Born February 18, 1906, in the town of Newark, New York, on a wintry Sunday, Son of Ralph D. And Nellie May Halstead.
Father worked for the Perkins Nurserys located in that town.
When I was about three years old my parents moved to the tenant house on the Dunham Farm in the town of Savannah, N.Y., which my Grandfather owned, to work the farm on shares.
I recall very little of the period prior to reaching about seven years of age when my father bought the dapple gray team of horses, and I started going to school at Savannah, over five miles away, by horse and carriage. The horses were name "Pat and Mike".
During the next few years I became a real close partner with my Dad. He taught me to drive the gray team, hunt and trap, and by the time I was eleven years old was driving the 1917 Chevrolet that he owned, to town. I was doing about everything with the horses except with the walking plow, not enough lead in my breeches for that. I would rather stay home from school and work on the farm, which I sometimes did, and no loafing.
When the trapping season opened, Nov. 10th, I would set numerous traps, and on school days would up and off on my trap line by 5 A.M., with lantern and 25 cal. Stevens single shot rifle, hurry back, have breakfast, and be off to school by 7:30 A.M.
It was a great life for me, except when I had two different kinds of measles, and had my tonsils and adenoids removed by the country Doctor while I was laid out on the ironing board. Mother helped chloraform me with ether on a cloth. I well remember it. They were placed in a bottle of alcohol and sat on the clock shelf in the kitchen for a long time..
Life on the farm ended in December of that year. Father decided to dabble in real estate, Grandfather kept the gray team on the farm and a year later sold farm and all horses and tools.
We lived in Port Byron for three months then moved to Throopsville, just outside of Auburn, where Dad went in as partners with Bounds & McCarthy Realters. In doing so he ever invested in property and the depression came along and wiped him out. Further, he departed to unknown areas and left Mother, and my younger brother, Earle, without any means of support. Within a year, my Mother took Earl, age four, and kept house for an elderly couple who were relatives, and I went and lived with my grand parents who had sold the farm and lived nearby.
While in my first year of High School I joined the National Guard at Auburn and found that I liked the military service. Resulting in my remaining in the various services for the next thirty nine years.
I was quite unhappy in high school, especially with algebra, and decided to quit, in spite of many parental objections. I worked on a farm that spring until I became very homesick. Then, one of the sargeants in the National Guard unit I was in obtained employment with the North East Elec. Co. in Rochester, N.Y. where I worked until the fall of 1923, when I returned to Auburn and worked nights in a garage. Night work did not agree with me as I could not rest daytimes, so the first week of January I applied for a position with a carpet Co.in Auburn. During the interview I was given a color test and told I was color blind. The end of that. However, five years later I took the Air Service Flight physical and had no difficulty.
On Jan. 28th, 1924, I enlisted in the Army Air Service and was stationed at Mitchel Field, L.I., N.Y. I was assigned to the radio section of the First Observation Squadron until August 4th when I was transferred to the Army Air Reserve Training Detachment at Boston Airport, Boston, Mass. My assignment there involved maintenance of Liberty engined De Haviland Observation airplanes as well as Hispano powered JN4D's. I was very happy with this work, as I often had a opportunity to fly with one of the reserve pilots and get in some "stick" time.
Along with my army duties I became engaged to and on June 15th 1927 was married to a young lady from Saint Johns, New Brunswick, Canada, namely, Eleanore B. Layden.
During the month of December I purchased a couple hours of dual flight instruciton from Skyways Inc, and the day before Christmas Jack Langley soloed me in a KR-34 90 Hp. Warner powered airplane. Needless to say I flew every chance that came up, and by June had secured my CAA Limited Commercial Pilots license .
Mid June I was offered the position of flying a Wright J-5 powered Bellanca and flew Wm. H. Danforth, a broker in Boston, then taking the airplane to Hyannis on Cape Cod, Mass. for the summer. Mid August I took the flight test for Transport Pilot, which I passed landing after dark. A great summer on the Cape, but plenty of fog.
The day after Christmas I started for Miami, Fl. with Mr. Danforth, losing one day in Baltimore account of bad weather.
Florida had very nice weather that January, but Mr. Danforth did not do any flying so by the end of that Month I was eager to fly, so quit that position and went back to Boston by boat from Jacksonville to New York, and train the rest of the way. Eleanore and her Mother were living in an apartment on Mt. Vernon Street in Dorchester, after returning from Hyannis in September.
Immediately I began flying for Skyways Inc. at Boston Airport, then the month of march and April at Marstons Mills on the Cape, operating a flying school, for them.
During this period, on March 27th, our first son, Robert Layden Halstead was born at the Carney Hospital in Dorchester, Mass.
About May 1st I took over the flying operations at Beverly, Mass. Airport, as chief pilot and instructor. Eleanore and Robert moved to Beverly late in May, and I was very content her until I discovered that the administrator and treasurer, was clipping the students for all he could get out of them. This I did not approve of.
