Boys to Men

Boys to Men - May 27, 2013

State Representative David Perryman

His answer would have been different on a hot August day, but this was January and the temperature the night before had dipped into the 20’s.  As the recruiters barked out the names of destinations, he mentally placed them in two categories…warmer than his present condition, or not.  The cold bus ride from Central City to Little Rock was an important factor in his decision.

Anticipating the military draft, the lad just off a dairy farm was a volunteer in the U.S. Navy and he quickly opted for a southerly destination.  Basic training was short however and the new recruit’s stint in a warmer climate didn’t last long.  He found himself transferred to a new naval air station in Oklahoma with four 6,000 foot runways, three huge hangars, barracks for 4000 men and storage for 317,000 gallons of gasoline.

Construction on this air station near Burns Flat had begun on September 17, 1942 and the young man arrived there the next year.  Physical training and aptitude determination were ongoing and the Naval Air Corps continued to grow its operations at the facility officially called the Clinton Naval Air Station.

As the weeks wore on, the muscled young air corps member was provided classes in a number of areas and earned the designation as an Ordnance Officer.  Technical training had been provided in anticipation of the formation of a new squadron and the navy airmen stationed at Clinton had the potential of being offered an opportunity for a special mission.

April 1, 1944, at Clinton Naval Air Station, Squadron VB-152, flying new Lockheed Ventura PV-1’s was established for special experimental testing purposes. When asked to join the squadron, the Petty Officer leapt at the opportunity to be in charge of all weaponry and ammunition on the plane.

VB-152 continued its training in Norman, Oklahoma and Houma Louisiana before returning to Burns Flat.  However, all was not work.  The base was located close enough to Weatherford for fraternization between the military personnel and coeds at Southwestern Oklahoma State College.  Some simply dated, some became engaged and others married sweethearts during the months they were stationed at Clinton Naval Air Station.

Everyone knew that a day of deployment was rapidly approaching, but military protocol did not allow anyone to know the date.  The squadron members worked each day not knowing if it would be their last at the naval station in Oklahoma.  Each time they parted their respective wives or girlfriends, they were not certain that they would see them again…not knowing if they would have another chance to say goodbye.

Sure enough, shortly before Christmas 1944, the orders came and the members of the squadron were told to load their planes.  Verbal contact with family and friends off base was not permitted.  Their duffel bags were quickly packed and loaded on board the planes.  Wives and girlfriends were in Weatherford and unaware.

The planes taxied across the tarmac and one by one lifted off one of the longest runways in the world.  The tremendous roar of the pair of 18 cylinder, 2000 horsepower Pratt and Whitney engines on each aircraft signaled that this naval air patrol was trained, equipped and ready to defend our country.

Deliberately and efficiently, the squadron assumed its flight formation and headed toward Weatherford.  As the squadron approached the college town, the community heard the planes, looked up and saw the flight of PV-1 aircraft dip their wings.  It was then and there that the squadron said goodbye.  It was then and there, hanging out clothes in her backyard, that the young coed who would one day be my mother, knew that the airman, who would one day be my father, would be gone for a long, long time.

The Squadron then turned and headed west toward California on its way to the islands of the South Pacific.  They knew they had a job to do and they did it admirably from Pearl Harbor to Midway Island and Christmas Island and Guam.  Members of the squadron patrolled and protected.  One day while on routine anti-submarine patrol out of their home base on Pelileu Island members of the squadron spotted a huge oil slick, dropped down to take a closer look and changed the fate of the 317 survivors of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.

This is but one story of a veteran whose military experience not only separated him from his loved ones, but also separated his childhood from his adulthood.  He left as a skinny farm boy and returned with the maturity of a man, a hero, a veteran.

We have honored deceased veterans this week.  Take the time now to honor living veterans, both male and female. Veterans of any war, any conflict, any place in the world have looked death in the face and put our liberty and our safety above their well-being.  Thank a vet today and pray for those who remain in harm’s way.

I appreciate the opportunity to serve as State Representative.  For questions, comments or assistance, call me at 405-557-7401, email me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov  or visit my website at www.davidperryman.com   I look forward to hearing from you.