Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Random Photos from Vegas Airport

Gunsight and .50 caliber shells from a B-17.
B-17 memorabilia, including operations book, flare pistol, slide rule, and throat mike.
More B-17 stuff, including gauges, a checklist, and manufacturer's plate.
I spent an overnight in the Las Vegas Airport on my way to Georgia, and had lots of time to wander around the terminal. The casinos had kindly planted gambling machines everywhere around the airport but since I felt like holding onto my hard-earned cash I did not succumb. There was a museum on the second floor of McCarran Airport that I highly recommend. IN addition to having the Cessna 172 endurance plane and Howard Hughes' old Ford T-Bird (used as a fire and rescue vehicle in the fifties and early sixties), they had a museum. Here are some photos I took at that museum. Enjoy--and if you are ever in Vegas, make sure to check it out. It is on the second level, overlooking baggage claim.

The Plane that Flew for 62 Days and the T-Bird that Saved the Day

When I was in the Las Vegas Airport, they had an old Cessna 172 hanging from the ceiling over the baggage claim area, so I had to check it out. Amazing. The Cessna, carrying two men, stayed in flight for an astounding 64 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes and five seconds!! Also in the terminal was a beautiful Ford T-Bird that was used as a rescue car in the fifties, and also assisted in the endurance record. You just never know what you're going to find that's interesting during an eight-hour overnight layover in an airport terminal.

Air and Space Magazine's Roger Mola wrote in an article in July 2006:

"On December 4, 1958, Bob Timm and John Cook set out from Las Vegas’ McCarran Field in a (Cessna 172) Skyhawk painted in the neon logo of the Hacienda Hotel to raise money for cancer research. The pair set an endurance record that still stands, staying aloft for 64 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes, and five seconds. The pilots flew in four-hour shifts and once a day descended to 20 feet above the desert highway to receive 95 gallons of fuel from a tanker or, occasionally, a classic Thunderbird. In 1959, the Hacienda Skyhawk landed in the Guinness Book of World Records, and now hangs above the baggage claim at what is now McCarran Airport."
Photo by me.

Bob Shane wrote the following article about the classic Thunderbird that served as the unlikely rescue car at Las Vegas Airport in the fifties. This lovely T-Bird is also on display in the airport.

"Thunderbird Once Owned by Howard Hughes Sold at Barrett-Jackson
Mar '06
By Bob Shane
Aviation buffs attending the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction viewed a beautifully restored, fiesta red 1956 Ford Thunderbird convertible with a most unusual career in aviation. Not only was it once owned by aviation legend Howard Hughes, but it also served as an airport crash wagon and was used to refuel the Cessna 172 that holds the world's longest flight duration record.

Photo By Bob Shane

The T-Bird helped refuel a Cessna 172 during a record-setting endurance flight.
"Mr. & Mrs. Aviation," George and Peg Crockett, originally owned the T-Bird. In 1941, George Crockett, a native of Missouri and descendent of Davy Crockett, founded Alamo Airport, a private airport on Las Vegas Boulevard in Las Vegas. In 1948, Clark County bought the airport, and its name was changed to McCarran Field. That was the beginning of the current McCarran International Airport.The Crocketts owned and operated the airport FBO, Alamo Airways. The 1956 T-Bird was used to supplement the airport's fire rescue truck. It was outfitted with a two-way radio, first aid kit, folding stretcher, spotlights and two fire extinguishers. Two large, red and white checkered flags were mounted on the rear bumpers.

Photo by me.

Darrell Bradford, the assistant manager of Alamo Airways, recalled one airport incident where the T-Bird saved the day."A TWA Martin 404 had just departed Las Vegas for San Francisco International, when the pilot declared an emergency and asked permission to return to McCarran immediately," Bradford said. "The pilot shut down the left engine and had been cleared to land on Runway 7. With me riding as passenger, George positioned the T-Bird about 3,000 feet down the 12,500 foot runway." The aircraft made a single-engine approach, flared out high, then bounced three times before the pilot firewalled the right engine and started to retract the landing gear. "The aircraft started to climb out with only the right engine producing power," Bradford said. "It started to the left, right across from us. George said, 'We'd better try to keep with the Martin; he'll run out of runway.'" About that time, approximately 100 feet above the ground, the right wing lost its lift, and the aircraft settled to earth in a cloud of dust.

