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Record 42/959

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Oral history interview with Ralph Tate. His father was carrer army and Ralph grew up travelling across the country. He enlisted in the United States Army Air Force as an aviation cadet. He became a pilot in the ATC (Army Transport Command) assigned to the China Burma India theater. He spent two years flying the "Hump" as the Himalayan Mtns. were called. He mustered out following VE Day, graduated from college and then returned to the United States Air Force, serving 30 years until he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. He also served in Viet Nam. Ralph Tate Interview 19 March 2003 Conducted by Tom Sullivan {T: indicates the interviewer, Tom Sullivan; R: indicates the subject, Ralph Tate. Empty brackets [ ], or brackets around a word or phrase denote speech that is not clear as to meaning or spelling}. T: It's March 19th, 2003 and we're at the Oshkosh Public Museum. I'm Tom Sullivan, and Ralph Tate who served in World War II is going to be telling me about his experiences in that war. Are you ready Ralph? R: Yes. Yes. T: Let's begin then by you having you tell me when and where you were born. R: I was born in Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, in 1921. My father was in the army and so I grew up in the army if you like, from the day one. One thing, as I look back upon it and many times, I learned what it was to be an American, very early in life. My father led a dedicated life to the service of his country. We traveled a great deal. I had the benefit of visiting foreign countries where I was different from everybody else around me. But I never lost the thought that I was an American, which to me, made me kind of unique. Not in a haughty way but just, I, I just began to realize it was different. T: Where were you educated, Ralph? All over I suppose. R: Well, obviously, being an army brat, yes, that's right. I was educated in Maryland. I was educated in Kansas. I was educated in the Philippine Islands. I was educated, oh in Michigan for a short time because both my folks came from Michigan. T: Your primary education we're talking about now. Not the college. R: Okay. My college education, I didn't go to college until after the war. I was one of those GI Bill guys and I went to Michigan State for the first two years. And then after that I transferred to the California, University of California in Santa Barbara. I did that because of a friend of mine who lived in California and invited me to consider comin out there and so by then I was married. I met my wife at Michigan State. She was a senior and I was a freshman/sophomore, you know. A sophomore fresh out of the army. {Laughter}. So I was attracted to those coeds; found one. T: Do you have any brothers or sisters? R: Yes. I have one brother who's still alive. And one sister who is now deceased. Just the three of us. I was the oldest of the three. They, my brother now lives in Florida. My sister lived out in California, in Oregon for awhile. T: After you got out of high school, what year was that when you graduated from…? R: Okay. At the time that I graduated from high school, I was in Washington, D.C. where my father was stationed at the time. I graduated from high school in 1940. At the time, I really didn't know what I wanted to do. So after I graduated from high school I went to what they, I wanted to go to West Point, you know. The army was in my blood and that's what I wanted. West Point was the best way to go. I thought so. I wanted to go to West Point but I wasn't a very good student so my folks sent me to prep school. And that took the better part of the year. The prep school was right there in Washington D.C. T: That's the prep school for West Point. R: For West Point. What they do there is they cram all four years of your high school back into your head and hopefully you pick it up the second time around. So, I was, no, I was, I feel about myself, I was fairly well caught up to speed on what a high school education should be. And about that time, I can remember Sunday morning, the 7th of December, 1941; actually it was about one o'clock Washington time. My father at the time had a very responsible position with the assistant secretary of war. He was his executive officer. My father called my mother and said that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. And I can remember watching my mother receive that phone call, and her face turned white when she heard it and of course you can under stand that. And then she turned around and said that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Well I knew where Pearl Harbor was because I'd been there. You know, a lot of people in this country didn't even know that such a place existed. But I had been there so it, and I had been in the Philippines and I knew that the Philippines would be attacked. And we lived on Corregidor for part of that time that we were in the Philippines. So as a kid I had crawled all around those big cannons that they had on Corregidor. Been chased out of there by the GI's you know, which is typical. And so here in my mind I'm looking at that my playground where I was as a kid is now a battleground. T: You know Ralph, in the late 30's and the early 40's there was war in the far east and there was war in Europe. At that time did you give much thought to it? Probably more than some. R; Well no. Personally I didn't because you know, I think it takes awhile in a person's life to come to a conclusion of what this all means. I think of the young folks today. What does it all mean? They don't know and hopefully they don't have to find it out. But they're gonna find out. It'll be brought to them. T: Did your dad, because of his involvement in the service, did he talk to your family about the brewing wars? R: Well you know, I think, I think no. To answer your question, he didn't. Because as I look back on it you know he was exposed to an awful lot of classified material, information. And I suppose he had to guard himself about what he said to the family. But I can remember in let's see, it was early in the spring of 1938 when Hitler marched into Austria. I can remember that was covered on the radio at that time. We were in Washington DC and I can remember dad was concerned about that. But you see he was in a position to understand the significance of it. You know, I'm a high school kid. I'm a sophomore. I don't understand what that is all about. About this time, I've had lots of history crammed into my head. It was just names, places and dates which didn't mean a lot of things to me. So to say I was aware of the significance of what was going on, I can't say that I really was moved other than to participate in the conversation with our, with my contemporaries. I can remember the Spanish Civil War in 1936. And that was also a time when there was also so-called war talk. But that was far away. That was clear over on the other side of the world and didn't affect us. T: You didn't think about the possibility of the U.S. being drawn into any of those conflicts at the time? R: No. No. As a matter of fact, I can remember the newsreels showed collapsing buildings and thins like that as a result