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Walter Reinhardt was a university student when Japanese naval aircraft bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Like a number of other young American men in the weeks afterwards, Reinhardt decided to enlist in the armed forces.
“It was the thing to do,” he said, when asked why.
He was originally planning on enlisting in the Navy, but the Navy recruiter’s office was closed the day he showed up. The Army recruiter was open for business that day, so he enlisted there.
After boot camp, and based on test scores, Reinhardt was sent to the Army Air Corps to train as an aircraft mechanic.
Reinhardt was sent to Australia and soon ended up as part of the flight crew carrying supplies to Australian troops fighting in New Guinea. Landings could be a problem.
“You had to go into uphill airports, five degrees up,” he said.
According to Reinhardt, the air field at a place called Wau, was one of those. Landing on this uphill runway presented a problem for inexperienced pilots and they often damaged their aircrafts’ tail assemblies. The damage was to cables controlling trim tabs on the tail and Reinhardt had to repair these cables so that the aircraft would fly properly on its return to Australia.
Sometimes, they carried supplies to soldiers where there was no airfield. The supplies were dropped by parachute and Reinhardt kicked them out the door. He recalled one point, back in Australia after returning from a flight, when he talked with an Aussie soldier who had been supplied that way.
“When I got back to Australia, one of them said ‘We like to have the food but you almost hit us on the head sometimes.’”
“We had to drop it close to them so that they could get the goods,” Reinhardt explained.
Dropping supplies by parachute was more common than unloading the plane after landing it.
“Most flights we were kicking the stuff out the side door,” he said.
Although the Army Air Corps had not trained him as a pilot, Reinhardt often ended up flying C-47s.
“I flew before I was in the service,” he explained.
Along with repairing damage done by an inexperienced pilot landing on a difficult runway, there was often other damage to repair. The flights, in which they parachuted supplies, usually involved flying over Japanese troops. This meant fixing bullet holes in the bottom of the airplane.
“I used to fly all the time over enemy ground forces,” he said.
His biggest scare during the war, however, came when he was on the ground. A plane had landed at an airstrip to deliver supplies and Reinhardt stayed on the plane overnight to make repairs so that it could fly out. There was fighting nearby and Reinhardt said that he heard artillery. He said that the airfield was in serious danger of being overrun by Japanese troops.
Reinhardt was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service. He was also busted several times for sneaking out to spend time with a certain Australian lady.
Reinhardt’s daughter, Cindy Reinhardt, said that she discovered her father’s diary a short time ago. Entries frequently mentioned planes, and crews that didn’t return from missions. Then, she found an entry in which her father wrote, “I met a beautiful redhead at the Red Cross dance.”
There were no more entries after that. When Reinhardt was asked if he was too busy to write after that, he just smiled.
The redhead was Penny Pengilley, a Royal Australian Woman’s Air Corps specialty Morse Code operator. The two ultimately married on Jan. 13, 1944. Penny Reinhardt died two years ago.
Reinhardt’s military service ended before the war’s end. He contracted dengue fever and malaria. Both are mosquito borne, and dengue—also called break bone fever due to the muscle and joint pain it can cause—is caused by a virus. Reinhardt has had recurring health problems all his life as a result.
Originally a native of Syracuse, N.Y., Reinhardt now lives with his daughter in Huddleston. He’s terminally ill, but his daughter has been able to care for him thanks to assistance from Bedford Hospice. He turns 90 on May 18 and Cindy Reinhardt has asked for birthday cards for her father, thanking him for his service. He has already received a number of them and she said his face lights up when he sees them. Cards may be sent to: Walter A. Reinhardt, P. O. Box 94 Huddleston, Va. 24104.