Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pappy Boyington as a prisoner towards the end of the war

Another, possibly the last, installment (pgs 289-290) from Baa Baa Black Sheep - though there are plenty of other excerpts worthy of posting. In this episode Boyington has been a prisoner for about a year (January 1945). The first significant air raids over the Tokyo Bay area have just begun with a carrier based strike. Ofuna, the interrogation camp where Boyington is stationed, is about 10 miles from Yokosuka:

After the New Year’s incident [see book for details – ed.] life seemed to go on much the same as before until the latter part of February 1945. Then all hell appeared to break loose over our peaceful country valley. It all started by hearing the distant wail of air-raid sirens, which we prisoners paid no attention to because we hadn’t dreamed this could be anything but a drill. But in a matter of some twenty everybody in Japan came to the realization that this was no drill. Just twelve miles from our camp the large Jap naval base of Yokosuka was taking a thumping something terrific.

Dive bomber after dive bomber started down, the hills between the target area and our camp momentarily chopping each bomber from view, making it appear as though they were diving into the hills. But in a few seconds we saw them pull out about the same time we heard the ka-lumph of the exploding bomb. Even at this distance the noise from so many engines sounded much the same as a gigantic waterfall – a steady roar. Obviously this was not a moral strike like the Doolittle raid; this was concentrated, and we knew that this carrier raid was the beginning of the end for Japan.

Prisoners were ordered by the guards to go to their cells, and to keep away from the windows or they would be beaten. This order was analogous to asking a person to stop breathing, one can stand it only so long. None of the guards bothered me, as I was in the kitchen, and I was able to get an eyeful.

What a sight, I thought, as I saw a Zero scooting low along the hilltops directly over our camp, being chased by a Navy F6F. An old familiar feeling came over me, causing a tingling to run through my body, as I watched the F6F pour his .50-caliber machine guns into the hapless Zero, which belched flame and crashed into the hillside as the F6F pulled skyward. I knew he was looking for new prey, for I felt close enough to the action, while standing there on the ground, almost to feel that I was thinking for that Navy F6F pilot.

I was thrilled by the sights of two more shootdowns before one of the guards shooed me inside through the back door of the kitchen. As much as I wanted to remain and continue watching, I had seen enough, so I didn’t mind.

Curly, the cook, was frightened half to death, and he was pleading: “What is the best thing to do? Where is the safest place?”

“Flat on your belly is the safest place I know of.” I tried to console this excited and frightened man. Curly must have taken me as an authority when I spoke, for he was flat on his face before I had finished.

After the racket had subsided and nothing was visible but a huge column of smoke rising behind the hills in the direction of Yokosuka, Curly looked up from the deck like a little child and said: “Is it all right to stand up now, Major?” And this was the first, last, and only time the little cook ever addressed me by my rank.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Pappy Boyington and the sweet and charitable Obason

Still more Boyington. There will be one or two more posts yet from his exceedingly impressive Baa Baa Black Sheep. For almost the last two years of the war he was a captive with the Japanese. Not a P.O.W., but a "special prisoner," which meant that word of his survival was not sent to the U.S. via the Red Cross. Conditions were harsh, as one would expect, but Boyington points out that his own treatment wasn't as horrendous as what others endured. Still, it was unimaginably bad. Yet, Boyington recognized that the Japanese weren't bad people. He ran across several moments of kindness, mostly from civilians and the military personel that spoke English. Obasan (correct spelling) was one that really stuck out. In this episode, Boyington has been a captive of the Japanese for several months. He's being held at the interrogation center at Ofuna - between Yokohama and Sagami Bay, a few miles from Yokosuka, where the U.S. Naval Base is today:

Most people, especially in America, just simply do not know what it means to spend one’s days dreaming and thinking of food. it is not their fault that the do not know, and may they never have to know. But We of the World Who Have Known Real Hunger know. And that is why our imaginary club should be such an understanding one, between member and member.

As another idea of how hungry a human can get, once I had soup-bone as big as my fist and it took me only two days to devour all of it, completely.

Prior to being captured, if I had been told that a large hungry collie dog could have gotten away with all of a soup-bone as large as this one, I would have considered that informant crazy. But I got away with it, every bit of it, within two days.

After nine months of capture – and with my weight down to almost a hundred pounds – I met one of my most unforgettable characters. She was a Japanese grandmother, and I called her “Auntie.”

