In recognition of the upcoming Veterans Day holiday, state Rep. Sheilla Lampkin writes about the late Frank “Buddy” Carson Jr., a WWII veteran who served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Carson died last month on September 28 at the age of 91.
Buddy and Eloise Carson had been married 11 days when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Buddy had finished one semester of college at Arkansas A&M and had begun another when he decided to enlist in the Army Air Corps in September of 1942. He was a natural for the Air Corps because he had already learned to fly at age 16 at the Monticello Air Field.
Ironically, the day he returned from his enlistment in Little Rock his draft notice came to his home in Monticello.
Back home in Monticello, he finished that semester in college and then waited to be called into service. After six months had passed without his call, he began to worry. Finally, in February of 1943, Carson received his call to go to Little Rock for his physical examinations.
After three or four days there, he was put on a train, the famed and speedy Rock Island Rocket, to go to Amarillo, Texas.
Originally there were only two cars in the train – one with recruits from the Memphis, Tenn., area and the other the Little Rock area. As they went along through Oklahoma, however, the train began to pick up other cars. In Amarillo, it joined with more cars and eventually became a “troop” train with all its cars filled with recruits heading for training in California.
Arriving in Santa Ana, Calif., the young recruits began to truly realize they were in the Army. Aviation cadets came and formed the recruits into lines and marched them through the post gate, singing the Air Force song.
Since they had arrived at nighttime, the recruits were soon assigned to barracks. Throughout the night, they could hear voices calling out: “You’ll be sorry! You’ll be sorry!”
Carson later learned these calls came from barracks filled with guys who had “washed out” of preflight training and were awaiting reassignment to other branches of the Army.
At that training center in Santa Ana, programs in aviation training, bombardier training, and pilot training were available.
Carson was well qualified for pilot training so he was entered into that program. He remembered that the pre-flight training was pretty intense with some very tough courses. It was said that if you dropped a pencil you’d lose a semester of Algebra.
After about nine weeks, classification and pre-flight training at Santa Ana was completed. Out of 180 people in his flight group, 160 graduated. Some were sent to Blythe, Calif., on the Arizona border for flight training. This was desert country and it was not a preferred station.
Carson got lucky. From Santa Ana he was sent to Oxnard, Calif., for flight training. Oxnard was located right on the sea with pleasant weather and difficult to get lost while flying because you could always see the sea.
Until now, his bride, Eloise, had been unable to accompany him while he received his training. Now that he was settled in Oxnard, she wanted to come out. They agreed she would travel to California by train.
Eloise was very smart – and very lucky. She planned the first part of the journey to stop with friends in El Paso, Texas. They would meet her and take care of her. After three days on the train, she was ready for a bath, food and rest when she arrived. Carson recalled her telling him it was the best bath she’d ever had.
When Eloise returned to the station for her next phase of the journey to Oxnard, there was a problem. Even though she had a ticket, she wasn’t allowed on the train. Soldiers were given first priority and there were so many traveling to California that she couldn’t get a seat.
After three or four unsuccessful attempts to board a train, a young sergeant introduced himself to her. He explained that he’d been home on leave and was returning to his base for deployment overseas. “Just follow me,” he told her. “Tell them you’re my wife.” They boarded the train and Eloise accompanied him all the way to Los Angeles.
There she changed trains and proceeded north to Oxnard. Carson had obtained his first pass off base the Friday night that she arrived. A friend had a car and they met her at the railway station for a joyous reunion.
Eloise rented a room and stayed in Oxnard, Calif. as long as Buddy was there. She got a job at Parker’s Hardware. The Parkers were an older couple who treated her like a daughter.
She and other three girls rented the top floor of an old mansion that had been partitioned into four apartments with a shared bathroom and kitchen.
The Carsons had such great fun in Oxnard on the weekends. They rented a tandem bike and picnicked. They went to the ocean. They visited with friends. They spent all of Buddy’s off time together. During the week Eloise could come to the base and watch movies with Carson, but she had to leave on the bus at 9 p.m. That was tough – but it was a good time too.
Buddy and Eloise Carson had good accommodations and made some friendships at Oxnard that lasted throughout the years.
From Oxnard the young trainees were sent up to Chico, Calif. It was summertime and the temps were high, but there was no humidity. Carson remembered the basketball games on the asphalt courts and other recreational activities.
After this basic training, Carson was sent for Advanced Training at the Army Air Force base in Stockton, Calif. and Eloise Carson relocated to Stockton when he was sent there. (The Parkers hated to see her leave. They told her if she didn’t like Stockton her job was waiting in Oxnard.) Again she got an apartment and a job so the young couple could be together whenever possible.
