Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tuffy's War: Part Two of Six.

Tuffy’s War
(Part Two of Six)


Wally Lee Parker

an opening thought …

“Tuffy’s War” tells the tale of two brothers — Alvin “Tuffy” Luhr and Orland Luhr — who exemplify all the qualities newsman Tom Brokaw intended when he characterized those who carried the burden of America’s struggle during World War II as our greatest generation.  Both brothers once called Clayton — a little town in the northeastern part of Washington State — their home.  One brother has gone on to live a long, productive life.  The other did not survive the war; resting ever since on a small, ancient hill just a few miles from his hometown — a hill overlooking the farm speckled sweep of the Little Spokane River Valley.  This is their story — presented in six parts as an oral history augmented by materials drawn from newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and a slew of private and government documents.

… regarding copyright …

This material was originally published by the Clayton/Deer Park Historical Society.  It is under copyright to that organization and used here by permission.  Alterations of the original material have been made — including the addition of comments by Alan Berg.  Anyone wishing to reprint this blog version of “Tuffy’s War” will need to obtain permission from both the C/DPHS and the author, Wally Lee Parker, to cover the entire content as presented here.

Part Two
… a bigger airplane ...

            As Tuffy related, “I married Marjorie Kathryn Johnson in August of 1940.  She was born in Deer Park and lived there until she graduated from Deer Park High as valedictorian in 1939. She went on to attend Kelsey Baird Business College in Spokane.  We were married for 67 years — until she passed away in 2007.
            About a month before we got married I’d gone in with my brother Orland and a couple of our buddies to buy an airplane — and I don’t think Marjorie knew about it for some time after the wedding.  At least I hadn’t told her.  Anyway, for some reason Marjorie and me were out at the airport when one of the boys was practicing his landings.  At that time the airport was just a grass strip running on the south side of the Deer Park/Milan Road.  I was watching, thinking he was getting about half a ground-spin coming down.  Someone yelled, ‘Don’t do that’ at him.  I said to my still brand new wife, ‘And I hope he doesn’t do it either because that’s our airplane.’  I think maybe that was the first she knew about it.  I think.   Tuffy’s expression as he related this hinted that Marjorie may have made it a habit to know far more than she let on.

Marjorie Kathryn (Johnson) Luhr
(Photo courtesy of Tuffy Luhr.)

            Deer Park’s first airfield was actually pretty good,” Tuffy laughed. “Even thought we had to mow the weeds down to use it.”
            Begun in 1934, the landing field was funded by the Works Projects Administration as a depression era public employment project.  Over the years a total of $12,000.00 was expended on the project, eventually producing a 500 foot wide, 4,000 foot long strip.  As WWII got underway, the military decided Deer Park’s dirt strip was inadequate for their secondary field requirements, so, in the late summer of 1943 construction of a second airport this time with multiple, paved runways was begun to the north of the Deer Park/Milan road.
            Since I was still in high school, my brothers might have figured I was too young and irresponsible to get in on the flying,” Alan Berg suggested.  Or maybe it was me just being a bit intimidated by it all.  Pretty much all I did was hook-up the mowing machine, then drive the Farmall tractor down to the airport and chop down the weeds every once in a while.  That was about as close as I got to flying back then.
            There were four of us,” Tuffy said. “There was me, my brother Orland, Gilbert Schranger, and a Deer Park kid that worked at my service station by the name of Willis Grove.  Together we paid 500 or 600 dollars for a 40 horsepower Piper Cub.  Of course, in 1940 that was a lot of money.

The group’s Piper Cub.
  The circle on the fuselage indicates a student pilot.
(Photo courtesy of Tuffy Luhr.)

