Guest Blogger: Cowboys and Flyboys

By Dr. Micah Murphy

(Flyboys in training at Navy Air Station Corpus Christi, 1943-44, Grandpa Springer is in the front row on the far right.)

My grandfather, Donald Springer, lived through the depression and that experience taught him to work hard and be very frugal. I don’t think the frugal part caught on with us, his grandchildren, but he did pass on the importance of hard work and above all doing your duty. That duty could be to country, to company you work for, or your family. Doing your duty wasn’t really seen as a burden it was just life. Life and duty were the same. Duty was more like purpose and one thing he couldn’t stand was anyone who shirked their duty. Duty wasn’t just one way though. You owed others and they owed you. You owed your employer and your employer owed you. You owed your country and your country owed you. He once quit a job as an engineer with a wife at home, on the spot, when he learned of unfair pay practices. He’s probably single handedly responsible for one automaker not selling 100’s of vehicles because they wronged him and he told everyone for 30 years. Generations may not purchase from that automaker now.

Like lots of men in his generation, he was excited to do his part, his duty, in WWII. He joined the Navy and became a pilot hoping to go straight to war to fight the enemy. He did not see combat and it’s something, I know, he always regretted. Some Navy pilots needed to stay here in the U.S. though. His assignments involved going to airfields, usually on the east coast, and flying damaged or otherwise decommissioned planes to a junk yard called the boneyard. The yard was somewhere north of western Texas, I think. The job gave him plenty of experience flying all types of planes and working on them as a mechanic and he later used this experience when he taught flight lessons, worked on aircraft, and lived at and managed the Hastings Airport where he met my Grandmother, Maxine, while giving her lessons.

He had several stories of crashing in fields and walking miles to find a phone or a ride and sometimes a meal with a family somewhere. One of my favorite stories did not involve a crash and it seems more like a comedy show than real life.

I don’t remember the plane he was flying but I know it was a larger single prop plane. He landed near Dallas for fuel for the last leg of his trip. He hit the head, got some lunch, and went to start up the plane. He had power but the prop would not crank. He tinkered a bit but decided the engine might be seized up. By flying these planes to the boneyard he was saving a lot of manpower. If it couldn’t be flown it would be sitting on this pavement for awhile taking up space and eventually it would need to be partly disassembled and trucked to the junk yard, so he would put some considerable effort into getting to the boneyard by air.

While he was standing staring at the plane trying to figure out what to do a jeep drove up with a Captain driving. (I think Grandpa was a 1st Lieutenant at this time). The Captain asked him, “What’s the problem, let’s get this plane out of here?” Grandpa explained that he couldn’t get it to turn over. The Captain told him to get in the cockpit and turn the key on, he’d get it started. Grandpa, a little confused and about to argue watched as the Captain pulled a rope out of the back of the jeep. He formed a lasso and rodeo style lassoed the top of the prop. Grandpa climbed up in the plane while the Captain tied the other end of the rope to his Jeep. I should mention this jeep did not have a top; it was just an open Jeep. The Captain got in the Jeep turned and gave a thumbs up which Grandpa returned. I don’t know how long the rope was but the Captain gunned the Jeep and took off. When he hit the end of the rope the Jeep seemed to completely stop and the Captain went flying out the front onto the pavement. The prop, though, turned and the plane started up immediately. Grandpa saw the Captain get up, brush himself off, pull in the rope, get back in the Jeep and drive away. Mission accomplished.

Thanks for reading!

Dr. Micah Murphy is an Associate Professor of Marketing and Supply Chain Management Marketing at Eastern Michigan University.

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Chihuahuas, Dry Roast Peanuts, and a Second Hand String of Pearls

Louie and Vada

 

I’m sitting on a plane after a visit to an old, dear friend, Vada Pitchford. She and her husband, Louis, were life long friends of my parents. Louis and Dad met in graduate school at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Later, Dad asked Louis to work at Hillsdale College where he became a well loved history professor before retiring in 1982 and moving to Billings, Montana.

However, there is so much more to this special couple. Vada was a school teacher for 14 years. She was teaching a few miles away from Texas City during the 1947 explosion, our nation’s worst industrial accident. She recounted the fear and confusion while evacuating students and the challenges of the days that followed.

Louis served as a Naval Officer in WWII on the USS Washington, participating in several missions, including the Solomon Islands. He continued to serve after the war as a member of the Naval Reserves for 22 years. When he shared his plans to join the reserves, Vada asked why. He simply said, “Someone’s got to do it.”

When I think of this amazing couple, I remember dry roasted peanuts (Louis’ favorite snack), Vada’s famous jalapeno grits, their pet Chihuahua, Cha-Cha, Sunday dinners, Vada’s string of pearls, and most important, Vada’s smile and Louis’ kindness.

During my visit, I was so happy to be given Louis’ silk flag from WWII. If you look closely at the picture below, you will notice there are only 48 stars. This special gift will have a place of honor in our home.

 

vada

Did “Ewe” Know There Was an Aerial Attack on South Padre Island?

"Flyboys

(Flyboys in training at Navy Air Station Corpus Christi, 1943-44, Grandpa Springer is in the front row on the far right.)

Every summer, Chad’s grandparents, Donald and Maxine Springer, spend time in Michigan. We consider it an honor to have them over for dinner and hear their amazing stories. I always wondered why we were never allowed to prepare lamb for these meals until one day Grandpa shared a memorable adventure from his flight training during WWII.

After graduating from high school, Don Springer enlisted in the Navy, and in 1943-1944 spent time training in Texas as a fighter pilot. During the war, Corpus Christi was known as a Navy town. Here many young men received flight training at the Navy Air Station, also known as Truax Field. Due to the demand for pilots after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Navy Air Station Corpus Christi quickly expanded into one of the largest naval aviation training centers in the world. Don was among more than 30,000 men who earned their wings. Grandpa loved the challenge and thrill of flying (In fact, after the war, he continued to work as a flight instructor at our local airport where he taught an adventurous student, his future wife, Mac.).

One day, on a training run, Don decided to make a pass over South Padre Island around 125 miles to the south. Back in the 40s, South Padre Island was mostly grazing land, primarily for sheep. Flying an F4F Wildcat with machine guns mounted on each side, Don spotted sheep, grazing in the lush fields of the island. He decided it was time to sharpen his skills with a bit of target practice, so he attacked the sheep. Between Don’s skill as a pilot and the power of those guns, the sheep didn’t stand a chance.

Shortly after his return to Truax Field, his commanding officer learned what had happened. In addition to paying the farmer restitution, Don, his flight class, and flight crew had to eat all of the “casualties,” meal after meal, until all the mutton was consumed. Despite my efforts to explain the taste difference between mutton and lamb, I have since given up encouraging Grandpa to sample a meal of young lamb. After his adventures in Texas, nothing will convince that old “flyboy” to give it a try.