Monday, July 21, 2014

Local Ft. Worth History

Just a place holder post....

This gent is doing a very good job reaching back in time to tell and illustrate a lot of early Ft. Worth area history.  Have a look HERE.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The EHHS Social Order – 9.3 – Cliques.3



Part 4 of 4

Joining a class like our ‘63s in the 8th grade after the core of kids had been in school together for up to 7-years enabled a somewhat detached view of their group dynamics.  The class leaders at that stage were already recognized as smart, attractive, accomplished, and highly competitive.  They were also outgoing, gregarious, and playful.  Finding a smooth entry into that daily flow was something akin to trying to take a drink from a fire hose. 

If you had some competitive skills of your own, they had to make room for you but, even then your space in their “E” ticket ride was somewhat conditional.  Whether you were able to earn any further acceptance into their clique(s) was questionable…I never found a full share but, did manage to make some space for myself later.  Kind of annoyed me.

Electing cheerleaders was probably one of the very first manifestations of certain of us finding popular recognition from our peers; student councils were probably were next.  During this 9th grade year, the opportunities for additional recognition expanded to include advanced classes, student offices, participation opportunities in certain student productions, school sports teams, and in some of the cliques and/or clicks.  However, membership in one of the latter was restricted to your finding a sponsor already in the “in-crowd” who found you interesting enough to make introductions…a very subtle roadblock for a 14-year old to discern. (Note:  Gay Burton's fine Mom made some or all of those skirts)

Unfortunately, Meadowbrook didn’t produce a yearbook the years we were there but, fortunately we did publish a school newspaper, The Meadowlark, and a few other activities were photographed, leaving a visual record to accompany some of these musings.

This 1958-59 Meadowbrook student council picture (right) is one of the earliest organization pictures that found its way to me and it is a jewel, for it includes future very highly regarded members of the EHHS classes 1962-63-64.  Although it's a 1958 school year picture, predating the subject of this article by one year, it is somewhat revealing in that it shows a subtle change in our preferences from that 8th grade year to the 9th.  Of the 9th grade officers and candidates to follow this group of young leaders, only Bob Dillard survived our referendum; although it is more likely that others simply grew into greater visibility during the ensuing year.  Overall, this 1958 Student Council picture portrays one future Mr. EHHS, two future Miss Big Es, one or two class favorites, and an assortment of very fine young people.

Fall 1959 was a packed few months partly consisting of a championship football season and the election of our class officers.  The few team members highlighted in the collage were among the boys I recall as being the most engaged with our cliques of girls and with one another.


The pictures from the Meadowlark school newspapers showing our slate of nominees for class officers and their “campaign manager” is a good illumination of underlying friendships…each pair were close friends and the entire dozen had standing in the top clique, save for maybe one. 

Left to Right:  Gay Burton and Celia Beall had been in Meadowbrook Elementary (MBE) classes since the early grades and were just starting their second year as Buffalo cheerleaders when the picture was taken; Charlie Rigby and Bob Dillard had been (I think) MBE classmates since the early grades; Glenn Brandon and Kendall McCook had been MBE classmates since the latter elementary grades and were starters on the Buffalo football team that great championship year; Steve Means and Tom Koebernick had been MBE classmates since the first grade and were football starters; Danny McCoy and Larry Guthrie had been Poly Elementary classmates since the first grade and were members of the football team; and Jim Cox and Paul Tate had been MBE classmates since the first grade and had given up football for prominent places in the music department—one a singer; the other, a trumpeter.

And the trio elected to high office by the whole school provided a harbinger of things to come later…Tom Koebernick would continue as class president his Junior and Senior years but after this, we fired Bob Dillard from high class office forever (other than Student Council President)…but, we elected him as Mr. EHHS as a Senior.  I don’t know what happened to Celia…she seemed to go quiet during her EH years…sometimes a sign of having fallen in love but, I don’t know anything about that….however, 54-years later Celia and Gay reunited for one more cheer at our 50th reunion.  All the boys pictured above, including ol’ Gus (maybe or maybe not pictured) loved these two gals; however, ol’ Gus may be one of the very few to have dated them both at one time or another—and despite some carping to the contrary, they were great dates!

