This is the last of State Rep. Sheilla Lampkin’s 2012 series of tributes to World War II veterans.
Louis McGuire of Monticello grew up on a farm in Alabama graduating from high school in 1942. McGuire had an older brother already in the Army so he was exempt from the draft, as were many young farm boys who already had a sibling in the armed forces, because the government considered him more needed at home. Officials recognized that someone had to grow the produce to feed the armies. Like many other farm families in Alabama, the McGuires were asked to grow 13 acres of peanuts – a crop they didn’t normally grow in large quantities – to support the war effort.
The farmers had to harvest the nuts themselves. McGuire’s father devised a plan to make this job easier. He would use a hill sweep in reverse to run under the vines and lift them. Then a pitchfork was used to pick up the vines and shake the dirt off.
The pulled vines would be taken by wagon to a custom peanut harvester shared by the community that would thrash the nuts. The peanuts would be placed – vines and all – in a large hopper. When it was turned on and the vines would go one way and the peanuts the other.
The peanuts would then be taken to the oil mill where they would be hulled and roasted and the oil would be cooked and pressed out using a hydraulic press. Then it would be used for whatever use the government desired. Hydraulic oil was one use.
The farmers were glad to do this job for the war effort. However, it was a hot, dirty job, especially working around the thrasher.
In 1944, the U.S. Navy began a new program, the CAC – Combat Aircraft Corps. A young man could join and get specialized training in radio, ordnance or mechanics.
Ready to leave the farm and further aid the war effort, McGuire decided to enlist in the program. Soon he was sent to Boot Camp in Memphis, Tenn.
In Memphis he opted to attend radio school since it was also in Memphis and closer to his Alabama home.
After three months of radio school, McGuire was given a little gunnery practice – using shotguns and skeet. He proved to be quite proficient and was soon transferred to Jacksonville, Fla. There the young airman actually got into airplane turrets and shot at targets.
McGuire’s top-of-the-class record at gunnery school earned him a small promotion and a stint at Melbourne, Fla. He was stationed at Banana River, the area where Cape Canaveral is now located. Since the Banana River station was separated from the mainland, he was now paid overseas pay and flight pay, pretty good money for a country boy.
McGuire was assigned to an old seaplane, a PDM Mariner, that was big and slow compared to other planes. It had twin engines and flew only about 225 knots per hour. The plane had no landing gear. It would land on the surface of the water then someone would swim out and hook it to a tractor so it could be towed up a ramp to land.
A crew of 9-11 men was needed to fly it successfully. McGuire was chosen as the tail gunner due to his exemplary record at gunnery school. His post was located in a rotating turret, not the most comfortable place in the plane for a tall guy.
The plane’s mission was to fly regular surveillance patrols over the Atlantic and around the cape. This was necessary because the general populace was expecting an enemy invasion. Submarines cruising off the coast were also a possibility. The Mariner planes were positioned to serve as an early warning system.
This also gave the naval air crews some target practice in preparation for probable overseas deployment at a later date.
However, in the spring of 1945, President Harry Trumann ordered the dropping of the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. WWII ended and Mr. McGuire never had a chance to go overseas and fight.
Soon McGuire was sent back to Memphis. The Memphis Naval Station was divided into two sections. There was a basic training station on one side and aviation training division on the other side where they trained fighter pilots.
McGuire was sent to the aviation training division to operate the radio station for several months. There was also a plane there that had been loaned to the Canadians. All the electronics had been changed and were incompatible with American systems. Because of his radio school training, McGuire got the job of changing the electronics back to American electronic specifications so the radio would be compatible.
After his discharge at Memphis in 1946, McGuire used the G. I. Bill to enroll in college at Nashville, Tenn.
A couple of years later he began working at a cotton gin.
From there, McGuire went into the tractor business with the Ferguson Tractor Co. for a few years. Later a merger made this company part of the Massey- Ferguson Corporation. In those early days of farm mechanization, new tractors were so scarce that a farmer’s name had to be put on a waiting list to purchase a new one. In 1960, McGuire transferred to Monticello and retired in 1995 after 43 years in the tractor business.
WWII gave McGuire the opportunity to get off the farm, but his heart never completely left it. He spent his working years helping make life easier for the American farmer.
McGuire’s work required lots of travel so he never had time to become involved in the various veterans organizations nor to attend any reunions. He does however reflect proudly, but modestly, on his own opportunities to serve and protect his country.