Serial# O-727090: Evans, Vinson B – Bombardier
Vinson ‘Vince’ Evans – they called him the ‘kid wonder.’ That was because you had to wonder what on earth he was going to do next recalled his sister Peggy. ‘When he was about eleven, he snuck off with the family car, leaving his Dad stranded downtown. When he got home, Mom could hardly see the top of his head. We never did figure out how he reached the clutch and brake pedals of that old Whippet!’
‘This guy was the spark plug to the crew’, said Bob Morgan. ‘There never was another guy like him. Besides, he was one of the best bombardiers in the Eighth Air Force.’
His skill was one of the reasons why the Memphis Belle was picked as lead ship of the Group on many missions.
He was born in Forth Worth, Texas in 1920, and lived with his father – also called Vinson – and mother Winnie, sister Peggy Jean and father-in-law P Ball Roach, but some time after 1930 his family moved to Henderson, Texas where the young Vince attended the North Texas Teachers College after graduating from the Henderson High School.
He was already running a successful logging company, but lost interest when the war heated up in Europe. Vince wanted excitement, so enlisted in the Air Force just before Pearl Harbor with the intention of becoming a pilot, but when he did not quite qualify, he switched to bombardier.
Vince was already well on the way to getting reputation of being a ladies man, for by the time he got to Walla Walla, he was already married – and divorced! Nevertheless, two days before the 91st left for England he married again, this time to a girl called Dinny Kelly. Those two days were the extent of that marriage, for he never came back to her!
During the early days of the combat tour in England, Bob Morgan recalled how Vince Evans improved their eating – and his own lifestyle! Evans sneaked off the base and got chummy with a nearby farmer’s daughter and would come back with fresh eggs and milk.
‘Evans became our Egg Officer,’ said Morgan. Then he added: ‘She was real cute, too.’
They were mostly cute, the girls Evans went for. Talking to other crew members suggests that there were at least two other young ladies in Vince’s life during his tour in England. There was, for instance, the night club singer named Kaye, whom Evans met in London. Some said he was planning to return to her after the war and they would marry.
He was staying with her most of the time. He would telephone Morgan, or one of his buddies, of an early morning to find out if a ‘game’ was scheduled and if not, he just stayed in London. There were times when the ‘game’ was on and Evans barely made it back to the base in time to get on the airplane.
Bob Morgan: One morning he got back so late we were already taxiing out to the takeoff line when he came running and scrambled on the airplane.’
It was Evans who was later to provide an insight in to the mind of a combat air crewman doing 25 missions:
‘It’s funny, but you never quite get over being scared, no matter how many bombing runs you make. During the first five or six raids you’re pretty tense. Then you figure ‘what the heck, I’ll never come out of this alive.’ You’re kinda fatalistic about it, see. Then when you get to around the twentieth, you begin to realize that maybe you do have a chance after all and you tighten up again, just like a violin string. Boy, those last five missions are tough.’
After the Tour
The ‘Kid Wonder’, they called him. ‘Because, said his sister Peggy, ‘You always had to wonder what the kid would do next. I guess he lived up to that name for the rest of his life.’
When Vince came home, one of the stops was in Hollywood where the crew was scheduled to dub in voice background to the War Department film that had been shot in Europe. It was here he met Jean Ames the glamorous starlet. New sparks were flying and it gave him amnesia on Kaye the girl he was dating back in back in England.
It seems that Vince had been retained by William Wyler to act as a form of ‘technical advisor’ on the Memphis Belle picture, so he spent more time in Hollywood and California than the rest of the crew.
Poor Dinny, too, the girl with her name under the nose of theMemphis Belle and the wife who had spent all that time waiting at Walla Walla for Vince to come back from the war to her, only to find that he had other stars in his eyes. Evans told a newspaper reporter, ‘You know how it is# We only knew each other a few days before we got married.’ And then, after only two days of married life, he had been gone – to the war# Dinny swore she would not give him a divorce until he came back to her and tried to make a go of things# His sister Peggy agrees it was all true# ‘My brother was a real skirt chaser.’
‘One day I got a phone call from Evans,’ recalled Bob Morgan in an interview. ‘He was desperate. He said,‘Bob, can you get me out of the country?”‘ Quick? I’ve got to get out of the country.”‘ Bob Morgan was training on the B-29, and needed a bombardier. Morgan pulled a few strings and Evans was assigned to his B-29 outfit. But why the urgency and speed? Well, it seems that Vince had married Jean, conveniently forgetting that he was still married to Dinny. When the studio found out, the heat was on Vince – it was time to escape for a while!
