|Cassette recorded oral history interview with George A. Haszel, United States Army Air Force during World War II. He was a piolt in the Air Transport Command in China and a Ferry Pilot back in the US.
George Haszel Interview
14 July 2004
Conducted by Tom Sullivan
(T: identifies the interviewer, Tom Sullivan; G: identifies the subject, George Haszel. Open brackets [ ] or bracketed words indicate that either a word or phrase is not understood, or that proper spelling for the word is not known).
T: It's July 14th, 2004 and I'm Tom Sullivan at the Oshkosh Public Museum with George Haszel who is going to talk with me about his experiences in the Second World War. To begin with George, when and where were you born?
G: I was born in Kewaunee, Wisconsin.
T: What year was that?
G: 1918. December 21st, 1918. I was born on a farm.
T: Were your mother and dad also from that area?
G: Well, from that area. My dad immigrated. He was a little boy I think. I heard that he was only a baby when his folks immigrated.
T: And where was that from, Austria?
G: That was from, at that time it was Bavaria, I think. Austria or Bavaria. But my mother was born here. My grandfather immigrated.
T: Your parents were farmers. That was their profession. Did you have brothers and sisters?
G: There were nine of us in our family; six sisters and 3 brothers.
T: Are any of them living today?
G: Yes. One living. His name is Orville. And he lives in Waupaca.
T: Tell me a bit about your childhood and growing up, where you went to school and the kind of things you did for fun after school.
G: Oh there's lots of things. It was a one-room school and it was a mile away from where our farm home buildings was. And we all had to walk that one mile to school. And nobody griped about it then.
T: Rain or shine.
G: Rain or shine. And when it was real bad in winter, then Dad would put us in the sleigh and harness the horses and drive us over there. But we always had to walk home. And there wasn't really a road that we had to walk. It was a path kinda, alongside a bunch of woods. And everything happened there, you know. Lots of nature happened along that way.
T: How many kids were in your class at school? How many did the teacher handle?
G: There were, one time there were 23, one time 32. And I think one time if I remember right there was about 37. But yeah, there were only six - hard to remember - six in my grade, my eighth grade that I remember most about.
And of course in the summertime at home we always had to work. I mean we had, as an eighth grader and even before we had to milk cows and stuff, help out on the farm.
T: You had your daily chores that had to be done.
G: Oh very definitely, including hauling in the wood for grandma, my mother and grandma so they could cook.
T: So they cooked on a wood stove.
G: Oh yes. And yeah, they made the best rye bread you could ever taste. Gee, that was quite a few years ago.
T: After you finished grade school, you went to high school. Where did you go to high school?
G: At Kewaunee High School.
T: How did you get there then? Was it fairly close?
G: No. It was six miles. My father didn't want me to go to high school. He was, my father was the treasurer on our little school board for that one room school. But the teacher talked him into sending me. My older brother who was two years older than I went to high school but he didn't do much with it, you know. He was that way and that's one of the reasons my dad didn't want me to go. But Miss [Ornett], the teacher, talked him into letting me go. And I remember one thing that my dad said; one evening he said, "You can go but if you get just one F in any subject anywhere in that school, out you go and you work on the farm." And you know, they're German/Bavarian and I knew that he meant it.
T: Maybe he was hoping that you would get an F so that you would come back to the farm. If he wasn't too keen about you going to school in the first place.
G: He wasn't too keen because of the poor report of my older brother. He passed away early too.
T: When you were in high school did you participate in sports or other activities?
G: No. One thing that did happen, when I was a freshman I think, in high school, then dad let me join the 4-H Club. And I was a 4-H Calf Club member. And that was in West Kewaunee. And we had regular meetings through the summer and so forth. And I would show the calf at the county fair. And when I was a junior in high school I think, I was fortunate enough to win the champion 4-H Calf Club member in Kewaunee County.
T: That's quite an accomplishment.
G: Then, I still got the trophy at home.
T: I imagine you were pretty proud of that.
T: George, you grew up in the Depression era and I suppose that on the farm you probably weren't affected as much as perhaps some people in the city. Correct me if I'm wrong. But what are your recollections of the Depression, how it affected perhaps your family, if it did, and pals that you had in school and so forth and that area in general. Was it something that you noticed a lot?
G: No. We were a poor farm family and we had, we always had a large garden and lots of potatoes which was some of the things that the kids had to do in the summertime, pick off the potato bugs. Knock those off so they wouldn't eat the leaves. And so forth. Dad always had cash crops. The one cash crop he always had was cucumbers. He had an acre of cucumbers and then we would have to go and pick the cucumbers. He would take them to the station and get paid for that.
T: During the Depression was he always able to sell his produce?
G: Oh yes. We sold vegetables. We sold things like that to the people in town. In fact he encouraged us a little bit. In fact I always wanted to grow something. And so he said, "Okay, grow what you're going to grow." I said, "I would like to raise some watermelons." "Well no," I said, "I think I'll get some muskmelons." So I raised some muskmelons. Sugar [ ] muskmelons they were called. And I remember this distinctly, that my sister was working for a family in Kewaunee, one of my sisters, and the landlady came out to the farm to buy vegetables and she said, "I heard you have some muskmelons." I said, "Yeah." And so, "Can I buy some?" "Sure. And so how many do you want?" "Oh I'll take about six of those." And she says, "How much are they?" I looked at my dad and I said, "I don't know." So after a little bit he says, "Oh tell her a dollar." She got six muskmelons for a dollar. Of course that was something. I was small then. Ten, eleven, twelve years old. That was something.
As far as the Depression is concerned, I know that dad always fixed all our shoes. And I remember once the schools, the one-room schools in Kewaunee County would have a day of races and stuff. And I remember I was a pretty good runner and I went to this one place, Footbridge they called it, Footbridge School where they had this competition. And by golly I had my shoes on and everything else and won that race for that group of eighth graders. Now I didn't win it, I came in tied with another guy. And then we had to run it off. But in the second race, my shoe started to tear in the back and I didn't want it to fly off so I stopped. So those were the fixed shoes that my dad had.
T: I thought you were going to tell me that the sole came loose, was flapping. Because that's what used to happen to my shoes when I was a kid. My grandfather fixed them and the sole would come loose and it would flap.
