His War Effort Saved Lives
In case you missed it, here is a story from last August, 2010 in the Hutch News about the old Pratt Army Air Base.
His war effort saved lives
By Clara Kilbourn - The Hutchinson News - firstname.lastname@example.org
As a civilian welder, Easter M. Davis Jr. thinks there would have been money in the modifications he made to the B-29 airplanes that rolled off the assembly line and later shipped to the Pratt Army Air Base.
But with World War II raging and as an Air Force volunteer, his work was classified, top secret. His payoff came in the knowledge that he was helping save lives, Davis said.
"You do the best you can for the good of your country," said Davis, who recently donated war memorabilia - including his uniform - to the ongoing effort for a B-29 museum at the former air base.
The four-engine propeller B-29 Superfortress bombers were being assembled in four factories, including the Boeing plant in Wichita.
Because of the plane's highly advanced design and the immense pressure to make it combat-ready, the B-29s left production lines and were flown directly to modification depots. In Pratt, that was out in the middle of a field, Charlie Cupp said.
Cupp, 91, of Wichita, a former Boeing employee, worked in the Wichita plant. The planes they assembled were delivered to Pratt, Walker, Smoky Hill and Great Bend air bases - with as many as 200 modifications still needed to make them ready for war.
"The airmen who worked on those modifications like to froze to death," Cupp said. "It was in the dead of winter. They were working outside and that was a cold winter - one of the coldest on record. The winds blew fierce."
Davis welded a stainless-steel replacement of a black metal baffle between the two rows of nine cylinders on the Wright engine. The original metal could burn out from engine heat or vibrate off, he said.
He also worked on a modification that held the bomb bay doors closed in turbulent weather - reducing the danger of doors falling open and pulling a crew member out.
"If the Navy wasn't down there to pick them up, they were gone," Davis said.
A native Texan, Davis, almost 20 years old, was working as rivet heater and welder on a destroyer in Orange, Texas, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He learned to weld in jobs at a creosote plant and a sawmill shop.
Rather than being drafted into the Army, he and two friends enlisted in the Air Force.
"I was working all the time I was in the service on something that would benefit trying to get the war over," he said.
Cupp called the work of airmen like Davis "a labor of necessity," something that had to be done.
"As the planes came out the door at Boeing, they were all the same," Cupp said. "It was a good plane, the most advanced in the world, designed to carry heavy bomb loads and supplies, but it was being pushed. Everybody was clamoring for those B-29s, including foreign governments."
Davis recalled that ideas for improvements on the plane came to him as he worked.
"I was always thinking of what I could do," he said. "I think it saved a lot of lives."
Davis' daughter, Sharolyn Davis, recalled that as she and her three siblings were growing up, their dad was proud he had worked on the B-29s as "one of the important welders," but only recently has talked about what he did.
"We always wondered why it was so important; it seemed to be one of the highlights of his life. He was sworn to secrecy," she said.
When the war ended, Davis returned to Russell, where he owned a chain of welding shops in Russell, Hays and Kiowa.
Cupp is assisting with the restoration of a B-29 in storage at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita. A crew of 10 to a dozen "hardcore" volunteers meets almost daily working on that project, building and refurbishing parts for the plane.