            The Cub was about as simple as you could get for an airplane.  Fabric over a wooden frame, I think the whole thing weighed in at about 700 pounds.  You steered by a stick coming up between your legs and a set of stirrups for your feet.  It was a two place, with tandem seats — one in front of the other.  You could fly from either seat — though when you went up alone it was best to fly from the backseat — to balance the weight.  It had brakes, which no one used.  Those were activated by a pedal coming out from under the seats and rubber bladders inside the wheels pushing blocks of wood out against the drums.  The fuel tank was under the cowling — just in front of the windshield.  The fuel gauge was a metal rod sticking up through the cowling.  On the other end of the rod, sitting in the tank, was a float.  As the fuel level dropped, the rod would slide down into the tank.  Watching through the windshield as the rod disappear — that’s how you estimated how much fuel you had left.

Tuffy Luhr in the group's Piper Cub.
Tuffy's wearing his service station uniform.
(Photo courtesy of Tuffy Luhr.)
            We hired a flight instructor from Felts Field in Spokane to teach us — I can’t remember his name.  Since he had to drive out from Spokane he charged three, or maybe it was three and a half, dollar an hour.  That was a lot back then.  But everybody got their pilot’s license.
            I recall the instructor’s name as S. B. Whitely,” Tuffy’s youngest brother added.  Everyone called him Skeets.”

Pages from Willis Grove's flight log.
(Copies courtesy of Gordon Grove.)
            I don’t know where the idea of flying came from — who in the group thought it up first — but it’s likely every boy in the country wanted to be a flyer back then.” Tuffy reminisced.  That seemed to be the daring, romantic thing to do.”
            Orland and Willis eventually ended up in the Army Air Corps — Orland as a flight instructor for single engine aircraft and Willis as a B-17 crewman.  Gilbert I’m not sure of.  He was working in the Deer Park Sawmill’s box factory — most everybody worked in the box factory to start.  I just can’t recall anything other than the fact that Gilbert was there and we lost track of him after that.  And as for me, I ended up in the infantry — as a machine gunner in Patton’s Third Army.  The only combat flying I did was one day’s duty over a German battlefield in the army’s version of a Piper Cub.  And it seems like that was the last time I ever took an airplane up myself.
            Anyway, after we bought our plane, four more guys from the Deer Park mill pooled their money to buy a second Piper — so we had two airplanes at the field.  One guy was named Potter, and another was Danny Johnson.  That’s all I remember about them.
            I know the military was short on pilots — and everybody knew there was a war coming — but that wasn’t the reason we were taking up flying.  As I recall it was just for the fun.
            I did get acquainted with Dwight Calkins when we were students at Pullman’s Washington State College.  And just a few days before the beginning of the war, in ’41, his dad, Claude Calkins, opened Calkins Air Terminal.
            An April 21, 1941, article in the Spokane Daily Chronicle stated that the elder Calkins’ intent with Calkins field was to create “a fine airfield on which student flyers and private owners” could operate “without the risk of rubbing wings with army bombers or commercial transports.”  Up until that point Felts Field was Spokane’s primary airport.  It had long combined commercial, military, and private aircraft.  But as various Chronicle articles published the summer before the outbreak of war indicated — talks in support of the nation’s military buildup had begun between the army and Spokane’s city council regarding the possibility of the military taking a lease that would give it “complete control” over Felts Field.  After such control was granted, all further private use could be modified any time such conflicted with what the army considered “military necessity.”  Any such operational modifications could leave the civilian lease holders and their businesses out in the cold.  Due to the concurrent development of the totally military Sunset Field (later renamed Geiger) to the west of Spokane, the army never exercised said military necessity.  But all the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Felts Field was likely to have made Calkins Field very attractive to private aircraft owners during what would prove to be the last few months of peace.

From a Calkins brochure.
            Claude Calkins had started toward his vision by quietly buying individual parcels totally 800 acres north of Spokane.  This block of properties ran a mile and a half north and one mile east from the corner of Division Street and Frances Avenue.  During the winter of 1940-’41 trees were removed and the necessary grading done.  The first mile long northeast/southwest landing strip — oriented to “the direction of prevailing winds” — was completed at the beginning of May.  Plans called for another runway, this time running north/south to parallel Division Street, as well as a third to trace the eastward march of France Avenue.