G: It tore back here, by the heel. And I felt it comin off. And my teacher wanted to know, "Why did you stop? You were ahead." "Oh, I dunno." I didn't want to tell em that my shoe was comin off. But those are some instances that stick with you.
T: After high school what did you do then? What year did you graduate?
G: I graduated in 1936 from high school. Well, there was nothing much to do about then. I think I followed the thrashing machine for that summer.
And then about in July or August I heard about the CCC's, the Civilian Conservation Corps. And talked with my dad about it. He said, "You think you want to join up with them?" I says, "Oh, I'd like to." He says, "You could earn $30.00 a month. They'd send home $25.00 for me to save for you, and you'd get $5.00 there for spending money."
Well to make a long story short, I joined the CCC's and went up to Long Lake, Wisconsin. I was there for 15 months.
T: Did you ever run into a couple of guys named Sullivan up there at Long Lake? Because I had some relatives that lived up there that were in the CCC. One of them was Francis, one of them was Howard, and I can't think of the name of the other one. Just crossed my mind.
G: Sullivan, Sullivan. Yeah, Long Lake, Wisconsin.
T: What kind of work did you do up there? Was it logging or…?
G: Oh, that was luck also. When I got there, there were several other friends of mine that joined up with me and when we were being interviewed in the main office of the CCC camp then the young secretary was typing away. And I leaned over to my friend Eddie [Kouska] and I says, "Geez, that's the typewriter I used in high school." And the girl, the young man caught it. He says, "You type?" "Oh," I says, "I just type a little bit." "Oh good!"
So they grabbed me out of there right away and stuck me into the education officer's office where I was typing. And it was an old Underwood, you know. And you know how you can just type. But I knew a little bit about it. One semester in high school.
I took a first aid course then and passed it and right after that they put me in as a first aid man in the dispensary up there. And that's where I spent most of the time, in the dispensary. I was out in the field one day, scalping. You know what scalping is?
G: Sure. And one day.
T: How long were you in the CCC?
G: Fifteen months. By the way, the commanding officer, the CCC you know, were run by the army?
T: I'm not really knowledgeable about it.
G: And our commanding officer was a young lieutenant there. A very stern young lieutenant. His name was Lt. Lee W. Fulton. And believe it or not, and this was 1937, in 1943, when they sent me over to fly "The Hump" in India, I ran into him in Chabua, Assam, India as a full colonel. We looked at each other and shook hands. And he wanted me to be his personal pilot but before I could get transferred I got pneumonia from flying "the hump" and I was out for three months. And so he got somebody else.
T: Just another proof that it's a small world.
G: It's a small world, that's right. So, so much for the CCC's. Learned a lot there.
T: What was the next step in your life? What did you do?
G: Well then I came home and I, let's see, I must have come home in March. Because that summer I worked for the Larson Canning Company stacking pea vines. You know what peas are, for canning peas? And they used to make these great big piles of peas and you'd have to stack em. And of course back in the CCC's you'd always run into a girl or two. And this one girl that I ran into, she's from, her dad was a construction engineer and she was gonna be going to Sheboygan Falls to live with her brother, with her sister, and was going to Sheboygan Business College. And of course she told the Sheboygan Business College owner that there is a man up in Kewaunee that might be talked into business college, see? She was my girlfriend then. So he came up on the pea stack and talked to me and so I signed up to go to business college in late 1937. Sheboygan Business College for one semester. That would have been 1938, I think.
T: Why just one semester?
G: Because I did not get the business very well. It wasn't my cup of tea but my dad encouraged it because he was a director in the farmer's cooperative and he was looking forward for me. He says, "You go ahead to business college and come back and work in the store and you'll be manager one of these days, you see." So that was that.
But as things go, I went there one year and the summer of 1938, no, this was 1938 I think. Anyway I went to work the summer of '39 I think it was. I went to work for the Crystal Caverns. It's a resort area near Elkhart Lake. And the mother of the, I mean the wife of the owner kind of took me under her wing and we were talking many times and she says, I told her about being in the CCC's and a first aid man and all the stuff that happened there. And she said, "You should go into medicine." I had other people telling me the same thing up in the CCC's. Forest rangers that we had to fix up stuff on them, you know. "You should go into medicine." And so that's, I said, "I don't have any money." "You can work. You're doing a good job here."
So I came to Oshkosh and got a job at the Raulf Hotel , 1939. And then I went up to the university here and signed up for a 12-credit course that year. Usually you take 16. And that got me started. And that first year, I tell my kids, the first semester at the university, I was working my way through. Cost me $1.00 for room and board. $1.00 a day on Irving Street. And I budgeted myself so closely that I had allowed myself 5 cents a week to spend. And the second week, all I had spent that 5 cents on was a 5-cent cigar.
T: You can't get an awful lot with 5 cents.
G: But anyway things got better and I stayed at the Raulf Hotel. That's how I got through the university here. Until the war came.
T: Do you remember Pearl Harbor?
G: Very definitely. Very definitely. See I was only taking 12 credits which was not a full course. And so I had to go three years to get 60 credits to get into the Air Force. So that's how it came about.
Okay, Pearl Harbor? I had just got done hopping bells; I hadda work all night. You know what a bellhop is?
G: Okay. And went home and went to sleep about nine, ten o'clock. I usually slept till about four. But about, I think it was about 11 or 12 o'clock my roommate came running in and woke me up and says, "The Japs bombed Pearl Harbor." I think it was one o'clock. And of course that was all then.
But even before that I was in the process. I had met Johnny Sullivan. He graduated and he brought a P-38 back to Milwaukee over here and then came up and visited us, Jerry McCormick and me and so on. And he was telling me how beautiful it is. It was earlier than December 7th. It was about in September some time or October. And how nice it was to put your finger on that P-38 thing and it'll go right around, like that. And that did it for me.
Shortly after that, it was the latter part of October, the first part of November, the flying cadet board was seeking people at the Post Office so I went down and took an exam. And it was a real sturdy exam because I had had 60 credits then and I could get in. And I didn't tell my dad about it. And it was five o'clock in the afternoon when the sergeant came in, there were a whole bunch of us. We were taking tests. The sergeant came in and said, "By God, we got one at last!" And I was in. I was the one. I was the one that was accepted that day. For the flying cadets.
