The airbase was the biggest thing our lackadaisical prairie
town had ever seen. Whereas conversations once consisted of discussions about
the weather, wheat crops, and how the coyotes were playing havoc with the
livestock, they now included “airplane talk” and news about the war. All any of
us knew about the B-24 Liberator was that it was doing a wonderful job in this
war in which we were involved.
Carl was only one of approximately seven thousand members of
the United States Air Corps stationed at the Liberal Air Base. When we met he
was into week three of his nine-week training period. Knowing that our time
together would be short, we began seeing each other on a regular basis,
spending every minute together that our schedules allowed.
Between late nights out and long workdays, the next few
weeks were a veritable whirlwind, and my hours flying with Bonnie dropped off
drastically. I’m sure my work at the studio suffered as well, but Mr.
Arganbright didn’t complain. On the contrary, he seemed to enjoy hearing about
my new social life. Marie and Ted were also dating. As a foursome, we attended
parties, dances at the officers’ club, went on picnics, and participated in
Carl’s favorite outdoor recreations—fishing and hunting. In the same class, Carl and Ted would complete their
training the last of October. Men and planes were badly needed in combat areas,
so there was no doubt they would be assigned to overseas duty. I dreaded to see him go. I’d grown quite fond of my tall,
handsome airman. We’d had a lot of fun together. When the day for orders to be issued arrived, I left the
studio early to make dinner for the boys one last time. After straightening up the house, I took a bath and dressed,
then started preparing the chicken we’d been lucky to buy from a farmer on our
last hunting trip.
I was feeling depressed when Carl arrived, a little before
five. He looked awfully cheerful, I thought, for a man about to head overseas
for combat duty.
“I looked for you down at the studio,” he said. “I left Ted
at Marie’s office.” He sauntered into the kitchen, mixed two drinks, handed me
one and raised his glass. “To the future,” he toasted. “Oh?” I said in the way he always teased me about.
He set his drink down on the counter and took a sheet of
paper from his shirt pocket.
I nodded. His orders. I couldn’t speak.
“Want to know what it says?”
Without waiting for me to reply, he continued.
“It says here—ahem—that Carl Ungerer is hereby assigned to
permanent duty at the Liberal, Kansas Air Base as B-24 Flight Instructor!”
He looked up and laughed. It must have been the expression
on my face because he leaned over and kissed me.
“Ted, too!” he said.
I put the chicken back in the refrigerator, changed into my
best dress, and we went down town to meet Ted and Marie for a real celebration.
Carl decided that as long as he was going to be in Liberal
for a while, he should have an airplane of his own. The government was
auctioning single engine, war-surplus planes; he thought he could pick one up
for around a thousand dollars. He and Ted flew to Wichita to look over the
planes being offered. He placed a bid and, in less than a month, was the proud
owner of a silver, blue, and red Taylorcraft.
The day after he and Ted flew to Wichita to bring the plane
back to Liberal, he made another important announcement: As long as he was
going to be around for a while, he and I might as well get married!
It wasn’t exactly the kind of proposal I’d hoped for, but my
acceptance was a foregone conclusion. I’d known for some time that Carl Ungerer
never did things in a conventional manner, so when I said “all right” that was
good enough as far as he was concerned.
To celebrate our engagement, Carl took me for a ride in his
“It’s a 1942 Army liaison plane,” he explained. “It’s called
A Taylorcraft DC065, it boasted a 65 horsepower Continental
engine, was stick controlled, two-passenger, tandem seating, and was built for
service—not comfort. The cockpit was enclosed by a Plexiglas bubble.
Thus enclosed, it was well air-conditioned from cracks where
the windows and doors didn’t quite fit, and it was as noisy on the inside as it
was on the out. One could see in all directions, and—although the view was
somewhat distorted by waves in the Plexiglas, that had obviously not been a
problem for the navigator, who rode in the back seat and faced the rear during
reconnaissance—his equipment was laid out on the built-in table before him. The
space beneath the table was used to store supplies.
In civilian life, the seat faced forward, and the table made
a handy place to deposit purses, cushions, and maps. Unless traveling some
distance, the baggage compartment remained unoccupied.
Unlike many of the current models at that time, the pilot
could fly solo from the front seat without throwing the airplane out of
balance, a distinct advantage for the simple reason that, from the front seat,
it was easier to see where you were going.
Accompanied by Marie and Ted, we drove to Garden City one
clear, crisp January day, and Carl and I exchanged vows before a Justice of the