The leading girls’ clique were the girls pictured below in their Stars Over Meadowbrook dance routines.  Our Buffalo cheerleaders and their friends are in the first picture and just below them appear to have been their older counterparts from the future 1962 Highlander class, cut from the same cloth…lovely, outgoing, smart, participants in a number of extracurricular activities and well liked by their classmates.  The thing that seems to have brought them together may have been a shared enthusiasm for dance and music.  Gay Burton had been taking dance lessons for almost 10-years at this point.  And the ’62 group danced together for a number of years.   



After the lead clique was this quiet girls’ clique.  They were attractive, quiet, intelligent, and not cheerleaders, which might have been a bit of a handicap in the competitive world of 14-year old courting.  Of course, 14-year olds have never been highly regarded for their good judgment although, I think some of these ladies remain close friends to this day…Gail DeVore and Vicki Held, for instance—every reunion has produced pictures of them closely socializing…no surprise there, I suppose.  I generally recall them as the ones that threw pajama party/sleepovers which we would sometimes raid…but, that may have come later. 


And lastly, were the Girl Scouts.  This was another group of very quiet girls, very smart, and probably unaware at the time that the class arbiters of what was cool and uncool had deemed wearing scout uniforms to school after about 6th grade was uncool.  But, in my memory of them, they were solid and persistent.  And in this year achieved the highest award bestowed by GSA, the Curved Bar. 


Clicks.  Of course, a "clique" is just another word for a small group of friends where similar preferences, interests, and characteristics gravitate toward a common sense of inclusion with some kindred souls.  On the other hand, a "click" tends to be a group where people gather to explore a common interest and/or capability.  

Seems to me that about 1/4 of us were in one clique or another, and some larger percentage of us found "clicks" such as drama, music, and other elective school sponsored classes, more our style.  The film, Never Been Kissed showed a group of the smart but, somewhat eclectic kids attending a prom dressed as a DNA string...I believe we had a number of these also and that some of them can be found in the "A" honor roll list at right.  Being blessed with a degree of intelligence transcended the more colorful arbiters of "cool and uncool" and thank goodness it did.  The color lines mark the youngsters I recall as being most obviously associated with one another.

Handley.  Members of our Handley contingent have not reported anything like the Meadowbrook "Social Order" I've been describing in this and recent posts.  Several factors probably explain the difference; among them....a smaller student body, fewer new arrivals to their area during the 1950s, a more rural atmosphere, and starting with our Class of 1963 Handley contingent, they were first ones separated from the leavening influence provided so many years by the high school classes in the same building.  They didn't really have time to get their own "Social Order" in gear like the Meadowbrook gang had.
Clearly, Roy, Dianah, and Suzanne "owned" Handley in terms of peer recognition and when they would go into EH next year, they would start a 3-year run that ended very well for each of them.  But more about that later.  Becky Self and Jimmy Aitken were other Handley standouts that maintained a credible presence at EH in face of the Meadowbrook juggernaut.  Linda was there for a year or so, but moved away before graduation, and Jimmy Strong went somewhere else to high school. 

There's more to say but, this one has rolled on long enough for now.  The next and last 9th grade piece I have in mind will address Meadowbrook and its place both in history previous to us and its place as a minor neighborhood Juggernaut in the eyes of a lot of Handley kids that would meet them next year as Sophomores.  

Sophomore year, our first at EHHS, and hands down the worst year of my 5-year run on the East Side...fun ahead !

O.K., the widdle baby goats...so, here we were, 15-years old, the hot girls beautiful and lively as ever, only mildly or less, interested in us (or, at least me), no damned car; actually no D.L. for another year, and even those dumb motor scooters reaching the end of their 2-3 year service life....the bottom of the EH totem pole looming ahead.  Like baby goats, full of it, got some horns but not much to do with them, looking for someplace to stand and something to butt.....absolutely harmless!!


Next:  Juggernaut


Thursday, July 10, 2014

The EHHS Social Order – 9.3 – Cliques.2


Part 3 of 4

The 9th grade at MJH being my second with the future EH Class of 1963, I began to gain notice by some of the various in-crowds…there were several.  And they seemed to be in some kind of competition with one another; the competition being most visibly, the hosting of parties and dances.  It’s likely that these various shindigs were a Mom-sponsored carryover from the elementary grades, for it seemed far more complex than any of the youngsters could have organized on their own.