But the reason I am especially thinking of her this evening is, perhaps, that I have helped my wife set the table for supper. And it is always in regard to food somehow that I remember Auntie the most. The Japanese word for “Auntie” is Obason, and this is what I called her.

After all this time as a captive the Nips were finally through questioning me two or three times a week, and I was getting to be rather an old prisoner around the Ofuna camp. So I was given the job in the kitchen to work from four-thirty in the morning until nine o’clock at night. For my servicesI was allowed an extra bowl of barley and a bowl of soup a day. It happened that I was not able to get along with even this additional ration because I was lugging heavy barrels of water and sacks of rice around that weighed close to two hundred pounds. For strength to do this I had to resort to other methods.

I guess everybody is inherently dishonest in some shape or form, or manner, so I stole food. I never stole any of the prisoners’ food, of course, but I stole the Japanese food, which was a great deal more nourishing, and more tasty.

I decided when I went into the kitchen after nine months of starvation that I was going to eat four times as much as any Japanese guard got of the same kind of food. Many times I had to vomit it up and many times I had other troubles, such as a little diarrhea, but I maintained that diet during all the six months I was in the kitchen.

Now due to the help of the little old civilian lady who worked there, by watching out the door to see that none of the guards was looking, and my own kleptomaniac ability, I went from my hundred or so pounds to my normal hundred ninety. I could determine my weight because in the kitchen we had some kilo scales, and the kilo is 2.2 pounds.

This little lady, who watched the door so carefully to see that no Japanese guards were around, was the only sweetheart I ever had in Japan….

….She didn’t know a word of English and she had never been outside Japan. If any of you mothers have given things to any of the war prisoners in the United States here, you were in a way repaid, for this little old lady certainly did help me out. To her I was just a starving boy. The fact that I was from America, the outfit that was sinking her sons on land, air, and sea, had nothing to do with it.

Of course, in her conversations when the guards were around, she would damn all prisoners. The poor little old thing felt she had to do that. But when the guards were away, she would continue letting me sneak out the guards’ food; although she would have been beaten too, like anybody else, if she had been caught doing this for me. So when the guards were away, she would let me walk over to their lard barrel, the stinkingest old stuff anyone could imagine. I would get some fish also. Naturally I would look around too, while doing all this, for I wasn’t trusting too much on her tired old eyes, for if one of these guards had caught me it would have meant a beating session that might cost my life. I would scoop out a big handful of this stinking lard, shove it in my mouth, and gulp it down in a second. Even though it did stink, nevertheless to me it tasted like honey.

And occasionally, when very important persons were expected, they baked fish in the kitchen. To get one of these, Obason and I had to co-operate to the fullest, almost like a quarterback and a fullback on a football field. For we weren’t allowed all the time we had with the lard snatching. We had to fool a kitchen full of people. Much the same as a quarterback, Obason would nudge me, and say “
Gomen nasi, Boyingtonson,” for the guard’s benefit, when means: Pardon me, fellow, for bumping into you. I would then put a free hand underneath a fairly high working table in the kitchen, and there in the spacious folds of Obason’s apron was a hot backed fish.

The first time she ever handed me one of these hot fish I stuffed it immediately down my throat to avoid detection. The thing was so hot I had to grab the tail between my front teeth in a futile effort to stop it from sliding on down and burning my stomach. And there I stood – tears running out of my eyes, a guard asking: “
Nunda” – while I was pretending to blow my nose and still keep from choking on the hot fish.

The reason I needed this food of some sort was that, before I worked in the kitchen, all of us had to do compulsory athletics twice a day. And when we prisoners bent over for our calisthenics we could hear these knee-joints, and ankle-joints and elbows snap, crackle, snap, just like a dry forest of twigs going off.

During those days in the kitchen we usually had a lull in the midmorning and mid-afternoon when the civilian cook and the guards were not there. This was when the little old lady would say to me in exceptionally polite Japanese: “Let’s have a

This meant she and I would have tea together, and in addition she would fix up a few Japanese pickles. She would get us a tiny amount of sugar, too, which was kept on hand only for those high-up naval officers who frequently visited the camp to quiz us. And she would steal a little bit of this sugar for our tea.

And it was during the winter months that I worked in the kitchen, from September to April, and it was cold, bitterly so. Yet these ovens are kind of Dutch-oven affairs, with big rice pots in them, and we would open up the oven doors. Of course, during the midmorning and mid-afternoon periods nothing was cooking in the ovens. The big pots merely were inside of them. So we would put a little stool in front of each oven and she would start to talk.