T: I can't quite understand why the sergeant would say that because weren't there a lot of fellows that were interested in that particular thing? A lot of guys were enamored of the flying business.
G: But a lot of em had already gone. This was five o'clock in the afternoon. This was from about 12 o'clock exam all the way, all afternoon. And I don't know why the sergeant would say that either, but I remember him saying, "By God we got," - he didn't tell us that. He said that to somebody. "By God, we got one!"
At that time I was at the university - I mean teachers college - I was in the pre-med program and I was not eligible to be drafted. My dad had seen to it that I was in 2A as a student. When I told my dad that, oh did he blow up! That I signed up for the Air Force.
T: How old were you then George when you signed up?
G: When I signed up I was 20. No, no, no. Twenty-one. See I was a little older than the rest. I graduated from high school in '36 and then I went to business college one year. And I was CCC's, business college one year, yeah I was, 1939 I would have been twenty-one. I would have been twenty-two when I signed up, at least.
T: What was the next step in the process after you passed this examination? What was done then?
G: You waited. In the meantime - this was in November that I passed - I waited. Pearl Harbor happened December 7th. I waited still, went and signed up for the second semester at the college and it wasn't until March 26, 1942 that I got orders that I had to sign up for this. And then I was just staying around here, and home and so forth until in June when all of us were shipped to Santa Anna, California. And that's when things began. June.
T: George, I'd like to have you, if you can, take me through step by step the process of turning a guy who - were you ever in an airplane?
T: A fellow who's never been in an airplane, to taking him and educating him so that he comes out a multi-engine pilot. Can you take me through the steps that were necessary to do that.
G: It was a year process, practically. And of course first of all they had to, in any organization, military organization, first of all you have to be trained to do certain things. Follow the leader. So that was in pre-flight at Santa Anna, California which was about six weeks long. And it was drill and all military ah, what do you call it, military etiquette and stuff. Because when you graduated from flying school, you were given a commission as second lieutenant at that time. And so that was pre-flight.
After about six weeks of pre-flight - it must have been at least that - they sent us to primary school. Primary flight training. Primary flight training was, they sent me to King City, California where we flew single engine PT-22's. Those were primary trainers for the Army at that time. Some bases had PT, no, these were PT-19's. Some bases had PT-22's, which were twin engine (single engine) Stearman planes. So after so many hours, 60 hours there I think is what it was, I have all those books at home yet…
T: You had to solo in that plane.
G: Oh yes!. I had to solo in that plane and I will never forget that. I tried to solo on my birthday, which is the 21st of September. And it was then on a Friday and the instructor just wouldn't, he said, "No," he says. I was too tight, he said. He says, "You gotta relax. You gotta relax. I can't let you go with this thing."
T: What were the instructors like?
G: Very nice.
T: They were?
G: Oh yeah. Oh, very nice. They were, you sat in the back and they sat in the front or was it front to back. And they talked to you through [ ] and tell you what to do and so forth. Well anyway he says, "Why don't you go out and relax this week-end and come back Monday morning. Do you drink?" "Yes." "Well, I'm not tellin you to get drunk but relax." But anyway we went out that night, that weekend in King City. And went out and came back on Monday and I'll be darned, I soloed on the Monday. I did. And I'll never forget taking off and making that first turn off the runway like this here and straightening out. And I said to myself, and I could hear myself yelling, "Jesus Christ, I'm flying this son of a B alone!" That was quite an accomplishment.
T: I imagine so.
G: And then after that of course there was the routine of minor, not major aerobatics. He allowed you to do certain things. When you're flying alone you had a certain area where you could go in the vicinity and you would practice what he was trying to teach you and so forth.
T: This was still in the same aircraft?
G: PT-19's. the Ryan PT-19 single engine aircraft. And then we hadda, of course they planned our cross-country. The whole thing, the whole primary training was about two months long and in that time you gained about 65 hours, I think.
T: It seems like it was quite compressed, like you must really have worked to be able to fly in two months. It seems like quite an accomplishment.
G: I always think it's like riding a bicycle. You know once you learn to ride a bicycle, you always know how to ride a bicycle.
T: What was the next phase of your training?
G: the next phase was basic training. And it was a more powerful aircraft. It was a BT-13 basic trainer. And it had 450 horsepower in it and so this was done at Chico, California, which is northern California. And that was done over in the latter part of October, November and December. And we got another, about 60 hours there. And this was starting of night flying for us. And like I say it was a BT-13, 450 horsepower and very… Still the pilot was in front and you were in the back, you know. They'd train you that way. And that started us in formation and night flying and that sort of thing.
T: Was night flying difficult? Did you have to rely on instruments more?
G: Not really. Not then. You'd have to, that was part of it. You had your horizon there in the cockpit. It wasn't real instruments. Mostly visual. You always referred to that. They'd send you up into a section and make you make a pattern in that section. And there would be four sections at a certain level. There's the airport. Here's one section, two sections, three sections, four sections. And then they would come in and they would call, "Section four, come in and try some landings." And you'd go and try a couple of landings. Then section five and then go back up to your section. And that sort of thing. And you would fly, you would do that for an hour.
T: I assume that you had to solo in that plane as well, just like with the…
G: Oh, sure. Yeah but it, you already knew how to fly. It was just a more powerful, you had to learn the airplane. You really did have to learn the airplane.
T: You had an instructor with you for…?
G: Oh sure. Yeah, sure. But after a while there they'd let you, the instructor would okay you to go out on your own, see?
T: I suppose that as you progressed it might have been a little bit easier because you were used to being in the air. What was the next phase than after basic?
G: Basic training? Was advanced flying school. And advanced flying school was, if I remember right, there were two types of advanced flying schools. One was for fighter pilots and one was for bomber pilots. If you wanted to be a fighter pilot you asked for this one. If you wanted to be a bomber pilot you asked for the next one and you trained on twin-engine airplanes.
T: You actually had a choice then?
G: I think so, if I remember right. As much of a choice as you get in the Army. They'll ask you for a choice but then they give you what they want. Which you'll find out a little later in this talk.
T: What was your choice?
