Actor Clark Gable attended
gunnery school at Tyndall AFB
(Photo: The restaurant Mattie's Tavern was located on Beck Avenue and 12th Street in St. Andrews. Among its specialties were chicken, steak, seafood and hush puppies. Clark Gable dined here when he attended gunnery school at Tyndall in December 1942. Photo courtesy of Bay County Public Library.)
Source: The News Herald, Sunday, December 14, 1997
Author: MARLENE WOMACK
Movie fans remember
Clark Gable for his portrayal
of Rhett Butler in Gone with
the Wind and as one of the
great legends of the silver
screen. But 55 years ago
this holiday season, Gable
created a sensation in Bay
County when he attended
the Army Air Force's Flexible
Gunnery School at Tyndall
Born on Feb. 1, 1901, Gable was the son of a
wildcat oilman. After his mother died, he was raised
by relatives. Gable's birthplace was always
confusing to him. Both Cadiz, Ohio, and Meadville,
Pa., 120 miles away, had records of his birth.
At the beginning of World War II, Gable had been
in the movies for several years. This period was an
especially hard time for him, however. He was still
suffering from the loss of his great love, Carole
Lombard. By entering the service, "The King," as
he was affectionately called, hoped to find the
anonymity he had sought for several years.
Gable enlisted in California on Aug. 12, 1942,
with the statement to the news media: "There is a
war to win, and I consider it my right to fight."
The famous movie star was ordered to Miami for
The press wasted no time covering Gable's entry
into the Armed Forces. The Panama City
News-Herald of Aug. 13, 1942, reported that Gable
would request training as an aerial gunner. If he was
accepted for gunnery training, local authorities
considered it likely that Gable would be assigned to
Tyndall Field since Tyndall was the nearest gunnery
school to Miami.
Gable made it clear that he did not want to be a
captain or a major, however, because he didn't
"know beans about the Army."
In Miami Beach, Gable suffered through one of
the hottest summers on record while he attended
officer candidate school. Temperatures reached 100
But Gable fought hard to succeed and be liked,
even though he was almost twice the age of most of
the other men. While he was in training, Gable
shaved off his famous mustache, making it hard for
the many fans who followed him everywhere to
recognize him. His movie Somewhere I'll Find You
made the round at various theaters.
On Oct. 27, 1942, Gable was commissioned a
second lieutenant. He was issued serial number
056-5390 and transferred to Tyndall Field.
The staff at the Panama City News-Herald was
aware of Gable's arrival. But Col. W.A. Maxwell,
commander of the gunnery school, made it clear to
the newspaper's publisher Braden L. Ball that he did
not want the movie star's presence widely promoted
since it might cause all manner of problems.
Ball knew he could not entirely overlook the news
opportunity so he placed a small 1-inch squib in the
personals column that stated Gable was staying at
the Dixie Sherman Hotel.
Hank Greenberg, the Detroit Tigers' famous first
baseman, arrived at Tyndall about the same time as
Gable. His picture and an article concerning his
assignment in physical training appeared on the
But word of Gable's arrival spread quickly
throughout Panama City. He was beseiged by
followers whenever he left the base.
During his training, Gable fired on many of the
Tyndall ranges using rifles and .30- and .50-caliber
machine guns. He also shot from an airplane at
cloth targets simulating an enemy ship.
Although Gable did well in all his classes he had
trouble with the "blinker code," that used message
transmission when radios were unusable. Like most
other students, he spent long hours learning the
code. After lights were turned out, he studied in the
latrine with others so he could pass the test.
When Gable left the base to come into town, one
of his favorite dining places was Mattie'sTavern,
located then at 12th Street and Beck Avenue in St.
Andrews. Mattie's was famous for its hush puppies,
fried chicken, steaks and seafood.
Lillian Masker Welch of St. Andrews
remembered when Gable came into her Aunt
Mattie's restaurant for dinner. Welch's mother,
Annie Mae Masker, worked for Mattie Campbell.
Welch and a friend helped in the well-known eatery.
"We knew he was coming. I don't think I was old
enough to wait on tables then," she said. "But I
cleared them off for my mother because she was a
waitress. We earned money by helping the
waitresses so we could go to the Saturday matinee.
"Clark Gable was dressed in uniform when he
came in. We didn't think to get his autograph then.
We just stood there with our mouths open. He came
in with a bunch of other guys. He was real
good-looking and I still think he was. I like to look
at his old movies."
While attending school, Gable also visited the
Cove Hotel, which stood near the present Cove
Condominiums, and the Dixie Sherman Hotel,
located until 1970 at the corner of Fifth Street and
Wherever Gable went he created excitement. Fans
asked for his autograph, and one local woman even
bought his dinner check as a souvenir.
On base, Gable and the other students of class
43-1 were continually drilled on identification of
enemy aircraft. Miniature planes were mounted in
conspicuous places all over the base. Models and
silhouettes of Messerschmitts, Meinkels, Junkers,
Zeros and other enemy aircraft hung in every
squadron's day room.
Similar planes also were suspended from the
ceilings in the mess halls and washrooms. While
eating or shaving, soldiers were never allowed to
forget that the United States was at war.
Once training was completed, it was time for
graduation and the awarding of the prized silver
wings. As he stood in the slow-moving procession
that Wednesday morning, Jan. 6, 1943, Gable
appeared nervous while he watched the other men
receive their insignias.
Gable was dressed in an immaculately tailored
uniform and alternated between pulling on his coat
tails, folding his hands and then dropping them to
his sides, as the line inched toward the platform.
Col. Maxwell pinned on Gable's silver wings,
making him a full-fledged aerial gunner and
congratulated him. Gable accepted with a snappy
salute as background photographers covered the
event on news reel.
After the ceremony, Gable agreed to his first
interview since he left the Hollywood studios.
Those present were Deputy Sheriff F.D. Nixon;
Capt. Ammon McClelland, head of Tyndall Field's
public relations department; and Jean Bosworth, a
The group talked first about hunting in Florida,
then the fact that Gable intended to continue his
contracts in Hollywood once the war was over.
"I have enjoyed every minute of Army life. It's a
good change from Hollywood," Gable said. "I was
in California a short time ago but returned to
Tyndall Field to spend Christmas with my fellow
When Bosworth commented about his natural
appearance, Gable replied: "I guess it's because I
never wear makeup. I don't like the damned stuff
and never use it except in technicolor pictures."
Gable admitted that he wanted combat duty.
"I want to see action as soon as possible," he said.
"I am proud of the wings I won here and what they
signify. The aerial gunners will make a mark for
themselves - they have already done it."
Gable's story appeared on the front page of the
News-Herald on Jan. 7, 1943. He was transferred to
Spokane, Wash., and Panama City residents
returned to the daily hustle of the wartime years.