By W. Budd Wentz, MD, CAPT USAAF Ret.
and Tom McCrary
I was born August 9th, 1924 in Philadelphia and lived with my family in two small river towns along the Delaware River in New Jersey until entering the military. After graduating High School in 1942 I planned to enlist as a Naval Aviation Cadet before being drafted by our town’s draft board. Being drafted usually meant that you would end up as a dogface GI; especially when the town elder’s weren’t too keen on you. Slogging through mud day after day wasn’t for me. On my way to the recruitment office in Camden, New Jersey the latest film caught my eye as I passed the movie theater. Thinking the Navy could wait a couple of hours I ventured in to the movies. Much to my excitement the news reels showed Navy planes landing on huge aircraft carriers in the middle of the ocean somewhere. My thrill turned quickly to alarm when it dawned on me that these boys were landing aircraft on a deck pitching 20 feet up and then 20 feet down. After the movie I headed straight for the Army Air Corp recruitment office and enlisted as an Army Aviation Cadet; at least the ground didn’t move around on its own.
Aviation Cadets were granted an exception from 1942 to 1944. During the 2 years following High School I worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad in the War Bonds bookkeeping department and attended the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Daily I would take the train into Philadelphia from Riverside, New Jersey. On the train I met a Nurse from Zurbrugg Hospital who knew my mother. Julia would introduce me to her sister who would eventually become my wife. The girl, Bette, also worked at the Pennsylvania Railroad on 32nd Street.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into the war, the number of volunteers for pilot training was enormous. Fearing that they would lose them to the general draft, aviation cadet-applicants were given exemption from 1942 until 1944. Aviation Cadet training came in five stages.
Classification stage lasted a couple of weeks processed the cadet and issued him his equipment.
Pre-Flight Education stage was two 63 day halves teaching the mechanics and physics of flight and requiring the cadets to pass courses in mathematics and the hard sciences. Then the cadets were taught to apply their knowledge practically by teaching them aeronautics, deflection shooting, and thinking in three dimensions.
Primary Pilot Training taught basic flight using two-seater training aircraft. The most popular primary trainers were the Stearman PT-13 and PT-17 “Kaydet,” the Fairchild PT-19 “Cornell,” and the Ryan PT-20 “Recruit.”
Basic Pilot Training taught the cadets to fly in formation, fly by instruments or by aerial navigation, fly at night, and fly for long distances. Cadets flew aircraft such as the Vultee BT-13 “Valiant” and were evaluated to determine who should go into single-engine advanced training and who should proceed to twin-engine training.
Advanced Pilot Training placed the graduates in two categories: single-engined and multi-engined. Single-engined pilots flew fighters and fighter-bombers. Multi-engined pilots learned to fly transports and bombers. First they flew Trainer aircraft, then transitioned to front-line aircraft. Those students selected for single-engine training flew the AT-6 “Texan,” and those who went into twin-engine training flew the Curtiss AT-9 “Jeep,” the all-wood Beechcraft AT-10 “Wichita,” or the Cessna AT-17 “Bobcat”.
In July 1943 the Southeast Air Corps Training Center was re-designated as the Eastern Flying Training Command for a specialized school for pilots of four-engine aircraft. The first B-24 Liberator landed at Maxwell Field later that month.
Once called up for service, part of our Aviation Cadet training was to attend college courses. My class was sent to Oswego State Teachers College in New York along the chilly shores of Lake Ontario for 9 weeks. From the frosty north I next went to the sizzling south, where I attended Maxwell Field Pilot Training Course in Montgomery, Alabama. While at Maxwell Field I would learn all the skills needed to fly and survive in the air as well as on the ground by walking numerous detection tours around the dusty compound. A paper was dedicated in my honor as the only Aviation Cadet who received the most demerits. My cousin was in the same flight training. Since he was previously an ROTC cadet before Flight School, he was authorized to carry a sword during parade formations. Needless to say on a few choice occasions I strongly suggested where he could place that sword if he continued to pull rank on me; earning me another demerit. While in Basic Pilot Training Aviation Cadets were not allowed off the base.