From a Calkins Brochure.
            According to the Spokane Daily Chronicle, soon after the beginning of the war Calkins Field became a site for training flight instructors — “first under the Civilian Pilot Training Service, then under the War Training Service.  Tuffy and Orland’s eventual dealings with Calkins Field were in all probability associated with those programs.

First Day cover for Calkins Field.
            The airport seemed to be doing quite well until the latter half of the 1950s.  And then, in the summer of 1959, developers such as Gus J. Cozza began turning the former airfield into urban sprawl.
            It’s probable that Dwight was already flying when he was attending Pullman in the later 1930s,” Tuffy continued.  I know his dad was flying then.  And Dwight’s brother, Pete, might have been too.
            Dwight’s dad had started out in farm machinery – building and selling farm equipment.  When the family opened the north Spokane airfield, they had a regular aircraft machine shop and maintenance hangar there.
            I think I was still in school when the Civilian Pilot Training Program started up.  I recall that there was quite a write-up in the Pullman paper about how they were gonna get a small plane.  That particular plane was flown from the front seat — something we hadn’t seen in a small aircraft before.  But I’m just not sure what influence being around Dwight and all the rest might have had with me wanting to fly.
            As for the Piper, its top speed was supposed to be about sixty miles an hour but we always said it had a built-in headwind.  The Cub was about as close as you could get to the beginning of airplane flight.
            If any of us stayed out too late and came back to Deer Park’s airfield after dark, our usual procedure was to buzz our gas station at Main and Second in downtown Deer Park.  We’d just circle the station until somebody noticed us.  Everybody knew when that happened that anybody with a car was supposed to take off for the landing field and line up on each side of the runway so their car’s headlamps would light it up.

