A veteran’s memory

Brite served in US Army Air Corps ... after attack on Pearl Harbor

Leon Zabava

Staff WriteR

Everything seemed calm and peaceful in Hawaii, early morning, December 7, 1941.

That all changed at 7:48 a.m., Hawaiian Time, when Pearl Harbor was attacked by a swarm of 353 Imperial Japanese aircraft. All eight U. S. battleships in the area were damaged with four sunk.

This attack was shocking to the United States and had led directly to the American entry into World War II.

The following day, December 8, the United States declared war on Japan.

While this was happening, a young man from Pleasanton was at Midland Air Force Base where he was sent as a purchasing clerk for the Air Depot. He was on detached service from Randolph Field in San Antonio.

J. Taylor Brite was this young man, 20 years old, not in the service but merely working for the military as a civilian.

While at Midland AFB, Brite was promoted to Junior Property and Supply Officer with supervision over some 80 employees.

The Pearl Harbor bombing led to Brite’s being drafted into the Army Air Corps at Midland, Texas on December 21, 1942, when reaching the age of 21. He traveled by train from  Midland to Ft. Bliss, Texas, for induction.

Private J. Taylor Brite was sent to old Duncan Field (now Kelly AFB) for basic training.

On January 28, 1943, Brite was assigned to the 15th Air Service Squadron at Kelly Field. This was a Regular Army Unit. Chief task of the unit was to repair and maintain AF bombers.

“This assignment was fortunate for me as I remained with this unit throughout the war,” said Brite. “In the 15th, I was assigned to headquarters and placed in charge of all personnel records, payroll and service records.”

In June 1943, Brite was assigned overseas duty, leaving Kelly Field by train heading to Jackson Barracks, Louisiana, near New Orleans.

Brite said, “Our entire unit boarded the ship El Gonquin and we set sail for Natal, Brazil. Natal was the jumping off point where bombers flew to the African Campaign in war with Germany.

“Due to German submarine scare in the Gulf of Mexico, we were forced to stay in Trinidad for several weeks. We later boarded another ship and went on to the base in Natal.”

While in Natal, Brite mentioned about the time he and three other U.S. servicemen who were from that territory were invited to attend a festival in a remote village in a primitive (jungle) area. Upon arrival, representing the USAF and wearing uniforms, they were treated like “royalty” during the celebration.

“It was pretty rough country where these South Americans lived,” said Brite. “We were provided a jeep by the 15th AF Squadron to go to this village in Southern Brazil. We drove through some of the most desolate country. They treated us like kings. They followed us around ‘like we were somebody’. We were in ‘high cotton’. We were at the head table. We didn’t object at all. They did a good job of making us feel important.”

“In October 1944, we left Brazil on three small ships with about 250 men, going through the  Panama Canal,” said Brite. “We traveled on to John Rogers Airfield, adjoining Hickam Field, Hawaii. By this time, African Campaign was over and we were sent to Hawaii for work on aircraft going to the Pacific area.”

Brite mentioned that Karo Titsworth, from Pleasanton, was stationed at Hickam Field and that Karo mentioned that he was there during the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

“My assignment while at Hickham AFB was to keep all records and assignments for the 15 Air Force Squadron,” said Brite who was a Tech Sergeant at the time.

On November 6, 1945, peace had been declared.

Brite said, “I was sent to a staging area on Oahu for return to the United States and discharge. Along with about 2,000 other service men, I boarded the Battleship West Virginia (heavily bombed during Pearl Harbor attack but restored).

“It seemed they had no proper provision for cooks to feed the men and I wound up with the job of securing necessary number of cooks from those onboard.

“I remember we stood at the top of stairs on the ship and asked each man his work duty during war. Each cook was asked to step aside for further instructions. This is how we got enough cooks for the trip.”

On November 13, 1945, Battleship West Virginia arrived at Naval Base, San Pedro, California, with all intact. “They gave us a meal that was ‘out of this world’, steak with all the trimmings and a great dessert,” said Brite.

Brite left San Pedro by train bound for Fort Bliss, Texas on November 18, 1945. “On that date I was discharged, but remained in the Enlisted Reserves for another three years.

“I boarded a train in El Paso, Texas, with final trip to San Antonio. Then I called my parents in Pleasanton and boarded a bus to Pleasanton. My father, Tom S. Brite, met me at Haverlah’s One Stop Station at 4 a.m.”

While serving,  Brite received the American Theater Ribbon, Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal and Victory Medal. He was an expert submachine gunner.

In January, 1946, Brite applied for and received the same position with civil service at Midland AFB he had before entering the service. In May of that year the base closed and Brite resigned rather than take another assignment in another state.

Brite entered St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, taking pre-law courses in June 1946. In June 1947, Brite entered St. Mary’s University of Law.

In December 1947, Brite was appointed 2nd Lieutenant, Air Force Reserves. He kept that rank until April 1953.

Brite was elected Atascosa County Attorney in 1950, taking office Jan. 1, 1951. Brite was appointed District Attorney in February 1960, by Governor Price Daniel, when incumbent became seriously ill with pneumonia and died.

Brite served as District Judge until July 1985, retiring after 34 years, 7 months of active, elective public service.

After retiring, Brite qualified as a Senior District Judge, State of Texas, holding District Court by assignment only, all over the State of Texas.

Brite served a total of 46 years in public service

J. Taylor Brite, 96, and wife Frances (deceased) lived in Pleasanton, being a lifetime resident, all the time while he held office.

J. Taylor Brite received Senior Citizen of the Year Award from the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce at their annual banquet in 1989.

In 1998, J. Taylor Brite served as Chairman of Retired, Senior & Former Judges Assn. of Texas.

“This brings about lots of memories,” said J. Taylor Brite as he held onto his Army Air Corps uniform.

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