In April 1944, after passing my solo flight, I graduated from the pilot training course, earned the rank of Second Lieutenant and Pilot Wings. Although wanting to leave the red clay of Maxwell Field behind, I would be stay for the Advanced B-24 training course. This time however, I was an officer with wings and could on occasion get a Leave Pass, or not, to hop a flight back home to see my family and Bette.
During the first of two such occasions being absent without leave (AWOL) authorization, I went back to New Jersey and spent a warm June day on the beach with Bette. It was D-Day June 6, 1944. Getting home was the easy part; making it back to Maxwell Field undetected was going to be a bit more challenging. My friend during Pilot Training, and also later when stationed in Lavenham UK, Eugene T. “Brudsey” Wolfenberger would call me at home to inform me when I needed to be back at Maxwell Field. When I received Brudsey’s call I started making plans to head back to Alabama. Unfortunately, I could only get as far as Hunter Field near Savannah, Georgia. After arriving in Savannah in the late afternoon I needed to return to Montgomery somehow before morning roll call. In 1944 the country was a different place and hitchhiking was common place. Luckily an old black man in a battered red pickup truck came upon me and was also headed west to Alabama. We drove together throughout the heat of the night. By first light I made it through the guarded gates just in time for morning formation.
Following Primary and Basic Pilot Training I attended the Airplane Commanders School in Casper, Wyoming for B-24s and graduated July 1944. My crew #69 was formed in Lincoln, Nebraska where we were transferred back to Casper for final crew training and preparations for England. At 19 years old I was the Pilot of a B-24 and responsible for nine airmen. In December 1944 we received our orders and in several days I predicted we would be going to England for the 8th Air Force.
B-24 Original Crew #69 – November 1944 Topeka, KS
McQueen - Wentz - Boyer Barczy – Carson – Johannsson – Jewell – Hanford – Robbins
Enroute to Lavenham UK
We traveled by train from Casper to Topeka, Kansas and then to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey spending 3 days and 4 nights on the train with perhaps 4 other crews (40 people). Within striking distance to home I took this fortuitous opportunity to slip out of Camp while we were there for one night to see Bette and my family before heading into the European Theater of Operations. Before leaving, Bette and I became engaged but wisely decided to wait until I returned from England to be wed. Early the next morning my Uncle Jim drove me to the rear of Camp Kilmer where I slipped in behind a firehouse on to the post. A Fireman yelled out, “Boy Lieutenant you are cutting it close.” As I headed to our barracks I was surprised to see that crews had already formed up in rank on the parade ground with their gear in tow. I slipped next to Brudsey where he brought my bag and held an open spot for me. What seemed like mere seconds, we started embarking on the train to Perth Amboy, New Jersey and then by ferry to Pier 90. We boarded the Queen Elizabeth liner and steamed to Glasgow, followed by another train to Chorley, England.
European Theater of Operations
Our crew was assigned to the 487th Bomb Group (Heavy) of the 8th (Eighth) Air Force. We flew 28 strategic bombing missions over Germany in 1945. Most missions became routine after a while. We would get up early, breakfast, attend the mission briefing then spend the next 8 hours in a loud cold plane hoping not to be hit by flak or German fighters. Our first mission as a crew on February 9 to Weimar ended in a forced landing in Belgium. For most of our next 27 missions we would make it back to Lavenham without major incident. However, a few times we would be forced to land under less than ideal circumstances.
During a mission one of the engines was hit by flak. The drill is to feather the prop and turn off the engine. Flying a B-17 with 3 engines is not much of a problem, especially without the bomb load. But as we crossed the English Channel heading toward Lavenham the 2nd engine quit. Flying with two engines is concerning; if another engine goes then the possibility of crashing was likely. So we headed toward our primary Emergency Landing Site at RAF Manston at the narrowest part of the Channel. Manston had a single long runway (9,000 ft) with empty clearing at both ends (1,500ft) and wide enough (750 ft) to land 3 planes at a time if needed. Once safely landed we were served tea and fried course bread in lard. A truck then picked us up and took us back to Lavenham.
