A Hendricks boy over wartime Europe – A
This year the world commemorates the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. We will participate by remembering the wartime contributions of persons from our region, most of whom are no longer with us.
I interviewed Hendricks’ Archie Buseth in January 2006. Archie was born in Hendricks in 1920 and spent most of his life there, raising a family with his wife, Betty, and working as a rural mail carrier.
He graduated from Hendricks High School in 1938 and attended Augsburg College for two years, eyeing a career in pharmacy. He explained how outside forces changed his plans.
“My number was coming up for service in the Army, so I went to Sioux Falls, staying with an aunt, and did a little construction work. Then I decided to go and enlist, so I walked into the recruiting office in Sioux Falls. I had it in my mind that I would like to fly, so I enlisted in the Air Corps. That was November 10th, 1941.”
Archie’s life began accelerating.
“I went to Fort Snelling to get all my equipment and things. From there I went to Wichita Falls, Texas, Shephard Field – airplane mechanic’s school.”
He recalled hearing of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“We were laying in our bunks or sitting around, listening to the radio. We didn’t have too much basic training after that. We were strictly going to school. We spent maybe half the day on the flight line and half in classes. When we finished, we went with a squadron to Geiger Field, Spokane, Washington.”
Archie laughed, remembering the trip to Geiger Field, “I had my first airplane ride ever in a B-17 bomber.”
His training in aircraft maintenance continued at Geiger Field and then his unit traveled to Alamogordo Army Airfield near Alamogordo, New Mexico where the bomber crews began training over enormous, desert bombing and gunnery ranges.
Archie still harbored a dream of flying, “I inquired about flight school, but they needed four years of college.”
Archie’s bomber unit completed crew training and headed to Richmond, Virginia, the final stop before deploying to the air war in Europe.
“We got up to Richmond, Virginia, a point of debarkation for Europe. Right before we left, I was held back because they lowered the qualifications from four years to two years of college. I think there were about four of us that were left.”
The Army Air Corps sent the new flight cadets to Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama during winter of 1942 to begin flight cadet training. Archie recalled discipline there was tight.
“If you happened to be the head of your barracks and they weren’t clean enough, you’d spend an hour walking on the flight line with a parachute bumping you in the back. Also, they came in and threw a quarter on your bed and if it didn’t bounce, why they ripped the bed out and you’d go to work and make it over.”
The cadets split training time between the classroom and the flight line. The classroom instruction focused on the aerodynamics of flight and the function of aircraft wings, elevators, and rudders.
“We weren’t into actual flight at all, there. They were just telling us about the airplanes we were going to learn to fly in.”
Archie attended Primary Flight Training in Georgia at a contract flying school with civilian flight instructors. They learned to fly in open-cockpit, Stearman bi-planes, just like the Red Baron Squadron. He recalled his flight instructor.
“I had a good Irishman as my instructor. He was a civilian and he was really good. I learned to solo in 9 hours.”
Archie laughed as he recalled, “The day I soloed the Irishman said, ‘I’m getting out of here. You take it around.'”
The cadets who completed primary flight moved on to basic flight training at Greenville Army Airfield in Mississippi where they learned more complex flying in single-wing trainers. Archie recalled night flying at Greenville.
“That’s when we started night landings. I remember the first night I went up, I come in to land and the instructor said, ‘Hey, give it the gun. We’re about 25 feet off the ground, yet.’ You had to get used to your night perception.”
The successful cadets moved on to advanced flight training at Napier Army Airfield near Dothan, Alabama where they flew the AT-6, “Texan,” advanced, single-wing trainers. Archie explained some of their training there.
“The AT-6 – that was a beautiful plane. That’s where we did a little formation flying; did aerobatics; and we tried to see how high we could go. I think I got up to about 17,000 feet once.”
Archie pointed out that not all the Air Cadets made it through the training.
“Quite a few washed out. They just couldn’t handle all the discipline. Some of them got flight sickness. I would say maybe a third of them washed out before classes and another fourth in Primary and Basic.”
But those who made it through received their officer’s commission and wings upon graduating. They also received leave to go home.
“The only time off I had in those four years was when I graduated and got commissioned. I got to spend five days at home in four years.”
Despite all he and his fellow pilots had accomplished, they were not happy campers with their assignment orders.
“When we graduated, we were a pretty upset bunch of pilots because we wanted to fly single engines. The whole class was drafted into C-47’s. So, we went to Austin, TX and learned to fly them.”
Archie and his colleagues would learn to fly multi-engine, transports.