May 2018 Readers’ Letters | HistoryNet MENU
Les Bowman, director of the Civilian Pilot Volunteers training school at Fort Meacham in Fort Worth, Texas, strolls the field at the outset of World War II.

May 2018 Readers’ Letters

By HistoryNet Staff
2/22/2018 • Military History, MH Letters

WASP Stung
The interview of Jane Doyle [“Recognizing WASPs,” November 2017] really struck a raw nerve for me.

Before World War II the U.S. Army Air Corps, anticipating a need for pilots and pilot training, obtained authorization to establish a program commonly known as Civilian Pilot Volunteers. This included recruitment of experienced older pilots to fly transports and cargo planes, deliver new aircraft and train pilots, thereby freeing pilots under age 30 for combat. By 1943 there were 93,000 men in the pipeline.

My father, Ralph Rich, began flying at age 15 in 1924, obtaining his pilot license in 1925. He volunteered to serve immediately after Pearl Harbor.

While the much-vaunted WASPs did the job my father and his unit were recruited to do, the men of the Civilian Pilot Volunteers were left idle with no commission, no rank and no assignment. This situation continued until columnist Walter Winchell criticized the waste of manpower and tax dollars, resulting in their discharge in mid-1944.

When the war ended, the men of the Civilian Pilot Volunteers were denied GI benefits on the grounds they had not been in the military. Nearly 10 years elapsed before Congress deigned to grant those benefits, by which time it was mostly too little, too late. For my father—after being sworn into the military, two and a half years in uniform, slogging through basic training at Biloxi, Miss., officer training, hours of military flight and navigational training, and billeted in a tent at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., during one of the coldest winters on record—that insult rankled.

The WASPs received recognition during the war and have been the subject of continuous postwar accolades and documentaries. The men of the Civilian Pilot Volunteers have been largely forgotten. The only significant recognition came in the form of a 1961 movie entitled The Last Time I Saw Archie, starring Robert Mitchum and Jack Webb, which portrayed them as goldbrickers.

I still have my father’s DD 214, World War II Victory Medal, American Defense Medal, “Ruptured Duck” [Honorable Service Lapel Button] and numerous photographs of him in uniform. These men voluntarily left families, homes, jobs and careers to serve their country, not to mention those who died in training accidents. I defy anyone who argues these men were not in the military or were not veterans. Yes, it still rankles.

Michael B. Rich
Carmichael, Calif.

Forgotten Filipinos
I see in the March 2018 issue [News] that Congress finally is honoring the Filipino veterans who fought with U.S forces against Japan in World War II. Many of the Filipino soldiers died alongside the Americans, and many were imprisoned and treated badly by the Japanese. Then I’m reminded how things could have turned out better for all involved, had Gen. Douglas MacArthur been more prepared. After Pearl Harbor Franklin Roosevelt agreed with Winston Churchill that Adolf Hitler must be defeated first. Troops in the Pacific would have to hang on before more attention was given to that theater of war.

However, it is also my understanding that more supplies—food, medicine, ammunition, etc.—were available than MacArthur made out. He could have supplied and fortified Bataan or other parts of the Philippines months before the Japanese attack. And he had plenty of warning after Pearl Harbor to make better preparations, such as not lining up his aircraft wing tip to wing tip, making them easy targets for the Japanese.

MacArthur was not a good general. When he slinked off to Australia, he was given the Medal of Honor. Say what? He should have been court-martialed for grossly poor leadership.

I never was a big fan of generals and admirals. Like lawyers, I consider them an evil necessity. But then what do I know? I was only an E-5 in Vietnam, with a lot of respect for most of the junior officers I dealt with.

Tom R. Kovach
Nevis, Minn.

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