Monday, February 22, 2016

4) Technical Training at Buckley Field, Colorado- Early Dec. 1942

After basic training a new soldier usually went on to some type of technical school for further specialized instruction. During the early years of World War II the city of Denver purchased a 5,740-acre parcel of land several miles east of the city and donated it to the Department of the Army. Construction on this base, Buckley Field, began in early 1942. On 1 July 1942, the Army Air Corps Technical Training School opened at Buckley Field. It consisted of bombardier and armorer training for aircrews on the B-17 Fortress and B-24 Liberator bombers and also armorer training for fighter planes. At this school, Jack would have learned how to install, inspect, clean, load and repair guns for aircraft.

As you will see from the letters, Jack was first assigned the graveyard shift, working from 10pm to 6am. Later in December, he was moved to the day shift. He mentions his expected graduation from this school as Feb. 1, 1943, so his entire training here was probably about eight weeks.

After graduating from Armorers School at Buckley Field, Jack was sent to Hammer Field in Fresno, California, where he awaited a permanent assignment.

Buckley Field, Colorado 

4:20 PM 

Dec. 3, 1942 

Dear Betty, 

Well I am finding time to write at last but I will not have time to write much. 

I am going to Armorer’s School here and will not graduate till about Feb. 1st. I am on “C” shift from 10PM till 6 AM and when you aren’t use to working at night it sort of gets you tired at first. 

Tell me what is the news out at Anchorage and how is everybody? How much longer does Bob have to go before he solos? I hope he makes it before Xmas like he wanted to. 

Well I know this a short letter but I have to go now and I know if I don’t mail it now I probably will wait a day or so. 

Love and please write, 


P.S. enclosed find post card I didn’t mail the other day. 
My address: 
756th Tech School Squadron (SP) 
Buckley Field, Colo.

(On back of enclosed postcard)

Dear Betty
Well here is a sample of what Colorado looks like.
I will try to write more next time please write to me.
Love, Jack

Postcard enclosed in this letter.

“Bob” ---refers to Betty’s 1st cousin Bob Giltner. At this time Bob and his younger brother Bill lived with their grandmother, Nanine Fairleigh at her home on Westport Road. Betty, her sister Anne, and their mother (Emma) also lived in this home on Westport Road. Bob and Bill’s parents lived on their farm in Shelby County but wanted the boys to attend Anchorage High School. Bob was the same age as Betty and Bill the same age as Betty's younger sister Anne. Jack Riley had attended Anchorage High, with Bob and Bill Giltner and Betty and Anne Geiger, before starting his military service. Bob Giltner learned to fly as a teenage, his father owning a small plane.

3) Enlistment--Oct. 1942


Jack enlisted in the Army Air Corps on Saturday, October 31, 1942. He had turned 18 in June of that year and had completed four years of high school. He never received a high school diploma because he was a few credits short, probably because of moving schools and states. I think he started high school when he was living with his parents in Queens, NY. He decided to join the military instead of returning to Anchorage High School in the fall to complete his required credits.

Jack enlisted at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana and his terms of enlistment were for the “duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President.” At the time of his enlistment his height was listed as 5”11” and his weight 185 lbs.

He probably underwent physicals and tests at Ft. Harrison for several days and then on Tuesday November 3rd , a group of recruits were given orders to be transferred by train to Bowman Field, Louisville, Kentucky, the following day. The orders listed Jack along with 48 other newly enlisted privates. Jack was appointed as Acting Corporal and placed in charge of the group for the travel to Bowman Field. He had no prior military experience so I'm guessing that he was given this temporary leadership role because he had been a summer camp counselor. I assume that the soldiers were then assigned to basic training sites from Bowman Field. I don't know where Jack received his basic training. It was possibly at the Atlantic City Training Center, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. There he would have had several weeks of training in basic military conduct, use and care of weapons, gas mask procedures, rifle range experience, and physical conditioning.

The first letter that I have is dated December 3rd of 1942. At that time he is in Armorers School at Buckley Field near Denver, Colorado. The bombing of Pearl Harbor had been the previous year, Dec. 7, 1941.

Note: clicking on the attached images will open them up to a larger view.

Orders for transport of enlistees from Ft. Benjamin Harrison, IN to Bowman Field, Louisville, KY
This photograph was probably taken before Jack enlisted, perhaps so the family would have a nice picture to submit to the newspaper for his enlistment notice. 
Another pre-enlistment photo of Jack with his parents Avery and Jack Sr.