Only with her did I dare speak Japanese, for I never did around the guards, because we could get our war information better from them by pretending we knew nothing about their language. She was too old, or would forget, when talking to the guards about me, that I spoke practically perfect Japanese to her and understood it.

We would have this sweet tea and she would break out a little old pipe with some of this hair tobacco we had. The bowl of the pipe was about the size of the end of my little finger, and I would reach in my pocket and pull out a can and sort around fro my skeleton of tobacco from it. My own selection of tobacco consisted of what the Japanese threw down in front of the guard stove. The tobacco consisted of snipes. But they were sanitary because I had made a cigarette holder from a piece of bamboo. I would adjust one of these snipes in the end of my bamboo holder, much like Freddie the Free-loader, and take a sliver of bamboo and reach it through the open doors that were warming us, getting a light for Obason and myself.

So we would sit there, Obason smoking her tiny pipe and I smoking my snipe, and sipping this sweet tea. And as we sat talking and smoking, Obason would tell me, oh, how bad that war was, and how she longed for the day when it would be over.

She would say: “You can’t buy any candy, you can’t get any cloth to make clothes out of.” For all of these people were in rags, officers and everybody. There was hardly a person in all Japan who was not dressed in rags.


Anyhow, Obason said she longed for the days when the automobiles were going up and down the streets. For months before the war there was nothing but a few of those coke-burning trucks that have to be pushed up every hill, and they all carried a crew of about ten men, and every time they would come to a slight hill, they would have to shove the truck up the hill. They would go all right on the level provided they had practically no load.

Then she would ask me: “How is everything in
Baykoko?” – Baykoko meaning the United States.

I was, of course, just like every other G.I. whether in England, France, Italy, Burma, or anyplace else. I liked to brag, so I said: “Oh gee, Obason, it’s great. We have all the tires in the world, all the gas, everyone has an automobile he can just ride everywhere he wants, everybody has a big ranch.”

I would kink of kid her because she seemed to enjoy the tales so much, so I said: “Well, how do you liked that as far as you’ve heard? You come back and take care of my kids for me, as I don’t have a wife.”

Old Obason would giggle and answer: “Oh, I’m afraid you might change your mind and shove me off the boat on the way back.” Wherewith she clasped her hands, dipped her knees quickly, and giggled – as she always did with a joke.

And this is the way we would talk over our tea and tobacco during the lulls when the guards were not around.

On several occasions two or three of Obason’s daughters came around. One of them had a child strapped to her back. Her appearance was almost angelic, her actions the same. One could not believe that she was what we thought of as “Nips” or “Japs” – especially with the guards we knew in camp.

When nobody was around this daughter would say the one or two expressions she knew in English. They were “I love you,” or something like that. Then she too would giggle. Of course, she didn’t mean it that way, but she had heard it from motion pictures they had shown in Japan. And the baby with her, a little kid with bangs, had the appearance of an ivory doll. The complexions of the women and children are, I thing, the nicest complexions in the world, nothing like our American women. The skins were as smooth as if they had just been covered with cream.

But one day I did an awful thing to Obason, and without meaning to.

The prison camp was to be visited again by some of those naval intelligence officers who cam out to ply us with questions, with there $64 questions. My, how time progresses, for we now have a $64,000 question.

In preparing the meal in advance for these higher-ups Obason wanted everything just so. Her pride and joy was some China dishes, and on these dishes she carefully arranged pickles and everything, including the fish.

But the more I kept thinking of these higher-ups, and all their questions that once again might be thrown at me, the less I must have remembered Obason. These intelligence bastards would be out here in a little while trying to pump military information out of us, and so, feeling mad about it, I deliberately selected this moment to clean out the stoves, allowing the grit to go all over their food on those pretty dishes.

The old lady screamed: “
Boyingtonson, Boyingtonson. Yamai, yamai!” Which roughly means “Stop, stop!” And she screamed: “You’re getting toxon gomai!” which roughly means “much dirt.”

So I stopped, but it does show how, just as in all wars, the innocent must suffer just because somebody (in this case me) had a mad on.

She forgave me, but I haven’t quite forgiven myself. So when I first got back to the United States and heard that some of my Black Sheep pilots were going out to Japan, I gave them Obason’s address. At least, I gave the best address I knew and told them to be sure and give her some money and some candy.

