From cockpit to Norden bombsight: My father-in-law’s World War II journey

Harry F. Schleicher as an aviation cadet in World War II

More than just about anything, Harry Schleicher wanted to fly for the Army Air Forces in World War II. He had two years of college behind him, and experience working in a chemical lab, when he left his home in Easton, Pennsylvania, to become a pilot. It was 1943.

Months of training followed, ultimately taking him to California, where he met a woman at a USO dance who would soon become his wife.

But the bottom fell out of his dream. A mistake at the end of a practice flight, a flawed landing, marked the end of his days in a cockpit. The Air Corps, with a host of pilot candidates on tap, could afford to be selective. Harry was dropped from the program.

He put his disappointment behind him and went to bombardier school in Texas, where he was stationed when the war ended. This time he made the grade.

Now an officer, he stayed on to teach others – including young fliers from China, which was then embroiled in a civil war – how to use the ingenious Norden bombsight.

Forty-one years later, when I married his younger daughter, Harry was a musician, a retired metallurgist and a retired captain in the Air Force Reserve with a hobby of building radio-controlled model planes. He happily noted my interest in historic aviation, buying me a plastic kit for the enormous B-36 Peacemaker bomber and taking me to the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, where we saw biplanes “dogfighting” over a make-believe French village. We even went for a small-plane ride over the Lehigh Valley, a birthday gift from his wife, Naomi.

Cancer took Harry’s life in 1999, when he was 80. Naomi gave her daughter Mary and me all of his service records and Air Force pins and insignias, and even several caps he’d worn. We’ve kept these belongings in a plastic bin stored in the attic, where I also have my dad’s World War II memorabilia.

Recently I got out Harry’s things and started leafing through the paperwork. There was so much, it was overwhelming. He seemed to have held onto everything, his Air Corps orders, medical reports, even his handwritten flight logs from when he was an aviation cadet. Everything came with dates, but it was all scattered and unconnected.

That’s when I got the idea of how I could pay tribute to my father-in-law for his service to the country. By culling these documents, I could find order in his experience. I could narrate the story of his military career by walking through it as it happened, one step at a time. It seemed the best way to do that was to compile a timeline.

After days of poring over his papers, here’s what I came up with:

HARRY F. SCHLEICHER

1919

July 20: Harry is born in Easton, Pennsylvania.

Harry as a student at Easton High School, 1937

1937

June 23: He graduates from Easton High School.

1940

November 12: At age 21, he starts work at Ingersoll-Rand Co., Phillipsburg, New Jersey, in Metallurgical Department’s chemical lab. His job is to analyze metals.

1942

Harry leaves Lafayette College after two years. He studied metallurgy and chemistry.

1943:

March: Harry’s father, Harry H. Schleicher, dies. He was a mail carrier.

May 20: Harry completes a course in metallurgy and metallography in Engineering Science and Management War Training Program at Lafayette.

August 7: He gets three references to help him qualify for flight training. One is from Walter W. Seibert, M.D., who wrote in part: “Reliance can be placed upon his integrity and honesty.” Another is from B.F. Shepherd, chief metallurgist at Ingersoll-Rand: “His work … has been excellent from the standpoint of both quality and quantity. His attitude and ability to get along with his fellow workers are outstanding.” Elton E. Stone, principal of Easton High School: “[Harry’s] moral character and conduct were excellent. … He belonged to the German Club, the band and the orchestra. He was honest and obedient. I believe him to be a loyal American citizen.”

August 9: Harry is ordered to report for Army physical on August 16 at 32nd Street and Lancaster Avenue, Philadelphia.

August 16: At physical exam in Philadelphia, Harry states he has no fear of flying. He says he had measles, mumps, whooping-cough and chicken pox as a boy. He has had no serious illnesses or head injury or operations, no hay fever, asthma or other allergy. His family history is “negative.” The two flight surgeons who examined him say he meets physical requirements and they “recommend appointment for aviation cadet training.”

August 19: Aviation Cadet Examining Board in Allentown finds Harry qualified for aviation cadet training.

