|Cassette recorded oral history interview with William E. Crane, United United States Navy during World War II as a dive bomber pilot.
William Crane Interview
4 August 2004
Conducted by Tom Sullivan
(T: identifies the interviewer, Tom Sullivan. W: identifies the subject, William Crane. Open brackets
[ ] or bracketed words indicate that either a word or phrase is not understood, or that proper spelling for the word is unclear, in that order).
T: It's August 4th, 2004 and I'm Tom Sullivan at the Oshkosh Public Museum with Bill Crane who is going to be telling us about his experiences in World War II. Let's begin Bill, by having you tell me when and where you were born?
W: I was born in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin October 7th, 1924. I'm 79 years old.
T: Were your mother and father from that area as well?
W: My mother was from Eau Claire which is not far away. My father was from Chippewa Falls [ ].
T: What did your father do for a living?
W: He ran, with his father and brother, a lumber company. Wholesale lumber. They'd do sawing in the woods, go out and do logging.
T: Did your mother work as well or was she a housewife?
W: She was a housewife.
T: Did you have brothers and sisters?
W: I had one brother and one sister.
T: Are either of them living?
W: Both are living.
T: Tell me a little about your childhood, where you went to school and the kind of things that you did for fun after school?
W: In grade school, I went to Chestnut School, which was about six blocks from home. And I recall we had a field in back of our house which now is a street but at that time it had a ball diamond and an ice rink in the wintertime. We'd skate and ski and hike. We weren't too far from Irvine Park which was a very nice park. We used to go there quite often. We had a boat in the creek there which didn't last long.
T: Faulty construction?
W: No, somebody swiped it. And we went to Junior High School in Chippewa and then high school. I was in the band all the way through.
T: What instrument did you play?
W: Clarinet. And my wife played clarinet. We sat next to each other.
T: Oh really!
W: That's how we got together.
T: It was pretty much a life-long relationship then.
W: And I also played football in high school and graduated in 1942. Spent the summer at my dad's lumber company. [ ]
T: When you grew up, you grew up right in the depths of the Depression. How did the Depression affect people over in Chippewa Falls?
W: I think we had a lot of problems but I don't remember that we were affected. My grandfather and grandmother were both alive. And they ran the lumber company. My grandfather worked for the HOLC. He was a Democrat and he had a job with the government and also with the lumber company.
T: What does HOLC mean?
W: HomeOwners Loan Corporation. And he worked for them for several years. He was also the [ ] mayor of Stanley but that was before my time. But when I was in grade school he was the mayor of Chippewa Falls. That was a part time job I guess because he ran the lumber company too. And we spent our vacations and holidays in the summertime working at the lumber company.
T: After you graduated from high school, now of course Uncle Sam was probably breathing down your neck, did you get an opportunity to begin college education?
W: I did. I was seventeen when I graduated. So my folks enrolled me in Carleton College. That's in Northfield, Minnesota. And I went there, started the year and enlisted in the Navy in December of 1942. And actually wasn't called to active duty until August of '43. And then I went into the Navy aviation program, V5 Program.
T: Was that what you were interested in primarily? Is that why you joined the Navy? Did you want to fly?
W: I guess so.
T: Or didn't you think about that at that time?
W: I did want to get into the Navy. I had an uncle who was a flier, owned his own airplane up in St. Paul, and the first time I ever flew in an airplane was with my Uncle Ned. And then when I was at Carleton in Northfield he was an instructor in War Training Services, WTS or something [ ] pilots flying Piper Cubs. And Uncle Ned came down to Northfield as an instructor in that program so he was my flying influence. I can remember as a youngster, him flying from St. Paul to Chippewa and he had skis on the light plane and he landed right near our home to take us kids for a ride. And whenever we'd go to St. Paul we'd stay at Uncle Ned's house. And usually when we were there, he'd take us out to the airport. So I got interested in flying.
T: I guess most young boys were interested in that sort of thing.
W: I made model airplanes quite often. Then when I finished high school and got into college, my roommate was from Glenview, Illinois. And his brother was in the Navy aviation program. And after we'd been in school a month or so his brother came up to visit us. And I got enthused about going in the Navy. Dave and I signed up then for the Navy.
T: Glenview had some sort of naval air facility there.
W: Yeah. I took primary training at Glenview.
T: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when Pearl Harbor happened?
W: We were up at Axe Handle Lake having dinner with the football team. At the end of the year they had a big deal and the folks drove us up there. We were driving back from that dinner or luncheon or whatever it was. And the radio was on and that's when we heard about it.
T: In the late thirties and early forties there was war in Europe and there was war over in the Far East. Did you or any of your family give it much thought at that time?
W: Not too much although I was an orator in the oratorical program that they had which was [ ] and she had me write an oration. I wrote an oration about getting into the war, whether we should. And as I recall, it was something like, "We'll let George do it." That we should be doing our share. And I did give that oration in the American Legion out there. It was something about World War II and us getting into it.
T: Tell me now about your training. After you enlisted in the Navy, what was the sequence of events from then on?