"The T-Bird was traveling about 70 mph when George left the taxiway and drove onto the desert," Bradford said. "We saw nothing until the T-Bird bogged down in the sand. When the dust settled, we found we were about 50 feet from the left rear of the aircraft. Per Mr. Crockett's instructions, I went around to the right side and George took the left. When I arrived at the right wing, everything was OK. When George arrived at the left wing, he found a small fuel fire, being fed by a ruptured fuel cell."The fire was rapidly approaching the fuselage, which contained 44 passengers. "George extinguished the small fire, thus averting a disaster," Bradford said. "The passengers started pouring out of the aircraft. A full five minutes later, an off-field fire truck arrived on the scene and promptly became stuck in the sand."By the time the proper fire equipment arrived, the fire was out and all of the passengers had been evacuated. "The passengers moved away from the crash scene, leaving the T-Bird the hero of the day," Bradford said. "There were broken bones, sprained arms and ankles. If the T-Bird hadn't taken us to the scene, there might possibly have been 44 charred bodies. All in all, the T-Bird more than paid for itself on that one occasion."

The Cessna endurance flight

On Dec. 4, 1958, a Cessna 172 took off from McCarran Field on a nonstop endurance flight. On Feb. 7, 1959, 64 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes and 5 seconds later, it landed in the Guinness Book of World Records. The nonstop flight record remains unbroken. The pilots, Bob Timm and John Cook, took turns at the controls of the Cessna, flying it in four-hour shifts. Except for the pilot's seat, everything was removed from the interior. A 95-gallon fuel tank was added, along with a mattress and internal access to both fuel and oil lines.With 47 gallons of fuel in the wings and 95 gallons in the belly tank, the 172 had to be refueled only once a day. The ground crew, Norbie Prada, Doyl Hickman, Roy Young and Bill Marhold, supervised that portion of the refueling. Once each day, the Cessna was flown 20 feet above a desert road. A line dropped to the fuel truck raised a hose up to the aircraft so that 95 gallons of fuel could be pumped into the belly tank. The process took three minutes.When the fuel truck malfunctioned during the marathon flight, Alamo Airway's '56 T-Bird again came to the rescue. While the Cessna flew above the convertible, five-gallon fuel cans were hauled by rope from the car to the plane. The Cessna was able to remain airborne.For the Cessna pilots, sleeping had become a problem. They couldn't sleep on a regular schedule and often drifted off while flying the airplane. Bob Timm admitted that he had dozed off at 2:55 one morning, while flying over Blythe, Calif. Waking up 20 minutes later, he saw the lights of Yuma, Ariz., and realized they had crossed over a range of mountains. Without an autopilot, they may not have made it."Doc" Bayley and the Hacienda Hotel sponsored the flight. Called the "Flight against Cancer," it served as a fundraiser for the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund. Today, the restored Cessna 172 is suspended above the baggage claim area at McCarran International Airport as part of the Howard Cannon Aviation Museum. A replica of the '56 T-Bird is also on display.In 1967, Crockett sold Alamo Airways, and the '56 T-Bird, to his longtime friend, Howard Hughes. The Hughes Tool Company property tag is still attached to the car's firewall. In the mid-1970s, Hughes sold the T-Bird to his personal pilot, John Seymore. In 1981, Seymore sold the car to a boat dealer, who in turn used it as a trade in on a new car from Sunland Motors in Las Vegas. In 1983, John and Marian Vetterli, from Wisconsin, acquired the car. They began restoration work in 1989. The couple sold the T-Bird at the 35th Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction for $86,400.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Visit to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King's Masoleum rests on a small island in a reflecting pool reminiscent of the one where he gave his famous 'I Have a Dream' speech in Washington, D.C. In 2006, after her death, wife Coretta Scott King's remains were added to the masoleum. MLK and Coretta Scott King tombs in reflecting pool.

