On Saturday morning I watched the annual Veterans Day parade on TV from Boise. They featured Gowen Field as their theme.
I graduated from Melba High School in May of 1944 and my first job was at Gowen Field. I had gone to Boise with my parents — an unusual trip because of the gas shortage — and along the way, in downtown Boise, I saw a lady driving an Army staff car.
“That’s what I want to do," I exclaimed. I was 18 years old and I had already been driving for four years.
I don’t remember the procedure, but I went to the air base, was interviewed and hired. I went to work on June 6 at the motor pool. The lieutenant in charge declared, “Today is D Day.” Whatever that is, I said to myself.
I soon found out there was a real war on. It had been going on since Dec. 7, 1941 — when I was a sophomore in high school. I had spent a year in California, living with an aunt and working at a “defense plant” — Firestone Rubber Co. They made fittings for gas tanks for airplanes. Because I was younger than most, it was my job to haul the fittings around in a grocery cart to the various areas of manufacture.
So, now here I was at an air base that was involved in gunnery training for 19- to 20-year-old boys just out of basic training.
I was first assigned to a pickup hauling young soldiers to do their duty at the mess hall or laundry area or other duties. I would take a book and while they did their chores I would read or take a nap.
Then for five months I was chauffeur for a lieutenant colonel who had chores all over the base. A lot of the time it was my job to deliver papers, etc. for him. He was an elderly gentleman who had probably been in the army for several years. I drove him in a thing called a recon. It was a glorified van with windows all around.
Gowen Field was an Army Air Corps training facility where they had featured B-17s before the B-24s that were there when I was working. It had been noted that movie star James Stewart and been in training there in about 1943.
The Norden Bombsight was a secret device new at the time I was working. I remember hauling a small crew with this great big crate in the back of a pickup out to a plane. If my memory serves me correctly, I think it was on the B-29 that bombed Nagasaki to end the war.
I finally graduated to a staff car. That called for hauling higher-ranking officers and special people. I remember carrying Jackie Coogan who had been a child movie star. Here he was, a high-ranking officer in charge of the gliders they had brought in to try out at the Gowen base.
I once transported members of the Lionel Hampton band.
I even hauled Chaplain Joop to a special church meeting at the Melba Friends Church one time.
Another time the patriotic people of Melba invited people from Gowen Field for a barbecue at the high school. An army bus brought a load of fellows who enjoyed an off-base meal with civilians.
Clark Wylie was a veteran of the Normandy invasion and had been wounded and spent 10 months in hospitals before he was assigned to an engineer group formed with guys who had already been through the war.
They were assigned to Gowen Field and organized to fight forest fires the summer of 1945. (The war ended on Aug. 25 of that year.) Idaho was having a very bad fire season so truckloads of firefighters went out every day to the McCall area.
Clark was more crippled than some and had a higher rank among the non-coms, so he was assigned to the motor pool where I worked. We got acquainted and went out some after work.
We girls who worked in the motor pool frowned at these “old” soldiers who had hash marks on their sleeves and were in their 20s. By the end of December three of us had married those “old” guys.
Gowen Field has always held a special place in my memory bank.