Lyon Air Museum Docent Bud Carter vividly remembers when, as a young teenager, his life changed forever. “On December 6, 1941 my biggest worry was whether or not my high school girlfriend was going to go to a school dance with me the following week. The next day, December 7, my biggest worry became how I was going to fight for my country. When I went to school the following Monday, half the boys were gone. They were in Los Angeles, enlisting in the military. In one weekend, my life and the course of this entire country changed forever.”
Bud grew up locally in San Marino, near Pasadena. He was a junior at South Pasadena High School when Pearl Harbor was attacked and war was declared. He immediately enlisted in the United States Army Air Force (USAAF), with his service set to begin right after he graduated from high school. The USAAF was a natural choice for Bud, who had a life-long interest in aviation and loved airplanes. “Five months after I turned 18 I got called up, and was inducted on April 10, 1943. My hope was that I would be selected for pilot training, but that was not guaranteed and was dependent on many factors” Bud recalls.
He began his military training in Ogden, Utah. It was there that Bud and other cadets learned how to march, drill and become accustomed to military life. He was subsequently select-ed as an officer candidate and sent to a semester of college classes in Hayes, Kansas. “They were basic college classes, but much of the curriculum focused on aviation.” After five months in Kansas he was put on a train and sent to pre-flight training at Santa Ana Army Air Base (SAAAB) in California. “When I arrived at SAAAB I still did not know if I was going to be pi-lot, navigator or bombardier. After seven months I learned that I had made the cut, and would proceed to pilot training in Dos Palos, California near Fresno. I was one of the lucky ones, most of the other men in my class of cadets washed out.”
Bud began his pilot training at Dos Palos flying the famed Stearman biplane, then moved on to a Vultee BT-13 at Gardner Field near Bakersfield. Bud remembers “they called the BT-13 the Vibrator, because anytime you flew aerobatics the plane rattled like it was going to come apart at any moment!”
Though not flying combat missions quite yet, casualties were still an ever-present part of pilot training. He recalls “I was out flying solo one day when I saw one of our training aircraft go down, and subsequently a huge plume of black smoke rose from the impact point. I remember hoping that the pilot had time to bail out. Well, when I got back to my barracks about an hour later, the bunk next to mine had been stripped. That was the pilot who went down - he did not make it.”
The next stop for Bud was Luke Field near Phoenix, Arizona. Here he learned how to fly the famed North American Aviation AT-6 Texan. “By the time I got to Luke it was the fall of 1944, and the war was nearing an end. The Allies had entered Aachen in Germany, and in the Pacific MacArthur had landed back in the Philippines. The USAAF really did not know what to do with the pilots in the states they had trained, who were sitting waiting for orders. Most days they would give us keys to an airplane and tell us simply to go fly somewhere.”
Bud made the best of the situation, taking the opportunity to fly the AT-6 all over Arizona, including flying through the majestic Grand Canyon. He fondly remembers one of these occa-sions which inadvertently turned into a flight of folly. “I used to take a Hershey chocolate bar with me in one of the knee pockets of my flight suit, in case I got hungry during a flight. Well, one day in the AT-6 I performed a roll, and the Hershey bar came out of my pocket and landed on the canopy above me. I rolled back over and it fell down to the bottom of the airplane where I could not reach it. Not only was I hungry, but I also didn't want a mechanic to find it down there. I had to perform another roll, waggling the airplane until the Hershey bar dropped back onto the canopy where I could reach it!”
A few months later Bud received orders to Douglas, Arizona. It was here he was trained to fly the twin-engine North American B-25 Mitchell bomber, an aircraft made famous by the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in April of 1942. “I was expecting to fly the Northrop P-61 Black Widow, so I was surprised when they put me in a B-25. I really didn't mind because the B-25 was a magnificent airplane that performed beautifully. It was truly a joy to fly.”
While Bud was in Douglas the war in Europe ended, and in the Pacific the Allies were ad-vancing rapidly towards the Japanese archipelago. “Once again they didn't know quite what to do with us. An invasion of Japan was still a possibility, but they had experienced pilots in the Pacific, plus pilots from the end of the war in Europe to help with that fight. For the time being all we could do was wait.”
Once again the green pilots were given airplanes with the simple order of taking to the skies and flying. Being so close to his family, Bud could not resist dropping in on them from time to time in a most unusual and memorable way. “In 1939 my parents had bought a beachside cottage in Crystal Cove, between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. I would call and tell them to be on the beach around a certain time. I would fly over from Arizona and give them a little airshow in the B-25. My mother would lay towels out on the beach that spelled HI BUD. I was 20 years old flying that airplane, and was loving every minute of it. I was a kid living in the moment.”
A few months ago Bud had the opportunity to fly in the museum's SNJ, a US Navy version of the AT-6 Texan.
In August of 1945 Japan surrendered, ending the war. Bud was discharged soon after and returned to civilian life. Using the benefit of the GI Bill, he attended the University of Oregon in Eugene, skipping a year and beginning as a sophomore thanks to the college curriculum he took as a part of pilot training. To help pay for his education he worked as a flight instructor for light aircraft. He eventually married, to the same girl he was planning to ask to that high school dance in December of 1941, a union that lasted for 64 years and produced three children.
Bud recalls “during the war my mom worked for a company in Pasadena that made interior lights for aircraft. After the war she told me that she made every light perfect, because she did not know if that little light would one day save the life of her son. That was the mentality of Americans during the war, everybody did anything and everything they could to the best of their ability to achieve victory. That my mother put so much effort into making something as seeming-ly insignificant as an aircraft light could be, to her, the difference between the life and death of her child. That mindset was evident throughout every military production line in this country, and undoubtably played a significant role in our victory.”
A few months ago Bud had the opportunity to fly in the museum SNJ, the US Navy version of the AT-6 Texan. He recalls “when we got up to cruising altitude I took the stick and it was like going back in time. I was a kid again, living in the moment. It felt as if I had just flown the airplane the day before, not some 74 years ago. It all came back to me in such a way that I can’t describe the feeling, it was surreal and utterly fantastic. At 92 years old I was able to be 19 again.”
At Lyon Air Museum Bud happily greets visitors, giving them unparalleled insight into the museum aircraft and historical displays. On open cockpit days he can often be found in the left seat of the B-25, explaining the dazzling array of gauges, switches, knobs and levers to museum guests. When they gaze at this marvel of ingenuity and engineering, he can appreciate their amazement, for he once sat in the same seat, with the same sense of awe and wonderment.
Lyon Air Museum owes a heartfelt thank you to Bud, who exemplified a generation defined by selflessness, bravery and a love of country. Without their sacrifices this nation could not have beaten back the darkness of tyranny and become a beacon of freedom and democracy in a world consumed and ravaged by war. For this we as a nation, and world, shall be forever thankful.