“My Ambition Was to be a Naval Aviator”
The year was 1940 … I was a sixth grader at Horace Mann Elementary School, Indiana PA. Ms. Thomas greeted the new class of students asking how their summer was. When it was my turn, I let everyone know that I had my first airplane ride and that my ambition was to be a naval aviator.
I was fortunate to live three miles from Hamilton Airfield where college students were taking flight training six days a week. Students and their instructors would fly frequently over or near the farm to practice simulated landings. I built model airplanes, read aviation magazines, watched Movietone News, seeing Navy planes taking off and landing on aircraft carriers.
One of the instructors, who I only remember as "Smitty," would buzz his is parent's home and they would know to go to Hamilton Field to greet him when he landed. I also went down to watch the landing along with a large crowd of people. As a teenager, I was really impressed with the very loud engine and could hardly believe that in three short years, I too, would be learning to fly that same aircraft at Whiting Field in Pensacola, FL.
It was my uncle who arranged with the senior instructor at Hamilton Field for me to take my first airplane ride and encouraged me to follow my dreams of becoming a Naval Aviator. I learned to fly in a J-3 Piper Cub when I turned 17 in August of 1945. I soloed August 12th in six hours and received my pilot's certification on September 17th. The war was still with us and I was drafted with thirty other eighteen year old seniors in the graduating Class of 1946. My tour of duty was deferred until after I graduated on May 28th.
After the military draft holiday in May, I learned about the Navy's V-5 program for aviation students. I drove to Johnstown, PA to take preliminary application tests, along with my two buddies, Bob and Jack. We passed the tests and returned home to wait for the next step in the program. On June 17th, we received orders from the Navy Recruiter to report to Pittsburgh, PA for three days where we would take an additional battery of tests and a rigid physical examination to meet the program's requirements.
Unfortunately, my buddies did not meet the qualifications for the physical part of the exam. Those who failed to meet all requirements departed after lunch that same day. Those who passed were assembled and LTJG Fatkin, the recruiting officer, called the remaining candidates alphabetically to his office, one by one. He inquired about a number of things that were not part of the written exams, but more about what you did in your spare time, why you were interested in the program, etc. Having passed my all examinations, having my pilot's license and being in good physical condition as a result of playing basketball, I was accepted in the program and sworn in.