Yet the most I could do – even now – would be but the smallest of tokens for her kindnesses to me.

In fact, while sitting here in the den awaiting supper, I cannot help imagine how it would be if the old lady, through some miracle, should suddenly arrive, as if out of the skies, for one of our old “teas” again. We would sit and talk and discuss and smoke. Only in my case it would not be snipes any more. And then, just when we were about to eat, she quickly would say: “
Boyintonson, Boyingtonson, Haitison,” which means “Look out, Boyington, the guards.” Wherewith, at her joke, she would clasp her hands just as she used to do, dip her knees, and giggle.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pappy Boyington over the Pacific

More Pappy from his book, Baa Baa Black Sheep (pages 131-137). This time he's in the Pacific with his newly formed (and unorthodox) squadron, the famous VMF-214 Black Sheep flying the great Chance-Vought F-4U Corsairs. Their legitimacy as a permanent squadron hangs in the balance as Pappy desperately tries to find some enemy action in the hope that they can impress the brass and keep their borrowed squadron designation. In this excerpt, the Black Sheep's mission is to escort some dive-bombers (Douglas SBD Dauntlesses and Grumman TBF Avengers) on a strike over the Solomon Islands:

Take-off time – the last Dauntless had wobbled lazily into the air, starting to turn in one gigantic join-up circle. We took off in pairs down the snow white coral strip at about twenty-second intervals, which was a feat in itself, because none of us had more than approximately thirty hours in these powerful new speed birds.

As we climbed, in shorter radii than the bombers, we gradually came abreast of the bomber leader, pulling up above and behind him. Radio silence was in effect. We had no intention of broadcasting our departure to the Japanese. The squadron was spread out like a loose umbrella over the bombers by use of hand signals. A reminder of lean out and reduce prop r.p.m. was passed along to all hands, in order to conserve precious fuel.

We settled down to the monotony of flying herd on the bombers. Our huge paddle-blade propellers were turning so slowly it seemed as if I counted each blade as it passed by. Hour after hour, it felt. The magnetism of counting those blades was so great I was tempted on several occasions to blurt out over the radio: “Who could ever believe this damn ocean could be so damn big!”

The group commander, leading the bombers, was responsible for the navigation. I didn’t have that worry. Finally the monotony was to be broken up, because we were flying above fleecy layers of stratus that demanded all my concentration to hold the shadowy forms of the bombers below in sight. Actually, the reason we had this cloud separation was that the bombers had to fly between stratus layers too. There wasn’t enough space for us to fly in the visual part of the sandwich and still remain above the bombers.

Thoughts of how we might louse up the all-important rendezvous after take-off were far behind. We had made that. And the rendezvous ahead, after our mission was accomplished, certainly couldn’t have bothered me. For the Brass couldn’t possibly see that, only the Nips could. And I don’t believe I gave too much thought to them.

A new worry took its place. The clouds being the way they were, no Nip planes could find us. No action. The high command would undoubtedly have us all back as replacement pilots, and there I’d be directing traffic once again. I thought: “Damn the luck… Why do I persist in planning the future when I know I can’t?”

Hardly had I gotten through feeling sorry for myself when I noticed the dive-bombers had all disappeared from sight.

“What in hell goes? W e must be over the mission.” I thought: “Jee-sus, if I lose these bombers, never showing back at home base would be the best fate I could hope for.”

I lowered the squadron through a thin layer of stratus to try to find the bomber boys. Upon breaking clear, the noise from my earphones almost broke my eardrums. One thing was for darn sure. There was no more radio silence in effect. After a few sensible words like: “Stop being nervous. Talk slower.” Words came back more shrilly and faster: “Who’s nervous? You son of a bitch, no me-ee.” Then communications settled down to a garbled roar.

Avengers and Dauntlesses, which appeared to be streaking downward in dives at all angles, were making rack and ruin upon what I realized suddenly was Ballale. Some had already pulled out of the their dives. Others were just in the process of pulling out. And still others were in their dives.

Huge puffs of dirt and smoke started to dot the tiny isle. A white parachute mushroomed out amid the dirty grayish puffs. Of course I realized it was at a higher altitude. Then a plane crashed. Avenger or Dauntless? How was I to know?

