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This letter was written by a native West Virginian, Arlen Richard Baldridge, to his mother, Helen, in 1943. Baldridge trained to become a fighter pilot in WWII at an airbase in Massachusetts for several weeks. In this letter he explains to his mother a near death experience with the levity you may expect from a pilot in training. Baldridge later graduated from the training school and flew several missions overseas. In 1944 he was captured and killed after his plane crashed in Germany. A poem written to him by his father contains the following verses:

“Upon my porch I sit at night

At the end of day,

While you fly among the stars

Along the Milky Way.”

Westover Field

MassachusettsMay 5, 1943

Dear Mom,

You must forgive me for not writing but you know how busy I have been. We have enough planes now so that each of us will probably be given our personal plane and it takes time to care for them. Maybe I will be able to fly home one of these day but don't count on it because gasoline is extremely scarce.

Quite a bit has happened since I last wrote and as far as my own personal safety is concerned the closest call came today.

My engine cut out at a low altitude and I was unable to keep it running. As a result I was forced to bail out just before the plane exploded. I got out OK except for a few minor cuts on my face. I consider myself lucky because a fellow bailed out a few days ago, and is not expected to live. I certainly am glad I have developed that don't give a darn attitude or I would probably be scared to death.

Anyway, I am now eligible for the caterpiller club, made up of people who have jumped out of planes.

How are conditions at home and how is Grandma Baldridge? Both well I hope. Spring is just around the corner, and the days are lovely and warm. This is the most beautiful country I have ever seen.

I wish all of you could come up this summer and spend a week or so. You would love it. Our training is getting down to a fine point now and if the gasoline shortage keeps up it may be cut short. The shorter the better because I can't wait to get into combat. I'd better close now and get some rest. We get up at 4:30. Write soon.

Love, Dick”