EDITOR’S NOTE: The following feature series profiles Ellis County veterans killed in the line of service to their country during the 20th century.
The features, researched and written by Perry Giles, are read in first-person voice by area students during the annual Ellis County Veterans Appreciation Day Ceremony as a special way to remember and pay tribute to our friends, classmates and neighbors who gave their lives for our freedom.
“We Were Soldiers Once and Young” will appear every Sunday in the Daily Light through Veterans Day.
James Ward contributed to today’s column.
We stand on the backs of their sacrifice. Their history is our tradition, as long as there are Americans to remember…
My name is Floyd Daniel Couch. I was born Sept. 28, 1923, in Italy, Texas, to Arthur and Beatrice Couch, the fourth of five children. My friends at the Italy Grammar School called me “Chick.”
When I was about 5 years old, someone gave me a goat and a two-wheeled cart.
This little vehicle gave me and my younger sister, Rosie Marie, many hours of pleasure. We would ride down Clark Street, across Sims Street, up Poplar Street and across Ridge Street back home.
We had to be careful down on Clark Street because that is where the Interurban ran through town. There was a time or two when I got the whistle blown at me and it upset my goat to no end.
My best friend, J.B. Parnell, lived right next door. He was a preacher’s kid. What we did not get into did not exist.
J.B. had a garage with an attic behind his house. This is where we built crystal radios and model planes, smoked grapevine and cotton leaves. We enjoyed each other’s company and spent many an hour there planning how we would conquer all problems.
Once while playing on a merry-go-round at school, I fell off and broke my leg. That put a complete damper on my physical activities for quite a while. Since I so loved all sports, that time was particularly hard for me to endure.
My dad was an auto mechanic, and he also owned a small airplane. He let me hang around his garage. I learned a little bit about mechanicing and how to handle the tools. As a reward for cleaning up around the shop, he would take me for a ride in his plane every now and then.
Flying over southern Ellis County, looking down on all the farm fields and pastures, it appeared as a large quilt work of green, gold and brown patches, scattered in with the occasional blue of a pond. This was the beginning of my interest in flying.
In 1938 my family moved to southwest Dallas, where I enrolled in Sunset High School. Later on, I transferred to St. Joseph’s Academy, graduating in 1942. In ’43, I enrolled at North Texas State Teachers College in Denton. While going to school there, I enlisted in the Naval Aviation Reserve V-5 program.
With the war on and all, I figured this was my best shot at becoming a pilot. That was my dream – to fly.
In July of ’43, I was directed to appear before the U.S. Naval Aviation Cadet Selection Board as a possible substitute in a class going to Naval Flight Preparatory School in Austin. When I was not picked as that substitute, I was terribly disappointed. They sent me home to await further orders. … I had never felt so low.
Four months later on Nov. 12, 1943, I reported to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Chicago for boot camp. I was assigned to Company 1709. It is awful busy here. I don’t recall ever seeing so many people together at one place. It was like going to another big college, a naval college, just with a lot more PT.
Following 12 weeks of prescribed basic training, I was sent to the Miami Naval Air Station in southern Florida. I was a Seaman First Class and had been chosen to be a gunner on a torpedo bomber, not my ultimate goal, but at least I would still be flying.
Upon reporting to the Miami Naval Air Station in February of 1944, I was introduced to the Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo plane. Man, it was some big imposing airplane!
Our Avenger was a carrier based plane, meant to take off and land on aircraft carriers. She weighed 10,500 some-odd pounds empty and carried a 2,000 pound torpedo underneath. There were four machine guns just bristling for some action. It was a mighty impressive beast of a warplane, that’s for sure.
We began extensive classroom training; the topics included “Aircraft Recognition,” “Target Identification” and “Ditching At Sea.” It soon became hard for me to concentrate on all this technical study as I wanted to get to the flying part of it.
The first flights were primarily for orientation, you know, getting the crew acquainted with each other and our position, that sort of thing. We had a three man crew: a pilot, a radio operator/gunner and a ball turret gunner, which was my spot. I had an electrically controlled ball turret that faced aft, and I manned a .50 caliber machine gun.
Soon enough the training flights became more what I expected with longer flights, low level flights and gunnery practice. I was back behind the pilot, inside a ball turret facing backwards. It was a little unnerving when the plane pushed down into a dive. Watching the water get closer and waiting for the pilot to pull out sometimes seemed like an eternity although in reality it was only a few seconds.
The radio operator was down below me in the belly of the plane or the “tunnel” as we called it. He was equipped with a bench seat, a radio, radar, and a .30 caliber machine gun facing aft below the tail.
It was not a good place for the weak minded. The tunnel did not provide much comfort. It was noisy with limited visibility. After days of intensive flying, it became encrusted with and smelled of engine oil and transmission fluids. It could produce a discouraging claustrophobia for the uninitiated. … I was glad to be on top in the ball turret.
I could not access the pilot’s cockpit because of the armor plate behind the pilot’s seat. There was a small hatch door down there in the tunnel and this is how I had to get in and out of this bird.
Neither the radioman nor I could wear a parachute during flight, there wasn’t room for it. I was expected to climb down through the tunnel and snap on a chest pack parachute and exit out through the small door against the airstream. The way I figure it, there won’t be time enough for that unless we are at considerable altitude.
Eventually we added a dummy torpedo to our load to simulate how all that extra weight would affect our flying maneuvers. Coming in low on a target approach was an exhilarating experience. I could look down to either side and watch the waves white-capping about 40 feet below as we cruised along at almost 200 knots.
All in all, I am getting the hang of this and feel as though I will be able to contribute my part to this war effort. The desire to be a pilot is still there, but I am resolved to do my best as part of the team.
I figure that we will be getting our assignment some time soon. According to the news I read, the war in Europe is going well, but we have expected all along to be headed for the Pacific. We will know shortly.
Sept. 21, 1944, began much the same as any other normal day at the Air Station. Up before sunrise, there was a beautiful crescent moon low in the sky, breakfast tasted better than normal. There is more flying on our schedule for today and that suits me just all right.
Out on the flight line, I climbed up into our plane and worked my way up through the damp, dark tunnel into my gun turret. The pilot fired her up and after an initial pop and blast of blue smoke, those 1,900 horses kicked in and she came alive.
As we taxied down to the end of the runway, I dug around in my pocket for a piece of gum and enjoyed the beautiful September morning. Once in position, the pilot locked the brakes and wound up our radial engine to near full power. The din of noise and vibration pierced through everything including my headset and my fingertips.
The brakes released and right away we started rolling down the concrete runway at a good clip. I grabbed a hold of my 50-cal to keep it from moving about. Within a few seconds we were up and away from earth’s grip. Over the tree line with no worries and now I could see the Atlantic.
I heard the engine cut out and felt the wing dip. I turned and looked back over my shoulder to see…
It was a Thursday, and I was seven days short of my 21st birthday.
Remember us, for we were sailors once and young.
Perry Giles serves as co-chair of the Ellis County Veterans Appreciation Day Committee. The 2011 countywide tribute to veterans is scheduled for 10 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 12, at the Waxahachie Civic Center followed by a wreath presentation at the Ellis County Veterans Memorial located in front of the center.