After spending time with Cal Erickson and his lovely wife Jean, I found them to be most welcoming and engaging.
Cal is a proud member of our Greatest Generation who rallied to serve our country in a time of great need.
He was born December 12, 1923 in Selma, California and grew up in nearby Sanger graduating from high school in 1941.
Cal was the youngest of eleven children who grew up on a farm until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Wanting to be a pilot Cal took all the necessary tests and aptitude examinations with the U.S. Army Air Corps, which he easily passed. He impatiently waited for his letter of acceptance.
Meanwhile, “Uncle Sam’s greeting” arrived sending young Cal into near panic mode. However, just in the nick of time, his acceptance letter arrived.
There were five Erickson brothers who served in WWII.
One served on the USS New Mexico which was hit by two Japanese Kamikaze fighter planes.
Another was a Navy Seabee; one was an officer with Army artillery in the South Pacific; and yet another served as a fireman on the USS Washington.
Cal was the only pilot among the five and they all made it home alive and well.
Cal reported to Grand Forks, North Dakota in January 1943 for pilot preparation schooling which included aircraft identification, navigation, cloud formations, etc. for five months.
Then it was off to Santa Ana for two months of extensive pilot training, subjecting Cal and his fellow trainees to a battery of physical training and intelligence testing.
Cal passed all examinations in flying colors as he worked hard to avoid becoming a bombardier or a gunner.
The U.S. Army Air Corps sought the best of the best.
Into The Wild Blue Yonder
Next came two months of primary pilot flying at Oxnard, California and Cal was beginning to believe he just might become a pilot.
After six hours of flying a Boeing B-17 Stearman, to his great excitement, he flew solo.
“It was an exhilarating but scary moment when his flight instructor climbed out of the cockpit and said, okay take her up,” Cal said.
Cal’s next stop was Merced, California, just 60 miles north of his home where he learned to fly a larger and more powerful airplane.
Vultee Aircraft built the BT-13, a single engine, single wing 600 horsepower trainer in the early days of WWII.
These new pilots learned to recover in spin outs and fly in formation, a necessity for combat missions.
Cal was tickled to barnstorm over his parent’s home and a grade school where his sister Gertrude was teaching.
After Cal’s pilot training he requested to fly the B-26 bomber; he saw one land and thought it was the most beautiful airplane he had ever seen.
Due to very few requests to pilot B-26’s, Cal’s senior officers were more than happy to oblige young Cal.
Little did he know that the dangerous beauty he selected was nicknamed, “The Widow Maker” and “The Flying Coffin.”
After additional training flying twin engine airplanes at Douglas, Arizona, Cal, at age 20, received his silver wings in May 1944 and graduated a full fledged 2nd Lieutenant pilot.
Training continued at Del Rio, Texas, where Cal began flying a B-26 Marauder powered by two 2,000 horsepower Pratt and Whitney engines.
The Marauder was known to be extremely tricky to fly; as testimony there are countless B-26’s under water off Florida’s coast.
Lots of vacant beds
In January 1945, Cal was ordered to fly his B-26 to Manchester, England via Cuba, South America, Ascension Island, and Africa.
Next he set off for San Quentin (Kuhtahn), France to join his 9th Air Corps crew who arrived via troop ship.
B-26’s were bombing Germany’s bridges and railroad yards of which German anti-aircraft gun crews were well prepared to blast away at inbound Marauders.
“It was not a pleasant entrance into combat to hear veteran pilots tell us they had lots of vacant beds to fill because of casualties,” Cal said.
Cal flew 13 missions over Germany and encountered anti-aircraft fire on all but one mission.
On that flight mission, shelling blasted through a turret gun barely missing their engineer and destroying their hydraulic system.
They had to crank down the wheels manually and Cal made a “hot” landing without flaps down at 100 miles per hour.
When Cal pulled the emergency brake lever it was like hitting a brick wall, but they stopped without crashing.
When Cal was honorably discharged in January 1947, two of his brothers who were dating two college ladies introduced him to their room mate, Jean Castle.
Cal immediately realized that he had just met the love of his life.
He and Jean were married April 4, 1948, and they have four children, seven grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
After serving in the military, Cal worked in a winery and then for two van and storage companies in Fresno until transferring to Los Angeles in 1952.
Cal and Jean lived in L.A. until moving to Glendale, then Granada Hills and finally moving into a new Saugus home in 1979 where they still live.
In 1970, Cal became a real estate salesman with Gribon Von Dyl and then Valencia Reality.
Men of Harmony
He retired in 1982 to take up much more golfing and other hobbies such as singing for Santa Clarita’s Men of Harmony.
At age 80, Cal shot a hole in one at Mountain View Golf Course in Fillmore.
These days, Cal enjoys playing bridge, tending to his vegetable garden and attending events at Newhall’s American Legion Hall.
Cal’s military decorations include the Air Medal w/Oak Leaf, European African Middle Eastern Service Medal, Army of Occupation Medal (Germany), American Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal.
Approaching 93 years young, Cal is a true survivor having beaten cancer with three surgeries.
I suppose we should expect nothing less from one of our Greatest Generation.
Bill Reynolds is one of the “Boys of ‘67,” Charlie Company, 4th/47th, 9th Infantry Division and director of veterans affairs for The Signal.