There were enough thick clouds over nearby Bougainville so that I did not expect any Nippon Zeroes to intercept us from there. I don’t know what I was thinking right at that particular moment. Or what I was supposed to be doing. Maybe, as the proverbial saying goes: “I sat there – fat, dumb, and happy.” Perhaps I was watching the boy below in much the same manner as I witnessed the Cleveland Air Shows many times. Anyhow, for certain, high cover was about as close as I ever expected to get toward heaven. So we started down.

To add to my bewilderment, shortly after we cleared the last bit of fluff, I saw that we were right in the middle of about forty Jap fighters. As for us, we had twenty planes that day.

The first thing I knew, there was a Japanese fighter plane, not more than twenty-five feet off my right wing tip. Wow, the only marking I was conscious of was the “Angry Red Meat Ball” sailing alongside of me. But I guess the Nip pilot never realized what I was, because he wobbled his wings, which in pilot language, means join up. Then he added throttle, pulling ahead of my Corsair.

Good God! It had all happened so suddenly I hadn’t turned on my gun switches, electric gun sight, or, for that matter, even charged my machine guns. All of which is quite necessary if one desires to shoot someone down in the air.

It seemed like an eternity before I could get everything turned on and the guns charged. But when I did accomplish all this, I joined up on the Jap, all right. He went spiraling down in flames right off Ballale.

The burst from my six .50-calibre machine guns, the noise and seeing tracer bullets, brought me back to this world once again. Like someone had hit me with a wet towel. Almost simultaneously I glanced back over my shoulder to see how Moe Fisher, my wingman, was making out, and because I saw tracers go sizzling past my right wing tip. Good boy, Moe – he was busy pouring an endless burst into a Nip fighter, not more than fifty yards off the end of my tail section. This Nip burst into flames as he started to roll, minus half a wing, toward the sea below.

In these few split seconds all concern, and, for that matter, all view of the dive-bombers, left me again. All that stood out in my vision were burning and smoking aircraft. And all I could make out were Japanese having this trouble. Some were making out-of-control gyrations toward a watery grave.

A few pilots I had run into before, and some since, can relate every minute detail about an enemy aircraft they came in contact with. But I’ll be damned if I can remember much more than round wing tips, square tips, liquid-cooled, air-cooled, and of course the horrifying Rising Sun markings.

After a few seconds of Fourth-of-July spectacle most of the Nip fighters cleared out. Then we streaked on down lower to the water, where the dive-bombers were reforming for mutual protection after their dives prior to proceeding homeward. We found a number of Nip fighters making runs on our bombers while they were busy reforming their squadrons.

While traveling at quite an excessive rate of speed for making an approach on one of these Zeros I opened fire on his cockpit, expecting him to turn either right or left, or go up or down to evade my fire after he was struck by my burst. But this Zero didn’t do any of these things. It exploded. It exploded so close, right in front on my face, that I didn’t know which way to turn to miss the pieces. So I flew right through the center of the explosion, throwing up my arm in front of my face in a feeble attempt to ward off these pieces.

I didn’t know what happened to my plane at the time. Evidently my craft didn’t hit the Nip’s engine when his plane flew apart. But I did have dents all over my engine cowling and leading edges of my wings and empennage surfaces. With this unorthodox evasive action Moe and I were finally separated, as by this time, I guessed, everyone else was. Certainly this wasn’t the procedure we followed in the three-week training period.

Something else entered my mind after the initial surprise and fright were over, something I realized much more keenly than any of the pilots accompanying me on this mission. I am positive, for I had been involved in this deadly game with Mars for two long years. What I knew only too well was that the average pilot gets less than one chance in a hundred missions of being in a position to fire a killing burst. And furthermore, when this rare chance comes, the one in a hundred, nine out of ten times the pilot is outnumbered, which cuts down his chances still further. Insight into these odds came to me very vividly, for I had tried my best for over two years. Yet my score to date was six. A great number of my previous mistakes suddenly came before me. Realizing that there was meat on the table that might never be there again, as far as I personally was concerned, I was determined to make hay while the sun shined.

Long after the bombing formation had gone on toward home, I found a Zero scooting along, hugging the water, returning to his base after chasing our bombers as far as he thought wise. This I had gotten from the past. When an aircraft is out of ammunition or low on fuel, the pilot will hug the terrain in order to present a very poor target.

I decided to make a run on this baby. He never changed his course much, but started an ever-so-gentle turn. My Corsair gradually closed the gap between us. I was thinking: “As long as he is turning, he knows he isn’t safe. It looks too easy.”

