Monday, August 25, 2008

Pappy Boyington escorting the Cheks

Another excerpt from Pappy's Baa Baa Black Sheep - during his Flying Tiger days:

As we scrambled into our P-40s, with their hideous shark-faces painted on their noses, we could see a farewell reception gathering next to the DC-2 transport waiting for the famed couple.

A jeep messenger came up to us at the last minute with some instructions from good old Harvey, but not enough of them. The instructions were merely that we were to circle in sections of two at three thousand feet and then put on a demonstration, and "make it good." It was this last phrase in the order that helped cause the havoc, for when pilots are told in addition to "make it good," then believe me, they usually will take up the stinging sort of challenge and everybody else had better watch out.

Off we went in the shark-faces, and as we circled the field, climbing, we could see the official cars stop and let out Madame and the Generalissimo. Much bowing and handshaking could be detected in the tiny forms down on the field, the official party next to the transport.

At a signal from the leader the shark-faces moved into a Lufbery column. In turn each of us dove at the far side of the field at full throttle. Each pilot leveled out just off the ground. As the planes approached the official party, they started to roll, so that by the time they arrived over the transport each plane was on its back.

And this is where we overdid it. The lead planes were so low that all the figures on the ground - and this included the famous pair and our own boss - threw themselves flat on their faces, and stayed that way. And we knew then what Chennault and his dignified guests must be thinking about us, or saying about us, as they lay there. But it was too late.

One pilot with very limited flying experience told us afterwards that he had rolled quite naturally to the upside down position by merely following the P-40 in front of him, but when the time came to roll right side up again, he was a total loss because the P-40 in front of him had left his vision by pulling up. He said the only thing that saved him was remembering: center the needle and then the ball, which was taught him in instrument-flying school.

With this novice, and another pilot whose baggage door flew open, the distinguished pair Had only a Higher Power protecting them from their own airplanes. Yet all this was but the beginning of a long series in what could be termed a "comedy of errors" - except that the comedy was lacking, at least at the time.

No sooner had we finished "making it good" in regard to the demonstration, and were back up in formation, than the formation leader saw that he couldn't continue with his open baggage door and motioned for me to take over for the escort mission.

As I recall, one other plane dropped out of formation, too, leaving only six of us. The tired old P-40s were weak from lack of spare parts and from other ailments.

Finally the DC-2 transport was loaded with the dignitaries and took off. And now it was my turn, as leader of the escorts, to wish that I had been informed of where we were going. I just simply did not know, and neither did the other escorts. It had all happened so fast. But on top of all this my compass was not working, and I couldn't hear anything on my radio. As the trip progressed, I divided my time between scanning the sky for Nip fighters and trying to pick out some landmark, any landmark at all, on this unfamiliar, rugged terrain of interior China. We had, for all practical purposes, just arrived in this interior country, it must be remembered, and had not had a chance to fly around much. What few charts any of us had were virtually worse than useless.

We had flown for about two hours when it finally dawned on me that the precious load in the transport might be bound for Chungking. Thick, billowy clouds were forming rapidly, and no longer were the rugged mountain peaks visible at all. We were flying through a windstorm, and this would never do, for our little fighter planes did not carry enough gas for much of this. And what a storm it was we were to learn later, when told that the wind in this particular locality often reached the velocity of a hundred miles per hour. And we were in such a storm now, with cross winds.

Knowing that no Japs could possible find a DC-2 in that cloudy weather, I wobbled my wings good-by to the transport pilot and started my own fighters back from home or some landing place. But with my compass not working, and my radio not working, and no familiar landmark anywhere, all I could do was to try to guide our way back out of the thick clouds and be able to see something. The whole thing became a race between the clouds and our remaining gas.

The gas finally won, but only by ten minutes. This is all the supply of gas I had left when at last we broke out of the heavier clouds and I spotted what appeared to be a tiny field in a valley between rugged peaks. On flying by for quick inspection the field turned out to be not a field at all but a hill with the top flattened off. In reality it turned out later to be a Chinese cemetery way up there in the mountains. But it would have to do, even though it was much too small to land anything as fast as a P-40, and especially at the distance above sea level, six thousand feet. Yet this cemetery was our last and only chance.

So one by one we dropped over the edge of this tiny clearing, and each landing was disastrous to the plane, for all feet of drop-off, and we had to set our planes down with the gears retracted. A couple pilots tried it the conventional way but were far worse off than those who didn't.

Each plane, on being stopped in this manner, would skid along on its belly, damaging the landing gear even though it was retracted, and either one or the other wing tip in some cases. But what surprised us after that was the speed with which we immediately became surrounded by a horde of Chinese. All of us had not yet had a chance to drag ourselves from the damaged planes before the Chinese began pouring in around us. We did not know at the time where so many could be coming from, but it turned out that they were coming from a neighboring village and there were hundreds and hundreds of them. None of them seemed to understand English, but they stood there and stared back at them.