of the bombing. But that was someplace else. That wasn't here. But I can remember something years later. When I returned from Europe and walking in the streets of New York and looking at those tall buildings. I said, "You know, it could happen here." And I don't say that for any reason other than that's what I thought at the time. I don't say that in light of what has happened since then. But I just thought, I looked at those buildings, you know, after having seen the terrible destruction in Europe, that it could happen here. T: You went in the service. Were you drafted or did you enlist? R: Oh no. I could hardly wait to get downtown to the recruiting office. I had in mind one thing. I was going to fly. That's what I wanted to do. So prior to that I had looked into how about doing that. They would take college kids, kids with two years of college and put them in what they called The Aviation Cadet Program. Aviation cadets would then go off to learn how to fly. And be commissioned as second lieutenants upon graduation. So I had already found out that I didn't qualify for West Point. In spite of the investment my folks made in getting me ready. I still did not pass the entrance exam. So the alternative was to go this way of aviation cadet. Because I had just finished my prep school, I think I was probably ready to take the qualifying exam which was required for anybody who had not taken the two years of college. Very soon after the war broke out, they did away with that barrier of first two years of college and said that if you passed this exam, you, we waive the two years of college and you can go off to aviation cadet school. So I'm about this time I'm what, 19 years old. And I'm ready to go. So… T: What date was it that you made your decision? R: What date? Oh, well how about the afternoon of 7 December? I mean it didn't take me any time. I went with, this was on a Sunday that, as we all know about the 7th of December. But I took my father down to his office on Monday morning. I drove him down there because we needed the car for other reasons. And on the way down there, dad began to talk to me about this situation. And he was of the opinion that this would probably last a couple of weeks. Now you know, I don't want to make fun of my father's position and I don't want to compromise it. But you know I think there was that mentality in this country about our invincibility. The United States invincibility. And I just don't know how to explain why he said what he said. I didn't challenge it. I just heard him say it and that was it. But of course as we know, it took longer than that. It was a very intense thing. I cannot draw a comparison to what's goin on today. But I think about how I felt on 9/11 after having seen Pearl Harbor losses. Many people have made comparisons of the two as far as the impact. But I did not see the impact of 9/11 on the American people that I think I remember seeing on December 7th of '41. T: What, when did you enlist then in the service? R: I went, I got on the train and went down to Maxwell Airforce Base. T: Where is that located? R: That's in Montgomery, Alabama. And that was on the 21st of January I think. Yeah, the 21st of January. It took that long. There was such a flood of people enlisting and getting into these programs that they just couldn't handle them. So my time came. They gave me a train ticket and I and a bunch of other guys got on the train and went down to Montgomery, Alabama. And of course every one of us was the sharpest pilot in the world, you know, before we'd ever seen the inside of an airplane. We had all kinds of war stories to tell right then. T: Tell me about your basic training. What happened then? R: Oh. Well you know I can compare it somewhat to boot camp today. The object of course was to get us physically conditioned. But because all the training facilities were so choked up with people that they still had to take time to train. One thing I will say about the training that we got, it's the best that can be had. From the very beginning they emphasized be prepared. And they did what they could to prepare us. So we had a lot of physical training, a lot of exercise. Good food. Yeah, we had, I mean they were really fattening us up for whatever. And we had good food. A very regimented life, but I was used to that. My father kind of ran, I won't say a military type of camp, but he had his standards and we had to conform to them. And so I didn't have any problem with that. So when we say the initial training, we did all of that and then we went into flight training. Flight training followed the physical conditioning. T: How long did your initial training, your basic training last? R: Well, the full cadet period was almost a year to the day. Again, because there were so many people in the pipeline, the flight training, once it got started, using that, assuming that had been the starting time, took about eight months. So we would go into what they called primary flight training. This would put us in an airplane known as a Stearman. Stearman biplane. Still very popular today. It's used for an acrobatic aircraft today. And you know, you give that to a 19 year old kid, you might as well give him a sports car. {Laughter}. Oh, I can remember going out to the flight line with my instructor and we were talking flying of course. That's all we ever talked about. And we walked up to the airplane and he stopped and he looked at the airplane. And he said, "Look at that thing." And I did. And he said, "Beautiful, isn't it.?" And I said, "It sure is." He said, "One thing you want to remember, it'll kill you just as quickly as it'll kill anybody else. It doesn't really care who you are, or who you think you may be. You stay in control of that thing all the time." Now you know I said those same words to my kids when I was talking about teaching them how to drive an automobile. I said, "That thing will kill you just as quick as you can imagine." T: Good advice. R: You just remember that. So that made a big impression on me. And from that point on, when I went to fly or did anything that begins to present a kind of hazard like that, I remember. Careful; know what you're doing; and then remember what you've been told. Because that's what it is. It's necessary to be in a frame of mind to learn. To change, not be some thickheaded kid that doesn't want to know anything he already knows. T: What happened then Ralph, after you learned how to handle this Stearman? What was the next step in the process? R: Well, the next step of course is to hone up your flying skill. I can remember I had an awful time on landing. The ah, there's an event that can happen in what we call a conventional landing gear. That is the tail dragger is sometimes talked about today. Tail wheel type airplane. It'll tend to do what they call a ground loop. It'll spin around on you, spin up, hit a wing tip as a result, you know. And cause damage to the airplane. Well, I was having an awful time on the rudder control. And in my mind, I was still on a sled that I had been on as a kid. And if I wanted to go to my left, then I would push to the right. You know, the old Flexiflyer? T: I remember. R: Okay. So I was still doin that. As I would see it, my response was, if I'm going to