Making a few discreet inquiries into the memories of others with us those long ago years brought quite a variety of responses; all of them tactful, and some of them pointed…and tactful.  One of the ladies told of being so put off by the MJH clique situation that she chose to attend Tech High School rather than going on to EHHS and be subjected to any more of whatever she had been subjected to at MJH; a Handleyite offered nothing more than, “Ah yes, the Meadowbrook Ladies”; one of our leading lights responded, “an in-crowd?  Definitely”; another EH leading light told of never quite having discovered the key to be a part of the “in-crowd”…which kind of mirrors my own experience.  Whatever was going on was noticed by those in other early EH classes….”somewhat reassuring that even after 50 years, some things retain that pungent aroma.”

“The Breakfast Club,” a 1985 film that dealt with the tribulations of high school social stereotypes, is one of many similar films produced over the years that deal with the same theme.  So, it’s reasonable to assume that the experience is a common one, no matter what generation encountered it, or when.  However, the film did manage to succinctly summarize the general stereotypes into which all of us seemed to fit.  Some of us found fits with more than one of them.  There were Brains, Athletes, Outsiders, Basket Cases, and Princesses.


“Mean Girls,” a 2004 film, takes a less benign tack in illustrating the teenage insider/outsider phenomena, even going far enough to show a map of the social subdivisions at the cafeteria tables.  They seem pretty accurate based on our own experience, although I’d like to think we weren’t quite so snarky as our descendents….but, I don’t really know.

 
For us, our sorting into those stereotypes started about the end of 7th grade, strengthened in the 8th grade, and was pretty much set by the 9th grade.  Whatever dating was occurring that 9th grade year was mostly a blend of movies at the Gateway, or house parties, or a formal school dance, or the school’s Teen Canteen, all with transportation provided (for the most part) by parents.

Some fateful changes were occurring during this year that I’m sure I didn’t recognize, nor perhaps. did many others.  This 9th grade year was the one that street-wise Moms took their promising daughters in tow and started working with their makeup, hair, and other “womanly” embellishments.  Although many of those changes were subtle, there were other changes that were striking.  If Mom was skilled in her knowledge of makeup and hair, then those daughters could show up for 9th grade looking startlingly different than they did just before the summer break a few weeks earlier.  For those whose moms were not similarly skilled, grade 9 could very well have been another of those bewildering times of change that went largely not understood.

With the stereotypes hardened during this 9th grade school year, it appeared that Athletes were at the top of the school pecking order, if for no other reason than the fall pep rallies, the band, and cheerleaders were focused on their gridiron derring do.  Not many kids missed those pep rallies since they were school sanctioned excuses for not going to class.  Grades earned this year applied to our final high school tally so our class Brains were starting to burrow in on their academic ambitions, Outsiders were moving further outside as the world got larger and more complicated, Basket Cases were still basket cases trying to find ways to cope, and Princesses gained greater prominence especially in their social lives.


Only about 2-years or so beyond puberty, boys were already behind the curve with the gals and I’m sure we scarcely knew it.  The overriding problem for the boys at this stage of our development was mobility, or more succinctly, the lack thereof.  We certainly recognized the problem and some of us made up buttons that read, “Don’t Date Boys With Cars.”  It was a spoof of the Spirit Ribbons we bought for a dime and wore each week, pinned to our tops.  The answer came very quickly when the cheerleaders conspired with the ribbon printer to print up some Spirit Ribbons that replied, “We Don’t Date Boys With Bicycles.”  The dating standards had been irreversibly set.


Adios

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

LeMay – LBJ – MLK – Thousand Word Pictures

While we were growing up a controversy simmered regarding LBJ’s WWII service and his receipt of a Silver Star medal, one of our country’s highest honors for heroism. There are several good online references available that tell detailed stories about the event. Let me leave it that this picture tells quite a bit about the real story of his Silver Star—I had not seen it until recently. A lot of similar photos are coming out of formerly private collections and are being posted online.

Refer to my previous posting and to any good online bio of General Curtis LeMay. See if this December 1963 picture tells you the same story it tells me.

This 1966 picture tells a story of its own.


At the 2008 inauguration, there was this one....


 About 1967-68, an NSC meeting...

Adios




Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Dirty Old Man

Arte Johnson was one of my favorite Laugh-In characters, but finding good HQ pictures of him in character is difficult. As I was readying this one for use as one of my avitars on Facebook, I asked a passing offspring to identify the character pictured. Offspring had no idea.

