Commander Francis ‘Frank’ Meyer
By Toni McGowan
Crash landings for Commander (CMDR) Meyer seemed to always be accompanied by a silver lining. Or maybe he just knew how to make the best out of a bad situation. His finest hour could have been in 1958 when he laid his 35-ton P5M1 Marlin flying boat right down on the water of Elephant Butte Reservoir just outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, saving all lives on board. Or it could have been when a crash landing during WWII in China led him to the best friend he ever had.
Francis (Frank) Albert Meyer was born in San Antonio, Texas, on November 6, 1919, to Bernard Henry Meyer and Louisa Tips-Meyer.
Frank was the couple’s only child, and they doted on him. They had one other child, Bernard Jr., who died in infancy. Frank was born 11 years after that painful loss, on November 6, 1919, during a difficult time for German immigrants who were persecuted even after the end of the WWI.
Frank’s mother Louisa was part of a large German migration to Texas, one year after statehood was achieved, when land was free and there were no taxes. She and her family lived through the Apache Wars in and around San Antonio. Frank’s father was not easily intimidated, and decided the best way for his family to handle the situation was for young Frank to learn the language of the land, Spanish. Due to his father’s influence, Frank was fluent in seven languages by the time he finished school which played an important later role in his naval career.
Frank’s father Bernard was born in Baltimore, MD, and was not only a fixture at San Antonio’s prestigious Texas Military Institute (TMI), he was Professor of Linguistics, and it just so happened, he was a founding faculty member of the West Texas School for Boys (consolidated with TMI and the San Antonio Academy (SAA) in 1926), and in fact, helped to build the facility.
At military school, Frank was known as “Fanny.” He was Cadet Captain of Company “C,” star of the debate team and the school’s “best shot.” The truth is, Frank excelled at anything he put his hand to, and got along well with all sorts of people. Frank’s goal was to attend the United States Naval Academy, a goal he reached, graduating the Academy, Class of 1943.
Frank married Margaret Rosalie Clark in Escabia County, Florida, the year after graduating. By 1948, the couple was living in Coronado, California. Margaret was responsible for getting the much needed stop sign at Alameda Boulevard and Sixth Street in Coronado approved and installed for elementary school children to reach that former school location.
The first time his plane went down was when the engine of his “big bird” quit over the desert of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, on a home bound flight from Corpus Christi to North Island. Meyer’s skill and decisiveness saved Coronado from what could have been the worst single incident resident loss of life to ever hit the small island community. Almost all crewmembers of Patrol Squadron 46 were local boys:
CMDR Meyer of 475 Alameda
LT. John Wade of 936 Adella
L.T. D.D. Meacham of 868 J
J.R. Stephens of 1764 Third Street
L.A. Taylor and G.D. Tiege, both of North Island
Jack Bear(d) of 21 Date, Chula Vista
and E.G Stanfield, Aviation Electronics Mate, home port not noted.
Not only did the commander save all on board, he also earned himself a spot on the popular game show of the day, ‘Truth or Consequences’, because of the publicity around where he landed in New Mexico. While there, the crew was treated like royalty. “The men are having a ball all right, swimming, fishing, and everything,” reported CMDR Meyer to a flurry of television reporters. His wounded aviation electronics mate, E.G. Stanfield, reported, “this is the finest hospital I’ve ever seen.”
Miraculously, CMDR Meyer would survive another crash landing along with all of his crew, this time in China, during WWII, when the United States and China were allies against Japanese imperialism. Frank Meyer and his crew were forced to ditch their plane after losing lost all radio communications. They were rescued by friendly Chinese residents of a remote village.
Here they were – a plucky lot of Americans, in a strange country, without a dime in their pockets, let alone Chinese currency, with clothes tattered and torn from evacuating their plane, wondering how they would get word back home that they were safe. There were no phones in the village.
This is where the education Frank’s father insisted on showed him there is a reason for everything, and he used his language skill in Chinese to communicate. Luckily again for the willful and likeable Commander, he befriended a Chinese tailor, who, out of the kindness of his heart, made suits for each member of the crew free of charge. Eventually, the crew was picked up and flown back to Coronado.
Frank and the tailor went on to have a lifelong friendship. They visited one another on many occasions, and shared life’s joys and challenges.
CMDR Meyers would lose his father in 1957 at age 81, and his mother, Louisa, eleven years later. Things in Texas had certainly changed for his mother. There was a mile long line of residents who wished to pay their respects.
The couple had two daughters, Melinda and Amanda (Mandy). Both girls attended Coronado schools from Kindergarten through high school graduation.
After retirement, Commander Meyer followed in his father’s footsteps and became a teacher at the Boyden School, while he continued to reside in Coronado. He and his wife enjoyed the Coronado social life, and Frank belonged to a variety of
civic organizations, including the Coronado Yacht Club, Coronado Rotary, Coronado Realtors Association, and was very active in the Coronado Playhouse.
CMDR Francis Meyer passed on November 28, 1979, in Coronado.
Amanda Meyers Gafford
San Diego Union, June 10, 1958
El Paso Times
Evening Tribune, June 10, 1958
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