I returned from Georgia a few days ago after visiting my good friend Leonard and interviewing him for the upcoming 95th unit history. On the return trip, I took a puddle-jumper jet from Columbus, GA, over by the Alabama border, to Atlanta. Possibly due to the high price of gas, it seems like the airlines are running above capacity on most flights this month, and I voluntarily let myself get bumped off of two flights in exchange for future travel miles on Delta. After my second 'bump', the airline put me up for the night at the Holiday Inn North and I found a train that ran directly into downtown Atlanta for only four bucks round-trip. After dropping my small carry-on bag in the motel room, I went back to the airport and took this train into Atlanta to Five Corners, right downtown. From there, it was a one-mile, hot and humid walk to the famed Auburn Street Martin Luther King Historical District. After learning about Dr. King most of my life, it was awe-inspiring to see his birth home, his crypt (Coretta Scott King was buried right next to him in 2006), and several museums. I also visited the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where it all began. Enjoy the pictures, even though they are not on the Air Corps theme. They tie in because of the 60th Anniversary this week of President Truman's integration of the Air Force.

All photos taken by me during my afternoon in Atlanta.

Dr. King lived here in a multi-generational household for 12 years. He was born in this home on Auburn, which belonged to his grandfather. It is now a museum and has been restored to its original form and furnishing. It's surrounded by private homes and if you weren't looking for it, you probably wouldn't even know it was a historical house. The original, iconic sign of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. MLK's grandfather, father and MLK all preached here.
Dr. King's preaching robes, in the MLK museum.Dr. King's suits and ties, worn during his Civil Rights activities in the fifties and sixties.
Dr. King's travel alarm clock, and the key to his motel room at the Lorraine Motel the day he was tragically gunned down in Memphis, April 4, 1968.
MLK Rose Garden. In the distance, you can see the gravesite of MLK and Coretta Scott King across the street.
A Song by Dion follows. It sums up some of the sadness of the Sixties.
Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
You know, I just looked around and he's gone.
Anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked around and he's gone.
Anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked 'round and he's gone.
Didn't you love the things that they stood for?
Didn't they try to find some good for you and me?
And we'll be free Some day soon,
and it's a-gonna be one day
...Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walk up over the hill,
With Abraham, Martin and John.
--Dion. Abraham, Martin and John, 1968, written by Richard Holler
Listen to the song, with graphics, here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=ZL81tPHp82g&feature=related

The Ebenezer Baptist Church. MLK's father and grandfather preached here, and so did Martin. Auburn Street, looking towards downtown Atlanta.
Eternal flame.

Ghandi, whose own civil rights struggles and use of civil disobedience were inspirational to MLK.

The new Ebenezer Baptist Church is directly across the street.

And finally, after enjoying Atlanta that afternoon and evening, I flew out first class the next morning. Sometimes, one can turn lemons into lemonade.
Downtown Atlanta, GA.

60th Anniversary of President Truman's Integration of the Armed Forces Slips by with Little Fanfare

Sixty years ago this week, President Harry Truman signed into law an act integrating the United States Armed Forces, a huge step forward in the Civil Rights movement, one that predated by a decade the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others. It was a momentous step, carried out with little backlash, and paved the way for the great things to come. As U.S. Presidents go, President Truman rarely gets the accolades he deserves, even after David McCullough's wonderful biography. It was Harry Truman who changed U.S. policy towards displaced persons in US-Occupied Germany after World War Two, and the former haberdasher from Missouri was a champion of civil rights from the day he entered office.

Following is a CNN news report on this important day in American history. This story initially ran in 1998.

U.S. celebrates 50 years of integrated military

Although blacks in uniform had fought in American conflicts throughout the country's history, including the Civil War, rarely had they been treated as equals

(CNN) -- It took decades to fully integrate the U.S. military, but there is general agreement that what President Harry Truman did 60 years ago this weekend helped ignite the country's civil rights movement and put its largest armed service, the Army, in the forefront of race relations.
On July 26, 1948, Truman issued a then-controversial executive order that called for "equality of treatment for all persons in the armed services, without regard to race, color, religion or national origin."

Though African Americans in uniform had fought and bled for the United States throughout its history, rarely had they been treated as equals to whites. For that reason, 1948 was a milestone.
"It was good for the country and good for the services and it meant a great deal to a large number of citizens of the country," says retired Air Force Col. Charles McGee.

In World War II, he belonged to the Tuskegee Airmen, a distinguished all-black combat unit established by the Army Air Corps in 1942.

