My Links to Newark Airport Before and During World War II

by Nat Bodian

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In searching the pre-World War II literature on pre-World War II Newark Airport, I found no mention of the fact that Newark Airport had been closed down in 1940 by then Mayor Meyer C. Ellenstein.

Reason for the shut-down order by Mayor Ellenstein, then in his second term, in 1940 was because New York Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia had succeeded in wresting the commercial contracts of the airlines away from Newark Airport and placing them at LaGuardia Airport.

The reopening of Newark Airport on a foggy Thursday morning, April 1, 1941, at 6 A.M. took place with some fanfare and a reopening reception at the airport after the City of Newark, then the airport's operator, received a guarantee from the four operating commercial airlines to operate a combined total of at least 60 flights per month out of Newark.

I have special reason for recalling that airport reopening. I was a working journalist at that time and wrote the airport reopening story. It appeared in the Summit News-Guide, and in four other suburban Essex weekly newspapers owned by the Moreau newspaper chain.

Airport Takeover by Government

Not long after I wrote the airport reopening to commercial traffic, the Federal Government took control of Newark Airport in January 1942. It followed almost immediately the Japanese Attack at Pearl Harbor and our entry into World War II.

The Airport was under the control of the Overseas Air Technical Command's Newark division, which would subsequently ship 13 million tons of cargo through Port Newark.

My First Wartime Overseas Assignment

A portion of that cargo wound up at the Army Air Force base at Natal, Brazil, where on April 9, 1943, I was assigned to the Contract Carrier's office, a brand new office where my job would be to assign some of that cargo to specific planes, flights, and crews for transport across the South Atlantic to two ports in Africa.

This was a new office and after I had set it up, I was given two assistants. It was called the "Contract Carrier Division" because all of the planes assigned to us for use were contracted from civilian airlines--all DC3s and DC4s. All of the flight crews were civilian airline crews, contracted to work the trans-ocean flights from Natal to the two nearest airports on the African coast.

New Planes Enroute to War

Also coming through my Natal air base from Newark Airport were many of the American-built 40,000 aircraft used to fight the war overseas. We saw as many as 100 planes a day coming through, many being flown by new young pilots just out of flight school.

As most of these planes could only carry enough fuel for halfway across the ocean, they would touch down 1450 miles from Natal on tiny Ascension Island to refuel and resume their flights on the remaining 1400 mile leg to Africa.

My job in the Contract Carrier office was to create and issue Operations Orders, each of which assigned a specific numbered cargo lot to a specific crew and plane, and its African destination point -- either Dakar or Accra. Once issued, the crew, plane, and crew were matched up and took off for Africa.

I Lost My Job

I was transferred out of my job at the Contract Carrier office after I had started a base newspaper with the help of a volunteer staff. The 'brass' at the base felt the paper needed a fulltime responsible person and I was named for the job.1

The paper was printed in a local newspaper plant in Natal and a big success. But after a tussle with the censors over censorship of its content, I was 'jumped' to Ascension Island in mid-ocean for the next 13 months. There, in addition to my assigned duties, I also published a personal paper, The Bodian Bugle, wrote for the Island newspaper, TASK, and was YANK field correspondent.

I was still able to meet with planes and their crews that had started from Newark.

Last War Assignment

My last war assignment was at the Army Air Base in Belem, Brazil. There, I had been assigned to start a base newspaper to improve base morale, and to participate in other morale activities.

Some of these activities have been written up in my other Old Newark memories, such as continuing my Bodian Bugle with news from Newark, and building a roller skating rink on which I was able to skate with my New Dreamland Arena "Betty Lytle" roller skates


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