The Air Transport Command in WWII

Growing up in Puyallup, WA, W. Philip Westbo (1922-1958) was fascinated with airplanes and machinery.  This interest prompted Phil to withdraw from the University of Puget Sound after three years of studies, to find adventure and employment in the skies. Earning his pilot’s license on June 1, 1941 Phil went to work for the Washington Aircraft & Transportation Corporation prior to being hired as a flight engineer for Pan American Airlines. The Army’s Air Transport Command (ATC) was established around that time to gain much needed access to aircraft, international air routes, and experienced civilian flight personnel to carry military cargo to US troops in WWII. The ATC’s contract with Pan American Airlines made Phil’s dreams of adventure and travel a reality.

Fortunately for us, Phil sent back home some photos taken between 1942 – 1945 while working for Pan American Airlines – Africa Division. While Phil was most proud of having been part of the ATC crew that flew over “the Hump”  in 1944 on the China-Burma-India route, we do not have any pictures from his C-B-I experience nor from his flights to South America. We do have his ID bracelet, shown below (top: Front of ID bracelet. inset: Back of ID bracelet), engraved China – Burma – India 1944 as well as some of his campaign pins (not shown here).

W. P. Westbo’s ID bracelet. Front: China-Burma-India. W. P. Westbo
Back: PAA – Africa, Orient A. Copyright 2012 Warren Westbo.

One of the early ATC photos taken in 1942 of  Phil Westbo and a friend also from the Seattle area Ray Jewett. Accra, Gold Coast.

Accra, Gold Coast, 1942.
Copyright 2012 Warren Westbo
Hunting trip, Shi Hills, Accra, Gold Coast 1942.
Copyright 2012 Warren Westbo.

Exploring the Gold Coast in Africa on a motorcycle must have been a unique experience for a 20 year old boy more accustomed to exploring the fir covered mountains of Washington State.

The following photo of ATC aircraft was taken at Hassani Airfield, Athens, probably in 1945. Phil wrote on the back of the photo, “We were busy!” The Air Transport Command is written on the side of the plane.

ATC Aircraft: Douglas C-54 Skymaster, Hassani Airfield 1945.
Copyright 2012 Warren Westbo
On the back of this photo Phil wrote a note to his wife, “Westbo’s Crew. Grim aren’t they? I think you’ll remember a couple of them — John Lummus, Moe Acosta, Chuck Nace, and Phil Westbo (you know him for sure).” Phil is bottom left. Copyright 2012 Warren Westbo

As much as the guys probably loved the adventure I’m sure it was difficult to be away from home for such long periods of time. Especially for the married guys. While the flight crews of the ATC were civilians, their missions were dangerous as they flew into combat zones to deliver cargo and supplies where it was most needed. The ATC crews from WWII still don’t get much recognition, then or now,  for their sacrifices or service to this country and to the allied forces.

The following photograph, taken in 1944 or 1945, shows Phil Westbo (left) and his good buddies Lyle Pigort (center) and Lieutenant “Stumpy” Rion (right) leaning on a jeep in front of The Villa, where they stayed when based in Casablanca, Morocco. They look so dashing in their ATC flight uniforms.

Air Transport Command, PanAm-Africa crew, Casablanca 1944 or 1945.

By the time the Army’s ATC no longer needing commercial airlines and civilian flight crews, Phil was ready to settle down back home in the States. He had met his future wife in the Chrysler Building, where the Pan Am offices were located. They were married in 1944 and she, like her sister and sisters in law, were employed and busied their time with volunteer efforts waiting for their husbands to come home. It wasn’t until the war ended that all of them were together again in one place. Everyone said it was quite a celebration that day.

11 thoughts on “The Air Transport Command in WWII

  1. These guys were so under appreciated… In their lifetime, they were never considered veterans… How unfortunate. It was truly a life changing experience for all of them. I am so very proud of my dad and his colleagues.


  2. BTW… The story is, Mom and Dad met on the 44th floor, ironically where my first job was at the WIll Graham Company.


  3. Great work – hope to figure out how to record siblings using my software – got to a brick wall on my efforts there. Do u use


  4. I found Moe Acosta’s tool box in my Grandfathers shed it was a mess but after cleaning it I could make out Moe Acosta PAA Africa Orient. That led me here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How cool! Moe was in Phil’s crew. Thank you for writing! Do you have any photos or letters from Moe’s service in the ATC? My husband still has his Dad’s tool box. It weighs a ton.


  5. Enjoyed reading this. My dad was in the Air Transport Command too. He was a flight engineer; had been working for American Airlines. He was in the European Group–flew to England and France a lot. I don’t even have a picture of him in his uniform. He hardly ever talked about his days with the ATC. Retired from American after 40 years of service.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Carol,
      Glad to hear from you. I wonder if American Airlines would have any photos of your dad and the crew he flew with in uniform in their archives? They might also have info on the missions he flew in during WWII.


  6. Love this! My granddad, Clem Wittman, was also in the ATC via American Airlines. Since that would’ve been early in his career, I imagine he would’ve been a flight engineer at that time. 🙂


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