCC was the Citizens Conservation Corp formed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the depression. We flew 50 and 65 HP Piper J3 Cub planes.

My first solo flight occurred on February 13, 1943 after eight hours of dual instruction. One flight I will never forget was my fourth solo flight. On this flight I was practicing Spins over Thurmont. I would first align the plane with the road to Emmitsburg, reduce power, pull the nose up to the stall position and initiate a spin.

The object was to complete a two-turn spin and recover aimed in the same direction you started. On the spin in question, I recovered from the spin and the propeller was not rotating. I did not then know how to restart the engine so I headed back to the airport in a glide. It soon became apparent that I did not have enough altitude to glide to the field so I did as we were trained. I picked a good field and landed the plane.

I left to find a telephone and when I returned the plane was gone. In my absence, an instructor on a dual flight landed in the same field and he and his advanced student flew both planes back. Finally someone from the college found me and took me home. This was my only forced landing in more than forty years of flying.

Needless to say, I have fond memories of my days in Emmitsburg.

Read Harry Jones' - another Mount Flight School Graduate: ‘War really is hell'

Have your own memories of the Emmitsburg during World war II?  
If so, send them to us at: history@emmitsburg.net