W: I was in the Navy in the V5 Aviation Program. We got called to active duty. And my recollection is that we waited to get started and nothing happened until August.
T: Is that '43 now?
W: '43. I got a telegram that I should report to Minneapolis the next day. So I reported the next day at the Federal Building or Post Office, whatever it was. And they took us out to [ ] Chamberlain which was the airfield out there.
T: What was the name of that airport?
W: [ ] Chamberlain was the name of the airport. At Minneapolis, St. Paul. I suppose it's Minneapolis International Airport now. And there are still some Navy connections or buildings over at one side of that field. But they took us out there and they put us in the program as Seamen Second Class. [ ] airplanes and guided them on the ground. And we were standing out in the middle of the airport with a flashlight one night guiding the night fliers in.
T: What type of aircraft were those cadets flying?
W: N2S Stearmans. They were biplanes. But we didn't do any flying unless it was in the back seat with those cadets. Once in a while you could go up.
T: Were you getting classroom training at that time?
W: Some, but mostly about the Navy and being in the Navy and that sort of thing. Then when we finished, I don't know, three or four months there they sent us to Northfield which was where I'd gone to college for a year. But they sent us to St. Olaf, which was another fine college on the other side of town. And we spent three or four months there in what was called a Prep Flight Program. And that involved classroom work. Also navigation, and signaling, aircraft identification and all that sort of thing.
And when we finished there, they sent us to Mankato, Minnesota. So I was in the "Minnesota Navy" for I don't know, ten or twelve months. But at least in the spring of the year we were in Mankato and
[ ] which was then called a teachers college in Mankato; now Mankato University. And we did classroom work half days and we did flying Piper Cubs in the afternoon. And I don't know what the number was but they were Piper Cubs. And we had an instructor and we must have flown two or three solos. And we did maneuvers that way.
T: How long did you train in the Piper Cub before you soloed?
W: Probably seven or eight hours. Some were longer, some were less. When the instructor thought you were ready.
T: Can you remember your solo flight, how it felt?
W: I remember I was excited, going out and coming back and getting down to land. And my roommate didn't make it in seven hours or eight hours, whatever it was. He didn't solo until several hours later. But he flew the best checkout that anybody had flown. It took a little longer but he knew the [ ],
T: I see. I suppose that all through this process that there were guys that washed out for one reason or another. And that probably began early on, I suppose, even at that stage of the game.
W: When we were there, not too many. But there were a few didn't want to stay in. they didn't like to fly. They got sick when they were flying. I don't know how many hours we did there. We went forty hours flying including the solo. And the last part of the, about ten flights, were in an N3N, Navy trainer. Great Lakes Trainer. That was about [ ]. They were older, almost World War I trainers. Or between the wars, I guess. And we flew those. And of course was a bigger, heavier airplane. It took some adjusting so you could land it.
T: After you finished, you were in this Stearman trainer at Mankato yet.
W: No. At Mankato it was the Piper Cub and then it was the N3N it was called. It wasn't a Stearman. It was a Great Lakes Trainer, I think they called it.
T: Oh, okay. I misunderstood that.
W: But that was a biplane. They were quite similar to the Stearman.
T: Where did you go then after you finished your training…?
W: From Mankato we went to Iowa preflight. Now were there were three different places we'd gone before we got to Iowa preflight. When I enlisted, you went directly to Iowa preflight but they didn't do that. That's what my roommate's brother had done. So he was coming through from having finished, just the first step.
But I was ah, we went to Iowa preflight. We stayed there; the school part of it was school and a lot of drilling and marching as I recall. And navigation. And I can remember going out and looking at the stars for navigation that way.
We did a lot of athletics, boxing, and wrestling, and football, and track and all kinds of things. And they had coaches. The fellow that was with our flight anyway or group, whatever they called us was Bud Wilkinson who later on was a coach at Oklahoma. But Bud was our instructor that kind of went along with us, marched with us. And when we'd go out for, we'd do some running for distances and stuff, he'd be up at the front of the thing. But after awhile he'd drop back and make sure that the ones in behind were keeping up too. We called him "Eager Bud." He was a wonderful guy. He was a great officer.
T: I guess he was a great motivator.
W: Yes he was. And the other coach that we had there for track was a fellow named Walter Haase who had been the coach at Carleton when I was there and been out for cross-country and track under him as a coach. Then he's the coach down below so he kind of worked with me in track and stuff, doing high hurdles which is my specialty.
T: Then apparently in college you were, and probably in high school too, you were very much into the athletics.
W: Into the track part of it. We were, my roommate, again Dave [Kuhns] from Glenview talked me into going down and running cross-country in order to get out of taking physical training at the gym. And so we'd go out every afternoon in the fall and it was very nice, and run cross-country. And Dave was a better runner than I was, the others were. But I did, due to the draft there weren't many fellows around that made the cross-country team. And we'd go out on weekends up in Minnesota, Mankato and different places and run in the cross country meets. And if you're on the cross-country team, I think there were five of us, you had to finish because the score of the team was the total of all the runners, where they placed. So there was a lot of encouragement.
