Pilots flew and fought with infantry

In 1942, John Vanatta, now a retired Cimarron County farmer, had attended Panhandle A&M College and Oklahoma State University, well on his way to being an engineer. While attending school he had completed aircraft basic, owned a private pilot’s and was in civilian pilot’s training for a job as a Pan-Am pilot, but missed the class in Houston.

“I got married (to his late wife Margaret) when I was flying in civilian pilot training. I soloed the weekend we got married. We had the weekend together and I went into the Army. She went to Lindsey, Okla. and started as a clerk for broomcorn buyers.”

Vanatta joined the Army Air Corps glider school and found himself back in class learning powered flight again on the PT-19 trainer. He was stationed near Reese Air Force Base, Lubbock, Texas while in his primary glider school.
Texas Tech in Lubbock is now host to the U.S. Glider Museum

“The old glider pilots are dying off too fast and Texas Tech has a school to train museum curators. So they agreed to take the glider museum and run for perpetuity, ”Vannatta explained. “I was warranted by congress as a flight officer and wasn’t a G.I. long enough to even get the Good Conduct Medal,” Vannatta laughed. “Flying the combat glider was like trying to fly a boxcar,” Vannatta remembered.

Vannatta went to North Carolina for advanced flight training and as a pilot accustomed to flying in the left hand seat found himself flying as copilot. “We were flying into a pea patch in North Carolina. There were tree stumps on one side and the airport on the other. He (the pilot) was an inexperienced flyer,” Vannatta said. “My old co-pilot was flying off our right wing. Our plane was sandbagged, but he had a 105 MM howitzer on board. He’d never flown with a load. When he cut the tow cable, he was coming right at us,” Vannatta remembered.

“I took the controls and jerked our plane right up, performed a schondell maneuver to avoid the collision. That was a no-no in traffic formation. Then I had the pilot rack the plane around and sideslip it in for a landing. When we got on the ground, I saw the C.O. coming for the pilot, but I went to the other plane. My copilot admitted he’d made a mistake; you damn sure did I said; then I went back to the plane. The C.O. was still chewing on the pilot about doing a schondell in traffic. I looked at him (the C.O.) and asked him; which do you want two planes destroyed and four men dead or a schondell in a traffic pattern?”

By March of 1945 Vannatta was in Europe, first at an air field just down the river from Paris and then in England.
However being trained as a glider pilot didn’t mean Vannatta was through with powered flight. “I made two combat flights ferrying gasoline to Patton,” Vannatta remembered.

Vannatta’s flights corresponded with General Patton’s dash across Europe to stop the German’s effort to break out during what would be called The Battle of The Bulge.

“We just stacked the fuselage of the airplane, a C-47 with jerry cans full of gasoline. Then we’d fly up and land in a cow pasture. Each plane had a nurse that flew with us. We’d off-load the gasoline and pickup wounded,” Vannatta recalled. After Germany’s surrender in the early summer of 1945, Vannatta and others like him were selected for the expected invasion of Japan.

“But they dropped the bomb first, so you know I really appreciated the bomb,’ Vannatta said. Vannatta gave up ideas of engineering and flight, returned to Cimarron County and took over the family farm.

“My life didn’t present itself as needing to get a college degree,” Vannatta said. “I would have liked to have owned a plane, but I couldn’t afford that,” he smiled

Boise City News
P.O. Box 278
105 W. Main Street
Boise City, Oklahoma 73933-0278
Phone: 580 544-2222
Fax: 580 544-3281
site maintained by Wildsteps.com, Inc.