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Susan Sampson | Galen Gilyard remembers WWII flight training here

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Recently I wrote what I could find about the World War II Navy flight training program at Fancher Field, but historic newspaper articles and Internet data left me with questions. Readers recommended my talking to Galen “Gil” Gilyard at Cashmere, who had been there, so I telephoned for an appointment, then visited him.

Gilyard told me that he joined the Navy in 1942 as a 17-year-old high school senior in Minnesota. After training at St. Olaf College, he arrived in Wenatchee by train in the spring. Forming up to march to his lodgings at the YMCA, he smelled the apple blossoms and said, “When this is over, I’m going to live here.” Cadets ate at the Legion Hall and took classes at the junior college located in the high school.

Gilyard broke his right collarbone wrestling, so learned to key Morse code with his left. Climbing a rope, he fell and broke his left wrist. He used the left-hand fuel control in his airplane with his hand in a cast.

Training focused on navigation, a critical skill because Navy pilots flew from moving bases, plus short take-offs and landings. Their tools were a compass and “dead reckoning,” a calculation of the direction and distance to a target and the estimated time to get there.

Every Navy flier became a stunt flier, Gilyard says. They flew loops, slow rolls and snap rolls, and flew upside down. The instructor flew into a box canyon, then signaled, “You take over.” Cadets had eight weeks to solo with advanced maneuvers.

Abruptly, the Navy flying program ended. Gilyard’s was the last class to graduate at Fancher Field. Extra pilots weren’t needed. Gilyard was reclassified to be a band master and was headed to Washington D.C., but new orders came in assigning him to PT boat navigation. His train was waiting to take him to the dock when the Navy changed its mind again. Japanese Zeros were taking out too many American aircraft, and more pilots were needed.

Gilyard finished a refresher course, but then the A-bomb ended the war. He returned to Wenatchee to marry Barbara. The Gilyards celebrate their 67th anniversary this month.

Gilyard flew extensively after WW II. From his furniture store at Omak, he flew ladies in his Stinson “Flying Station Wagon” to Seattle for a day’s shopping, and had them home in time for dinner. Every flight, he made a sale.

Gilyard never flew into a dangerous condition, but adds that honestly, anybody who has flown enough has been in a hair-raising situation, so he doesn’t want to fly with others. Nor will he retire from business, despite being 88, because he is useful to others. “Service to others is a reason for being,” he says.

Susan Sampson writes about the experience of being a newcomer in North Central Washington. She can be reached at alienfiction@yahoo.com

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