Omer C. Kemp ("O.C.") is a typical San Diego boy. He loves cars and sports and girls (though he's largely tongue-tied around them). What he doesn't love is school, and his "D" grades prove it. He seems destined to be a blue-collar worker like his father, but doesn't mind that at all.
He also has a physical handicap: as a kid, while chasing a thrown football into a shrub, a twig pierced his eardrum, deafening him for life in his left ear and leaving him with debilitating tinnitus.
It is a secret he will keep his entire time in the armed forces during WWII--and from everyone, even those closest to him on his crew.
O.C. starts out in the Army infantry, but when he learns they are being trained to storm the beaches of France, he starts looking into options. He's told it's impossible to transfer to the Army Air Force, but somehow, through luck (and some fervent prayers), he miraculously finds himself taking the aviation cadet exam, which he passes by just three points.
From there it's on to ground school, where studying comes hard as he breaks his brain over physics, principles of flight, navigation, meteorology, engineering--all subjects that tax him to this limit.
And he has to do it while being constantly hazed by the upper classmen in his dorm.
But flying makes it all worthwhile. He writes home after his first airplane ride: "I think this is something I can do."
Pilot in Command
He isn't really ready for this. Ground school was tough, flying was fun, but commanding is terrifying for this quiet, shy, young man.
"I kept my mouth shut," he said, "and everyone thought I was wise. I fooled 'em all."
But he overcomes his fears when he realizes that he's responsible for the men under his command, whose jobs he must know as well as his own.
But his natural inclination toward hard work ingratiates him with his enlisted crewmen and his calm, open demeanor in the cockpit instills confidence in his fellow officers.
In this first of several videos, O.C. Kemp explains how in the summer of 1943 he managed to get into the aviation cadet program.
He is the most unlikely candidate for pilot training: a "D" student who is deaf in his left ear. But once he gets his feet off the ground, nothing can stop him.
Ground school is hard enough, but flying the airplane is the true test of whether O.C. will be a pilot. So by the time he's supposed to solo--just ten hours into instruction--he's plenty worried. He has just three chances to complete the pattern, take-off and land smoothly and in control of the aircraft.
And he isn't sure he can do it.
Once he masters the immense B-24 Liberator, O.C. is put together with his crew, flying training missions over the deserts of California.
One night cross-country training mission, however, puts him to his greatest test yet: to act as pilot in command and make a fateful decision that will either save his crew's lives or end them.