Growing up in Puyallup, WA, W. Philip Westbo (1922-1958) was fascinated with airplanes and machinery. This interest prompted Phil to withdraw from the University of Puget Sound after three years of studies, to find adventure and employment in the skies. Earning his pilot’s license on June 1, 1941 Phil went to work for the Washington Aircraft & Transportation Corporation prior to being hired as a flight engineer for Pan American Airlines. The Army’s Air Transport Command (ATC) was established around that time to gain much needed access to aircraft, international air routes, and experienced civilian flight personnel to carry military cargo to US troops in WWII. The ATC’s contract with Pan American Airlines made Phil’s dreams of adventure and travel a reality.
Fortunately for us, Phil sent back home some photos taken between 1942 – 1945 while working for Pan American Airlines – Africa Division. While Phil was most proud of having been part of the ATC crew that flew over “the Hump” in 1944 on the China-Burma-India route, we do not have any pictures from his C-B-I experience nor from his flights to South America. We do have his ID bracelet, shown below (top: Front of ID bracelet. inset: Back of ID bracelet), engraved China – Burma – India 1944 as well as some of his campaign pins (not shown here).
One of the early ATC photos taken in 1942 of Phil Westbo and a friend also from the Seattle area Ray Jewett. Accra, Gold Coast.
Exploring the Gold Coast in Africa on a motorcycle must have been a unique experience for a 20 year old boy more accustomed to exploring the fir covered mountains of Washington State.
The following photo of ATC aircraft was taken at Hassani Airfield, Athens, probably in 1945. Phil wrote on the back of the photo, “We were busy!” The Air Transport Command is written on the side of the plane.
As much as the guys probably loved the adventure I’m sure it was difficult to be away from home for such long periods of time. Especially for the married guys. While the flight crews of the ATC were civilians, their missions were dangerous as they flew into combat zones to deliver cargo and supplies where it was most needed. The ATC crews from WWII still don’t get much recognition, then or now, for their sacrifices or service to this country and to the allied forces.
The following photograph, taken in 1944 or 1945, shows Phil Westbo (left) and his good buddies Lyle Pigort (center) and Lieutenant “Stumpy” Rion (right) leaning on a jeep in front of The Villa, where they stayed when based in Casablanca, Morocco. They look so dashing in their ATC flight uniforms.
By the time the Army’s ATC no longer needing commercial airlines and civilian flight crews, Phil was ready to settle down back home in the States. He had met his future wife in the Chrysler Building, where the Pan Am offices were located. They were married in 1944 and she, like her sister and sisters in law, were employed and busied their time with volunteer efforts waiting for their husbands to come home. It wasn’t until the war ended that all of them were together again in one place. Everyone said it was quite a celebration that day.