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Uncle Jules in the Army Air Corps

November 18, 2014

 

Uncle Jules in the Army Air Corps

 

Part 3.  A Cornucopia of Thanks

 

to Those Who Preserve Family History

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

Continuing with my November series of “A Cornucopia of Thanks,” I am thankful for individuals, like my Uncle Jules, who work to preserve family history.  Of course, we attempt to preserve family history for younger generations.  Since writing about the four Massa brothers last week, a new member (first baby of Andrea and Dan, first grandchild of Nancy and Pat) was added to the youngest generation of our family on November 15:  the new addition is Grace Mackenzie, the great-granddaughter of my Uncle Jules.  Perhaps, someday, little Grace will want to hear about her great-grandfather and his three brothers who served in World War II (detailed in my previous blog).  As promised, this blog will focus on my youngest uncle’s experiences in the Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the US Air Force.  With thanks to Uncle Jules for his recording on cassettes in both 2002 and earlier this year of 2014, I can share with you the following remembrances of a World War II veteran–Grace’s great-grandfather.

 

During the earlier years of the United States’ involvement in World War II, Uncle Jules was attending Clinton High School (Indiana) while his three older brothers were already serving their country.  Trying to prepare the high school boys for possible service, the football coach/physical education teacher had Uncle Jules and his classmates march and run around the school block.  In only their gym clothes, the male students followed through with the marching and running routines in all kinds of weather.  Amazingly, this relatively small high school offered a class in aeronautics, which my uncle took.  When Uncle Jules first went to enlist, the officer told the seventeen-year-old to go back home, finish high school, and take as many mathematics classes as possible.  He did.

 

Shortly after Jules A. Massa was graduated from Clinton High School in 1944, he left his rural hometown of Klondyke, Indiana, and went to Indianapolis to enlist in, as my father advised his youngest brother, the Army Air Corps.  Having been inducted at an airfield in Indianapolis, my uncle was sent by train to Keesler Army Airfield to train for the Army Air Corps.  (Keesler Army Air Station #8 was established in 1941, in Biloxi, Mississippi.)  Since the US military had an over-abundance of pilots, Uncle Jules was chosen to be a navigator or bombardier.  Besides completing basic training and survival training, Uncle Jules also went on a couple of flights from Keesler to search for enemy submarines; he remarked that these submarine-spotter flights were exciting.

 

For the next step in my uncle’s training, he went to an air base in Nevada,  where he was trained as a ball-turret gunner on a B-17 and as a tail gunner.  Additionally, Uncle Jules received training in navigation.  At the training range, he and the other men did fly missions.  During this period, my uncle developed pneumonia and was hospitalized for a few weeks.

 

When Uncle Jules was released from the hospital, his group had moved on; so, he was sent to Las Vegas Army Air Base to train on the B-29–a large, four-engine airplane which was being used primarily in the Pacific area.  According to my uncle, at this time, the war was going well in Europe; and no more pilots were needed in the European Theater.  The eighteen-year-old was at the Las Vegas air base until the war in the Pacific was almost over.

 

Next, Uncle Jules was asked where he wanted to go.  Someone told my uncle that he should go to Europe, as his three brothers had.  Ironically, his parents had left Italy in the early 1900s for the United States from LaHavre, France; Uncle Jules, like his three older brothers, entered Europe at LaHavre.  By the time he arrived in France, “The troops were going home in droves,” Uncle Jules commented.  In Belgium, he and the others were trained in how to handle people who had been through the war.  Throughout this period, my uncle observed how severely the people and places had been affected by the war.  At such a young age, he witnessed these ravages of war in France, Belgium, Holland, and eventually Germany.  After training in Belgium, he went by train to Germany; my uncle remembers that after a long journey of a week or more, he arrived in Germany to join an air battalion and was welcomed with two feet of snow on the ground.  At this air base, the task was to clear the airfield; then, the US military prepared the field so that with DC-3s, an airline could be set up for flights from London to various places in Germany, to Italy, and to South Africa.  “It was very interesting work, but very difficult,” Uncle Jules noted.

