I Would Wade Hell’s Fire

Page 3

Page 4

Who was the young man was who went AWOL and where did he end up? Why he left Wendover Field in the first place is a mystery along with why he joined the Army Air Corp. What did he think the Army was going to be like?

Jones and Peggy had just gotten married and Wesley and Carol were already engaged. Though the letter didn’t say it specifically, the “proposition we talked over in front of the depot at Boise” sounded very much like a marriage proposal. Charles was making plans for his future in the Army Air Corp and hopefully a future with Olevia. Perhaps the commission would have given him the opportunity to transfer back to Gowen Field. He now considered Boise his home and very much wanted to be there.

Charles had put his heart on the line in this letter, hoping the woman he had fallen head over heels over would give him a chance. What more could he have done? This might have been the last letter he would send to Olevia. Time seemed to drag waiting for her reply. How could he stand the waiting? Why hadn’t she replied? Had her letter been lost in the mail or had she decided she didn’t love Charles after all? All the possible scenarios played over and over in Charles’ head like a needle getting stuck in a groove on a record in a record player. He loved music but this particular song was wearing him down.

Don’t Spare the Horses

A lot went on between the lines. Expectations and misunderstandings, maybe even fear. September 4 to October 21 as the dates between Charles’ letters to Olevia would have felt like an eternity. They were both holding out, waiting for the other one to write. Why? Maybe on a deeper level they felt like they were rushing into a relationship too quickly. Olevia and Charles didn’t know much about each other at this point in time. One or both of them may have wondered what they were getting themselves into. Is this what they wanted?

Both of them had their work that kept them busy in addition to Charles’ studies and Olevia’s chores at home. After a long day it may have become a real challenge to come up with something worth writing, something interesting enough to mail, especially when they could easily get distracted by a game of bowling or a movie. It would be difficult for Olevia to choose not to go to the USO dances with her friends in Boise. Thoughts of what they wanted and what they needed must have been reeling through both of their minds.

Olevia and Charles had enjoyed spending time together from June to August and now it seemed so long ago. The time they enjoyed being together had gone much too quickly. They had a lot of fun times around town with their friends. They wished the fun times could have lasted a little longer. Would they get the chance to do it all again?

Charles had been gone for almost two months now since his transfer to Wendover. Could it have all been a dream? A wonderful, whirlwind romance in an era of constant change and a possibility of being transferred overseas, even further away from each other? It seemed that they were a world apart already.

Common sense told them both that they should allow this relationship to develop naturally over time but with the war in full swing, there seemed to be a universal push to live life now. There might not be a tomorrow. The world being at war probably caused everyone’s energy to vibrate at a higher frequency, causing a sense of urgency that normally wouldn’t have been so prevalent.

Maybe the romantic dream was already over. It had hardly started. They would both know soon enough. If Olevia didn’t answer Charles’ letters, it would be pretty obvious.

About Wendover Field

Wendover Field 1943 photo taken by Charles Westbrook

Crew of B-29 “Enola Gay” Col. Paul Tibbets center (photo courtesy Wikimedia.com)

Wendover’s mission was to train heavy bomb groups. The training of Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Consolidated B-24 Liberator groups began in April 1942. By late 1943 there were some 2,000 civilian employees and 17,500 military personnel at Wendover. For much of the war the installation was the Army Air Force‘s only bombing and gunnery range.

‘Bomb Trainer’ was the job title Charles Westbrook held there. He and another fellow named Poptonich were responsible for the bomb trainer building, to take care of the trainers and keep an eye on the bombardiers.

South of the main airbase and runways, a facility was built for development of the technology necessary to drop the first atomic weapons. These buildings were known as the “Technical Site”, and were located as far as possible from the rest of the base for security and also for safety in the event of an accident.

In September 1944. Boeing B-29 Superfortresses arrived on the field, as part of an operation code named “Silverplate”. They started preparations for the dropping of the world’s first atom bomb. Because of its remote location, Wendover Field was specifically chosen by Colonel Paul Tibbets as the training site for the crew of the Enola Gay to hone their skills for their infamous flight to deliver the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The Enola Gay was named for Tibbet’s mother.

Colonel Tibbets held the reputation of being the best pilot in the Air Force. President Dwight D. Eisenhower agreed that Tibbets was the man for the job. Charles had the honor of meeting Colonel Tibbets and the privilege of being in charge of the A-Bomb site vault while he was stationed at Wendover Field. Nobody, not even close relatives knew what type of work Charles was doing at the base until after the war was over.

This operation required utmost secrecy. The base was given the code name “Kingman” and the activity to assemble, modify and flight test prototype bombs was named “Project W-47”. Security was so intense, that 400 FBI agents were involved to help maintain it. Personnel were instructed to talk with no one about their activities, not even among themselves. Those who did were immediately transferred from Wendover to other assignments, some as far away as Alaska.

Crews were trained to drop one bomb with a high degree of precision, and to execute a sharp turn after dropping it in order to avoid the effects of the nuclear blast. The aircrews trained continuously for the classified mission until May 1945. In late April 1945, Colonel Tibbets declared the group combat ready and the ground echelon moved to its new home, North Field, Tinian, in the Marianas, on May 29 with the air echelon following on June 11.

