10 April 2006
Transcription of Oral Interview: Interview took place April 9, 2006, at 110 Greenway Lane in Del Rio, Texas. Interviewee’s name is Michael P. Evans. Interview entails the life and time serving in the Air Force, including the subject’s involvement with top-secret missions of U2 planes, of Albert Leroy Evans now deceased. Only interviewer and interviewee were in the room at time of interview.
H- So your dad’s name was…
M- Was Albert Leroy Evans, and he was born on June 5, 1916, and he lived in St. Paul, Minneapolis area, he went to high school up there and graduated, very little college uh prior to the war he worked some for the railroad, but he was what he referred to as a ski bum, and he worked at Yellowstone Park and Lake Tahoe and Sun Valley. What he would do is he worked on ski patrol and started avalanches to prevent them from injuring the people attending to the resort, and he always wanted to be a pilot but he didn’t have the college to get into the Army/ Air Force Training Program in the United States. So, in 1941 some people in Canada started a pilot training program for pilots around the world, and my father and several of his friends went to Canada and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, and they started out, he learned how to fly biplanes and I have some other pictures here.
M- But he learned how to fly biplanes similar to this one here, and from there they flew a training airplane called the T-6. His favorite aircraft was the P-51 there were several versions of it, but there are the pictures of that, and from the records that I can tell looking at, in the early 60’s he already had nearly 6000 hours of flying time and he was rated as a pilot in 17 different aircrafts, and that was in the United States, he started out, what they did in Canada, is the Canadians trained pilots and then they realized the war was going to break out so the United States sent a train up to Canada and pilots who had graduated from their training program would enter the train at one end in Canadian uniform and when they got out of the train at the other end, they were members of the United States Army Air Corps in America Air Corps, and my father and a group of his friends came back and formed the First Squadron of Flying Sergeants.
H- What was that called?
M- It was called the First Squadron of Flying Sergeants and in Pensacola, Florida they have an Air Museum there, and they have pictures of all the enlisted men who were pilots during World War II and they… I think at the Air Museum they were just listed as enlisted pilots during WWII. So when he joined the U.S army Air Corps I believe he was a staff Sergeant, and he joined the United States Army before it became the Air Force and… well I don’t remember where… oh here it is 27th of May 1942 he was a Staff Sergeant. Then by 1943 he was still a Staff Sergeant and the he got a commission to Second Lieutenant in 1943 and some time between 1943 and 1945 he got a promotion to a First Lieutenant and his promotions over the years since then without digging through stacks and stacks of information, anyways uh…one of the things that I find most astonishing was that a man without a college education was able to enter the service and retire from the service as a Lieutenant Colonel and one of the things I recall in looking through these papers was…okay this was in relation to the U2 program which was probably one of the most historical things relating to Laughlin AFB back in the early 50s after my father had returned from France after teaching French people how to fly jets that were sold to them by the United States, he was returned back to Albany, Georgia and several people were transferred from Albany, Georgia to Del Rio and they started the U2 program, now the U2 program was here for probably three years before the people of Del Rio even knew it was here. They would only roll the planes out of the hangars at night and they were painted black, and they would take off and land during the night and it was a top secret program until one of the planes crashed outside of Del Rio, and after that happened, obviously the Air Force had to make it public that they were there. This award… I don’t see the date, but he was a major then, and it says:
“Major Albert L. Evans U.S Air Force, distinguished himself by meritorious service while assigned as Chief procedural training branch 4080th Strategic Wing. Laughlin AFB Del Rio, TX. From 12 may 1957 to 11 July 1963 during this period he demonstrated outstanding managerial and training abilities and exemplary devotion to duty in establishing and implementing a training program for newly assigned U2 aircraft personnel. As a result of his efforts, all combat prudence of the wing although absent from the home station for long periods at operating locations completed training requirements in a timely fashion this distinguished accomplishment of Major Evans reflected credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”