Tuffy at the Deer Park service station.
(Photo courtesy of Grodon Grove.)
            At some point we did rig some headlamps to the struts on the plane — just in case.
            “I know the winter of 1940-’41 wasn’t all that much fun.  Flying after a snowstorm was a hit and miss thing at Deer Park.  We’d borrow tractors, snowplows, whatever we could find to clear snow off enough of the runway to get the planes up — and back down.  But it seems like we only had the Pipers out there that that one winter before the war changed things. 
            When there was a very low overcast — a low ceiling you couldn’t see up through — we could fly over the Deer Park sawmill where the smoke and heat rising from the stacks would sometimes cut a hole in the overcast.  If it had opened the ceiling up, we could fly through the break and climb into the sunshine.
            One time Orland was spotting deer from the Piper Cub for a bunch of hunters down on the ground.  That was over Don Henry’s place, about two and a half miles straight south of Clayton.  I don’t know how Orland was communicating with the ground — we didn’t have a two-way radio in the Cub.  He might have just flipped up the door, idled down the engine, and yelled at them.
            Well — the way Orland told it, he saw a buck in the edge of the woods just across the road from Henry’s place.  And he’s thinking, ‘By God I’ll get this one for myself.’  So he’s gonna land in Henry’s field, parallel to the road and just inside the power lines.”
            That was Orland’s story,” Alan grinned.  The other possibly was that Orland knew there were girls in Henry’s house, and he thought landing in the yard would impress them.  If that was his thinking, it sure didn’t work out.
            Tuffy explained, “Orland cuts his power, but he’s so busy keeping track of his alleged buck that he forgets to watch where the airplane is going.  He forgets about the power-lines running in to Don’s farm.  While he‘s dropping right down in front of Don’s house, the landing gear snags the wires running to the house.  The snagged wires yank the plane into a turn, and Orland comes down pretty hard in Don’s garden, barely missing the house.
            Before rolling to a stop he damaged the tip of the propeller by clipping it on a fencepost.
            A couple of minutes later Don Henry comes walking up.  After he’s sure Orland is okay, he says, ‘How long has it been since you’ve milked a cow?’  Orland thought was a funny question.  ‘When your plane snagged the wires loose,’ Henry went on, ‘you knocked out the power to my milking machines.  Since it’s milking time right now, you can just leave the plane where it is and get to work.’  And he meant it.
            Somebody called me, telling me that our plane was down in a field. When I got to the Henry farm about an hour later, Orland was still in the barn — milking.  And since he’d knocked out the electricity for miles around when the line from the house had torn the wires loose from the main power-poles, all the farmers in the area were likely in the same mood as Don.
            I couldn’t tell how badly the propeller or the rest of the plane for that matter might be damaged.  I contacted our flight instructor at Felts Field.  He said he’d grab a spare prop that’d fit the Piper, and drive out to Henry’s.  When he got there we checked the plane over, replaced the damaged propeller, and he gave the new prop a spin to get the engine running.  There didn’t appear to be any problems with the engine or airplane’s frame, so the instructor rolled the plane through the garden, over the spud patch, and took off from Don’s field — back to Deer Park.
            Brother Alan added, “Nowadays there’d be a big investigation if something like that happened.  But back then the electric cooperative just came out, restored the power, and nothing else was said of it.  Since no one was hurt — aside from a bruise to Orland’s pride — the linemen might have got quite a chuckle out of it.”
            Orland was always an independent individual,” Tuffy said.  “He was up for trying just about anything — if you know what I mean.  He joined the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps when he was 15.  You were supposed to be 17 for that — so I guess he told them otherwise.
            There was a CCC camp at Nine Mile Falls — in there somewhere.  And they were doing work up on Mount Spokane.  So I was driving along the road and here comes an Army truck with the back packed full of CCC guys — and my 15-year-old brother was driving it.
            The crews had supervisors, so I guess they felt Orland was up to it.
            When it came to learning how to do things, learning how to run machinery, Orland just seemed to have a knack just seemed to pick things up easy.”
            “He did get hurt on occasion.  While he was in the CCC he managed to put an ax through his boot and into his foot.  He had to go to the hospital over that.
            He got into construction,” Tuffy recalled.  I can’t remember what all he did, since I was away from the farm by that time, but I know he worked on Idaho’s Farragut Navel Training Station when that was being built on Lake Pend Oreille.
            Orland graduated from Deer Park, but he didn’t go on to college.”
            Alan commented, “Orland was always pulling jokes.  This one time he showed up with a hearse — an old LaSalle hearse.  I don’t know where he got that thing — borrowed it from someplace maybe — but he had me chauffeuring him around Deer Park while he sat in the back smoking a cigar.  That was Orland’s sense of humor.”
            As for me,” Tuffy said, “as soon as I had my pilot’s license Marjorie started flying with me.  We had lots of fun and took lots of pictures.  A funny thing about looking at those pictures — for about two years we had all kinds of pictures of the airplanes.  After about two years, the airplanes mostly disappeared from the photos, and the pictures from then on were of babies.

Tuffy's family.
(Photo courtesy of Tuffy Luhr.)

