"WAKE THE SLEEPING GIANT"
Lieutenant General Frank A. Armstrong, Jr., USAF
as told to William E. Hickinbotham
"Some people say it is wrong to say we could be
stronger. It's dangerous to say we could be more secure.
But in times such as this, I say it is wrong and dangerous
for any American to keep silent about our future if he is
not satisfied with what is being done to preserve that
JOHN F. KENNEDY, Sept. 20, 1960
P R O L O G U E
THE BEGINNING OF THIS STORY is a matter of personal
experience. The end is a matter of national concern. Both
are important, because national problems are frequently
resolved --- or left un-resolvepd -- by men whose judgment
is based upon personal experience and, often without
realizing it, upon experiences of others.
Upon entering military service, every American officer
pledges to obey. the orders of his superiors. Also, he
swears to defend his nation against all enemies. Seldom is
it necessary to decide which of these pledges must be
Confronted with such a decision, I placed allegiance to
my nation above obedience to my superiors. This does not
necessarily mean I was right, or they wrong.
Based upon knowledge and experience gained during 32
years as a military flyer and commander, in 1959 my
convictions conflicted with those of my superiors. I made
every effort to convince them of the validity of my views;
while many agreed, none took action to support them.
Firmly believing the national security was at stake, and
with full knowledge of possible consequences, I decided to
express my views to the American people.
Although this decision ultimately resulted in >my<
being withdrawn from military service, I do not regret
having made it. In or out of uniform, I must live with my
conscience, and I view the incident without ill-will or
toward those who did what they thought right.
In the Book of Proverbs it is written: "Give
instruc¬tion to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser.
Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning."
In relating the adventures and mis-adventures of my
career, it is my earnest desire to give the generals of a
day yet to come some insight into what may lie ahead for
them. The conflicts noted on these pages are included in
the interest of truth. The purpose of this book is to
clarify, not crucify.
So it is the story begins.
No one is born a soldier. Those who decide to carve a
career from the hard rock of military service arrive at
their decisions in varied, often strange ways.
One summer morning in Texas I stood at attention in the
barracks, waiting for the inspecting officer to reach my
bunk, wondering why I abandoned the carefree, lucrative
life of a professional baseball player to become a flying
cadet. The answer was simply "Fluffy."
We first met at a house party in North Carolina. The
host introduced her as Vernelle Hudson. Noting her petite
beauty, I immediately named her "Fluffy." Three weeks later
I returned to Sarasota, Florida, leaving behind three
things --my heart, my fraternity pin and my freedom.
The inspector came to a heel-clicking halt in front of
me, did a smart right-face and began looking at the display
in my foot locker. I didn't move a muscle, or bat an eye. I
had worked half the night to arrange my gear in perfect
order. This was one inspection I intended to pass so I
might be permitted to visit San Antonio that afternoon.
I had not enjoyed many liberties since arriving at
Brooks Field; it was not difficult to get into trouble
the flying training program. A thumb print on a water
glass or dust on a coat hanger could mean a penalty of
several demerits. To erase these "black marks", cadets had
to march around a concrete area known as the "bull pen".
One demerit meant thirty minutes of marching. It was the
same "plebe" system employed at West Point. "Tours" in the
bull pen had to be walked during the few leisure hours
Apparently satisfied that my clothing and toilet
articles were arranged in proper order, the inspector
turned his attention to my personal appearance. Slowly he
brought his eyes up, searching for lint on my uniform or an
insignia which might be out of place. Finding none, he
focused his gaze on my hair. A slight sadistic smile
crossed his lips as he said, with obvious pleasure, "Mr.
Dumb John," (as all cadet underclassmen were called) "you
need a haircut. "
"Sir," I replied without thinking, "I just got a haircut
The smile broadened into a wide grin. "That will cost
you a tour in the bull pen, Mr. Dumb John. I didn't ask
what you got yesterday. I said you needed a haircut, and
you do. Have a nice afternoon Mr. Dumb John."
How stupid to offer an excuse where excuses were never
accepted! From that point, however, I knew exactly how to
handle the situation, and precisely what to say. "Yes,
sir." No more was needed -- no more would help.
That afternoon as my friends boarded the bus for San
Antonio I waltzed my rifle around the bull pen in the heat
of the Texas sun, anxious to "walk off" the demerits so I
could get another haircut.