T: Even if you had to crawl across the line.
W: You had to finish, you had to get there because everybody was counting on you. So then in the spring, as long as I was getting out of PT, I went out for the track team and I did the high jumping. That was, I got so that I could high jump over six feet then. They used a different style high jump then.
T: You were probably doing the Western Roll at that time.
W: That's right. And so I was designated the high jumper. I guess there were two of us. And I went to some of the track meets as a high jumper. Got out to a place in South Dakota for a track meet out there. And there weren't too many people there so the coach knew that I had run cross-country in the fall. So he thought there was a place to pick up a medal or something in the mile run. So he turned me loose in the mile run but that was sort of a disaster. I finished but almost died doing it. It's the only time I got sick after a run.
And then there was a space on the hurdles. And we had a good fellow that was our hurdler named "Spook " [Grunert]. He was from Northfield and he was killed later in the war. But he was a hurdler and he kind of taught me how to run over the hurdles. So I liked that and I won another medal out at Aberdeen in the Dakotas. So I had a good time with track, enjoyed that a lot.
And then when we finished there I went home for the summer and that's when I got in the Navy.
T: So now you're going to preflight…
W: Iowa Preflight. And that was, of course you met a lot of fellows along the way. I haven't really kept track of many of them but I can remember the names and what we did sometimes. But we went there about three months, maybe a little over. And then they had a typical Navy cut. They were going to eliminate 50% of the cadets. They'd now signed up too many apparently. So I can remember marching to the gym and singing the song, "When the war is over we will all enlist again," at the Iowa fieldhouse. Filled it. And the skipper told us about this new program. And the others could be transferred to the Officer Training Program but without the flight program. But those of us, I stayed in the flight program and those of us that didn't went back and stayed at Iowa preflight and did some more, two more months, I think. Two or three.
And then we were assigned to Glenview, which was the primary training. That's where we flew N2S Stearmans. And went through the training there of formation flying, aerobatic flying, all the things you can do in a Stearman which are just about - it was a great airplane for that type of thing.
T: I guess they were used in the movies a lot for stunt flying and that sort of thing.
W: They used em at the EAA. They had some, still with bigger engines and they got em sot they could fly upside down as well as right side up. And they used em for aerobatics. The ones we were in, you could turn over and fly upside down but not very long. The oil did something…
T: The engine would cut out.
W: It cut out, right. Then it turned around. But that was a lot of fun there. Our final graduation flight was a navigation flight from Glenview up to Truax Field in Madison. And that was in the middle of winter. And here we were in these big flight suits and the rest of em, and it was so cold sitting in an open cockpit, fly up there. Find your way and land at Truax and then take off and go back. But I remember it was awful cold.
T: That, now that would have been in mid-winter of '43 or are we going into '44 now?
W: I'm almost thinking maybe '44. I'm not sure. Let's see, if we were, we started in August and we went to, it would have been in '44.
T: What was the next step then Bill?
W: From Glenview you went to Corpus Christi, Texas where you flew, started out in one called SNV Vultee "Vibrator." And that was where we learned some formation flying and pretty much that was, then we moved into the AT6/SNJ. And went to another, they had a different base we went through; [Cananess], Cudahy and maybe names that I don't know.
But we were in, by then we were in an SNJ North American trainer, which had a controllable pitch propeller and retractable landing gear. And you had to be sure your landing gear was down. And we did night flying and we also did gunnery and some glide bombing a little bit out on Padre Island. A little bit out on Padre Island I think it was which is near Corpus Christi.
And so we went through these different stages and then you were ready for pre-operational training they called it, at Beeville. And our final shot in the SNJ was at Kingsville and then we went to Beeville and we flew SBD dive-bombers. Single engine dive-bombers. And they were a wonderful plane to fly. They were slow but they were fun to fly. Then that was just for a short period of time. I can remember being there when a hurricane came in and they lined everybody up to fly up into Oklahoma. And the rest of us stayed in the barracks and ate sand for a couple of days while the wind blew the stuff into the barracks. But I still remember one of the guys taking off to go up to Oklahoma. They'd given you the navigation equipment and all kinds of maps and things. And as he took off, all his maps went out of there. So I suppose he followed somebody wherever they went. I remember that.
We graduated at the main base at Corpus Christi, went back from Beeville to there. That's where you got your wings and you're commissioned as an ensign. My brother was in the Navy with a destroyer escort. I'll be darned if he didn't show up at the gate at Corpus to see me graduate. And he didn't know where I was on this huge base. So he just took a bus and got on and when he came to some barracks he got off and walked in and asked if anybody knew me or where I was. And of course they said, "He's right down the hall." So he picked the barracks. So he was in the Navy. We dressed him up like a cadet. And he went to meals with us. And we graduated. He saluted all the new ensigns and got a dollar from each one of them. It was the tradition. That was kind of fun.
