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Arnold Guinea Pigs hold 66th reunion

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Ten thousand volunteered, 400 were accepted, 239 made it. Their orders were signed one year to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. These were the men of the test class - Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold's famous 42-X experimental pilot instructor class.

"The war effort needed pilots and needed them fast," said Sarah Stephens, the daughter of a graduate who lives in Prattville and organizer of the reunion. "General Arnold's idea was to cram the traditional 26-week pilot training into a short 13 weeks, and those graduates would immediately turn around to begin instructing the next class."

Four of these men, along with family members of 12 other 42-Xers, gathered at Maxwell Nov. 7 to commemorate the 66th anniversary of their graduation.

"We call ourselves his Guinea Pigs because that's exactly what we were," said retired Lt. Col. Tom O'Leary, a member of the 42-X class. "We flew B-17s because the B-29s had not come off the production line yet."

The men, all in their 90s, remembered old friends and toasted to comrades long lost in a two-day reunion that included a commemoration at the base chapel, a base tour, a mission brief and lunch with Air University Commander Lt. Gen. Allen Peck and dinner with Alabama State Senator Wendell Mitchell.

"I have never been to Maxwell before," said Mr. Chester Chiodo, a member of the 42-X class. "So this was great to see the mission and talk to Airmen who are doing now what we did then."

Reminiscing about the war, the veterans told stories about flying training and exercises that prepared them for the eventual trip to England or Asia.

"Our guys flew over Cuba as part of the training for island bombing in the Pacific," said Mr. B.E. Tillotson, a Guinea Pig. "Every now and again we'd lose one to a day trip into Havana."