Finally a young Chinese came up to me and in very broken English explained that he was the only man who could speak our language. Among other things he tried to tell us, while all the horde stood round jabbering, was that the nearby village was Wenshan and no white man had been there for more than ten years. This man had learned English from missionaries when he was a boy.

The village, we further found out, was only a few miles from the Japanese-occupied border. In other words, I had barely missed becoming a captive of the Emperor of Japan two years before I finally did become one.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Jim Adams and Bill Tweedy - as told by Pappy Boyinton

From Pappy Boyington's book Baa Baa Black Sheep. Before he formed the VMF-214 Black Sheep, Greg Boyington volunteered with the Flying Tigers in Kunming, China. At one point his fighter group is assigned to Rangoon:

Here at Rangoon I was to meet two of the most genuine friends I hope to have. For two semi-portly gentlemen in their fifties, showing signs of years of good living, came across my path. I didn't realize then that, no matter where a person goes or what kinds of problems he may have, he always has friends.

Jim Adams and Bill Tweedy did everything a little differently from the way other wealthy colonials acted there in Rangoon. They came out to Mingaladon in person and picked up six of us AVG pilots. It was very cute, I thought, the way the inseparable pair worked together. Later, I learned, they had continued this relationship, which started when they served together in World War I. As two young men, they had realized the lack of opportunity in Scotland and had struck out to the colonies to better themselves, remaining there ever since. Jim and Bill were in the oil-refining business in Burma. Both were bachelors and always had been. And both of them had selected picturesque knolls in suburbs of Rangoon, where they had constructed their dream estates, approximately a half mile from one home to the other. The construction, the landscaping, the servants, everything appeared to blend in peaceful harmony. Jim Adams came directly to the point when they picked us up at the field, and asked us to come live with them. He said: "Bill and I have spent most of our lives in comparative comfort. But we know what the other side is like. And we decided it was awfully selfish of us, not sharing our homes with you fellows, who are the only reason we are able to live in them."

By this time all of the pilots had been billeted with different colonials in their homes. However, the six of us, living with Jim Adams and Bill Tweedy, were the only pilots whose hosts had insisted that no room and board be paid. Furthermore, they dropped everything of importance to make us feel at home, and we became inseparable.

That the best things in life are free certainly was applicable with the Adams-Tweedy homes, for at no time previously had I lived with a feeling of complete comfort. And to think of the misery of the countries we were in, with war going on full blast. The enjoyable routine still lingers in my memory, or I wouldn't bother to talk about it. And after a day's stand-by or work at the field, we would park our P-40s for the night in close-by rice paddies that had no water, just before sunset. We did this so there would be nothing but an occasional bomb crater to be filled on Mingaladon the following morning. Even lightning cannot strike something that is not there.

After our P-40s were bedded down, I would drive home to Jim Adam's lavish abode. Always, without exception, I found one, or sometimes both, of the kindly Scots with the pilots, seated about the patio next to one of the hilltop estates.

"Chota Peg" or "Burra Peg," came the friendly invitation just after darkness had set in. These were names of scotch and soda out there. The "Chota" was a single. The "Burra" was a double. Bill Tweedy laughed one night and said: "You chaps even caused us to change the name of one of our drinks. When have had to change the name of our 'Burra Peg' to 'the American Drink.'"

These evenings out of doors were augmented by typical Southern California weather that February of 1942. After we briefly accounted for the day, we downed our Burra Pegs and excused ourselves, then retired to our quarters to freshen up before continuing the enjoyable evening with our hosts. For these two Scots were the same as foster parents.

Each pilot had his own spacious bedroom with the customary large paddle-blade fan hanging from the ceiling and a large, soft four-poster bed, covered with a roomy mosquito netting. Even Angus, Jim's black dog, a great Dane, had his own bedroom and his own mosquito net.

Each household had approximately ten domestics, Indians and Burmese, ranging from gardener, chauffeur, and number one boys to first, second, and third cooks. The Indian servants lived in quarters separate from the main house, while the Burmese commuted from Rangoon.

Every bedroom adjoined a good-sized bath that was serviced from an outside door. It was baffling that with so many servants and all the attention to make your living so smooth you rarely saw more than one at a time, almost as if these servants were accomplishing the job with mirrors, as they moved soundlessly about on their bare feet.

Usually I entered the bedroom relieving myself of my dirty, sticky clothing as I walked. And by the time I entered the bathroom there was always a hot tub waiting, and the proper temperature for me. Perfect coordination, regardless of the hour I arrived. And Anto, a husky Burmese, the number-one boy, had already left unseen through the outside bathroom entrance. Nor do I remember ever calling for Anto to serve me; he must have had telepathy in addition to all his other fine attributes. If not before, I soon discovered, after I had eased myself into this refreshing tub, that cigarettes, matches, and a cool, fresh "Burra Peg" were within easy reach.

