Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Military Opportunities

BOND: So, with the expectation that you are going to fly --

THEUS: Yes. That's right.

BOND: -- you sign up.

THEUS: I did.

BOND: You're called up, you sign up.

THEUS: I went down --

BOND: And what's your experience?

THEUS: Well, I went down to the old post office building in Chicago and -- well, before that. I decided that I wanted to fly, as I'd mentioned earlier, and as I said I was working and now starting to make a little bit of money, but not a lot. But I did take my last bit of money and bought several books on aeronautics -- read, studied them very, very religiously. And then I went down to the old post office building where they were giving these tests on for individuals to see if they qualified to fly. As it worked, as it turned out, upon completing the test, was scored, fellow came out and looked at me and he said, "I noticed that you said on your application that you're not a pilot, that you've never flown an aircraft." And I said, "That's correct, sir." And he said, "Well, I just don't understand this." He said, "I haven't seen a higher score down here from a non-flying individual. How do you explain that?" And I said, "Well, you know, I like aviation. I, of course, read up on it and so forth, and so I was able to do well on it." He said, "All right," he said, "You'll do all right." He said, "Now, looking at your physical you do have a problem with one eye but I think that you'll be okay if you go out and maybe go see your doctor and see what will happen." I did and he said, "Oh, well it's nothing really seriously wrong." He said, "You were probably a little fatigued," so he said, "Eat some carrots and rest up for a week. And go back, you'll probably pass." And so I did. And so he said then, "Okay, you're fully qualified. You can go into aviation cadet training." And I said, "Fine, fine, let me go, turn me loose." And he said, "Oh no, wait a minute, we're only taking a few of you at a time. We're building a base for you and all of that." And so in the meantime my draft board kept breathing my neck, saying, "We think that perhaps you are just putting us on, and you don't want to go into the service and so forth," and they kept this up for about six months.

BOND: So even though you had, in effect, volunteered for the Air Corps --

THEUS: Yes, yes.

BOND: -- the draft board is saying --

THEUS: Was still breathing down my neck saying that if they don't send you to flight training, then you're going to have to go on into the --

BOND: You would have gone into the Army?

THEUS: That's right, into the Army. But when I arrived at Selfridge Air National Guard -- well, not Selfridge, I'm sorry -- at Fort Custer, Michigan, I told the people who were processing me there that I really wanted to be on the aviation side of things, I wanted to go into the Army Air Corps, at least be close to airplanes. And the fellow there just, he wasn't at all concerned about that. He said, "Well," he said, "If you really want to be Air Corps, go ahead stick out your hand." And I did, and he stamped Army Air Corps on it and so I got over in a separate line for Army Air Corps. And then as I mentioned, I went on down to Keesler Field in Biloxi, Mississippi. And the rest of it is history. I was able to become first sergeant in short order, and --

BOND: But you didn't become a pilot?

THEUS: I did not become a pilot.

BOND: And they lost your application.

THEUS: That's right. So anyhow, after I got to Keesler, we wrote back to the board, my commander and I both tried to contact them. They claimed they no record of my having passed these exams. And so we kept this up, back and forth, back and forth. Finally after about, I guess it was closer to a year -- between six months and a year -- we did receive information from headquarters Air Corps that I had been found fully qualified for aviation cadet pilot training and that I was to be made Air Corps unassigned, taken away from the cadre, made Air Corps unassigned, preparatory for entrance into this program. My commander who was relatively new himself, said, "Gee," said, "I sure wish you would stay and help me straighten out this squadron. And I'll help you get a commission after that and I'll get you into flight training if that's what you want to do."

So I stayed with him. This was my own choice. It seemed the thing to do because I was asked – this is the first time that I had really been asked to make a decision, that I could, whether I could stay or not. So I decided that he needed help, he was nice enough to ask me if I would agree to stay, and so I did. And when we got things straightened out a year later, I was ready to go into pilot training, and so I filled out my new application, sent it in. It was immediately rejected because they said, "We're phasing the program down; we're not accepting anyone from the outside anymore," and so that was the end of that. I went back to this captain and I said, "I'm not going to get to go to flying training." And he said, "Well," he said, "the next best thing we can do -- we've got to get you a commission." He said, "We'll get you into officer candidate school. Make an application and see and I'll help you."