Age: Turns 89 today
Unit: Army Air Corps' 31st Bomb Squadron
War Fronts: Was training at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked, two days after his 20th birthday. Served in the South Pacific -- Philippines, Guadalcanal and other islands.
Family: Three children, seven grandchildren
1st Lt. Ernest J. Sabec
Unit: Army Air Corps' 451st Bomb Group, 724th Squadron, 49th Wing, 15th Airforce
War fronts: Bombing missions over Italy and Central Europe
Family: Three children, four grandchildren, 1 great-grandchild
Before they married sisters and became brothers-in-law, they were airmen -- Sgt. LeRoi Tregear a bombardier/gunner on B-17s in the South Pacific, 1st Lt. Ernest J. Sabec an observer/navigator on B-24s over Central Europe.
Their families grew up together. Sometimes, but not so often, the men compared notes.
Tregear started flying B-17s. But as the war progressed and Europe started eating them up, he switched to B-24s.
“I went from flying an airplane to flying a box car,” he said. “I tell you, you get in a 17 and there was a world of difference. It was quiet on the takeoff and quiet when it landed ... (B-24s) were screaming loud when they got in the air.”
Sabec laughed. Sure, the 24 was a box car. It carried 10 people, took off with 2,700 gallons of fuel and was loaded with six to eight 500-pound bombs or two 1,000-pound bombs. Missions topped out at about eight hours.
“It was an airplane that was made for a purpose,” Sabec said. “The mission was a lot different. You were over the water.”
In the Pacific, Tregear flew 13- to 15-hour missions, high as they could manage, scouting for the Japanese fleet. He often bombed single ships, but they were so far up, the ships could often turn out of the way.
“Sometimes, you had to figure which way they would turn. It was a lucky strike if the ship turned into your bombs,” Tregear said.
In Europe, Sabec bombed refineries. Secondary targets were rail yards, bridges, factories.
The war started for Tregear on Dec. 7, 1941. He had just finished Sunday morning breakfast and was on his way to basketball practice across Pearl Harbor's Hickam Field.
He saw a Japanese plane fly over and bank around, the rising sun painted on the wing. He yelled to his good friend, George, to get the people out of the barracks because the Japanese were attacking. George didn’t believe him.
Come outside and you’ll see, Tregear shouted.
The plane flew around the water tower, strafing the field with its machine guns. George -- a big guy, 6 feet, 7 or 8 inches at least -- tried to hide behind a lamppost, his broad shoulders sticking out of both sides.
The plane passed and George jumped out. Are you dead? Are you dead? He yelled at Tregear.
“But I was dying laughing at him,” Tregear said.
Tregear likes to tell the funny stories, because others he tries to push from his mind. Like the soldier who tried to get to the sub machine guns and was cut right in two.
Sabec, born and raised in Diamondville, a mile from Kemmerer, was a junior in advance course ROTC at the University of Utah when the Japanese attacked. He was sworn into the service on May 27, 1942, and went to basic training at Camp Roberts in California. He could have returned to school to begin the Army Specialized Training Program, but he was one of seven who signed up for the Aviation Cadet Program.
“I figured it would be easier to fly than to walk,” he said.
He and his crew embarked for Europe in the fall of 1944. When they landed in Italy, men joked that they would be living in villas with maids. At Castelluccio, wet and dark, “they threw our villa out of the truck and said, ‘put 'er up, boys,'" Sabec said.
He shared a squad tent with his airman and coairman, and the three of them became scavengers to make the most of it. They found a gallon of canary yellow paint and painted the inside with shaving brushes. They called it the Sunshine Room. They procured useful parts from the plane salvage yards. A cylinder cut in half became a sink. A bomb bay fuel tank secured in a tree with an attached oxygen hose gave them running water. They found three bomb bay doors to put outside their bunks for a bit of privacy.
Everyone did with what they had, making the most of where they were.
"The camaraderie was something," Sabec said. "Each man was dependent on each other. I think one of the things we talk about are some of the values of World War II. Victory achieved was by individual responsibility and self-reliance."
Each serviceman had a duty and individual responsibility to fulfill it. The people back home sacrificed their men, endured rations and shortages, and built the tools needed to win.
Eventually, the two airmen came home. Each met and married a Clemens sister. Tregear met Dorothy at the swimming pool at Washington Park. Evelyn invited Sabec to a shrimp Creole dinner and bridge game. Bridge wasn’t so interesting, but Evelyn was.
These days, the Sabecs still visit Tregear at Garden Square Assisted Living about once a week. Now and again, the airmen talk about what was different for them, what was the same.
Like the sobering effect of eating breakfast with a man in the morning and seeing the chaplain clean out his locker that afternoon because he didn't make it home from a mission. Like hearing about how it was for the guys in the infantry and how they were glad they were in the air.
Mostly, they stick to the stories that make them laugh. Like this one:
After the Pearl Harbor attack had ended, Tregear heard a noise in his head he couldn’t identify. He took off his steel World War I-era helmet and realized the leather strap inside was rattling.
“I was so scared, I was shaking, and that's what was making the noise. And I didn’t really know I was scared, but you wouldn’t be shaking unless you were.”