‘A Pretty Close Call’ : One Martinsville Veteran Fought the War With a Weather Balloon

Cpl. Cawley Richard “Dick” Stine poses in his military uniform. Contributed photo.

By Amie Knowles

November 10, 2020

Cpl. Stine to be honored in his home city later today

Editor’s note: From time to time, Dogwood highlights some of our fellow residents of the Commonwealth. If you know someone that you want recognized, email us at [email protected].

MARTINSVILLE-It’s not everyday that a soldier fought the war with a balloon, but that’s exactly what Cpl. Cawley Richard “Dick” Stine did.

Of course, the 97-year-old Martinsville World War II veteran didn’t start his military career by sending balloons off into the air. His military memories, as relayed by his daughter, Wendy Embree, began when many other young Americans’ did – on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, a naval base in Hawaii.

Embree said her father was in college at the time.

“A lot of people were running down there right away to sign up. But he wanted to get into a program of the army that stayed in school,” Embree said. “The army had a lot of programs where they would put you through school to learn something valuable that the army needed.”

The college student finished the semester, but did not return to school. Instead, he visited his local armory, where he learned about various programs that would help him stay in school, but without the cost if he joined the military.

“They had a weather program and they called it pre-meteorology,” Embree said. “They were recruiting heavily for weather people, for meteorologists, because they had a few, but with the war getting really busy, they needed a lot more weather people. What the weather people did was forecast the weather for military operations. Like, battles and invasions and things like that. They needed to know what the weather was. It was very important as to whether or not they were going to do something on a particular day.”

A quick sign up

Stine took an exam, displaying whether or not he met the program’s qualifications. Just before his draft was due, he received a call.

“He was accepted. He had to run down to the armory and get signed up for the army that day. It was kind of like an urgent thing,” Embree said. “He said they said, ‘You have to sign up today and get on a train tonight and be there.’ So that’s what he did.”

Smith joined the United States Army Air Forces on Apr. 12, 1943. His branch served as a precursor to the present-day Air Force and a result of the Army Air Corps.

Given the quick nature of her father’s army sign up, coupled with the impending draft, Embree referred to the situation as “a pretty close call.”

Stine remained stateside for the duration of his army career. His training took him to Hamilton College, where he studied pre-meteorology for a year. The experience ended up being one of his favorites of his time in the service, Embree noted, because of the close connections he made with the other students there.

“It was very intense courses. Like eight hours a day and then studying at night and that kind of thing to get through it,” Embree said. “At the end of it, their class was going to go to China because they were going to forecast the weather for the invasion of Japan.”

A change of plans

Embree noted that the class ahead of her father’s made it to China first. They watched and waited for the big day. The second class, where Stine served, also made preparations for an overseas trip.

“But then the war ended. They bombed. Japan surrendered. And then the war was over. So then he ended up not going to China,” Embree said. “I don’t know if you want to call that lucky or not lucky, but he didn’t get to go to China.”

Up, up and away

While many soldiers carried guns, Stine carried a different type of war instrument: a weather balloon.

“It was all done manually,” Embree said. “They would have to use telescopes and figure out all of this stuff that the balloon was doing.”

Using the data the men collected from the balloon observation, they could forecast the weather.

Stine performed the manual tasks as first, but then received yet another opportunity of a lifetime.

“They came up with a device or an instrument that actually did it electronically. So you would put this electronic box on the balloon,” Embree said. “He went to Harvard, through the army, to learn how to do that. This is what is interesting: that he was on the cutting edge of going from manual observing to using electronics. That was the beginning of electronics in the weather and he was right there on top of that and learned a lot about electronics, also, while he was taking that class at Harvard.”

After the war

Stine discharged on Feb 2, 1946. He then worked as a civilian for the army, setting up weather stations across the country and beyond. His work even took him to the Caicos Islands before they became resort areas.

“Ultimately what he ended up doing was he went back to school. He used the G.I. bill. He actually got a Ph. D. in Chemistry. He’s actually a chemist with meteorology as a hobby,” Embree said. “He ended up going to Syracuse University to get his Ph. D. in Chemistry and then he ended up getting a job at DuPont after that. That’s how he ended up down here in Martinsville.”

As Embree grew up, she enjoyed hearing the war stories her dad told.

“He loved to talk about his experience. He had a great experience in the army. And he loved to talk about it,” Embree said. “So we have learned a lot of stories as time goes on.”

Even though he enjoyed talking about his service, Embree expressed that he didn’t brag about it. To meet him, she said, he’s the most humble man.

“You don’t know that, just talking to him. When you find out all of these incredible things that he’s done, he is amazing,” Embree said. “He’s a real special dad, I’ve got to say. He really is. He’s so proud of his service. He has a flag flying outside and he loves that flag, too. Every day, he looks at that flag.”

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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