It struck me that although channels like Nickelodeon have rebroadcast many of the old Laugh-In shows and our kids may have seen them while they were growing up in the 1970s - 1990s, they probably didn’t appreciate the topical humor of the sixties. It’s probably true that anyone age 55 and younger has little appreciation for this terrific comedian and for Laugh-In. Too damn bad…that means the humor of my avatar will be lost on most folks.

Very interesting. 

Adios



Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day - 2014


Only about one-sixth of the men serving in the military during WWII saw any combat. My father (R), saw quite a bit of it…my father-in-law (L) saw none. However, my father-in-law captured a Japanese soldier, an accomplishment for which he received quite a bit of notoriety and respect. As with many such stories, there was a “rest of the story” to it.

The Rest of the Story. My father-in-law, Larry, was an older man with a wife, a young daughter, and a burgeoning career as a big band leader. For him, WWII was a nuisance that he wanted to avoid, if he could…so he didn’t volunteer for service, he had a family to support and was gambling that the draft would not reach men his age. Nevertheless, he received his draft notice in April 1944, about a year before the end of WWII. He was 29. Found among his things was the newspaper clipping from his hometown paper. It told 2-stories, although he only knew one of them—he was one of those scraped from the “bottom of the barrel” as proclaimed in the circled headline.


The second article, circled at lower right, told of the largest Air Force bombing raid ever launched; this one, one of the first sent to Berlin. My father, the guy on the right above, was one of those flying that mission. Larry never knew the combined story, nor did my father. I put the story together after comparing their separate records.

In late July 1945 Larry was aboard a troop transport with several thousand others sailing west from San Francisco…destination, Okinawa, a Japanese island about 450-miles south of the Japanese mainland. The Battle for Okinawa, which claimed about 65,000 Allied casualties, had just wound up in June. Okinawa was to be the staging ground for the invasion of Japan and Larry was slated to be one of the soldiers in the invading army. Fortunately for him, President Truman made the decision to drop the first 2 atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki while Larry was on that troop ship and the war ended. His procrastination had paid off, but only by a small margin.

Okinawa was a mess when he got there. Besides the 65,000 Allied casualties, there were over 100,000 Japanese soldiers lost during the battle. And there continued to be isolated Japanese resistance for many weeks after war’s end.

Larry was a good-humored, skilled raconteur who often told the story of his capture of a Japanese soldier on Okinawa—something very few soldiers ever accomplished. He was on the crapper, pants down, and his rifle a few steps away when he looked up and saw a Japanese soldier advancing on him from across a field with his rifle braced diagonally across his chest. Larry was in a tough situation…largely incapacitated, his rifle a few steps away. For a few seconds that seemed like an eternity, Larry had no idea how he was going to get out of his rotten predicament.

Suddenly, the Japanese soldier threw down his rifle and raised his hands over his head. He was surrendering…to Larry, the first American soldier he could find--the one sitting on the crapper. He hurried to hitch up his pants, grab his rifle, and take charge of his prisoner. Larry never told the whole story to others while he was in the service, preferring to be known as the guy who had single-handedly captured the Japanese soldier on Okinawa.

His soldierly feat, along with his musical expertise paved the way for him to find a band leader assignment to the Army Band in Occupied Japan for a couple of years after the war. It was during those years that the picture above was undoubtedly taken. Larry was also the “very tall Wally” who never fixed things I mentioned in a previous article HERE. He was a helluva guy.

Dad’s picture above also has an interesting story. It was taken in London during late March 1944, just after he had completed his first 6 missions…the ones during which many young aviators lost their lives as “green crews” flying in the tail-end Charlie position. Sitting beside him were his pilot and co-pilot. He described this leave and portrait sitting in his journal which is how I was able to fit it into his story. Four of those first six missions were to Berlin and were among the bloodiest ever flown by the Eighth Air Force…it was a miracle he was alive to be sitting for this picture. Those anxious young eyes were very quickly becoming more serious as the days passed. Notice there were no ribbons on his chest at this point…the vacant space would fill up substantially during the ensuing weeks as he flew 44 more.


