Memories of Malden

Do you have a story to share from your time at Malden Army Airfield or Malden Air Base? We'd love to hear from you! Meanwhile, here are some memories of Malden that have been generously shared with us and may sound somewhat familiar to you.

As we all know it started with the Korean thing in 1950.  A forgotten war, so some would say, but it was pretty real for many.  As for me, I wanted to be in the first instructor class at Malden but due to prior commitments didn’t get in until the third class.  So on we went to Craig AFB for Pilot Instructor School (affectionately called, PIS), where one of the things I did was to teach my instructor how to make wheel landings in the T-6.  By the time the 6 weeks was over he was pretty good.  So it was back to Malden around the first of December 1951 and introduced to our first students.  Hmmm, what an interesting time! 

December of 1951 was a cold sucker — much freezing rain and plainly miserable.  The airplanes were literally frozen to the ramp and conditions were unflyable of course — the ready rooms, being reconditioned WW II buildings — wooden one story things - with asphalt shingles or tar paper on top and sides — heated by an oil fueled (or maybe propane) stove which would have been welcomed by Daniel Boone, but which would only heat a limited spot in an otherwise very cold space, were quite an introduction not only the students but to the instructors also.

We spent time — oh so much time hoping for a break in the weather but it only stayed that way for days.  Base Colonel put out an edict: “we will get a flight on each student before the Christmas break (morale purposes of course)”.  And so it was when one day there was a slight reprieve and with much clearing of ice off the planes, but no removal of ice off the ramp and runways, we got things moving.  I had 4 student assigned, 2 American Cadets and 2 NATO; one French and one Belgium.  Foreign students were supposed to be able to read, write and understand English.  But neither of the later two comprehended very much about what was going on.  So with very careful taxiing and preparations out to runway 13 we waddled.  We had about a 45 degree right cross wind -- with ice covered runway — brand new students — brand new instructors and pucker time was on.  Around the pattern the first two Americans went for their first flight with a landing that was “acceptable” under the circumstances.  Next was the Frenchman — canopy open, which he would never close — so we both froze and then next the Belgium.  He did close the canopy for the short flight but when it came time to land, I put the gear handle down — but the student would immediately pull it back up.  He remembered the handle must be moved but he was confused as how it should be used and for what purpose.  Nor would he understand my intercom instructions to either put the darn thing down and leave it alone or let me handle the thing.  All I got was him turning around and giving me a big grin and a thumbs up.  So it went – handle down — handle up, gear down-gear up for 2 or 3 times — on the way to landing.  I guess that landing was the one of the most challenging of my life up to that time.  Good stiff cross wind — ice covered runway — and I had my left knee braced against the landing gear handle while trying to put the thing on the ground.  Somehow it turned out OK.  The students had their first real flight in an Air Force airplane, most enjoyed it, and away they went for their Christmas break to brag about their exploits.  For the instructors the day was a frustrating one, one they probably wouldn’t forget and wondering what they had gotten themselves into.

For some this is old stuff, but as far as the situation at the time and place the following is offered:
The airplanes, re-manufactured North American AT-6’s and renamed T-6 were fantastic.  Some I’m sure were, old D and F models, I had flown previously back during WW-II and great airplanes for their time.  The ones we had were for all practical purposes, brand new planes, with refurbished interiors and state of the art (for the time) instrumentation, and were a pleasure to fly.  The T-6 was a very honest plane if flown properly, but would eat you for breakfast if you abused it — fly it properly and it would do what you wanted — an excellent plane all around.  Students who learned on that plane, in my estimation, were much better airman over all, than the planes that replaced the T-6.  I would like to say here however that the T-28 was also a pleasure to fly.  I must say when I got close to my first T-28 I noticed it had a Wright engine, an Aeroproducts prop and I think manufactured by the Chrysler or Kaiser company.  Didn’t sound too good to me, but still I liked the plane even though I had two complete engine failures at night, versus never having an engine failure with the T-6, a Pratt and Whitney engine.  The T-28 was great — the engine???.

Malden as you know is located in an ancient flood plain of the Mississippi river.  Level and with much sandy soil, which tends to blow with any appreciable wind, so actual sandstorm type conditions could be experienced at times.  Being in what was called the Boot heel of Missouri it was an area that got very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter—seasonal weather to say the least.  Thunderstorms, snow and ice and frost on the 100 or so airplanes parked overnight were constant problems.  With the T-6, you could operate with the canopy open — sweat like the devil but at least have wind in your face and on your body if you wanted.  In the T-28 at low altitude in the summer, it was beastly hot since you could not operate with the canopy open so you were wringing wet at the end of a period. 