the right, or going to the left, push on the right rudder. Well, no. That doesn't, if I wanna go that way, once you're headed that way, you don't want to make it any worse by making it turn to the left. So that's a small point. But my instructor took me and held me full power, nose high, with the stick in my stomach, and said, "Now hold it there and walk it down." Meaning use your rudders to make it go right straight through. That broke me of that habit of being on a sled. Now I was in an airplane where it counts. And so we had to hone our skill, do our acrobatics, do a little bit of formation flying, a little bit of night flying, night landings. That kind of thing. Getting used to the new environment of the air. And then the next stage was what they call basic training. You go now to an airplane, the Stearman had a 225 horsepower engine. The basic trainer, called a BT13, had now a 450 horsepower engine. So it was more airplane. It was heavier and had restrictions. And after that we went to advanced training which would split off into, be single engine advance - these would be people who would go into fighters. And twin engine advanced; these would be people who would go into bombers, multi-engine airplanes. Twin engine or four engine airplanes. T: How did they make the division? Do you have any idea? R: I suppose they took the information about your ability as a pilot, you had to certainly demonstrate the ability to do aerobatics, dart around the sky as fighter pilots would have to do. I suppose I turned out to be more of a methodical pilot. I liked the straight and level. I didn't like this upside down and twirly stuff. The multi-engine, you don't turn those over on their back and that kind of stuff. And also we were exposed in basic to instrument flying. Now instrument flying requires a certain skill and certain concentration, quite a bit of concentration to overcome the false readings that your body tells you. Like vertigo. If anybody has experienced that, they understand that that can happen in the free state of flying. You are now in a three dimensional world and you gotta keep it under control. T: I heard that it's very difficult to not listen to your body. R: Oh, you've got to concentrate on the instrument. The instrument is the truth. Your body is not the truth. So you have to remember that, and overcome it. There have been times when, in the years of my flying experience when at night for instance, when you have no reference to a horizon, you don't know which way is up. You think you do. Your body'll tell you one thing. I could swear I was upside down. You know. But my instruments were tellin me, "No, you're right side up. And everything is all right." But oh, I had to work at that. Really, it takes a great deal of concentration. T: Where did you go to get your multi-engine training? R: Well, we changed bases. For primary training, I went to Florida. For basic training, I went to Georgia. From Georgia I went to Mississippi. So we went to three different bases. Those bases were specialized in those types of airplanes with those types of instructors for those of us who were learning to fly. So they were specialized bases. So I went to Columbus, Mississippi and took twin engine training there. It was a broad scope of twin engine. Historically, there's been an airplane known as the B26 made by Martin. It was a very tricky airplane to fly. It was often called "the widowmaker." Because it was really, they lost a lot of people in training. So they had a, they had a trainer that was, had similar flight characteristics. The most vicious flight characteristic was it had what we call a high wing loading, meaning that you had to have the proper amount of speed, air speed, to keep this thing under control. You didn't let your airspeed bleed off and lose it. Because then all that became was a big chunk of iron headed for the ground, you know. So it required that kind of awareness of what was goin on. And this particular airplane was called a Curtis AT9. AT stood for advanced trainer. And it had this numerical designation of AT9. Made by Curtis as I said. Had twin 250 horsepower engines. It really had been made, initially I am told, to be a fighter back in the early days when we were still making aircraft in response to requests from the American Aircorps for new aircraft and things like that. The other night I just happened to watch the development of the P38. And perhaps you've seen on the history channel; oh I love that. That P38 was a beautiful airplane. I didn't get to fly it but I sure wish I could have, just for the sake of flying it. I don't think I could have been very good at it as a fighter pilot. You know it takes a, it takes that skill. And I just knew I didn't have it. But I always admired people who did. But anyway, after going through advanced training and learning how to fly this AT9, I was beginning to feel as though I'm being groomed shall we say, for something bigger. So to answer your question, it's a long way to answer your question, "How did they make the decision for these things?" They look at your flight record, what your instructor says, your instructor could recommend you for this or that type of airplane or this or that type of flying. And from that, they would determine who goes where. So they had a good selection process, I think. In my case, I went from advanced flying directly into B24. So I went from a twin engine to a four engine. 19 year old kid. T: That's quite a responsibility because you're also going to have a bunch of other guys depending on you. R: Oh yeah. Well, you know, people have said that, "How do you feel about having that responsibility aboard your airplane, for the lives of others?" Well I don't take it lightly but I would answer it this way: I concentrate on getting there. If I get there, they get there. So what I wanna do is be sure that I do what I have to do to get there. Then everybody else is going to be there too. T: At what point did they start putting your aircrew together, so to speak? You guys would be working together as a unit. When did that happen? R: Again, again it was, you go through different stages. Like you went through different stages of flying, from primary, basic and advanced, you went to initial introduction to the airplane. In this case it was the B24. So you were now in the B24 pipeline - crew pipeline. The next thing you do is you go and get your airplane and your crew. Now the crew will be gathered from all the different resources they have to gathering personnel. You start with your pilots and your navigators and your bombardiers; and your crewmembers: your crew chief, your gunners and such things like that. And they would gather them all. Then in the meantime, they'll have been to their specialized training school. So it now comes together kind of like a funnel. So then you get your airplane and you get your crew and then you work with your crew and you then go into combat training. Combat training is now, they teach you how to use that aircraft and its crew to do the mission. T: And where was that now? Was that in… R: In my case, my introduction to that system stopped after I'd gone through B24 training. What they did is, they took a bunch of us who had just gone through B24 training and