The Air Force had offered me a commission in the reserve. I accepted for several reasons: I had planned to go to college when I completed my military career. By staying in the reserve, I could put in some reserve time and receive pay. This money would help me pay for my education. I was given a mobilization assignment to Great Falls, Montana, but I was ordered to Hensley Field, Grand Prairie, Texas, for my training and flight. At designated times and weekends, etc., I would go to Hensley Field and fly. By this time, I was a Captain. I had received my promotion to a Captain a few days before my twenty-first birthday. Reserve duties were not restrictive as active military service and with my rank, I had the authority of not flying with pilots that I didn’t think were very good. Sometimes, I didn’t know how bad they were-- before I got with them! One thing, in my favor was that in my classes at Southern Methodist University, there were a lot of pilot, reservists who flew out of Hensley. I knew them and their ability as pilots. I felt very confident to be with them, and flew with them quite often. Sometimes, I would get one who wasn’t very good, but mostly they were good, trained pilots and quite competent.
One thing did happen. There was a reserve pilot in several of my classes in college. We had talked about flying together. He suggested that some evening we go to Hensley and get a plane. We would fly, get our time in, fly around the city and around north Texas and have a fun flight. One afternoon he and I went to Hensley; went into the equipment shack, got our parachutes and signed out for a single engine, AT-6, low wing plane. We walked out on this huge paved taxi/parking strip and headed for this AT-6, when a jeep pulled up beside us. This fellow in the jeep turned to my friend and said, “Before I can let you take this plane, you’ve got to have a check ride, you’re so many weeks over on having a check ride. So, let’s go take a check ride and then you can go on. Ok”. I was told to sit down; they were going to go shoot a couple of landings. I took my parachute and laid it down on the concrete. They got in the AT-6 and taxied and went off. From where I was sitting, I could see them taxiing down to the end of the runway, but there were several hangars blocking my vision. At times, I could not see them at all. They took off. I wasn’t paying much attention to them. I noticed that they came back, got into the traffic pattern, and turned on the final approach - then I didn’t see them anymore. I was waiting and waiting and waiting - they didn’t show up! Finally, there was a jeep that came to me. My friend was in it and he said, “Well, turn in your parachute, we’re not flying.” I said, “What happened?” He said, “I ground looped and damned near tore off a wing.” We’re not gonna fly.” I turned in my parachute and I never did fly with him. As to whether or not he ever flew again, I don’t know. I never flew with him at all!
Two of my college buddies were pilots. The three of us checked out a twin-engine Beechcraft, bombardier trainer and flew to Burlington, Vermont. Two interesting things occurred on this trip. One: We were headed toward Burlington, Vermont, and on the way we had to pass Buffalo, New York. If you know anything about Buffalo, you know that that is where Niagara Falls is located. We arrived just west and south of Buffalo about 9:30 or 10:00 at night. Coming up the Niagara River we could see the Falls and they were lighted. There were brilliant lights all over it. It was as bright as day. We were lower than the top of the Falls. Approaching the Falls, the pilot pulled the plane up and we went right up over the Falls! It was a magnificent sight. To be right on top of and within a hundred feet of the Falls! It was an adventure and quite exciting.
Proceeding on, we came to Burlington, Vermont. Burlington’s airfield had a control tower, but try as we might, we couldn’t raise anybody in the control tower to give instructions for landing. The pilots made a low approach over the field and spotted the windsock. This showed the runway to use, and we landed without incident. After we landed, we were told that the tower operator was entertaining his girlfriend in the tower! He wasn’t answering any radio signals!
Heading back toward Texas we had the good luck and privilege of landing at Washington D.C. and seeing my pilot and my old squadron commander. I’ve already told you about the donut and stuck in the mud incident.
We proceeded from Washington to Texas. One thing happened that I cannot explain. I’ve had many people ask me: in all of my flying experience, if I’ve ever seen an unidentified flying object, or a UFO, or any strange thing that I couldn’t explain? The only time that I had such an experience was on this trip. We were over Pennsylvania at about six thousand feet and it was pitch black. There was no moon. Some stars, but I wouldn’t say that they were brilliant. In this year (which must have been about 1948 or 1949) there had been quite a lot of UFO excitement around Washington, D.C. Flying at six thousand feet, headed southwest, I was sitting up in the bombardier’s seat in the nose of the plane. I had a very good visual picture of everything that was going on. I looked out of the corner of my eye and to my left and back of the airplane - what I would estimate to be two thousand to three thousand feet above us-was a blue light. It wasn’t pulsating. It wasn’t doing anything! It was just a glowing, blue light. As I watched this light, it started on a downward path at a tremendous rate of speed. It went right under my plane. Not close, not dangerous, no danger of collision. It came down and went underneath the nose of the plane, went out in front of the plane, accelerated tremendously, and then shot straight up until it disappeared. I couldn’t see any form. I couldn’t see anything -just this blue light that never faltered or blinked or wavered. This is the only thing that I have ever seen that I really cannot explain. I don’t know what it was even to this day!