T: I suppose that a lot of guys gravitated toward that.
G: Sure, I wanted to fly P-38's. I really wanted to fly a P-38 real bad. And so they sent us to advanced flying school in Yuma, Arizona. And we were the first class there for that flying school. And fact is, it seems to me that Barry Goldwater had something to do with the flights there or something. But anyway, Yuma, Arizona. And first, now that was a 650 horsepower AT-6. Northrup AT-6. And that was a hot airplane as far as we were concerned. With guns on and everything! And that's where we got very tight formation flying, aerial gunnery practice where they'd tow a target and you'd come in, shoot at it, you know. And ground gunnery targets. You'd come in and start strafing.
T: This would be sometime in 1943.
G: This is 1943. In January to March of 1943. And that was advanced flying school.
T: How long did that particular phase last?
G: January 15 to March. We graduated then as Class 43-C from Yuma, Arizona - the first class out of Yuma - on March 10. Big ceremony…
T: Three months course, roughly.
G: Yeah. It was, yeah there was a lot of good escapades out of that one too.
T: Now I imagine that during this whole process there were guys that washed out, couldn't make the grade. During this process…
G: At each process. See, in King City at primary a couple of very good friends of mine washed out. George Taylor here from town, and Roy [Miske] washed out because they'd get airsick all the time. In basic training, my very good friend Jimmy [Marciczek] washed out of there.
T: Now there were also some casualties during training. It was not free of that sort of thing.
G: That's right. At primary training school, two of our flight officers, instructors, primary instructors took off in a BT-13 to find out if everything was all right. They took off with a little ceiling and crashed. And that really was bad for us, for new… Flying officers.
In Basic Training, one of my friends, Jerry Gould, he and his friend, I didn't know his friend very well but they came in one above the other and took off the other guys tail and he crashed.
Only one of our group there, and I don't know of anybody that crashed and got killed in our advanced flying school.
T: Now when you finished advanced you had the choice. Did you choose the fighters and is that where you went?
G: Of course we wanted to go fly fighters.
T: The P-38.
G: Yes. But like I say the Army had something else to do for us. So they sent us, well to make a long story short, they gave us a ten day furlough which I came home and then my dad was proud of me because I was a lieutenant then and…
T: He changed his outlook.
G: He changed his outlook, yeah. And I went back to San Francisco to find out where I was going to be scheduled. They didn't tell us where we were going to be going. But at San Francisco, at the big meeting, they said that, "We need people to go into the Air Transport Command." And that's where they sent me. The Air Transport Command. And that's when we first, this was March of '43. And that's when they first started to, when the Japs cut off the Burma Road and they starting to… so that's the background there.
T: Yes, I'm aware of that.
G: So what did they do? They sent a bunch of us that were single-engine pilots, they sent us to United Airlines Transport School, Denver, Colorado. And I had about two months of training with United Airlines at their school in Denver. And after that, they sent us to Chicago to fly cargo with United Airlines from Chicago to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Chicago to Denver, Colorado for about six weeks, see? There was one airline pilot, the pilot itself plus two officers, two flying officers like myself would go with him. And…
T: The transition from single to multi-engine, was that something that was, was it difficult?
G: No. I don't think it was that difficult.
T: What type of aircraft were you flying? A DC-3?
T: I've heard that that is a very reliable, forgiving plane. Is that true?
G: Amen! Amen! It is, yes, yes. The DC-3 really was something. Well, that's where we got some twin-engine time.
And all the instructors that I've had, all of em all the way through, except one in basic training, he didn't want to be an instructor and he, I didn't think he wanted to be an instructor. He was an officer; he wanted to be flying somewhere. He was kinda mean and ah, like after we were trying to, one time after we were trying to fly the radio beam you know. And I couldn't get it right now. And we'd always talk to our instructors after we got done and by golly, we got done and got on the ground and, "Was there anything you wanted to say, Cadet Haszel?" And I said, "Yeah." Just like that, "Yeah." "Don't yeah me, it's 'Yes Sir!'" And he really read me out and I couldn't say… "What is it that you wanted to say?" I said, "There is nothing I want to say." And I went right to the squadron commander and complained and they put me with a different instructor, just like that.
I was running, at that time I was running the thought of being washed out but I wasn't going to take any stuff like that. I was a little older than most of the rest of em. Well anyway, Denver. That was something.
T: You were flying cargo from Chicago to Denver?
G: From Chicago to Denver and then Chicago to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was all cargo. A couple of the guys got to fly in the passenger plane, you know. But we didn't.
And from there they sent us to C-46 transport school with Northwest Airlines at Billings, Montana from Chicago. So we went to Billings, Montana for about six weeks and learned to fly those great big whales.
T: Can you describe how the C-46 was different than what you were used to flying?
G: It's a twin engine aircraft. Curtis-Wright motors on it. But they were much, much larger. They landed like that too. And you don't see any around here anymore but they were bought up by China mostly because they were very good aircraft. They could haul just about once as much as a DC-3. And God, we'd put cleat tracks in there and Jeeps and everything else that we flew over "The Hump." But most of the stuff we flew was gasoline. So they were just bigger, larger.
T: When did you get assigned overseas? When did that occur?
G: That occurred in August of 1943, I think it was, the latter part of August. And that also came just like that. We got done with United and we were able to, I was able to, fortunately being a little older than most of the rest of them, I was the first pilot and I was able to pick my crew for an aircraft. Which was a co-pilot, navigator, a radio operator and the crew chief. See, there was five of us that would be on a crew. So I picked that and then they would allow us to take that airplane and fly around the mountains of Montana there. We'd pick a place, go there and call in that we're here now. In preparation for this "Hump" stuff.
T: This crew that you were assigned, did they stick with you all the…?
G: Oh yes, they stuck with me all the way to when we got to India. When we got to Karachi, India and see they all went with me to Miami, Miami Beach, Florida. And we waited there and got all our shots and stuff for about a week. Then they loaded us on and started to go over to Africa, to Natal in Brazil, then over to Ascension Island, then the Gold Coast in Africa, then Khartoum, then Aden and then Karachi.
