Garland Pack-Pioneer Aviator

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Garland Pack went around the world and ‘glided’ through life

Written by Rick Hollis
Pioneer Aviator-Garland W. Pack
November 26, 1912 – March 26, 1986

This is the 18th in a series profiling the most significant people in Dickson County history.

 An aviation pioneer, Garland W. Pack was a pilot in World War II, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. 

He opted to forego the opportunity to attend college to follow his ambition to become an aviator. His mechanical aptitude was evident at an early age and his dream to fly was his primary ambition. He lived out his childhood dreams by emulating his role models and even became a role model himself for many aspiring aviators. At his death, the Nashville Tennessean wrote editorially that he was “one of America’s true aviation pioneers and a barnstorming pilot of the old style.”

Garland Willard Pack was the second of four children born to Willard M. and Dolly Daniel Pack of Dickson. The other children were Vivian, Margaret (Mrs. Howard B. Smith) and Myrtha (Mrs. Sam Field).

He met his wife Margaret Mitchell Napier after landing in a coal mining town called Creaton, Ky., which doesn’t exist anymore. His plane broke down, he had to land, and her father and mother invited him to stay with them until his plane was repaired Their children were: Tavye Jeanette, Judy Kay and Lee Howard Pack and a stepson, Gayle Napier.

Pack’s life has been chronicled in a book entitled, From the Ground Up, The Life and Times of Garland W. Pack, by Colonel James R. Larkins, USAF Retired.

The information contained herein is gleaned from his excellent profile of Dickson’s Premier Aviation Pioneer.

Garland Pack was a mechanical genius who eagerly read and studied all the scientific and technical materials he could find. He was captivated by Charles Lindbergh’s book about his solo transatlantic flight. He taught himself to fly while in high school and attended aviation school and learned the mechanical side of flying as well as piloting.

Pack’s father began as a blacksmith, and plumber, later an automobile mechanic, and finally was a Dodge automobile dealer and was the owner/operator of the local Nehi bottling company, located at 106 East College Street, now the location of WDKN radio station. On the second floor of that building, Pack totally restored two Waco 9 biplanes. 
At that time the building had a ramp on the south side leading from the second floor to ground level, enabling a plane, without wings, to be moved to the street. The plane was then towed to a warehouse behind the post office for final assembly.

Later, the completed plane was towed to Charlotte Street near the present high school where he took off for his initial flight. Fields were used as makeshift airfields in the 1930s. One of the first fields was on the Hugh Reeves farm west of Charlotte Pike and just north of the Dickson city limits. Some barnstormers used the George Sanker farm just south of Colesburg, but most used the Eugene Sanker farm on old Columbia Road just south of Colesburg. The field, once designated on the US Department of Commerce Nashville Sectional Chart as “Sanker Field” is now the location of Quebecor Printing in Dickson.

Clyde Shockley heard about Pack and came to Dickson from Muncie, Ind. to see him building one of his planes. He invited Pack to come to work with him and offered him an opportunity to take lessons at his aviation school. 

He left for Muncie on the morning after graduating from high school. After only four hours of instruction, Pack soloed and became a licensed airplane mechanic and pilot. He had great pleasure in his career as a barnstormer taking people on rides in his small plane. This was his primary occupation from 1938 until 1941, from fields in Dickson, Nashville and a couple locations in Kentucky.

When World War II began, he was inducted as a second lieutenant in the US Army Air Corps and became a pilot in the Air Transport Command. He volunteered for this division because he “didn’t want to have to kill anybody.” At first, he ferried planes all over the United States. Then he went to Reno, Nevada and served a year as a flight instructor.

Pack flew over a large portion of the world during WWII. He remembered “flying over the Amazon River on the way to Africa and hit a bird right over the river. It put a dent in his wing, but no real damage.” He would cross the South Atlantic via Brazil and the western hump of Africa. He flew B-24s to England. Pack flew over the Nile River and even saw Mount Everest. He crossed the Atlantic Ocean 16 times and quickly established himself as a highly professional and reliable aircraft commander whose skills were reflected in his performance record.

Then Pack was transferred to the China-Burma-India Theater. He flew “The Hump” to ferry gasoline and other supplies over the Himalaya Mountains from India to China. He flew the “Burma Road,” as “The Hump” was also known, 56 times. Conditions over the Himalayas made the flights very dangerous. It was the most rugged terrain in the world, hazardous and with poorly forecast weather, and a distinct deficiency of reliable air navigational aids. He said, “On a clear day, if you couldn’t see the wreckage of several other airplanes, you knew you were on the wrong route!” Many times he looked down and saw the Great Wall of China beneath him. For this service he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

When Pack returned from the war, he built five midget racing planes in his basement workshop and entered them in races. 

He became interested in astronomy and made his own telescopes, even grinding his own lenses. 

Pack worked out of Cornelia Fort Airport, Cumberland Airport and Berry Field in Nashville. Pack built a replica of the Wright Brothers’ first flying machine.

Garland Pack was the first pilot hired for Capital Airways, a charter airline, in Nashville and flew periodically until his retirement. In 1961 he established a sailplane operation at the Murfreesboro Airport, moved it to Lewisburg for one year and finally to Puckett Field near Eagleville, Tenn. His great passion in later life became “the glider.” He said that “When you have flown in a glider, you have flown. You are in the air, you’re not beating against it with propellers or burning it with jets. You just sit in it and ride with it.

“It is perhaps man’s oldest dream to fly like a bird, far above earthbound cares. Gliders are like eagles soaring proud and graceful…and, oh…so peacefully.” Garland Pack realized his dreams. 

The Dickson Municipal Airport is named Pack Field in his honor.

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