This month we are honored to recognize another Veterans Home resident who proudly served our Country in the United States Armed Forces. George Carper was 17 years old. He was too young to fly, but the United States Army Air Corps said he could train to become an aircraft mechanic.
“I don’t want to be a mechanic,” the disappointed young man said to his dad. According to George, his father’s reply, “You wanna fly, don’t cha?” was both practical and prophetic. George took the training and soon became crew chief to a cadre of skilled mechanics who maintained 30 training aircraft (PT-13s) in top flying condition. Airman Carper also earned his pilot credentials.
Mr. Carper became a Tuskegee Airman at a dangerous time in our nation’s history. We were at war in two parts of the world. In Europe, Germany was doing serious damage to Allied air power. The United States needed more well trained combat pilots – and quickly. Putting more Tuskegee airmen at the controls of our fighter planes was seen as part of the solution. To do this, we needed a top-notch trainer plane for students to build the skills needed to move up to advanced fighter aircraft. Responsibility for maintaining this essential fleet of training planes fell to Airman Carper, who worked for five years in this capacity.
Were these combined efforts successful? After achieving good results as the 99th Pursuit Squadron, Tuskegee pilots now flying as the 332nd Fighter Group escorted over 200 bombing missions over Europe during World War II and established a record that was never to be equaled. Great credit is owed Tuskegee Airmen Maintenance Personnel who performed with skill and dedication throughout the war. At Missouri Veterans Home, we say “Thank you” to Crew Chief, Airman George Carper, for helping to keep us safe during a dark time.
What is life like after war? For George Carper, life has been very full, indeed! As a teenager, George worked in the family business, Carper Casket Company. Later, George married. He and his lovely wife, Imelda, cherished 64 years together. Imelda passed in 2014, leaving two daughters, Jacqueline and Carol, and a son, George III.
George Carper’s work ethic has served him well. The company founded by George’s dad has flourished. With George as President of the firm, conscientious attention to fair play and a focus on fine quality and compassionate service, has put Carper Casket Company at the top in the industry and the community.
On August 1, 2015, the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association, Inc. held their annual Convention and Exposition at the Renaissance St. Louis Grand Hotel. Captioned above a full page photo of young George in flight uniform, standing ready next to his PT-13 aircraft, we read:
“Congratulations George on Your Journey from Tuskegee Airman to Successful Business Owner”.
On March 29, 2007, Tuskegee Airmen were presented the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. Airman George Henry Carper II was among those so honored. George cherishes this award and all of the men and women who have accompanied and supported him throughout the years.
Near the end of our talks about his long and illustrious life, George related this: It seems that early in his work as an aircraft mechanic, he was approached by a particularly irritating (white) young man who said, “You people can’t drive a truck!” implying that flying a plane was wa-a-ay out of reach.
When George finished his pilot training, he went back to the guy and said, “I may not be able to drive a truck, but I can fly a plane!”
Keep flying, George — and, Thank you!
The “Big Sky Country.” Rolling hills and endless green. Under a canopy of blue, you guide your ride to the forest. Now, to the mountain. On the way, a chattering trout stream calls for your skills.
Montana. What a place to grow up! What a country to know as yours! Such was the experience for Ernest Mitch. Born in Missoula, Montana on July 7, 1922, Ernie grew up happy as the “middle” child. His younger sisters, Dolores and Betty pestered, but adored him. Arnold and Joe were always there to show their kid brother the ropes. The Mitch’s loved being a family in this beautiful part of the world. Hunting, fishing, hiking and camping were almost as close as the back yard.
Upon graduating high school, Ernest enrolled at the University of Montana – Missoula. On a crisp Sunday afternoon in December of his second year, Mr. Mitch and his Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brothers were hosting a Tea and Dance for sorority sisters. At around 5:00 pm, the music stopped abruptly. Then the announcement: “The U.S. Naval Station in Hawaii has just been attacked by the Japanese!” A stunned silence ensued.
A few weeks later representatives of the U.S. Navy came to the college to describe a government sponsored flight orientation program. Because of the urgent and immediate need to defend our Country, students who passed this screening would be granted priority consideration to enter pilot training.