He had this and that and a few other awards that I was able to find without digging too awful deep, but uh here is… between 1957 and 1959 his unit received the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for the 4087 Strategic wing, and the U2 aircraft was very vital during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember that we didn’t know what he was doing at the time. A lot of the time he would leave home and go to work and say they were having an alert at the base and he wouldn’t be home for a few days we would assume he was out at Laughlin. When he left the house, he had a brief case handcuffed to his hands and when he came home he had a military pistol also in his brief case. I noticed one time as a child snooping where I wasn’t supposed to be snooping. But we came to find out later that the program… pilots from Del Rio were flying over Cuba and taking pictures of the missile sights that they had built over there in Cuba. One of the remarkable things I remember him telling me about that was the plane had a real long wing span, it was like a giant glider and he told me stories with one time there was a pilot coming into Laughlin and he ran out of fuel over Dallas and they asked him if they needed to try to make arrangements for an emergency landing, and he says not I believe I can make it and he glided all the way from north Texas up there by Dallas, to Laughlin and landed safely, there was another aircraft that was coming between Hawaii and the United States that ran out of fuel over the Pacific and glided several hundred miles and landed safely so it was a remarkable aircraft and it flew so high that uh I believe it was Colonel Ernie Warley, was the first pilot to eject from the U2 and live because of the altitude that the planes flew. It’s the same plane that Frances Gary Powers was shot down in over Russia back during the early 60s he had some kind of mechanical problems and got down low enough were they were able to spot the airplane, but that airplane is still in use, and my dad was part of the people that helped establish and train the pilots in that program, an he also flew the Chase Plane, it was a modified twin engine Cessna 310 and what they would do is the plane had wings so long the wing tips would drag the ground when it would take off or land so they had like giant roller skates attached to the wing tips for when they took off my father would fly alongside the jets and let them know when their wings had lifted enough to the skates were off and he was free for full gliding and they would pick up the same thing when they landed, they had vehicles stationed on each side at high speeds that would go along side of the airplane and put these skates under the airplane as they landed in order to prevent the wing tips from dragging the ground. That part was real remarkable to me.
One of my dad’s… I don’t think I’ve told you this, one of his favorite aircrafts was the P-51 Mustang and when he was stationed in Japan he flew that most of the time. When he came to the United States in the Army Air Corps, the United States had just acquired a jet aircraft and he had a friend who was a test pilot and he talked that test pilot into giving him a 15 minute ride in the jet. So, immediately after that he was transferred to another base and when he reported in at the main gate of that base they stopped him and gave him orders, and the orders stated that due to his experience in jet aircraft, he was being reassigned as an instructor pilot to another base so his fifteen minute joyride in a jet, at that time there were so few people who had been up in them and knew anything about them and had the aptitude that qualified for him to be an instructor pilot and he spent most of his years as an instructor pilot here in Del Rio and in Georgia and in France I think the most time he spent as active duty fighter pilot was when he was in France and he was stationed in Japan twice and he moved… he and my mom got married shortly after he came over to the United States Air Force. They had known each other for several years but it kind of took him a while to settle down and decide what he was going to do and stay with, but he always loved to fly and even when he was in France and he wasn’t working, he took up learning how to glide in planes like that they would tow him up in another aircraft and you just go up and glide around in something like that and soar around if you had the updrafts you could stay up there for hours and he had told me about that and I did some of that in Colorado whenever I had the opportunity to do it, but he always loved to fly, when he got out of the Air Force he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1963 and about a year and a half later they started the P-41 program out at the little airport here in Del Rio, and my father and Bruce Bayes managed that program for I believe about a little over ten years before it was transferred to Hondo and what that entailed was the Air Force would bring in student pilots and teach them how to fly a single engine propeller driven aircraft basically it was a modified Cessna 172 with military instrumentation and that way they could find out without big expense on whether or not a student had the aptitude to become a pilot and when they graduated from that program well then would go on out to Laughlin and go to jets and now they have newer aircrafts and they are not using that 172 that I am aware of and I believe your father is involved in that training program that is going on right now. I have printed out pictures of most of the planes I could find that he has flown.