On another mission when we were hit by flak we headed north towards Sweden. Over the radio we heard there were ME262s on patrol, so we jettisoned as much equipment as possible to lighten our load and changed course back to Lavenham across the North Sea. We were flying on two engines plus our oxygen had been shot out. The Engineer took bottles of oxygen and walked around the aircraft giving everyone a few breathes of air. Each bottle only lasted 7 minutes. I had to get the plane low enough to breathe without becoming woozy or passing out. (In Pilot training we learned how it felt flying without oxygen by taking off our masks to see how long it took to become light headed and darkness to start surrounding your eyes.) We reached Lavenham and landed on 2 engines. The brake pressure wasn’t holding so at the end of one runway we turned onto another runaway and then on the grass; finally stopping with our nose over a Nissan Hut.
For the last 4 or 5 missions I was very pessimistic. But we were part of the machine and just went up day after day. After our last emergency (crash) landing on the continent, the commander of the group called me in and decided, in his words, we had “used up our luck.” He terminated the tour and would no longer fly combat missions. The crew was very happy to hear the news and I felt, at age 20, that I had had a long career.
April 1945 Lavenham with ME-109 Wing Fragment
Wentz – Barcsy – Johansson Carson & “ShortRound” – Robbins – Jewell – Boyer
After VE-day we flew food drop missions over Dutch fields outside Amsterdam. A couple of times we were lucky enough to take ground crews on sightseeing tours over Europe. We would take a skeleton crew and 12 others to see places like the North Sea, Netherlands Great Dike, Rhine River, Düsseldorf, Bonn, Cologne, Bavaria, Paris, Dover, Canterbury, and London.
Our crew got along fairly well. Only a couple of times were there heated personal issues. Fortunately our Senior NCO, a few years older than the rest of us, would help resolve any of their gripes before escalating them to me as the Pilot. Once a problem came to the pilot, we had to follow a certain course. It was best if the men could take care of their own situations. Very rarely did I need to report any personnel or aircraft issues up the chain of command. Johansson had a good sense of humor and worked for Grumman 5 years before the war.
The 487th Bomb Group was redeployed to Drew Field (Tampa), Florida until being inactivated on November 7, 1945. The aircraft departed Lavenham on the first week of July 1945. I stayed in Lavenham and sailed with the ground unit on the Queen Elizabeth the 25th of August 1945.
On September 1, 1945 we arrived in New York City just as I had departed; on the Queen Elizabeth in the exact same state room. This time Bette would be able to watch our arrival from the New Jersey side as the Queen Elizabeth arrived at Pier 90 where we departed 10 months earlier. We crossed the Hudson River by ferry, took a train back to Camp Kilmer and then to Fort Dix. After a couple of days at Fort Dix one morning we assembled in front of the barracks and our names were called out for instant discharge. Brudsey and I took a cab to a Bordentown diner, at which time I bid everyone so long and called out “See you at the wedding”.
Bette and I married on September 21th and spent a few months in Miami, Florida as part of an official Army Rest & Relaxation period. I eventually returned to my job at the Pennsylvania Railroad where they would pay for me to attend the Wharton School again. I returned to school at the University of Pennsylvania, enrolling in the pre-med curriculum. After the war I never thought I would ever hear or think of the war again.
I received my B.A., M.A., and was working for my Ph.D. while employed by the U.S. Navy in their research on high altitude stress and physiology for the early Space Program. Then I was offered an opportunity to go to medical school and to continue my research work at Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. In June 1958 I received my M.D. degree then returned to Philadelphia for internship and residency training in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Lankenau Hospital of Jefferson Medical College. Upon completing my residency I accepted a position at Hahnemann Medical College as Assistant Professor.
In 1966 I accepted an offer to return to Western Reserve School of Medicine and University Hospitals. I was promoted to Professor in 1968 and continued at MacDonald House Hospital for Women, where I served as director for five years. In 1989 I retired as Emeritus Professor. I found this combination of research, teaching, medical practice and lecture trips made for a very stimulating and rewarding career.