Black volunteers helped the U.S. win the Battle of the Bulge in World War II

But perhaps the high point of (the 1998) anniversary observances was Thursday's bestowal of Bronze Star medals on five African-American World War II veterans.

They were among 2,221 blacks answering Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's emergency request in 1944 to serve in the front lines with units depleted in the fight against Germany.

The opportunity to be the first black soldiers to serve with white troops on the front lines came with a catch, however. The volunteers had to give up their noncommissioned officer's stripes and serve as privates.

When they returned to their units at the end of the war, their lost rank was not restored.
After the war, when the military decided to award the Bronze Star to all who had served as combat infantrymen, these men were not contacted.

Through contacts by black veterans organizations and individual letters, the Army learned of its oversight and took steps this year to correct the record.

Friday, July 25, 2008

My Dear, Dear Friend

Lenny and Rob, July 23, 2008. Columbus, Georgia.
Better to have one friend like this great man than to have all the riches on the planet. God bless you, Leonard. I love you like a father and a brother all rolled into one. May your nation never forget your sacrifices. Never will I forget you, and may we see each other again soon.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Absolute Courage Against All Odds

Good evening readers of Rob's Blog. This is Les Poitras again filling in for Rob. Rob is currently visiting with his friend Leonard Herman, the main subject of Leonard and Rob's book Combat Combardier.

To say Leonard is a hero is a gross understatement. I'll defer to Rob's books Untold Valor and Combat Bombardier for the description of how this man served not one, but TWO tours, in the skies of Europe, enduring all of the horrors of aerial combat and then coming to the aid of displaced Holocaust survivors after the war. Lest we ever forget...

The purpose of this post is to draw attention to another story of bravery, courage, self-sacrifice, heroism and love the likes of which I don't think I've read before in my lifetime. I'm certain there are many other similar accounts, there are many Medal of Honor citations and many more accounts that will probably never be told, but this one hit me so hard in the gut when I read it this past Saturday that I don't think I will ever recover. I'd like to share what I read. Please forgive me if you are already familiar with the story. It was my first time reading it.

The following excerpt is quoted from the book "Big Week" written by the late Glenn Infield, an author and B-17 pilot in WWII. The book was lent to me by my friend Maurice Rockett, a bombardier with the 95th Bomb Group who Rob has written about in this blog and one of the heroes to which Rob's book Untold Valor is dedictated.

Big Week is about the perilous missions from Feb. 20th - Feb. 25th flown by 3,300 bombers from the Eighth Air Force and 500 from the Fifteenth Air Force over Europe, an all out "maximum effort" with the objective of destroying the Luftwaffe in preparation for D-Day.

Both Maurice and our friend Dan Culler, also written about in Rob's Untold Valor and author of The Black Hole of Wauwilermoos (Dan and Maurice are described earlier here in Rob's blog, reader's are encouraged to search this blog for more info on both) and the author, Glenn Infield, are veterans of some of the aerial battles that took place during Big Week. In fact Maurice and Dan whom I email regularly both indicated they were each flying one of these missions on Feb. 20th, the very day the following event occurred. God Bless you Dan, Maurice, Glenn Infield and Medal of Honor recipients Archibald Mathies and Walter Truemper for courage and sacrifice unsurpassed. Thank you for the freedom we enjoy today. The more I study your history, the more I realize why yours' is called "The Greatest Generation".

Now onto this story of seemingly impossible courage, quoted exactly from Glen Infield's book: Big Week, which I highly recommend:

"On February 20, 1944, a Flying Fortress of the Five Hundred Tenth Bomb Squadron, Three Hundred Fifty-First Group, a B-17 with the name *"Mizpah" painted on its nose, went to Leipzig and came home to England, but not all of the crew survived the lonely ordeal. Their story is an example of the love of man for his fellow man and what happens when airmen are forced to decide whether merely to mouth these nice-sounding words or back them up with action.

The Mizpah was no different from hundreds of other B-17s that took part in the first blow of the all-out aerial assault...except for Archie Mathies, her flight engineer. Tall and husky with blond hair and blue eyes, Mathies didn't look like the raw, rugged Pennsylvania coal miner he had been before joining the USAAF after graduating from Monongahela High School. After the usual training courses, Mathies headed for England in December, 1943, just in time to take part in Big Week.