When we got to Karachi, that's where they separated all of us. "No, you don't hold your crew together anymore. We will take care of your crew." And they gave us a choice. "Do you want to go up to Assam, India and fly "The Hump," or do you want to stay here and just fly low level around the way you came over here?"
And the enlisted men didn't have that choice at all. It was the pilots that had the choice. And my pilot, whose name was Spencer, he was from Duluth, I think, if I remember right. He stayed in Karachi and flew DC-3's and stuff in transporting stuff in India.
I of course was first pilot. All of us first pilots were going over there. We were trained to fly "The Hump." We're gonna fly "The Hump," see? Big deal.
T: You actually learned early on that you were going to fly "The Hump." It wasn't something that developed…
(The first tape ends here).
T: This is the second tape. I'm sorry I interrupted you George.
G: That's all right. We'll go back.
T: You flew all the way then from the states to India.
G: Not in our airplanes. We flew as passengers over there. And I'll tell you one thing I will never forget. Taking off at night from Miami Beach, Florida. And that plane took off like this here, and circled and all of a sudden it was out over the Caribbean and those lights got dimmer and dimmer and dimmer. There wasn't a, the plane was full of guys that were goin overseas. There was not one sound of anybody doin anything. They were all looking out there, looking back. And I thought, God, I wonder if I'm going to see this again?
T: When you hit Karachi, now that was a part of the world that was just so different from our part of the world, what were your impressions when you landed there?
G: The very, very - it wasn't Karachi. I was acclimated then. Coming over here from Miami Beach to the first gas stop was in British Guyana. And from there we went to Natal. See, that's Portuguese here and all those servers and everybody, they were Portuguese in South America, see? That was our first experience. Then in Natal, it was a bigger place and that was a little different too. And Ascension Island, we were there just a little while.
But the biggest thing that I remember was when we landed on the Gold Coast of Africa, the country of Gold Coast. It was all black people for our service. We were officers. And we didn't do any of the menial work. And I will never forget that one guy, he swept out the room with a kind of funny brush, and he swept it to the door over there and that's where it stayed. All the material. And I said, "Out, take it out." "No, no, no. Not out." Somebody else had to do it. I will never, never forget that; their caste system, you know. So the guy that swept the porch came in and swept it out.
Then in Khartoum in Central Africa, when we landed there, I had never seen such black people in all my life and I was surprised at that. They were really black. All black people.
And in Karachi, well Karachi was a big base and we didn't get to town or anything in Karachi. It was all like an ordinary military base there for us.
T: So you decided that you were going to fly "The Hump."
G: Yeah. A number of us first pilots.
T: Not really knowing anything about it.
G: No, we didn't know what "The Hump" was. They didn't tell us anything about that.
T: Tell me how you got there and how you got started in that process of flying "The Hump."
G: The "Hump." Well they loaded us in the airplane and you know, India is not a small place. And they flew us into Upper Assam.
T: Is that in Burma?
G: No, no, no. We flew over Burma. I have some maps over here to show you.
T: Where was your base? In Assam?
G: The base was in Assam. They called it Upper Assam. It was kinda right along the Brahmaputra River. It goes up kinda like that up into China. And yes, the base was Chabua. C-H-A-B-U-A.
T: Okay. I'm familiar with that.
G: You are?
T: Well last night I looked on the internet and flying "The Hump." Typed that in and Chabua was the place that was mentioned as the starting point for…
T: Now, an aside here. Did everybody that flew "The Hump" fly out of Chabua or were there other…?
G: There were other bases. There were five airbases in all. Three airbases had C-46's on them and the other two had C-87's. that was the B-24 transport plane. Dispur and Jorhat were the C-87's. those are the B-24 transports. And [Mowenberry], and Chabua and [Supertine] were the C-46 bases.
T: What was the countryside like?
G: The countryside was on the Lipton tea plantations.
T: You were practically at sea level then?
G: Pretty much so. Sure. And we would see the native women and children, would be picking tea as we would come into town, if we went into town. Sure.
T: Now I imagine that when you first flew that route there was some sort of indoctrination. They didn't just give you the plane and say, "Okay, this is the way you go."
G: No. That's right. We were all co-pilots for I'd say, at least a month, six weeks. We were the co-pilot for the experienced pilots and they would train us. And when we first got there, we were in tents on big concrete platforms. We put our tents on the concrete platforms.
T: How many to a tent?
G: One, two, three four. Four officers to a tent.
T: Tell me about the first time that you flew that route, the first time you saw the mountains, the "Hump."
G: The first time that I flew, we took off early in the morning. It was dark if I remember right. And we flew to Kunming. And they unloaded all the gasoline there. We had twenty-three 55-gallon drums of gasoline in our plane. And coming back, we took off and we could see other planes ahead of us that had taken off just before us. And this was already about 8 o'clock in the morning. Sun was shining. Beautiful day.
And oh, about an hour out of Kunming, all of a sudden we heard cracking on the radio and screaming. We looked up ahead and we saw the Japs diving on the guy ahead of us. And I'll never forget; it looked just like in the movies. With the guys screaming on the radio over here. My pilot, my first officer says, "My God, let's get out of here! We're goin to China." And he turned right and headed right north out of there and we went way up into China. And we got into some clouds. That was the first aircraft that I saw knocked down. But it was just like, these Japs would come in and zoom on, shoot em…
T: Earlier I mentioned that you probably had to fly a circuitous route to avoid the Japanese. Were they a constant threat to the guys that were flying "The Hump"?
G: Mm hmm.
T: How about antiaircraft fire? Was that ever a problem?
G: No. We never did, see they were usually based, the Japs were based in a town called Myitkyina. Which is central Burma, northern central Burma. That's where they were based. That was a big airfield there. For fighters. And we weren't bothered with anything beyond that. And we'd stay far enough north of there, hoping that none would be up. Except on one of my last trips over "The Hump" which maybe would have been about the 75th trip, then coming back from China from Kunming, I had a new guy with me. And we were flying along, right over the Mekong River and then the Salween River and I was down low because it was a nice day also and I wanted to take some pictures of the stuff there. And we were going like this here and I just came over one ridge over here and started goin down and my co-pilot says, "Aw, we got nothin to worry about," he says. "We're covered with a P-47 up there." I looked. "P-47!" "Shoot," he said, "That's a Zero!" "Let's get out of here!" And we were low enough and he never saw us. And we were close enough; I could see the guy's head in the cockpit and he was looking straight ahead. And we were comin this way and he came right across us like this here. And it was a good thing we had camouflage.