Then when we finished there we were assigned to operational training at Jacksonville. And there we flew SB2C Helldivers. That consisted of gunnery and dive-bombing. And that was the first time that we used the split-wing flaps on the airplane to dive with. And that was very interesting and we got fairly proficient at dive-bombing. They had a system where they could triangulate on a field where your target was. And my recollection we'd have a flight, half of us would go out with one of the instructors over the ocean and do gunnery shooting at a sleeve. And the other half would fly over the target and dive bomb the target.
One of our fellows one day was late getting out because his plane wasn't right. He had to go back and get another one. We had a gunner in the back seat of all of these. And he was from New Orleans I believe. Anyway we don't know what happened. He just went out to the target, waiting for the group that was over the ocean to come back and he crashed. Nobody knows why.
T: During the training process I heard that there were a fair number of casualties all through the thing. And was it that way with your group?
W: By the time we got there, apparently, the safety records were pretty good. The only death is that one at Jacksonville. And I saw one plane crash at Corpus Christi in Cudahy. Somebody, a cadet hadn't had instrument, that was another thing we did there later, instrument flying. He hadn't had the instrument part of it and he pulled up into a cloud right over Cudahy I believe it was. We were all standing in formation. And all of a sudden a parachute comes out of the cloud and the plane comes out of the cloud and right into the middle of the airport, crashed. He got out of it all right. At that I suppose that's a spectacular thing that you saw.
I saw another fellow land wheels up with a F6F fighter when we came back from carrier qualification. That was at Jacksonville. We went through dive bombing and carrier qualification. Field carrier landings. We were stationed at a place called Cecil Field, which is still in operation apparently at Jacksonville. And then we also went down to Mayport. There was this landing strip at Mayport where we would do field carrier landings with the landing signal officer.
And then we flew up to Savannah and met a carrier up there, a Jeep carrier for our carrier qualifications, and did go, we went out the next day and did I think it was about eight landings on the carrier. And then they send you, you'd go back to Cecil Field.
T: I imagine, I would guess that would be a very new and difficult procedure to look at this very limited area that you've got to land on and get your aircraft down in there. Was that, did that take some doing?
W: Well you know the Navy flew a different kind of pattern all the way. They always flew a circular pattern instead of base leg and like they do other places. And that was getting you ready for coming around to the carrier. Now the main thing was to get the right distance from the carrier and start your turn when you got the opposite. And then you're watching the landing signal officer on the end. And you just did what he told you to do with his paddles than. Later I guess they got electronic. But he would really bring you right aboard. You're going too slow or you're going too fast and you had to correct. And the only two things you had to do, was you had to take a wave-off if he gave it. And you had to take a cut if he gave it. And that would land you on the carrier. So a lot of what we did depended on the landing signal officer. Our guy was pretty talented because we never had any trouble.
T: So when you went up to Savannah you were actually landing on a carrier. It was something that was out in the water. It wasn't a fake out in the field somewhere.
W: No. Not a field carrier. The field carrier you were flying low and slow and right over the treetops and coming in on a field. But here we met with the carrier. Some of our people went aboard the carrier and they did the first series of eight landings. And then the rest of us got on the airplanes and did our eight landings and then flew back to Cecil Field.
T: Did you take off from the carrier as well?
W: Oh yes, sure. You'd land and take off so you had eight full stop carrier landings. Then you were carrier qualified. So by the time when we finished there we were dive-bomber pilots, carrier qualified.
T: Was that going to be your niche for the balance of the war?
W: Apparently. The war was ending when I was at Jacksonville. In fact at Corpus Christi the European war ended and the Japanese war ended whenever it ended and I was at Jacksonville at that time.
So then we were still assigned to the West Coast. A lot of people got out of the Navy then but some of us stayed for awhile longer to finish up whatever the program was.
And from Jacksonville we went out to San Diego. First we went to Los Alamedas and we were in a group that I guess used to be people from there were sent out to the various carriers as replacements. Then they sent our whole group down to San Diego. And I think it was VB5, that was the dive bomber squadron.
And we had an air group that was attached supposedly to the Shangri-La Carrier. But the Shangri-La was in dry-dock getting repairs for all the problems they'd had in the Pacific. And so I'm not sure, we may have done some carrier landings on the Shangri-La just before I got out of the Navy. I don't remember very well. I looked in my logbook and I didn't keep that up very well so I don't know what, I know we did carrier landings out in California.
But we were assigned to the squadron, VB5 and positions in that. And we did training and keeping up. One time they took me off of regular duty and put me in what they called the ferry pilots. And so we flew some aircraft. We flew brand new SB2C's we flew from San Diego to Norfolk, Virginia.
And then three of us, one of the fellows had done it before and two of us this was the first time. And they sent us, we could either fly home on the Naval Air Transport Service or we could go down to Weeksville, North Carolina and fly a Corsair, the Navy Corsair, a gull-winged plane back to San Diego. And so we had, the three of each had a blue carrier-qualified plane with no markings on it. And that was fun to fly back to San Diego. I remember landing in El Paso and you could fold the wings on these. And you would when you would land and taxi up. And the guys on the line hadn't seen an airplane do that. Fold the wings up like that. But that was the time I flew the Corsair from Weeksville to San Diego.
One other time, we could fly different planes in the squadron that we were in, and that was ah, I flew an F6F fighter plane.
