By Norris Chambers

           Clarence Swensen died on February 25, 2009 at the age of 91. His death was reported in most major newspapers across the country and on the Internet. Clarence was almost my age, however I was his senior from September to December. The fact that Clarence was a midget and was a munchkin in the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie and his public appearances in later years is what made him popular enough to be mentioned.

            I worked with Clarence at Kelly AFB during the early part of the war. We were both electronic technicians and we worked on a project installing IFF radio equipment in B-24s and B17s before they departed for battle. Clarence told me about his experience in movie making. He referred to his part as one of the “toy soldiers”. I guess at that time he hadn’t heard them called munchkins.

            Clarence was a very likeable person. He was a friend of everyone who knew him and most of the workers at the Air Depot knew him because of his very small size. He was a true midget! 

            When the war started there were many modifications to make on army airplanes, especially bombers and fighters. We did many of these at the depot but it became necessary to send crews to air bases where pilot and crew training was in progress for duty overseas. Clarence and I and two other workers were picked for an installation job at Pyote , Texas . This was a desert base a few miles from Pecos where B-24 bomber crews were trained. This meant being away from home for an extended period of time, but we had little choice in the matter.

            Ella and Ann, our first baby daughter, took me to the railroad station in downtown San Antonio and bade me a tearful farewell. With Clarence and two other workers I climbed aboard a Pullman train and began a long westward journey. We left San Antonio about noon and passed through Fort Worth about midnight. We arrived in Pyote the next day about the middle of the afternoon and an army Jeep transported us to the air field.

            We were photographed and issued I.D. badges and various other pass cards. We were assigned a barracks with bunk beds and a long table near the center where the residents could read and write letters. We were shown the mess hall where we would eat and the show building where we could watch movies if we weren’t busy. We were to work on the airplanes whenever they were available, regardless of the time of day or night.

            We kept busy and there wasn’t much time to think about entertainment. We did manage to get off two week-ends and rode the train to Pecos . There wasn’t much to do there but it was a change of scenery. In the barracks we enjoyed the company of each other and of the soldiers who shared our domicile.

            In about six weeks we finished our work there and prepared to return home. No such luck! We were to report to Biggs Field in El Paso and perform the same modifications on B-17s there. We found similar accommodations at the air field in El Paso and a busy routine.

            One Saturday night the four of us rode the bus to the border and crossed the river into Mexico . It seemed like there were more American soldiers there than Mexicans. The bars were doing a thriving business. We didn’t do much drinking but by the time we got back across the border we found that the busses had quit operating and we had to find a taxi to get back to the field. This was an expensive trip, even for the cheap days of long ago.

            There was a very strong light beam that circled over the field. It seemed so low it almost touched the barracks building where we were located. About every fifteen seconds it came slashing overhead. One night we were sitting on a bench outside the building.

            “Clarence,” I said, “If you will listen real hard you can hear that light ‘swish’ as it passes over.”  He just grinned. “No kidding,” I repeated. “Listen real close and you can hear it!” He turned his head to one side and listened.

            “You know,” he answered, “ I believe I did hear it that time. You have to concentrate and listen close.”

            We never could convince Rupe and Thomas that it was noisy. But we tried.

            I have mentioned Clarence because he was the first member of the Little People that I met. Many of the little people were hired at the bomber plant because they could fit in tight places where larger workers could not perform. I knew a few of these men and I considered them all fine people and real friends.

            If you would like to know more about Clarence Swensen he has over 80,000 site referrals in the Google search engine