For a boy from a small North Carolina village --
population 600 -- I had come a long way. After high school
and prep school I attended Wake Forest College on a
scholarship, and earned my keep during the summer playing
semi-professional baseball. Graduating in 1925, I became a
full-time profes¬sional with a farm club at Sarasota.
Earning $300.00 per month, I was living "high on the hog"
and enjoying life immensely. Then Fluffy happened along and
blew my plans to high heaven. She was "not about to marry a
man who wanted to do nothing more with a college education
than play ball." So, I enlisted in the Air Corps as a
flying cadet, and soon was up to my neck in trouble at a
God-forsaken airbase in Texas. I questioned my sanity many
times during those eventful days, and before assuming the
status of an upperclassman I walked a total of 75 hours in
the bull pen.
Flight training in 1928-29 was much different from
today. The aircraft were mostly bi-planes with open
cock-pits and few instruments. They were slow but
relatively un¬complicated. A cadet soloed after no
more than eight hours of airborne dual-flight instruction.
If he was not quali¬fied to fly alone after logging
eight dual hours, he was "washed out" and honorably
discharged from the service.
I had never been in an airplane before flight school,
but I found flying exciting, exacting and challenging. I
easily met every challenge but one -- I couldn't learn to
land. In fact, after 5 hours of dual-flight, I began to
think I couldn't hit the ground with my hat.
Still, I wanted to graduate more than I had ever wanted
anything in my life. I had to know if I was making suitable
progress, so I went to Captain Claude Duncan, chief check
pilot for the primary phase, and asked him to give me an
evaluation ride. My instructor, Lt. Howard Engler (who had
large feet and was known as "Suitcase" Engler), was unaware
of my visit, but I knew if the check pilot wasn't satisfied
with my flying, he could wash me out. We took off, flew two
rounds of the pattern making touch-and-go landings, and on
the third round Duncan ordered me to make a full stop.
Completing the landing, I taxied the aircraft to the
parking area and started to climb out. Duncan had already
stepped onto the wing. "Sit down," he said, fastening the
safety belt across the seat cushions in the front cockpit,
"take it around by yourself."
I will never forget how completely alone I felt as the
wheels lifted off the ground on that initial solo flight.
There was no one "up front" to correct my errors now; I had
to make a good landing.
On the first attempt I landed long and Duncan waved me
off with a signal to go around. In the second pattern I cut
the power sooner, made a fairly smooth landing and
came to a stop near where he was standing. He didn't
have to walk far to reach the aircraft, so I guess he
decided to let well enough alone. He apparently was happy
with my flight, and I was exhuberant! I had soloed after
six hours of dual instruction!
He climbed aboard and I taxied the aircraft to the
parking area feeling a little like Eddie Rickenbacker. My
ego was deflated, however, when Duncan informed me I would
complete the full eight hours with my instructor. I had no
more trouble in flight school, though, and in March of '29
received the shiny new wings of an Air Corps pilot and the
shiny gold bars of a second lieutenant. The course had been
difficult, but those who survived the rigorous training
were the proudest men in the world that day.
I had taken my advanced training in the ATTACK section
at Kelly Field, Texas, so I was disappointed to learn my
first assignment would be with the Second Bomb Group at
Langley Field, Virginia. Young, full of pep and bravado, I
had grown to love the daredevil tactics employed by attack
aircraft. Our job was to come in low over a target
--sometime at tree-top level -- spray it with machine gun
fire, drop small fragmentation bombs, and lay smoke
screens. We were reminded constantly that we could be
"early, but never late" with our attacks, or the bombers
would suffer. It was exciting precision flying and the
prospect of being restricted to straight and level air
operations was quite unbecoming.
Four of us boarded a train in our brand new officers'
uniforms replete with Sam Browne belts, skin-tight breeches
and brilliantly shined cavalry boots with spurs. The boots
were a problem; once we managed to get them on, it was
almost impossible to get them off. Dave Graves couldn't get
his off during the entire trip. Every gunman porter from
Texas to Virginia tried to help him, and got a kick in the
britches for their efforts. Dave was stuck.
Soon after our arrival in the east Miss Fluffy and I
were married at a Washington, D. C. Presbyterian Church.
Our honeymoon lasted exactly one day and two nights.
