Military Ops





Gene Autry's Gander Connection

by J. Pinsent

While growing up in Gander as a kid during the 40’s an 50’s, one of my favorite cowboy movie actors was Gene Autry. He was our Saturday matinee idol. Little did we know that Gene Autry, for a very short period of time was a familiar face, walking the streets of Gander in the war years.
During the war several movie actors joined the US military, in particular the USAAF. Names like Jimmy Stewart, Robert Montgomery and Clarke Gable were known to have flown in and out of Gander.

Sometime ago I remember Eileen (Chafe) Elms saying that she could recollect while growing up, Gene Autry visiting her parents house  (Mr. & Mrs. Fred Chafe) for a social gathering.  We did some research and have come to the conclusion that this recollection could very well be accurate.Autry

For those of you who have no idea who Gene Autry is, he was a famous cowboy movie actor in the late 30’s and after the war, a popular western singer who introduced us all to Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer in the late 40’s plus others, had his own TV show in the early 50’s and owned a American League baseball team the California Angels until 1997 (later to become  known officially as Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim).

When World War II broke out, Gene Autry was determined to join the armed forces and do his part. On July 26, 1942, he was inducted into the Army Air Forces as a Technical Sergeant.

With a private pilot's license under his belt, Gene set out to earn his wings as a Flight Officer. On June 21, 1944 Gene earned his service pilot wings and was promoted to Flight Officer. He was assigned to the 91st Ferrying Squadron of the 555th Army Air Base Unit, Air Transport Command at Love Field. Flight Officer Autry served with this unit from July 1942 to October 1945.

During that time Gene performed duties as a pilot on cargo type aircraft including AT-6s, 7s and 11s, C-104s and C-109s. The C-109's were used to haul fuel in the China-Burma-India theatre of operations. Flight Officer Autry made one trip to the CBI theatre via the Azores, North Africa and the Middle East. Enroute to the Azores the plane he was co-piloting had to reverse course to avoid a hurricane, flying five hours back to Newfoundland, where it landed at Gander with one engine out and low on fuel. Fog rolled in and the crew was grounded there for two weeks.

With such a celebrity living in Gander for two weeks, it is very likely that he was a toast of the USAAF Base's Officer's Mess and attended several dinner parties on Chestnut St. Although we haven’t established any facts on this but because he was flying with the USAAF Ferry Squadron, it was quite conceivable he flew out of Gander on a regular basis.

Editors note: Gene Autry’s military career was researched from http://www.geneautry.com/home.php



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