The U.S. Army and Perry Institute
By Robert E. Pace
Sheet Metal Dept., Perry Institute, Air Corps School - 1942
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November 6, 1941 was a hectic day for a group of Yakimas civic leaders. With very little warning a delegation from the U.S. Army, lead by Major General Rush B. Lincoln, stepped off their DC-3 at the Yakima airport and requested a tour of the area around the airport. They were touring eastern Washington to locate a possible site for an air force training facility. The first thing Lincoln asks was "How much land is available adjoining the airport?" County engineer, O. E. Brashears assured him there were "hundreds" of acres that could be bought for about $150.00 per acre.
The General and his party then toured the district adjoining the airport and the General asked a barrage of specific questions about sanitation, water, recreational facilities for several thousand men who could be trained here. At the end of their tour of sites, they made one last stop to tour Perry Institute. When the General and his staff stepped into the school, and saw the row upon row of gleaming lathes, neat welding booths, aircraft repair, overhaul, and maintenance equipment.
Major General Lincoln then concentrated on concrete questioning. He asked the school Director Frederick Leasure how many men could be handled per shift at the trade school, whether or not the school could take on contract instructional work and whether satisfactory tuition arrangements could be made. He was assured that all phases of a government training contract could be worked out by the school. The plant, Leasure explained, could handle shifts of 500 men each.
When he finished his tour of inspection, the General, all official reserve laid aside, grinned at his staff and the Yakima delegation and said, "This training plant is perfectly conceived and beautifully equipped. It hasnt an equal in the United States not anywhere."
General Lincoln and his staff left Yakima the next morning and boarded their plane and flew to Walla Walla where they were to make a similar survey.
The whole experience with the army had left Leasure and the civic leaders of Yakima somewhat taken aback. It had happened so fast, with no forewarning of what the army had in mind, or, for that matter, what the next step would be.
It would be almost three months, on February 15, 1942, before the army came back. And when they did they took over in a big way. The students that were attending Perry would be allowed to graduate early then the army would take the entire school to train their own men. And it happened fast. Leasure, and the school trustees, were notified the school would be used to train up to 1000 regular army men for the air corps ground work. The institute was selected for a high-speed 90-day training program that would operate on a 24-hour schedule and would begin training the middle of March. Director Leasure immediately started a nationwide search for qualified teaching personnel. He would need at least 40 additional instructors to meet the needs of the armys schedule.
Perry Institute was not the only facility that had to be made ready. An army advance group already in Yakima, moved rapidly establishing a camp area at the Farm Security Administrations migratory farm labor camp (presently Ahtanum Youth Park), loaned for the field training exercises. Buildings were being cleaned and new ones built, new kitchens, clinics, mess halls and all other requirements were being added. The soldiers would march (double time, said most) the two miles to the school and back to attend their classes.
With all of Perrys shops ready to be used, on March 9th, the army started classes on a 24-hour routine. In spite of the added instructors, none of whom was familiar with routines and layouts, the school swung smoothly into action. Before the first week was out, however, eight more instructors would have to be added bringing the total now to sixty-five.
Throughout the school the shops were humming. The students were getting "real training" in a host of subjects. Students were learning cable splicing, fabric sewing on wings of aircraft, instrumentation repair and correction, sheet metal work and engine repair and overhaul. The army released a statement on March 23rd, which said, "In the engine loft future mechanics are learning to take down the most powerful radial motors in the world. In a short time they will be doing overhaul work and will have the satisfaction of test running these big engines and knowing that they will be back into the sky, fit to take their place in Americas unbeatable aerial defense chain."
The school was operating so well that in June the Spokane Army Air Force Supply Depot sent 150 civilians to train in all phases of aviation mechanics along with the army personnel.
Things were going very well indeed. W. Walter Williams, chairman of the State Defense Council made a tour through the school and remarked to Director Leasure he expected to find "another welding school, with perhaps half a dozen students scatted around a small plant doing practice welding. But instead I find men doing every conceivable type of metal work. I was overwhelmed at the size of the plant and the scope of work that the men undertake. The combining of mental and physical labor to metal work is something at which I shall always marvel," he said. Only 5 days after issuing such a glowing year-end report, the Army announced it was leaving Perry Institute. On December 1, the banner headlines, on page one of the Yakima Daily Republic screamed out in bold type: "Army Drops Trade School Classes." The Second Air Force headquarters explained the technical training command, which maintains army service schools, "has now brought the out-put of its own schools up to the quotas needed within the Second Air Force."
In eight short months the army had trained 3,600 men at Perry, now as abruptly as they arrived the army was leaving. Political pressure was put on the powers to be, but to no avail, and with no private students, the school would close if the trustees could not find another tenant for the facility. Pan American Airways leased the plant for a short time, but the school would not be operating as it once did until after the war had ended.
Many veterans throughout the country today probably remember the training they received when stationed at small town in eastern Washington called Yakima.