Mar¬ried on Saturday afternoon, I reported for duty
We found a small apartment at Hampton, Virginia, and
lived there during the first three months, then we were
assigned quarters on the base. Within the year, I was
transferred back to Kelly Field to attend flight
instructor's school. We packed our belongings and set out
in an ancient car. It was a rugged trip, especially for
Fluffy who at that time was expecting our first child. The
doctors ad¬vised her against making the trip, but she
was a spirited woman and was determined to stay with her
husband. I was worried about her, but I was glad she
decided to go.
After completing the course I was ordered to duty as a
flight instructor at March Field, California. Fluffy was
then just two months away from the big day, and the doctor
was adamant in demanding she return east by rail. She left
for Richmond as I drove on to California, alone.
Frank Alton Armstrong III made his first appearance at
Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington in the spring of
1930. Fluffy asked her father to wire me the good news. In
his excitement, he neglected to mention whether the baby
was a boy or a girl, so I had to wait out another few hours
-- and an exchange of telegrams -- before learning the
When the baby was three months old, Fluffy boarded a
ship on the East Coast bound for San Francisco, via the
Panama Canal. From San Francisco, she flew to Los Angeles.
I met her at the airport and drove her to Riverside, where
I had a furnished bungalow waiting. This was 1930 and the
depression was in full swing, yet we were deleriously
happy. A lieutenant's pay didn't go very far, but she
managed to stretch every dollar until I thought Washington
would scream. Our rations were meagre, our spirits were
high, and we were reluctant to leave when I was transferred
back to Texass--Randolph Field -- in Member of 1931.
While serving as a flight instructor I not only taught
but learned a lot. Aviation was still primitive in the
early '30s, and experimentation was the rule rather than
the exception. Regulations pertaining to aircraft operation
were not as numerous nor restrictive as they are now, and
many things happened which, in retrospect, make me wonder
how we ever survived.
For example, one of my students wanted to make a
parachute jump. On a sunny afternoon we went to the
practice area to do acrobatics. I was demonstrating a slow
roll and, just as we had reached an inverted position, I
the aircraft rise suddenly. I rolled on over, glanced
around to see if he had been overriding the controls, and
got the surprise of my life -- the back seat was empty !
Banking the aircraft, I looked below to see the top of a
parachute canopy fading toward the ground. I circled the
area until he landed and signaled he was unhurt, then
re-turned to the field. After landing, we discovered the
seat belt, although still latched together at the buckle,
had come unfastened from one side of the seat. He never
changed his story -- claiming that the belt had "just come
undone" --- but I'll always wonder.
Another difference in training during those days was a
method I developed for relaxing tense students.
Tense¬ness is coon among students, but until they
learn to relax, flying is not easily mastered. Whenever I
noticed one of my boys tightening on the controls, I would
take him for a low-level ride, including a few passes
beneath high tension wires. The results were amazing.
Subjected to a few minutes of this kind of flying, students
automatically relaxed when taken back upstairs.
A specific incident during my stint as a flight
in¬structor has always made me wonder how many
potentially great pilots never received their wings. Once,
when I was a senior check pilot, a student who was having
difficulty was sent toe with a note. The note suggested he
was not good pilot material, and urged me to give his a
cursory 20-minute chock ride, an unsatisfactory rating, and
to wash him out. Once in the airplane, however, I found
his abilities were not as bad as his billing, so I
worked with him for a while and got him squared away, He
even managed to graduate. Later, that young West Pointer,
Lt. Joe W. Kelly, would become a Lieutenant General and the
Commander of the Military Air Transport Service -- the
world's biggest airline: From this and similar incidents, I
learned that failure or misunderstanding is not always the
fault of the one who fails or misunderstands.
In May, 1932, Lt, A. F. Hegenberger made the first blind
flight without a check pilot aboard, and a few months later
was awarded the Collier Trophy for this feat. The prospect
of flying entirely by instruments was intriguing to several
of us, so we began to practice during offer-duty hours. One
pilot would occupy the front seat, his vision unobstructed,
while the other sat in the rear cockpit, which we covered
with a cloth hood. The pilot in front would take off, climb
to a safe altitude, then give control of the aircraft to
his partner. The only instruments installed in the trainer
were an altimeter, for maintaining level flight; a
needle-and-ball turn indicator to judge the degree of bank
during turns; and a magnetic compass, for finding a
heading. It wasn't much to work with, but it whetted my
appetite for flying "on the gauges," and in 1933, when the
Air Corps opened a blind flying school at Rockwell Field
near San Diego, I attended.
