Among the over 1500 people who braved the summer heat on the black tarmac waiting in line to see the B-29 at Provo Airport this week, were a few veterans whose visits couldn’t help but bring back memories. One of those veterans was retired Air Force Technical Sergeant Vernon R. Thompson. He may have needed a little assistance at the top of the ladder into the plane, but Thompson was determined to see the inside of the B-29 one more time. After his tour of the plane, he spent some time under the tent sharing some of those memories with the Commemorative Air Force volunteers and a couple of UVU School of Aviation Sciences employees.
Thompson, age 91, is from Beaver, Utah, and was just getting ready to graduate from high school when an Air Force captain came to see him and offered him room and board in Logan at Utah State University in return for service with the Air Force. Thompson agreed and put in 500 hours of aeronautical engineering training there before going to Hill Air Force base, where he primarily worked on repairing engines. Thompson had served at Hill for about a year when he was informed his name was coming up in the draft. That’s when the same captain came to recruit Thompson again.
This time Thompson was sent to Ft. Douglas as the first recruit for an air depot repair squadron that was being formed. “They told me, ‘You’re in charge of this barrack and the people in it.” His commander told him, “You left as a corporal. I’ll see you’re a technical sergeant in three months.” “And I was,” Thompson says.
Thompson served in North Africa, Italy, Guam, and Tinian. He was serving in Italy when he received orders to report to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He went there to supervise GIs learning to repair and outfit B-29 bombers, including the Enola Gay. “I was in charge of propeller flight training and flight checks. We were there to fix anything that went wrong.”
As an interesting side note, when he arrived at Tinker, Thompson met an instructor there who was training GIs how to assemble propellers. She later became his wife.
Thompson never expected to see the inside of a B-29 again. Even though it took a little help, “I was glad to get into the cockpit. It’s been 55 years since I’ve been in the cockpit.” His daughter, Della Brammer, said, “And I was glad to see you get out!”
Thanks again to the Commemorative Air Force for making UVU’s Provo Campus a stop on the AirPower History Tour.