2) Important Notes About The Letters

I do not have all of the letters that Jack and Betty wrote to each other. The letters Betty wrote in the early years were destroyed when some of Jack’s gear was burned on a beach in the South Pacific. You will notice that other letters are missing, as some letters are referred to that are not transcribed. It is remarkable, that so many of the letters were saved and that we are able to read them today. I have included three letters received by Betty from others during this time period and also a letter included that Jack received from his aunt, Katherine Riley.
I have added background information and pictures throughout this blog. There are a few instances when Jack or Betty included pictures or other items in their letters, and I have indicated those as such.

Most of the information specific to the 9th fighter squadron, in which Jack served, is taken from the monthly unit histories posted on the website, These unit history narratives are based on the original typed pages of notes provided by Ken Clark, 9th FS pilot/flight leader, who had the additional duty of Asst. Squadron Intelligence Officer/Historian.  Since the men overseas were not allowed to indicate where they were or what they were doing, these unit histories will help provide that background information for you. Reading them will help you get a feel for what life was actually like for Jack in these military camps in the South Pacific, beyond what he might have written in his letters. If you are interested in a more detailed account of the movements and missions of the 9th squadron, I suggest that you go to the website and read the full unit history descriptions, which I have only excerpted in this work.

The letters are by and large transcribed as written. I’ve made some spelling and punctuation corrections when necessary for the readability of the letter. Most of the letters were written by hand, with only a few of Jack’s letters being typed. Jack printed and Betty wrote in cursive script.

1) Introduction- Letters From The Past

Letters From The Past

During a 1981 Christmas visit with my parents, Betty and Jack Riley, I first learned of the existence of saved letters from their correspondence during World War II. It was a difficult time for our family. My mother was in the final stages of a serious illness and we all understood that her death was looming. She had my father bring out the box of old letters and we read through some of them. They intrigued me, as they were a window into my parents private and personal past. I read a few of them but the visit was busy with concerns for my ill mother and my father who was also hospitalized, with heart failure, during that holiday. The letters were forgotten and only months later, when both of my parents had died, did my siblings and I rediscover them. In the years to follow, I read many of the letters somewhat haphazardly and not sequentially. I had in mind to someday organize and transcribe them. I knew they held within them an interesting story and would give me great insight into my parents’ young lives.

My parents’ romance was sparked in high school but grew in depth through these letters written to each other over three years. Jack was two years older than Betty. It was at Anchorage High School in Anchorage Kentucky that he met Betty, Betty’s sister Anne, and their cousins, Bob and Bill Giltner. Betty and Jack had gone out on a few dates together but they certainly were not “steadies” before the War. Jack’s girlfriend at the time he left for military service, as you will see mentioned in many of the early letters, was Libby Bazzell, who also attended Anchorage High.

Many girls felt it was their duty to write to the boys they knew who had gone off to fight in the War. Of course, not all of these correspondences led to romance and to a marriage. About five months after Jack came home from overseas, he and Betty did marry. They had been teenagers, only 16 and 18 when they had last seen each other. When he came back they were 19 and 21, young adults.

A Little Background Information

My father, Jack Woodward Riley, Jr. was born on June 21, 1924 in Louisville, Kentucky. He was the first and only child of his parents, Jack W. Riley, Sr. and Avery Ethel Merriman. He grew up mostly in Louisville but the family also spent some time living in Queens, New York City, New York. Before Dad enlisted in the Army Air Corp the family lived on Bonner Avenue in St. Matthews, Kentucky. He was on the Anchorage High football team.

My mother, Elizabeth “Betty” Fairleigh Geiger was born on August 14, 1926, in Louisville, Kentucky. She was the first of two daughters born to Thomas Geiger and Emma Fairleigh. Betty had a younger sister, Anne. Thomas Geiger died of brain cancer at the age of 35, in 1940. When he died the family was living with Emma’s mother, Nanine Fairleigh, at her home on Westport Road, about halfway between St. Matthews and Anchorage. Bob and Bill Giltner, Betty and Anne's first cousins, also lived with Nanine Fairleigh. These boys were the same ages as Betty and Anne and lived with their grandmother so that they could attend Anchorage High School, apparently deemed better than the county school where their parents lived and had a thriving farm. In 1943 Emma married Horace Allen, an old family friend, and after this marriage, Emma, Horace, Betty and Anne moved to a small home on Maple Crest Court, in the Crescent Hill neighborhood of Louisville. Betty was a popular student at Anchorage High and one of the top students in her class. Because of the family’s move to Crescent Hill in 1943, Betty attended her last year of high school at Atherton School for Girls, in Louisville.