September 22: He is inducted into Army at age 24 with 13 others selected by Draft Board 1 in Easton. He is assistant leader of the group, meaning he was responsible for enforcing Selective Service regulations on their way to induction station at Allentown.

October 11: In Philadelphia, he enters active service.

October 15: Harry is an Army Air Forces private in 308th Training Group at Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, Texas. He applies for $10,000 in National Service Life Insurance, naming his mother, Florence Amelia Schleicher of Easton, as beneficiary. Premium is $6.80 a month, deducted from his pay.

November 29: An aviation student, Harry arrives at Texas Technological College in Lubbock as part of 309th College Training Detachment (Aircrew). He is assigned to Section 102 of Class 43-C-17 for academic and flying instruction.

1944

February 9: At Texas Tech, he is appointed an aviation student captain with duty as band captain.

April 4: Harry starts preliminary ground instruction.

April 5: He goes on his first training flight. An instructor takes him up in a Taylorcraft L-2 Grasshopper and demonstrates cockpit procedure, taxiing, takeoffs, landings.

Harry (back row, second from left) at Texas Tech

April 10: Harry graduates from training at Texas Tech. Next stop is Santa Ana Army Air Base in Costa Mesa, California, a basic training site in Orange County that has no planes, hangars or runways.

May 11: At Santa Ana, a report on a dental exam notes that defects in several of Harry’s teeth have been corrected.

June 6: On what is D-Day in Normandy, a medical officer at Santa Ana lists Harry as “qualified for flying.”

August 5: As aviation cadet, he starts primary pilot training at Rankin Field near Tulare in heart of California’s Central Valley. Tulare is 60 miles north of Bakersfield.

September 1: He flies solo in a Stearman PT-13D Kaydet biplane for 40 minutes at Visalia-Dinuba School of Aeronautics in Visalia, eight miles north of Tulare.

October 25: At Tulare, he solos for 25 minutes in a PT-17 Stearman biplane.

November 20: He completes primary pilot training at Tulare, earning a certificate of proficiency.

November 25: At basic flying school in Merced, in San Joaquin Valley, he has orientation ride with instructor in advanced trainer AT-6D Texan. It lasts 50 minutes. Next day, he goes up again with instructor, getting demonstration of stalls, spins.

November or December: Harry meets Naomi Dees at a USO dance in Merced, where she is volunteering at a snack bar. Naomi, 22, graduated from Fresno State University the year before and is a fourth-grade teacher at John C. Fremont Elementary School in Merced.

December 20: Harry flies solo for 15 minutes in an AT-6D at Merced Army Air Field.

1945

January 30: Harry washes out of pilot training. Elimination comes after he made a faulty landing. He’ll return to Texas.

Naomi Dees and Harry on their wedding day in Easton, Pennsylvania

April 1: He and Naomi are married at St. Mark’s United Church of Christ in Easton. Harry is 25, Naomi, 22.

May 2: Aviation Cadet Schleicher starts training for aircraft observer (bombardier) at Midland Army Air Field in Texas.

May 8: War in Europe ends with defeat of Nazi Germany.

July 23: Harry, at Army Air Forces Bombardier School in Big Spring, Texas, is found physically qualified for flying.

September 2: Japan surrenders, bringing World War II to an end.

October 16: Harry is honorably discharged as an aviation cadet at Midland to accept a commission as second lieutenant in Air Corps. His enlistment record describes him as having brown hair, brown eyes and a ruddy complexion. He is 5 feet, 7½ inches tall. He completed two years and 24 days of service. His character is “excellent.”

October 17: He completes training for aircraft observer (bombardier) at Midland Army Air Field and becomes an officer with rank of second lieutenant. He begins training U.S. cadets, officer returnees and Chinese students in use of Norden bombsight.

December 21: Harry is released from assignment with Squadron B of Army Air Forces Central School for Bombing at Midland. A summary of his flying time shows he racked up 55 hours as a bombardier and 159 as an aviation student, for a total of 214 flying hours. His 19 flights as a bombardier were in the twin-engine AT-11 Kansan.

1946

January 8: Second Lt. Schleicher reports to Randolph Field near San Antonio, Texas, for start of processing to leave Army.

