of my mother, Louise Johnson Rier, and my grandmother, Elizabeth Keegan Rier. It was taken at Stewart Field in Newburgh, NY about 1944 when my father, James “Gene” Rier, was stationed there. I have many photos of Mom from that time, and photos of Grammy Rier over her lifetime but none at this age, about 52 years old, dressed up in a fur coat and hat. Quite a treasure!
My Dad, James “Gene” Rier, served in the US Army Air Corp from March 7, 1942 until December 30, 1945. I was surprised to find this letter among his papers along with other documents. It is a Statement of Interest in Consideration for Commission in the Regular Army. October 22, 1945. I had no idea that he submitted this letter of interest for commission in the US Army Air Corp after the war. Perhaps it was a backup plan in the case he did not find a civilian job.
Note: Pertinent parts of this letter are transcribed below for easy reading.
By October 29, 1945, one week after this letter of interest, Captain James E Rier, separated from the US Army Air Corp with commendation.
Dad found a job at the mill in Calais where he worked for a year and saved the money to build a home and business in Machias. By January 4th, 1946, Dad, Mom and my brother Jimmy were living in Calais.
What is interesting about Dad’s Statement of Interest for Commission in the Army is the details it contains about Dad’s education, training, and his early work history. I thought I knew about all about it but I did not. He wrote:
I have attended the following schools or colleges for the indicated number of years and hold the indicated degrees:
a. New England Aircraft School – Airplane Mechanics Course, six months.
b. Hemphill Diesel School, Boston Mass, six months.
c. Army Pilot Training, seven months.
d. Pratt & Whitney Aircraft School – Engine Specialist Course, two months.
My professional or business experience is as follows:
a. Aircraft Maintenance Officer – Three years
b. Six years experience as auto mechanic and foreman
c. Two years experience as topographer and surveyor
My military record is as follows:
a. Commissioned at Brooks Field, Texas, 7 March 1942, per paragraph 14 GO 54.
b. Date of entry on active duty 7 March 1942
c. Active duty, commissioned service, three years and eight months
d. Active duty, enlisted service, one year five months
Former immediate commanding officers from whom an officer evaluation report may be obtained:
a. Colonel Benjamin J. Webster, present address, Stewart Field, Newburgh, NY, served under from 25 June 1945 to date.
b. Colonel Joe W. Kelly, last known address, AAF Training Command, Fort Worth, Texas, served under from 25 January 1945 to 25 June 1945.
c. Colonel George F. Schlatter, last known address, Stewart Field, Newburgh, NY, served under from 3 June 1943 to 25 January 1945.
Permanent home mailing address: Lubec, Maine.
Dad must have been receiving his mail at his mother’s home in Lubec.
Dad’s Separation Qualification Record adds more details of his military career.
Military Occupational Assignments
5 months 2 Lt, Pilot, Two Engined (1051)
4 months 2nd Lt, Pilot, Single Engine (1054)
35 months Capt, Flight Test Maintenance Officer (4821)
Flight Test Maintenance Officer. Supervised the inspection, maintenance and repair of single and two engine training aircraft in the production line maintenance section. Supervised the preparation of reports, forms and correspondence necessary in the administration of the section. Supervised the changing of aircraft engines. Performed all necessary test flights to check safety of aircraft. Totaled 1215 flying hours as First Pilot.
Note: Dad was awarded the Legion of Merit for his accomplishments as a Flight Test Maintenance Officer.
On the second page, Dad lists employment:
Auto mechanic at Diamond Point Garage, Lubec Maine from 1935 to 1937. (This must be his father, Frank Rier’s garage. I did not know the name).
Topographer – 35.725 – for US Engineering Department, Boston, Mass from 1934 to 1935. On survey party, making maps of flooded area, also map of area to be flooded by future dam built.
Dad must have done the surveyor work right after he graduated from Lubec High School in 1934, likely living with his Aunt Mary in Leominster, MA. He truly was a jack of all trades!
a military award of the United States Armed Forces that is given for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements.
Today I found the citation letter sent to him and a badly damaged newspaper article reporting his Legion of Merit award.
“James E. Rier of Machias who was awarded the Legion of Merit at the request of Gen. Carl A. Spaatz, Army Air Chief for ‘outstanding accomplishment which contributed to flying safety.’ Rier, a former captain in the Air Force, earned the citation while serving…”
Pratt & Whitney’s first engine R-1340 was called the Wasp. It was completed on Christmas Eve 1925. Soon, it dominated Navy and Army Air Force fighter planes. According to the Pratt Whitney website, “in the 1930s, it made its mark on early commercial aviation. Charles Lindbergh shattered the transcontinental speed record in 1930 with his Wasp-powered Lockheed Sirius. Jimmy Doolittle relied on his Wasp to take his Gee Bee aircraft to new speeds. And, Amelia Earhart made history with her Wasp-powered Lockheed Electra 10E.” The R-1340 engine was produced until 1960 with over 35,000 engines sold.