Some events are more notable that others.  Like one dual night cross country from Malden-Paducah-Dyersburg below a wintry 5,000-ft ceiling, in and out of snow, truly dead-reckoning.  This mission should have been called off (had to stay on schedule you know—however the students told me later they got a kick out of watching the snow stream past by the passing and position lights).  But the following solo cross-country operation came off without a hitch.  I suppose the involved students took the dead-reckoning navigation system to heart.
Frost:  A frosty T-6 is not to be flown without either removing it or smoothing it to contour with the airfoil.  Well, due to schedule pressure one frosty morning one instructor (I won’t mention his name) had to fly an airplane off a red dash or some such, so he got in a rush and scooted out to the runway, got slightly airborne, the left wing dropped followed by a roll to the right and then back to the left very rapidly when the pilot decided he’d had enough, chopped the throttle and the plane pancaked into a water soaked area to the left of the runway, still gear down, and in a level attitude.  A great geyser of water and mud completely engulfed the plane and surprisingly the plane came to a stop upright and I think basically undamaged.  It was suspected by the accident investigators that he had attempted a takeoff without clearing the frost—but where was the frost after the incident?---gone, completely washed off by the bath.  Everyone should be so lucky.  Another scheme to remove the frost and get back to flight system was to utilize a fire truck to spray water onto the ready-for flight aircraft with engines running, which would thus remove the frost.  Many, including myself, didn’t like this because we feared that while removing frost, the water might run into parts of the flight control systems and freeze during the ensuing flight and create a potential flutter or restrict flight controls.  As it turned out the system worked perfectly and as far as I know, no one had any problems.  I suppose the temperature just above ground level was not conducive to freezing.

White-Yellow (maybe Red?)-Black flags:  These flags were hung from the central control tower, backed up by radio announcements.  As I remember, white was for unrestricted solo, yellow (or red) was for discretionary solo and black was the signal for all you cats to come home or stay on the ground.

Geese:  Migratory wildfowl flying thought the area, especially at night were always a problem in the fall season.  I know of two planes that were damaged by goose strikes.  And speaking of waterfowl, the extensive swamp to the northwest of the base provided a number of us with fantastic duck hunting along with hunting on the Mississippi river
Accidents:  Ground loops and cartwheels were part of the T-6 program causing no fatalities to my knowledge but more serious were two dual flights, which resulted in fatal injuries to the instructors and students.  And I believe there was one midair collision between two solo students in the T-6.  The T-28 had its share of problems but mostly due to hydraulics and engine.  I believe the T-34 had relatively few accidents.  Several PA-18’s busted bungee cords and had nose up situations.

The Union thing:  Ok, so some didn’t like the fact that we all were getting some $50 or $100 pay less than most of the other 8 bases.  Dissatisfaction got a bit out of hand and a vote to organize a union was taken for the purpose of demanding more pay—a slight majority voted to organize.  Well that didn’t go over well with management and next thing you know General Dissoway (?) was up to Malden from Headquarters in his T-33, an all hands meeting was held in the base theatre and the General who delivered a very short speech stated in so many words, “gentlemen if these students aren’t flown as scheduled there will be C-47’s here in the morning and they will be flown to bases where they will get training.  The war demands it.”  With that he stomped out through the center aisle, jumped into his jet and blasted off.  Inside the theatre you could hear a pin drop—and so ended any threat of any formal organization.

Local things to do:  Malden had its Blondell’s beer joint and Pop Warner’s for entertainment and local color.  Bernie had its Hobes for beer and Joe Haw’s drug store for sore throats and splinter removal and a shot of Wild Turkey if you hung around and had a few minutes to hear some funny stories from Joe.  Dexter, a few miles further up the road had its Hob Nob emporium.  If you really wanted to get out you could go left from Dexter and end up in Poplar Bluff or turn right to Sikeston or even Cairo.  That was about it locally off base.  But on-base there was the OFFICERS CLUB, known simply as the CLUB or the “O club”.  I don’t know the buildings original use during WWII, might even have been a mess hall or club, since it was built in the traditional H shape, which was normal for that time.  It wasn’t very pretty but served the purpose; bar at one end, band stand at the other (one of the mechanics a fellow by the name of Dorsey I believe, provided music with his little band—served the purpose well)

Round one at Campbell auxiliary field:  Landing practice always provided some congestion but one day it got a little out of hand.  One instructor (name will be provided by those who know) would constantly crowd the aircraft ahead and the Flight Commander at runway control would repeatedly send him around for that reason.  Well, apparently he finally got enough of that so even though told to go around, he didn’t and after landing taxied up to control and jumped out of the plane with the student in the front cockpit with the engine running.  Up to the Flight Commander he went with arms waving and much yelling which evolved into him delivering an uppercut, decking the Commander.  Needless to say that was a no-no.  I was in my plane nearby and was called over to take over control while the Flight commander flew back to the main base in the pugilist’s plane and with his student.  By the time, this unnamed pilot got back to the base his paycheck was waiting for him and he was gone by sundown.

