Captain Albert Lane flying at 97 years young

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The Jackson County Times had the distinct pleasure of interviewing WWII veteran, Captain Albert Lane recently. At 97 years young, Captain Lane is as sharp as a tack and remembers vivid details from his time in the United States Air Force.
Albert captivated this writer with his opening remarks about his life, “I have eight stages of my life, from pre-birth until now. Eight different areas that I have lived in, I mean time.”
Lane turned 97 years old on August 31. He was born on August 31, 1922. Lane had two birthday cakes to mark the occasion.
Lane told of his latest flying experience, a trip to Pensacola when he went to the Pensacola Blue Wahoos baseball game, “Well, that was a gathering of all of the organization (Covenant Care). We had the opportunity to vote on a person to represent them as a veteran, of all of the veterans from Tallahassee to Mobile. In northern Florida, that’s the category they operate in. All the nurses and the medical people and all that are in the organization. They selected me to represent them in this situation. The object was to represent every veteran and they gave me a return ride in a plane like I soloed in as a pilot in 1943.”
The type of plane Lane initially learned to fly was an Air Force Norman Glacier ATP P17. Lane said, “It was a one-winged airplane. it was built as a model. Boeing started it, but sold it and Steerman ended up with it. It’s a two-wing airplane, the Steerman is.”
Lane said, “Eighty years between the first open-air airplane I ever rode in and that one.
Lane said that the airplanes were similar, the noise was somewhat similar, the cockpit was close to similar, “The flight of this airplane when I went up was very smooth. Of course, I was learning to fly in the other one and I was being very erratic.”
He registered to take a summer course at Michigan State College in the summer of 1942, “You see ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) schools, you know they’re all over the country, in every state. You had to be in ROTC and we were at war. I went to school and started after being out of high school for two years. I was a very dumb, dumb person. I managed to keep going, thinking I might be able learn something.” Lane was adamant you couldn’t fly unless you were smarter, “You had to be smarter, I found that out and that’s why I tried to save all my money so I could go to school. That’s what I did, I did get a good job, thanks to God. I could save some money.”
Lane’s job was in Ann Arbor, Michigan building the B-24 Bomber plant. It was near Detroit on the Ford Motor Car Company’s ground. Lane saw Henry Ford plowing out in his field, “That Ford was big into soybeans and worked on soybean development. The building was turned over to General Motors after the war. My dad and I helped build the building. Anyway, that’s where I earned my money, Willow Run.
All through college he was a member of the ROTC. In February of 1942 the Air Force came along and talked to the members of the ROTC to see if any of them wanted to try to be a pilot or officer in the Air Force, “I hollered and yelled and said yes.’’ In February of 1942, Lane went home and they called him and wanted him to enlist in pilot training.
For his training Lane went to Miami Beach, Cleveland, Ohio, Nashville, Tennessee, Helena, Arkansas, Loma Ridge, Arkansas, Blytheville, Arkansas, Gulf Port, Mississippi, he was stationed down in Panama City for about two or three months. Lane said, “You start out at primary, basic and advanced. Primary was an PT 19. BT 13 was the basic and AT 9 was the advanced. It was a twin engine, a two-seater little plane. After that, I went to a B 17 when I got my wings.”
Lane recalled one interesting story, “They had a program involving this airport, which I didn’t know anything about. They would bring men that were assigned to be gunners. We would put the gunners in the plane, the ship had nine 50-caliber guns on it. We’d fly up and he would fly another plane up pulling a target. Right out here between here and Panama City. We’d fly our gunners, shooting at the target to learn how to shoot down a plane. They would switch off pilots to do this and you would switch off day to day. I was riding co-pilot and the pilot, the one in the left-hand seat of the bomber wasn’t quite as experienced as he should’ve been. He liked to buzz the clouds after we got through with the gunners. We started to buzz a cloud. There’s such a thing they call a stall on an airplane to make it land on a tail dragger which is two wheels up front and one in the back stall. You have to stall them out to land them. When you stall it out, the flying is done for, you just drop or whatever attitude you’re in. Now what happened was, at about 9,000 feet out here between and Panama City, he started to go up a cloud to buzz it and he didn’t recognize that it was a stall. We were on an angle and the B 17 went into a stall and the lower wing fell and the B 17 went into a spin. I immediately helped the first pilot with everything I could; steering, parlor everything. We ended up going straight down and ended up at about 300 MPH. We normally fly at about 225. We were headed straight down at about 9,000 feet. We tried to start at that moment to pull it back out, but when we started to round out, we couldn’t pull it out very quick. It could break up the plane and every man on the ship would land on his back. We did get it rounded out, we did pull it out and we were at about 1,500 feet from the ground. What got me was there was an instructor on the plane that had been in combat and was instructing these gunner boys. He got so mad at the pilot and I had to control him. He took it himself, he had gone through combat, he got back here training the boys and here’s a guy trying to kill him.”
When asked if he was scared of dying during that time, Lane said, “Of course.” Lane said as a rule twin engine planes don’t go into a stall.
From there he went to Gulf Port, Mississippi and trained. He said they trained and from there they went to Newport News and they gave them their guns and other supplies there. They assigned them to their crew, there were 10 people in a crew. The group was made up of four officers and six non commissioned men. They had two weeks on the Atlantic Ocean with no idea where they were going. The ship was an Italian freighter that was converted to a passenger boat. All of the sailors were barefoot Frenchmen because shoes were a luxury, not a necessity. Most of Lane’s crew got sick on the ship. Lane had once-in-a-lifetime memories of this trip, “When the boat would go up and down on the waves and you were using the bathroom you would get water on your bottom.” Two weeks later, they landed in Naples.
Lane said his crew were then taken to Folga, Italy. When they arrived there, they were given a tent and a small stove where they were able to set up their tent in an olive orchard. The tent was his home for 18 months.
He said that German’s decided to quit the war, “About the 13th of August, Germany said that the war was over.” Lane said that he carried a Jack Daniels bottle with him and that when the war was over, he and about 12 other guys finished the bottle, “It’s hard to visualize maybe, but real.”
He and his crew arrived in Boston and were welcomed home with a celebration.
Lane said, “There was two things I wanted to do – I wanted to get married and I wanted continue my education. From that we got married in September and I started school the winter term of that at year.” Lane graduated from Michigan State in 1948.
He joined General Motors after graduating college and retired after 25 years with GM where he was in the Chevrolet division. He retired when he was 58 years old, which was in 1980. Lane then worked with his wife for 20 years in real estate. Lane said while at GM he was instrumental in developing the Corvette and developing enthusiasm to dress up pick up trucks.
Lane moved to Greenwood, Florida in 2005, but has been a Florida resident since 1980.
Lane said is very clear about his future “There’s two things I’ve got going right now, lots of water seeping into my lower legs and I have to try to keep from happening. That’s major, I’ve got to get control of that if I want to live very much longer or live period. There’s a couple of things I want to do; I want to ride in a Corvette at 100 MPH and I want to shake the President’s hand. our President. Those are the two things I’d like to do before I die. Now what do I do every day? Phyllis, (Bowman) is a wonderful person to check on me, to see if things are kind of in order. I have two other women that help me through the day. Part of the days in my house. I live alone since my wife passed away. I took care of my wife for two years myself in my home. We were married for 63 years.” He said that the airplane he was just in travels about 140-150 MPH, “That’s a slower airplane but it’s built that way. Lane said jokingly, “I would love to drive the Corvette myself, but nobody seems to think it’s a good idea.”
Lane has a history like no other with a memory to match it. Thank you Captain Albert Lane for your service to our country and for the opportunity to hear your story.

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