When I was growing up, once in awhile, Dad would take the medal out of the old secretary, open the velvet-lined case, and tell the story. During WWII, airplane engines were failing due to a design flaw resulting in downed planes and death of pilots. At the time, Dad was serving as Assistant Aircraft Engineering Officer at West Point, Stewart Field Air Force Base, in Newburgh, NY. He recognized the engine flaw and figured out the mathematical formulas to fix the design. A certain part of the engine was at an improper angle that resulted in engine failure in some planes under certain flying conditions. He said it was all about the math and inventing the right formulas to correct it.
There was another story Dad told about fixing the engine design. It happened before he was awarded the Legion of Merit. An Army General visited Stewart Field and held a meeting to determine who was responsible for fixing the engines. One of Dad’s superior officers tried to take credit for it. Dad found out in the meeting. He said it was the closest he ever came to throwing a man out a second floor window, but restrained himself. (Now Dad could have a temper at times but I never saw him violent with anyone, little less ignore military protocols, so this was a surprise to his young daughter.) When Dad voiced his strong objection as the man attempted to take credit, the General questioned this man and asked him to explain the formulas. He could not. He didn’t know anything about it. The General then asked Dad the same questions. Dad had memorized the formulas and explained how the change in design had fixed the problem.
I can find no information online about a problem with Pratt and Whitney engines in World War II planes but expect that information was not made public.
I’m horribly glad that Dad decided not to throw that guy out through the window. And, I’m gratefully proud of him for serving his country, for making Pratt and Whitney engines safer, proud of the man who grew up in Lubec, graduated from High School there in 1934, then built a successful business nearby in Machias, Maine.
This photo of a three star General (far left), Dad (third from left), and a man on the right, who may be an engineer from Pratt and Whitney, inspecting a plane at West Point.
Dad received his West Point Assignment as a Flight Instructor in 1942. He sent a telegram to my mother, Louise Johnson, announcing his new assignment. They would soon marry and reside at West Point. Dad had undergone basic flight training at Goodfellow Field in San Angelo, Texas, at Parks Air College and was preparing to take his place in the newly expanded US Army Air Corp as a flying second lieutenant. Read more here…
Brooksfield Texas. Saturday, March 7th, 1942.
Dad’s card is on the inside of the announcement.
He wrote to my mother on the back:
To Louise, In memory of all the lovely times we spent together. If I ever get home again I’ll drop in. I’m sure a long way from Maine now. With regards, “Gene.”
Soon, Dad received his assignment to West Point.
Dad sounds homesick. He used to tell stories about Texas. He hated the weather, infernally hot to a man from Lubec, Maine. His dating experiences were not good either. He and a buddy took two women to a restaurant for dinner.
“They were so stuck on themselves. Puffy hair and all. They thought their s#^t was ice cream.” Dad said. After a boring conversation, the two men quietly paid the bill, went to the restroom, and crawled out the window to escape a nightmare double date. I expect they wanted these women to know they were not impressed with their highfalutin attitudes.
Dad missed that woman from Machias, Maine, Louise Johnson. He must have decided to propose as they married less than a year later, February 15th, 1943.
My Dad, James “Gene” Rier, stands on the left staring up at her, smiling in apparent admiration, as she departs the train upon arrival at West Point where Dad was a pilot instructor. In 1935, Rosalind Russell had starred with Robert Young in West Point of the Air, a movie about pilot training in the US Army Corps in the early 1930s. So she came to boost the morale of the military men there during World War II and was met at the train by two (rather handsome) pilot instructors in the US Army Corp.
In 1942, Russell was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in the movie My Sister Eileen, the first of four Academy nominations. In the coming years, she won the Golden Globe for Best Leading Actress five times and a Tony Award in 1953 for Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Ruth in the Broadway show Wonderful Town.
According to Dad, greeting Rosalind Russell at the train that day was quite an honor. “She was beautiful,” he grinned, “but your mother is far more stunning.”
He sent a telegram to my mother, Louise Johnson, announcing his new assignment. They would soon marry and reside at West Point. Dad had undergone basic flight training at Goodfellow Field in San Angelo, Texas, at Parks Air College and was preparing to take his place in the newly expanded US Army Air Corp as a flying second lieutenant.
West Point, Stewart Field, Newburgh, NY. Tent city. Planes, planes, planes. Power glides for instrument landing and legal hedge hopping. A Beechcraft factory churns out planes for World War II.
By June of 1944, West Point had trained hundred of pilots, including the son of Dwight D Eisenhower, supreme commander of Allied Forces in Europe and the sons of other Army Generals.