T: That was the Grumman Hellcat.
W: That was the Hellcat. And I did just a couple of hours in that.
T: They said that was a very easy plane to fly.
W: It was. Very nice. I don't know what the idea was but they did let us do that. And then we could do the TBM torpedo bomber. We could get checked out in that and qualified. I got everything up to flying but I never flew one of those.
T: I suppose it was interesting to be able to hop in a different kind of an aircraft and see how it performed, see what it would do.
W: that was fun. I remember flying up the coast and the Air Force had, there were some new jets, whatever they were. And one of em came up behind me. I didn't know he was there and all of a sudden he scooted right in front of me and kept on going. I got a jolt when he did that.
T: I guess the guys that were flying bombers in Germany got quite a scare when the German jets came on the scene.
W: Oh sure.
T: I remember one of them telling me about it, that it was a very scary proposition.
W: Well while we were at San Diego we were flying navigation hops and we'd fly dive bombing and gunnery practice there too just to keep up. And I can remember going to dive bomb San Clemente Island someplace. The Navy must have had a place there where we could drop bombs. And then you'd fly over Catalina Island just to look at it when you went by it.
T: Did you always have a gunner with you when you flew or were a lot of flights when you flew just you yourself?
W: Both ways. But when we were in Jacksonville we had a gunner assigned to us and he would be in with me in whatever plane we got.
T: Was it the same guy all the time?
W: Pretty much the same one. And then out in San Diego, I guess we had gunners out there too. I had a fellow named [Barsak] at one point who is from Illinois. He stopped at the EAA one time to see me and I was up in Chippewa. And then he stopped up there and met my brother. But I did get a Christmas card for a while but we haven't done anything lately.
T: When you started your training you were with a certain group of guys and as you went along did all of the faces change or did you ah, were there some of those guys that went through the whole process with you? I suppose a lot of them peeled off at various stages to go into other types of training.
W: I think starting at Glenview we had a few that kinda stayed together. That went from Glenview to Corpus Christi and then over to Jacksonville. If you were in another kind of airplane, you went to a different base in Florida for operational training. Because some of our fellows took the TBM's and they were down at Miami. It was just the luck of the draw I guess, what kind of airplane you got. And I think there were some of them that went some places for a fighter base too.
T: When were you discharged from the service?
W: I got out in February of 1947. I wrote February 17th. I'm not sure that's the date. But that was at San Diego.
T: So you stayed in for quite a spell after the end of the hostilities.
W: That's right. But I never went anyplace. Never got shot at by anybody or shot back at anybody.
T: Were you ferrying planes for a lot of that time or were there other duties?
W: Mostly we were just in the squadron at San Diego. VB5. And waiting, they were waiting for the Shangri-La to come back and they were going to train from SB2C Helldivers to Douglas AD1 they were called I think. And they were Douglas planes that had a flap, a dive flap, but you didn't have a gunner. And they were faster and we were all cockpit checked out and everything so that you knew that. But since I was getting out of the Navy they never let me take any time in one. And as far as, kind of at Jacksonville we had a group and then they sent us all out to Los Alamedas and we were in VB5. There were several of the fellows. But really along the way most of em we, well I shouldn't say because at Jacksonville we all lived in a barracks or officers club, whatever it was. And there were a bunch that lived there together that went out to San Diego. At Christmas time of the year we were at Jacksonville. We were in an auto accident and a couple of the fellows were injured and they fell behind. And one of the fellows was killed in that auto accident up at Joliet, Illinois. And I went home with his body to the funeral. That wasn't a pleasant thing to have.
T: I wouldn't think so but it was great of you to do it.
W: Well I went on Army orders. We were, the accident happened in front of Camp Campbell, Kentucky right outside the main gait. Fellow coming the other way fell asleep and came across and hit our car. And all the fellows were injured a little. But one of them, that was right where the car hit, he was killed. That was sad.
T: During the postwar period when you were still in the service, were you flying quite a bit then or were there a lot of times when you just didn't fly at all.
W: We did quite a bit of flying. We'd always get the three or four, three hours I guess it was to get the flight pay. You had to qualify for that.
T: Three hours in what specific length of time?
W: Ah, that's a good question. A month probably? Seems like it. So if you didn't, then you didn't get flight pay. But we always got the time because we were doing things in the squadron all the time.
We had an air group. And an air group consisted I think about a hundred airplanes. There would be the skipper and executive officer and two wingmen on them. That would be four up at the top. And there'd be the fighters; 24 fighters. And there'd be 24 fighter-bombers underneath them. Then the SB2C dive bombers under them. And then the torpedo bombers. And they would go out in one long string and come back and everybody would join up.
And then we would fly, we did some air shows over California, and Arizona and Texas; over that southwest area. We, that whole air group went out and flew a number of air shows. I don't know how many places but we flew the whole distance as a group.
T: And that encompassed how many airplanes? How many aircraft?
W: I think a hundred if I got it figured right.
T: Well that would be pretty spectacular to go to an air show in some little place.