Anyway, these were a few things to remember about a very interesting time in a person’s life.  How could it be otherwise?  Here we had the best group of students in the world, darn good airplanes, a job that most of us loved all for around $450 a month, a bunch of highly skilled coworkers, a long weekend every other weekend, a week off between each 6 month class, a frozen turkey at Christmas from the boss and in an area of very friendly local people.  Yep, we had our problems with a few grumpy persons but that goes with the territory any place in life.

Take care and good luck

-- Bill Fredrick

Bill Fredrick, AAA Instructor

Now here’s a story, all true of course, of a typical day on the Malden AB flight line as best I can remember. I was a member of the Fireball flight. You may know the Fireballers; they were the ones assigned a Billy goat as a mascot. Of course, one day some wise guys from another flight kidnapped Billy and while they had him altered some of his anatomy with red paint then paraded him around at happy hour to humiliate our flight. Talk about cruelty to animals!  You might also recall that Ken Woods and Jim Quenichet were flight instructors for the students of that flight. Two great instructors!  And by coincidence, when I arrived in Malden for training I rented the house next door to Jim, 407 Washington, if I remember correctly.  I was really surprised to discover I had worked in Memphis branch of the Tennessee Welfare Department for Jim’s sister of whom he was fond, although he was quick to educate me that the name was pronounced, “Quin a shay” not “Quin net chit! ”, as she preferred. But it turned out that Ken would be my instructor and on the morning of this story. After the usual table discussion of the lesson, he directed me to check out a T-28 and have it running; he would be along shortly to join me for instruction. Then, by chance Jim Q was sitting in the 28 next to me behind one of his students doing a preflight.  I began the start sequence on the big 800 horsepower Curtis Wright, R-1300 radial engine. I pressed the primer and start buttons, the prop began to rotate and on about the second turn a muffled explosion accompanied by flames pouring out around the nose signaled I had committed the rookie mistake of over priming. My finger was still on the start button when I looked up out of the left side of the cockpit to see my fire guard drop the hose and take off across the ramp.  The prop still turning, my finger must have been frozen on the start button, my gaze continued to my right to see Jim in the next aircraft, a determined look on his face and a fore finger and wrist spinning around urging me to continue cranking. Turns out he was right, momentarily the engine started, the big prop blew out the flames and I could breathe a sigh of relief.

Ken arrived. We took off and finished the flight training. I neglected to tell him of the preceding incident. In fact he didn’t find out about the unusual start until later that morning from Jim.  Ken, in his usual, once on the ground, casual fashion only said, “You didn’t tell me we were flying a cinder box?” If you remember Ken, in the airplane, it was always best to let him do all the talking.

Years later I ran into Jim down at Twinkle Town airport in Mississippi where he worked as an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner. His long career was honored by having a high altitude intersection was named after him.

Thanks to all the Anderson Air Activities and Malden community folks that made fifty years of military, airline and corporate flying possible for me.

Rod Lee 60D

Rod Lee, Class 60-D

I have fond memories of Malden Army Air Field, because I was a member of one of the first classes to train at this base in 1943. My class was 43-J.  It was seldom that I could venture into the town of Malden, but I have vivid memories of my weeks at the base.  Some memories are good; some are not too good. It would be great to return to your area and relive some of them.  My instructor was Lt. Finch. I know he would be totally surprised to learn that I completed my tour of duty with the 15th Air Force in Europe as an Ace, credited with 6 aerial kills, 6 planes (German) and 12 locomotive destroyed by strafing. I think he had some doubts that I could earn my pilot's wings.  I had little contact with the people of Malden, but I remember them as hospitable, eager to help the military, and filled with patriotism.

Best wishes to the Malden Army Airfield Preservation Society.

Barrie Davis

Colonel (ret)

Barrie Davis, Class 43-J

We want you to know that our time in Malden, both base and town, were special. Although over 50 years have passed, we continue to value our time in the boot heel.  Invited to a party by townspeople shortly after arriving, the men asked the men to join them in the back of the house for a "libation."  We still remember that word!


