Army Air Corps veteran shares heritage, embodies values

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Daniel Liddicoet
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
The foundation of the U.S. Air Force was built on pillars of sacrifice, honor and respect dating back to a time well before its inception in 1947. Few could understand this rich military heritage better than Darrell Flair.

Flair served his country in the U.S. Army Air Corps during a time when Holloman AFB was still known as Alamogordo Army Airfield. Flair represents an entire generation of men and women who gave everything to protect the freedoms and liberties enjoyed by all United States citizens today.

Born in Lyons, IL, in 1921, Flair's journey into the armed forces began in 1942, when he was drafted to serve his country during World War II.

"I was drafted because nobody would take me when I tried to go in," he said. "I've got a bad eye and when I came out of tech school, I couldn't pass the eye exams to fly. You had to have good eyes to work on the B-29 Superfortress, so they grounded me and made me an instructor in radar and radio."

After Flair had found his niche in the Army Air Corps, he was soon assigned to work on a 12-man crew in a B-24 Liberator bombardment group.

As he explains, "A bomb group was four squadrons, 12 planes to a squadron, and one plane for the commanding officer. We formed the 400th Bomb Group in Tucson, Ariz., and then went to Pueblo, Colo. We were still a B-24 group when I first joined."

The B-24 was introduced in 1941 and became most produced Allied heavy bomber in history, as well as the most produced American military aircraft at over 18,400 units.

The Army's decision to transition to a newer aircraft in 1944 also meant a change of scenery for Flair.

"At that time the U.S. government found out that they didn't need any more B-24's because they already were working on the manufacturing of B-29s," he said. "So we were right in the transition period of going from B-24s to B-29s, and we got orders to move the 400th Bomb Group to Alamogordo Army Airfield, and by then the group had broken up, and the people who had knowledge of certain equipment could either stay or go overseas if they wanted to. Naturally, a lot of us decided to stay, we were gonna become a training base for pilots, co-pilots, bombardiers and navigators."

Now working as an instructor on the B-29, Flair's expertise contributed a crucial asset to the war effort.

"The B-29 was a four-engine bomber that flew at tree-top levels and had parafrag bombs," he said. "When we were here, we were training people to fly B-29s and they were going to Wichita, Kan., where Boeing was making the B-29s, and from there they were flying over seas to Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands or Guam to help in the fight."

Flair had his first taste of the pacific theatre of World War II when he was deployed to the Philippines shortly after arriving at Alamogordo Army Airfield.

"When I got there, all I had done was work on B-29s, and this was a completely different group, working on different aircraft that'd been all over the south pacific, we didn't know what we were doing there," he said."When we found out, we told the commanding officer, 'Colonel if you don't need us I think we'll just come back from where we came.' And he told us that he'd find something for us to do, and that we weren't going anywhere. I ended up being there until the end of the war. "

The conditions and equipment that Flair worked with were a far cry from the luxuries of sophisticated technology that the Air Force enjoys today.

"Back then we were training 12-man crews," he said. "We had bombers, pilots, co-pilots, bombardiers, navigators, engineers, radio radar and an officer who fired all the guns in the back except the tail gun, and then we had people working as blisters who would just observe the engines to make sure nothing was catching fire. Unfortunately, I hate to say this, but we lost a lot of crews here in training. There were a lot of fires in the engines. Take-off crashes happened all the time."

Understanding the importance of his work was important for Flair's ability to cope through many of the hardships he experienced.

"It was a time when they needed planes and crews in a hurry," he said. "They didn't have time to do it right all the time, so we were cutting corners. But I knew we were trying to save the country."

During his time at Alamogordo Army Airfield, Flair came to know a very different base and surrounding area than what Team Holloman is used to today.

"The base was very small personnel wise," he said. "Alamogordo only had 2,500 people, and I don't think they had more than 400 to 600 people here on the base during the war. They had four hangars, a hangar in the north area, a hangar in the west, and two in the main area. The base was mainly just composed of training facilities. Back then in Alamogordo there wasn't anything west of White Sands Boulevard except the railroad tracks, and Washington Street was as far as it went east."

Long after Darrell Flair's military career had ended with the war, and after many years of living and working across the country, he choose to come back to Alamogordo, a place still full of memories for him. He remains a living tribute to the heritage of Holloman AFB, and embodies the values that Airmen continue to live by.

"In those days we had guys coming in from all over the country working towards the same goal," he said. "We had to be a team to succeed."