It was a king like feeling when, in fresh linen, I rejoined my associates and hot out on the tastefully shrubberied patio. As we sat around, delightfully passing the time of day, I was almost positive at times that my glass had been empty when I last set it down. But each time I picked up my glass, shaking it to be positive, I discovered that Anto or some other servant had replenished it unobserved.

Some of the evenings before dinner, which was never served before ten o'clock, Jim would ring next doore on the telephone. And the conversation would go like this: "I say, Hurumph. Hurumph. Are you there, old boy?" Blank "Sir Archibald Wavell speaking." Another blank "Would you do me the honor of cocktails and dinner this evening?"

We would alternate back and forth sometimes, with all eight of the two households at either one home or the other. Jim's Indian cook, tall and thin, was a true artist, and he served the most tasty meals I have ever experienced. This was the number-one cook, who did all of the marketing, also.

Jim explained that, owing to the higher wages in Burma, an Indian could work three years away from India, then return back home and live a year without working. Several of the Indian servants had been going back and forth for a couple generations.

The mornings, even though I was awakened before sunrise, were equally pleasant - no clanging alarm clock, no bugler, merely the delightful aroma of freshly brewed tea. This came from a teapot and a poured cup upon a table beside my pillow. And for once in my life I was able to get out of bed by degrees and enjoy myself. The cup of tea was very nearly consumed by the time I had finished a cigarette and had gotten my other slipper on my foot. Then into the bathroom for a shave and a toothbrush I went. Upon returning to my bedroom I found fruit, ham and eggs, marmalade and toast, and more tea, placed upon the little table beside my bed. What a way to live! How could I ever forget this part?

Later in the book, as Boyington and some other AVG pilots are trying to get back to the States to rejoin their respective branches, they get to Calcutta, which seems to be a holding spot for refugees:

The four of us Flying Tigers had military preference, or we would not even have slept in a hotel room with eight cots in it. Here in Calcutta I was once again to run into my two old friends Jim Adams and Bill Tweedy from Rangoon.

Jim and Bill insisted upon my coming to their room for a couple of "Pegs" for old times' sake. I couldn't help feel sorry for these two sweet Scots, who, after nearly thirty years of comfortable living, were in a ten-by-twelve room with no bath.

These Scots had really touched my heartstrings by the manner in which they had take me into their homes at Rangoon. As a matter of fact, they had been the only people who had made part of my time in the Flying Tigers enjoyable. And when I mentioned earlier, as Jim and Bill were leaving Rangoon, how relative things are, I didn't have any idea of comparing twin estates to one crummy room in Calcutta.

How can I ever forget? Jim and Bill were left sitting upon the edge of their beds clad only in shorts, balding and perspiring. They informed me that they couldn't even get any money out of England, let alone passage, for the bank accounts were frozen.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

George McGovern as a B-24 pilot

I just finished reading Stephen Ambrose's The Wild Blue about the 741st Squadron in the 455th Bomb Group of the 15th Air Force (whew - AAF designations are a bitch) - particularly the crew of the Dakota Queen - George McGovern's crew. It's a helluva story guaranteed to leave the reader in awe of the young men that won the war, a great companion piece to Ambrose's Band of Brothers. The following passage wasn't the only one that stuck with me, but I thought it was worth sharing. After a bomb run over the railway marshaling yards at Wiener Neustadt, Austria. One of the bombs in the plane did not drop (if you plan on reading the book anytime soon you might want to avoid the two excerpts below):


The crew left the bomb bay doors open and Sergeant McAfee and Lieutenant Cooper went to work, trying to trigger the little steel catches on each end of the bomb, hoping to pry them open so the bomb would drop. McGovern remembered: "It was scary as hell. If the plane suddenly made a lunge when the 500-pound bomb dropped..."

McAfee and Cooper were doing their work standing on the catwalk, less than a foot wide, hanging in the center of the bomb bay. McGovern looked behind him to see how they were doing, "but about all I could see was the top of their heads and their back."


As McAfee and Cooper labored, McGovern throttled back to slow down the Dakota Queen and they began to lose altitude. "I didn't want to drop a bomb in front of other airplanes," he explained. "Also, I wanted to give McAfee and Cooper undivided time. I didn't know how long it would take to get rid of the bomb..."

Dakota Queen descended to 12,000 feet, several thousand feet below the formation, which was pulling ahead in any case. Then Cooper yelled something "and all of a sudden the plane jumped and I knew the bomb had been cut loose." They were approaching the Austrian-Italian border. McGovern watched the bomb descend, "a luxury you didn't have at 25,000 feet. It went down and hit right on a farm in that beautiful, green part of Austria. It was almost like a mushroom, a big, gigantic mushroom. It just withered the house, the barn, the chicken house, the water tank. Everything was just leveled. It couldn't have come in more perfectly. If we had been trying to hit it we couldn't have hit it as square. you could see stuff flying through the air and a cloud of black smoke."

