Etched in Glenn Lacy’s memory is May 8, 1945. That’s the day World War II in Europe ended following Germany’s surrender. At the time, the 24-year-old native Texan was stationed at Lavenham Air Base in England with the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Glenn recalls a huge celebration was held in a nearby British town to mark the occasion. The British people invited the ‘Yanks,’ as they called them, from all the nearby bases to share the momentous milestone. Glenn feels fortunate to have been part of the unforgettable, high-spirited gathering despite the years of strict rationing.
Meanwhile, on May 8, 1945, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who had led the country and its Allies through the treacherous war years, greeted the crowds at Whitehall in Central London. They, too, celebrated with joyful relief.
A Child of the Great Depression
World War II represents a truly pivotal time in Glenn’s life.
He had volunteered to serve his country in 1940 when the clouds of war had only begun to gather. Glenn chose to enter the service because he saw it as an opportunity to better his life and enhance his future. When the results of an aptitude test showed he could be trained as a mechanic, Glenn was elated.
Born in 1920, Glenn was the seventh of 11 children. He remembers his first home, a three-room farmhouse southwest of Weatherford, Texas, that was not much more than a shack. It had no indoor plumbing or electricity and certainly no central heat or air conditioning. It was cold in the winter and hot in the summer.
Glenn’s parents were hardworking sharecroppers. They moved from rented farm to rented farm, bravely attempting to wrestle a living from the land while half starving in the process. During the lean years of the Great Depression, there was little food on the table or clothes on the backs of Glenn and his family.
To break out of the poverty of his youth, Glenn was determined to graduate from high school and somehow learn a skill or trade. Because he couldn’t start school until after all the farm work and cotton-picking was done in late November or December, he needed to work extra hard at his studies.
During his junior and senior years, Glenn stayed with his grandmother. He tried to arrive several weeks early to pick enough cotton to earn money for school clothing and expenses. If he was lucky, he had a little left over, very little, to tide him over during the school year.
Glenn (back row, second from right) is pictured on his Senior Day in May 1938, at a park near Mineral Wells, Texas. Despite the obstacles he had to dodge to obtain a high school diploma, Glenn graduated as salutatorian of the class. However, there was no way he could afford to go to college.
Instead, Glenn found work in a clothing factory in Fort Worth.
The U.S. Army Air Force’s recruitment ads caught his attention.
Glenn never regretted his decision to join and undergo the extensive training aimed at maintaining the safety and dependability of America’s aircraft.
Putting His Mechanical Skills to the Test
Glenn was assigned for 14 months as an aircraft ground crew chief at an airfield approximately 60 miles north of London and 35 miles south of Cambridge, England.
He ensured that the B-24 Liberator and B-17 Flying Fortress planes assigned to him remained airworthy. These long-range, four-engine bombers bombarded Germany, playing a significant role in the Allies’ victory.
For the first three months, Glenn maintained a B-24 before the more efficient B-17 replaced it. That aircraft earned the distinction of dropping the most bombs of any single aircraft type during WWII. Glenn is pictured above adjusting the carburetor of the number two engine on a B-17.
With the help of two or three mechanics, the planes that Glenn maintained flew numerous daytime combat missions over Germany. None of them crashed and, more importantly, no American crewmembers on the planes he maintained lost their lives. Sadly, others in his group were not as fortunate.
None of the aircraft Glenn serviced experienced mechanical problems that forced an unscheduled return to the base, either. Glenn achieved an impressive 75 missions flown without a turn-back.
To prepare their plane each day for its mission, Glenn and his crew would arrive at the hangar at about 4 a.m. and follow a strict protocol before the aircraft was deemed ready to fly. When the aircraft returned from a mission, Glenn would be debriefed on its mechanical performance.
Fortunately, the aircraft he was responsible for never sustained enough flak damage to sideline them.
After 30 or 35 missions, aircrews would rotate back to the U.S. and another group of aviators took their places. Glenn and his crew got to know them all.
While London was in constant imminent danger from German buzz bombs and V-2 rockets, Glenn’s more remote countryside location was spared those vicious air attacks.
Two Brothers Meet in Britain
While stationed in England, Glenn (at right in the photo above) had an overnight visit from his older brother, Turner, who was serving in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps. Although in England for only a short time, Turner made a point of meeting his brother. In the picture, kneeling beside the nose wheel, Glenn is explaining to his brother some of the maintenance issues the aircraft commonly faced. When the war ended, Turner was stationed in France.
The brothers didn’t catch up with each other again until after they both returned home.
In July 1945, the U.S. Army Air Corps began sending its personnel home to the U.S. with a warning. They would likely need to regroup in the not too distant future for the greatly dreaded invasion of the Japanese mainland.
When Glenn and his aircraft maintenance crew flew back to the U.S., the trip took three days and two nights. The first night they stayed in Iceland and the second in Goose Bay, Labrador. The journey terminated at Grenier Field near Manchester, New Hampshire, where Glenn had done part of his training after volunteering for the U.S. Army Air Corps in December 1940.
Glenn had been among the passengers who were onboard the same B-17 that once had been assigned to him.
When the U.S. Army Air Corps dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in August 1945, Glenn was on rest and recuperation leave – R&R. Following that devastating action, the Japanese surrendered on Sept 2, 1945, ending the war in the Pacific.
From Wartime Mechanic to American Airlines Third Pilot
At 25 years of age, Glenn was discharged as a Master Sergeant, returning to civilian life on Aug. 25, 1945. Five days later, he began a 41-year career with American Airlines in Fort Worth, Texas. After three and a half years as a mechanic, he began flying as the third pilot-flight engineer.
Glenn calls it a privilege to have flown in that capacity on his favorite aircraft, the Boeing 747, for approximately one year.
The highlight of Glenn’s career, though, was the day he and his son, Glenn Jr., a former U.S. Navy pilot, who also had joined American Airlines, were members of the same crew. In the photo above, Glenn Sr. (left) and Glenn Jr. (right) were co-pilot and flight engineer, respectively, on a flight to London, England.
Glenn Jr. also flew as co-pilot on his dad’s last flight in March 1987, again to London and back. Their wives accompanied the two aviators. Glenn Sr. had married Helen in 1943 before he was sent overseas. Unfortunately, she died in 2001.
In 2015, Glenn and his son returned to Lavenham, where he had been stationed during World War II, for the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe. While he won’t be in England at this year’s observance, Glenn will be there in spirit.
P.S. If you are interested in reading more of my World War II profiles of veterans and women who waited for them on the home front, check out “Veterans’ Voices and Home Front Memories” on Amazon.
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