Ralph Pruiett, Sr. - A Trip Down Memory Lane
Can you imagine how it felt to be a young man of 22 years, never having been more than 100 miles from home to be on my way to California? Thirty-nine of us boarded a Pullman car at the Cincinnati Union Terminal. We had our own porter and private dining car. We traveled three days and three nights and were not allowed to leave the train, but the porter would take up a collection and leave the train at almost every stop and come back with snacks, soft drinks, and liquor. We traveled by way of Chicago; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Salt Lake City, Utah. At Boise, Idaho, we picked up two mountain engines and crossed the Rocky Mountains. Our next stop was Reno, Nevada. On the fourth morning we arrived at Bakersfield, California. The porter was very lucky with the dice and had nearly all our money when we arrived in California.
We were picked up by army trucks and transported to Taft, California, then nine miles to Gardner Field. This was the south end of the San Joaquin Valley, in the Mojave Desert. Dust, dust everywhere and the temperature was 100 degrees. That night we slept in tents. The next day I became a member of the 329th Basic School Squadron at 21 dollar per month. Promotions came fast in my line of work.
- February 1, 1942 - Private 1st Class - 36 dollars per month.
- August 1, 1942 - Corporal - 54 dollars per month
- September 26, 1942 - Sergeant - 76 dollars per month
Robert Smith of Louisville, Kentucky, was my best friend. We would get three-day passes with no restrictions on mileage. We would leave on Friday evening and our pass started on Monday. So we had five days to travel. We made many trips to San Francisco, the Wine Country, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia Park, Pasadena Rose Bowl, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Mexico. Then came December 7, 1941 and that was the end of that.
After three months on the line as a mechanic, I was assigned to the Alert Crew. Our job was to service all visiting aircraft. We had our own billeting on the flight line and we were on-call day and night. Our crew consisted of Capt. Bart Bithers, T/Sgt. Diebett, S/Sgt. Woody Melton, and Sgt. Pruiett. In addition, we had three Privates.
The assignment of our field was the second stage of flight training for Air Force Cadets. When the planes were serviced, we had to grab a parachute and go for a test flight. Some of these flights were very scary!
One day, on a flight to Winslow, Arizona, Capt. Bithers and T/Sgt. Diebett were killed when their BT 13A pancaked on take-off for their return flight. (Today they call it Wind-Shear.) Things were never the same after that. A short time later, I asked for a transfer to the Curtis-Wright Technical Institute in Glendale, California.
In the meantime, I got a two week furlough at the end of August 1942. On Labor Day night, while out with my brother Bob and Bob Vaske, a friend of my brother's, I met my future wife, Esther Ruth Parker at the bus terminal in downtown Cincinnati. Ruth was on her way home from a two week vacation in Tennessee, where she had picked up her cousin Louise, who came to the big city to make it big. Louise was 16 years old and Ruth was 19 years old. I was all of 23 years old. We were married on July 10, 1943.
While in California, Robert Smith and I spent many weekends in Hollywood. While there we ate our meals and slept at the Hollywood Canteen. One night, while there, I met Peggy Langdon. We became great friends and I spent many evenings with her and her mother and father, Hazel and Hal Langdon. Hazel took me to a friend, a wholesale jeweler to pick out the wedding ring set for Ruth. I mailed the set home to my Dad, who gave the engagement ring to Ruth for her birthday on January 9, 1943, per my instructions.
Among the celebrities we met while in Hollywood was Shirley Temple at the Brown Derby Restaurant. She was 14 years old at the time and talked mostly of her big brother, who was in the service.
We sat in a box next to Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck at a ballgame at Gilmore Field, the home of the Hollywood Stars of the old Pacific Coast League.
We spent an afternoon on a movie set with George Murphy, a star at the time, and had our picture taken with him. He later became the ambassador to Mexico under Ronald Reagan.
I spent an evening with Peggy at Earl Carroll's Vanities. This was the result of a bet I had made with her mother, Hazel. I had bet her that I would take Peg to the Vanities if I made Corporal.
