Oral Histories

Mitch Williams

b. 1916

Mitch Williams

My family borrowed my uncle’s slow 1927 4-cylinder, 4-door Chevy to drive from Moab to Santa Anna, California to attend the funeral. My brother, La Due, had to drive the whole way with no relief because no one else could drive and the roads were terrible. My father had a sister, Aunt Sue, in Santa Anna and we stayed with her. John had bought into a car with a fellow Musketeer named Cornelius. Cornelius came up to Santa Anna to visit us and bought John’s interest in the car from my father. Cornelius was killed the next day! The 3rd Musketeer, Woodring, was killed about 10 years later. The planes they flew were unreliable in many ways.

I ran a gas station for 2 years, or so, in Thompson, Utah. Thompson was the shipping point for everything since everything came in by rail. Trains don’t even stop there now. I had a customer named Lloyd who had a carnotite mine (uranium and vanadium). Before the atomic bomb, there was no use for uranium. It was just a byproduct at the time. It was used for watch dials and cute odds and ends. Orientals dipped their pens into a liquid made out of uranium ore and put the pens in their mouths to make the pointy tip for writing the small characters. The uranium slowly poisoned them.

Lloyd was doing pretty darn good with the mine. I had a truck and hauled vanadium for many of the mine owners. Vanadium was used for hardening steel and the ore was sold to different mills. There was one mill in Uravan, Colorado, which was the largest mill. They paid for vanadium, but not for uranium, even though they saved it. When the Manhattan project came along, they used the stashed uranium.

I would ask people to watch the gas station for me while I hauled the ore. It was a tough job now that I look back on it, but at the time, I would help shovel the ore onto the truck, and then shovel it off the truck by myself at the mill without stopping. Each truck load weighed around 6 to 7 tons! I would drive the truck for 24 hours between loading, unloading and getting back.

Lloyd wanted me to be his partner in the mine. It sounded better than the gas station, so I sold my interest in the gas station and went to work with Lloyd. I mainly drove the truck to Uravan and back. It was a 24 hour trip with no sleep or rest. There weren’t many places to get gas, so I carried a barrel of gas in the bed of the truck. I drove until the tank was empty, and then siphoned gas from the drum to fill it up again. I used the back roads and they were pretty bad.

In the fall of 1940, the weekly newspaper in Moab had stories about the war in different places around the world (we weren’t in it yet). The U.S. was building up the railroads in preparation for the war. During the Great Depression, everything got run down. The paper also talked about getting the draft started. The numbers were posted, but I didn’t know then and I still don’t know now, what those numbers meant.

In November, we were sleeping in a tent. It was very cold! I told Lloyd, “If there’s a war, I sure don’t want to miss it. My brother was a fighter pilot and I want to be one, too.” I went to the Post Office building in Grand Junction, Colorado to sign up. The recruiting offices were upstairs. They told me they couldn’t send me to flying school because it was too full. The U.S. expanded the schools tremendously and I eventually got in.

At first I went from one station to another. In Glendale, California, I learned about airplanes, but wasn’t in flying school yet. I asked for another physical to be sure I was qualified and passed with flying colors! I got my paperwork together, but I had to show proof that I had 2 years of college education to get in (after the war started, no college was required). I attended 2 years at a 4 year college, but they didn’t give diplomas for 2 years at a 4 year college and I needed a diploma.

In Glendale, California, I went to the Glendale Junior College and asked to see the Dean or President. The President came out to see me and I explained the problem. The President said, “It is a good cause. I’ll see what I can do. Come back tomorrow.” The next day he presented me with a 2 year diploma!

Before anything happened, they shipped me to Borinquin Field in Puerto Rico (it is now called Ramey Air Force Base). I was there about 30 days, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A lot of people didn’t know where Pearl Harbor was, but they won’t admit it now. I had just gotten off duty and was crossing the field when a man coming the other way said, “The Japs have attacked at Pearl Harbor!” I told him I had heard of Pearl Harbor, but didn’t know where it was. He said, “Everyone’s heard of it now!”

A few months after the war started, they put me through as an aviation cadet. I was to report to Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas. I got on the narrow gauge train from Borinquin Field to San Juan through cane fields and little towns. It was an interesting ride. Then I got into a C-47 airplane and flew to Port au Prince at Haiti, then on to Miami and finally on a train to San Antonio, Texas. I took pre- flight training at Kelley Field then to Chickasha, Oklahoma (primary school) where I soloed, then to Goodfellow Field, San Angelo, Texas. I got about 50 hours of flying time in and was sent to Brooks Field, San Antonio, Texas (for advanced flying school) where I flew something a little more powerful.

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