said, "You're gonna go to India and you're gonna fly the "Hump."" Now I don't know if you know where the "Hump" is. T: Oh yes. R: Okay. I flew the "Hump" for two years. So you see there was no need for us to go through combat training. What we needed to do was get over to India. So the continued training, shall we say, stopped when I had gotten the prescribed amount of flying experience in basically learning how the B24. Because again, this pipeline that they're creating, the program was in a year or so hence, the B24 type airplane would be used to fly supplies over the Hump. That B24 type airplane was a C87, which was a cargo version of the B24. You flew the same as a B24. It just, you didn't have guns, you didn't have a bomb bay. You didn't have all that kind of stuff. You had a cargo door and it was designed for simply hauling cargo. So that's all we were - you know, it's like driving an 18-wheeler. You know, you learn how to do that. T: When did you enter India and how did you get there? R: Well, at the same time that all of this is happening to me, you know I'm just goin along for the ride, as I look back on it now. Going along for the ride and the process of getting me ready to go, they had to have pre-positioned airplanes over in India. There was an airplane known as a C46. It was ah, it looked a great deal like a C47. The C47 was the DC3 of today. The C46 became known as a Curtis Commando. The Curtis Commando was a twin engine aircraft about half again as big as a C47. But configured very similarly with a conventional landing gear, tail wheel and two main gears. That was critical. So they earmarked, they the planners earmarked the airplane, the C46 for flying the Hump. In retrospect, as I look at it now, it really was not designed for the Hump because the Hump required high altitude flying. So to answer your question, I took a C46 to India. I went as a co-pilot. The pilot was a contract airline pilot. They had airline pilots under contract to the Air Corps who would function as a primary pilot. In my case, I was too inexperienced to take an airplane and go halfway around the world. Land at all of these strange airports. T: Where are some of the spots that you landed on the way? I imagine … R: Well, the first place we landed, we departed from Florida and from Florida we went to [Berenquen] Field, Puerto Rico. From Berenquen Field Puerto Rico, we went to Jamestown, British Guinea I think it was. And it's in the upper part of South America, okay? From there we flew down over the Amazon River and over the forest to a place called Natal. Now Natal is situated on almost the easternmost tip of South America. This would be in Brazil. So we flew from there, we went over to an island called Ascension Island. And we, these are just you know, refueling points. All the time this wide-eyed kid watched what was goin on. I had already traveled a lot as a kid. I understood that. But to see all these place. I can remember, now I hadn't been exposed of anything that even smacked of combat. Of anything of warlike. I can remember when we were flying across from Natal to Ascension Island, we were out over the big ocean and it was night and I saw this glow on the horizon. And I thought, my heart started to pump. And I thought the submarines had destroyed a tanker or something like that. Of course a lot of that's goin on. So the longer we flew, the brighter the light got. Which meant, I thought, we're getting closer to this now. So I said, "We're getting kinda close to combat," I thought. Well, the longer we flew, the brighter it got. It turned out to be the moon. {Laughter}. I sat back in my seat with a little more comfort at that time but we got to Ascension Island and that was really something. You know Ascension Island is nothing more than a volcanic cone covered with this volcanic dust. And it's sorta like trying to pile sand higher. You try to pile sand higher and you just run out of base. You can't make it any higher. There's nothing on it but a bunch of birds. It's a bird sanctuary. And on the landing, it's sort of like approaching this desktop. The desk top was quite a ways above the ocean so you gotta be sure that you get your angle of approach just right to get to the end of the runway, because there's no runway short. I mean it's a cliff. So you gotta hit the tabletop and not only that, the runway had a curvature to it. So that as you got on the runway, it appeared that you were running out of runway. You're goin up over the hill. And about that time, many pilots would put the brakes on too soon and too hard. And that would cause the airplane to go up on its nose. So there you got a damaged airplane that isn't going to go anyplace until they fix it. Well that didn't happen to us. We had this experienced pilot, an airline pilot who apparently remembered in the briefing, because every time you'd go into a new place, there would be a briefing to the crew as to where they were going and what to expect when they got there. So this pilot was experienced enough to know that. And so he believed em when they said just let it roll to a stop. It will. They'll have runway there. And so we spent the night there. And the crew rested at most all these places. Crew rest meaning after a certain specified period of time, and it was usually about 12 to 18 hours of what they call crew duty time, from the time that you're alerted to go to the time that you get to your mission end, does not want to exceed 18 hours. Because by then physically you're just too tired to be functioning properly. So we would crew rest at these places. And from there we went to Accra. Now Accra is right in the crux of Africa. This is a British colony. You know the British and the French colonized that part of Africa so it's under the influence of the British. We again crew rested, took care of whatever maintenance had to be done on the airplane, and then went across central Africa. Now that was a real challenge because we went into a place called Maiduguri {Located in Chad} at the time. All these names have been changed since then. You can't find them on the map. I've looked at maps and all these names have been changed so you can't find em. But there, there was a phenomenon of high temperature. You know, you're out in the middle of Africa and it gets warm very quickly. By nine o'clock in the morning, it's over 100 degrees. Well, the flight characteristics of the airplane are affected by those temperatures. You don't, if the air is very dry, I think I got it right, or very warm, you don't get the lift. So we got, you know, we gross, the airplane grosses out at a certain weight with what we're carrying in the airplane. We're carrying light cargo. Mostly important parts and that kind of thing for the airplane. And a full load of fuel. So that makes the airplane pretty heavy. So you could conceivably get to a situation where you could not take off. You could not run down the runway fast enough and the length of the runway, you could not accelerate within the length of that to go fast enough so that you get airborne. So if you weren't off the ground by say 8:30-9:00 in the morning, you didn't go until the next day. You had to wait until the temperature came down and the air characteristic was such that you could fly. So