Soon after reporting to the school I heard rumors that
the Air Corps might be called upon to fly domestic airmail.
The rumor became fact on February 19, 1934, when
a Presidential Order instituted the service. I was
delighted to receive orders assigning me to Route #4, under
the command of Capt. Ira Eaker. His head-quarters was at
March Field, but our operations were based at Burbank. Just
five years before, Capt. Eaker had earned a considerable
reputation as a skilled aviator when he participated in a
record-setting endurance flight. He and Major Carl "Tooey"
Spaatz circled the Los Angeles area for 150 hours and 40
minutes (almost 6 days) in a Fokker C2-3. When an engine
conked out and forced them to land, they had flown 11,000
I was one of three pilot officers who reported at the
same time. Capt. Eaker briefed us on the mission ahead.
There would be problems, not the least of which was the
weather. This was the most severe winter in years, and
flying in an open cockpit was like sitting on the front
porch of an igloo -- cold and breezy! Several pilots
suffered frost-bitten noses, ears, and cheeks. We were also
advised there might be monetary problems; per diem
allow¬ances were expected, but had not been authorized
yet. We would live at Burbank where no government quarters
were available, and we realized immediately it would be a
chore trying to adjust service pay to meet the demands of a
civilian existence. The officers would find it rough
go¬ing, but for the enlisted men it would be almost
impossible; some of them were earning only $17.00 per
Same as original, Disregard marks< [written in
the margin] Airmail Route #4 extended from Burbank to Las
Vegas, Nevada, through Bryce Canyon >on<, to Milford,
Utah, and on to >Las Vegs Nev. through Bryce Canyon to
Milford Utah and on to Salt Lake City Utah
Salt Lake City. Another shorter run extended from
Burbank to San Diego. LB-5-A light bombers were scheduled
for the longer routes, while P-12 single-seater pursuit
air-craft were to fly the shorter runs.
After completing the briefing, Capt. Eaker led us
out-side the operations building and pointed to three
P-12's parked on the ramp nearby. "I want you to take those
air-craft," he instructed, "fly the route to get familiar
with it, and by the time you get back, we'll be in the mail
I had never flown a P-12, but in those days a formal
check ride in a single-seater was a luxury not often
>ever< afforded. A crew chief instructed a pilot on
how to start and stop the engine, and from that moment on
the pilot had the bird strapped to his back, and was on his
The P-12 was fast and maneuverable, and we enjoyed an
uneventful trip around the circuit. The next evening we
returned to California, found rooms at a Burbank hotel, and
got a good night's sleep before embarking on one of the
greatest adventures of a lifetime.
The mail was gathered by the Post Office Department
during the day, sorted, and delivered to the airport in the
evening. Consequently, airmail flights usually began at
night. To speed operations, Captain Eaker limited the
ground time allowed pilots at various refueling stops. When
a change in crew was necessary, the methods used were like
the old Pony Express system. A pilot would land, taxi as
quickly as possible to the operations area, jump from
the airplane as mechanics started refueling it, and
usually pass the relief crew on his way into operations.
Seven minutes after shutting off the engine, the refueling
was completed and the next pilot was on his way.
Undoubtedly the roughest part of Airmail Route #4 was
the leg through Bryce Canyon, a rocky, wild area, filled
with grotesque, stone pinnacles. Unable to get up over bad
weather, our only alternative was to fly through it at low
altitude. This made the Bryce Canyon leg extremely
On March 10, after only three weeks of operations, nine
pilots and passengers had been killed flying airmail
throughout the United States. Air Corps participation was
discontinued temporarily. On March 19, we resumed
operations, and Capt. Eaker decided a change in methods
--assigning specific pilots to regular routes -- might
result in greater safety. He reasoned that by flying the
same leg every night, a pilot would get to know his route
better, and have a better chance for survival. I
volunteered for the Milford - Las Vegas run via Bryce
Canyon, and he made me Chief Pilot in that area.