W: And then our group itself, VB5, that group, and I'm thinking that was maybe, maybe I've got too many. I don't know but it seems like it was about 24. And we flew air shows over California too. Dive-bombing. Go up and dive-bomb the crowd. And exciting things happened there too I guess. But we did things like that and then you'd have a navigation hop every now and then. And each one of us in the squadron had duties to perform. A navigation officer, gunnery officer, maintenance, and you were supposed to keep track of the airplanes. We were assigned, each one of us had an airplane that we were assigned to but we didn't always fly that particular one if it was laid up or something. You'd get another one. But otherwise that same one would be yours to take care of and look after and fly.
T: During that period of time what was your life like when you weren't in the air? How were your living conditions and the food and that sort of thing/
W: At Jacksonville the food in the Navy was always excellent. At Jacksonville we lived in a BOQ (Bachelor Officers Quarters) which was kind of a glorified barracks really but you had a roommate and there were two guys in each room I recall. And of course you got pretty close with those guys. My roommate was one that got hurt in that auto accident so we didn't finish together. He came out to California after that and I did see him out there and we got together. He went back to Florida and went to the university there and got to be a lawyer in Florida.
T: When guys are in the service they make friends with their mates and I think we all can remember fellows that we were with. Some of them were just princely guys. You looked up to them and admired them. And some of them were a little bit weird. Can you remember some characters that you flew with and were associated with?
W: We had some of those. We had a fellow named Granville Murray Baker who was a baseball player, I guess semi-pro ballplayer. Short stocky guy. He came in on the carrier one day and his oil - this was when we were qualifying out in California I guess - his oil pressure dropped off and he called the carrier and told them that he had to land. He was coming around to land. And the bridge made a mistake and they told the LSO (Landing Signal Officer) to land the guy ahead of him. Now he comes in and there's a plane in the wire so he can't come down. So he got the wave off and he tipped up like that and "So long guys," and his plane quit and his wheels were down and he flipped over. Now interestingly enough when we went through training, wherever it was, and did the swimming tests and all of that, he's the guy that cheated on the swimming part of it. He didn't like to swim so he'd hang onto the pool and all of that. But he learned how to swim the day he went in the ocean. And they did pick him up and brought him back. Destroyer was out behind and picked him up.
T: He was very fortunate to have survived.
W: We didn't think he made it because we looked out and there goes the plane and we didn't see it but he made it. That was Granville Murray Baker.
Bobby Allen was a best man at my wedding later on but when we were at Jacksonville he was off on vacation and he came back with a newspaper headline that was, "Naval aviator flies low." Apparently he was on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and he got clocked at over a hundred miles an hour. So you remember some of those characters.
(The first tape ends here).
T: Are there any other fellows that you can remember, or any memorable experiences that happened to you?
W: The other character that I remember was early on when we were at Mankato. He decided he didn't want to fly Piper Cubs. He landed downwind in a Piper Cub on a fairly windy day. He went down the field like he was going out of style. And the same guy decided he didn't want to stay in so it was warm weather but he said, "I'm going to get out of this Navy." So he's wearing his pea coat all buttoned up, his collar and a cap on. He was way too warm but they finally had him checked by the doctor and sure enough he got, I understand he got a Section 8 or whatever it was they got. Somebody that wasn't too mentally all right. But I think he just worked a deal to get out.
T: Yeah, that could be.
W: But that was early on. But we did night flying at Jacksonville. And there were a number of French cadets - they weren't cadets, they were officers - taking training. At Corpus we had British officers, British fliers I guess. I don't think they were officers yet. But they were taking training there and lived in the barracks with us. And I always remember one of em played chess. So he talked my friend [Eagle] who was also a roommate from Texas into playing chess with him. But the trouble was every time [Eagle] was going to win, the guy would come up with a new rule that he had. So he couldn't beat him.
We had some other oddballs but they were nice guys. Most of em who got that far were pretty decent fellows.
T: Did you have any harrowing flying experiences? Things that made your hair stand on end, difficult situations in the training process?
W: I ran out of gas right over North Island one day. I had waited to come in and I had just turned it over. That was a minute that was kind of scary. And I guess, where else would I be? The spookiest one was going into a spin in a dive-bomber over Santa Anna, California. Still remember that. You could smell the onions, I swear they were. But that was, getting out of that spin, that was scary.
T: I would imagine that would be… I suppose there was a process for trying to recover from a spin.
W: Yeah. You weren't supposed to spin. But while we were doing this, there were seven or eight of us up, a whole group doing just flying, getting some flight time. And we were doing loops I guess, and a roll. And I must have been tail end Charlie so I got too slow and wiped out. But I got out all right. That was the only time I ever thought of climbing out of an airplane but it was pretty hard to do at that point. Gosh, that's a long time ago. I had forgotten all about that.
T: You were discharged in '47
W: In February of '47 at San Diego.
T: What did you do then, Bill? Did you head back to college?
W: Yes. I got married. Jean came out from Wisconsin to California. And I had some relatives in California and they put on, they helped us with the wedding. And my buddies went; Allen, and Baker, [Mershon], oh [Mershon] was another character.
