MEET OUR VETERANS: Sonny Tittle (Air Force, Grand Saline, Tx.)
Sonny Tittle was born in Nyack, New York on July 9th, 1927, but don’t tell anybody what her age is. So, I won’t. “I have two brothers, one older and one younger. My older brother Eugene Bongartz, and my younger brother’s name was Arthur. Eugene was in the Army and I think my younger brother was in the service, he would have volunteered,” said Sonny from her bedside at the Grand Saline Assisted Living Home.
“I remember my brother and I went to the movie and when we got home my daddy told me Japan had attacked us. It was December 7, 1941. I said Japan, shot at us? I was too young to understand what that meant. Japan had shot at us, I just couldn’t believe it. I remember hearing about it on the radio and soon after we were at war with Japan, it was sad,” recalled Sonny.
“As a hobby I liked to write letters as a young girl. I wrote to my friends and I still do. My dad was a baker in a hospital and my mom was a housewife. We always got good things to eat since he was a baker. My mother was a good cook too and she made a lot of pies. I didn’t bake. I was in the Air Force and I did airplanes,” we both laughed.
“As a young girl we played a lot of games in those days. My dad was a mechanic and he fixed peoples cars. He was a baker to make money but a mechanic to help his friends out. Everybody knew if you had a bad car take it to Arthur Bongartz he would fix it,” bragged Sonny.
“When I was about 14 my daddy had his hand cut off. He was cutting my grandmother’s wood and his hand got in the way. He went to the hospital and they sewed it back on but he could never feel with it again. If he needed to feel something he got me to do it, and that is how I learned about mechanics and everything about cars. He depended on me. I learned a lot about cars by helping him. My dad worked mostly on Model ‘A’ s. My uncle had a Chrysler and he was the big wheeler in the family. He was a house builder and they made a lot of money in those days,” recalled Sonny.
“I went to North Texas University in Denton, Texas in 1945. I took math and science courses and that was how I was able to get in to the Air Force. At the time American Airlines had a contract with the government and was a branch of the Air Force. I graduated from college and received a master’s in science, I was only 16 years old,” shaking her head.
“America Airlines had an ad in the paper and my dad and I went to Long Island to see about getting a job with them. I took the test, and with my math and science background, I knew I could pass it with flying colors. Two people had the highest passing grades, they were Sydney Beaver and Sonny Bongartz. I even got my name in the paper. Sydney and I never married but we got to be good friends over the years. I knew I did good on the test but I was still surprised when they called my name. My dad was so proud of me that day. I thought he was going to buy me a car or something, but I was only 16 years old. But he did buy me a Harley Davidson motorcycle,” said Sonny Laughing. “People still ask me today if I know anything about trigonometry, and I say sure it is just like you never forget how to roller-skate.”
“The ad from American Airlines was asking for people with math or science degrees. They had to be in the military to hire them. So, when they hired me I was already in the Air Force. Because I was only 16 my dad had to sign for me to join. I still have my first check receipt from American Airlines when I was hired,” said Sonny with a lot of pride in her voice.
The Air Transport Command (ATC) was a was a unit of the United States Air Force in 1943. The ATC was created duringWorld War IIas the strategic airlift component of the United States Army Air Forces.
It had two main missions, the first being the delivery of supplies and equipment between the United States and the overseas combat theaters; the second was the ferrying of aircraft from the manufacturing plants in the United States to where they were needed for training or for operational use in combat. ATC also operated a worldwide air transportation system for military personnel.
In 1942, at the personal request of General ‘Hap’ Arnold, C.R. Smith,formerly president of American Airlines was commissioned a colonel in ATC and made its executive officer, thereafter assuming the positions of Chief of Staff and Deputy Commander. During his tenure as Chief of Staff, Smith was largely responsible for ATC’s considerable expansion in operation.
With the end of the war, the Air Transport Command found itself in limbo. Senior USAAF authorities considered ATC to be a wartime necessity that was no longer needed, and expected its civilian personnel, including former airline pilots, to return to their peacetime occupations. Senior ATC officers, on the other hand, thought that ATC should be developed into a national government operated airline, an idea that was soundly opposed by the airline industry. While the war had firmly established the necessity of a troop carrier mission, most military officers believed the role performed by ATC should be provided by contract carriers.
When the United States Air Forcewas established as a separate service in 1947, the Air Transport Command was not established as one of its missions. The ATC commander and his staff took it upon themselves to convince the new civilian leadership of the newly created Department of Defense(DOD) (and Secretaries of the Army and Air Force) that ATC had a mission.