One of the nights that stands out in my memories was the night that Howard and Bonnie Miller took Bob Smith, Jim McCorkle, Bob Hechler and me to the Trouville, a very swanky club on Beverly Boulevard. While there we were entertained by a very beautiful black singer named Dorothy Dandridge who was 19 years old. She spent a lot of time at our table that evening. She was a night club singer and movie star (Porgy and Bess). Little did we know of her terrible end. She died in 1965 at the age of 42 after years of drug and alcohol abuse -- what a tragedy!
The Psychological Research Unit was a special part of the US Army Air Force. A new cadet's first stop was his physical exam at the hospital. Next he came to us for his test of knowledge and stamina and preflight training. From there he went to Primary, Basic and Advanced Flight Training.
My first assignment was at Santa Ana Air Base in California. I was stationed there in 1943 when I came home for Ruth's and my wedding on July 10, 1943. Part of our unit was transferred to Shephard Field in Wichita Falls, Texas, on October 22, 1943. During this time Ruth remained in Cincinnati to finish her nurse's training. After her graduation in the fall of 1944, we set up housekeeping in Wichita Falls. We were there until January 4, 1945, when I was transferred to Buckley Field in Denver, Colorado, where we lived on Downey Street and at 1234 Stout Street. All this time Ruth was working at different hospitals in the cities where we were stationed. We spent most of our spare time with Art and Betty Byrne. Arthur was in my outfit and we all became good friends, eating together and playing bridge every chance we had.
On June 18, 1945, I was transferred to Bowman Field in Louisville, Kentucky. I was there until August when the Psychological Unit was disbanded because the Air Force stopped recruiting aviation cadets.
My next assignment was the 1537th Air Transport Command, Agana, Guam, Anderson Air Base. We sailed from Seattle, Washington, on the Liberty Ship, Cushman K. Davis. We were on the sea for 26 days, with stops at Pearl Harbor and Eniwetok. We finally arrived in Guam. A most scary moment was when we went over the side of the ship by rope ladder with a full back pack. That boat we were aiming for looked very small, bobbing in the water below.
I was assigned to the Classification Unit. My job was to figure the points each man had toward his rotation stateside for discharge from the service.
Guam was a very dangerous place in 1945. There were no houses on the Island. The natives lived in make-shift housing made of discarded boxes and parts of airplanes. There were still plenty of Japanese in the jungles, so we never left the airbase without an armed escort.
We lived in tents that were built on platforms that were elevated 18 inches off the ground. The temperature was 90 degrees the year round and it rained every day. We bad plenty of water underfoot, especially at night. We always had to look before stepping out of the tent in the morning to keep from stepping in knee-deep water. Japanese prisoners did all the work on the base except cooking our meals. While serving here, I met Richard Stuart and Victor Mannino and we became friends.
About the first of December, I mentioned to my commanding officer that I hadn't been home for Christmas for the four years I had been in the service. He had my orders cut and I boarded a C47 cargo plane on December 13, 1945, and headed for home. Our first stop was Kwajalein Island, then Johnson Island and finally, due to crossing the International Date-Line, we arrived in Honolulu on December 13, 1945. After spending a night in Honolulu, I left the next day on a Douglas DC3 for home. We landed at Hamilton Field, north of San Francisco, on December 15. The Captain had delivered me stateside ten days before Christmas, but that was as far as his influence went. I sat in San Francisco until Christmas Eve, when I boarded a train for Camp Atterbury, Indiana, arriving on December 28, my fifth Christmas away from home.
Mom, Dad, and my brother Bob picked me up at the gate of Camp Atterbury about 8 PM and drove me to Cincinnati through a cold drizzle and fog. About midnight we arrived at 217 Calhoun Street, where Ruth was living with Rose and Elmer Young. Finally, after four years, five months and thirteen days -- I was HOME!
Ralph E. Pruiett
February 22, 1995