Written History of Bert N. Whitney
My search for the nearest church unit began soon after I was settled in the dormitory. The phone number listed in the book was the Bishop’s Storehouse. The person who answered the phone directed me to the National City Branch of the church. It turned out that there was a closer place I could have attended, but it also turned out that the National City Branch was the right place for me. The close-knit humble members of the branch saw to my every need as I spent 1942 in southern California. The youth leaders picked me up for every activity, introduced me to the stake dances and in every way involved me in the branch. Since I was the only priest, I blessed the sacrament nearly every Sunday and sometimes passed it also. It wasn’t long before I was called into the Young Men’s presidency, sang in the choir (my first exposure to part singing), taught a Sunday school class, worked as assistant scoutmaster and frequently spoke in Sacrament meeting. I was also able to meet and work with many of the full time missionaries serving in the area, and became good friends with many of them. The Spirit of the Lord was my constant companion.
As World War II escalated, the demand for defense workers increased in the area, and so many students took work that the work-study program in which I was enrolled became so depleted that it had to be closed. I took a job at Rohr Aircraft in Chula Vista working as an assembly line electrician putting together B-24 bomber engine nacelles (the frame around the airplane engine). My first love was still mechanical drawing, so I tried to transfer to that department, but was told that my draft status (1-A) prohibited them from giving me training and then having me drafted.
When the school dorm closed, I moved to a boarding house in National City where I lived with a friend I had met at church. Not much later the branch president told us that John and Rosella Orvin were looking for a couple of boarders, so we moved in with them. This elderly childless couple had hearts as big as they come and testimonies of the gospel that were contagious. We became very close and I kept track of them and visited them occasionally until they died. There were many others in the area who became my good friends, both adults and those my age; 1942 was really my wonder year. I realized later that I was being prepared for a period of great stress and temptation which was soon to follow; in March 1943, I was drafted into the military service which occupied the next three years of my life.
After returning to Las Vegas from San Diego in late 1942, I took a drafting job at the magnesium plant in Henderson, Nevada where I worked until I was drafted into military service. I was sworn into the army on 29 Jan 1943 and entered the induction center at Fort Douglas, Utah about a week later on the 6th of Feb. During the six days I was there a lot of testing took place, both mental and physical. A few days after the testing I was asked if I wanted to apply to be trained as an Air Force Cadet. Thinking that cadets were those who marched in parades with tassels on their hats, I declined and was sent to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, for basic training. That month I spent near St. Louis seemed like an eternity. The weather was sub-zero most of the time, and the activities were nearly all outside on the drill field and on obstacle courses; I can never remember being warm except when I was on K.P. The six-man tent I lived in was equipped with a small pot-bellied stove but seldom had a fire in it because there was no time for anyone to keep up a fire, and when I was through for the day, I was exhausted and ready to climb into that ice cold bunk with a thin army blanket over me. (I piled every piece of clothing I could find on top of me, but still shivered all night.) The camp was nick-named “pneumonia gulch,” and there was a Congressional investigation underway at the time to try to find out why so many servicemen died while they were there.
On March 16, 1943, I boarded a train of sorts and was on my way to an unknown destination. The accommodations consisted of box cars fitted with hard wooden benches and a fire pit in the center to provide heat (which it didn’t). If there were rest room facilities on the train I never did find them, but fortunately we had a few stops along the way. We went to the “mess” car for meals which were cooked over a fire pit. The only thing I remember about the food is that there were lots of greasy half-done fried potatoes. Four days later we were unloaded somewhere in California and taken to Hammer Field for what reason I can’t remember, nor do I remember the location of the base. On April 2, 1943, I was sent to March Field on a bus and arrived that evening. At March Field (near Riverside, California) I was assigned to the Air Corp Engineers as an electrician, and began training on construction of landing strips. To further my skills I was sent to an electrician’s school at Geiger Field, Washington (April 30, 1943), arriving May 3rd. The train trip to Spokane was very beautiful and my stay at the school was interesting and useful. While I was there, I visited my good friend George Anderson, who was on a mission in Kellog, Idaho. Another friend, Wilford Long, was also in Kellog, stationed there in the Navy, so the three of us had a fun weekend. On May 30th the school was over, and I returned to my unit at March Field, arriving June 2nd. We continued training in Gavalon Hills near the base, where I operated the generators and flood lights as others ran the heavy equipment, all night long in many cases. A dozer operator wanted to trade jobs with me so he could get some sleep, so he took me for a few rounds until I could solo, and I spent the rest of the night on the cat.