In May, 1950, at about 6:00 a.m., a knock came on the door. The person on the other side of the door said, “Telegram for Capt. Lee S. Bane.” Opening the door, I signed for the telegram and with shaking hands I opened the envelope, and sure enough, it said, “You are ordered to report to Great Falls, Montana, within forty-eight hours.” At this time, in 1950, I did not have much money. I had graduated from law school and had just started practicing law. Plus, I had been married a little over two years. This was not a welcome bit of news. My problem was: how was I going to get enough money to get to Great Falls, Montana in forty-eight hours? I caught the bus and went to Hensley Field. I asked if they could give me a flight to Great Falls or someplace near there? They said, “ No.” I asked if they could advance me money to get there? “No, we can’t give you money. You will have to pay your own way, and then we will reimburse you.” I thought this was a strange way to run an air force, to make officers report for duty at their own expense.
The ticket was purchased and as soon as I could get a flight, I flew to report as ordered. I went to Denver and caught jumper airlines to Billings, Montana. By the time I got to Billings, it was about 11:00 at night. This was in May and it was very, very cold. I had summer uniforms on, but I had sense enough to take an overcoat with me. Arriving in Billings, I went to the desk and asked if there were flights to Great Falls? The answer was “No.” Are there any buses? “No.” Are there any trains? “No.” I told this attendant, “I’ve got to be in Great Falls by 6:00 in the morning. How in the Hell am I going to get there?” He said, “Well, the only thing I can tell you is that if you go right outside of this gate, the road out in front of this airport goes to Great Falls. See if you can hitch a ride out there.” Sure enough, picking up my bag and wrapping myself up, I hiked out to the road, sat down on my B4 bag and sat there shivering! Finally, there was a huge tanker truck that pulled up in front of me and stopped; it was hauling petroleum. The driver yelled down, ”Where you headed?” I said, “I’m going to Great Falls. ”He said. “So am I.” Come on, I’ll take you.” This truck was so huge, you had to climb up a ladder just to get into the cab. Not only was it up high, but when you got inside, there was all these gearshifts and knobs. Here I was with a B4 bag. I was all cramped up and had to get my knees out of way of these gearshifts, etc. It was a ride, and I made it to Great Falls. In fact, he took me right to the gate of the air base-bless his heart. Entering the base, I checked in with the sergeant at the reception desk and he assigned me to quarters.
This was Saturday morning! I asked him, “Now what do I do now? He laughed and he said, “Come back Monday morning and we’ll talk about it. ”After breaking my neck to report as ordered, there wasn’t any reason for me to be there for another forty-eight hours.
Monday arrived and I went to find what I was supposed to do. I was directed to go to the legal center of the base. At the legal center, I was very, warmly, received by the personnel. They said that they had been expecting me. They hoped that I was going to be assigned there as a legal officer. I was told that the first priority for my services was as a navigator. The orders were that I was to be sent to Anchorage, Alaska. I was going to fly the cargo route from Anchorage, Alaska to Japan and back. I asked what my assignment would be if I did not pass my flight physical? This concerned me because I’d had problems passing the physical when I was released back in 1946. I was told that if I did not pass my flying physical, but passed my other physical, I would be assigned as a legal officer, either at Great Falls or in Anchorage, Alaska. The scheduling was for me to take my physical the next day and I duly reported to the hospital for that purpose. Everything went fine until I was required to jump up and down several times to see what my heart beat would do. The examining officer told me that my heartbeat was 150 beats a minute! The examining officer didn’t know what to do with me, so I was sent to the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist and I had an interesting exchange. I told him that I’d had this same problem back in 1946 in getting out of the service. I had attributed it to combat experience. I had no other explanation. He listened to me for a while and checked me. Some tests were made - blood tests and things of that kind. He, finally, said, “Captain, I don’t think that you’re gonna die, but I don’t think that the service needs you, and I’m gonna give you your discharge.” And he did.
This was wonderful to me because I didn’t know what my wife and I would have done. I wouldn’t have known whether or not I would survive all that over- water flying, or what might have happened. It’s very possible that if I’d stayed as a legal officer, I would have climbed the ladder of rank. No telling what my rank would have been, if and when I had retired. But, I was just beginning to practice law in Dallas. It was a concern that I might be doing something that was entirely different. I accepted the discharge and went to the airport. I caught a jumper airlines back to Denver.
On the way back, there was a very attractive flight attendant, about my age. She was paying a lot of attention to me. She finally came to me and said, “When we get to Denver, why don’t you stay over a couple of days and stay at my place and we’ll check out the town and have a party.” I told her, “I really appreciate this offer, thank you, that’s very nice of you, but I’ve got people waiting for me in Dallas. They’re expecting me and I’ve got to go. I thank you very much. That’s one the nicest things that’s been said to me in a long time and I appreciate it.” I never saw her again. I ended up in Dallas and my wife, father and mother were waiting for me. This was the end of my military career!
The last words in the opera “Pagliacci” are these words in Italian:
” La Commedia E Finita!”
(The comedy is finished!)