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Listen: Gene Autry joins US Army Air Corps on live radio 78 years ago

Gene Autry. (Seattle Packing Company-Bar-S Brand, Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)
July 26, 2020

By July of 1942, the United States had been involved in the second world war for less than eight months when cowboy actor and radio personality Gene Autry decided to put his show on hold and enlist in the war effort.

On July 26, 1942, during a live broadcast of his radio show, “Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch,” Autry invited Col. Edward F. Shaffer to swear him into the U.S. Army Air Corps, the predecessor of the modern U.S. Air Force.

Autry spent the first 19 minutes of his 30 minute radio program paying tribute to his belief in the American way of life and his willingness to fight on behalf of the U.S. in the war against Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

In the moments before enlisting, Autry described a skit conversation with the figure of Uncle Sam, saying he asked the symbolic character of American patriotism why the U.S. was fighting in World War II. Autry said Uncle Sam pointed to a “long piece of paper,” which Autry then recited as the preamble to the Declaration of Independence.

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“It said, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,'” Autry said.

Asked when he would enlist in the U.S. military, Autry said “it’s going to take place right now.” He then invited Col. Shaffer onto his show to read him the oath of enlistment.

Autry was sworn into the service at the rank of a Tech. Sgt, with a state enlistment period to last four the duration of the war, plus six months.

“Folks, I’m really happy that I’ve done this, and I know that many more real Americans feel the same way that I do,” Autry said.

According to a biography on GeneAutry.com, Autry went on to complete basic training at the Santa Ana Air Force Base. Autry had a private pilots license at the time of his swearing in and by June 21, 1944, Autry earned service pilot wings. Autry was promoted to Flight Officer. He was assigned to the 91st Ferrying Squadron of the 555th Army Air Base Unit, Air Transport Command at Love Field in Texas.

Autry served in his unit from July 1942 to October 1945, during which time he flew various cargo aircraft, including AT-6s, 7s and 11s, C-104s and C-109s. Autry flew one mission to China Burma India (CBI) Theater of the war, by way of the Azores, North Africa and the Middle East. Autry’s decorations included the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.