Plane-spotting to save America.
IN 1944, MY FATHER was overseas with the US Navy, and my mother, brother, and I were living with my maternal grandparents, Ann and Adolf Ordway, in the little farming town of Newman, California, in the San Joaquin Valley. There was a program of volunteer plane-spotting run by some branch of the Federal government in which spotters manned purpose-built towers, identified passing planes, and phoned their reports to some command post.
My grandmother spent several hours a day at the Newman tower, but her knowledge of aircraft was very limited. She had graduated from nursing school in 1902, and her association with aviation was zero. I, on the other hand, was filled with the zeal of any 12-year-old boy during the war. My head was full of Zeros, Kates, Vais, Mavises, Oscars, and Betties--the products of the Nakajima and Mitsubishi factories. I had flash cards and 3-D models, which I reviewed assiduously. Just in case the Germans suddenly arrived in California, I was also ready to identify JU-88s, JU-87s, ME-109s, and HE-llls, not to mention the occasional lost or strayed Stormovik. The hours I wasn't in school, I joined my grandmother in her patriotic duties.
Five miles north of Newman was the Crow's Landing Naval Training Facility, with a huge stable of Stearman biplane trainers, the "Yellow Peril" well known to every Navy pilot. These flew by Newman every few minutes, eight hours a day. 1 identified them, and my grandmother called in the reports.
In the many months that I lived in Newman, I never saw anything besides yellow biplanes. But I was ready--ready to save my country from another Pearl Harbor. If waves of Japanese dive-bombers had swept by, I would have been at my lonely post, calling out to my beloved Nana, "Thirty Japanese dive-bombers, with fixed landing gear, bearing 50 degrees, on a northwest course. They look like Vais!"
Thomas P. Lowry