...and he was buying me a drink (Andy Rooney)










Our WWII Fathers


Father's Days and Veteran's Days find most of us with only fond memories of our fathers. A touching thing began to develop recently on Facebook as first one then another of our classmates began to post pictures of their fathers. Several of them posted pictures of their dads in their WWII uniforms.


It happens that the WWII Army Air Force has been a topic I've delved deeply into over the past few years. Except in general terms, many people, including me, had little idea what our fathers did during the war. A lot of them were front line warriors, others were in support functions, still others served in stateside billets. All of them did their parts to preserve our country for us and our children.

I hope you will choose to participate in this ongoing project to add your father's picture to the collages that I hope grow from this small start.  Classes of 1960-65 welcome.

Send me a picture of your Dad in uniform and I will be pleased to add it to the collection posted here.

This modest blog has had over 138,000 views and gets about 100-200 new views each day. Not bad for a bunch of computer illiterate old duffers, eh?  SEND 'EM IN.


July 2011 update: My father was one of those young men who flew in the bombers high in the skies over Europe during WWII. During the early months of the war the young airmen were shot out of the sky in such alarming numbers that the bombing missions were entirely halted for some weeks while the brass scrambled to figure out how to combat the deadly effectiveness of Hitler’s Luftwaffe. As the Air Force was strengthened, the Luftwaffe was effectively neutered by Spring 1944. After that, it could only mount vigorous defensive attacks on infrequent occasions. The danger to the airmen increasingly came from the deadly accurate anti-aircraft guns on the ground…flak.

Dad’s diary provides an interesting account of his experiences aloft during 1944-45. Wording in his diary was purposely frugal. He never showed it to me nor talked much about his war experiences. Only in recent years have I been able to learn quite a bit of what he saw, but never told…it was frightening. His diary, that of a 21-year old, showed a degree of youthful excitement during his first tour, Spring 1944; but, his second tour, which ended in early March 1945, was clearly less eventful. The war was winding down.

Recently, a pair of pictures were posted to an account of a late March 1945, mid-air collision over Germany, near Koblenz. The pictures were far more detailed than any I had ever seen before. One of the difficult things for an airman to tell and a layman to understand is the stark terror and grinding fear that accompanied most of our young WWII Army Air Force aviators flying in the ETO. The picture posted below shows the 2 bombers plunging to earth a few moments after their collision. Pictures like this are very rare and this one tells the story my father and so many of his fellows couldn't.

Ten young men are still in each of the planes. Two will survive, eighteen will die. One man got out in time to open his parachute about 400-feet above the ground. The other, a ball-turret gunner, fell to earth unable to get out of his turret…and he survived! When this collision occurred, Dad was en-route home, his second-tour missions completed, his part in the war, done….


June 2014 Update:  Added new photos.


Bail out, Jimmy.  Are there any chutes?

Thursday, June 05, 2014

WWII Dads - The Hump - Sam Sledge

One of several interesting aspects of doing the blog is to renew or sometimes establish an acquaintance with some of my earlier life, fellow travelers from our shared EH days.  Sherri, a prominent ’64 who in my memory I recall from sight only in those early sixties EH hallways, crossed my path recently.  I’m not sure if we ever exchanged a word at EH; she, being one of those little underclassmen and a Handley-ite to boot.  She was an attractive livewire who was a perennial favorite of her classmates…and she still is.  Only now she’s considerably more interesting than she was as an underclassman.


Some months ago, Sherri graciously shared a picture of her Dad, Sam Sledge, for inclusion with our WWII Fathers collection.  In his youth, Mr. Sledge was an Army Air Force Pilot, which wasn’t a terribly uncommon occupation within his generation…there were about 250,000 of them trained for service during the war and a few of our EH fathers had served in various WWII Air Force assignments, mostly in England.  The thing that was uncommon about Mr. Sledge was his line assignment after he graduated from flight school; Sam Sledge flew the Hump.

Most of us have heard about the Hump throughout our lives but, those brushes were mostly in brief snippets or in some corny old b/w WWII movies.  After learning of Mr. Sledge’s service and with Sherri’s gracious consent, I looked forward to delving further into the story of the Hump to determine if working up a credible piece might be possible.  At the very least, I could probably learn something I hadn’t known before.   

