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SENIOR'S LENS TOLD STORY OF EDWARDS' TEST FLIGHTS.

Byline: Bettie Rencoret Senior columnist

Born in France to a U.S. Army officer father and a French mother, George Watson worked at Edwards Air Force Base at its brilliant beginnings, when its airmen tested craft like Northrop's YB-49 Flying Wing and Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier.

Arriving when Edwards was still known as Muroc, Watson worked as a still photographer and motion-picture cameraman and flew in airplanes photographing test aircraft - ``photo chase.''

``I flew with Chuck Yeager when he was just a captain,'' he said. ``I flew chase on the first Flying Wing. In fact, I flew photo chase on nearly all the Edwards experimental aircraft and was also on the supersonic track.''

He is also a pilot and bemoans the fact that failing health has curtailed his days in the cockpit. But he has his memories and his photos to look back on and his sense of humor has not waned.

His story unfolded in Maurice Chevalier-like intonations as he described his life on two continents in the beginning, and throughout, World War II.

Capt. Harry H. Watson of Delaware, the son of a Scottish immigrant, was sent to France during World War I by the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps. His job assignment was to purchase mules for the Army from Spain.

There he met and married Andree Marie Hurtrel d'Arboval and their son, George, was born Sept. 30, 1920.

In 1921 Capt. Watson and his family returned to the States where he was assigned to a post in the state of Washington. George was a year old.

By the time he was 6, his parents were divorced and the child returned to France with his mother.

In 1937, as a rebellious teen-ager, he came back to the United States to live with his father in Tacoma, Wash.

``I wasn't used to masculine discipline,'' he said, ``so I only lasted three months before I went back to France.''

His father got out of the Army but was a civilian only briefly before being reinstated in the service as a major. He finally retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1946, after World War II ended.

When he went back to France, Watson worked at odd jobs and got his first taste of professional photography spinning reels as a projectionist in the movie theater.

Then in 1939, when he was 19, World War II began in Europe.

``I lived under the German occupation for six or seven months but, since I was an American citizen, and the United States hadn't entered the war yet, the Germans didn't bother me,'' he said.

``In early 1941,'' he continued, ``the State Department contacted all U.S. citizens living in France and told us it would be advisable to go back to the United States immediately. They offered to pay for the transportation.''

Along with a group of other American citizens, he took a train from Paris to Spain, then from Spain to Lisbon, Portugal. There they waited for available space aboard a ship out of Portugal which eventually landed them in Hoboken, N.J.

Plagued by his language barrier, he worked briefly as a dishwasher, then went to Kingston, in upstate New York, and took a job as a busboy before joining the Civilian Conservation Corps for a while.

``That was a good organization. It kept me off the streets and out of trouble,'' he said.

On Feb. 2, 1942 he entered the U.S. Army Air Corps. After training he was sent to Hempstead Field in Florida where he was assigned to the photography department.

On June 20, 1943, he married his wife, whose name is Andree Marie, just like his mother's. She also was born to an American father and French mother in France, where she and George met before he returned to the United States.

When he knew she and her family were America-bound, he enlisted the aid of the American Red Cross.

Through them, I was able to find out exactly when she would arrive, then I met the boat,'' he said.

They have two sons, George A. Watson, of Fairoaks and Gene A. Watson, Quartz Hill.

Despite volunteering to serve in France, he was assigned in 1944 to the Alaskan Air Transport Wing. After going through cold weather survival training he was sent to Fairbanks.

He was assigned once more to the photographic department but he stayed in Fairbanks only briefly before being sent to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory.

He was discharged in 1945.

``There weren't too many civilian jobs available in late 1945 and early 1946,'' he said, ``so I went back into the Air Corps again.''

He was assigned to a traveling air show through all the eastern states, taking both still and motion pictures, and had a brief stay in Dayton, Ohio.

``Then I got a dirty assignment,'' he smiled. ``I was sent to Muroc Air Base on Feb. 2, 1947 and I stayed there until April 1952. In the meantime the U.S. Army Air Corps designation was changed to the United States Air Force.''

In 1950 he went to flying school, became a licensed pilot and joined the Lancaster Sportsman's Club.

But there followed hard times.

His pay as a tech sergeant at the time was not sufficient to support his family without his wife working and he had to take a second job. He decided to leave the service again.

In 1955 he was hired as a civilian by the Air Force at Edwards doing practically the same job he had been doing as a noncom. About that time his wife hired on as a secretary at Edwards so they could make ends meet. She retired in 1983.

He continued to fly chase and sometimes he was allowed to fly in the jets, like the F-104, to use up the excess fuel in them. In return, he would check the jet pilot out in the Sportsman's Club Comanche.

He retired in 1971 and went into property management for a time, then worked at Barnes Aviation at General William J. Fox Airport, on the Corsair which was used in the filming of the television show ``Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.''

In 1994 he had surgery to replace a bad heart valve.

He has good days and bad days now and a little trouble walking but is philosophical.

``I take it just one day at a time,'' he said.

LANCASTER - Menus for the week at the senior life nutrition sites in Lancaster, Palmdale and Pearblossom have been announced. All meals include bread, margarine and coffee, tea or milk for the suggested congregate donation of $2. Monday: Hot turkey sandwich, mashed potatoes, parslied carrots, marinated beets, apple. Tuesday: Tuna/noodle casserole, stewed tomatoes, jello salad, pineapple. Wednesday: Baked ham, sweet potatoes, peas, salad, apple crisp. Thursday: Hamburger Stroganoff, mashed potatoes, beets, garden salad, ice cream. Friday: CLOSED. FOURTH OF JULY OBSERVED.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

PHOTO George Watson, with wife, Andree, recalls his Edwards' mission.

Bettie Rencoret/Special to the Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 29, 1998
Words:1168
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