Fighter Pilot Training – 1944

As told to Keith by his father Edward Kenny.

After officer candidate school at Kent State in Ohio, I went to San Antonio, Texas, for classification—the qualifying process that determined whether I would be trained as a pilot, navigator, or bombardier, and whether I’d be flying fighters, bombers, or transports. As hoped, I qualified to become a fighter pilot. Then came ground school and pre-flight training. I marched and countermarched, sabre in hand, learned Morse Code, hand-to-hand combat, and aircraft recognition.

My flight training was all in Texas: Bonham for primary training in the Fairchild PT-19; Greenville for basic training in the Vultee BT-13; and Victoria for advanced flying in the North American AT-6 Texan.

I received my wings in Victoria then began combat training in the venerable Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, the plane made famous by the “Flying Tigers.” The air gunnery range was at Matagorda Island off the Texas gulf coast.

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My new wife Phyllis had followed me for an entire year, post to post, renting rooms off base. We got together whenever I got a pass, and sometimes when I didn’t. When the post commander withheld passes, usually for minor infractions, a cigarette butt, can, or candy wrapper found around the barracks, I went AWOL (away without leave). For a bottle of hooch, a tech sergeant let me hide in the trunk of his Ford then picked me up on Monday in time to make the morning muster. For Phyl and me, every re-acquaintance became a celebration and an opportunity to share stories.

She had found a room in a boarding house just off the end of the runway. One morning when I took off, I saw her hanging wash on the clothesline in the yard behind her room. I wagged my wings as I flew over, a pilot’s wave, and she waved back. After that whenever she heard a fighter plane overhead, she’d run out and wave, always getting a return wing wag. It wasn’t long before I heard comments at the morning mission briefing. Who was the cute redhead who liked all the pilots? When I told them, everyone started looking for her to get a sendoff wave and always wagged their wings back. When I saw Phyl that weekend, her first comment was, “You flew quite a bit this week.”

At Matagorda I walked guard shifts several nights a week, rifle on shoulder, up and down the beach. U-boats had sunk merchant ships off the coast, often in sight of shore, and we’d heard reports that agents and saboteurs had landed in small inflatable dinghies. Our fighter planes made tempting targets. Passwords were changed daily and were made hard to guess.

One moonless night, I heard a sound. A dolphin jumping and striking the water? Then I heard a mechanical twist and click, followed by scraping in the sand. Maybe a Mauser rifle chambering a round and a small boat dragged on shore?

“Who goes there?” I demanded. “Give the password. Advance and be recognized.” I raised my rifle and chambered a round. The sound stopped, and it was several seconds before I got a response.

“I – I forgot the password,” said a slurred voice low on the sand.

I found the tech sergeant on his belly unable to stand, a crumpled beer can in his fist.

We each training phase took me to a new base: long-range, high-altitude bomber escort, low-altitude tactical escort—where fighters join medium bombers in bombing attacks—fighter-on-fighter combat (aka dogfighting), and tactical support for ground troops. The latter included dispensing smoke in front of advancing allied troops to cover their attack and make it harder for German machine gunners to spot them.

One morning at a range outside Dover, Delaware, my smoke dispenser locked up, and I had to return to base. My landing pattern took me low over the city, and it seems all the bedding and underwear in Dover was out on the line that morning when my smoke dispenser misfired. Willy Pete (white phosphorous) is an excellent smoking agent at the correct altitude but an incendiary at low altitude. Fortunately, I was not low enough to start major fires. But my Willy Pete burned tiny holes in every sheet, pillowcase, and delicate in the city that day.

The training commandant got a call from the mayor before I pulled up to the maintenance hangar. He hauled me into his office. The bill ran to several thousands of dollars for damaged laundry, several years’ pay. He said the Army Air Force would pick it up, but I’d be walking extra tours and inspecting barracks and latrines until I completed training.

The mayor’s office compiled the bills to submit to my training commandant, and he sent a copy to me. It was in Phyl’s hand when I arrived home that weekend. I assured her it had been taken care of then explained weekend passes were going to be harder to come by.

The Wise First Became Fools

Sacred relics, hidden by ninth century Vikings, arrive at the Medieval Studies Department of Nimueh College. Ernest and Lisa, with the annoying presence of Dean Gilders’ nephew Bryton, begin restoring and interpreting six runic scrolls, and hope to discern the purpose of a leather object concealed behind a secret panel. (See “Fool’s Cap” and “Pity Not the Fool”)

When Earnest entered the lab next morning, Lisa was already hard at work. “Ahhh, Lisa. Anything interesting?”