            I got into trouble in a potato patch once.  One of the local farmers invited me and the wife out.  He said his potatoes had all died back, so if I landed in the patch, it would be nice and smooth.  But I waited a little too long.  When we landed, I discovered that he’d already dug his potatoes, and the field was nothing but ruts and holes.
            Trying to figure a way to get out — I picked out what looked to be a relatively smooth stretch, got some fencepost and put them down in front of the wheels so I could get a little speed in the soft dirt.  I got rolling back and forth, and when the Piper got to jumping enough to climb over those poles, I was practically airborne.
            After that I always made sure I knew what condition the spud patch was in — so to speak — before I landed.
            Marjorie and I use to fly down to Coulee Dam every once in a while — that was back in the construction days.  It was a good Sunday morning flight.  Trouble was, toward autumn you could start out with a beautiful morning and end up with fog.  One time we came home and couldn’t see the airport.  I was trying to figure out where to land, and I remember spotting the Deer Park water tower.  I thought about trying to estimate where the field was from that, and just going down through the fog, but I flew around a bit first and saw an open patch north of town on the Olsen farm.  That’s where we landed.
            It wasn’t long after World War II started when I got involved with the Civil Air Patrol.  Almost immediately after Pearl Harbor all civilian aircraft, except for commercial airlines, were grounded.  And all aircraft — all airports — had to be under 24-hour guard.
            We couldn’t afford to pay to have our planes guarded around the clock at Deer Park, so we took them to Calkins Field and exchanged them, traded them, for classes in advanced flying — things like long distance and night flying.  Night flying was better out of Calkins since the northeast/southwest strip had lights.
            By 1942 they had quite a training school set up there.  They were going day and night.  When I was there they had a bunch of boys from Latin America going through flight training.  That had something to do with some kind of state department program.”
            The Spokane Daily Chronicle reported that wartime Calkins Field had become a major civilian flight school for the initial training of military flight instructors.  At its height, the school had 23 instructors and 45 aircraft.  Between 100 and 125 Army Air Force instructor trainees cycled through the Calkins school every six weeks.
            All this activity by some accounts Calkins was one of the most active private airports in the county during the war  ended abruptly with victory.
            According to wartime regulations, civilian aircraft — private aircraft — could only be flown on official business — at least on the West Coast.  The Civil Air Patrol — CAP — was considered an auxiliary of the military, so just about any flying done by the Patrol was considered official.  If you wanted to fly on your own — outside of those people still in flight school — you had to join the CAP.
            I did a lot of flying for the Patrol.  We’d go out and look for people who’d fallen out of aircraft and things like that.  Don’t ask me why people would fall out, but in those days a lot of planes had open cockpits.  Later on, when I was thinking about going down to Brownsville, Texas, and flying border patrol for the CAP, I bought a four passenger Stenson.  I purchased it from the guy that owned Diamond Parking.
            It must have been the summer of 1942 when I was talking to the Brownsville CAP.  They said they’d pay me for the use of my plane.  I’d fly the Mexican border for just three hours a day.  And I could take the family down with me, and we could all live on base in military housing.  I was getting ready to put a two-way radio in my Stenson — you had to remove one seat to install the radio equipment — and making arrangements with the bank so we could move, when a hurricane drove ashore and tore everything in Texas up.  Since the hurricane destroyed quite a few of the smaller planes, Brownville told me I’d need something bigger — something better able to weather the storms — if I wanted to fly for them.
            I was looking around for something bigger when the Spokane CAP told me I couldn’t go to Brownsville at all. By that they meant I wouldn’t be allowed to take my plane out of the Pacific Northwest.  They said that if I wanted to fly patrol as a steady job, it’d have to be submarine watch off the west coast.
            They told me I’d have to patrol up and down about twenty miles off-shore — with a bomb under my airplane.  If I saw an enemy submarine, I was to radio in, and then I was to try to drop the bomb on the boat.  That didn’t bother me, but if I didn’t see an enemy submarine, I was a bit concerned with the thought of having to land at the local airfield with an armed bomb hanging underneath my aircraft.”
            The idea of dropping bombs from CAP planes came about when an east coast CAP plane spotted a German submarine stuck on a sandbar.  The pilot radioed for a military craft to come and destroy the enemy boat, but by time the military craft arrived, the submarine had floated high enough on the rising tide to escape.
            Many times,” Tuffy reminisced, “while slogging across the European countryside, hands and feet near frozen, I thought about the climate in Brownsville.  I thought about how warm it likely was.  And how a bigger airplane would have gotten me a job with the Texas Civil Air Patrol — a job that would have counted as my military commitment and kept me out of the army.
            Now with Orland, it must have been late in 1942 went in the military first to Santa Ana, California, for his Air Corps basic, then to the Tex Rankin Academy near Tulare for his primary flight training.  He finished his basic flight training at California’s Lemoore Army Flying School in April.  Near the end of May, 1943, he got his silver wings at a ceremony at Luke Field, Arizona.  Our folks went down so Mom could pin the wings on.  That afternoon Orland married his new girlfriend, Holly — which seems to have been a surprise to everyone.
            I’m not positive, but I think Orland met Holly at a USO back at Lemoore.
            Orland stayed on at Luke Field as a flight instructor.  In December of 1943 he was promoted to Formation Flight Instructor.  I think he was a teacher just by nature.  And he loved flying — which showed.
            The January 13, 1944 edition of the Deer Park Union reported that “Orland Luhr called from Phoenix, Arizona, Sunday, and reported that they were all well and working hard.  He wanted to know how things were in Clayton and Mrs. Berg told him she certainly was not standing around sweating.”
            In February the newspaper reported that Orland had come home on a 5 day furlough.  It stated that Orland had commented that even though he had seen a lot of country since being away, when the war was over he and his new wife fully intended to make their home in Clayton.
            As Alan recalled, “In our time together, I had more fun with Orland than I did with Tuffy.  Part of it was that Tuffy was so much older, and part that Tuffy was always in his business mode.  He’d make us do things that Orland and me would be just as happy putting off.  Tuffy was a taskmaster.  But Orland now — he was just Orland.  He went by the name Lee — his middle name was Lee.  And as we might have expected — him being able to make friends with most anyone — he had a lot of good friends in the service.  I met several of them.  He was always sending me letters — encouraging me when I was going through my own Army Air Corps training.  He was always just a good person that way.
            Most likely Tuffy, being closer to Orland’s age than mine, had a lot more to do with him than with me.  That’s just the way families seem to work.  Tuffy and I are close, but I think both of us were closer to Orland.”
            Tuffy continued, “Being drafted wasn’t something I expected.  In fact, in February of 1944 the wife and I bought a pretty good slice of Loon Lake from Mark Peasley.  It was about a quarter mile of lakefront along the northeast side, from about where the old ice plant had been, down toward Granite Point.  And the land extended a good distance back from the lake, too.  We also had four or five lots down closer to the Granite Point Resort — those were right up against Burt Biddle’s place.
            I think we paid $4,000 dollars, and also threw in a car as part of the deal.  The car was a 1940 Studebaker Champion that I’d picked up new from the factory.  In fact, I believe I caught my wife with that car.  But this was during the war, and good cars were hard to come by.  So Peasley was getting a good deal out of it.”

