‘There’s a war going on, all bets are off’

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jarrod Grammel
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
In the fall of 1942 the outcome of World War II was yet to be decided. Japanese forces held much of the Pacific, North Africa would soon see Americans landing on its shores and Europe remained a German stronghold. As millions of men and women were drafted - many volunteered.

Zeke Alpern volunteered and left his life as a student at The City College of New York behind.

"I enlisted in New York City where I was a student," he said. "There was a guy sitting at a table and he was saying if you sign up now, they will let you finish school. So I told my parents that it sounds like a real good deal, that they won't touch me until I graduate. I convinced them and they signed the papers. That was October 1942."

But the war raging in Europe and the Pacific would soon be a reality for the New York City college student.

"In February 1943 I got a phone call and was told to report to Grand Central Station or I will be considered AWOL," said Alpern. "I told them it must be a mistake. I was told I wouldn't be called until I finish school. The reply I got was 'there's a war going on, all bets are off.' And that was my introduction into the military and the war."

After reporting to Grand Central Station, Alpern spent the next months in training to become a pilot.

"I became a cadet at Maxwell Field, Ala., then went to Douglas, Ga., where I flew solo for the first time," he said. "From Douglas I went to Cochran Army Airfield, Ga. I finished my training at Moody Field, got my wings and went on a month-long furlough."

Now that training was over and he was a qualified military pilot, there was only one place left to go - war.

"During my furlough, I got orders to New Guinea," said Alpern. "Since I was a twin-engine pilot, if I went to Europe I would fly the B-17 (Flying Fortress) or the B-24 (Liberator). If this happened, chances are that I would fly 12 missions and get shot down. You had to survive 25 to go home. I feel like by getting orders to New Guinea I gained 65 years of life."

Alpern served his time in the Pacific theater and flew the C-47 Skytrain, transporting supplies and fuel.

"It was easy there," said Alpern. "I flew every third day, and if your name wasn't on the board to fly, you had no responsibilities. I would go to the lagoon and swim for two days then fly for one.

"I had an easy war," he added. "In 1942, 95 percent of the island was under Japanese control but by the time I arrived there were practically none. I don't know what it would've been like if I went in 1942 but I was lucky."

Alpern separated from the Army Air Forces after the war in 1946 to be with the wife and child he left behind.