In late November 1941 some eighty seven members of the class of 41-I, who had volunteered, were sent from their various training bases over the country to Mitchell Field on Long Island New York. They had signed a contract with Pan Am to agree to resign their commissions (which would be awarded on 12 December 1941) and become employees of Pan Am in order to fly fighter aircraft from the western coast of Africa to awaiting British pilots in Sudan. This charade was because we were not then at war, and this circumvented the responsibility of assuming blame.
At any rate 7 December 1941 undid this and the commissions were not resigned. Shortly thereafter most of the eighty seven were sent to Dale Mabry Field in Florida for a short period. Some checked out in the P-39’s and subsequently flew them down to Panama. The rest boarded the USS Kent in Charlestown and sailed Zigzag for six days to Panama. They were stationed on both the Pacific and Gulf sides of the canal doing patrol flights looking for possible Jap and German subs.
Then in early June twenty six were put on a C-47 and flown to Travis AFB in California. After a short stay they were put on an LB-30 ( a cargo version of the B-24) and, with Sears Roebuck sleeping bags and sack lunches, sent to first Hawaii (Hickam Field), New Caledonia and finally to Newcastle, Australia. Here we all checked out in ancient Dutch West Indies planes to get our flying time in. Then down to a small strip (Petrie) outside Brisbane. There those of us who had never flown the P-39 were checked out.
After a short training period, merely to familiarize most of us with the craft, we boarded a converted Aussie commercial plane in late June 1942, and after some pauses in Townsville flew to 7-mile strip in Port Moresby, New Guinea.
And finally to a camp called Virgin Lane from whence we flew missions off 12 and 14-mile strips.
So who were some of these intrepids? Nevel, Bateson, Lundy, Willett, Kirby, Hill, Helsinki et al.
Fortunately we had some forty one E8’s to head our flights and a Major Greasley to be our CO. Doc Patrick was our squadron MD, an acerbic but competent friend of us all.
So from humble beginnings the squadron took off. We had some crackerjack shots, and from the very first started running up the score of kills.
Other 41-I‘ers: Cobb, Rogers, Borowski, Griffin, Chiles.
My sixty year old memories seem to come in bits and pieces.
– Gordon Willett