Flying The Hump and those doing the flying became somewhat legendary during their lifetimes and although a lot of anecdotal glimpses of their service have been documented in film and fable, even today it’s not a well-known story.  Known colloquially as the CBI (China-Burma-India) theater of operations, it was a backwater place where relatively few American forces were assigned to the 10th Army Air Force under the command of Major General Lewis Brereton, one of the very first 25 rated Army Pilots in 1913. 


There is plenty of history about flying the Hump to be found online so, I won’t attempt to construct yet another history here.  However, I’ve put 3 very good pieces by others in the archives, should one want to learn more of the detail.  My contribution will be a brief summary intended to simplify an intricate topic without burdening a casual reader.

Link 1:  A fine account written by a retired USAF pilot and published author.  Published in 1991 by the Air Force Magazine contains the specific details related to flying the Hump routes that clarify the job and its hazards.
 
Link 2:  A fact sheet written by the USAF that contains a treasure of detail information including locations, topography, peak names, canyon names, rivers, and much other specific detail very useful for coordinating with the aeronautical chart and with images posted to the Net.
 
Link 3:  An enlightening recollection by a pilot who flew the Hump.


The map below illustrates the location of the 16 numbered Army Air Forces activated during WWII.  Their locations were planned before the war by a pitifully understaffed Army Air Corps that had to struggle in order to keep active between WWI & II.  Activating them was a relatively simple matter of staffing up as needed.  The Hump operation ultimately came under the command of the 10th and 14th Army Air Forces based in India and China.


After the Japanese cut off access to the Burma and Ledo Roads in June 1942, President Roosevelt called on General Hap Arnold, Commanding the Army Air Force to establish an air supply route to keep the Chinese Army supplied so they could keep fighting the Japanese.  China was effectively occupying about 1-million Japanese soldiers, preventing them from being moved elsewhere.  


 
It’s always been somewhat difficult to comprehend the real scope of flying the Hump and visualize the terrain.  Most of the many pictures and recollections one finds in the public space tend to be disjointed, lacking a clear, cohesive thread.  However, the story is actually relatively simple…it was the very first application of aircraft to “airlift” supplies and personnel into a remote location while skirting enemy resistance.  And do it in a massive, sustaining manner so, in a sense, flying the Hump was an airborne freight train in nearly continual operation for about 42-months.

Although the airlift departure point in the Assam (or Brahmaputra River) Valley, some 900-miles north of the Indian port of Calcutta, was the site of a number of airfields, only the largest of them at Chabua needs to be recalled for clarity in understanding the operation’s large scope.


About 500-miles East was the destination area, also the site of a number of airfields but, only Kunming needs to be recalled.  It was the largest of them.  Kunming was the home field of General Claire Chenault’s Flying Tigers, a fighter force that had been operating from there since 1937, about 4-years before America declared war on Japan.


Between the two airfields was the Hump, a north-south extension of the main Himalaya Mountain range that ran south through northern Burma and western China.  On the very north end of the extension terrain exceeded 20,000 MSL in height. Average elevations lowered to the south but did not fall below 12,000 MSL for approximately 140 miles. 


Below is a rare 1944 (WAC – World Aeronautical Chart) in 1:1,000,000 scale showing the two main Hump flight paths, Charlie and Easy.  This chart was actually used for navigation by one of the pilots flying the hump; it contains terrain elevations and land forms, airports, waypoints, towns, and rivers. 


The Brahmaputra (Assam) valley floor lies ninety-feet above sea level at Chabua.  From this level, the mountain wall surrounding the valley rises quickly to 10,000 feet and higher.

"Flying eastward out of the valley, the pilot first topped the Patkai Range, then passed over the upper Chindwin River valley, bounded on the east by a 14,000- foot ridge, the Kumon Mountains. He then crossed a series of 14,000-16,000-foot ridges separated by the valleys of the West Irrawaddy, East Irrawaddy, Salween, and Mekong Rivers. The main 'Hump,' which gave its name to the whole awesome mountainous mass and to the air route which crossed it, was the Santsung Range, often 15,000 feet high, between the Salween and Mekong Rivers."


Severe weather existed on the Hump almost year around. The monsoon season, with heavy cloudiness, fierce rain and embedded severe thunderstorms with turbulence severe enough to damage aircraft, existed from around May into October of each year. The late fall and winter flying weather was better with many VFR days. However, heavy ground fogs, with ground visibilities down to zero/zero, occurred almost nightly during the early winter, and severe thunderstorms still occurred over the route on an irregular basis. Winter winds aloft were extreme, often exceeding 100 MPH.  Regulations required that oxygen be used above 12,000 MSL during daytime and above 10,000 MSL at night.