Ernest had never been in an airplane, but since the flight time would be free, why not? His first lessons were in a J-3 Piper Cub. After learning basic maneuvers, he advanced to a larger aircraft, the Waco bi-plane. Having discovered an aptitude for flying, it was time for Ernest to make a decision. Should he go for military training or remain in school?
Mr. Mitch reflects, “There was no doubt about what I should do. I had grown up with so many benefits in this Country that I love, I figured it was my turn, now.” At the end of the current semester, Ernest Mitch became a cadet in pilot training at the Naval Air Station in Long Beach, California.
Here, our veteran immersed himself in ground school, physical conditioning, military protocol and primary flight training. In three months, Mr. Mitch flew solo for the first time and was transferred to Corpus Christi for advanced flight and tactical training. Now a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, Ernest was scheduled for his first overseas assignment.
Lt. Mitch joined a Corsair squadron on New Hebrides as a replacement pilot. Almost immediately, he saw action escorting and protecting our bombers as they destroyed the major base for the Japanese fleet at Rabaul. These Corsairs were also deployed as bombers, flying in formations of four to eight. Later, First Lieutenant Mitch flew the Corsair on missions to secure the island of Guam.
The Marine Corps said it was time for a little rest and relaxation (R&R). Ernest and other single officers were assigned temporary billets at the Laguna Beach Hotel. While lounging in the sun one afternoon, Ernie met Audrey, a lovely blond who lived and worked close by. In the days following, Audrey showed Ernest the local sights. They sampled the fare at seaside eateries, enjoyed strolls on the beach and promised each other to stay in touch.
The Corsair aircraft that Mr. Mitch flew in the war with Japan, and would again fly in Korea, was one of America’s finest and most versatile warplanes. However, jet aircraft were now becoming available to our fighting forces. Lt. Mitch was transferred to Pensacola Naval Air Station to transition to turbine powered aircraft and to train other pilots who had previously flown only piston powered equipment.
Soon, Ernest’s duties were expanded with a promotion to Captain and assignment to the training command at the Marine Air Station, Quantico. Here he was joined by his bride-to-be. He and Audrey were married in 1944 and set up house-keeping in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Early in 1945, soon after the birth of the Mitch’s first child, David, Ernest was transferred to Midway Islands. Shortly after his arrival, military strategy shifted and the Captain was told to expect a change of assignment to Hawaii. The problem from Ernest’s standpoint was that he was expecting the arrival of his wife and son. Earlier, the Marine Corps had said that the boy must be at least five months old before he and his mother could make the long voyage to Midway. To Ernie’s relief, the Corps agreed to delay his transfer to Hawaii until the family was reunited.
Hawaii was still recovering and rebuilding from the horrific damage caused by the Japanese attack. Part of Captain Mitch’s job as an adjutant to the commander was helping to coordinate with civil authorities the many tasks yet to be done. Mr. Mitch also stayed current in the Corsair. The happiest event during the family’s three year stay in Hawaii was the birth of their first daughter, Diane.
It was clear by now that issues regarding Korea were coming to a head and that the United States would likely become involved. With the defeat of Japan, a suitable air station and jumping-off point to Korea was now available for use by American aviators. To that end, Captain Mitch and his squadron of Corsairs were standing-by ready to fly.
At 0600 hours on August 6, 1950, Marine Fighter Squadron 323 is ordered to Badoeng Strait to lead an attack against North Korean targets. This successful mission was the first to be flown by Marine Aviation in Korea.
During his tour of duty in Korea, Captain Mitch flew 94 bombing missions in the Corsair. This powerful and versatile fighter was armed with bombs, rockets and machine guns. Tactical units flew in squadrons of four to sixteen aircraft, forming a deadly phalanx of firepower and destruction. As the fastest piston-engine fighter at the time, this gull-wing bird excelled in one-to-one combat, even when carrying heavy munitions loads.
Returning stateside, Captain Mitch trained pilots at Cherry Point Naval Station and Olathe Naval Air Station. While at Olathe, the Mitch family welcomed second daughter, Cynthia. Shortly thereafter, Captain Mitch was promoted and transferred back to the training command at Quantico.
Time for a rest? Hardly! Long Beach, California became home. Now, the family could enjoy quality time without concerns over Dad’s safety or unexpected transfer orders.