Cochran Field

This past weekend I had the privilege to sit down with two gentlemen, both veterans of World War II, and conduct oral history interviews with them. I have written before about the importance of oral histories, but these were the first actual interviews that I have done as the primary interviewer. The process was not completely new to me, as I have sat in on many interviews and in some cases helped conduct them, but this was a whole different experience. Both interviewees were very gracious and helpful. It can be an intimidating thing to invite a stranger into your home, sign legal release forms and then try to remember events of about 70 years ago. The gentlemen in question were both stationed at Cochran Army Airfield during World War II and their stories are remarkably different and yet share many commonalities. The most important thing about these stories however is that they are told in the direct voices of the ones who experienced them.

The Museum of Aviation's BT-13

I grew up in the area local to the Museum of Aviation, in the northern part of Houston County. From the time I can remember anything, I remember my father talking about what he simply called Cochran Field. As a young farm boy from the small town of Wellston (modern day Warner Robins), the BT-13s, BT-15s and later AT-6s that were stationed at Cochran Field made quite an impression on him. To get an idea of how Cochran Field changed his life, imagine a young share-croppers son, very poor and whose days are full of hard manual labor. In the span of a few months Cochran Field opens, the first Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) cadets arrive for flight training and Pearl Harbor is bombed, thrusting the United States into war. This young boy’s quiet farming life is now right in the middle of a world with buzzing military aircraft complete with crashes, parachutes and men from overseas with strange accents. The young farm boy witnesses and experiences life and death, including assisting a cadet out of a pecan tree where he had parachuted and watching a cadet and instructor burn to death in a crashed airplane.  Needless to say, he is changed forever by these experiences and his young son is changed by the stories he hears about a place called Cochran Field.

Arial view of BT-13s on the ramp at Cochran Field in 1943

Fast forward many years and here I sit, hoping to do some small part to help chronicle the story of those young cadet pilots. As is often the case with a historian’s work, it is often too late to capture much of the story. Being a historian is committing your life to endlessly trying to catch up to everything that needs to be documented and preserved. It can be maddening if you let it. Cochran Field accepted its first flight class in 1941 and its last in 1945; only four short years. But those four years are important to local history here in Middle Georgia, to national history and to international history.  As an almost-done graduate student, my thesis focuses on Cochran Field. I hope to capture the stories of both the men who served there and the local community that supported it. Many years have passed, and the opportunity to hear those stories first-hand is quickly passing.

R.A.F. Cadets at Cochran Field in 1942

I plan to write more about these interviews, how they have affected me and share some video clips from them if possible, in the coming months. For now the next step in the process is moving the interviews from tape to DVD and then transcribing them.  I do have one short story to share now; one of the gentlemen I interviewed Saturday was an R.A.F. cadet and then instructor pilot at Cochran Field. In the post-war years this man made acquaintances with one Adolf Galland. For those with knowledge of World War II, the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) or general history this name probably rings a bell. For those whom it doesn’t, follow the link attached to the name to read about him or suffice to know that he was a well known and high ranking ace and officer in the German Luftwaffe during World War II. Follow my logic here for a minute: I shook hands with this gentlemen Saturday, who had shaken hands with Adolf Galland. That puts me one handshake away from one of the most well known German fighter aces of World War II. This excited me when my wife brought it to my attention. Then I started thinking about it a little deeper, if I was one handshake away from Adolf Galland, that means I was only two handshakes away from Adolf Hitler. While I hold no warm place in my heart for the man many consider to be evil personified, this is still seriously epic stuff for a historian. Something to think about! Until next time, enjoy this two part video series of flight training in a BT-13.

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22 thoughts on “Cochran Field

  1. I am trying to find training records for my father Emmett Walter Boyd of Canton, OH. He trained at Cochran sometime in the late 1943 to early 1944 time frame. Does anyone know if and where the training records reside. Thanks.

    1. Mark, ironic as it may be. I recently met and became friends with a RAF pilot who trained at Cochran Field. He still has his yearbook. His name is Richard Boyd. A London boy who trained in the US and was asked to instruct Americans for one , ultimately returning to England to fly 33 missions in Lancasters.

  2. Hello,
    My Grandfather, Vincent Bell, did his basic training at Cochran before he was shipped to the Aleutian Islands. So I was quite thrilled when I came across this post. I recently started a Facebook Page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/World-War-II-Cochran-Army-Airfield-History/153089328097095) where folks can share stories and pictures about their family or friends who were also at Cochran Army Airfield. Any contributions (pictures or posts) you may have would be most welcome.

    Unfortunately his records were destroyed in the 1972(?) fire in Missouri and he didn’t talk about his experience. It was only a few years before his death that I came across the letters he wrote to his grandfather during this time. I never questioned him about them because I knew he didn’t like to talk about it. Any suggestions for researching the history of the units, training, and situation of the field would be greatly appreciated.

    Best regards!

  3. I found some photos of my great aunt Juanita Mobley, of Baxley, GA and Cpl. Pat Sweeney of Louisville, KY. The date on the press release attached to it is Nov. 8 1944. I have several other pictures. Can someone please contact me about these. Kim Kisor 706-280-4156.

    1. Kim,
      We will pass along your message to our Curator. Our Museum is, like most of the DOD, undergoing downsizing right now and our staff is stretched incredibly thin. Please have patience and someone will be back in touch with you. Thank you!

  4. My mother, Elizabeth Simmons, worked at Cochran Field. She told me stories of a true love she met there. Sadly, he never came home. I think she called him “Frenchie,” but don’t recall his real name. During the war, she had first worked at the Pentagon before coming to Macon and Cochran Field, then later working for the Social Security Administration before she met and married my father in 1949.

    There was a photograph of Mama on the ladder of an airplane at Cochran Field that appeared in an old Southern magazine. Unfortunately, that disappeared along with most of her photos after her death. Not sure of the name of that magazine… “Southern” something or other… but it had an article about Cochran Field in it.

    If you guys come across it, please reply here and let me know. I’m crossing fingers someday I’ll find it in the Gutenberg Collection Archives.

  5. Hi, I have two copies of a news letter called Cochran Communique, one dated Sept. 23, 1942 the other April 14, 1942. Both are in very good shape. Is this something your museum would be intersted in? I will be happy to send them to. Thanks Joe

    1. Hi Joe,

      My grandfather was stationed at Cochran for some time. Before you send along those newsletters would you mind scanning them and emailing me copies. My grandfather never talked about his experience and I’ve been looking for info to fill in the gaps since 2009.

      Best regards,
      Josh

      Joshua Bell, MA – American History

      1. Josh, I am sorry I sent them out already, perhaps Mr. Rowlands will send you copies when he receives them. I wanted to make copies for myself but I would have had to remove the original staples to do that, so I didn’t. Again I’m sorry.

  6. Good stuff! What led me here was that I found a rather non-descript
    flat marker in Cedar Hill Cemetery, Suitland, Md. (just outside D.C.)
    It simply says Lt. Thomas D. Beardsley. he was from Maryland not far away. He died in 1943 while on a training flight from Cochran Field, but down near Gunn Field near Perry when the plane crashed.
    He has a memorial on the website Findagrave.com and the the WW II website in D.C.

  7. That is really interesting, thank you. You could probably sell handshakes at your County Fair….”shake hands with the man who is only two handshakes from Adolf Hitler” !!

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