Credits:

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

References

  1. ^ “National Register Information System”National Register of Historic PlacesNational Park Service. 2009-03-13.
  2. ^ 11 sites make new list of ‘endangered historic places’, at CNN.com
  3. ^ http://www.wendoverairbase.com/world_war_2 Wendover Air Base website (unofficial)
  4. a b c Wendover Air Base website
  5. ^ Boyne, Walter J. (June 2007). “Project Paperclip” (PDF). AIR FORCE MAGAZINE, Journal of the Air Force Association (Air Force Association) 90 (6): 72.

Charles Meets Olevia

The middle of nowhere. Wendover Field had been built on the edge of the salt flats that didn’t have much else going for them. The mountains created a visual diversion from the colorless, desolate panorama. Charles Westbrook (my dad) decided to like it. He found advantages of being in a new place like this. It was part of the deal when he enlisted. Summertime allowed his body to acclimate to the season in this part of the vast United States. He realized he had never spent a winter further north than Oklahoma.He didn’t know if he would even be stationed here that long. Used to the stifling humidity and complete lack of breeze of inland Mississippi for the majority of his young life, the dry air felt good to his skin here and the cool nights brought a deep, restful sleep after working all day. He enjoyed exploring the surrounding areas on foot and bicycle in his free time, noticing the quality of the soil and whether it would be beneficial for raising crops. The farmer in him couldn’t help but analyze the arid earth. It reminded him how much he loved the green, lush landscape of Boise and the beautiful woman who lived there.

His mind once again drifted back to the days just before meeting her in June, 1943. He recalled talking with his buddy Wes. They had known each other for a couple of years now. After being transferred to Gowen Field in Boise, during one of their conversations, the subject of  Charles’ desire to meet a nice young woman came up. Wes smiled as he asked, “So, C. W., would you prefer a blonde, brunette, or a redhead?” C. W. was one of Charles’ many nicknames.

Charles didn’t hesitate. “How about a redhead!” A blind date was planned and a few nights later they walked up the three steps to Wes’ fiance’ Carol’s home. Wes knocked on the door and Carol let them in. C. W. immediately noticed a pretty redhead sitting on the couch in a flattering navy blue dress.

Wes made the introductions. “Olevia Harris, may I present Charles Westbrook.” C. W.’s heart picked up the pace. “Charles, may I present Olevia.”

“How do you do, Olevia?” C. W. reached for her hand as she stood up. He felt a quick rush of excitement and noticed with a hint of surprise that her lovely dark hazel eyes looked straight into his. This woman was a tall drink of water. He was six feet. Her soft, gentle hand fit into his rough, weathered one perfectly. She shook his hand with a somewhat firm, but not too firm, handshake.

“I’m very happy to meet you, Charles.” Olevia smiled deeply as she felt the blood rushing to her face. His curly black hair made her heart skip a beat. She sized him up in a few seconds. He looked very handsome in his uniform and his blue eyes seemed to smile right along with the rest of his tanned face. He was taller by a couple of inches – perfect for a dancing partner. She wondered if he liked to dance as much as she did. C. W. hesitated a second before he let her hand go.

C. W., Olevia, Wes, Carol, Jones, his girl Peg and a few other friends went to USO dances and clubs together, along with enjoying movies and bowling. It created a much needed distraction from the current events going on in the world. Time flew when they went out together and before he knew it, C. W. got his transfer orders to Wendover Field, Utah, about 300 miles from where he now wanted to be. Olevia drove him to the Boise train depot in her 1935 Dodge coupe that dreaded day where their kisses lingered and their embrace tightened. If only they could stay close to each other a little bit longer. They promised one  another it wouldn’t be long until they could be together again. As Charles reluctantly boarded the train and took his seat, he shook his head and wondered how he could be leaving so soon. He had barely met this woman who took his breath away even though he didn’t know much about her. He had been to her home a couple of times and met her mother. They hit it off immediately. He certainly wanted to know more about Olevia. As the train started to slowly chug away from the station for Wendover Field, he looked anxiously out the window for one last sight of her. Olevia stood alone, waving to him slowly, trying her best to smile through the tears that she unsuccessfully tried to hold back. She wondered if she would ever see Charles Westbrook again.

About Dad’s Letters

As I sorted through the letters, put them in date order and began reading them, the words absorbed my very soul. A mirage began to take shape of a life that seemed as real as if I’d been there.

Dad’s letters have been safely tucked away for over 60 years, stored on the top shelf of Mom’s bedroom closet where they have remained safe. The letters have been protected as if they were treasures. They are. I have become the keeper of the letters and feel a responsibility to create a book out of them for family, historians, WWII buffs, interested readers and future generations. They provide a portal into the lives of my parents during their young adult life when our world was at war for the second time. Dad’s written words give insight into who he was and where he came from.

Originally from Steens, Mississippi, dad joined the Mississippi Army National Guard in 1934. Two years later he was called upon to help clean up the aftermath from a devastating tornado that hit Tupelo, Mississippi on the evening of April 5, 1936. In 1939 Dad enlisted in the Army Air Corp and worked on the Tennessee Valley Authority Electrical Installation. In 1940 Dad was transferred to Guatemala and was chosen to go on a Good Will tour of South America. He was later transferred to Panama where he met Wesley Lyons who was also in the Army Air Corp which would later become the Air Force.

Wesley was from Boise, Idaho. They became fast friends and ended up being transferred to Gowen Field in Boise in May, 1943. Wesley’s girlfriend, Carol Howry, was best friends with Mom. Wesley introduced Dad to Mom at Carol’s home in June, 1943.

Two months later Dad was transferred to Wendover Field in Wendover, Utah. At that point is where these letters began.