But this looks… back then when I got on the internet looking for T-6 it came up with the new plane they have out on the base, but back during the WWII they had a T-6 Texan and uh there’s a lot of information about that plane and it was a widely used training aircraft all over the world for the Allies and this is the T-33 I think that was the aircraft I think that he had the most flying time in, and it was a jet aircraft and there is one on display next to the Civic Center and when he went to France, the United States sold France several S-80 “Shooting Star” aircrafts and he was one of the commanders of that program over in France over there I think TDY for about 9 months and then this is a modified the F-84 Thunder Jet and one of the planes that he learned to fly and I have pictures ion this photo album but he also learned how to fly a B-25 Bomber and he flew C-123s he didn’t really like the big two winged aircraft but sometimes they needed pilots to fly freight and flew the C-47 this is the ME-108 now this is a German Mescherschmit and how they got a hold of it and how he ended up having logged flying time I don’t know, but looking through his records, I’ve got records that show he had also flown that airplane he also, this is one of the heavy helicopters that was used during the later part of WWII he learned how to fly that aircraft… there is a better picture of it. This is the Cessna 310 that was the twin engine that was used as the chase plane for the U2s that is a better picture of it there, and then this is the program. When he retired he had 6800 hours of flying time and he had ten more years of flying after that in this aircraft, so I am thinking he had somewhere in the vicinity of 8000 hours flying time when he had to finally stop flying. I think the biggest problem was his eyesight as he got older and his hearing was pretty bad too after so many years in a cockpit of the old time airplane that was so noisy. Would you like to go on ahead and stop that for a second?
M- As part of the history of Del Rio, uh my father retired in Del Rio and he had originally planed on retiring in Mesa, Arizona, uh but my two sisters and I were getting to the age to where we wanted to graduate with our friends, so they sold their house in Arizona and stayed here, and he went to work with this T-41 program uh but he was very active in Del Rio he was a Charter member of the Border Credit Union he was the Charter member of the Amistad Bass Club uh, he was well known wood-carver, around the state and uh throughout the country actually he had… people would order custom wood carvings from him, uh from art galleries throughout the United States. I have an article on a VCR tape here if you would like to borrow it, that Texas Country Border came and did a television program about him, uh about his life from the time that he started flying and in turning his love of flight from airplanes into carving birds because the wood carvings that he did was almost all birds uh he called it wearable wood and it was jewelry like uh crosses and humming bird earrings and necklaces. So… and he lived here uh, prior to the flood of ‘98 uh I don’t remember what year it was but I think two or three years before the flood a tornado came to Del Rio and I don’t know if your parents remember that but it kind of hopped and skipped around and it hit this house and it took the patio roof off the house picked it up over the house and landed upside down in the front yard so my parents survived that and uh, the Flood of 1998 and then in the year 2000 my father had Lymphoma and he died shortly after he was diagnosed with Lymphoma, but he was very active, he loved to fish when during his training periods of teaching student pilots how to fly, his flying area, training area was over Amistad Reservoir as it was filling up so when he got off every weekend then he went out to the lake to fish, and he made handmade kayaks and went out to fish in kayaks that he made by hand and he knew the lake just like the back of his hand because he flew over it all day every day. So he was also well-known and recognized for his fishing, I thought I had a picture real handy here… that’s one of the pictures of the stringer of bass that uh and here’s a picture of him carving his wood carvings were so intricate that he had to carve under a magnifying glass so he would sit at work bench under the studio that he built in the back of the house and carve those birds while he was watching golf or one of his football games uh but he really loved it. His wood carving really started out as a joke, my mother was working at the high school library and uh they had some humming birds on display in the library and they had humming bird feeders out here and while she was at work one day he carved a humming bird and painted it and put it on the humming bird feeder in the backyard and waited to see if she would notice it, and she did and she took it to the school and people started asking for them and eventually it turned into a business for him, so it wasn’t really a money-making endeavor but it allowed him to supplement his income they were able to travel, uh he loved to travel and he traveled extensively and a lot with my wife and I, uh even though he was already aging so he is one of the most remarkable men that I have ever known and I am real fortunate to have been brought up by such a man.