Dick graduated from Malden and then went to Webb, receiving his wings in November 1960. He flew the KC-135 as a co-pilot, pilot, and instructor for many years, and was the first tanker pilot to be accepted to the B-58 Hustler program.  In Viet-Nam I flew the EB-66,  and then to the Social Actions Training School in San Antonio, then back to tankers as an Ops Officer, and then, just before retirement, as a CAP Liaison Officer for the State of Kansas. Retired in 1981, I attended Seabury-Western Theological
Seminary, Episcopal Church. I was ordained a priest in 1984 and still serve, at age 73, as the Vicar, St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Yucaipa, CA.  Our three children Dede, 49; Rick, 48; and Matt, 46; teachers, symphony orchestra conductors and technical writers. Joan and I are celebrated our 51st wedding anniversary on Sept 9, 2010.


Peace and love to all,

Dick Wagner CLASS 61-D

Dick Wagner, Class 61-D
J. Larrison, Class 59-H

T-6 Gear Check via a Control Tower Fly-By

by Lt. Col. (then Captain) John Larrison (USAF Ret)

It is not uncommon for an aircraft to request a Control Tower fly-by to have the tower provide a “visual” check of their landing gear position when the pilot questions the cockpit indicators.

The following story took place in the early 1950s at Malden Air Base, Malden MO, when it was a Civilian Primary Pilot Training base flying the T-6.  This was the original T-6, not the current Turbo-prop T-6.  The T-6 had visual indicator to backup the electronic Landing Gear position indicators.  This was done by showing a simple “Down Locking Pin,” in the leading edge of the Wing.  The pin could be seen from the cockpit and provided a positive visual indication to the pilot. 

This story was told by our Primary Pilot training Flight Commander during my Class 59-H training at Malden AB.  He and one of the other instructors had been assigned control tower duty and were monitoring overall flight operations. 

It was a clear day and everything was normal.  That’s when they got the call from a solo aircraft.  They knew he was solo because of the call sign used.  Solo students used their call signs while Dual (student with an instructor) aircraft used the instructor’s call sign.  Tower personnel naturally gave solo aircraft more attention than a dual aircraft.

The solo student, on the radio, told them he could not see the Down and Locked indicators on his aircraft.  A condition which is not totally uncommon with a T-6 aircraft. 

But, with a solo student, it called for a visual inspection to confirm the students reported condition. 

A tower fly-by would permit that visual check.  The Student was instructed to bring the aircraft by the tower so they could look check the landing gear position.  After several minutes they had not seen the aircraft fly by.  They called him, “when would he come by.”  He informed them that he had been by. How could they have missed him?  He was asked to come by again.  This time they monitored the horizon with the field glasses watching for him.  After a suitable period of time, he was called and asked when he was coming by.  Once again they were told that he had been by.

Things now had become very weird.  Two passes and they had not been able to see him.  New instructions, “Rev” the engine rpm as he comes by so they can hear him.   Both instructors picked up their field glasses and went out on the tower walkway, which ran around the control tower.  With their field glass scanning the complete 360 degrees, it was only a few minutes when they heard an engine revving.  But, no aircraft in sight.  But, the sound was coming from below.  Looking down, they saw a T-6, which had been taxiing back and forth on the ramp taxi way just below the Tower.  Moral of the story, don’t make assumptions.  The student had been doing his “Pre-Start - cockpit checks” when he noted he could not see the aircraft’s Gear Down & Locked pins and called the Tower. The Flight Commander had assumed he was in-flight.

J. Larrison Class 59-H

J. Larrison, Class 59-H

I was at Malden in 1944 for C-47 Transition Training and while there met my wife...She was from Kennett.  We married Oct 16 1944...Still married...I returned to Malden as a Ground School Instructor in 1951 and left in 1959.  I also owned and operated Polly's Jewelry, next door to Willy Millers Men's Store...Bill Norrid bought my house when I left...MEMORIES!

    --J. Contino

J. Contino, 1944 and 1951-1959

My father, Maj. Joe Valles, was a young Air Force Lt. and instructor at Malden in the early 50s, and my mother, Annette, was well known on the base for her vivaciousness and practical joking (as well as her long hair and Southern accent).  She often recalled how she dressed up one Halloween in a flight suit and visored helmet, then visited all the married cadet's homes where she pawed all the cadet's wives!  After the initial shock, there were laughs all around when she took off the helmet!
I came along later, but I remember we often returned to Malden in the early 60's to visit the base cafeteria's chief, Giz Blanton and his wife Sophie, who were old neighbors.

My father later was a command pilot flying B47s at Schilling with the 40th Bomb Wing and then flew MATS missions to Vietnam and finally ran Base Ops at Yokota AFB, where he sometimes encountered his old Malden cadets as they passed through on their way to Vietnam.  He passed away in 1982, and my mother in 2005.  I hope they are not forgotten.

