Lambert Field’s Forgotten Aviator:

Howard William Bode

By John L. Maurath, Sunset Hills, St. Louis County, Mo.

One of St. Louis’ forgotten pioneer aviators, was the "gentle giant", Mr. Howard William BODE. Howard was born in the last year of World War I on August 29, 1918 at 2310 Texas St. in South St. Louis. He was the only child of Ernst Heinrich BODE, an accountant and auditor, who had come to St. Louis from Germany, and Marie Elisabeth STORK, who was the daughter of German immigrants. Her father was a well-known St. Louis sign painter, Friedrich "Fred" STORK. The families were devout Lutherans. Howard attended Horace MANN grade school and ROOSEVELT high school. Later, after serving during World War II, he earned degrees in business and accounting from St. Louis University.   [Photo: US Army Air Corps Flight Instructor, Howard W. BODE. (He was a pilot from the Chicago and Southern Airlines, inducted into the US Army Air Corps as a flight instructor). This is the uniform he wore while training pilots in the WACO (Weaver Aircraft Co.) open cockpit bi-plane, at the beginning of the war. He was home on leave, visiting his parents, when this picture was taken.] [Enlargement]

Howard considered himself fortunate to have been born just before the advent of St. Louis’ aviation history. As a little boy, he was fascinated with flying, and the exciting stories of the famous World War I ace pilots were still fresh in everyone’s memories. And, St. Louis was making world news, by becoming one of the "first cities of flight". President Teddy ROOSEVELT took his first plane ride in St. Louis at Kinloch Balloon Field (which later became Lambert Air Field)….and, he was indeed the first President to fly in an airplane. The first parachute jump also took place at Kinloch Field. Not long after this, Albert B. LAMBERT purchased and developed Kinloch Field, and in June, 1920, it officially became "Lambert Airfield". Major LAMBERT, by the way, was the first St. Louisan to obtain a private pilot’s license, after having been inspired by his first airplane ride with aviation pioneer Orville WRIGHT. When Howard BODE was 9 years old, more aviation excitement came to St. Louis, as Charles LINDBERGH departed Lambert Field for the first historic non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. By the time Howard was 10, Lambert Field had put St. Louis on the map, as a major American hub for air passenger and airfreight service. This later drew aircraft manufacturers such as McDonnell, Douglas, Marquette, Robertson, Boeing and others to Lambert Field. What started out as a 500 acre farm field, would grow to be over a 2000 acre international air hub ….. now known as Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

Howard BODE, surrounded by all of this hype, and enchanted by the excitement of flight and aviation, spent all of his free time as a youth at Forest Park Balloon Field and at Lambert Airfield, and as a young teenager between 1930 and 1932, he made his way as often as he could to Lambert Field (all the way from South St. Louis), where he learned all about flying. He first trained in WACO (Weaver Aircraft Co) open cockpit biplanes, and also in the single-wing Piper Cub Cadets. He later enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training School (CPT) program, where he earned free flight time and learned basic aircraft maintenance. One of his first instructors though, was Mr. Carl HEMPEL. Before Howard even really had a chance, HEMPEL tried to discourage him, and told Howard that he was wasting his time, and that he would never fly. Howard knew in his heart though, that God had given him a special gift to be a good pilot, and with the support of his parents, he was never discouraged. Overhearing all of this, a former schoolteacher and female aviator by the name of Adela RIEK took Howard on as her student. She took him to the St. Charles Private Flyer’s Airport, and after only 2 hours of training and two landings, instructed Howard to land the airplane and let her out. He had been one of the best pilots she had seen thus far, and told him, "this airplane is yours" and instructed him to make his first solo flight. After a splendid solo, Ms. RIEK rewarded Howard with her special gift to him of a four-leaf clover, which is still in Howard’s logbook, to this very day. Howard’s family incidentally, still has all of his logbooks, records, flight cap and goggles, uniform, and so on. Ms. RIEK later married a Lambert Field Naval Reservist by the name of Harold N. SCHARR.

Adela RIEK-SCHARR became "St. Louis’ Amelia EARHART". She had initially learned to fly from a protégé of Charles LINDBERGH. By 1940, she was the first commercial pilot at Lambert Field, the first female ground instructor, and the first female flight instructor. And, during World War II, she became one of America’s first female military aviators, as she was one of the first female pilots to serve with the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASPS).

After the war, she remained a renowned flight instructor, and in 1961, she was the first woman to fly a Boeing C-135 four-engine jet. In 1967, she retired with the rank of Major from the U.S. Air Force Reserve. During her life, she received many prestigious citations and awards. She left a legacy of her aviation career to the St. Louis area, by establishing the Adela RIEK SCHARR Endowment at the St. Louis Public Library. She died in St. Louis on March 11, 1998 at the gracious age of 90. Her story lives on through her former students, and pilots, such as Howard BODE.

