In the fall of 1943 the film Gone with the Wind was still immensely popular and the musical Oklahoma had opened on Broadway in the spring.
About that time I headed by bus to Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base near Goldsboro after a two-week furlough at home in Henderson County. By then I had completed a couple of training courses and had attained the exalted rank of Corporal. My mission at Seymour-Johnson was to complete several weeks of "combat" training before going overseas.
Part of that training was enduring multiple passes through a rather tough (for the Air Force) obstacle course during which we had to belly-crawl under barbed wire, splash through water hazards, scale walls, and climb ropes and cargo nets. To encourage us, our instructors walked alongside and yelled profanely at us. After more or less mastering that, we were led by these same instructors on a forced march to a bivouac area among the loblolly and long leaf pines of rural Wayne County.
The bivouac area was just about worn out by previous trainees, but we paired-up, pitched our pup tents, and settled in for a couple of weeks. The camp site was not exactly a wilderness area because it had scattered electric lights, a field kitchen, and a portable, tinny-sounding public address system. Instead of playing reveille to wake us, the PA system blasted forth each morning with the Broadway version of "Oh What a Beautiful Morning." For me the memory of that camp was forever associated with that song.
A rifle range was conveniently located nearby. The Army's experts taught us how to take care of and fire a .45 automatic handgun and a Carbine rifle. I earned a marksman's medal with the pistol but merely qualified with the Carbine. For the rest of the war I carried a Carbine but never touched an automatic handgun again.
While we were at Seymour-Johnson we did a lot of "busy" work such as KP, guard duty, escorting prisoners from place to place, and delivering that endless stream of paper from one unit to another. On one assignment, I was to deliver paperwork from our squadron to the main post headquarters. Press reports had let it be known that the movie actor, Clark Gable, was assigned to the post, and rumor had it that he was working in the building where I was to deliver the papers.
When I got there and handed the papers over to the first sergeant, I asked him about Mr. Gable. He assured me that he was in the building and if I would go down this aisle, turn left at the third desk etc. — very specific instructions — the actor would be there. At the designated spot a bald-headed, pot-bellied, pasty-faced staff sergeant sat behind the desk banging away on a mechanical typewriter. He looked more like Andy Devine than Clark Gable.
I breezed by looking as cool as I could, at the same time checking out the nearby desks. Most of those were occupied by WACs, but nobody vaguely resembled the movie star. I sneaked out the front door with visions of the first sergeant chuckling the rest of the day about tricking this dumb corporal into gawking at his beer-drinking buddy thinking he was a celebrity.
I never did see Clark Gable.
Frederick B. Jones, who lives in Mills River, writes a column for the Hendersonville Lightning on World War II experiences in Henderson County. He served in the Air Force during the war.
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