The Bombardier


The Bombardier

The vastness of World War II and the transition in the United States have mostly been forgotten. But within a year of the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, tens of millions of new industrial square feet had been created, and the "arsenal of democracy" [2] had begun producing previously unimaginable numbers of ships, bombers, fighters, tanks, trucks , jeeps, and artillery . Munitions, medicines, service clothing, and food rations likewise flowed from new or converted plants. There was an endless call for workers and managers in all areas and at all levels. Women went to work in defense plants. The dirt poor and dispossessed migrated by the millions to all points of the compass where new factories were eager to pay them high wages . And the Great Depression was over.

Almost everything was rationed for civilian use. Steak, butter, gasoline, rubber, and nylons became luxuries . Cigarettes were hard to find. New cars ceased to be made. A new nationwide speed limit of 35 mph was posted to preserve rubber and conserve gas.

The infrastructure for all-out war was equally immense. The best and the brightest from business, industry, agriculture, mining, universities, and finance were recruited. The population and activity in Washington, D.C., grew exponentially. Some served as civilians; others were commissioned as officers.

Millions were in uniform, including thousands of J. C. Penney associates , all of whom were sent the new company magazine, Pay Day , along with $10 quarterly checks to supplement their military pay. Among those serving were 97 store managers and 390 New York Office associates, many seeing combat and many meeting death. Mil Batten was called to serve in Washington, D.C., in the Quartermaster Corps. By the end of the war he was a full colonel and was told that if he remained in uniform, it was wired for him to jump two ranks to major general and take over the whole corpsan incredible situation for a noncareer officer.

Walt Neppl had to wait a while to enter basic training because facilities construction, although massive, lagged behind the crush of new men to be trained. Finally, he reported to an infantry base in St. Louis (his first time out of Iowa), then went on to preflight college courses and initial flight training. Cadet school followed, then primary, bombardier training, and commissioning. Now with his bombardier wings, he was an officer and a gentleman in little more than 12 very demanding months.

Typically, for Walt Neppl the Army Air Force amounted to a crash course in human nature, in composure and focus. It also gave him an education in the personalities and geographic variety of young men. He learned leadership and teamwork. "You have to do that when people are shooting at you," he said. All of this would make a difference when he resumed his J. C. Penney career. Especially the shouldering of enormous responsibilities as a young officer.

"I became the wing's lead bombardier, 41 other B-17s bombing off my release. So it was important not to screw it up. That's the way it was the day I got my DFC. It was at Berlin. We hit Templehoff Airdrome and laid it in there." Neppl characteristically skips over the details of winning the Distinguished Flying Cross which, in brief, involved coolness under fire, dexterous performance under terrible conditions, and outstanding leadership (the bombardier always flew the plane during the bomb run).

Neppl was offered inducements to remain in the service after completing his 30th mission. Because he vividly recalled every mission, including Berlin, and the fact that many bomber crews never survived the full mission quota, Neppl felt lucky to still be alive and declined the offer.

After a month's leave in Iowa during which he and his high school sweetheart, Marian Maher, were engaged, Walt was ordered back to Santa Ana and then to Midland, Texas, where he served as an instructor until he was mustered out a few months after Hiroshima. He briefly considered college on the GI Bill. However, as with many veterans who were products of the Depression, resuming a career and starting a family had the stronger allure for this now serious adult.

[2] From an FDR radio commentary .




Celebration of Fools. An Inside Look at the Rise and Fall of JCPenney
Celebration of Fools: An Inside Look at the Rise and Fall of JCPenney
ISBN: 0814471595
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 177
Authors: Bill Hare

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