At Stockton, the young pilots were told the fog rolled in early in December. They were warned that they might have to go to a base in Arizona to finish training, if it got too bad. No one wanted that to happen. Carson’s unit was lucky, though, because the fog would lift at night. The young pilots could get in their flying time at night. Carson got to be a good “dead reckoning” pilot. They’d take off; fly up and down the San Joaquin Valley and land several times each night.
During the daylight hours the young airmen would go to ground school for more classes. All of the ground school was finished quickly because they had plenty of time for their studies since they were flying at night.
Toward the end of his time at Stockton, the weather improved and the young pilots could fly during daylight hours. This was necessary because they had to learn and practice formation flying.
Lt. Carson graduated from flight school and received his commission on January 7, 1944. He remembered the joyous feeling when Eloise pinned his wings on his shoulder.
Carson had studied hard and trained hard while in California, but he and Eloise enjoyed the time they spent there.
After graduation he was given a 21-day leave and he and Eloise returned to Monticello.
He was told not to fly home, so accommodations were made on the Southern Pacific railway.
It was a terrible trip. Snow was everywhere as they crossed the mountains. The train arrived in Lubbock, Texas, about eight hours behind schedule and the Carsons feared they’d missed their connecting train. Luckily, the Rock Island Rocket had been delayed too. It was still sitting on the tracks. They boarded and were quickly homeward bound. They soon arrived in Little Rock and were met by Billy Carson who drove them to Monticello.
After the 21 days leave, Carson was assigned to Roswell, N.M., for B-17 training. The young couple went to Roswell on the train. An aunt living in Roswell got the couple a room and really treated them well. Carson remembered having a wonderful time there.
He recalled borrowing his aunt’s Packard so the young couple could visit Carlsbad Caverns. He also learned about Episcopalians while attending Sunday School with this aunt.
When Carson left Roswell, Eloise returned home because he was due to be sent overseas soon. From Roswell, Carson’s orders were to go to Salt Lake City, Utah, for B-29 training. He wasn’t thrilled with that assignment because B-29s were having mechanical problems at that time.
There was little to do in Salt Lake City. At 11 a.m. the airmen would go out and listen for their names to be called to receive their orders. Afterwards, they were through for the rest of the day, but the weather was too cold to get out and see the sights.
After a week or so, Carson’s name was finally called out to go to Ardmore, Okla. His entire crew was named too, so he was relieved to have a crew and a B-17 plane to fly.
From Ardmore, the crew was to go overseas. The young airmen were told they’d travel from base to base, but would only receive orders as they got to each new place for their next destination. There was a lot of security in those days.
Soon they were put on a train for Kearney, Neb. After five or six days, the crew was told to report to flight line at 10 p.m. They were told they’d leave Kearney around midnight. There was a terrible storm going on and they felt takeoff would be delayed.
They were wrong. At 12:30 a.m. the plane was loaded and they took off. Lt. Carson piloted the B-17 through bad weather from Kearney to Manchester Field in New Hampshire.
From there the crew flew to Goose Bay, Labrador, where they were put in the senior officers’ quarters to rest a day or two.
Carson was given the assignment of piloting the crew to their station in England. From New Hampshire they flew to Goose Bay, Labrador, and from there to Meeks, Iceland. The crew stayed in Iceland several days because the weather was too bad on the continent to fly there.
The weather cleared and they learned that their next destination was Nut’s Corner, Ireland. When they arrived in Ireland, they taxied the plane across the countryside into a field and parked it.
The crew thought they’d get to keep their new plane, but it was not to be. The plane was left in Ireland and the crew was ferried across the Irish Sea to England. They remained at the indoctrination base there about two weeks.
During this time they were introduced to the buzz bombs. The crew was shown the bomb shelters, but fellow soldiers told them not to worry as long as the bombs could be heard clicking. When the clicking stopped, it was time to jump in the shelters. After a few days they got used to the sound of the bombs. They would stand outside and try to spot incoming bombs.
Soon the crew was assigned to the 401st bomb group at Deenthorpe, England. That was their home for the next seven months. All of their missions were flown out of Deenthorpe.
Carson’s first mission was on August 3, 1944. He flew eight missions from August 3 through August 24. At that rate he thought he might get his 30
missions and be home by Christmas. However, with the winter weather approaching, the flight frequencies were reduced drastically and home for Christmas was not to be.
Carson’s crew was flying during several battles on the European Front, but the recognized “names” for these engagements came later. His plane was only under direct attack once.