T: As I understand it, the weather was really a big problem for you fellows too. Can you describe the variances of the weather and how it affected you.
G: Thunderstorms. I never flew through so many thunderstorms. During the monsoon season was a safe season except for if you got lost or something like that. Because what we wanted to do was fly between thunderstorms. You know a thunderstorm is here, and then there might be another one here, on the front. And you want to find your place in between them so that you don't hit all that stuff.
T: Now when you were flying, you did as they say, flying "The Hump," you did have to go over these mountains. And some of them were fairly high. You have a full load and you have to make altitude. Did you have to worry about things like icing of your wings.
T: Did you have de-icing equipment on the plane?
T: If you iced up you were in bad trouble then.
T: Did you have to decrease your altitude then?
G: You would but no, they didn't have de-icing equipment on em because that took too much weight. They even took our heaters out so they could put… Heaters weighed 400 pounds. And they issued us the real heavy clothing. And yeah, they took the heaters out and everything just to put some more stuff in the airplane. Now as far as instruments are concerned, in the monsoons it was mostly instruments. And what was rough is if you had to fly on instruments and hit the center of a darned thunderstorm and then have to fight that. See, that was rough because we knew that the winds here can be going up a hundred miles an hour and over there, I mean twenty feet away they can be comin down a hundred miles and hour.
T: So you could go up 5,000 feet or down 5,000 feet real quick.
G: And what really got to you was when you're climbing out over like this here and all of a sudden you hit a downdraft and you know you're supposed to be at a minimum of 15,000 feet. And you start goin down, down and you hit that fifteen and you keep on goin down a little further - that's rough! That was rough.
T: Was there a lot of stress in this type of operation?
G: Well you don't know what's happening.
T: Did you lay there at night in your bunk and worry about the next day?
G: I have to admit that the stress at one time was so great that the doc had to give me a, I couldn't sleep. I just, I was layin there and I was crying, bawling. And the doc came in and gave me a shot. He says, "We gotta get you up to rest camp." He says, "You've had it here for awhile." So they sent me up to a rest camp for two weeks. And the rest camp was along the Brahmaputra River up near where it goes into China. And they called it a hunting camp. And you ate deer meat and stuff. And no airplanes around. And relaxed and stuff for two weeks.
T: It was just what you needed at that point.
G: You had to have that. Otherwise you could go nuts.
T: At that point when you went to that rest camp, how many hours had you flown?
G: Oh God, I dunno.
T: Wasn't there a specified number of hours where then you got rotated?
T: There wasn't! I thought there was.
G: There was. Then you got rotated back. For instance if you had I forget what it is now, it's in some of my… But there was no special number of hours that you would fly and then you would go to the rest camp or something like that. Besides that, I was kind of behind the eight ball. After about five flights in the fall of '43, five or six, then this business of going up and down, I developed pneumonia and so I didn't fly until about from November 1st until about January 15th, you see? And now toward the end here, all the other guys had their flight time in. They'd get their flight time in, in 12-14 months. Then they were sent back to the states. And I was kind of behind the eight ball there because I lost those.
And I was ready to fly anything. In fact one time we went down to, they needed some help down in Chittagong, India? That's down between Calcutta and Rangoon, Chittagong. Yeah, they needed some gasoline flown to the British up in central Burma. And so it was kind of a dangerous thing but Jim [Neary] and I said we'd go just to log on some more time. So we went down there and when we'd come into Imphal where we had to land, the Japanese were lobbing mortar shells, they told us from the hills over here on us. And we're comin in like this and they're lobbing the mortar shells in here.
Now that Chittagong was also the place where I got to fly in a P-38.
T: No kidding!
G: Yes. We got there and that night they had a kind of a movie, outdoor movie at Chittagong. And everybody was, and there was, well we went to the movie. And before the movie of course everybody is yelling at each other. And somebody yelled something about Jack Burr. "Yeah, this is Jack. I'm from Fond du Lac." And I'm on the opposite side of a little paddy, a little open water over here. "Hey Jack, where you from?" "Fond du Lac." "I'm from Oshkosh." "Hey, you from Oshkosh?" "Yeah." So we got together and I found out that he's flying P-38's and so he says to me, he says, "I'll tell you what, you give me a ride in your C-46 and I'll take you up in my P-38." I says, "How the hell are we going to get into a P-38? The two of us?" He says, "We're small," he says, "We can both squeeze in." We both squeezed into the cockpit of that P-38. He said, "If I'm [ ]. My plane is now getting an inspection," he said, "And tomorrow morning if you'll be around here about ten o'clock, I've got to go and take it out for a test ride. So we went in there, and I went there like this here and you know, it's only about that wide but we're both sittin kinda on one cheek over here. I'm sitting on all the hydraulic equipment here. He says, "Just keep your feet off the pedals," he says. Okay. So we took off and that was quite a ride. He took off over the Indian Ocean and he'd come down over these junks with sails on. He'd come down low and 'whooow' like this here.
T: He could probably push that up to 400 miles an hour.
G: I says to him, "What are you trying to do? You damn near tipped that guy over!" He says, "That's what I want to do, tip him over." Unfortunately though, shortly after we had, this was a two-week tour that we had down there, but unfortunately Jack got it. He was on his way to take pictures of Rangoon and he never came back at the end of that. It was just before the tour ended.
T: Ah that's too bad.
G: But I got my ride in a P-38.
T: I suppose you had some misgivings after being in a hot plane like that.
G: No, no. I did, not misgivings. I did still want to get into P-38's, fighters. To finish up on the instruments over here, we would have instrument trainers there. We would regularly train on instruments and I think I've got about three or four hundred hours on instrument flying.
T: I heard that it was difficult for some fellows to trust the instruments implicitly. They always wanted to think about how it felt to them. They didn't rely completely on the instruments and that could get you in bad trouble.
G: Amen. I'm telling you that sometimes you'd be sitting on one cheek and that cheek would be numb. But you had to believe those instruments. I mean you're sitting here in a car going straight and level. But all of a sudden something happens when you're real tired or something and you start doin this and you're flying like this here, see? The old cheek goes numb.