In England he met a big four-engined drab-colored Flying Fortress, which he learned to know better than he had ever known his own home in Pennsylvania. At Bovington and later at his base at Polebrook, northwest of Cambridge, the sergeant studied and worked on the B-17 until he knew every bolt, fuse, cable, and engine part intimately. When his buddies teased him about the attention he was paying the bomber at the expense of the girls in the surrounding villages, Mathies just patted the side of the Flying Fortress and said, "Someday the big girl will get me a medal." After a conference, during which every crew member had an opportunity to suggest a name for the B-17 Mathies took such good care of, it was decided to name it Mizpah. The mother of pilot Lieutenant Clarence R. Nelson had mentioned the word in a letter to him, remarking that it was a Biblical term meaning "The Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent from one another."

It proved to be a long separation!

The Mizpah came under attack by Ibel's Messerschmitts in the Leipzig area. Mathies was firing at the attacking Me-109s when he suddenly detected the acrid smell of smoke in the heavy bomber as the plane bounced crazily from the prop wash of the enemy fighters. Without warning the B-17 seemed to stop in midair, remain motionless for a few seconds as though trying to decide what to do next, and then with slow deliberateness it slid off on the left wing and headed straight down through five miles of empty space. Mathies immediately dropped straight down from the top-turret and looked into the cockpit. One glance told him that Ronald E. Bartley, the copilot, was dead. In the left bucket seat, Nelson, the pilot, was draped unconscious over the control column. Mizpah was on the loose with no restraining hand to guide her and she was taking full advantage of her freedom.

By the time Mathies extricated himself from his headset, oxygen line, and safety belt, the navigator, Walter E. Truemper, had crawled up through the nose hatchway. Between the two of them they managed to lift the wounded and unconscious pilot from his seat and onto the floor of the cockpit of the diving plane.

Mathies slid into the vacant pilot seat and grabbed the control column with both hands. Using all his strength, the strength his coal-mining labors had developed, the flight engineer finally pulled the damaged B-17 out of its death dive and got it flying straight and level over the German countryside. Immediately the navigator warned the crew to bail out, that both the pilot and copilot were wounded and unconscious, that there was no choice except to abandon the Flying Fortress.

Mathies, however, didn't agree. "Let's try and take the plane home, Lieutenant. Right now she's flying okay. We can bail out later if it's necessary."

Truemper didn't look forward to becoming a prisoner of war either and after staring at the snow-covered terrain below for a few seconds he nodded. "I'm game. I'll tell the crew. Those that want to take their chances with us can stay in the plane. The rest can bail out."

The remainder of the crew stayed with Mathies and Truemper as Mizpah began the long trip home. It was a flight that later seemed impossible. Alone, deep in enemy territory, the pilot unconscious, the copilot dead, and the B-17 a flying wreck held together by a few undamaged braces and bolts and piloted by a flight engineer with no previous flying experience, it was an unlikely gamble. Yet, at 1630 hours on the afternoon of February 20, 1944, Mizpah appeared over the airbase at Polebrook, England.

"Mayday! Mayday! Polebrook, this is Mizpah calling!"

In the tower at the Eighth Air Force field everything else was halted at the urgent Mayday call. Colonel Eugene A. Romig, commanding officer of the Three Hundred Fifty-First group, looked at the operations officer standing beside him holding a clipboard. "Who is Mizpah?"

"That is Lieutenant Nelson's plane."

The control-tower operator tried to contact the Flying Fortress but there was no answer. Suddenly another call came from the damaged B-17.

"Mayday, Polebrook. Mayday!"

"Go ahead, Mizpah. We receive you loud and clear."

For a moment there was no reply as the big bomber wobbled above the field at less than 1,000 feet altitude. "Tower, this is Sergeant Mathies. I need help."

Colonel Romig looked at the other men in the control tower and saw they were as puzzled as he was. Why was a sergeant making the radio calls usually made by the pilot or copilot? He walked over and picked up the microphone. "Sergeant, this is Colonel Romig. What is your trouble? Where is Lieutenant Nelson?"