that's, we stayed within those parameters and we did fly, got out in time. We went from there to Khartoum. From Khartoum then we got over into the interesting part of the world today. We went into Asmera {In Ethiopia} . Asmera was Italian. Now this is where Mussolini went down in 19, in the 1930's. Mid 30's. And tried his hand at reclaiming some land that he thought belonged to Italy. You remember that maybe. T: Yes, I do. R: Okay. So there were remnants of the Italians around. It was interesting to me. We visited some landmarks. The Italians created some, this is something new for me as a kid at that time. They created what they called "A house of entertainment." This involved girls, as you can imagine. Okay. So we went in there and we got this tour of this house of entertainment. Mirrors everyplace. On the ceiling, on the wall. Everyplace. And they called it a house of mirrors. So we went in there and I'm going to have to confess my naivete showed at that time. I couldn't imagine what was goin on. But anyway that was just one of the things that we saw. We went to an Italian graveyard and there were graves of military men who died there during Mussolini's push. Here again was another place, we were at a place called Eritrea. [Misimara] was the, was the ah, city I think it was. And it was high altitude. Now we run into the same kind of situation at high altitude that you do in a hot dessert because of the rarity of the air. First of all, you cannot get the power from your engine. You know if you've ever driven an automobile at high altitude you know what it's like when you press down on the accelerator and nobody's home. I mean there's just no power there unless you got a supercharger. Well we did have a supercharger on our airplane. We had to get off when it was cool, when all conditions were just right in order to take off in the fairly short period of time that we had, the short distance we had to run. So we got out of there and we went down to a place called, let's see, I didn't think I'd ever forget that. Where was it that the Cole was bombed? It was in what is now Aden. But then that was also British. Here to me in retrospect, if I may step aside for a moment, in retrospect it's important to understand history to explain why you are where you are. Why we are in the situation we are today. So in, recently I've gone back into the history of that area and it dates way back to before World War I. And the settlement of that and the Treaty of Versailles had a lot to do with putting the British there in Aden. And so when I went through there, the British were there and again, it was hot and dusty like they're facing over there right now. We went from Aden to Salalah {In Oman}. Now Salalah is on, further along that east west coast that runs on the south of Saudi Arabia. And I can remember flying along the coastline. The coastline was a perfect checkpoint for us for navigation. And looking out off to the right was the ocean. Blue and just disappear. Looking off to the left was the advent of a dust storm that was goin on right now. There was this line with the dust storm, coastline, ocean. It looked like I was looking off the edge of the earth. You know when I looked out at the blue ocean, it matched the color of the sky to me. Optically, it looked you were just looking off the edge of the earth. So these were experiences that I got out of this trip. We got to Salalah. We did our usual routine about that time from Salalah. We went to Karachi. Karachi we've heard about a lot today in what is now Pakistan. It was not Pakistan at that time. It was India. T: Was that your base then? R: No. No. Because I still had farther to go. Then the next stop was ah, where the Taj Mahal is now, I think. T: Agra. R: Agra, yes. Agra. And there, that was British. That was a good experience because that was the first time we had, in my recollection of that trip, that we had any degree of comfort from the heat. And they had kind of an evaporative process of cooling off the inside of what they call "Bashes." Which are the, made of split bamboo and all this kind of stuff. And they had natives who threw water on these screens that were over openings in the side of the wall. And the water evaporating worked like what we use as an evaporative cooler down in the desert area of the southwestern United States. And so it was quite comfortable in that place. No mechanical air conditioning as we have today. And then of course while we were there, we spent some time and I was able to go to the Taj Mahal. Visit the Taj Mahal. And this was interesting because now I'm seeing things in reality that I remembered seeing in my textbooks in high school. Are we rambling too much? T: Right now Ralph… {The first tape ends here}. T: We're beginning tape 2 of our interview with Ralph Tate on March 19th, 2003. Alright Ralph. R: Okay. From Agra we went to Karachi. And then to Calcutta. Calcutta was the point where I was on my way to my final station up in what they call the Assam Valley. I was going to go up to a station known as Tezpur. That was a station where eventually they would put the C-87's. So I went to Tezpur, India and that was my home station. That's where I was first stationed. After being there for a couple of days they finally scheduled me to fly. To go over, my first trip over the Hump. You know they say that if you make it on the first trip, you'll make it forever. T: Did you fly in groups of aircraft? R: No. We flew singularly. T: Why was that? What about the enemy? R: Well, you see, we had no means to fight back. We had no guns aboard the airplanes. So… T: No fighter protection? R: No fighter protection. No. Nothing like that. We flew individually over the Hump. Now the Japanese had worked their way up the center of Burma to a place called Myitkina. And slightly above, north of that, a place called Fort [Hertz]. Now we could fly from India and fly north of that northernmost penetration of the Japanese. So really, the Japanese couldn't reach us. Or they could reach us but apparently chose not to interfere with it. Because they would be, at one single airplane at a time, not strung out one at a time. We would take off from our base, based upon take-off time. Whether or not that was a coordinated effort to fly in harmony or string with others, I don't know. We could fly across there and not see other airplanes. T: How long did the flight take, generally? R: Well, our main base in China was a place called Kunming. And then there was another. The main one was Kunming. And it would take about four and a half hours. So you go out on a mission and you'd get between nine and ten hours of flying time. T: When you got to Kunming, did you turn right around and come back? R: You did. They'd unload the airplane. Because you see, the C87, we started out with the C46 and they would unload the airplanes at Kunming and we'd turn right around and go back again. But you see unfortunately we had to have gas to get back. We couldn't carry enough gas internally within the airplane to make a round trip. So we would have to top off the tanks with that gasoline we had just carried to China. So it took two gallons to deliver one. It was about that, you know. So it was a very expensive way to supply China, but it was the only