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'Jeep' and the Pecan Trees

  • Published
  • By Dan Knickrehm
  • Base Historian
I was looking out my window today trying to figure out what to write about and saw the trees in the park across the street, they reminded me of an interesting memoir in the archives. Master Sgt. Ervin "Jeep" Maye joined the Army Air Corps at the age of 18. He arrived at Pope on Feb. 27, 1936 after basic training. At the time there were only a few aircraft stationed here. He said there were three O-47s (single engine observation planes), a couple of Piper Cubs and a few balloons that were used for observation on the artillery ranges.

At the time there were only a few buildings on base. He said Building 306, currently the 43rd Mission Support Group and 440th Airlift Wing headquarters, was already built as well as Building 302. Building 302 (currently the Resource Management building) was the Base Administration Building and Building 300 (currently the Medical Logistics building) was a fire station.

Sergeant Jeep was first stationed with the 2nd Balloon Squadron. A typical balloon deployment involved about 50 men holding on to the inflated balloon until it was connected to a winch on a truck. The truck would then tow the balloon to the target zone. A communication cable was run from the balloon to the truck and then routed to the various artillery units from the truck to help adjust fire to the target. Artillery at the time Jeep was first here included 75mm cannons loaded on the backs of mules and horse-drawn ammunition wagons.

Jeep saw many planes come through Pope. In particular he remembered seeing a B-17. He said, "It was the biggest plane I'd ever seen." He also said it was the first plane he saw whose wings he could walk under.

When his squadron commander asked for volunteers to work in the kitchen, Jeep volunteered because he thought, "Gee, I'll get plenty to eat if I work in there." After working in the kitchen for two years, the Army sent him to cooking school. He did so well that he received a $5 quartermaster check as an award.

Jeep got his nickname while betting on a boxing match. After German Max Schmeling first defeated Joe Louis, few people thought Louis could win the second match. In 1938 Ervin betagainst the odds and went with Louis for the win. He was right and got the name of the old Popeye cartoon character Jeep, who had some predictive abilities.

Jeep eventually worked his way into packing parachutes. By 1943 he was interested in flying and went to Miami Beach, Fla. for flight school. Unfortunately, men were needed elsewhere and he was forced to return to his work with parachutes and textiles.

After World War II ended, Jeep volunteered to work in administrative processing. He processed paperwork for many men returning from battle.

In September 1948, Jeep witnessed firsthand the efforts of valiant men and women when he took part in the Berlin Airlift. By this time, Jeep was a mechanic and worked on engine build-ups for the C-54 cargo plane that did the bulk of the work for Berlin.

Three months later, Jeep returned to Pope, reenlisted and became a maintenance inspector for the C-47. He related interesting stories about hurricane Hazel that hit Pope in 1954 and C-119 personnel pick up system displays during the mid fifties.

In 1956, Jeep retired from the Air Force but continued to work on Pope as an aircraft inspector and instructor at the Pope Traffic Safety School until he retired from civil service in 1983.

The account of Jeep's life in the Pope archives is dated April 17, 1989. Jeep passed away a few years after the interview, but the last few lines of this document reveal the connection between Jeep's activities at early Pope and the present:

"Jeep realizes he won't be around forever. Yet, he has left living monuments as reminders of his service to our country and the Pope community. During a detail in 1937, Jeep planted the pecan trees in the park across from Wing Headquarters. What were only saplings 50 years ago, have grown into robust fruit-bearers."

Jeep saw and took part in many exciting events on Pope. When asked to compare Pope in 1936 to Pope in 1989, he said, "The whole thing has changed - everything!" Jeep also mentioned a few things about Pope that I think haven't changed much. Jeep said Pope has been some base for activity and one can only agree with him there. He also said, "everyone is doing a fantastic job." Just like the pecan trees Jeep planted more than 70 years ago, your labors today at Pope will bear fruit for many years to come.