Tuffy's 1940 Studebaker Champion.
(Photo courtesy of Tuffy Luhr.)
            I remember Tuffy’s car,” Alan said.  He’d picked that up at the Waukesha, Wisconsin, factory for 600 and some odd dollars.  No radio.  And the heater was added on as an afterthought.  He’d let me borrow it to take my girl to dances — let me borrow that and his sports coat.  He was quite the dresser back then Tuffy was.”
            Tuffy continued, “We were paying twenty dollars a month on the lake property contract — or the wife would be paying that since I would be away in the army.
            Having kids, two now, and being in the Civil Air Patrol, I hadn’t been drafted right away.  When the notice came in June I only had a few weeks to get ready.  That’s when I disposed of my last airplane.  I would have had to store it someplace with the government’s required twenty-four hour guard — so that didn’t seem to make sense.
            I was sent to basic training at Camp Blanding, Florida.  The camp was built right next to a swamp so part of our job was trying to keep the rattlesnakes out of our area.”
            Camp Blanding Military Reservation is located in northern Florida, approximately twenty miles south of the Georgia state line and thirty miles inland from the Atlantic Coast.  It was built in 1940.  A large military hospital as well as a German prisoner of war compound was sited there.
            Approximately 800,000 soldiers received all or part of their training at Camp Blanding during the war years.
            Camp Blanding trained replacement personnel for infantry units,” Tuffy explained.  We were intended as replacements for people who were reassigned, wounded, killed, or whatever.  I was training so I could fit into an infantry heavy weapons company.  Heavy weapons were things like mortars and machine guns — .30 and .50 caliber machine guns.  So wherever I was eventually assigned I’d be able to operate any weapon they needed me to.
            We were supposed to have 17 weeks of basic training.  I was about a month or so into my rotation when I got a telegram from my dad telling me to come home.  My brother Orland had crashed.  My brother Orland was dead.

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