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...


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. 


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......