WWII aircraft transfixing to 6-year-old in Warren

It was early 1942 — a few months after the beginning of World War II for the U.S. I was 6 years old and had a family friend named Bill who was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy (the U.S. Army equivalent was captain). He had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force prior to Pearl Harbor — as had 8,800 U.S. citizens — in order to get flight training and a commission because he wanted to get into the war that was raging in Europe.

Canada had declared war — along with Great Britain — on Hitler’s Germany in 1939. The option to join in that war would not have been open to Bill if he had stayed in the U.S. But after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, we were now in the war, and the U.S. transferred him to the U.S. Navy with the wings, commission and rank he had earned in Canada. Like him, more than 4,450 others who had joined up in Canada had also transferred to U.S armed forces.

Although he would not see combat in Europe, one task was to ferry factory fresh naval aircraft from their manufacturer to their assigned duty stations.

Since Bill was a Warren native engaged to a local girl, he was somehow able to use Vienna Airport — now Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport — as a stopover for refueling, maintenance and hangaring as he flew the aircraft across the U.S.

After arriving at Vienna, his second stop when he got into Warren was dinner at our house. He brought Kay, his beautiful fiancee, with him. I sat transfixed at the dinner table as Bill regaled us with his naval aviation exploits.

The first plane he brought to Vienna was a Grumman TBF Avenger from the factory at Bethpage, New York. He was ferrying it to San Diego. I had never seen a U.S. military aircraft up close and could barely wait for the promised tour and inspection of that Grumman warplane.

Luckily, Saturday was to be our day to see the plane. We all piled into our ’41 Buick and drove out to the airport.

There it was! I could see it through the windows of that gargantuan hangar door. It was huge! Its wings were folded back. The hangar where it stayed is now the Winner Aviation hangar near the administration building.

Under Bill’s supervision, we were able to crawl throughout the craft. I was too short to see out as I sat in the pilot’s seat. I played pretend in the gun turret and tried the same in the radioman / bombardier / gunner’s position under the tail. This was the heaviest single-engine aircraft of the war.

On Sunday, Bill had to continue on his way, and we all stood at the airport fence on that windy, freezing day as he had the wings cranked into flying position, ran up the engine and cycled all the flight controls. After everything checked out, he was off. A few tears were shed as we watched the plane disappear in the west.

Life goes on. Kay married another man while Bill was away, and Bill kept bringing naval aircraft to Vienna. I had a child’s gray-blue uniform that was just like Bill’s, and I proudly wore it just about everywhere.

A few years later, the war was winding down, and the last navy plane Bill brought to Vienna was a four-engine Consolidated Privateer patrol bomber. This was a long time before the runways were lengthened, and Bill was the first to land and take off in a four engine plane there.

The war ended. Bill got a supervisory position in Warren, found another sweetheart and continued to be friends with our family.

Those were heady and exciting days for a kid like me, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.

Mumford, of Warren, can be reached at columns@tribtoday.com.

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