Sunday, February 23, 2014

Gil Cook: From Kansas to Brazil

After Gil Cook enlisted in the United States Army on February 27, 1941, he was attached to the Army Air Corps 436th Bomber Squadron and went through a training program at a base in Topeka, Kansas.  After training, the squadron moved to India to engage in combat in World War II's Pacific Theater.

On April 23, 1943, Gil’s unit left Topeka and flew to Morrison Field in West Palm Beach, Florida. Today, this field is known as Palm Beach Air Force Base. During World War II, Morrison Field was the “…Headquarters for the Caribbean Wing of ATC [Army Air Forces Ferrying Command, also called Air Transport Control]. Under ATC, Morrison Field became the point of departure for many planes ferrying supplies to Europe and to Allied forces in the Asian theater.” (source)

At midnight on Easter Sunday, April 25th, the 436th left Morrison Field and flew to Trinidad, arriving April 26, 1943.

In his journal, Gil wrote the following about Trinidad.
Arrived Trinidad in afternoon about four. Started raining as soon as we landed. No one minds it though. Everyone walks around in it with just a shirt on. Was initiated to left hand driving and British money. They have tangarines [sic] larger than oranges here. Real good too. Jungle alive with noises, guess mostly birds, not sure though. Some noises sound like those you hear on Hollywood Blvd.

The next full day was spent on Trinidad, and Gil and his friend Joe Zofco were able to take a trip into town and explore the jungle. In his journal he described swimming and picking pineapples and coconuts. He mentioned that the Trinidadian children would call out “Hi Joe” or “Hi John” to the airmen.

The 436th left Trinidad from Waller Field on April 28, 1943 and arrived in Belem, Brazil the same day. Gil wrote the following in his journal:
Left Waller Field, Trinidad at about one this morning. Easy trip, pretty good grd. Speed, about 200. Lots of clouds and some rain. Passed the equator at 1100 G.C.T. Also crossed the Amazon River. It’s a funny thing. There’s more land to it than water, muddy water too. Landed at Belem, Brazil about 8 in the morning. When we saw the place, we almost took off again for our next stop.

Had been raining and every thing was pretty sticky. Everything stays very damp and smells pretty badly. All the native kids have monkeys to sell and pester hell out of you for an American cigarette. Even the merchants in town want to bum an American cigarette.

The progress of Gil Cook's unit from Topeka to Natal, Brazil

The following day, April 29th, they left Belem and flew to Natal, Brazil. Natal is on the easternmost tip of Brazil, north of Recife.

The unit spent several days in Natal, sleeping in tents, taking taxis into town to haggle for souvenirs, swimming and seeing the film “The Devil and Mrs. Jones.” Gil wrote a number of journal entries during this time.  Excerpts:
May 1st
Went into town again today.  Everything closed, though.  Sort of a Brazilian Labor Day.  There were several speeches being made that were being broadcast on every street corner.  Had some Champagne tonight and also lost $54 in a crap game.

May 4th
Guess will leave tomorrow morning.  We all went swimming this afternoon.  Davis and Zofco got hell from a M.P. for swimming out too far.  Guess if you die in the Army you have to do it according to some Article of War.

After being delayed in Natal by weather and mechanical issues, Gil and his unit continued onward to Ascension Island on May 5, 1943.   Ascension Island is a volcanic island located about halfway between South America and Africa.

To be continued...

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