   -- Joseph Valles, Son of Maj. Joe R. Valles, USAF

Joseph Valles, Son of Maj. Joe R. Valles

When I first started working at MAB I was l8 years old and started on the flight line - recording air time and also taking minutes on aircraft accidents.  I worked for Major Voss and he conducted all of the investigations.  I worked there until it closed and then I went to the commissary and worked until the end of December in l945. 

I did all of the shorthand (verbatim) no machines, nothing but a pen or pencil and Major Voss told me if they got too fast on their explanations of what happened that I should kick his shins lightly.  One Monday morning I was having a bad day (remember I was a teenager then and catting around a lot at night) so I just kept kicking his shins.  About l0:30 he asked for a break and called me aside and wanted to know "what in the hell is wrong with you today", I shaped up after that.  I have a lot of fond memories of that base and it was certainly a new experience for a little old country girl that had made a few trips over Riddle Hill into Malden and that was about the extent of my traveling 

I distinctly remember one of the cadets crashing in a woods west of Malden (near Riddle Hill) and I had to go out with the aircraft accident investigator and we talked to farmers and I put my old typewriter on the top of a hay trailer and I took statements and typed them up in the barnlot and the people signed them and we went on our way and held our investigation later.

I worked on the flight line again after Mr. Anderson came there.  I worked for the Director of Flying and the Aircraft Investigations Officer until I left there in 1953.

     -- L.K.

L.K., 1945-1953


Thank you so very much for the picture.  Mom and I both had a lot of fun at the two Malden reunions that she and I attended. Also allow me to tell you about two links that I have had with Mom's duty stay at Malden.  At first Mom lived with the nurses stationed at Malden while she flew and tested the BT-13 trainers known to the pilots as the Vultee Vibrator.  Many nights the girls would combine their efforts and make supper for the group.  They had a large common room where they could eat, and some nights the male medical staff would come over and all of the medical staff and other guests would eat and party.  One of the nurses was from New Jersey and had an Italian background.  This woman's mom would periodically send her a care package with most of the ingredients for spaghetti and meatballs.  She would buy whatever could not be sent in the mail and make a supper for the girls and their guests.  She taught my Mom the recipe and that is the spaghetti and meatballs that I grew up eating and enjoying.  

A second link to Malden for me was also part of this common room and the parties that took place there.  The nurses had a piano in that common area and my Mother had a radio / phonograph.  So the men and women of the medical section, and other guests, could listen to music and dance while they ate and visited.  Well, while I was a child I also listened to that same radio and phonograph.  It had a large wooden case with dials and a speaker on the front.  The top opened up to get to the record turntable.  I remember listening to children's records on it.  Recently I ran across a picture of a Christmas tree and presents with me playing on a new trike, and in the corner of the room was a table with that radio and phonograph on the table. 

After about six weeks, the Vultee trainers moved out and the base was converted to the C-47 transports.  Apparently housing was tight and Mom and a WAC officer who worked in the PX were assigned to one of the married officer's quarters.  She has several stories about learning to live there that I will give you in another letter.

Again, thanks for the picture,

Paul Chapman  October 2014

Mary Helen (Crane) Foster went through basic training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, TX. After her graduation, she was assigned to Malden. When she arrived, she was given the task of checking out planes that needed maintenance or that had completed maintenance. Her log book shows mostly that she flew Vultee BT-13A’s, but some other planes also. She shared this task with a male pilot and they would typically fly each plane solo. They would sometimes fly a plane to check out a student pilot’s complaint and sometimes to see if the repairs had been made properly and that the plane was again ready for service. In July of 1944, the base changed over from instruction in the BT-13A to instruction for Troop Carrier Command pilots flying the C-47A. Her log book shows her first flight in the C-47 to have been on July 13, 1944. She flew the C-47’s for maintenance until December 20, 1944. She had gotten permission to ferry planes over the Atlantic to England and had plenty of volunteers at Malden to fly with her as crew, but the end of the war with Germany intervened. At that time, the surplus of male pilots released from Europe caused the Army Air Corps to dismiss the Wasps. 

An article in The Dallas Morning News stated that Mrs. Foster flew BT-13s and C-47s and DC-3s at Malden Army Airfield, MO. She was the only female pilot on the base. “I reported in, and the commanding officer said, “I didn’t ask for a woman pilot”.” And I said, “Sir, I didn’t ask to come to Missouri”. The following picture shows Mary Helen Crane on the wing of a BT-13A. This photo was taken on her first day assigned to Malden Army Airfield.

Contributed on behalf of Mary Helen (Crane) Foster by Paul Chapman