Before I completed the last airmail flight in that
sector on June 1, there were several times I regretted
having volunteered, but the good Lord seemed to be watching
over me. There were numerous close calls, but I came
through without an accident.
The real heroes of the airmail service were not the
pilots, but the enlisted crew chiefs who substituted
co-pilots on most of our flights. A braver group of men
I have yet to see. An example of the hazards they faced is
the procedure necessary to transfer fuel from the LB-5-A,
Curtiss Condor fuselage tank into its wing tanks. To
accomplish this, they climbed from the cockpit, straddled
the fuselage, slid aft along the turtleback until they
found a zipper which exposed an opening in the fabric.
Then, they opened the zipper, slid down into the fuselage,
transferred the fuel with a hand pump, then remained there
in that cramped space until the flight was completed
because they couldn't climb forward again. It was an odd
feeling to take off with someone beside you, and then land
apparently alone. We eventually rigged a system of bells to
warn them in case bail-out became necessary. They rarely
complained, despite the dangers and the financial problems
they endured, except in good humor.
The airmail days were not without some laughs. As mail
couriers we carried pistols to protect our cargo. Once a
pilot called Las Vegas to report he had a flat tire and was
afraid he might ground loop upon touching down. An official
in the tower radioed a suggestion that he use his pistol to
shoot out the other tire. "Sorry," came the reply, "I can't
do that. My pistol is locked in the mail compartment."
Another pilot, on one of the eastern routes, took off
one night and flew some twenty miles from the field before
calling back, "Somebody call the operations officer and
find out where this mail is supposed to go." He had locked
his manifest in the baggage compartment.
Capt. Eaker was an inspiring leader and an active pilot.
He often visited his men at the various outlying stations.
We found he wan't much of a talker, but none of us could
deny he was a man of action. My respect for him grew
continually during those difficult months; I later learned
that the respect was mutual.
After flying the last delivery of mail from Las Vegas to
Salt Lake City, I was sent again to Randolph Field, Texas.
Within a few weeks, accompanied by Fluffy and Frank III,
nicknamed "Fuz," I was off to Panama for duty with a
pursuit and observation squadron at Albrook Field, Canal
Zone. We enjoyed the sea voyage, and soon became accustomed
to the tropical climate.
The weather was hot and humid, so there was a natural
tendency to become lax, even slovenly. To prevent boredom
from affecting our morale we were required to don formal
white uniforms each evening before dinner, and were
forbidden to go to any public place in less formal attire.
The rule was effective, and morale was always high.
A particularly unusual aspect of the assignment in
Panama was our training routine. We were flyers, but we
participated in many ground exercises. Three afternoons
each week we practiced close order drill, and often
competed with ground units in marching competition.
Occasionally we went on field exercises in the jungle and
lived in pup tents as the infantry did.
There were exciting days to punctuate the humdrum of
peacetime flying duty. Most of our missions were flown on
patrol but occasionally we towed targets for the
artillerymen. The targets were cloth sleeves dragged behind
the aircraft at the end of long cables. I never learned to
enjoy these missions. During daylight hours they were had
enough, but at night they were downright uncomfortable. We
flew with our position lights on, and attached small lights
to the target. I recall one tow-target night flight which
could have been my last. As I brought the aircraft across
the range area, shells began exploding directly in front of
our flight path. Both the airplane and the target were
properly lighted, but apparently an artillery officer had
miscalculated and was giving his gunners inaccurate firing
orders. At any rate, I realized we were about to fly into a
wall of steel, so I yelled to my crew chief, "Cut that
damned target loose! Now!" He clipped the cable as I
flipped off my position lights, banked sharply, and got the
hell out of there as fast as I could.
The majority of the aircraft in our inventory were
P-12 pursuit ships and LB-5-A light bombers. We had one
Douglas OA-4 Amphibian which only a few of our pilots knew
how to fly. When the operations officer learned that I had
checked out in the OA-4 during my stay at Rockwell Field, I
was assigned the job of flying the old monster, which had
been named "Goo Goo, the Duck."
Because of "Goo Goo," I was awarded the Distinguished
Flying Cross. The mission began with a flight to Quito
Island, a Panamanian penal colony, located 100 miles or so
from our field. I was to fly a civilian communications
expert to the island, help him find a site for a radio
installation, and bring him back. Lt. Jimmy Wallace, a
young friend of mine, was assigned as co-pilot although he
had never been checked out in the OA-4. Our crew chief was
a very efficient sergeant named Tanner. The fifth person
aboard was our base communications officer, a major, who
was serving as assistant to the civilian on this project.