The B-17 had made a wide turn to the right and was now headed back toward the air base. It was low, so low that at a distance it was partially hidden by the trees at the edge of the field.

"Do you hear me, Sergeant?" the colonel asked when there was no reply to his question.

"I hear you, Colonel, but I can't talk right now. I'm trying to get above the trees."

Romig stared at the plane for a moment and then asked, "Who is flying that B-17?"

"I am, Colonel."

For the next few minutes the colonel asked enough questions to discover the situation in the Flying Fortress crossing and recrossing the airbase in an erratic flight pattern above the tower. It was hard for Romig to believe that the sergeant, with the help of Truemper, the navigator, had flown the B-17 to England from Germany-but since Mizpah was directly overhead at the moment it was obviously a fact.

"Now what do we do, Colonel?"

Romig knew there was only one answer. "I want you to climb to an altitude of three thousand feet. Just take it slow and easy. Listen closely to what I tell you. First, increase the rpm to twenty three hundred."

"No instrument, Colonel."

The colonel grimaced but when he spoke again his voice was cool and collected. "All right, bring the propeller controls forward until they are about an inch from the stop." Turning to the other officers in the room, Romig said, "This boy is in a bad fix."

"Prop controls set."

"Good work. Now check and make sure the mixture controls on the pedestal are in the 'rich' position."

They were. Gradually going over the "before climb" checklist with the seargeant, the colonel prepared the plane for a climb to an altitude of 3,000 feet. It was a long, slow ascent. Mathies kept the plane in a wide climbing turn so that he wouldn't lose sight of the field while Romig talked to him and encouraged the sergeant in every way possible. Finally, the colonel estimated that the B-17 was high enough.

"All right, Sergeant, ease the nose of the plane down to the horizon slowly, bring the throttles back about halfway, and reduce the prop controls to the midway position."

It took about five minutes for Mathies to get the B-17 leveled off, and when he had finally accomplished it, Romig called him once again. "Real good. Now I want you to make a wide circle to the south and come back across the field holding the plane as straight and as level as possible. When you cross the edge of the perimiter, order the crew to bail out and then you follow. Is that clear?"

There was no reply from Mathies for several seconds and then he asked the question the colonel had dreaded.

"What about Lieutenant Nelson?"

The answer couldn't be avoided. A decision had to be made. "Has Nelson regained consciousness?" Romig asked.

"No, but I think he is still breathing."

"Think?" There could be no softness now. "Come, Sergeant. Is he or isn't he?"

There was no answer. As the B-17 passed over the field three parachutes blossomed in the sky. The heavy bomber made a slow turn to the left and on the second pass over the runway two more crew men left the doomed aircraft. Patiently, the colonel waited for the Mizpah to make the third and final circuit, but instead the plane turned wide of the base.

"All right, Sergeant. It's getting dusk. Come back over the field and bail out."

Mathies' voice was calm as he radioed. "I'm not jumping. I'm not going to leave Lieutenant Nelson up here alone."

The colonel did everything he could to get the sergeant to bail out-threatened, pleaded, frightened-but it was a waste of time. Neither Mathies nor the navigator would bail out and leave their pilot.

"When I get north of the field, have the fire trucks and ambulances ready, Colonel. I'm coming in."

Romig tried one final time to stop the determined sergeant, but Mathies didn't even reply. Slowly, inexorably, the heavy bomber circled around the west side of the air base and banked to the north. At a distance of approximately three miles from the runway, Mathies banked the B-17 again and headed for the runway.

"Wait," Romig radioed. "I'm coming up in another B-17 to help you."

Five minutes later Romig and another pilot took off in a second Flying Fortress, climbed to the same altitude as the Mizpah and flew alongside. Since the sergeant was unsteady on the controls, it was difficult for Romig to fly close to the other Flying Fortress, but even at a distance he could see the white-faced, sweating sergeant sitting in the Mizpah's pilot seat. After establishing radio contact with Mathies with help of the tower, the colonel made one final effort to convince the flight engineer and the navigator to bail out, but it was a futile effort. Mathies and Treumper were determined to land the huge bomber.

"All right," Romig said. "In that case, let's go over the landing checklist item by item."

The colonel made certain that the sergeant understood each item on the checklist and that he complied. When the checklist was finally completed, he ordered Mathies to follow him down, doing exactly what he did and flying at the same speed and altitude.

