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Mason Wilt and Mary Ruth Berry had their first kiss in Lubbock


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Mason Wilt and Mary Ruth Berry had their first kiss in Lubbock

By John W. McCullough
M.A HISTORY, TEXAX TECH UNIVERSITY

This is the 41st article in a series on Dalhart Army Air Field during World War II.

In the last article, Mason Wilt and his good buddy, Fred Lewis, hitchhiked from Arkansas to Dallas and then traveled on to Abilene.

“We now were on our way to Lubbock and were in Abilene late at night and due in the next day in Lubbock,” wrote Wilt in his manuscript.

“We finally rented a car. They driver was supplied and two others went along with us.”

“As we approached Lubbock, I saw the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. The city lights were on and seemed to be about one or two miles away. We were actually somewhere between 10 and 20 miles away.”

“We finally arrived in Lubbock at sunrise in early September 1942.”

Both Wilt and Lewis were assigned to a glider pilot training squadron at South Plains Army Air Field (SPAAF), which was located 4.5 miles north of downtown Lubbock where the Lubbock International Airport is situated today.

“One Saturday night when they let us go to town, we went to a USO dance. Toward the latter part of the dance, I met Mary, my future wife. I asked her to dance and fell in love immediately with her,” wrote Wilt.

After a brief misdirection and awkward evening with a very tall, young woman while on a double date with Fred Lewis and his escort, Wilt was back on track with Mary Ruth Berry.

Writing about Mary Ruth in his manuscript, Wilt recalled their first peck.

“I’m not sure how long it was before our first kiss. But it happened one night when I was walking her home and it started raining.”

“We stopped under an eave that protruded from a garage and I kissed her and she kissed me. You always remember the first kiss with the woman you love. It was wonderful.”

While not romancing his future wife, Wilt continued his glider training at SPAAF. This was advanced glider training.

Typically, there were three stages of glider training: primary (also known as “dead stick”); basic; and advanced.

A usual type of primary glider school was the Plainview Pre-glider school. It was located at Finney Field, which was 6 miles north of Plainview, which is 55 miles north of Lubbock.

A customary basic glider school was like that found at Lamesa Field, 60 miles south of Lubbock. Another basic glider school was Fort Sumner Army Air Field (FSAAF), which was situated about 1.5 miles north of Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

In early 1943, the USAAF decided to move all advanced glider training to SPAAF. About 5,000 of the approximately 7,275 U.S. Glider Pilots in World War II graduated from SPAAF.

Over time, Wilt and Lewis completed 90 hours of glider training, so the Army Air Forces gave them a three-day pass.

“Fred and I and some others decided to go to Clovis, New Mexico (it was wet).”

Lubbock was “dry” then, meaning no alcoholic beverages could be sold as packaged goods or even served as drinks at bars or restaurants.

It was only in May 2009 that Lubbock went “wet” and packaged beer, wine, and alcohol were allowed to be sold inside the city limits. At that time, Lubbock was the largest city in the United States that was still “dry”. The change of Lubbock’s status from a “dry” to a “wet” city following a local election made the national news.

Writing more about his trip to Clovis, New Mex., Wilt stated, “We went there and stopped in a honky-tonk. We had a few beers and then started drinking some boilermakers, a glass of beer with a shot of whiskey in it. We got roaring drunk.”

“As we were heading for our hotel some MP’s (Military Policemen) stopped us. I started brushing off my Staff Sergeant stripes and started chewing them out. One of them was about to bounce his club off my head when Fred told them that the hotel was just a block away and he’d take me there and get me off the streets. The MP’s decided to let me go.”

Wilt had been asleep in his hotel room about two hours when someone knocked at his door awakening him. His flight instructor informed him that his flight book was fouled up and that he needed another 20 minutes of glider pilot training.

He then headed back to SPAAF to complete his final required glider training. About 6:00 a.m., he was in a small glider and ready to take off.

“When you get in a glider, you check your stick (pull it back and forth); check your spoilers (flap them); and check your rudder and brakes.”

“I was so tired and sleepy I didn’t do anything. I just signaled the ground crew with a wave that I was ready to take off,” said Wilt.

He began rolling down the runway in a basic trainer with a singleengine tow plane pulling him into the air. Since he described his glider as a basic trainer it could not have been a WACO CG-4A glider, which was an advanced trainer and combat glider.

Since he said that his tow plane was a singleengine airship, it could not have been a C-47 Skytrain, which was commonly used as a tow plane for WACO CG-4A gliders.

“As we started down the runway, I started up from the ground rapidly. I tried to push my stick forward to keep from gaining altitude so fast, but it didn’t move.”

“Now I was pulling the tail of the BT (basic trainer) up so he [the tow pilot] couldn’t get off the ground. Thankfully, the runway was about a mile long with a threefoot fence at the end. He barely topped over it. Now he gained altitude and we circled over some cotton patches.”

“Finally, I got enough slack in the tow rope to release it. Now, I started straight up, stalled and dropped several feet. An ambulance and a jeep were following me on the ground.”

Wilt headed back towards the ground. He then rolled his basic trainer along the cotton patch and came to a stop.

“The colonel in the jeep cussed me out and then told me I had my 20-minutes. I’m sure he was happy that there were no personal injuries.”

More about the history of Dalhart AAF in WWII will be discussed in the next article.

Readers are encouraged to visit Silent Wings Museum on I-27 at Exit 9 just north of Lubbock to learn more about the glider program of WWII (www. silentwingsmuseum.com). Email John McCullough at john.w.mccullough@ live.com if you can help with his research. Mason W

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