Sergeant Higgins watched the bomb descend. He commented, "It just blew that farm to smithereens. We didn't mean to do that, we certainly didn't try to do that."

McGovern glanced at his watch. It was high noon. He came from South Dakota. He knew what time farmers eat. "I got a sickening feeling. Here was this peaceful area. They thought they were safely out of the war zone. Nothing there, no city, no rail yard, nothing. Just a peaceful farmyard. Had nothing to do with the war, just a family eating a noon meal. It made me sick to my stomach."


After the bomb fell, McGovern closed the bomb bay doors and headed home. On the intercom, he and Cooper talked. McGovern asked, "What's the highest elevation between here and where we are going?"

Cooper looked at his map, did his calculations, and replied, "Eight thousand feet, George. Eight thousand feet." In an interview he admitted, "Actually, it was only 7,000 feet, but I added another 1,000 feet because I was engaged to get married." Cooper grinned, then added, "As George was expecting his first child, he added another 1,000 feet on top of that."

Back at Cerignola, it was an easy landing. There had been no flak on the milk run over Wiener Neustadt. There was not even a scratch on the
Dakota Queen. No one had been hurt. McGovern jumped into a truck and rode over to the debriefing area, where the Red Cross women gave him coffee and a doughnut. An intelligence officer came running up to him - the same officer who had handed him a cable back in December that told him his father had died. This time, however, the officer was grinning from ear to ear. As he handed a cable to McGovern, he said, "Congratulations, Daddy, you now have a baby daughter."


"I was just ecstatic," McGovern said. "Jubilant." But then he thought, Eleanor and I have brought a new child into the world today - at least I learned about it today - and I probably killed somebody else's kids right at lunchtime. Hell, why did that bomb have to hit there?

He went over to the officers club and had a drink - cheap red wine. He was toasted and cheered. But, he later said, "It really did make me feel different for the rest of the war. Now I was a father, I had not only a wife back home but a little girl, all the more reason why I wanted to get home and see that child." He returned to his tent and wrote Eleanor a long letter. He did not mention the farmhouse but he couldn't get it out of his mind. "That thing stayed with me for years and years. If I thought about the war almost invariably I would think about that farm."


Pretty rough baggage to carry for years and years and a key passage in the book. However, (again: spoiler alert) the story finds a happy resolution at the very end of the Epilogue (pages 262-3):


In 1985, McGovern was lecturing at the University of Innsbruck. A director of Austrian television's state-owned stationed contacted him to ask if he would do an interview for a documentary he was producing on Austria in World War II. He wanted McGovern to talk about what it was like bombing Austrian targets. McGovern was not inclined but finally let himself be talked into it. A woman reporter did the interview. She said that Senator McGovern was known around the world for his opposition to the war in Vietnam, and especially the bombing of South and North Vietnam. Yet he had been a bomber pilot in World War II. The reporter asked, "Senator, did you ever regret bombing beautiful cities like Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, and others?"

McGovern answered, "Well, nobody thinks that war is a lovely affair. It is humanity at its worst, it's a breakdown of normal communication, and it is a very savage enterprise. But on the other hand there are issues that sometimes must be decided by warfare after all else fails...I thought Adolf Hitler was a madman who had to be stopped.

"So, my answer to your question is no. I don't regret bombing strategic targets in Austria. I do regret the damage that was done to innocent people. And there was one bomb I've regretted all these years."

The reporter snapped that up. "Tell us about it."

McGovern told her about the bomb that had stuck in the bomb bay door and had to be jettisoned, on March 14, 1945. "To my sorrow it hit a peaceful little Austrian farmyard at high noon and maybe led to the death of some people in that family. I regret that all the more because it was the day I learned my wife had given birth to our first child and the thought went through my mind then and on many, many days since then, that we brought a young baby into the world and probably killed someone else's baby or children."

When the documentary appeared on Austrian TV, the station received a call from an Austrian farmer. He said he had seen and heard McGovern. he knew it was his farm that was hit, because it was high noon on a clear day and exactly as McGovern described the incident.

"I want you to tell him," the man went on, "that no matter what other Austrians think, I despised Adolf Hitler. We did see the bomber coming. I got my wife and children out of the house and we hid in a ditch and no one was hurt. And because of our attitude about Hitler, I thought at the time that if bombing our farm reduced the length of that war by one hour or one minute, it was well worth it."

The television station called McGovern and told him what the farmer had said. For McGovern, it was "an enormous release and gratification. It seemed to just wipe clean a slate."