With the stunning number of pilot trainees dying in crashes, not only at Seymour Johnson, but at other training stations around the country, it is a wonder that young men would continue as volunteers in joining the flying ranks.

Perhaps it was triggered by the exuberance of youth that most of us seem to have been born with, or the enticing possibility of becoming a hero. But by and large, I expect most felt it their calling to serve — a call to duty.

I have no way of knowing nomenclatures of all aircraft used in pilot training at Seymour during the war years, but the first recorded evidence that the P-47 was the primary trainer comes from a News-Argus article of Oct. 29, 1943. The craft was highly touted, but one has to assume that the 25 or more deaths at Seymour Johnson from 1943-45 had their tragic beginnings in the cockpit of a P-47.

Oct. 29, 1943 — Thunderbolt pilots train in Goldsboro

Those single-engined planes Goldsboro residents have watched hurtling through the skies were confirmed at Seymour Johnson Field as Republic Thunderbolts —one of American’s most celebrated fighting ships.

Lt. Colonel William S. Steele, who was stationed at Wheeler Field in Hawaii when the Japs struck at Pearl Harbor, is the commanding officer of a Fighter Group, transferred to Seymour Johnson Field from Westover Field, Mass.

A school for the training of replacement pilots, fliers new to the handling of the Thunderbolts will receive instruction from veteran airmen, many freshly returned from combat zones, ranging from the Aleutians to the Mediterranean, Colonel Steele said.

Instruction will cover regulation flying, preliminary formation flying, scouting and combat training in the Thunderbolts, high altitude fighters, the commanding officer explained.

Colonel Steele is a native of Staunton, Va., and the son of Major and Mrs. L.B. Steele. Major Steele is on the staff of the Staunton Military Academy.

With a background of two years in the infantry after his graduation from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1936, Colonel Steele was awarded his wings at Kelly Field. In March of this year, he was transferred from Wheeler Field and assigned to the New York Fighter Wing. In June, he took command of the Fighter Group he now commands.

Mrs. Steele is the former Elizabeth Loudon, daughter of Dr. John P. Loudon and Mrs. F. Jones Loudon of Yakima, Wash. Colonel and Mrs. Steele are the parents of a 2-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.

Jan. 12, 1945 — SJF pilot killed in crash

Flight Officer Mervyn L. Lasater, 22, son of William A. Lasater, 806 Water Street, Fairfield, Ill., was instantly killed about 11 a.m. Thursday morning when his fighter plane crashed about 3 miles west of Princeton. He was on a combat training flight.

A board of officers has been appointed to investigate the cause of the accident.

Death certificate lists cause of death as immediate decapitation.

Jan. 19, 1945 — SJF flight officer killed in crash

Flight Officer Rolf H. Maakestad, 21, son of Mrs. Laura Maakestad, Col., was instantly killed about 6:30 a.m. Friday when his Johnson Field fighter plane crashed near Seven Springs. He was on a routine training combat flight when the accident occurred.

A board of officers has been appointed to investigate the cause of the accident.

Nothing more was given on the crash, however Ancestry’s death index lists the site of crash as New Hope.

March 8, 1945 — Pilot dies in plane crash

Second Lieutenant Sidney V. Alley, 20, son of Ross V. Alley of Hickory and Seymour Johnson Field was fatally injured Wednesday afternoon in a plane crash near Wrightsville Beach, while on a routine combat training flight.

He died at the Bluethenthal Field Air Base hospital, Wilmington, two hours after the crash. Lt. Alley had been stationed at Seymour Johnson since Jan. 24, transferring from Camp Springs, Md. A board of officers has been appointed to investigate the crash.

Eyewitnesses said the plane was one of three which had been maneuvering over the area for 10 minutes. Their accounts agreed that on a low banking turn over the water, a wing-tip of Alley’s plane snagged a wave, bouncing through the surf. The plane shed its wings and part of its engine and the fuselage drove into the beach, breaking in two at the cockpit.

Death certificate lists cause of death – airplane crash, depressed compound, comminuted, fracture of skull, fracture of right leg. The photograph is of Lt. Alley as an N.C. State sophomore.

March 31, 1945 — SJF pilot killed in plane crash

Second Lieutenant Louis G. Young, 21, son of Mrs. Ethel Young of Anderson, S. C., was killed four miles northeast of Newton Grove about 1:30 p.m. Friday, it was announced by Colonel Dudley B. Howard, base commander.

He was forced to bail out of the fighter plane in which he was flying a combat training mission that was below the minimum altitude at which his parachute could open. Lieutenant Young had been stationed at Seymour Johnson Field since March 9.

A board of qualified officers has been appointed to investigate the cause of the accident.

Death certificate gives the place of death as Grantham Township. Cause – laceration and hemorrhage of the brain, multiple, comminuted and depressed skull fractures.

May 3, 1945 — One killed, one hurt badly in SJF plane crash

One pilot was instantly killed and another critically injured Wednesday when the single- engined airplane they were piloting crashed in a field 6 miles west of Goldsboro. The dead airman is Second Lieutenant James V. Land, 20, of Port Arthur, Texas.

Second Lieutenant Wesley Hjalmer, 21, who received multiple injuries, was taken to the Seymour Johnson Field station hospital.

The airplane had taken off from Seymour Johnson and was on a combat training flight when it crashed on the farm property belonging to Robert Elks. Both pilots were student officers who transferred to Johnson Field from the Lincoln, Nebraska, Army Air Field on April 4. They were both commissioned on Nov. 20, 1944.

A board of qualified Army Air Forces officers will investigate to determine the exact cause of the accident. All next of kin have been notified.

Col. Dudley B. Howard, commanding Seymour Johnson Field, announced the accident.

The officer was the son of Mrs. H.M. Land of Port Arthur.

Death certificate describes cause of death as compression of spinal cord. Fracture, 2nd vertebrae.

May 5, 1945 – Pilot in critical condition

Lt. Wesley Hjalmer, who received multiple injuries in a plane crash 6 miles west of Seymour Johnson Field, on Wednesday, remains in a critical condition, according to a bulletin on his condition released from the Field station hospital through Col. Dudley B. Howard, base commander.

Lt. James V. Land of Port Arthur, Tex., was instantly killed in the crash.

I would assume that Lt. Hjalmer healed from his injuries. Research turned up no sign of his death.

Next week, I will show how the P-47 was the second most “at-risk-for-crashing” fighter plane used for training during the war, second only to the P-40 Warhawk.

Death certificate and pilot photograph reference material: Ancestry.com

Sherwood Williford writes a weekly column for the News-Argus. Contact him at 919-440-8811, Sherwoodowl@hotmail.com, or P.O. Box 175, Princeton, NC 27569.

Sherwood Williford writes a weekly column for the News-Argus. Contact him at 919-440-8811, Sherwoodowl@hotmail.com, or P.O. Box 175, Princeton, NC 27569.