Frank ‘Gator’ Taylor Osteen, Jr.: WWII RCAF Pilot

29th January 2014 – by Chris Charland (Canada) with John Stemple (USA)

Frank Osteen and Richard Rohmer at No. 14 Service Flying Training School.

Frank Osteen and Richard Rohmer at No. 14 Service Flying Training School.

In 1960 wartime correspondent Arch Whitehouse recorded (page 121) in his book The Years of the War Birds that by 1941 the “Union Jack flew from staffs all over the United States.” He recognized that in practicality and sentiment, public opinion and Lend-Lease made America as much “a part of the Empire as any member of the Commonwealth.” An example of the feelings held within former American colonies’ that attested to citizens’ pro-British allegiance is contained in a Toronto Star article. The piece quoted an American RCAF service member, Flight Sergeant Tom Withers, who around this time wrote the following in a letter to relatives: “He who serves Great Britain or any of its Dominions also serves the U.S. and vice-versa.” As a result thousands of Americans crossed the US-Canada border to join the Crown’s forces. One of these individuals was Frank Taylor Osteen, Jr.

Frank Taylor Osteen Jr., born in Unionville (now Halls Mill), Tennessee, enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) at Windsor, Ontario. The date was 31 January 1942. He was assigned RCAF serial number 145349. Frank was immediately posted to No. 1 Manning Depot, which was located in the Coliseum Building at the Toronto Exhibition Grounds. It was there that Mr. Osteen completed his basic training.

Frank learned how to march, salute and to bring “his eyeballs around with a click.” He became the proud possessor, courtesy of His Majesty’s RCAF, of boots, tunics, fatigue pants, a cap, 4 shirts, 2 suits of underwear, socks, and all the odds and ends which comprised the normal kit issued to aspiring airmen. Osteen and his mates quickly learned that all buttons had to be kept polished, boots well shined and his face clean-shaven. Failure to maintain this standard resulted in a loss of a pass for liberty. He slept in the upper or lower bunk, depending upon liking or luck. For his efforts Osteen received the “princely” salary of $1.30 (Canadian) a day.

After graduation Frank Osteen was sent to RCAF Station Trenton in Ontario. There medicals and aptitude tests were administered to determine if he was physically and mentally suitable for service as a an aircrew member. When not undergoing testing Frank was put to work performing menial tasks and guard duty.

On 23 May 1942 Frank Osteen reported to No. 1 Initial Training School (ITS) at the Eglington Hunt Club in Toronto. During his time at ITS students received pre-flight training in aerial navigation, aeronautics, engines, meteorology, mathematics and armaments. This period of instruction encompassed some seven-weeks. Scorings and other evaluations determined whether students would go on to further training as a pilot, observer, wireless operator, air gunner or be referred to other non-flying assignments.

A Tiger Moth.

A Tiger Moth.

Upon completion of ITS Frank was promoted to Leading Aircraftman (LAC) on 17 July 1942. He subsequently received a posting signal notifying him to report to No. 7 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) at Windsor, Ontario, which was across the river from Detroit, Michigan. No. 7 E.F.T.S. (Windsor Flying Club) was one of many basic flying training schools operated by civilian flying schools at the outset of the Second War. These organizations trained RCAF student pilots utilizing the Canadian-built de Havilland DH-82C Tiger Moth.

Two Harvards aloft.

Two Harvards aloft.

Upon completing basic flying training, to undertake advanced flying training Frank was posted to No. 14 Service Flying Training School at Aylmer, Ontario. He reported to Aylmer on 24 October 1942. The school was equipped with the North American Harvard. The type’s nickname was “the Yellow Peril.” South of the border the type was known as the “Texan” to U.S. Army Air Force personnel and the “SNJ” to those in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps.

Canadian Forces Major-General Richard Rohmer.

Canadian Forces Major-General Richard Rohmer.

While at Aylmer Frank met an outstanding classmate, a diminutive chap by the name of Richard Rohmer. Rohmer, who became a reconnaissance pilot and rose to the rank of “Major-General” in the unified Canadian Armed Forces (Forces armées canadiennes) during the Cold War, wrote the following about Osteen:

“There was a defect in the system at the time: some of the graduates would receive commissions and others would be promoted only to the rank of sergeant. In other words, there was a vast class distinction that was unjustified and unfair. As a result, a good many of my really outstanding classmates wound up as sergeants. In particular, there was my close pal from Georgia, Frank (Gator) Osteen, a wry, taciturn, outspoken person who clearly turned off the officers who were assessing whether one had the qualities to carry a commission or not. Gator was one of the several Americans in our class who had come up from the states either before or just at the time of Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.”

An Avro Anson in flight.

An Avro Anson in flight.

Upon graduation Frank was promoted to the rank of sergeant on 5 March 1943 and posted to No. 1 General Reconnaissance School (GRS) on 12 March 1943. No. 1 GRS was at Summerside on Prince Edward Island. The role of the educational institution was to prepare aircrew destined for general squadrons in the Royal Air Force’s Coastal Command. The primary trainer employed at No. 1 GRS during Frank’s tenure was the Avro Anson Mk. I. At No. 1 GRS the pilots trained for nine weeks and navigators for four.

