Leo Carter was a lucky man…
In 1941, Congress authorized an Enlisted Pilot training program. As aviation students, the selected men would receive the same primary, basic, and advanced flight training as aviation cadets who would be commissioned as officers upon graduation. Enlisted students would graduate as Staff Sergeant pilots and would serve as flight instructors, transport pilots, and in similar utility roles. Candidates had to have a high school diploma and rate in the top 50 percent of the class, with at least 1.5 credits in math, and be between the ages of 18 and 22.
Over 2,000 enlisted men. including my 20-year-old father, graduated as “Flying Sergeants” under this program. Ultimately, they flew virtually all types of USAAF aircraft. Most, again including my father, were elevated to the new rank of flight officer with officer privileges or to second lieutenant before assignment to a combat unit, although some departed the United States while still sergeants and some flew combat missions overseas as sergeants. Many other sergeant pilots were based in the United States flying antisubmarine combat patrols.
It takes some smarts to fly a B-24 as my father did in the Southwest Pacific as part of “Operation Cartwheel” which was intended to destroy the barrier formation Japan had created in the Bismark Archipelago, east of New Guinea in the Solomon Sea. The Japanese considered this area vital to the protection of their conquests in the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines. For the Allies, Rabaul, in New Britain, was the key to winning control of this theater of operations, as it served as the Japanese naval headquarters and main base.
It also took some luck to survive 48 combat missions as he did, including flying in and out of Guadalcanal, where he was ultimately based. Just how lucky was unknown until shortly before the war ended.
Dad had enlisted in the U. S. Army in 1940 and was in training as a radio operator in the U.S. Army’s 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery when, in August 1941, he was accepted into the Enlisted Pilot program and processed out of the Battalion. On November 21 1941, the balance of his unit departed San Francisco en route to the Philippines via Hawaii, but was diverted to Australia following the attack on Pearl Harbor and, ultimately, made its way to Soerabaja, Java, only to be overrun and captured by the Japanese on March 8 1942.
It was The Lost Battalion of WWII. The many hundreds of men whom the Japanese had taken were neither heard from nor seen for 42 months – They had been disbursed as slave labor for the building of the 258 mile Burma-Siam Railway, which included bridge 277, the so-called “Bridge Over The River Kwai…