John A. Langley, who soloed me, and had gone to Wachusetts Airways in Fitchburg the previous year, contacted me and offered me a pilots position there. This I accepted and arrived there Oct. 12th, with my family arriving a month later. I really enjoyed flying out of Fitchburg Airport.
But changes were frequent, late January, John Langley was married to a young lady from Keene, N.H., and in June moved there, leaving me in charge of flight operations in Fitchburg.
The depression of the early thirties was begining to take its toll in business, and about Sept. 1st, Mr. Bartow Crocker who owned Wachusett Airways decided to sell out. I had flown Mr. & Mrs. George R. Wallace several trips in the S-39 Sikorsky, which we operated and were New England distributors for, and much to my surprise, Mr. Wallace purchased the "Duck" and hired me on as pilot.
Mr. Wallace owned the Fitchburg Paper Co., and between company business, and his personal trips, I was kept very busy flying and therefore contented. But, in Sept. of 1933 the depression had hit the paper Co. so that the airplane was put in storage and I was fortunate enough to be kept on as helper at the Paper Co. garage at $25.00 a week, and happy to have it.
The summer of 1935, with the renting of a hundred hours of flying time to Mr. Arnold Dickinson, some use by the Paper Co. We started flying again.
In the mean time, on a cold wintry night, Jan. 4, 1934, our second son, Richard Tyler Halstead was born at the Lucey Helen Maternity House in Fitchburg, Mass.
Life was very ineresting in Fitchburg, and flying for the Paper Co., Mr. Wallace loved to fly and would travel no other way , if the weather permitted. We had a path worn between Fitchburg and North Beach Airport at New York, where La Guardia Airport is now.
The Sikorsky had no heat in it, so each winter when it became real cold we would put it in storage and I would perform maintenance on it during the winter. Came late March this year and we had a flood in eastern New England and it came up so quick that the sikorsky floated around in the hangar, I tried to get into the hangar to sink it, but the water was so switft I could not stay on my feet. Fortunately no harm was done to the amphibian, as it remained between the roof girders.
Life continued on as usual for the next four years when a drastic change was to take place, brought about by the events around the world.
Being a First Lieut. in the 101st Observation Squadron of the Mass. National Guard, we received orders to active duty in Federal service, starting Nov. 21st. with station at Boston Airport. About three weeks after I went on duty I was given a surprise testimonial dinner at the Hotel Raymond. I found out how many faithful friends I had in Fitchburg, and to top it off, Mr. George Wallace was the master of ceremonies. He was great.
Came August I was transferred to the 2nd Bomb Gp. at Langley Field, Va. where I was promoted to Captain and remained until World War 11 started, then after about three weeks at Mitchel Field, patrolling the East coast, I was transferred to Grenier Field, Manchester, N.H. We became the 8th Anti-submarine Squadron, and moved to Langley Field in April, then to jacksonville, Florida in May, where we continued ocean patrol. I was promoted to Major in November and assumed command of the 7th Anti-Sub Squadron, having previously served as operations officer. My family moved to jacksonville right after labor Day and lived there a year before returning to Fitchburg, Mass.
In March I took the Air Eschelon of the Squadron to Edinburg Field, Trinidad, British West Indies and continued anti-sub patrol in that area until about July 1st when we returned to Jacksonville. The Navy did not need us any more, so we were all given fifteen days leave. Incidently, during the year and one half that we patroled for submarines, no one in my squadron ever sighted one for sure.
Upon retun from leave I took all the pilots and ground maintenance personnel to Langley Field where we transitioned to four engined B-24 Liberator Bombers, and on return to Jacksonville prepared to move to the 2nd Air Force base at Mountain Home, Idaho.
Upon arrival at Mt. Home Air Base the 7th Anti-Submarine Squadron which I had commanded was made the cadre for the the 490th Bomb Group (H). Most of my Flight commanders were made Squadron Commanders and I became the Deputy Group Commander for about two months when Lt. Col. Bernie Laye, who had just returned from the 8th air force in England, took over my slot, and I was assigned as Group Commander of a provisional training group, at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho. By mid-November took the Group to Peterson Field, Colorado Springs, Colo. where we trained until about January 3rd, 1944, when I was assigned to the 494th Bomb Group which was just being organized to go to the Pacific as Commander of the 866 Bomb Squadron.
I went with the Group to Orlando AFBase for three weeks of training at the Air Force School of Applied Tactics, then after a fifteen days leave of absence, reported to Wendover Field, Utah, on the salt flats, where we began training the crews for combat operations.
Due to the mountains around Wendover we had considerable amount of bad weather, so, April 1st we moved to Mt. Home, Idaho, as the 490th Group had departed for Europe, where we completed training by mid-May. Just prior to leaving Wendover I was moved up to the Group staff as Group Operations Officer.
Leaving Mt. Home we proceeded to Lincoln, Nebr. as individual crews where we were checked for proper equipment before moving overseas. While there my two sons, Robert and Richard came out by train and spent about a week with Eleanore and I. Staying at the hotel Cornhusker, Eleanore had went out with men when I went to Wendover, early February. They drove back to Fitchburg in the family car when I departed for Fairfield-Suisan Air Base, near Sacramento, California, about mid-June.