Ironically, Howard’s reputation as a top-notch pilot, was made known to his first instructor Carl HEMPEL, who eventually hired Howard. Not only was Howard an exceptional pilot, but he was also a master at aerial acrobatics. He exclaimed (albeit in a non-braggard, very humble fashion) that he could "do it all with his eyes closed". Not once in his whole aviation career, was he ever scared….and, he attributed this, partly to youth and fool-heartiness, but especially to having a good relationship with his Maker. Not only was his job to clean and check (pre-trip and post-trip) the airplanes for Hempel, but as a pilot, he greatly enjoyed giving aerial tours of St. Louis and surrounding areas to the (mostly) affluent residents of St. Louis, most of whom, Howard stated, wanted to see "the ballpark".

Long before World War II came along,, Howard had decided to make flying his life-long career. He had become a top pilot for Chicago and Southern Airlines, which was based out of Memphis, TN. He had logged many hours and had flown all over the country, but his main flight path was between Chicago, St. Louis and Memphis. By the time the war started, he was flying cargo and passengers in a twin-engine DC-3 (later, the designation for the militarily modified DC-3, became the C-47). Apart from cargo, the DC-3 could also carry a crew of 4 and approximately 21 passengers, with an occasional stewardess. Howard was restricted from flying the DC-3 over 10,000 feet, because oxygen was only contained in the flight cabin at that time. And only occasionally did he have the luxury of a radioman, as signals and controls from the flight towers were still given by amber, green and red lights (before the use of radio and radar). On one occasion a DC-3 went into a spin at 3000 feet over Memphis. But, Howard kept his cool, and because of his special training, he was able to bring the plane out of the spin at 1000 feet by reversing the engines. On another occasion at the old Memphis Airport (which Howard noted, had been an old plantation), the pilots of Chicago and Southern had drawn straws for a special and well-paying flight, to bring one of the first radio stations to Alaska. Howard had lost the draw though. The plane had to be specially fitted with extra 55-gallon fuel drums, in order to make the flight non-stop. The crew (who had won the draw) tried taking off in a thunderstorm, which resulted in a crash. By the time Howard got to the plane, the pilot was still in his seat, but thrown out of the airplane and his body engulfed in flames. Gasoline covered the whole area around the plane, and the place burned for 2 days afterwards. This was the only really upsetting experience in Howard’s aviation career, and he recounted it with sadness, at the loss of fellow pilots and crew. Howard recounted another story, where he ran out of gas, just before reaching St. Louis during a cross-country flight in a "Cub". He had to "put the plane down" in a freshly cut wheat field in Wentzville, which had one inch of standing water. This emergency landing created a spectacle, and people came from everywhere. The farmer who owned the field, took Howard to the gas station, where he bought 10 gallons of 90 octane ethyl gasoline. The farmer then hitched up his plow horses, and pulled the plane out of the muddy field, onto a nearby road. There was no starter in the old plane, and so Howard had to tie the throttle back, and spin the prop. He jumped into the plane as it started, to guide it down the short road, which he used as a "makeshift runway", while the local spectators clapped and cheered him on. After becoming airborne, he whirled the plane around, and "buzzed" the farmhouse and tipped his wings in thanks to the farmer. He exclaimed though, that this was a big "no-no" and most pilots would "have denied the action". After arriving back at Lambert Field, it took him 4 hours to clean all of the mud off of the airplane. [Photo: U.S. Army Flight Instructors, left to right: BRUTEN (from the East Coast); Howard BODE (from St. Louis, MO);  SEDWICK (from New Orleans). All former Chicago and Southern Airlines pilots.]  [Enlargement]

Since there were a lack of pilots and flight instructors at the beginning of World War II, Howard BODE, along with about 13 other highly skilled pilots from Chicago and Southern Airlines, were inducted as "flight instructors" into the U.S. Army Air Corps at Lambert Airfield. When asked about the name of this unit, Howard simply said that it was kind of a "quiet" thing, and that in the beginning they were given quasi-military uniforms, and were never really given a name or numerical designation. Howard therefore, liked to call this squadron, "Lambert Field’s Lost or Forgotten Training Squadron". These instructors were split up and sent to different parts of the country, although Howard and a few others remained at Lambert Field. The government sent military personnel to them for training, and it was the first phase of an "E" or "Elimination Process", in order to find the most qualified prospective pilots. Howard was instructed to take these potential pilots up, and try to "scare the heck out of them". He used the old WACO (Weaver Aircraft Co.) open cockpit biplanes and single wing, single engine Piper Cub Cadets (2-seater) that he himself had initially trained in. These planes had been fitted with specially-hidden rear-view mirrors, so that Howard could read the expressions on the faces of the trainees in the back seat, as he twisted, turned and gyrated the plane in the heavens. Howard was instructed to really put these potential pilots to the test, to see how much they could withstand. And being an aerial acrobat, he loved it ….. although many potential pilots were washed out of the program, as a result. At the same time, the Army Air Corps was sending skilled pilots to Howard, usually Lieutenants, for training in aerial acrobatics, to increase their skills in agility, coordination, endurance, coordinated foot and hand maneuvers, among other things. During this time, Howard himself was required to receive updated training, which was usually given by Naval Air personnel. Later on in the war, Howard and the other instructors went back to flying military cargo all over the country, using the C-47 military cargo planes. Most of Howard’s missions though, were to Miami, Florida. Strangely, towards the end of the war, their flying missions were slowly turned over to other pilots, most of them, whom they had trained. By the end of the war, Howard and the other instructors were simply being transferred from one military installation to another around the country, without being able to log any flight time. On August 8, 1946, Howard W. BODE was honorably discharged from the 2532nd Army Air Force Base Unit at Randolph Field, Texas.