The DOD believed it should have its own air transport service and decided that ATC should become the Military Air Transport Servicesupported by the USAF, even though not listed as a formal military mission. When the ATC commander wrote a mission statement for the proposed new command he inserted “deployment of troops” as a mission, although the change had never been formally requested.
On 18 September 1947, the U.S. Air Force became a separate branch of the military, and on 1 June 1948 the Air Transport Command and the Naval Air Transport Service merged into one organization, the Military Air Transport Service (MATS).
ATC had built a highly effective worldwide military delivery system through its pioneering efforts of building bases and establishing routes and navigation aids. The Military Air Transport Service inherited a very successful operation and continued the mission of military airlift to our forces and those of our allies. (Wikipedia and C.R. Smith American Airlines Museum)
IN THE MILITARY
“I never went to boot camp. Before I knew it, I was driving an airplane around the tarmac like I owned it. Everyone in the military just called me “Sonny.” I worked in supply for the Air Force. A lot of parts came from Newark, New Jersey. If someone needed a part they came to Sonny. They knew I could find the needed part. Tell Sonny, she’ll find it. I just knew a lot of people and knew how and where to get any part needed to keep the planes flying. A lot of parts were also in Chicago or Philadelphia. I knew all the big suppliers there and they knew me. We were flying the B-52’s and the PT-19s, which were the trainers. I knew if I treated people good they would treat me good too, and they did. I was one of the few people who didn’t drink, smoke or cuss and that got me in good with the bosses too,” said Sonny laughing at her early days in the military.
“I served about four years in the Air Force. All of it stateside. I like the Air Force because people were kind. I grew up in New York, where it is a dog eat dog world. It was not that way for me, I was kind to everybody. When people ask me today where I am from, I tell them Grand Saline,” she said shaking her head.
“Even the Generals in the military would ask me if everything was ok. I really liked the military. I would usually tell the Generals, I am ok, no one has shot me yet. “I usually came back with silly answer. I like to sit outside the nursing home here and greet people. Yesterday was Thursday and I would greet people with, happy Wednesday and they look at me and say but today is Thursday. I get a laugh out of that one,” said Sonny with a witty smile on her face.
“When I was a kid, I was very bashful. You would never know it today. After joining the military, I got where I could talk to anybody and everybody. I learned to talk and not be bashful anymore. In the military I felt like I fit. I gained a lot of confidence in myself because I felt comfortable in the military and people let me do my job,” said the veteran.
AFTER THE MILITARY
“I went to Oklahoma because American Airlines had a big base there and is where I met my husband N.E. Tittle. I met him while we were out horseback riding. I don’t remember what year we got married, it was so long ago. It was not love at first sight because we had to work on it,” she laughs. “We were both good Christians and it helped us. He didn’t cuss or smoke or anything bad. We got married and had two kids and unfortunately both died at a young age. My daughter died of pneumonia,” said Sonny.
“My husband and I ended up in Dallas after the military. We did not like a lot of our neighbors in the area we lived. I started looking around at a lot of small towns and we both liked Grand Saline. We were impressed. The countryside looked like Oklahoma. My husband stayed in Mesquite where we had a big equipment company. He drove the large backhoes. He sometimes lets me drive the backhoe, but not very often. We also have a tree digger and I drive that. Some people like certain trees on their property and we drive down there and dig up the tree for them,” said Sonny.
“My secret to long life is to know God and Love God and do whatever he wants you to do. I talk to God every night. I was about seven years old when I accepted Jesus to come into my life. I went to a Methodist Church and I was even talking to God then. God has always known that he can do whatever he wants me to do,” she said.
“On my Bucket list is to get me a new horse. I want to go around the western states again. Maybe go down highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, on my Harley….. that would be good,” said a smiling Sonny.
“I like Sonny the first time I met her. We were both in supply in the military, her in the Air Force and me in the Navy. I was told she rarely talks to anyone. However, within minutes we were both reminiscing about our days in the service.
Sonny Tittle, thank you for your service to our county.
NOTE: Meet other Veterans from Van Zandt County by going to the top of this page and click on MEET OUR VETERANS and click one of the (5) branches of services and the veterans last name first and click to read.
“Every Veteran has a story to tell.” Phil Smith
GOD BLESS OUR VETERANS AND GOD BLESS AMERICA
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