T: How do you spell that?
W: M-E-R-S-H-O-N. Eddie Mershon. My understanding, and I never talked to him about it, was that he got called back into service in the Korean War and was flying somewhere in the Pacific and got shot up so that he was blinded or couldn't see very well to get back to the carrier and land. And one of his wingmen came alongside him and got him back on and he landed on the carrier even though he couldn't see very well. But that was just a story one of the other fellows told me.
T: If you didn't resign your commission I suppose that you were liable for getting called back. Is that correct?
W: Yes. I was Naval Reserve, USNR. I still was when I went to law school. But I was married by that time and had some kids and I guess they took that into consideration. They did call some up. But not too many.
T: Now after you got married, you had not as I understand it, you had not completed your college training. Is that correct?
W: That's correct.
T: So you had to go back…
W: I was still in the Navy and so when we got out at San Diego the temperature was 72 degrees. We flew up to Los Angeles, got on the big Convair or the big three-tailed Constellation. Flew back to Chicago, Midway. And it was 17 below zero when we got off. I had an aunt and uncle that lived in Evanston so we went to visit them on our way home. Then we went home and I borrowed my in-laws car to drive over to Carleton and signed up. And I was back in college three or four days after I got out of the Navy. And I went there, finished that year. That would have been 1947, the spring semester. Then I went to summer school, one at Eau Claire and one at Minnesota, two summer schools. Then I went back to Carleton and finished up there that year. They let me take one course down at Wisconsin when I went down there for law school.
When got back I was on the track team. I was the high hurdler. And I did have my picture in the Milwaukee Journal one time as the high hurdler. I was the Midwestern Conference Champion, I guess I was, or something of the high hurdles. I could hardly climb over a hurdle today.
T: Everything changes, Bill.
W: I've since ruined my knees too so that wouldn't help.
T: Where did you get your law degree?
W: That was at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Lived in Badger Village which was out at, near Baraboo. And we'd drive, riding the buses back and forth. It was for veterans.
T: Was your wife working then?
W: No, she was taking care of the two kids.
T: Oh you had two children by that time.
W: And then we had a third out in, when we went out to Rhode Island for a year after I finished law school.
T: Were you in private practice then?
W: I was with a law firm out there. I was an associate and then I did get qualified for the Rhode Island Bar and worked with that firm for about a year. But we decided we wanted to get back to the Midwest. They were wonderful people out there.
T: So you had three children.
W: Well the third one came out there. That was Larry. Steve and Chris were born while we were at Badger Village and Larry was born in Rhode Island. Then we had one more after we got back to Oshkosh. Later on.
T: From Rhode Island did you come to Oshkosh?
W: Yes. We came back on vacation and I drove down to Oshkosh and talked to the people in the law firm known as Keefe, Patrie, Stillman and Nolan. Nolan and Mead Stillman were still there. And they, Frank Keefe had died. Rudge Keefe had died, the two Keefes in the firm. And they were looking for some associates. So two of us interviewed and they hired Hib [Engler] and myself. And we both came back and started then in the summer of '52.
T: How did you find out about Oshkosh and the Keefe law firm? How did that come about?
How did you pick Oshkosh?
W: I went to Madison when we were back in Chippewa Falls. I went down to Madison. They had a State Bar meeting or something. And I got talking to a fellow called Phil Haberman who was the executive secretary. And he had talked to one of the partners in this firm and they said they were looking for people. So he gave me two names. One was up in Wisconsin Rapids and one was here. And I came down and talked to them and they were interested.
I was the editor of the Law Review when I was at, I graduated in the Honor Society, [Quoif] but I was also the Editor-In -Chief of the Law Review my senior year in law school. And was married and lived out at Badger Village so it was kind of a busy year.
T: Yeah, it sounds like it.
W: And then so that probably helped me get lined up with the… Anyway I started in and worked with that firm. It later became known as Patrie, Nolan, Crane and Engler in Oshkosh. That went until 1968 when I got appointed to the Circuit judgeship. So I was seventeen years in practice and thirty-two years as a Circuit Judge. Retired in 2000, August - or July, end of July.
T: Circuit Judge was not something that you had to run for like a political office?
W: You did after you got it but I was appointed the first time and that's when it was a real Circuit Judge. I had two counties that I was Circuit Judge in. Later on in 1978 they changed the deal so they called you Circuit Judges but you really were only in one county. So in Winnebago County we wound up with six Circuit Judges.
T: I don't understand the workings of the law very well. I guess most of us don't. What type of cases did you handle as a Circuit Judge?
W: Mostly trial. When I started it was mostly trial work. And both civil and criminal. But they, it seemed to me they did a lot more civil cases. Automobile accident cases were a big thing then. And they don't seem to be anymore. And then it gradually worked into medical malpractice and products liablility. And some of the earlier cases were in those fields. But also we were doing criminal cases, felony cases as a Circuit Judge. And we had a County Judge that did most of the other ones. The juvenile cases we didn't do. We did divorces. Family law. So that was - just about everything - and they still do that.