The last week of June we made the long trip to Hawaii in our B-24, taking 13hrs. 40 Min. landing at Hickam Field, and going from there over to Barking Sands Air Base on Kauai Island, where we spent the next three months having our aircraft modified for Pacific type of operations, namely, long range over water, and bombing at medium altitudes.
About October first we assigned to operate against the Philippine Islands from an air strip being built on Anguar Island in the Palaus. So I took a B-24 and some of the Group staff and flew to Saipan Is. in the Marianas where the advanced Headquarters of the 7th Bomber Command Hdqrs. was located, and from there to the Southwest Air Force Hdqrs. at Biak on New Guinia, Reference the missions we were to fly over the Philippine Islands. Then returned to Saipan to wait until we could land on Anguar strip.
Soon there after we were able to land on Anguar, followed by the arrival of the 24 B-24s which was all the parking space available. The ground crew were already in bivouac on the Island, having moved by ship.
Shortly after our arrival there, the second Battle of the Philippine Sea started and we loaded all of our bombers with 500 lb. arnor piercing bombs, unable to give us a target while it was going on. It was Admiral Halsey's battle all the way.
We were shortly thereafter given targets in the Philippines to bomb, and we used six ships to a Sqdn. making it a 24 ship Group formation for each mission many of which were 14 to 16 hour missions.
About Nov. first Col. Laurence Kelly came down with the rest of the Group so we had 49 B-24s and 72 combat crews. Which meant that we flew missions about every day that the weather over the target was suitable.
About August I was promoted to Lt. Col. and in December was made Deputy Group Commander.
While leading the Group on a mission over Clark Field, on Jan. 2nd, the Sqdn. Operations Officer of the 866th was shot down over the field, and they all bailed out but were killed by Japanese ground fire before they hit the ground, according to reports of Philippine Guerillas who were around the area. That was the only crew we lost over the Philippines. We did lose a crew over Korror, in the Palaus, only twenty miles from Anguar on a by-Passed island with 5,000 Japanese troops on it. This crew were also killed when they landed by parachute. However, we took no Jap prisoners either.
In July Col. Kelly took the main Group to Okinawa and I brought up the rear eschelon, via the Phillipines, arriving about August first. The war only lasted about ten days after my arrival there and since I had flown all my missions started back state side via the Philippines and Guam, arriving San Francisco the first week of September, then on to Ft. Devens by train, and 45 days leave.
Upon completion of leave proceeded to Greensboro for reassignment, then to Randolph Field, Texas and final assignment to San Marcos Air base which was in process of closing down. I brought my family down then and remained until the end of March, 1946.
During February I took a written test for integration into the regular Air Force, fully not expecting to pass. However, I was transferred to be Air Officer at the First corps Area, Boston Army Base, South Boston, Mass. about April first.
After six weeks there Mr. Wallace decided to buy another airplane, so I obtained release from the service at Ft. Devens about mid June and returned to Fitchburg.
Mr. Wallace was able to purchase a Grumman G44A Widgeon which was an amphibian, twin-engined airplane silimiar to the S-39 Sikorsky which we operated prior to WWII, and we purchased a new house in Fitchburg.
About July first I received word that I had passed the test for intergration into the regular Air Force and soon received orders to that effect. However, after giving this very serious consideration I declined the commission, as I was already out of the service after 5 and 1/2 years away from my family and I enjoyed the prospect of flying for, and the association with Mr. Wallace, and the Fitchburg Paper Co.
About October, Colonel Boutwell asked me if I would organize a new Squadron of the Air National Guard at Barnes Airport, Westfield, Mass. I devoted considerable of my spare time to this project and took command of the 131st Fighter Squadron when it was Federally recognized in February 1947.
In July of that year, General Boutwell, then Wing Commander, had me transferred to Logan Airport to take command of the 102nd Fighter Group, and soon thereafter I was promoted to full Colonel.
In October, while at the National Guard Convention at Montgomery, Ala., Gen. Boutwell was stricken with a heart attack and passed on, I was the next officer in the line for the position, and even though several others desired that slot, I was soon assigned to command the 69th Fighter Wing, as it was known at that time, later changed to 102nd Fighter Wing.
In January I was promoted to Brig. General as Commanding General of the 102nd Fighter Wing. My Air National Guard activities were numerous and varied, for the next ten years, along with my flying for the Paper Co. In February, 1960 the paper Co. traded the Grumman Widgeon for a Aero Commander 680, which was a high performance airplane compared to the Widgeon, but no more water landings. I loved it.
September of 1960 my time was up in the service, under ROPA (ed.: Reserve Officer Personnel Act of 1954), thirty years of commissioned service, plus nine years of enlisted service.
Litton Industries absorbed the paper co. so I was no longer associated with Mr. Wallace, quite some letdown. However, I took the Commander to Washington national Airport and operated out of there for Litton, until 1966, then I retired and returned to Fitchburg.