The trip to the island was uneventful, but upon lowering
the landing gear the crew chief experienced some
difficulty. It was minor, but it worried me, so as we
passed over the Mala Peninsula returning to Albrook, I
decided to test the system. I told Sgt. Tanner to lower the
wheels, he gave me a quizzical look, shrugged his shoulders
and complied. I'm sure he thought I was mad; we were fifty
miles from the base and flying over dense jungle. Even if
forced to land in that area, we would have gone in with our
wheels retracted to lessen the chances of flipping over
As Tanner leaned forward to tell me the gear was
and locked, the aircraft suddenly began to vibrate. In a
few seconds the vibration was followed by an explosion. A
huge crack appeared in the windshield, and the craft veered
sharply to the right. The propeller on the right engine had
flown off! Cutting the power on that engine, I managed to
apply enough pressure on the rudder pedal to straighten us
out, but realized immediately we could not stay aloft more
than a few minutes. It was impossible to make it back to
our home base.
The major, who had been talking on the radio when we
lost the prop, did not hesitate an instant. He dropped the
microphone (which was still turned on), pulled open the
compartment door and bailed out without even saying
I glanced over my shoulder and saw our civilian
passenger had not moved. Apparently he was too stunned by
the violence of the past few seconds, so I shouted, "Get
the hell out of here!" He moved to the door and then
remembered he was still wearing his glasses; he stopped to
put them in a small black case he carried in his shirt
pocket. I yelled again, "Dammit to hell, get out of this
Sgt. Tanner was ready to go, but the civilian standing
with his feet spread wide to brace himself, blocked the
door. Tanner wasted no more time. He dived out between the
civilian's legs. The man finally managed to put his
spectacles away, and he, too, dropped from view.
My co-pilot had unfastened his seat belt and was
to leave when he realized what I already knew -- I would
have to stay with the airplane. When the propeller went, it
took much of the engine with it, and I could not trim "Goo
Goo" so she would glide properly. If I took my hands off
the controls for a moment, the old bird would likely go
into a spin, or at least a spiral, making it almost
impossible for me to reach the door. I had spotted a
clearing in the jungle and had decided to set her down
there. When Jimmy saw I wasn't going to jump he sat down
again and strapped himself in. I told him to leave, but he
refused to go.
I made the approach on the clearing and, precisely at
the right moment, Jimmy cut the switches. We came in low
over the trees, dropped down into the clearing and, after
knocking the tops off a few tall bushes, made a reasonably
soft landing. After braking to a halt, we just sat there in
silence for at least a minute. Everything was so quiet and
still, it was as if we had died. We had come awfully
The microphone had been on during the entire emergency
and our remarks were monitored in the control tower at
Albrook, and by Major Monk Hunter who was leading his
pursuit squadron on a formation flight in our vicinity.
Monk was a colorful character, a World War I ace. He was
eager to come to our rescue. After locating the clearing,
his squadron circled overhead as Monk brought his P-12 in
for a landing. I must say, I have seen better ones. It had
rained in the area just prior to our emergency, and the
ground was still wet. Monk's approach was hot, so when
he applied the brakes, the wheels skidded along the
slippery grass until they caught in a ditch; the P-12
slipped over on its back. It barely stopped moving before
there was a flurry of action near the cockpit section. Monk
wriggled from under his bent bird like a scared rabbit.
What had started out a normal day had become one of the
most exciting in the lives of six people.
One of Monk's boys radioed back to the base for
assistance, and within a couple of hours an LB-5 -A touched
down beside us. We climbed aboard and returned to
Of the three men who bailed out, two were rescued before
sunset and the third was discovered by natives as he
wandered about in the jungle. In survival training we had
been instructed to remain wherever we landed, making it
easier for rescue crews to find us. The major disregarded
this information and tried to walk out.
His efforts eventually led to his death, in an indirect
way. While in the jungle he contracted a type of tropical
fungus which later caused him much pain, discomfort and
swelling in his legs and ankles. He became obsessed with
the false idea this was some sort of incurable disease and,
while making a sea voyage back to the States some months
later, he jumped overboard. The fungus which had plagued
him in tropical Panama would have disappeared a few weeks
after returning to a temperate climate.