His marriage to Jean also had little endurance. After the war, when Evans returned to Hollywood, people discovered that this ace bombardier also had a talent as a writer. ‘He had been writing stories since he was a kid,’ said his sister, ‘and he had a great imagination. In college he attracted a lot of attention with his short stories.’
A thorough search reveals that Vince Evans has two screenplays that were made into movies to his credit. Chain Lightning – starring Humphrey Bogart and Battle Hymn – starring Rock Hudson.
It was also during the early years after the war, both before and during the screenplay writing episodes, when Evans, the bundle of energy, became involved in a lot of other things. Such as operating a shrimp boat in Mexico, on which he based another screenplay, managing a restaurant in Los Angeles, and driving race cars at Pomona, California. But perhaps the most fateful thing that finally happened to him was his marriage to Margery Winkler, a wealthy heiress from Indianapolis – a marriage which lasted and produced two children, Peter and Venetia.
It was during those years of marriage to Margery when Vince’s unbounded energy took him into a whole series of business enterprises, and while some might wish to suggest he was able to do so only because of his wife’s money, even his critics had to agree that most of such enterprises prospered under his direction. Cattle rancher. Restaurant operator. Promoter of Andersen’s Pea Soup.
It had all started when, largely on an impulse, he had bought a small, struggling and largely unknown restaurant named Pea Soup Andersen’s at Solvang, California, a picturesque little Danish colony near Buellton. Friends said he bought it because he liked the pea soup.
Robert “Pea-Soup”Andersen has started his business in the mid-1920s but decided he needed a break and in April 1965 sold the Buellton restaurant to Vince Evans. By now Vince was a well known and an established leader in the Santa Ynez Valley who developed a close friendship with Ronald Reagan, who later purchased a ranch in the same area. Vince and his wife Margery moved to a 900-acre ranch south of Buellton in 1959. They raised cattle, grew alfalfa and operated a feed store. When he purchased Pea Soup Andersen’s, he jumped into his newest adventure with the same high energy and enthusiasm that he displayed for many other ventures.
He began promoting the restaurant and its pea soup as if he were promoting a Hollywood movie. New chefs were hired, and posted for miles around were huge billboards showing two chefs splitting a pea. Before it was over, Pea Soup Andersens would do so well it would be claimed that they were serving two million customers per year. The business thrived under Evans’ hand. By then the restaurant was purchasing 50 tons of peas each year, enough for three-quarters of a million bowls of soup! He built an aviary and filled it with parrots, he installed a train for children to ride that went from the restaurant to a miniature wild animal park. The Evans’ were very active with the renowned Rancho Vistadores, Santa Barbara Symphony and constantly supported the Valley children’s 4-H projects. In 1979, Vice purchased an English Pub that supposedly had stood for over 100 years at the Liverpool Street railway station in London. The Pub was reconstructed in Buellton and opened as a bar and entertainment center.
It all came to an end on April 20, 1980, when Evans, his wife, their daughter Venetia, and 24 year old pilot Nancy Meinken took off from Palo Alto Airport in Evans’ private plane, a twin-engine Piper Aztec. Evans had a pilot license but was not qualified on instruments and it was cloudy that day.
Newspapers reported that at 5.30pm there was a last radio call from Meinken calling for standard instrument landing instructions. Ten minutes later the aircraft disappeared from the radar screens. The Civil Air Patrol and Santa Barbara County Sherriff’s Office began a search, but bad weather and darkness forced its cancelation at 7:30 p.m. The wreckage and bodies were discovered at 5:00 a.m. the next day. They had flown into a hillside.
Evans’ son Peter was not on the plane that day and thus became the only family survivor. His sister Peggy remembered a poignant tale of those last days. ‘It was on April 10, when he went to visit our mother, Winnie, who was ill. He told her, ‘Mother, I want you to hurry and get well. I want to go to Memphis to see the Memphis Belle. It is a sentimental journey and I want you to go along.”‘ Exactly ten days later, Vince Evans, the ace bombardier, romantic and dynamo businessman, was dead. The journey of ‘Kid Wonder’ had come to an end.