"When I drop my landing gear, you drop yours. The same with the flaps and everything else. Do you understand?"

The sergeant said that he did and the two Flying Fortresses started a slow descent toward the runway at Polebrook. Initially the letdown went very well. Romig led the Mizpah down to traffic-pattern altitude, rolling out on the downwind leg at 1,000 feet above the hangars. While the sergeant's turns were not smooth, at least he kept the big plane out of dangerous altitudes. The wind had increased to between ten and fifteen mph, with gusts to twenty mph, by the time the two B-17s reached the landing pattern. The colonel knew that this would make the actual touchdown more difficult but there was nothing he could do about it. The two aircraft turned ninety degrees to form a base leg, but for the first time Mathies faltered. He didn't recover from the turn quickly enough and nearly hit Romig's B-17. Frightened at the near miss, he banked sharply in the opposite direction and by the time he regained complete control of the Mizpah, he was out of position for a landing attempt.

Realizing that he was making the sergeant nervous in the formation-type landing attempt, the colonel landed his B-17 and hurried back into the tower to try to talk Mathies down safely. On the first attempt, the sergeant allowed the Flying Fortress to get too low too far from the runway, but he managed to climb back to landing-pattern altitude without incident. On the second attempt Romig successfully directed Mathies onto the base leg, but as the sergeant made the final turn to approach the runway he permitted the nose of the bomber to drop too far. Realizing his error, he leveled off, but he was too low and moving too fast by this time. Romig tried to get Mathies to climb back to landing-pattern altitude and start over but the sergeant was too tired, too nervous.

"It's now or never. I can't do any better."

He reduced the power as instructed, but when he dropped the flaps, the officer and enlisted men in the control tower saw the B-17's nose swerve dangerously. Making a low, long approach to the runway, with the B-17 flying a snaky course that had the plane lined up with the runway one moment and not lined up the next, Mathies did the best he could. The tires touched the runway, squealed in protest, and then because of the excessive speed, the B-17 skipped back into the air. The sergeant was too inexperienced to handle the situation, didn't have the coordinated instinct a veteran pilot needed to make the proper correction for such a touchdown. The left wing of the B-17 dropped while the big plane was at the top of a high bounce, dug into the ground beside the runway, and the Flying Fortress did a gigantic cartwheel and crumpled into a mass of flames.

There were no survivors.

February 20, 1944, was the only day in the history of the Eighth Air Force that more than one Medal of Honor was bestowed upon its members. Both Mathies and Truemper were posthumously awarded the medal in addition to Lawley. As Doolittle had predicted, the all-out air assault was going to be costly."

SSgt Archibald Mathies

Lt. Walter E. Truemper

The Congressional Medal of Honor

Nelson Crew

Standing (L-R): Mathies, Rex, Moore, Robinson, Sowell, Hagbo. Kneeling (L-R): Nelson, Bartley, Truemper, Martin

For more info about the Nelson Crew and for info about William R. Lawley, to whom the other MOH was awarded that same day, the start of Big Week, visit the following website:


*note: in some websites I have visited it has been indicated that the name of the B-17 was "Ten Horsepower"

This Other Breed, by Michael Watkins

"We should listen to the old people,

For they have been where we have not.

They have seen what we shall never see.

They have heard the sound of silence.

And when they go

Things will never be quite the same.

They are a dying breed.

It is sad,

But it is so."

Michael Watkins, East Anglian Poet, 'This Other Breed'

Saturday, July 12, 2008

95th Bomb Group Book

The last B-17 lost in WWII was from the 95th Bomb Group, and went down during a Manna/Chowhound Mission to drop food to the starving people of Holland in May, 1945.

When I signed on to write the unit history of the 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy), one of the premier B-17 Flying Fortress groups of World War Two, I knew that in order to get a rough draft done by the end of 2008 I would have to work pretty much non-stop all summer. I spend most of the day either reading material, mostly primary source stuff, or writing. Breaks for lunch and for my late afternoon run keep me fresh.

When school starts in mid-August, I will be in a new school with a new assignment, which means extra work for the first year or two. There won't be a lot of time to write then. As Elvis used to say, "It's now or never."