way. T: What type of material did you carry generally. R: Oh, well we had Americans stationed over there in China. We carried a full spectrum of supplies. Not only just gasoline. We carried all living supplies. Whatever it takes to sustain people. This would be food, ah, the full spectrum. So it would depend on what the request was from China. Not only that, but we supplied bases out into China. Kunming was the departure point in order to supply Clair Chenault's 14th Air Force that were situated farther out into eastern China. Kweilin, Hanyang, Szechwan, Lingling. Those places where we had fighters stationed there to intercept the Japanese. So we were actively engaged in combat out in eastern China. T: What was the date that you began flying the Hump, approximately? Can you recall when that was? R: June, I think it probably was June. I got over there on the third of May. T: This is in 1943? R: In 1943, yes. 1943. And I came back early April of 1945. T: During that period of time, was your routine pretty much the same? Flying the same routes? Carrying the same things? R: That's right. We would plot our own route but it was essentially the same. Back and forth. I flew 55 round trips. That's 110 times across the Hump. You know. That's the way I look at it. It was just as hard to come back as it was to go. And of course, if you know anything about the Hump and that part of the world, that's the worst flying conditions in the world. T: Did your unit suffer any casualties? People that went down? R: Oh yes, oh yes, yes. T: Tell me about some of those instances, how it happened? R: Well, I don't know that we lost any airplanes to enemy action. That is to have been intercepted and shot down. But most of the losses was due to the weather. I mentioned high altitude. In flying, when you fly instruments over terrain you are aware of the highest obstacle. And you want to be sure you miss it. So you know the elevation of the highest obstacles. That begins to establish the baseline above which you must be as you fly through that area. Okay. So our instrument altitude across there was something like 23, 25,000 feet. Now we fly that today with impunity. But we didn't have pressurized aircraft back then. We didn't have jet engines back then. We had air breathing, reciprocating engines. And that's what made the B24 so good, because it had supercharged engines. What we call turbo supercharged. Using the exhaust of the engine to drive the supercharger. The C46 had a two-stage supercharger. Two stage in the sense that you'd, did you ever fly on a Constellation? T: I don't believe so. R: Okay. Well, a two stage, you go, you can climb to a certain altitude and because of the rarity of the air, the engine cannot put out the power that is necessary to go higher. Okay. So they put a two stage in, it's sorta like shifting gears. You shift into high. You shift into high blower. You have to throttle back because you don't want to shift this when the engine is at full throttle. You have to throttle back, push the lever one at a time. You don't do em both at the same time because if there's a malfunction, you've lost everything. And it's a trip down from there. So you shift one at a time to get the added power. But it took power to provide that power. It took 125 horsepower simply to turn that turbo supercharger. Not the turbo but the two stage supercharger to turn that sufficiently to give you the supercharged air to go into the engine. Do you understand how a supercharger works? T: Yes. R: Okay. A supercharger, one wise engineer, aircraft mechanic described a supercharger as what it does, it B.S's the engine into thinking it's at sea level when actually it's at 10,000 feet. Which I think is a good way to describe it. So we get up there and because we had the turbo supercharger on the B24, we could go up to, I went as high as 32,000 feet. Just to see how high I could go. But you know, you get up there and you're in real hostile surroundings. You know the temperature gets down to 50 below zero. The rarified air, if you're not on oxygen you're dead very quick. So you have to be aware what you're doing. And it has an effect upon the body. T: How many were in your crew? R: Usually four. T: Yourself, copilot… R: Myself, the copilot, a navigator sometimes, but not every time and an engineer. And that was pretty much the crew. T: You fellows who flew the plane, did you have to do the work of loading and unloading as well? Or was it somebody else that did that? R: Yeah. When we would land, we would go into operations and usually go over and get something to eat. Because in the course of that period of time, getting ready for our return trip, hopefully if everything went right the aircraft was unloaded. They used Chinese, we called em coolies, they unloaded the airplane and the engineer, after he had eaten and everything, would then go back to the airplane, supervise and make sure that we got the proper amount of fuel to get back. And then we would take off and go back again. So went out and back in one day but then they expanded the operation from simply only daylight to 24 hours. Day and night. So we were flying across there day and night in all of that weather. So we [ ] about airplanes goin down, the biggest obstacle we had to combat was ice. You know when we get up to those high altitudes of 20,000 feet, you know when you go on top of a thunderstorm at 20,000 feet, you're going to get ice. T: Was there de-icing equipment on your plane? R: Yeah but it was… I can remember one time I got, I was flying a C87. And we went into a, I'll call it a saturated situation. There's certain environmental conditions that will create ice instantly, almost instantly. It's called rime ice and it takes different shapes on the wings and all around the aircraft, which adds a great deal of weight. You know that all weighs something out there. You gotta, just 'cause it's on there, you don't get it for free. And it also changes the flight characteristics of the airplane. It begins to destroy the lift. So you've got, if you hit a situation like that at night, you can't see it, you just have to suspect it by looking. You have no instruments that are going to tell you that. How much ice you're getting or anything else like that. But we had, we used our landing lights and other strobe lights, not strobe lights but powerful lights, flashlights that we could look out at night to see if we were getting any ice. But you can't tell how much you get. Now that's rime ice. If you get clear ice, that's even worse because clear ice you can't tell whether or not you're getting ice. And I remember this one time, the only time I turned around was on that situation where we got so much ice so fast that I could not keep the airplane flying. At full power, as fast as the airplane would go, we were goin down. So I was able to get it turned around and fortunately we had altitude enough so that we wouldn't hit anything below us. You know when you're already over a high mountain, you don't have much room to go down. So I turned around and we worked our way back into the warm air and we lost the ice. But by then I had burned up too much fuel. I had to go home to start all over again. And that was the only time I ever turned around. T: Did you have