Rice Boys at a Rest Stop Somewhere in Texas, 1943

A while back I wrote about the the little notebook filled with carefully kept records of offenses against the Rules for Slimes that was donated to the Woodson by Ed Jennings ’48 ’49 and his family. They have since shared with me more wonderful things including a copy of this picture of six Rice boys who all found themselves in the Army Air Corps meteorology program during World War II:

Left to right they are Ray Young ’48, Ed Stamm, Joe Crosthwait ’44, Bill Kieschnick ’47, Larry Chapman ’48, Ed Jennings ’48 ’49.

I believe that with the death of Larry Chapman ’48 just last week Mr. Jennings is the last survivor of this group. His recollections of the beginnings of his time in the military, including this trip, are captured in an email he sent to his family:

Thanks for this picture. It brings back happy memories of 1943.
In January of 1943, twelve of us were called up by the Army Air Corps after having volunteered in December 1942 to become an Aviation Cadet [$75/month], training in meteorology for nine months, then commissioned as 2nd Lt. on Nov. 29, 1943. All 12 of us were engineers or science majors at Rice and we had completed 2-1/2 years of our 4 year course at Rice. [This was the requirement to volunteer for “meteorology.” Other branches of the Army Air Force only required 2 yrs of college.] We were all told that we could stay at Rice until we graduated UNLESS the Air Force needed us sooner.

All 12 of us left Houston Union station around 9 PM on a non-stop troop train–but not knowing where we were going. We went thru Beaumont so we knew we were heading east. I remember looking out the window once and we were going thru Biloxi, MS. Then the next thing I remember we were told to get up and march where some officer led us. This was about 4 AM and we couldn’t see anything until we marched a while and then we saw a beautiful boulevard lined with tall palm trees and at the end of the Blvd. was a great big hotel-looking bldg. which was the beautiful Boca Raton Club which the Air Force had leased. All–every bit–of the furniture, decorations, etc. had been removed, but the Mess Hall was located in the former dining room that looked out over the water with great big glass windows. We all ate from our mess kits, served food cafeteria style, washed our own mess kits first in boiling soapy water, then in boiling rinse water with slopping out water and soap on the floor just like it was an army camp. Then we were given 4 sets of khaki uniforms,had a close haircut, and then assigned to quarters. About 10 of us were assigned to one servants quarters with bunk beds etc. Then we had 6 weeks of basic training–mostly on the white sands of the nearby beach. Then one day after training was over we were in formation–about 200 or so of us and the CO [commanding officer] announced that the following cadets should take one step forward. Then he read off about 90 names which included all 12 of us from Rice. The others were dismissed. We were told to pack up all our gear in our duffel bag and be ready to leave for the railroad station. Once again we didn’t know where we were going because there was 5 or 6 places were weather officers were trained. Chanute Field in Kansas was the least desirable, but U of Chicago, Cal Tech, UCLA, and some others I can’t remember.

Well, the train pulled out and started North from Boca Raton and then turned west thru New Orleans and on to San Antonio. Then we had a rest stop in the middle of Texas where this picture was taken. Then on to Los Angeles, bused out to Wilshire Blvd and unloaded at three different apartment complexes. From there we marched to a central mess hall for meals and then to UCLA for courses and exercises every day, along with raising the US flag in the morning and taking it down in the evening, all in formation and standing “At Attention”. 

The next nine months were great because Los Angeles was very hospitable to all service personnel. We all were so lucky to have been selected to go to UCLA because every week-end we were free to go to the Hollywood Canteen staffed with many movie stars. or the Paladium which was a gigantic dance hall with famous bands playing–Tommy Dorsey, Peggy Lee, etc. Crosthwait loved to dance, and he always wanted to go to the Paladium. At the Hollywood and Vine intersection was the NBC studios. And I would frequently go there to hear Jack Benny, Phil Harris, etc do their broadcast shows. Earl Carrol”s nightclub was across the street–and that is where Colleen and I went on our honeymoon the night we won the “Turkey Roaster” Colleen was selected to be on the show “Meet the Misses” because she talked the longest of all the contestants without stopping. Then I answered the Prize Question; “how many college graduates were there that year?” Luckily I had heard the number on the radio as we were driving to Los Angels: 315, 000. So I won the turkey roaster. I think we have a record of that radio show somewhere. But I have got to stop because I could never finish this very lucky and happy period of my life.

I’m very grateful to Mr. Jennings and his family for allowing me to see this lovely glimpse into his life.

Bonus: I spent this morning downtown working in the archives at the Julia Ideson Library. By chance I came out just as the motorcade carrying President Bush’s casket came by. It was a powerful moment–there were so many people but no sound at all except the helicopter up above. I won’t forget it. Then as I walked back towards the library parking garage I saw the tree in front of City Hall.

And the menorah on the other side:

 

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One Response to Rice Boys at a Rest Stop Somewhere in Texas, 1943

  1. Lynne Hsu Xavier (WRC '88) says:

    I’d love to read more reminiscings from Mr. Jennings!

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