|Dad training in South Carolina|
Ray had two obstacles to overcome. The first was age. Right after Pearl Harbor, Dad wanted to join the Army Air Force. However, to join he needed both parents’ signatures and his mother refused to sign. Ray had to wait until December 9, 1942 to join.
|A very skinny Ray McKenna on a visit
home, with Blacky.
The second obstacle was weight. At 134 pounds, Ray
had to gain five pounds in a week. He also had to have a plate put in where he was missing a tooth. He visited his dentist, Dr. Gorfine (whose office was on the second floor of what is now Venda Ravioli, and just feet from where our family lived beginning by the early 1850’s).
Apparently it worked, because one week later Ray weighted in at 139 pounds and enlisted into the air force.Ray wasn’t the only one with size issues regarding service. Once in, he became friendly with a fellow named Johnny Mack. Hailing from Springfield, Mass, Johnny was a very handsome man. When ever the boys were on leave, they brought Johnny with them into town, knowing that the girls would swarm to him like bees to honey.
But Johnny had a size issue. He was short, very short. Even after getting into the air corps, one still could be washed out at any time, for not weighing enough, or for being to short. To help Johnny, his mates had him hang from the rafters of their bunk house while they pulled on his legs to “stretch” him. A great fellow, sadly he was killed while in training.
Ray’s first stop in the air corps was Atlantic Beach, New Jersey, for basic training.
|Ray, second from the left.|
That was followed by five months of further training at Lafayette College.
After additional schooling in Tennessee and Mobile, Alabama, Ray was on his way South Carolina to learn to fly.
|Ray pointing out where he was stationed at Atlantic Beach.|
At age 88, Ray wanted to jump from a plane, but his doctor would not let him.
Ray tells two very funny stories about his training. One involves a training flight that one of his colleagues took. With his instructor in the rear seat, this young man took off and prepared to do spins, as well as flying upside down. The only thing that held a pilot in a Sterman was a single belt. On this flight, the instructor neglected to secure his belt. When the plane rolled upside down, the instructor was gone. Lucky for him, he opened his parachute in time to land safely.
|The red flap, seen just under Ray’s left arm, opened for
the fire extinguisher. It also served Shorty Wilson to
trick youngflyers as he curled up out of sight and
playing trick on them.
The other story that he tells concerns an instructor known as “Shorty” Wilson. As his nickname implies, Wilson was not a tall man. Shorty liked to play practical jokes. One especially, startled flyers in training. A flyer would be in the air when another Sterman would approach. When it was close, the young pilot would realize that an “unmanned” plane was flying close to him. Turning away from the “unmanned” plane, the pilot would see the plane follow with him. Crouched down in the read seat, and looking through a small opening that was the fuel supply line, Shorty could see the pilot, but the pilot could not see him.
Ray did take one brief break from the war effort. On June 5, 1944, he was home in Providence to wed the love of his life, Dorothy Smalley. They embarked on a short-lived honeymoon to New York. Short-lived, because the next day was D Day and he was called back to base.
|July 5, 1944|
|Ray & Dot in New York City.|
Landing at Orly was dangerous. While occupied by the Germans, the Americans had bombed the daylights out of the field, leaving it with giant craters.
Perhaps his greatest danger was on a flight across the Atlantic. Flying near the Newfoundland coast, they lost all of their four engines. In no time, they dropped from 8,000 feet to just two hundred feet above the Atlantic Ocean. As the pilot prepared for an emergency landing, the mechanics were at work trying to restart the engines. If they hit the water, they were to die within minutes in the fridgid water that is the North Atlantic. With seconds to spare, mechanics got the engines restarted. The plane and its crew were able to land safely in Newfoundland.
Although they were stories long known, they came to life this past weekend as Ray and his family toured the World War II fete at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum.
Thank you, Dad!
|From the outside, the C54 looks huge. Inside, it is quite a small space. With walls seemingly “as thin as paper,” flying in one required some very well insulated clothes.|
|Ray, on the left, with his mates.|
Dad and a Sterman, like the one he trained on. With him is his great-granddaughter, Kaylin Boschi, son-in-law, Allen Mongeau, grand daughter, Jenn Boschi and son, Tom McKenna.
|Dot came to visit Ray when he was stationed at Lafayette College.|
|Ray, Bill Sr. & Bill Jr.|
|Those are the clothes Ray wore at high altitude.|
|Captain Bill Almond, a friend, with Baffin Island children.
Ray’s C54 took him to some unusual places.
| A friend, on the streets of Paris. Note the
cars. In 1972, when I first went to Paris,
those same cars were still prevalent.
|Dad and the C54.|
|The C54 evacuated wounded soldiers. WACs played a key role.
Courtesy Mid-Atlantic Air Museum