January 9: He’s appointed as a first lieutenant in Air Corps Reserve.

January 18: He is discharged at Randolph Field after four months as a second lieutenant with a military occupational specialty of bombardier instructor. A summary says he “successfully completed extensive course in bombardiering in AAF cadet schools. Had four months’ experience in instructing student bombardiers in basic and tactical use of Norden bombsight.” Schools he attended were pre-flight, 2½ months at Santa Ana, California; primary, 2½ month at Visalia, California; primary, 1 month at Tulare, California; basic, 2½ months at Merced, California; advanced bombardier, five months at Big Spring, Texas; advanced bombardier, one-half month at Midland, Texas. He’s authorized to receive American Campaign Medal and World War II Victory Medal.

1947

September 18: U.S. Air Force becomes a separate military service with implementation of National Security Act of 1947.

1948

April: Harry and Naomi’s daughter Anne is born.

1950

February 20: Harry applies to Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for World War II compensation, available to honorably discharged veterans or those still in service. He ends up getting $280 for 28 months of stateside service.

1951

April: Daughter Mary is born.

1952

January 9: In an Air Force Reserve questionnaire, Harry describes his work at Ingersoll-Rand as “chemical analysis, methods development, recommendations, and a minimum of research.” He’s a musician – he plays piano, violin, saxophone and clarinet – and a music teacher in his spare time. He completed two years at Lafayette College and the equivalent of two years at Texas Tech. He can read and write German. He belongs to Lehigh Valley Engineering Club and American Chemical Society.

October 29: He is appointed as a reserve officer in Air Force for an indefinite term. His rank is first lieutenant.

1954

October 17: He tours Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts with 18 other members of Flight B, 9544th Volunteer Air Reserve Training Unit Squadron. They are among 41 Lehigh Valley reservists on trip as part of their training. A highlight is seeing one of the new C-124 Globemaster cargo planes, which can carry 200 men and their equipment.

1955

February 8: Harry is promoted to captain. He’s invited to a ceremony later in the month.

February 19: He gets his promotion orders and congratulations at official opening ceremonies of 2605th Air Reserve Center, Continental Air Command, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He’s among 42 reserve officers promoted.

1956

January 19: Wilkes-Barre Air Reserve Center announces change of permanent residence of Capt. Schleicher, of 9544th Air Reserve Squadron, 9101st Air Reserve Group in Allentown. Change is from Easton to Bethlehem Township.

August 10: Harry graduates from reserve officer orientation course run by Air Command and Staff College of Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. He’s a member of Squadron Officer School Class 56.

1962

February 7: Harry is assigned to inactive status.

April 4: He retires from Air Force Reserve as a captain. He is 42.

May 1: He’s transferred to Retired Reserve, having completed “a minimum of eight years of honorable service in an active status, including six months on active duty in time of war or national emergency.”

Besides the pile of Harry’s documents, our house has other reminders of his flyboy past. A radio-controlled plane Harry built, a T-28 Trojan military trainer with a wing span of almost a yard, hangs on a wall in our basement.

The plastic-model B-36 bomber hangs from the ceiling in my home office, a reminder of Harry’s deep interest in military aviation and how he wanted to share it with me.

2 responses to “From cockpit to Norden bombsight: My father-in-law’s World War II journey

  1. In 1945 I was transferred from Alameda to Wold Chamberlain Naval Air base in Minneapolis, Minnesota where I continued as an instructor in bombing procedures using the Norden Bombsight and the Sperry Automatic Pilot. IBM had developed a rather sophisticated simulated high altitude bombing trainer that another fellow and I assembled. The war was almost over at this time and I don’t know if it was ever put to much use. It simulated terrain, motion of the plane and was even refrigerated. It was a lot more realistic than the motorized four wheel platforms with the sight mounted on the top we had used in Alameda for bombing training runs. (The platform was guided by the bombsight and stabilizer and it dropped a plumb bob on a paper bulls eye on the floor.)

  2. It’s fascinating how the war advanced technology, and you had a hand in it. Thanks for writing about it.

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