At 17, shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Dick Holmes of North Port, Fla. tired to enlist, but his mom wouldn’t sign him into the military. The following year he was drafted and ended up joining the paratroopers.
“I was sent to Fort Benning, Ga. to go to jump school. I never made it because I had a torn ligament in one knee. My older brother, Robert, suggested I join his company at Benning. He was a radio operator on a C-47 transport plane,” Holmes said 65 years later.
“Right before I transferred to my brother’s outfit, the 5th Troop Carrier Squadron, he was shipped overseas,” he explained. “I became a crew chief on a C-47 transport. I was responsible for pre-flighting the airplane. I took care of all the maintenance.
“I had to make sure the controls were operational and the plane had been properly fueled. I’d taxi the airplane down to the parachute hanger, park it and wait for the pilot and the rest of the crew. We’d take 100 paratroopers on jumps daily. We’d take two dozen up at a time. They would sit on benches on each side of the C-47,” Holmes said.
“Sometimes we’d have paratroopers who were afraid to jump out of the plane. The jump master would stand by the door and if they froze in the doorway he’d push them out with his boot.”
The old crew chief thought the C-47 was a special airplane.
“It was a Douglas aircraft made in California and powered by two Pratt & Whitney engines. It was one of the best and most reliable transports built They were great,” he said.
Flying as crew chief, Holmes had a lot of duties.
“When we were taking off I had to stand behind the pilot and copilot and watch the instrument panel. Once we were in the air I was free to go back and sit down,” Holmes explained. “Coming in for a landing I’d do the same thing.
“I loved what I was doing. I took an interest in my responsibilities. It was my plane and I was responsible for it,” he said. “I had to be there working around the plane all the time.
“One time we were flying back from Harrisburg, Pa. to Louisville, Ky, our base near Fort Benning, when the copilot got up and went to the back of the plane. I sat down in his chair and a moment later the pilot got up and said, ‘Take over!’ I thought they were crazy, I had the wheel and I had to keep the airplane flying till they got back,” Holmes said.
He spent two years of his four year enlistment flying out of Lawton Field next to Benning. Then he was transferred to Bowman Field in Louisville, Ky. He flew again as a C-47 crew chief. Their job was to fly officers around the country who were serving as inspectors checking on conditions at the various airbases.
“One time we took off at 3 a.m. into a lightning storm with an Army colonel aboard. This was the colonel’s first airplane trip,” Holmes said. “We got up to about 10,000 feet and ran into a snow storm. The plane was freezing cold inside and the colonel’s nose looked like a beet.
“‘How do you guys stand it up here in the cold?’ He thought this was a normal flight.
“While flying in the snow storm our radio went out. At that point we lost contact with everybody. To make matters worse, our windshield froze up and the pilot couldn’t see where he was going. He thought if he dropped down a couple thousand feet and opened a window he might see where he was going. This didn’t help much.
“Finally we flew out of the snow storm and discovered were were flying over Lake Erie headed for Canada. We were suppose to fly to Pittsburgh, turn east and land at Middleton, Pa, outside Pittsburgh. We turned around and headed for Harrisburg.
“At that point I said to the colonel, ‘We’re going to land.’
”Thank God,’ he replied.
“When we got on the ground the colonel bought the whole crew breakfast.
“We were among a task force of three C-47 flying from Bowman Field near Louisville to Batista Field in Havana, Cuba. Lt. O’Brien was our pilot and we had a good time the night we spent in Havana. He wanted to spend a second night in Havana and asked me if I could make the plane non-flyable for another day?
“I tried to screw up the carburetors so they didn’t work properly and stalled out one of the engines. I was standing on a platform pretending to bang on the carburetor with a wooden mallet while Lt. O’Brien tried three times unsuccessfully to get the engines started,” Holmes said.
“There was a major down there we called ‘Smiling Jack,’ because he never smiled. He kept looking up at me and finally he got up on the stand beside me and told me to hit the carburetor with my wooden mallet. Of course the engine started and once it did we were out of there.”
His last big trip was a 17-day flight around the country with inspectors who were checking out bases.
“We took off from Bowing Field and flew to Santa Monica, Calif. for five days. From there we flew to Salt Lake City, Utah for a week. We spent a couple more days at Des Moines, Iowa and Topeka, Kansas for a couple more days. Finally we spent three days in Chicago before flying back to our base in Louisville,” he said.
When he got back to Bowman Field, Holmes was a short timer. A couple of days before getting out of the Air Force he had a heart-to-heart with his Line Chief.
“He told me they’d make me a Tech Sergeant if I would stay in. I’d have my choice of plane to crew chief and I’d get flight pay, too,” he recalled. “Problem was they wanted me to re-up for four more years and I didn’t want to spend another four years in the service.”
Homes got out, took the G.I. Bill and spent his next four years getting a degree from Waynesburg College in Pennsylvania. When he graduated in 1950 with a B.S. in Science jobs were just as scarce as they had been 1946 when he got out of the Air Force.
After working in steel mill laboratories for a couple of years he got into sales with Prudential Life Insurance Company for a half dozen years. After that he took a job with Philadelphia Quartz Co. a position he held for 31 years. When he retired in 1997 he was the Midwestern Sales Manager for the firm.
He and his wife, Margaret, moved to North Port In 1997. They have four children: Darlene, Jeff, Debbie and Scott.
Name: Richard W. Holmes
D.O.B: 22 Jan. 1925
Hometown: Adah, Pa.
Current: North Port, Fla.
Entered Service: 4 Aug. 1943
Discharged: 9 March 1946
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Unit: 5th Troop Carrier Squadron
Commendations: Good Conduct Medal, American Theater Ribbon, World War II Victory Medal
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, July 14, 2011 and is republished with permission.
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