“Good morning, Ernie. The scrolls are beginning to uncurl. I brushed the creases with gelatin to keep them from splitting.” She picked one up and read the runes along the top, “Til ao hindra veikindi hlatur er besta lyf.”

“Which means?” Lisa’s Nordic was better than his.

“Roughly, ‘To deter sickness, laughter is the best medicine’. It appears this has medicinal incantations. But in the next line I found a reference to heimskingjans hettu, the fool’s cap.”

“Oooh, I do hope so.” Ernest lifted his eyes to the ceiling, mouth wide.

Lisa brought the triangular panels from the back shelf. “I worked more Neatsfoot oil in this morning. The stitching is silk.” She unfolded the wedges gently into a cone, six-panels, alternating dark green and red, with leather appendages.

“Excellent.” He smiled at Lisa’s enthusiasm. “Take it slow, and keep working in the oil. I’ll get some leather cleaner.” He checked the drawer below the lab bench.

Lisa set the cap upright over a stand then returned to the scrolls on the table. “The header on this scroll reads, ‘Negotiating with Christians’. What’s that about?”

“Ahh … I had a feeling.” Ernest clutched his head with both hands and gave a silent thank you. “Old Testament scriptures speak of other gods, but European Christians could never abide them. The Jestercians were a Nordic-Druidic order, pre-Christian. The Jester was said to speak those godly tongues. I suspect she was the top diplomat dealing with the Christian Franks.

Lisa raised a finger then leaned over the flattening table. She tested the uncurling edges of the scrolls. “Each must serve a different function. But until we unroll them, I can only read a line or two. This one is beautifully illuminated.” She peered at the barely separated edge and shined her light magnifier. “Heimskinginn Fero, fool’s manual, map, no, guide … ‘A Guide for the Fool’s Journey.’ That must be the master scroll.”

She glanced at Ernest across the table and saw his eyes twinkling. She gave a soft handclap then dove back in. “Okay, six scrolls: the master guide, medical and negotiation scrolls, then three others.”

Lisa turned the steamer to mist the three scrolls then tried each of their edges again. “These have simple runes for short incantations.” She pulled all three toward her and lined them up. Ernest leaned in. She appreciated his patience.

Several hours later, she looked up from the table, stretched her arms and shoulders back, and took a cleansing breath. Ernest rolled a hand, beckoning her to reveal her discovery.

Lisa rested her hand on the last three scrolls in sequence. “One for good fortune, one for sexual potency, and one for anger—a pacifier.” She stepped back, held her arms up, and bowed to all sides as if to a gallery of appreciative viewers.

“Hurrah, excellently done,” Ernest said, applauding. “Your interpretation confirms what we believed about Jestercian theology. In the illuminated scroll, the fool’s journey is a metaphor for the journey each of us must take. We begin life as fools and return to that state at each transition: leaving home, entering a trade, selecting a mate, all major life decisions. Apprentice Jesters were called great fools because they made many transitions, and here we have scrolls for five of them. Special caps assisted their training and also warned others.”

“Awesome hat, Ernie!” They turned to see Bryton pulling the fool’s cap over his unwashed hair and hopping about like a drunken marionette. He wore the same smiley-face tee shirt with some new ketchup stains. “I could wear this for the party tonight.”

“Bryton, please take that off,” Ernest said through clenched teeth.

“It’s part of our research,” Lisa said, “very fragile and very valuable.”

“Weeell aaall right. You know, you guys are real bummers.” He shuffled his feet, doffed the cap, and bowed, sweeping the cap low. “Milady Liz, Bryton Gilders at your service.” He handed it to Lisa then plopped into the stuffed armchair.

Lisa looked at Earnest, who could barely contain his anger, then back at Bryton. “I want to study the scrolls a little more tonight,” she said. “Maybe tomorrow you can help flatten and repair the creases with me. I’ll show you how that’s done.”

Bryton looked pleased. “Okay, tomorrow I work … but tonight I play.” He jumped up. “How about you two? Pot’o Gold? This is a special night, and you should celebrate your big discovery.”

“Special night? Did I miss something?” Lisa asked, shifting her gaze to Ernest.

Bryton rolled his eyes. “Just St. Patty’s Day. Hey dudes! Time for the green. Pot’o Gold’s having a big party … beer, song, dance, all the good stuff.” He threw his arms wide and rocked in his seat.

“For once, Bryton might have a good idea,” Ernest said. “It’s been a long while since we took a break, and we do have something to celebrate.” Lisa nodded tentatively.