Howard BODE is in the middle, under the engine, the 7th man from the left (the 8th man from the right).  A guy named "BRUTEN" (from the East Coast)and a friend of Bode's is the 4th guy from the right.  Another friend, named "SEDWICK" from New Orleans is the 6th guy from the left, next to BODE.  These men (the "forgotten squadron") are flight instructors for the US Army Air Corps, and the plane behind them, is a military C-47 twin-engine cargo plane.  Notice that 3 of these guys have cameras in their hands, and that there's a camera at the feet of one guy.  The back of the picture was stamped "News Photo from Chicago and Southern Airlines". [Enlargement]

Howard Bode's honorable discharge from the U.S. Army. [Enlargement]

At this time, already a year after the war, Howard attempted to get back into civilian flying. Ironically though, there were no more flying jobs to be had, because of all of the military pilots who had already come back into civilian life from the war. Chicago and Southern Airlines (who later merged with Delta Airlines) didn’t even have a job for him, and there were no laws at that time, requiring companies to hire-back personnel who had to leave for the military during wartime. Howard therefore, used the GI Bill to put himself through college at St. Louis University, where he earned degrees in accounting, which was his father’s real dream for him. He later worked as an accountant for International Shoe, Glasgow Electric, Falstaff Brewing Corp., and Rite Point Pen, where he met Miss Alice GRUPE, the love of his life, whose family had come to St. Louis from Effingham, IL. They were married on January 12, 1952 and moved to the Concord Village area, where they had two beautiful daughters, and where they’ve lived ever since.

Howard BODE was interviewed several times for this story in December, 1997, while dying from ALS (Lou GEHRIG’s disease). At nearly 80 years of age, he calmly and pleasantly sat in his wheelchair in the kitchen of his home, while answering a barrage of questions. His family said that he has always been a quiet, calm, gentle man, very slow to anger. In fact, because of his humility, a lot of the information in this story was not known by most of his family and friends. During the interview, he was completely sound, and he had his wit and mind about him. Humorously, to prove himself, he quickly rattled-off his pilot license number, social security number, military number, and a multitude of other numerical designations. When asked if he ever missed flying, he responded that he had been blessed with such a wonderful, loving wife, two beautiful daughters and loving grandchildren, and that he had had such a great life, that he didn’t even have time to think about it. When asked though, he happily delighted in sharing his life story, but would have never told it on his own …….and so that’s why, everyone is encouraged to talk to, and ask questions of older family members, and get their life story, as every family has a rich and interesting heritage. It’s only appropriate too, that this story was written close to Christmas (nearly 7 years after Howard’s death) on December 8th , as it brings to mind one of the last experiences that he shared. Before sharing this story though, he emphasized that he wasn’t crazy nor dreaming. Just before Christmas, a beautiful woman holding a beautiful Baby started "visiting" him. He said that the "visits" gave him great joy and peace, and they lasted until just before his death. Howard William BODE made his last "flight" on April 26, 1998, going to his Creator only one month after the renowned female aviator who soloed him, Mrs. Adela RIEK-SCHARR.

 

Copyright 2004 by John L. MAURATH

NOTE:

John MAURATH is a family historian, a tombstone restorationist, an avid Civil War buff, and a member of the new Missouri Civil War Museum at Jefferson Barracks.

John has also had a keen interest in aviation, especially after having earned an aviation merit badge while in the Boy Scouts. He also interviewed a great-uncle, Herbert BURGER in Scott County, MO, who was also a World War II pilot, and who had the distinction of flying more missions over "The Hump" in China, than any other pilot.

John’s friend Dave BLACK is the grandson of Edwin George BLACK, a boat builder near Boston, who had helped the Wright Brothers in the building of their first plane, and with whom they were going to go into the airplane manufacturing business. John is the brother of Joseph Justin MAURATH, former Mayor of Fenton, Missouri, who is the son-in-law of Howard BODE.

 

SOURCES FOR THIS STORY


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