opportunity to get leave or a pass when you were…? R: Oh yes. We got recreational leave. I went to ah, we'd go down to Calcutta. That was one of the favorite places because that was a very British city. So we were among people who spoke English and it was civilized like the British city. And fun shopping you know. And we could go to a movie and we could do things like that. So yes, we did have an opportunity for that. I've forgotten how they did it but they would allow that periodically. I went, I didn't do any sightseeing while I was there to speak of. Other than in the local areas, the curiosity places. But … T: How was the food on your base? Did you live pretty good when you weren't flying? R: Well, food got better as time went on. It was pretty grim to begin with. We were on what they called British rations. And so we got a lot of corned beef and that kind of thing. You got kind of tired of that. The bread that we got was not very good. We picked the weevils out of it, and that kind of stuff. T: Were you able to keep in touch with your family? R: Oh yes. Mail came in. Yes. You know, that's an amazing thing about the military, the United States military. They take good care, they take as good care of the troops as is possible. I think that it's just amazing. We could get, we got, we had a PX or Post Exchange. Just recently, I saw it on TV; they had a big PX over there where all the action is right now. You have to stand in line to get into it but it's there. And fully stocked with anything you want. Snacks and everything else. T: Where were you when the war came to an end? R: When, let's see. VE Day was the first one and I was back in Washington, DC. T: When did you go back? R: Well you see I left, I left India early April. '45, yes. VE Day was early May. So right after I got back to Washington, DC, VE Day. Now my father was in Italy all this time. He was working, he was with Mark Clark as the United States troops were going north, the north of Italy. So my dad came back came back from overseas when I had returned from India. T: Did you expect that you would be sent over to the Far East then? R: I didn't know. Not initially because they had a policy, if you came back from an overseas tour, such as we'd been over there two years, they had a point system. You had a number, x points, then you were no longer vulnerable until your points got eaten up, you know. So I didn't expect to go back overseas. Now I did end up by going back overseas because my father who came back right soon after VE Day, thought he would be going over to Japan to finish the war over there. But instead, he was sent back to Europe and he was part of the occupation forces in Austria and he was stationed in Vienna. Now, the military is in an occupation mode now. And congress allowed dependents to go join, wherever it was possible, dependents could go join the occupation troops. So my mother went over to Vienna, Austria to join my father. I in the meantime had been stationed out in California, and I was flying the Pacific. T: Where were you on, when they dropped the atomic bomb? R: I was in flight training at Charleston, South Carolina when they dropped the atomic bomb. And of course prior to that, nobody knew anything about that kind of a bomb. It was, all kinds of rumors you know. This tremendous bomb that blew everything away. We thought that was neat, that we had it, you know. I was proud that we had it because it , it… T: It brought about an end to the war. R: That's right. It brought the war to an end. So that's where I was, Charleston, South Carolina. I was in flight training to go fly the Pacific. And again, I'm in, you see, what they call the Air Transport Command, which is now flying these transport aircraft, passengers, cargo and everything else like that. So I was stationed at Long Beach, California. So from Long Beach, California, I was sent to San Francisco. A place called Hamilton Field. And I flew out of Hamilton Field out to Hawaii and clear out to Japan and that. So I was on that run. So while I was on that run, I get orders to go to Europe and I say, "Hey, how can this be? I just got back." Until I discovered I'm going to go over there where my mother and father are. So everybody else is coming back to the United States and I'm goin overseas to go home. They were coming back to the United States to go home. I'm goin overseas to go home. Because that's where my folks are. So I ended up over in Europe. So I was part of the occupation forces. I did not participate in any combat there in Europe. T: When were you mustered out of the service? When did you end your career? R: It was in March of '47. Yeah. I, you know, because I'd wanted to make a career of the army, I liked it, it was a good life for me. But I came to the conclusion that I didn't have an education. I'm still a high school kid, thinking like a high school kid. I don't have an understanding of a lot of things that a college education gives you. So I figured the only way to do it was to get out and go. So that's what I did. T: Where did you get your college education then? R: Well, from 1947 to '51. Two years at Michigan State, two years at the University of California. T: What brought you to Oshkosh and when did you come to Oshkosh? R: Well, we've been in Oshkosh since, about a year and a half now. We came to Oshkosh because this is where our daughter lives. We've reached that point in our life when we recognize that we need to be close to family. So considering that, our two boys, both of whom are retired from the Air Force; one flew, the other one was an engineer. One is in Colorado Springs, Colorado and the other one is in Louisville, Kentucky. He flies for UPS. So we had three places to pick. Our daughter lost. {Laughter}. T: Is that the way she puts it? R: Oh, I don't think so. T: Early in the war, when things weren't really going too great, did you at any time have any doubts about whether we would be winning that conflict? Immediately following Pearl Harbor, we suffered a lot of setbacks. R: No, I can't say that I had any doubts about whether or not we would eventually win. But I knew that we, we had to do a lot to win it. It wasn't going to be a gift. We were kept aware of the news, like for instance when we were in training we had access to newspapers and the news and everything else like that. And we knew pretty much what the public knew. And they were reporting the conditions, the combat situation and that kind of stuff. We were losing a lot of battles to begin with. It seemed like every time we turned around, we got our butt kicked. But we changed that. T: Do you think about the war very much today? R: Oh yes. I don't think about it from the standpoint of nightmare or anything else like that. I think about it in the eyes of what young folks today must think about it. Like for instance, simple little things like, every night I take a shower. I'm grateful for that. There have been times when I couldn't take a shower, and I wanted to take a shower, and I wanted to clean up and I couldn't. So I think of the young folks who are now enduring that. T: Do you think the war changed you, having been a part of it? R: Oh, I think so. Yes. I couldn't, I … T: In what way did it, do you think it changed you? R: Well, it's caused