 

After this work was completed, Uncle Jules and the battalion were moved to Northern Germany to another airfield.  Here, the runways had to be repaired because the United States was preparing to send the first jet aircraft to Europe.  According to my uncle, when the jets from Lockheed and test pilots arrived, by ship, the runways were not yet ready; so the Autobahn was used as the runway for the first jets.  Uncle Jules remarked, “The pilots had such a good time flying those jets, and they were so fast and climbed so quickly.”  From this location, the very young captains flew the 36 jets to Norholz, Germany.  These first jet fighters were used only for training.

 

Another move took Uncle Jules to a different air base where more runways needed significant repair.  After being at this air base, which was near the sea, for over a year, Uncle Jules was finally given his folder of papers by a commanding officer who told the twenty-year-old to sign onto a ship to return to the States.

 

In the middle of winter, Uncle Jules had to endure a rough crossing; however, he emphasized that he was happy to see the Statue of Liberty.  From New York, he traveled to Chicago, where he received his honorable discharge from the Army Air Corps.

 

Having returned to his hometown of Klondyke, he found that he did not care for what was called the “52-20”–receiving $20 each week for one year.  Thus, with strong encouragement from his mother, her youngest son decided to use the GI Bill to continue his education.  At nearby Terre Haute, Uncle Jules registered at Rose Poly (now Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology), but was told that there were no openings and that he would be notified when an opening was available.  Nevertheless, Uncle Jules did not wait; he went to Indianapolis where his three older brothers were living and working.  Although Purdue University was filled also due to the influx of so many veterans using the GI Bill, Uncle Jules began his college work at the Purdue Extension in Indianapolis.  The next fall, he transferred to Purdue University’s main campus at Lafayette.  From his savings, he was able to buy his first car.  In the winter of 1951, Jules A. Massa earned his BS degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University.  My youngest uncle was the first in the family to be graduated from a university.  In 1954, he moved to California where he was employed by McDonald-Douglas until his retirement in 1987.

 

How I remember those special times when Uncle Jules would come back to Indiana for a visit!  His return always brought forth family reunions with many happy times and good food.  I distinctly recall the time when he and his wife (Kay) came to Blanford with their first baby, Nancy.  Although my uncle has lost his beloved and brilliant Kay (after 55 years of marriage), he remains in California, surrounded by the love and support of his daughter and son-in-law, his son and daughter-in-law, as well as two grandsons and the granddaughter (a registered nurse) who just blessed Uncle Jules with his first great-grandchild.  By the way, little Grace’s daddy is a captain in the US Air Force.

 

During your Thanksgiving this year, consider starting the tradition of audio-recording, video-recording, or writing parts of your family history.

 

With many thanks to Uncle Jules for trusting me to write a part of his story,

Alice (and Zoe)

 

November 19, 2014, Wednesday

 

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5 Comments
  1. Alice. Once again you have brought yesterday into light. Your Uncle had such determination. So many of today’s youth could learn a great lesson from his story. Thank you so very much for such description. Another wonderful post. dp

    http://www.dplyons.wordpress.com

  2. On this Thanksgiving Day, I am so thankful that you are the storyteller in our family, Alice, recording all the precious memories that would otherwise be lost to future generations. You honor Uncle Jules and all of our dear family by telling their stories so eloquently. Your essays emphasize the strong values of love, dedication, and determination that are the foundation of our family and have made us what we are today.
    With love, appreciation, and admiration,
    Mary

    • Mary–Thank you for your kind and generous words of comment. Enjoy your special Thanksgiving Day with your delightful and precious granddaughter and all her family. Happy Thanksgiving to all! Love, A & Z

  3. I’ve enjoyed reading the interesting stories of the Massa brothers. The relatives should be thankful that your gift of writing is preserving the family’s past. Best to all!

    • Carole–Thanks for your comment. Perhaps, next Veterans’ Day, I will write about cousin Dom’s service with the paratroopers at the Battle of the Bulge. Although he never spoke of his brave participation, a plaque for his extraordinary service was displayed quietly on his living room wall. AZ

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