Oral Histories

Mitch Williams

b. 1916

Mitch Williams

When I was at San Angelo, I met the light of my life. I went to the Walgreen’s Drug Store and saw the prettiest girl I had ever seen! I couldn’t take my eyes off her! I heard someone call her “Mary”. I couldn’t keep my mind on flying after that!

Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday nights we got to go off base and I went to see Mary. She was with friends and was going to college there. I talked her into marrying me before I got out of San Angelo, you can bet on that! Mary and I were married on December 5, 1942 in San Antonio, almost 1 year after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

I flew single engine planes and advanced to a T6, a famous trainer plane built by North American Aviation. It was probably the greatest trainer ever built! The base had link trainers that simulated flying with instruments on the ground. I had a busy schedule and was up early and working late into the evenings.

I was in advanced flying school at Brooks Field, San Antonio, TX and was waiting my turn one night as an aviation cadet (between enlisted man and officer) when a bird Colonel walked in the door. He walked by and turned really quick and asked, “Is your name Williams?” I didn’t know what I had done, but I knew it must have been bad! I hit a brace (came to attention) and I replied, “Yes, sir!” He asked, “Did you have a brother named John?” I replied, “Yes, sir!” He said, “We were good friends. Come over to the house and I’ll show you some pictures.” He had pictures of himself with John and their planes and things they did at Selfrieg Field. I was so pleased to see the pictures and he was pleased to show them to me! His name was Colonel Standon T. Smith and he was Commandant of cadets.

I earned my brass bars (2nd Lieutenant) and silver wings and Colonel Smith pinned the wings on me at graduation on January 14, 1943. (Colonel Smith later became a General). Mary was sitting in the audience watching. I looked out of the corner of my eye to make sure Mary was there. We had only been married for a couple of weeks. I had to get permission to get married because I was a cadet, but I was granted permission since I was so close to graduation.

I stayed for a month or two after graduation and trained non-flying officers in the art of navigation. I don’t know why, unless it was to give them a better idea of navigating on the ground.

I was transferred to Biggs Field in El Paso, Texas. Mary found us a place to live, which was difficult because Fort Bliss and Biggs Field and some smaller satellite bases were there. You couldn’t find a civilian in that town, there were so many uniforms walking down the streets!

Production of pilots outpaced the production of airplanes at the time, but airplane production caught up very quickly! Right after the war started, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced that 50,000 planes per year were to be built. They produced so many planes that they shut down production before the war ended. It was great to have so many planes; it really helped us win the war.

When we were transferred to Alexandria Field in Louisiana, we flew P-39s and P40s. In the winter, we were transferred to Thermal Field in California near the Salton Sea, which was below sea level. It was a good thing is was wintertime because the liquid-cooled engines heated up quickly in the hot weather. We had to get off the ground as quickly as possible to keep from overheating. The P-39 was a great plane to fly, but there were too many things we didn’t need that were hung in and on it. They were equipped with a 37 mm gun that fired through the propeller hub; it was a large gun on a small fighter plane.

We finally got word again that we would be going overseas. This time we were supposed to be going to England. We scurried to get ready and gathered up our dog tags, clothing, etc. There were many requirements for an outfit going overseas. We ended up going to Lakeland, Florida instead. Lakeland had P-51s and we were glad to see them. ..the famous P-51 Mustang (built by North American Aircraft Company)! We had P-51Bs and Cs in the states. The P-51D was the hot shot model, but we didn’t get to fly them until we went overseas.

I was assigned to lead a flight and do some maneuvers, kind of a dog fight situation. They got so good you couldn’t get away from ’em! We flew aerial gunnery over the Gulf of Mexico and flew west from Lakeland to our target. P-40s were there to tow the target and we would take turns flying the P-40s with the tow target. The other planes would then fire at the target in turn.

Each of us had different colored ammunition (the tip was dipped in paint). That way when we fired at the target, our bullets went through the sheer cloth and left paint so we knew who hit the target.

The aerial gunnery range was just north of Tampa and over the Gulf and was a restricted area. Every afternoon there were many thunderstorms. One tow plane was destroyed in one of the thunderstorms and we lost a good pilot. We had accidents in the states and they never had a chance to get into the war. Some of my close buddies died in P-51s and I think about them a lot.

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