T: How about supplies? When a plane needed repairs, you were a long, long way from where they made the engines and that sort of thing? Did you get supplies as you needed them?
G: Not as we needed them.
T: Or did they have to cannibalize planes?
G: Very much. I've got some pictures in the car about how they cannibalized planes. That's right. We would haul engines. The engine would be fastened into the C-46. And we would haul that over.
T: Was gasoline one of the big items that you carried? Because you mentioned it several times.
T: How about things like food and so forth?
G: We didn't haul a lot, not that I knew of. But I'll tell you, I had a load one time that the crew chief told me, "Would you like to have some of this stuff?" It was four thousand, no it would have been eight thousand pounds of Chinese money. "How'd you like some of this? Chinese money," he says. And I also had a load, part of which was tent pegs. Oddest things, you know.
But most of the time it was twenty-three fifty gallons of gasoline. And then when you take these gasoline tanks, sometimes you'd get em and they'd have pinhole leaks in em when you'd get up in the air, you know. And you'd get the crew chief to go and unfasten that one and kick it out into the jungle. That was something! When you'd smell that gasoline in there and you'd have to be sure that you didn't use the radio, didn't use nothin so that there's no sparks.
T: That would have been a catastrophe.
G: Yeah. I've seen those things blow up and that was…
T: There were casualties in flying "The Hump." I've read that there were something like over four hundred planes and aircrews lost there. Which seems like an astounding number. During the war, we really didn't know much about that. You heard about it but it was an operation in the backwaters.
G: That's right. When I was there, I forget the time element now but in ninety days, not ninety days, anyway in a three-month period we lost 103 airplanes of the five bases.
T: Were these mostly weather related accidents? Or just the gamut of things?
G: I think most of em were just not really knocked down by Japanese. Most of em were mechanical failures and stuff like that. And weather related and mechanical stuff.
T: Generally was that plane that you flew fairly reliable mechanically?
G: Yeah. I thought it was. It had its P's and Q's. for instance runaway props and stuff like that, you know. When a prop would, they're supposed to go at a certain RPM and they start speeding up and then, yeah, if you let em go they fly off and cut you up.
T: Outside of the flying, when you were over there, what was the daily life like? What did you do for relaxation? Did you get a chance to go on leave outside of when you were ill?
G: Once in a great while we would, they would send one C-46 to Calcutta for supplies. And I don't know what supplies they would be but then some of us would chip in and tell the pilot and the co-pilot, "Buy us some of this stuff." Usually liquor.
T: What was the food like there? Did you eat fairly decently or was it…?
G: Well it was Army food; C-rations and stuff, sure. Gee, when we came back, when I came home then dad was, I told you he was a director in the farmers' cooperative and they had to take inventory there. And he brought home some stuff in cans and he said, "This oughta taste real good." It was C-Rations.
T: So that didn't thrill you very much.
G: That didn't thrill me at all. In those days, yeah.
T: Did you hear from home frequently when you were over there?
G: Mail, sure. I've got letters that I wrote to my sister and the folks. And I also wrote to our old housemother that we lived at over here in Oshkosh. And she sent me all the letters. That's what I was doin yesterday. All afternoon I was reading those letters and I'm tellin yah. So that's the way it was, you know. That's what I thought then.
T: I suppose some of those memories dim as time goes on.
G: They do. People didn't hear me talk about "The Hump" much around here because I'm a forward-looking person. There's always something going on over there that's better. You can't do anything back here.
T: Yeah, that's true.
G: In fact my kids, I have two kids, I think they don't know half of what I'm telling you right now.
T: When you were over there and in the service in general, I think we can all remember some guys that were wild and crazy. Can you recall fellows in your unit that were odd or wild, that played pranks on others? Can you recall any incidents like that?
T: You don't mean to say that everybody was real straight-laced?
G: No, not straight-laced but you wouldn't play tricks on anybody. Things were too serious.
T: I see.
G: You didn't know if you were gonna die the next day in a plane. You see, you just didn't, I wasn't…
T: You mentioned getting liquor. The enlisted men didn't have a liquor ration.
T: Did some of that sort of filter down to them. Did they manage to get a little liquor?
G: Oh liquor we never got, we used to, there was an order that "Hump" flyers or any flyer, when he came back could go to the dispensary and get a shot of liquor. A shot of booze. And I took that once in awhile.
T: And that applied to the rest of your crew as well, the enlisted men as well as the officers?
G: I guess so. Because our enlisted men, we never, see there was always a different crew when you flew, every trip. A different crew on every trip. You never had the same personnel.
T: Never had the same guys.
G: You never got close that way, as a crew over there.
T: I just figured that when you got over there you would be assigned a crew and you'd stick together so that you'd all know how everybody works and so forth.
G: No, it wasn't that way. Yeah, we thought that too. That was kinda hard to get used to.
T: Where were you when the war in the Pacific ended? When they dropped the bomb?
G: I was back here already. I came back after my 78th trip. I came back about the 15th or 20th of December, 1944.
And then I was assigned to the Romulus Airbase at Detroit. They gave me a 30-day furlough and assigned at Romulus Airbase.
And then after that I asked to be sent into fighter training but they didn't send me there. They sent me to the Ferry Command. F-E-R-R-Y. Where you fly airplanes to where they belong. In other words, they sent me down to Greenwood, Mississippi and I checked out in P-47's, P-40's, P-38's, not P-38's. P-63's, did I say P-47's? All our fighter planes.
And so the job after that was to fly them from one spot to where they were needed. Usually when they're built, for instance P-47's were built in Farmingdale, New York. Then they would be sent to Evansville, Indiana where they would put on certain types of armament. And then from Evansville, we'd fly em out to Sacramento, California. That would be would be one trip. Then in Sacramento, California, you wait there and they'd probably assign you to [Mines] Field, California which was near Los Angeles and pick up a P-51 and fly that out east here. And I was on one of those tours for 28 days. Never got home.
T: So you were really able to fly a variety of aircraft?
G: Oh yes.
T: And you flew some real hot planes like the P-47. That was a hot aircraft.
