Amn. Joe Smoe, 81st Fighter Group
I was born in the summer of 1919, shortly after the Treaty of Versailles was signed, to a pair of simple farmers in a small town where nothing really happened. I had a fairly standard childhood with nothing exceptional happening. After I finished my schooling I did like most boys did in the small towns outside of Tallahassee and went to try and find work in the city. I ended up a bus boy at a small burger joint called McGinnigan’s. At least that’s what I was before the war…
In 1939 Germany invaded Poland beginning what would be the Second World War. Roosevelt guaranteed us, the people, that, “he would not send our boys to war,” and he did just that until Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. But that’s getting ahead of my story.
Once war started in Europe, the Army started preparing for the possibility of entering the war. They turned little Dale Mabry field into a training facility for the Third Air Force. Now growing up I had my share of flying helping Pa crop dust the fields but that was in an old rust-bucket that didn’t have any breaks, but I decided I’d go on down there and see what I could do to help. They slapped a uniform on me and put me to work fixing up the planes. It was not a particularly exciting job to begin with, I mean there’s only so much action that goes on at a training facility especially when you’re just a mechanic. Occasionally one of the active bases in North Carolina or Texas would send us an aircraft that was damaged beyond fighting ability, and we’d fix em up to where they could fly alright and the cadets would use them to train with. The funny part is I was a test dummy for these training planes. After they were deemed to be flyable I was thrown into em to take em for a spin and yes I did have my share of faulty planes that grinded the flight to a screeching, sometimes fiery, stop. A little side note, sometimes at night I’d sneak into the hangar and hop in the cockpit and pretend like I was overseas helping the allies put a hurting on the Nazi bastards.
One day one of the captains on the base saw me test flying one of the repaired planes and deemed my maneuvers worthy enough to become an airman and asked if I’d like to jump back in the cockpit for, “God and country.” I was a young and reckless man and accepted the offer. They started training me in a P-51 Mustang which was a single-seat fighter plane. My primary job was to act as an enemy pilot and sort of dance with the new cadets. I hate to sound like I’m bragging but nobody out-flew me at that facility. The cadets that were assigned to me hated me in the air, off duty they were fine. We’d go out on the weekends and spend some time bar-hopping and chasing women. We had good times in the little big town of Tallahassee but my favorite place was and will forever be in the air. Everyone knew that too, they all said I took to flying like a bird. A captain from one of the active bases who was in town to see the base that had trained some of the finest pilots saw me out-maneuvering one of the cadets with ease and asked if I wanted to join the 58th group. The 58thwas originally supposed to be a permanent group at Mabry but they were called into action. I turned the offer down and chose to stay in Tallahassee and keep working with the new cadets. I felt if I could train guys to be as good as me it would be more beneficial to the cause than if I went myself. I enjoyed my time at Mabry; all of the sounds of aircraft engines roaring down the runway and the screeches of the planes braking on the runway. My favorite thing about that place, the one thing that still brings back memories…the smell of the fumes from the planes. I loved flying high over the city and seeing all of the people going in and out of the capitol and going to and from work mixed in with that sweet aroma of gasoline coursing through the engine.
In 1945, the war ended and training was ceased. I could not have been happier. As much as I loved working with the pilots, I hated getting word about their planes being shot down over seas. After the war I stayed on at the airfield only I was fixing Boeing jet liners instead of the good ole P-51s I had come to love. I never got back in the pilot’s seat again. But just like I did then, I still sneak into the hangars and sit in an open cockpit and reminisce on the rush of the take-off and the feeling of freedom flying over Tallahassee and Dale Mabry Airfield.
Comments: I can't tell if this is based on a real or fictionalized person. Make that clearer & list research sources.