Mexia Father Waits For Word Of Pilot

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Capt. F.B. Lancaster

Published in the Fairfield Recorder March 25, 1943

“No news still,” A.T. Lancaster of Mexia sadly shook his head today. It was a month ago yesterday that his son Capt. Felton B. Lancaster, was publicly announced by the War Department as having been among the 25 persons missing from an army transport plane last reported over the South Atlantic January 18. Felton, who was home only last December to get married to his schoolday's sweetheart, Miss Joy Kirgan of Fairfield, had written his father from Accra, where he had been stationed on the Gold Coast south of Dakar, Africa, only the day before he headed out across the Atlantic on the tragic flight that never reached anywhere. After that, no word had come until Lancaster received the telegram from the War Department beginning “We regret to inform you...” Originally with the Pan American Airways, with which he began work November 10, 1941, Captain Lancaster was one of the pioneer pilots used to secure that vital African lifeline to the Near East, India, and China. And he was on hand while that county performed the near miracle of building an airline cross the heart of Africa, laying the ground work for the almost global operations of the Air Transport Command. His flights, so he told on his last leave home, were over the Gold Coast, Nigeria, the Sudan, and across the Nile to Cairo and Alexandria. Occasionally his trips reached on to Bombay, New Delhi, and Calcutta. “What's it like?” he puzzled over our questions. “Oh, I don't know. It's all sort of dull. You fly your boat in, and swat flies, and try to sleep, and then get up and fly on to the next place. Some places the native drums keep you awake all night, and sometimes you have a bigbug out from Washington or London to haul, but mostly it's just work.” Willkie was one such bigbug, he said. Pressed for details of the glamorous places he's come to look on as just so many stops on his regular “milk run,” he did talk a little about the herds of ostriches, gazelles, hippopotami, and other wild animals he and the other pilots would swoop down and “buzz” in hedge-hopping tactics that helped break the monotony of a flight now and then. “Flying down the Nile and watching the crocodiles crawl out into the water from the mudbanks was the closest I've got so far to going hunting,” he said somewhat ruefully. He didn't seem to think much of the natives he had seen in his aerial jaunts back and forth across Africa. “Regular buzzards,” he crossed them off, “living on the soldiers and tourists, not doing anything but stand around all day in long white sheets, trying to sell you ivory trinkets and other such truck.” He didn't think much of the palm wine that was the Gold Coast's equivalent of coca-cola, either, nor the mud houses with grass roofs and oil drum showers that were his lodgings on a good many hops from Western Africa to the Near East. “The climate's not bad, though,” he said, as though afraid he was panning everything too much. “It's sort of like Texas in the spring. Though Persia was too hot for me. I was always glad when we'd take off from there.” It wasn't a very satisfactory interview, those few minutes he begrudged the editor of his hometown paper. For all the exotic sounding places he had seen, he had little to say. “I don't want to end up on the carpet when I get back,” he explained repeatedly to questions he refused to answer. Maybe that's why the husky former football star from Trinity and Lon Morris had been promoted so rapidly after the army took over the Pan American Lines for strictly military use. He was slated to be captain in charge of seven pilots going back from this country to Africa when his 30-day leave was up, his father proudly threw in, determined that his son's reticence shouldn't obscure this important point. Now his father watches every mail for possible further news of the flight to nowhere. When the body of Major Arthur Mills floated in to the Brazilian coast on a rubber raft a month ago, the Mexia man aged years during the following days as he waited for some word on his boy and the other 25 members on the transport plane. “Flying was what Felton wanted to do,” he says now whenever anyone asks about his likeabe boy. “I try to remember that when I get thinking about not knowing where he is.” He shakes his head. “But it doesn't help much to remember I advised him to get in the air corps.”

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