G: Oh yes. Oh, big one too.
T: Big engine in it.
G: Yeah. I landed at Columbus to pick up some gas. Went to Columbus, Ohio. Picked up some gas one time and I didn't think I had enough runway there. I was standing on those brakes, trying to stop before I went over the road. Yeah. It was a real heavy airplane.
T: That's pretty much what you did then up until the end of the war?
G: Yes. There were various airplanes that we hadda fly. In fact this one time I had to fly a C-46, the plane that I flew over "The Hump," with a crew from Long Beach, California to a little island south of the Philippines called [Biak]. When we were marching up into the Philippines, you know, liberating them? Then I had a crew that I picked up there. They assigned a crew to me at Long Beach, California. Flew from here to Hawaii, then Hawaii to Christmas Island, Canton Island. Hopped the islands all the way to [Biak]. And that was a scary one over, from Long Beach to Hawaii over here, the crew chief had forgotten to drain the water out of the tanks, out of the auxiliary tanks. We had big tanks in the back. I found out later he forgot to drain those and I was going to switch to the tanks when I was six hours out here and all of a sudden the darn engines stopped. Well, they were pow-powing, I'm at 6,000 feet and geez, we're trying to get the gas going and finally we got everything going at 1500 feet. Those are the interesting things that we…
T: When were you discharged from the service, George?
G: I wasn't.
T: You made a career out of it?
G: No, no. I was in the Air Force Reserves when I got my commission and I was put on active duty. And all this time was active duty from March 26th on to, what would that have been? Till 1945. February, 1945. It would have been about November, 1945. That was all active duty time and then after that I was put in the reserve and I was a reserve officer for 28 years.
T: During that time were you flying multi-engine aircraft or other aircraft when you were in the active reserves?
G: No. Well in active reserves, yes. That was all, sure.
T: Tell me a little bit about the reserves. Through '78 then you were in the reserves?
T: What kind of activities did you engage in then?
G: Oh it was mostly learning stuff. I remember we had a reserve outfit here, 9667th Air Reserve Squadron here. And part of the time we were assigned to Milwaukee squadron. Sometimes we were assigned to Sheboygan squadron. But we met once a week here for two hours a week.
T: Were you living in Oshkosh then?
G: Oh sure. We were a non-paid group. They didn't pay us. We just met and gained points, see? And I went on active duty a couple of times. One time out in Montana for aerospace people. But it was an air reserve squadron that we just kept current. Classes, you know, some of which I taught.
T: When did you begin teaching? How did that come about?
G: Oh, when I got back from that, from active reserves?
T: Was that when you began teaching? When did you begin teaching? Was it right after the end of the war?
G: No, no. I didn't have a degree. Before that I only had about 66 credits. And I had to come back after the war. In 1946 I came back to the university here. And 'what are we gonna do with you?' and well I went back to school here and of course the classes were small here and…
T: There were a lot of guys there though. That school was bursting at the seams because I was there when you were there, probably. From '46 to '48.
G: Yeah, sure. I was president of the student body up there.
T: Space was pretty limited. They had a lot of veterans there and most of those guys were pretty serious about getting an education too.
G: That's right. So that's what it was. And I graduated in January of '48. And of course my friend was Wally [Larks], he was in New Guinea and he went back to school first and we corresponded. He went back to school first and then in March I went back a couple months later.
T: When did you get married George?
G: Oh not until 1950. See after, let's see, how did this all come about? I graduated in '48 and I started teaching one year in Weyauwega in 1948 to '49. And then for '49 and '50, they took me back here in Oshkosh. And I've been in Oshkosh ever since for teaching.
T: You were at Merrill a little bit and then at North High.
G: I was at Merrill for about 20 some years. And they built North High in 1972. They sent me up there.
T: Do you think your experience in the military influenced your thinking about war and that sort of thing? Did it affect you in any way? I'm not putting it properly.
G: Of course it did. My wife always says, "You have a military mind." I say, "Yes, I know I do." I had to have that to stay alive and I will never get rid of it. And I'm also, I guess you call em an optimist. The guy that keeps looking ahead. I never look back here because you can't do anything about those mistakes.
T: It's sometimes hard to be that way but it's certainly a good approach. On your biographical thing here it mentions that you got some awards. Can you tell me how you got, for instance, the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross? How did that happen?
G: Well it was the number of hours that we put in. The number of hours that we put in.
T: It wasn't then a specific event that triggered that?
G: No, I didn't bring that with me but I brought this, I had it checked over. Air Medal, one Oak Leaf Cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross and Distinguished Unit Citation. And of course I've got the orders yet. It was flying, ah, every trip across "The Hump" was worth two to an ordinary pilot. When they give you these medals. Because it was a dangerous thing that we were doing and I don't know what the language was but…
T: Well its been said that flying "The Hump" was more dangerous than carrying a full load of bombs into the heart of Germany. And I can imagine that it could have been with the weather and other factors.
G: Yeah. I've got, I don't have it with me here I don't think, an example of what they said. But after so many hours you got, you were eligible for the Air Medal and then after so many more hours you were eligible for the Distinguished Flying Cross. And then I flew more than that. And that was the Oak Leaf Cluster which is another Air Medal, see? Then we got a Presidential Unit Citation that we wore on the opposite side of the blue little thing.
T: Is there anything that we haven't covered that you think should be mentioned, some event or something special that occurred in your life? Have we covered all the bases, more or less?
G: Military things? Oh gee, I think that we've covered quite a bit.
T: Well I thank you very much, George. I really appreciate your coming down and talking to us about this. As you say, you really haven't talked about this sort of thing even with your family.
G: That's right.
T: So we're very appreciative of that.
G: My wife was not, she was not militarily inclined. And you asked about when we got married. I got married, we were both working, we were both going to Madison, working on a master's degree in 1950. We decided that ah, she's from Ohio. And we were married 53 years but she passed away here April 14th. 85 years old.
T: Oh, I didn't know that. Gosh.
G: I don't think she liked to hear any of this stuff.
T: I think women in general were like that. I don't know just why.
G: And I never did talk to our kids much about it. But my son is comin this afternoon sometime.
(The interview ends here).
Oral History Interview with George A. Haszel.
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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