Joe Carlson in the Army Air Corps

Bette’s dad, Joseph Carlson, was married and went right into the Army Air Corps (now the USAF) in 1943. Before he died in 2006, he and I sat on the screen porch and I pumped him for info on his Army career. His memory was a bit fuzzy, and he repeated things, but it was still REALLY interesting. I transcribed the recordings into a text file.

Fast forward to 2011, where at Bette’s school they are having a Veterans Day program today, and are going to read information about vets to the kids. So Bette asks about her Dad’s interviews, which I have yet to edit for the Veterans History Project. I spent an hour editing it up, here it is for your Veterans Day.


Joseph A Carlson in the Army – 1943

Joe got married, and went into the army. He was sent to boot camp in Rockford, Illinois. Joe was smart, and very good at math, and passed all his tests, so he had a choice of what he wanted to do. He joined the Army Air Corps (now the US Air Force) and went on a train to Blythe, California to work on bombsights.

His job was to clean and care for the Norden bombsights, a calculator installed in the B-17 and B-29 planes to compute the correct time to drop the bombs and hit the target. These were mechanical, not electronic, and made from clockworks.

The bombardier was the crew member who dropped the bombs. He came to the shack in the evening, Joe would check his ID, and issue the bombardier a bombsight and a pistol to protect it. The bombsights were top secret, and he never could let one get into enemy hands. One guy took his bombsight, but left it on the runway—he was kicked out of the Air Force. The bombardier took the pistol and bombsight out to the plane, installed them, and after the training mission, brought it back. Joe would check it over, clean it and test it, and put it back in the locked shack.

Missions were generally at night, because when it was very hot during the day, the runway would melt and the planes could not take off or land. When no mission was leaving or returning, Joe could do whatever he wanted. Got out of bed whenever, went to bed whenever, it was almost a leisurely life. One soldier would answer for all at roll call. Sometimes a repairman from the Norden company would come, and Joe would have him repair the broken bombsights he couldn’t fix.

Blythe was a small town with 300 people in the desert. There was not a lot to do. The town restaurant had a sign that said, “Dogs and soldiers not allowed.” There was a swimming pool in town and Joe, a good swimmer in high school, swam a lot. It could be 120 degrees during the day, and 85 at night. The bombsights needed to be cooled to protect them, so the shack was the only building with air conditioning. Joe would take his cot in the shack to sleep sometimes because it was cool. Some soldiers stored their drinks there to keep them cool.

After a year or so, Joe was sent to a base and Waco, Texas, and left the Army.

Joe liked the desert – sometimes he would walk out and just sit in the sun in his big army hat. He talked a lot about going back to visit, but never did.


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