Right we do. Of course, we do.” Bryton grinned at his win. “What time shall we go?”

“How about we meet you over there?” Lisa said. “Dr. Woerth, do you know the way? I’d need a lift.” She pointed a finger at Bryton. “And you, how about changing that shirt?”

“No prob, Liz, it’s Friday night … wash night … and I’m not wearing any green.” He pulled at his stained smiley shirt then jumped up from his chair and headed to the door. “Got to go rest up for tonight.

The Pot’o Gold was crowded and smelled of spilt beer, old wood, and fresh corned beef and cabbage. Laborers, students, and a few police officers and firemen filled most of the tables. A fiddler played an Irish tune to the vigorous accompaniment of a drum, flute, and tin whistle.

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Lisa and Ernest each ordered a Guinness and agreed to share an order of fish and chips, which arrived quickly as the bartender had everything lined along the bar. Lisa leaned across the table so she wouldn’t have to shout over the music. “A fortuitous day, would you say?”

“Fortuitous, indeed. A good word all considering.” Ernest lifted his tall mug, and Lisa did likewise. “To the Jestercians.”

“To the Jestercians,” she repeated then added, “and to the anonymous donor for our wondrous gifts.”

Ernest nodded, took another pull on his Guinness, and noted patches of red and green peeking from Lisa’s purse. “You brought the fool’s cap?”

“After Bryton’s episode, I didn’t want to chance him appropriating it for his costume tonight. It also inspires my studies. I took a few notes before I left the lab this evening to get ready for our date.”

Ernest smiled, and Lisa was pleased to see he also considered this a date. They looked like a couple—unconsciously, both had chosen to wear cream-colored, Irish turtlenecks and ornamental shamrocks.

The lights darkened before Earnest could speak and the room quieted. A costumed woman stood in the spotlight and sang an Irish ballad.

Steal away, let’s steal away
No reason left to stay
For me and you, let’s start anew
And Darlin’ let’s steal away

Ernest slid his chair beside Lisa’s so they could watch together. The lilting soprano transfixed them, but not everyone in the pub.

Asshole,” came a shout from across the room. A chair slammed to the floor, followed by a young man, a student no doubt, flying backwards to rebound off a wall. The felled student twisted to pull himself onto his elbows.

Lisa recognized the slightly less-stained, smiley-face tee shirt and the mop of matted, black hair. Three Nimueh jocks in matching sports jerseys pushed tables aside to go after him.

Without thinking, Lisa slid the cap from her purse and onto her head. “An farandverkefni Viking hættir a hus bonda …” she said and two other lines. The toughs continued coming but began to smile and laugh, along with the rest of the pub. Reaching Bryton, they lifted him to his feet, dusted him off, and ordered a fresh beer to be brought to their table. Bryton looked confused but rejoined their group.

“What was that?” Ernest asked, checking the room. No one else seemed to notice Lisa’s intervention.

“That’s from the Reioi. I told those guys that Bryton was a fine fellow who said stupid things, like they sometimes did.” She shrugged and flashed a sheepish grin.

“Hey Liz, Ernie,” Bryton shouted and waved then rose to join them. Lisa tucked the cap back into her purse. “Did you two see that?” Bryton pointed back. “I thought those guys were really mad at me.” Lisa suppressed a smirk. Bryton glanced between her and Ernest. “You look pretty cozy over here. Don’t want to break things up.  Sooo …” He scanned the room. “I think the girls over there need my attention.” Bryton lifted his chin to a pair of young women at the bar and trotted over. They averted their eyes, put their heads together, and laughed.

Conversations picked up and the fiddler returned to the stage. Ernest leaned over and whispered, “Reioi?”

Lisa waited for a waiter to pass their table. “Hindra reioi, the scroll for deterring anger. It’s the last thing I remember from my notes this afternoon. I was going to ask you to look them over just before this happened.”

“Those men couldn’t have understood what you said.” Ernest gave Lisa an admiring, open-mouthed smile. “The fool’s cap, it works for you. You are the new Jester. The cap selected you.”

He looked at the check on the edge of the table. “Since we’re calling this a date, may I pick up the tab?”

Lisa half smiled and lifted an eyebrow.

 

After twelve centuries, the Fool’s Cap of the Druidic order of Jestercians—entrusted to the Vikings in the ninth century and buried at Dorestad castle— found a new home at Nimueh College west of St. Louis, and a worthy apprentice in Lisa Svanetti.

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