Emily Flake/Daily Journal Marshall Lang spent four years with the Navy Air Corps during World War II.

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Friendships eased the experience for pilot [UPDATED]

Published 10:58am Friday, June 29, 2012 Updated 11:09am Friday, June 29, 2012

Friends were an important influence for Marshall Lang during his four-year enlistment with the Navy Air Corps during World War II.

“I enlisted in the Navy because I didn’t want to get drafted into the Army,” he said with a chuckle.

Lang spent most of his childhood in Minneapolis, and entered the Navy when he was 18 years old. He enrolled in what was known as civilian pilot training in Pensacola, Fla.

“I passed at the top of my class,” he said.

The last obstacle he had to overcome before being allowed in the air for formation flying was a very intense physical examination. After sitting in the waiting room for what seemed like years, “My name was called, and I answered, ‘Aye aye, sir,’ and he looked me in the face and said, ‘You’re grounded. You have hyperactive reflexes. You’d be a danger during formation flying.’ At first, it was like the end of the world.”

From there, Lang was given his pick at what he wanted to do. When he was a kid, he had a .22 rifle that he would use to shoot at fireworks.

“I got so good that I could barely see it, so I figured I could be a sharpshooter,” he said.

Lang passed the exam and became the aerial gunnery instructor at a base in Pasco, Wash. He had friends there from his time during pilot’s training, and became friends with the cook and the ship service officer. His friendships offered him experiences and perks that made his time in the Navy memorable.

For example, despite being grounded, Marshall sunk a German U-boat.

Some of his friends from pilot training would take him out flying with them. One day, they flew south near Cuba and spotted a Nazi submarine.

“They leaned over and said to me, ‘Hey, Marsh, see if you can get that one!’”

The plane was carrying aerial bombs called ash cans. He lined one up, let it go and it hit.

“I wasn’t supposed to be there, so I never got credit for it,” he said.

Marshall’s friendships with the ship service officer and the cook led to him feeling like an officer. He was appointed to the position of assistant ship service officer, so everyday he would drive the jeep to get the mail, and managed the movie theater and mess halls.

Through this position, he became best friends with the chef at the public mess hall. Marshall always got first pick of the food, and his friend would often have a steak or something ready for him.

“I started to feel like an officer despite being an enlisted man. I didn’t feel any pain anymore; I was real happy doing what I was doing,” he said.

After his time in the Navy, Marshall decided he wanted to be an architect like his dad.

“All I got to draw was steps and doorways,” he said.

Later, he had an idea to start a flash drive-in restaurant like he had seen on the East and West coasts. He and his father opened up the first in Minneapolis, serving the best McGarvey coffee 24 hours a day, he said.

Since then, Marshall Lang and Patricia, his wife of 63 years, have had four children and moved to Fergus Falls.

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