On the eve of World War II, Ed Orme was a recent high school graduate who had never been in an airplane before.
Within months, he was flying them.
Within a year, he was training aviators for combat missions.
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“We would train them to attack targets on bomb runs and so forth,” said Orme, 92. “That was interesting work. I really enjoyed it.”
An Indianapolis native who lives in the Franklin United Methodist Community, Orme was a United States Marine Corps pilot for 10 years, serving from 1942 to 1952.
Throughout World War II, he trained cadet pilots to fly the famed Vought F4U Corsair, one of the most advanced fighter planes at that time.
Renowned for its speed and high altitude efficiency, the Corsair was among the most lethal weapons in the U.S. military’s aviation arsenal.
Orme enlisted in the Marines for the sole purpose of becoming a Corsair pilot.
“That was the hottest fighting plane in World War II,” Orme said. “It had the fastest sea-level speed of any fighter plane and the best altitude ability.
“That’s why I requested to fly that because speed and altitude were the key advantages over other aircraft, and the Corsair had those.”
Orme’s ambition came together hastily.
A former basketball standout at Southport High School, he was only 18 when Japanese warplanes bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Determined to serve in the military, he resolved to do so as a pilot.
But because of his age, he needed his parents’ consent. Initially, they weren’t on board.
“My parents hesitated to sign for me,” Orme said. “But I said, ‘Look, I don’t want to be in a muddy trench someday. I want to be up in the air flying.’”
“So they signed that I could join, and that worked out very well for me.”
An honors student in high school, Orme was accepted as a cadet pilot and sent to the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, for pilot training.He started out on biplanes and worked his way up to single-wing aircraft, but with his learning curve, once he became a pilot, he was not deployed for combat. Instead, he was sent to an air station in Pensacola, Florida, where he trained new cadets to become Corsair fighter pilots.
Orme served in that capacity throughout the war.
“They made a flight instructor out of me,” he said. “I trained a lot of students. We would teach them how to approach enemy planes and do overhead runs on them. I had a lot of good students. Cadets are pretty smart.”
“They had to know what they were doing to become a cadet. The training was pretty tough, as it should have been.”
Capable of taking off and landing from land bases or aircraft carriers, Corsairs were used extensively by the Marines and the U.S. Navy throughout World War II and, later, the Korean War.
Orme trained pilots during both wars.
Typically, he would instruct five or six cadets at a time over a five- to six-week period. Training was intense, tedious, dangerous and designed specifically to prepare pilots for the deadly hazards of aerial combat.
Dive-bombing, strafing and dog-fighting were all part of the instruction.
“We would always be diving from about 2,000 feet above the enemy and coming straight down on them,” Orme said. “They had very little time to target us or hit us or anything, so it was very good training that we went through.”
And only the most qualified candidates were given a chance to fly.
“These were well-rounded, educated people,” Orme said. “I know when I became a cadet, they really interviewed you pretty heavily. I was happy to become an aviator cadet. I felt proud of that.”
“That was my goal when I went into the military, to be a pilot, and that’s what I ended up.”
When Orme enlisted in the service, he did so with the intention of flying combat missions. But because of his advanced and unique skills, the Marine Corps determined the best way for Orme to serve his country was to train cadets to become fighter pilots.To this day, he has mixed feelings about his role.
“I was never in combat, which is something I always felt a little bit bad about, but that was the way it worked,” Orme said. “They made a flight instructor out of me because of the training I went through.”
“I guess I was blessed because I came through safe all the time.”
But aviation training was by no means safe.
Often, it was deadly.
Notoriously hazardous, war-time instruction involved, among other maneuvers, night flying and aircraft carrier take-offs and landings.
During the war years, nearly 15,000 pilots and aircrew were killed in training accidents inside the United States, according to the World War II Foundation.
In total, there were more than 52,000 stateside training crashes during the war.
“I had some close calls, especially night flying,” Orme said. “It took (cadets) time to get used to it.”
“It’s kind of scary, though.”
But Orme never flinched. He trained Corsair pilots through the end of World War II and through the first three years of the Korean War.
After the military
When he left the service in 1952, he was a U.S. Marine major.“I felt like I was a good instructor. I know my students praised me when they finished training with me,” Orme said. “The students at the end always gave me a big party when we finished training.”
“That was always kind of neat. They always thought I was a good instructor.”
After leaving the Marines, Orme eventually became a life insurance agent. A father of four, he worked in the insurance industry for more than 50 years.
“I’m lucky,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed my life.”
And he is proud of his military service.
When his country needed his him, he readily answered the call.
“I trained a lot of cadets, I tell you. That was my job. I felt very good about that,” Orme said. “I’m happy to have served my county. I loved flying that F4 Corsair.”
“That was the hottest fighter plane.”
Name: Ed Orme
Residence: Franklin United Methodist Community
Branch of service: United States Marine Corps
Military role: Fighter pilot and flight instructor
Years of service: 1942-1952
Final rank: Major
Family: Married Joyce Frank in 2007; four children, daughters Sara Dyer, Sandy Taylor and Susan Russell and son Eddie Orme. Eddie died of malaria in 2000 while serving as a missionary in Pakistan.