During the 42-months the Hump route was active, 594 planes were lost in the mountains taking with them 1,694 aircrew members, many of whom were never found.  It was some of the most dangerous flying undertaken during WWII.  Wreckage from the many downed planes came to be known as "The Aluminum Trail" and could frequently be seen below from the glint of sunlight reflecting off the metal debris.  Cause of the losses was frequently unknown; however, some of the possibilities were icing, turbulence, shifting loads, dangerous volatile loads, engine fires, engine failures that overloaded the remaining engine resulting in a failure to maintain altitude.  Japanese fighters were only rarely encountered over the Hump.

It was said, "There is no weather policy on the Hump. Be lucky or die.  And, "If you can see the end of the runway, you go.  Never mind icing, overloads, tired engines, and everything else that takes away your safety margin."  What an operation!


When General William H. Tunner arrived, pilots rotated out after 650 hours of flying time. Many pilots were flying as much as 165 hours a month in order to pile up the time and go home quickly. General Tunner's flight surgeon reported that fully half of the men were suffering from operational fatigue. Several accidents stemmed directly from such fatigue.  General Tunner immediately increased to one year the time a pilot would remain in the theater. He also increased the number of flying hours to 750.

"It didn't make the pilots happy," the General wrote later, "but . . . it kept quite a few of them alive."



The Curtiss C-46 Commando.  Known to the men who flew them as "The Whale," the "Curtiss Calamity,"  the "plumber's nightmare", and among ATC crews, the "flying coffin," the C-46 served a similar role as its counterpart, the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, but was not as extensively produced. At the time of its production, the C-46 was the largest twin-engine aircraft in the world, and the largest and heaviest twin-engine aircraft to see service in World War II.

It's 150-knot cruise speed was about 11-knots faster than the C-47.  Fitted with two, 2000 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radial engines, the C-46 had a service ceiling of 24,500 ft.  With an average terrain height ranging from 12,000-16,000 ft. carrying a maximum load into turbulence, darkness, and bad weather, there was very little margin of safety.  These were very harrowing flight conditions.

Pilots were drawn from several sources; USA flight schools and commercial airline pilots among them.  Training before deployment was accomplished from a Reno, Nevada, AAF base.  Flying over the Sierra-Nevada terrain to Fairfield-Suisun Army Air Base in California (now Travis AFB), was very similar to that found in the Himalayas. 



A 1945 Chart showing the "Hump Routes" and all the facilities information is below.  Of interest is the essential information of all the various airfields in the area.  Chabua had an 8000' runway, was 370' MSL, with runway headings of 49º – 229º.....Kunming - had a 7218' runway, sitting at 6240' MSL. 


Living conditions in the Assam Valley were primitive. Personnel generally lived in tents or bamboo bashas.  The Flying Tigers had been operating in the Kunming area since 1937 and had received a lot of publicity. The following very rare color pictures were taken in and around Kunming in 1945 and show some of the contemporary scenes Lt. Sam Sledge could have seen while he was there.






Some interesting sidelights.  The employment of commercial airline personnel has long been a little known aspect of the Hump operation.  Although led by Pan Am, the foremost of the early airline operations, all the existing lines were represented in the C-B-I.  By the outbreak of WWII, the USA airline industry was still a fledgling enterprise.  Only a very small percentage of the U.S. population had ever flown and when the Hump operation started in 1942, Lindbergh's historic flight was only 15-years in the past.  One of the Hump commanders was a 42-year old Major General C.R. Smith, president of American Airlines and a Texas boy born in Minerva, Milam County.  He had been with AAL almost since its inception in 1928 and returned to the line after the war to lead it into the jet age.


Before starting this study, an amusing thought danced through my mind and was amplified by a picture of her Dad, that Sherri shared with me.  I really liked the rugged sound of Lt. Sledge's name, Sam Sledge.  My mind went immediately to Steve Canyon, a heroic Sunday comics character during my post-WWII childhood.  Canyon's character was an adventurer and a veteran who ran his own air transport business after the war.  Sure enough......