Then I happened to recall something I had experienced in Burma with the Flying Tigers, so I violently reversed my course. And sure enough, there was his little pal coming along behind. He was just waiting for the sucker, me, to commence my pass on his mate.

As I turned into this pal, I made a head-on run with him. Black puffs came slowly from his 20-millimeter cannons. His tracers were dropping way under my Corsair. I could see my tracers going all around this little Zero. When I got close enough to him, I could see rips in the bottom of his fuselage as I ducked underneath on my pass by. The little plane nosed down slowly, smoking, and crashed with a splash a couple seconds later, without burning or flaming.

Efforts to locate the other Zero, the intention of my initial run, proved to be futile. In turning east again, in the direction of our long-gone bombers, once more I happened upon a Zero barreling homeward just off the water. This time there was no companion opponent with the plane. So I nosed over, right off the water, and made a head-on run from above on this Japanese fighter. I wondered whether the pilot didn’t see me or was so low on fuel he didn’t dare to change his direction from home.

A short burst of .50s, then smoke. While I was endeavoring to make a turn to give the coup de grace, the plane landed in the ocean. When aircraft hit the water going at any speed like that, they don’t remain on the surface. They hit like a rock and sink out of sight immediately. For the first time I became conscious that I would never have enough fuel to get back to home base in the Russell Islands, but I could make it to Munda New Georgia. Ammunition – well, I figured that must be gone. Lord knows, the trigger had been held down long enough. Anyhow, there would be no need for more ammo.

But the day still wasn’t ended, even though this recital of the first day’s events may start seeming a little repetitious by now. And God knows I was certainly through for the day, in more ways that one. Yet when practically back to our closest allied territory, which was then Munda, I saw one of our Corsairs proceeding from home along the water. I tried to join up with him.

And just then, as if from nowhere, I saw that two Nip fighters were making runs on this Corsair at their leisure. The poor Corsair was so low it couldn’t dive or make a turn in either direction if he wanted to, with two on his tail. There was oil all over the plexiglass canopy and sides of the fuselage. Undoubtedly his speed had to be reduced in order to nurse the injured engine as far as possible.

In any event, if help didn’t arrive quickly, the pilot, whoever he was, would be a goner soon. I made a run from behind on the Zero closer to the Corsair. This Zero pulled straight up – for they can really maneuver – almost straight up in the air. I was hauling back on my stick so hard that my plane lost speed and began to fall into a spin. And as I started to spin, I saw the Zero break into flames. A spin at that low altitude is a pretty hairy thing in itself, and I no doubt would have been more concerned if so many other things weren’t happening at the same time.

It was impossible for me to see this flamer crash. By this time, I was too occupied getting my plane out of the spin before I hit the water too. I did, however, shoot a sizable burst into the second Zero a few seconds later. This Zero turned northward for Choiseul, a nearby enemy-held island but without an airstrip. The only thing I could figure was that his craft was acting up and he planned upon ditching as close to Choiseul as he could. Anyhow I didn’t have sufficient gas to verify my suspicions.

Also, I was unable to locate the oil-smeared Corsair again. Not that it would have helped any, or there was anything else one could do, but I believed Bob Ewing must have been in that Corsair. For Bob never showed up after the mission. And one thing for certain, that slowed-down, oil-smeared, and shell-riddled Corsair couldn’t have gone much further.

This first day of the new squadron had been a busy one, all right. It had been so busy I suddenly realized that my gas gauge was bouncing on empty. And I wanted so badly to stretch that gas, registering zero to somewhere close to Munda I could taste it.

I leaned out fuel consumption as far as possible, and the finish was one of those photo ones. I did reach the field at Munda, or rather one end of it, and was just starting to taxi down the field when my engine cut out. I was completely out of gas.

The armorers came out to rearm my plane and informed me that I had only thirty rounds of .50-caliber left, so I guess I did come back at the right time.

But I was to learn something else, too, in case I started to think that all my days were to be like this one, the first one. For this first day – when I got five planes to my credit – happened to be the best day I ever had in combat. However, this concerned us naught, for one would have thought we won the war then and there.

Opportunity knocks seldom. But one thing for certain, people can sense these opportunities if they are halfway capable of logical thinking, and, of course, are willing to take the consequences if things go dead wrong.

[A note on the pictures: not all are related to the 214. The three pictures below the one of Pappy are of the 214, though. The lead photo and the last photo show the coral surface tarmac the seabees were so good at constructing on many Pacific islands during the war.]