The 95th BG Memorial in Horham, England.

There's no shortage of material. It's likely I'll end up with a thousand pages of rough. Luckily, I have a 95th BG pilot, John Walter, vetting things for me as I go, and my co-author, Ian Hawkins, will also bring his fine-tuned writer's eye to the project, so it will be pared down and much improved by the time we're done. In the meantime, I feel like I have stepped back in time and am living on the 95th Base at Horham, East Anglia in the early 1940's, surrounded by young American men half my age who go off to face near-certain death on a regular basis, or by the brilliant support crews on the ground who made it all possible. I've been along on more missions than I can shake a stick at, been shot down a dozen times, evaded a few times, including once by walking over the Pyrenees into Spain with Chuck Yeager, and pretty much been absorbed into a different place and time. Having been to Horham and walked the runway and through the village, I can visualize the interactions between the villagers and the Yanks, especially after interviewing so many villagers this June. They had a special relationship that continues to this day.

In any case, the Square B B-17s of the 95th, the men who flew them, the men who kept 'em flying, and the Brits who lived near them, have populated my life this summer and seem as real as if it were only yesterday. We are well on our way to writing what I hope will be the best unit history ever written about an American bomber group.

Candy Bomber Halvorsen's Book Arrives

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen's bunk becomes a factory for miniature parachutes weighted with Lyons chocolate during the Berlin Airlift. The idea to drop candy to German children on the approach to Tempelhof Airport grew out of a chance meeting in July 1948 between Halvorsen and 30 German school children at the perimeter fence of the airport. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

Today I got a package from nearby Utah from Lt. Gail Halvorsen, USAF (Ret.). It contained a new copy of his book 'The Berlin Candy Bomber: The Story of Uncle Wiggly Wings and the Berlin Airlift". Needless to say I am looking forward to reading it. Lt. Halvorsen was a C-54 pilot during the Berlin Airlift, which took place sixty years ago this month. During the airlift, he began dropping candy to the children of Berlin attached to little parachutes. He became known as the Candy Bomber, Uncle Wiggly Wings, and many other fond nicknames by the children of Berlin, still recovering from the ravages of World War Two.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the Berlin Airlift or in an exceptional gentleman in the true sense of the word. What's more, Lt. Halvorsen will gladly inscribe and sign it for you and throw in the postage. Most of the proceeds go to his charity, so you can feel good AND get a good read.
A very nice website about Gail Halvorsen can be found here: http://www.talkingproud.us/HistoryBerlinCandyBomber.html
Here is information on ordering this excellent, uplifting book:
The book can be obtained from Gail S. Halvorsen,19 E Southfield Road, Spanish Fork Utah 84660 ( 1 many--mid December each year) and 1525 Dove Way, Amado, AZ 85645 (mid December--30 April) , for $20.00 The first edition, published in 1990, was sold out and it was just republished in September 1997 with a new chapter of 28 pages and photos. Indicate in your reply that you are responding to this page and a donation of one dollar will be made by the author, on the sale of each book, to each of the following organizations: Berlin Airlift Veterans Association, the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation and the Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. This offer is limited to the first 1400 books.
Authors note:
The book price has changed from $14.00 to $17.00 due to the fact that the publishers cost has doubled. The original stock of books has run out so to compensate the publishing cost the price has been raised by three dollars. However, the Author ( Gail Halvorsen ) has said he will pay the stateside postage on orders.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Cambridge American Cemetery

The Wall of the Missing, Cambridge.Eugene Darter's name on the Wall of the Missing.
A lone airman stands guard at the Wall of the Missing. He is joined by a lone soldier, sailor and Coast Guardsman.

This 30.5-acre cemetery contains 3,810 headstones of American servicemen killed in the European Theater. There is also a 427-foot-long Wall of the Missing, dedicated to the memory of those whose remains were never found. There are 5,127 names on the wall. Among these is Eugene Darter, big brother of Mike Darter who went down on his first mission with the 95th Bomb Group. It's a beautiful and hallowed spot, green and well-kept. The graves here represent 42% of all those temporarily interred in England and Northern Ireland. Many of those killed in action were eventually re-buried back home in the States. These are the men who stayed behind and made England their final resting place.