In the late 1930s and early 1940s area residents participated in the Civilian Pilot Training Program in Roosevelt County.
Initiated in 1939, the CPTP had a goal to train 20,000 civilian pilots a year, creating a pool of potential military pilots, according to the Nation Museum of the United States Air Force Web Site.
The Roosevelt County CPTP operated at an airfield located where Eastern New Mexico University’s Greyhound Stadium now stands.
The local pilots who participated in the training signed an agreement to join the armed forces if the country entered into war.
John Cantrell of Portales and Samuel Neff of Clovis made such commitments.
After completing their training, the pilots continued their education at local and state universities until they were called to action.
Cantrell was attending Eastern New Mexico Junior College (now ENMU) studying biology and Neff was attending pre-med studies at the University of New Mexico.
Like many soldiers of that era, they enlisted following the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7 1941.
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These are the accounts of Cantrell’s family and personal accounts of Neff, who served as pilots during War World II.
There were 15 people enrolled in the federally sponsored pilot training program, said Neff, who served as a first Lt. B-24 co-pilot.
There was three phases of training to complete, totaling around 80 hours of flight time, Neff said.
The pilots trained in three different aircraft — the Piper Cub, Aeronca and Meyers OTW-145.
“For the basic and advance training we flew the piper and Aeronca, for the acrobatics we flew the Meyers,” Neff said.
“Looking back on that training, I had no idea that I would be flying bombing missions over Europe. Since I was pre-med I could have been exempt from the service call, but I felt obligated to enlist.”
Neff said the CPT training came in handy when he reported for pre-flight and preliminary training at Uvalde, Texas.
“My instructor saw that I could fly so he spent a lot more time with me working on acrobatics,” Neff said.
After completing the Army’s training in August of 1943 Neff was transferred to Clovis to train as a B-24 bomber pilot.
“Most everyone that was training thought they were going to be a hot shot ace fighter pilot,” Neff said. “It did not go that way for many of the pilots, including myself.”
Neff would eventually be stationed with the 454th bomber group in 1943, and shared a airfield with the 455th bomber group at Cerignola, Italy.
From there, missions went for three and a half years into France, Italy, Germany and Austria, Neff said.
For the first 15 missions they had to fly without fighter coverage (P-38s and P-51s), and would take fire from flak near the bombing point, Neff said.
Neff logged 244 hours of combat time, 36 missions, a total of 50 sorties, in a B-24 bomber named “Miss America ’44” — which got shot up but was never shot down.
“After a bombing mission I found a hole under my feet that was made by German 88s (Flak),” Neff said. “The bullets and flak were always close to the plane but that time it was just a little to close for my comfort.”
Those B-24s could carry five 1,000-pound bombs, but getting to altitude and staying there was a different story, Neff said.
“It takes a good team to fly a plane like that,” Neff said. “I loved flying so much that I continued to do so after my years of service.”
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Cantrell always loved to fly, and was ready to serve his country when he was called upon, said wife Lois Cantrell of Portales.
He was eventually stationed aboard the aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Wasp (CV-18) as a fighter pilot, said Lois Cantrell.
“He said he wanted to be a fighter pilot because if he made a mistake it would only affect him,” Lois Cantrell said.
While John was overseas there was a picture of him printed in a newspaper depicting him sleeping while waiting for the next duty call, Lois Cantrell said.
“I must have received 40 clippings of that paper from my friends,” Lois Cantrell said.
He slept that way, Lois said, because he could be called in at any moment and slept when he could. He also changed his eating patterns, grabbing dessert first and making the rest of the meal into a sandwich so he could eat on the go if needed.
John did not speak a lot about the missions he flew, as he was told information was classified.
“He hardly spoke about his duties,” Lois Cantrell said. “I used to laugh and say, ‘It would do no good for the enemy to capture and question me because I do not know anything.’”
Gail Bond, one of his two daughters, said her father often got together with old flying friends and shared stories of the mischief they used to get into with neighboring squadrons.
But not all memories were great. Bond said her father often had bad dreams, and never forgot the faces of the Japanese pilots that he was in dog fights with.
Facts of the CPTP
• The CPTP eventually operated at 1,132 colleges and universities and 1,460 flight schools.
• CPTP pilots recorded nearly 12 million flying hours,
• The program trained 435,165 pilots from 1939 to 1944.
• CPTP’s name changed to the War Training Service (WTS) following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Source: the Nation Museum of the United States Air Force Web Site