me, the thing I still do, is I still go to historical sources to read them and to try and get a feel for what it was like. Even before my time, certainly before my time because now I can think about my time and relate to that previous time and see the relationship. And so we look at it today, there's a relationship. And we wonder how does this stuff pop up? Well it pops up because it can be traced back. And I have a copy, I have the encyclopedia in my computer. And I'll sit down and read my encyclopedia like I read a novel, you know. A historical event will come to mind or something that I read in the paper and I want to know more about it. So I go to the encyclopedia and it's so convenient. I find a wonderful explanation for why things are the way they are. T: What kind of work did you do after you completed your college education. R: Well, I looked for a job right away. I worked for Carrier Corporation. I was employed by them in what they called a management training. I graduated with a degree with a degree in business administration. So that kind of focused my attention and made me available to somebody within that. They knew what that meant. So I went to work for Carrier Corporation in their management-training program. I went in there with four or five other people who just came out of college. But they were all junior to me by five or six year. Because I'm the old man of the bunch. And so I went into this training program and pretty soon I was selected out of that group to go to work for the vice president in charge of manufacturing. And to do some trouble shooting for him. I think, though nobody ever told me, I think I was selected because of a degree of maturity that I had as a result of my experience, my previous four years, five years experience in the military. T: That's interesting. R: So, I think that experience helped me. I was eager about what I was doing and I enjoyed it. And I showed that. And I tried to give a good product. So I did that for a couple years, for a year or so and then I went to, I got an opportunity to go for - with another company at a better salary. We chased that mighty buck and at that time I had a family. My starting salary when I went to work for Carrier was $3600 a year. That won't buy peanuts today. And so I got an opportunity for a job at $4800 a year. Man, that was big money. So I went to work for them. And that was a sales job. Selling cutlery. And then, about this time the United States is in the Korean situation. We got into Korea before I graduated from college. There was talk about recalling a lot of guys but I resisted that because I didn't really want to do that. I didn't want to start all over again. And then they kept calling for volunteers. When I got out, I stayed in the reserves. I already had, shall we say, an equity in my background in the military. T: Were you active or inactive reserve? R: I was inactive reserve. And I just had to make my points every year. T: Did you maintain your multi-engine rating? R: Well you see I was simply a pilot. I was simply a pilot. Yes, they carried me as a multi-engine pilot. I flew the C124. I flew the C54. That kind of thing. And so when I got, after a couple of years I really missed the military. So when they offered the recall the second time, or another time, I took it. I wanted to go back. I missed it. T: How long did you serve then? R: Then I stayed until I retired in '71. I stayed in all, I retired with 30 years to include reserve time as well as active duty time. T: When you re-enlisted, er that's not the… R: Recalled. T: When you were recalled, what kind of work did you do? R: I went back to flying. T: Where did you fly? R: I was recalled to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts. At Hartford, Massachusetts. T: Were you still with the Air Transport Command? R: Yes, I was recalled back into the Air Transport Command. Yes. And I, and then from there I had assignments to Thule, Greenland. From Thule, Greenland I went to Goose Bay, Labrador. From Goose Bay, Labrador I went to Germany. From Germany I went back to the United States University to teach ROTC. From there I went to Great Falls, no I went back to Westover Air Force Base at Hartford, Connecticut, at Hartford, where is it, in Massachusetts. And from there I went to Great Falls, Montana. From Great Falls, Montana I went to Omaha, Nebraska where the headquarters SAC. I got into a field called management analysis. I went to a management school and, in the Air Force, and so I ended up in Headquarters SAC as deputy director of management analysis at the Headquarters SAC. And then I retired. T: What rank did you have when you retired? R: When I retired - lieutenant colonel. You know the military has a real challenge. They gotta keep it young because it's only the young ones that can do it. I had a tour in Southeast Asia. I went to Thailand. I flew what they called night flare missions in C123's. And we flew over the Ho Chi Minh trail and dropped flares so that strike aircraft could come in and hit stuff that's on the trail. I did that for a year. Then I went back to Headquarters SAC and that's where I retired. I left Headquarters SAC to go to Thailand. After Thailand, I came back to Headquarters SAC. And then I retired. T: Well Ralph, I think we've covered most of the points that I wanted to cover. Unless you can think of something else that you'd like to relate to me. R: Well, while I was in Europe, I had a, I had an accident that involved crashing an airplane on the side of a mountain in Switzerland. And my mother was one of my passengers. Now people say, "How could that be?" Because you're in a military airplane, how can you fly people in a military airplane, civilians on a military airplane? Vienna Austria was like Berlin in the sense that it was isolated. Completely surrounded by the German, by the Russian occupation forces. So you had to have special permission from the Russians to go in and out of Vienna if you went by ground. If you flew, then you didn't have to have that. So we had a military base there in Vienna and so they - the military - said okay, we got people that are isolated here. We'll allow them to fly on military aircraft. Because at that time we were just now getting civilian lines reestablished. So they can fly on a military aircraft with permission. So for that reason I was flying a C47 - a DC3 type airplane from Vienna, Austria to, down to Italy when we ran into severe weather and we ended up on the side of a mountain. T: Were there any casualties? R: No. Everybody survived. We were there for five days. Then in the meantime, back in 1997, we get an invitation from the Swiss to come back so that they can do a documentary on this. Which they did. So we've been back to Switzerland. This time I took my wife with me. Because we were not married at the time of the accident. I didn't know her then. So everybody, everything is still coming up roses. T: That's very interesting. Well, thanks again Ralph. I think we'll call this, we'll end this right now. And then you can show me some of the things that you brought with you. R: Sure.
Oral History Interview with Ralph Tate. -WORLD WAR II -Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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