Memories of a World War II Fighter Pilot
by Bernard J. Sledzik
Coal Run, PA (post office, Clune) is a small coal mining town in Western Pennsylvania where I was born May 4, 1924. The population at that time about 600 people, and everyone in town depended upon the coal mining industry for their job.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was the defining moment of my life. I was 17 years old and a junior in Indiana High School when the bombs dropped and I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I graduated from high school. I had always been fascinated by airplanes flying overhead, building model airplanes, and reading magazines about planes, and I set my goal to complete my high school education and join the Army as an Aviation Cadet. In the school yearbook, I stated this as being my goal.
Prior to meeting with the recruiting officer, I went to our family physician for a complete physical exam to be sure I could pass an exam to become a pilot. The results were fine.
I sent in my application to become an Aviation Cadet with three letters of recommendation which were required.. 1 chose the high school principal, my physician, and the pastor of our church and upon ref1ection, I don't think I could have come up with any better ones.
Shortly thereafter, I received a letter from the Army instructing me to report for a physical examination in Altoona, PA and what an experience that was!
They checked me from top to bottom and had me read eye charts and color blindness charts and everything seemed to be going well. Then a nurse gave me a small bottle and said,"Go into the bathroom and fill it up," which I promptly did. When I returned and handed it to her, she said, "This is cold." I replied that I didn't know she wanted hot water. After the laughter subsided, I said, "What can you expect from a hick from a small coal mining town."
For my final review, I sat with a sergeant and he went over the results, finally commenting that I had failed the exam because I was five pounds underweight. One hundred twenty three pounds did seem low compared to some of the others around me. However, he said he would hold the papers for one week and rescheduled me for a weight check; and if I passed that, I would be accepted.
During the week, I stuffed myself with everything I could think of including many bananas. One week later I returned to Altoona, stepped on the scale and it read 125 pounds. The sergeant (God bless him) looked at the scale and said, "I'll be damned, you just made it,” marked down 128 pounds and I was accepted to become an Aviation Cadet in the Army Air Corps. He said to wait for further instructions on when and where to report. Six months later in January, 1943, I was sent papers to board a train in Pittsburgh for San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center in Texas. My Dad and my Uncle Sam drove me to the train station to see me off.