We have an intake system and you get all the cases that come in, in a particular month you get, in the criminal field. And the other places don't all do it that way but that's the way they did it in Winnebago County. So you do civil, criminal, family, every - you do a little bit of everything which means you've got six judges that can do anything anytime. I always thought that was better. But some people seem to think you should have one judge that just does family, one judge that just does juvenile. And of course we kinda had that before but it meant that you had to wait until that judge was available to handle a particular case.
T: Since you came to Oshkosh there have been a lot of changes that have occurred in the community. Have you got any thoughts about how life has changed in Oshkosh, for instance with the increase in size of the University of Oshkosh?
W: Well that's done but of course I go to these "learning in retirement" going into that program and go to their lectures and things. It's very interesting and very helpful. So you have some connection with the University now, but in a little bit during the years and not too much other than to know that it grew. And some of the problems that they had. I remember the student riot that they had a number of years ago. I was over in Calumet County, my other county the day that happened. So the other judges got called on to set bail. But I think all the cases, about a hundred and some cases that they had, wound up in the Circuit Court. And when I first got here, I was the only Circuit Judge. And Judge Arpin got to be a second Circuit Judge. And then in '78 they made us all Circuit Judges.
T: You can no doubt recall that when you listed your specialty in the telephone book it was just a line or two and now when you open up the telephone book, everybody has got these big double-page spreads.
W: Pictures and all that. Well we couldn't do that. The Bar Association said you couldn't do more than just have a listing in the Yellow Pages.
T: It was the same way with physicians.
W: And one of the attorneys had his name in bold print in there and he was criticized by the Bar. Now look at them! Gosh, they've got full-page ads.
T: In law, do you think that's a step forward or is it objectionable? There was probably a time early in your career when product liability cases and personal injury claims were really not all that common. Now of course, the personal injury lawyer is the big operator.
W: The trial lawyer. Supposedly the trial lawyer. But they don't really try many cases. Most of them now, they do discovery and do mediation and get them resolved once they get started. But that was the big area.
T: Some say there's too many lawyers in this country as compared to other countries where they don't have that litigation. Are there any thoughts on that score?
W: It may be that in the bigger cities there are more lawyers. Maybe kind of like doctors. When they get out, where they could use em out in the country, they don't, because they can't make a living probably. Where there are other lawyers. They always said if you had one lawyer in town, he'd starve to death. If you had two lawyers in town they'd both make it, do very well. I don't know why.
T: That's interesting. Do you think very much about the Second World War today or is it something you just put on the shelf?
W: Not really. Well I didn't really have any terrible experience. Never got shot at or anything like that. So it was just the flight training which at the time was very interesting and I enjoyed that. I flew a little bit after around here with some instructors and got so I could solo a Cessna around.
T: You had a pilot's license.
W: Well when we got out of the Navy, somehow down in Jacksonville we got a commercial pilot's license. So I had that. But when I'm in law school with a family they told me I couldn't get life insurance with a pilot's license so I had to give it up. And so I did that at the time. And then when I came back here I just took flight instruction to get soloed in a Cessna. I did that for awhile but not very long.
T: Do you have reunions of the fellows that you flew with in the service?
W: No. The only one that ever came through here, when we lived down near the lake and it was lakefly season, and his kids thought those "mosquitoes" were terrible. But he stopped and he was going up to Minnesota to go to college. This was probably when I was practicing law. Yeah it was. But that's about the only one except my roommate from college and I got together in the Navy. He was a flier too but he got out right away when you could. Went back to Northwestern. And he worked for Kimberly Clark. And we used to, well we still get together quite often. Still do. I see him once in awhile. He's remarried and he lives partly in Michigan and partly in Wisconsin. And they winter in Arizona so you don't get to see much of him. But once or twice a year we get together.
T: Have your children all stayed in pretty much in this area or are they spread out?
W: They're spread out a little. Got a daughter up in Marinette, Chris. She's in social services. Steve is in Menasha I guess would be where he is, with some graphics company up there. Then Larry works for Outlook Graphics here. I think it's Outlook. OSC or something. Anyway he does photography. And Brian has got an estate sale business up in Chippewa Falls. Larry lives in Ripon.
T: So that's four children.
W: Four children, right. Brian lives here in Oshkosh.
T: Is there anything else relating to World War II that you'd like to talk about Bill, or have we pretty much covered everything?
W: We've covered my participation, whatever it was. Wasn't very much but, other than the flight training and that was interesting. And then we went back to college and got here and practiced law. And I've been a judge for a long time.
T: Thank you very much for participating Bill. We really appreciate your willingness to come down and talk to us.
W: Well it's probably Hugh Carver's fault.
T: We could blame it on Hugh.
W: And the one that he was trying to get down here was Bill Harvey. I don't know if you…
T: Yes. Bill and I had an appointment and he died before he had a chance to do his thing.
W: We were up at my brother-in-law's funeral and when we came back from that we got the word that Bill had died. Bill was in a supper club that we had of four or five couples that ate and have a good time.
(The interview ends here).
Oral History Interview with William E. Crane.
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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