After completing the course Frank received a signal ordering him overseas. He traveled to the embarkation point, which was No. 1 “Y” Depot at Halifax, Nova Scotia. There, Osteen remained. He had to wait to board a ship. On 23 June 1943 the vessel to which he was assigned sailed for the United Kingdom.

Once in England, Frank began operational training with a Royal Air Force (RAF) operational training unit (OTU) prior to reporting for duty with an operational squadron. Promotion to “Flight Sergeant” was effective on 5 September 1943 and Osteen was posted to No. 407 (“Demon”) G.R. (General Reconnaissance) Squadron RCAF. During the time Frank was with No. 407 Squadron it was attached to No. 19 Group of RAF Coastal Command at RAF Station Chivenor, Devonshire. At the time Wing Commander J. C. Archer, RAF, commanded No. 19 Group. However, Archer was killed in action on 27 September 1943. After Archer’s death, Wing Commander R. A. Ashaman, RCAF, took command on 2 November 1943.

A Vickers Wellington GR Mk XII LL.

A Vickers Wellington GR Mk XII LL.

During Frank’s time with the “Demons” they operated two versions of Vickers Wellington bombers: The G.R. Mk. XII L/L and G.R. Mk. XIV L/L. Readers should note that “L/L “is short for Leigh Light, which was a large searchlight mounted internally in the fuselage and extended when to illuminate surface targets (such as U-boats) under guidance of the aeroplane’s radar. Promotion to the rank of Flight Sergeant was forthcoming.

A Vickers Wellington GR Mk XIV LL.

A Vickers Wellington GR Mk XIV LL.

Among Frank’s wartime exploits was an attack on a Kriegsmarine (Nazi Germany’s navy) U-boat. The aircraft Frank was flying in carried out an aggressive attack the enemy submarine. The aircraft commander would receive the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions. The following excerpt is from The R.C.A.F. (RCAF) Overseas – The Fifth Year:

“F/O [Flying Officer] C. M. Bolger won the D.F.C. [Distinguished Flying Cross] for another U-boat attack a few days later. Conditions were not as favorable as on the earlier occasion, and it was not until the fourth approach that Bolger and his crew of F/Os S. C. Butler and H. P. Florence, WOs [Warrant Officers] C. T. Butler and E. B. Ross and FS [Flight Sergeant] F. T. Osteen were able to get into a favourable position to drop their depth charges. As the Wellington passed over the depth charge plume the rear gunner fired 200 rounds. Flak ceased immediately the DCs [depth charges] exploded and although Bolger remained in the area for some time there was no further trace of the sub.”

Frank Osteen was promoted to WO 2nd Class on 5 March 1944. On 18 June he became an officer when he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer (P/O). His new service number was J87871.

P/O Osteen was repatriated to Canada on 15 November 1944. He reported to his new posting at No. 1 Training Command near Toronto on 9 December 1944. The institution was responsible for 24 flying training schools, one manning depot and two initial training schools within the Province of Ontario.

Fleet Cornells in formation.

Fleet Cornells in formation.

Frank was promoted to Flying Officer on the 18 December 1944. He was soon posted to No. 13 EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School) St. Eugene, Ontario on 11 January 1945. The establishment was operating the Fleet Cornell.

Frank Osteen’s final posting came on the 29 June 1945 when he went to RCAF Station Trenton, Ontario. With the end of the Second World War, Frank was sent to No. 4 Release Centre in Toronto for processing out of the RCAF. Osteen officially retired from the RCAF on 12 September 1945.

The Daytona Beach Morning Journal of Tuesday, 29 October 1985 published Mr. Osteen’s obituary. The column noted that Frank “served as a bomber pilot throughout the war and flew many missions against Germany which earned him high honors and decorations.” The text also indicates that Frank earned an undergraduate degree in civil engineering at the University of Tennessee and a master degree in sanitary engineering from Harvard University. He became a member of Cowell’s Lutheran Church in Halls Mill. He worked with the Tennessee Health Department as the senior sanitary engineer, the U.S. Corps of Engineers and Florida State Road Department.

After relocating from Nashville, Tennessee, Frank resided in Daytona Beach, Florida, for 31 years. Mr. Osteen joined Russell and Axon Consultants in 1954 and advanced to Chairman of the Board. He also taught Sunday School for Central Baptist Church in Daytona Beach. Frank Taylor Osteen, Jr., died at Halifax Hospital in Daytona Beach on Saturday, 26 October 1985.

Authors’ Note: The Central Florida Chapter of the Florida Aviation Historical Society is endeavoring to record and honor the Floridians who served with the RCAF. Plaque dedications and a remembrance ceremony are tentatively planned for September 2014.

Sources Cited

Arch Whitehouse, The Years of the War Birds, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1960.

The Americans who died for Canada in WWII finally get their due: ‘These men are my heroes’

http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2013/10/22/the_americans_who_died_for_canada_in_wwii.print.html

One Response to Frank ‘Gator’ Taylor Osteen, Jr.: WWII RCAF Pilot

  1. Capt. Wm. S. Stafford MSc (Ret.) says:

    Thanks again, Chris; it was wonderful of you to do this article, and the research.
    Have a good summer ahead
    Cheers from New Zealand-
    Will

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