On August 24 they were attacked by German planes while flying over Germany on a bombing run. They were shot up badly and their radio operator was mortally wounded. It was the only time Carson thought they might have to abandon the plane. The plane began to shake and it seemed that it would shake apart. The crew had actually gotten ready to bail out when the crankshaft broke and the plane leveled out. They were hit by shells several times and were fortunate to make it back to their base. His squadron of 36 planes lost 6 planes on that day. The radioman wounded in the incident made it back to base but lived only a couple of days.
The entire crew was immediately assigned to the “rest home” for a few days because they had flown so many consecutive missions. The rest home was an old English mansion where the airmen were sent to rest and relax for a time.
Carson recalled the joy of riding horses there using a British saddle and the friendship of a Canadian pilot who flew the Canadian planes called “mosquitoes”. The mosquito was a little twin-engine plane made of plywood. Fortunately he never had to fly one.
Carson recalled another bombing run to the German base where they were developing rockets. They flew over the North Sea and over Sweden before turning south toward Germany. When they got to their destination, the clouds were so thick that they decided not to bomb there and went further south before dropping their bombs and returning to base.
Other planes returned to bomb that same place the next day and were met by heavy artillery shelling from 88 millimeter guns mounted on railcars. It was a rough day for the airmen.
Carson recalled many days of flying safely through heavy flak. All of his missions were flown in daylight hours; the British RAF flew night missions. Each plane carried 2,780 gallons of gasoline and could fly several hours.
Carson flew three missions to Berlin. On one of these missions the plane was flying at about 27,000 feet or so. It was an old plane with a glycol heater. The heater went out and the temperature dropped to 55 degrees below zero at that altitude. Carson’s oxygen mask filled up and he became confused and nearly lost consciousness. His co-pilot had to take over.
Carson’s last mission was on January 31, 1945.
After completing his 30 missions, he and the crew were eligible to return to the United States. From England they were again sent to Nut’s Corner, Ireland, and landed on July 4th, 1945. The young airmen then returned to America on our largest troop transport. It normally carried about 11,000 men, but since it was returning to the U.S. there were only about 2000 on board.
From Ireland the ship sailed to Liverpool, England, then out into the North Sea. The ship’s captain decided to leave his escort destroyers behind and run for the American continent on his own. The escorts were probably sent because of a threat of submarine or other attacks.
Carson remembers the early part of the trip well because everyone had a terrible case of seasickness but after two and a half days the ship entered the Gulf Stream and things calmed down. The rest of the voyage was wonderful.
The ship landed in New Jersey and the airmen received a 30-day leave. Carson came home to be reunited with Eloise and his family.
After the leave, Carson was ordered to Miami Beach, Fla., for rest and recuperation. From there he was sent to Sebring, Fla., for nine weeks.
By that time the war in Europe was winding down and B-17 pilots weren’t being trained. Carson was told that he’d probably be sent to Ohio to be reassigned to a B-29 plane. He was not looking forward to that prospect.
One day, however, Carson noticed an interesting item on the bulletin board. The Air Force had five openings at the Instrument Instructors School in Bryan, Texas. Carson quickly wrote his name on the list. He was accepted and soon on his way to Bryan, Texas.
After instructors schooling, Carson stayed in Bryan to train young recruits. Eloise joined him there. The young couple got a small house and spent off hours together. The Carsons really liked Bryan and enjoyed their time there. Carson remained in Bryan until he left the Army.
Carson would fly for six days and then he and Eloise would have two-day weekends together. By this time they had a car. Since Carson had a grandmother and other relatives in Houston, they’d go to Houston and visit relatives and see the sights.
Carson was discharged in September of 1945.
For his service to his country, Buddy Carson received five Battle Stars, a Distinguished Flying Cross, and an Air Medal with five Oak Leaf Clusters.
He and Eloise came home and built a successful life together. Carson joined the VFW and helped in the construction of the VFW-Legion Hut in Monticello.
Carson had other WWII memories, some of which were painful to be sure but he chose to recall mainly the best of those times. He recalled old friends and places. He recalled the joy of being young and in love, togetherness, and serving his country.
He said that this story is the story of Buddy and Eloise Carson. He cherished their 60-plus years together.
Carson’s story is a reminder of something another veteran once said. He said that the important things in life are always worth fighting for – love of family, love of God, love of country. Wars are fought by young men. These were young men who loved family, God and country. They went to war and fought for these things. They came home to family and country and continued with the rest of their lives.
Buddy Carson is gone now, but his memory lives on. He was a great American and one of the members of the greatest generation.