My Biggest TripMay 01, 2022 ● By Bob Warren
Most of us like to travel – at least we did prior to COVID, which has made airline cancellations and travel in general less enjoyable.
When I retired, after working 36 years with Exxon, I moved back to my hometown of Frisco with the intention of traveling and playing golf. I bought an RV (a motorhome) and began to plan trips – some of which materialized while others did not, but that’s a different story.
Today I want to tell you about two of my trips – one of which was fun while the other was quite scary.
The scary one first: In 1942, with WWII in full swing, I graduated from college and would have been subject to the draft. I applied and was accepted for pilot training with the Army Air Corps. To make a long story somewhat shorter, they taught me to fly, made me a second lieutenant and sent me to troop carrier training school where I learned to fly C-47 cargo planes.
Here’s where the scary part begins: Upon graduation, barely 23 years old, I was ordered to report to an airbase at Fort Wayne, Indiana. There I was assigned a C-47, a co-pilot and a navigator and was ordered to fly the plane across the North Atlantic to England, where I was to join a troop carrier unit.
With our orders in hand, we took off and flew to Bangor, Maine, where we refueled before heading to Goose Bay, Labrador.
The weather was bad at our next destination, so we were entertained by a tour of the country in and around Goose Bay. We spent the night and watched a movie telling us what to expect on our flight to Greenland, our next destination. We were told that if there was an overcast as we approached Greenland, we should descend, get under the overcast and find the entrance to the fjord – the long, narrow waterway leading to the landing site. We were warned of places where a wrong turn led to an area with high cliffs and no room for a turn – a little scary!
We made it safely and landed in Greenland. The next stop was Iceland and to get there we had to fly over the 10,000-foot ice cap of Greenland. That meant we had to circle until we reached an altitude of 11,000 feet before crossing. Greenland’s ice cap was a snow and ice covering that filled the valleys and reached the mountain tops. That left us with a snow-covered view all the way across Greenland before we finally reached the ocean on its east coast.
It was nothing but water below us as we made our way to Iceland. But all was not serene. As we looked down at the ocean, we occasionally saw an iceberg floating peacefully along. Our thoughts, therefore, were also not so serene. We visualized having to ditch into the icy waters and knew what our fate would be if that happened. Fortunately, the propellers kept turning and we made it to Iceland where we landed without incident.
After a short tour of Iceland, we were off to Ireland where we turned our plane over to the Transport Command and caught a ship to Liverpool, England. From there, we went by rail to our final destination in Southern England, where we joined the 449th Troop Carrier Group.
The first part of my “biggest trip” was over, but my adventure had just begun.
I learned that my new unit was one of the troop carrier units that had, just a few weeks earlier, participated in the Normandy Invasion. In fact, our squadron commander, Col. Charles Young, had piloted the lead plane that dropped paratroops into Normandy. Years later, on a trip to Europe, I saw his plane in the Airborne Museum at Sainte-Me're-E'glise.
The next part of my trip went by in a blur. It was a series of very interesting, sometimes scary and mostly satisfying events in which I felt I was doing some good. The missions varied between such things as towing gliders full of airborne infantrymen into invasions, hauling gasoline to Gen. Patton when his ground suppliers couldn’t keep up and hauling wounded and freed prisoners back to safety.
Missions that deserve mention by name because of their importance were the Holland invasion (called Operation Market Garden), the Battle of the Bulge and the Crossing of the Rhine, which was the first-ever double-glider tow – an adventure of its own. On that mission, the plane in front of me and the one behind me were shot down while my plane did not receive a bullet hole. The Lord was surely looking after me!
The Rhine crossing allowed our troops to enter Germany and, soon thereafter, the war in Europe was over. Our unit had been furnished larger C-46 planes and we were told to retrace our steps across the North Atlantic back home to America. We were to take a 30-day leave and report back to Fort Wayne, get a new plane, a crew and head for the Pacific where the war was still going on. Fortunately, the Japanese surrendered while we were on leave and our trip to the Pacific was canceled.
I reported back to my discharge base in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and was told I qualified to receive a regular commission and remain on active duty. I chose to receive the reserve commission and stay in the reserves until such time that I would choose to retire. I retired 22 years later with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
My “biggest trip” had come to a glorious end.
Since that time, I have been on many trips. The one that I must say was the most enjoyable was when I took my grandson, Shane, and his dad, Tommy, on a do-it-yourself trip to Europe.
We flew to England, toured London and caught a ship to Normandy, making landfall at dawn simulating the D-Day invasion. I rented a car, and we toured our way across Europe, stopping at several WWI and WWII battlegrounds, as well as major cities and other places of interest. We had a blast! It was a trip we will never forget – not my biggest, but the most fun.
Bob Warren is a local historian, former mayor of Frisco and a regular contributor to Frisco STYLE Magazine.