Mr. Raymond S. Hawks
WWII, Airforce, 1943-46
At age 18 Ray joined the Air Force in 1943 before the enlistment to the Air Force was closed. His two weeks basic training was in Utah, then nine weeks training in Montana and then he and his wife went to California for his final 20 weeks of training.
Ray was trained on the new P-38. His instructors were combat pilots who taught him to fly in perfect formation and “buzzing.” The buzzing training proved essential is air combat but could lead to a fine of 15 cents which Ray had to pay once for buzzing in a duty flight.
Although he trained in a P-38, once overseas, Ray never flew the same model plane more than once. On his first mission, Ray shot a hole in the flight leader’s plane. The leader didn’t tell Ray this happened for a long time thinking this would discourage a new pilot. He continued flying in flak so heavy he could barely see through it. During Ray’s one year of air battles and 48 missions, he was never shot down and considers himself very lucky. His group, the 367th Fighter Group, lost 80 pilots and 34 listed as missing in action out of a total of 350 pilots that rotated through.
Ray spent time in England and Germany. His group was to assist in the air during the Battle of the Bulge but due to fog they were unable to help out. This caused much frustration to his group until they were able to get in the air on the last day of battle. Ray compares flying in battle to shooting pigeons. If you fly in a zig-zag course, the enemy can’t easily shoot you. When in Germany, Ray’s group stayed in a priests’ retirement home and was well cared for by the nuns.
When at the end of the war, Ray went home and back to work. He lost his left eye to a work related injury keeping him from reporting during the Korean War. Many of his fellow pilots went on to fly in Korea and Vietnam.
Ray has attended forty six 367th Fighter Group reunions of which still take place. He and his wife were married 65 years before her death in May 2009. You may view Ray’s military history in Veterans Hall at the Truman Memorial Building, 416 W. Maple, Independence, MO 64050.
– This is part of a weekly feature on local veterans submitted by Helen Matson, volunteer program director for the city of Independence, 816-325-7860.