Our tour of duty in the tropics ended in March, 1938.
We returned to the States and enjoyed a few weeks' leave
before reporting to Barksdale Field, Louisiana. Fluffy and
Fuz went directly to Richmond to see her parents; I stopped
off at Hobgood, North Carolina, for a surprise visit with
my Mother. My father had died while we were in Panama.
My train arrived in Hobgood just before dusk, and I
experienced a warm wave of nostalgia as I stepped from the
Pullman car onto the depot platform. So such of my carefree
childhood had centered around that depot. As a boy, my
favorite pastime had been climbing on and off moving
freight trains which passed through our community
regularly. The game we played was to see which boy could
jump aboard and off again at the fastest speed without
being thrown. It was extremely dangerous, and I shudder
when I think of some close calls we had.
The weather was cool, but not uncomfortable, so I
decided to walk home. I was anxious to see how much had
changed since I'd gone out into the world.
As I walked along the platform toward the street, I
watched the train pull out, gradually pick up speed and
disappear around a curve on the outskirts of town. I liked
trains. The railroad had played an important role in my
early life, and once, almost ended it. My first serious job
was as a driver in a log woods. My father was a
superintendent of an extensive logging project, and hired
me the summer I was sixteen. I was the only white driver,
and the only boy in the camp. My salary was $2 for a day
that began at 4:00 a.m. and ended at 7:00 p.m.
One Saturday he sent me with three colored men to
accompany the payroll from the main railroad line to the
camp. We were riding on a small hand car and I sat on a
wooden box containing the money sack and a suit of clothes
ordered by one of the drivers. As we turned a bend on the
narrow gauge tracks, we met a log train coming at us head
One of the men yelled "Jump, Junior!" and I took off
like a flying squirrel as the engine smashed into the hand
car, passing over the box containing the money bag and the
suit. The payroll was intact, but the suit was delivered to
its disgruntled owner with the trouser legs about eight
inches shorter than they should have been.
The railroad also gave me my first glimpse of a dead
man. I was to see many more dead men during my lifetime,
but I never forgot the first. He was a train robber who had
been shot by a railroad detective, and had fallen beneath
the wheels of a moving freight car. His body was chopped in
two, and I watched as several men picked up the halves and
placed them on a tarpaulin on the depot platform. It made
I walked from the depot along the main street of town.
It seemed even smaller now, and I wondered if it had
actually shrunk, or if travel had changed my sense of
proportion. I decided it was the latter. I passed the
Baptist Church and remembered the many Sunday School
classes of years gone by. Mother was an active participant
in many religious affairs. We attended the Baptist Sunday
School in the morning
and the Methodist Sunday School in the afternoon. I
don't think I learned very much in either one, but since
most of my friends also attended, to remain away would have
been worse than going. In later years, I would regret not
having been more attentive to the lessons.
At last I reached our house, knocked at the door and,
within moments, found myself in the midst of a warm but
tearful homecoming. We had several happy days together
before I left to meet Fluffy and Fuz, and report to my new
Eventually I assumed command of the 13th Bomb Squadron
at Barksdale. I had never commanded a unit before, and the
new status offered many challenges. It also taught me many
things. I soon found it was one thing to be responsible for
your own actions, and quite another for those of more than
100 people. The experience was rewarding, and I began to
develop a sense of leadership.
On April 3, 1939, President Roosevelt signed the
Expansion Bill authorizing an appropriation of $300,000,000
and the construction of 6,000 airplanes for the Air Corps.
In August, I read with envy of a flight made by Majors
Stanley Umstead and C. M. Cummings. Its purpose was to
demonstrate the speed with which reinforcements could be
rushed to Panama to protect the Canal. They had flown a
B-17 -A from Miami, Florida, to the Canal Zone -- a
distance of 1200 miles -- in six hours!
In October of that year, Hitler began a march against
the world by invading Poland. In so doing, he set the
wheels of world justice in motion against himself. We
watched the war headlines with wary eyes, and our training
began to take on a new meaning. We weren't in the fire yet,
but we knew we could be before too long.
In May, 1940, the President called for the production of
50,000 planes a year. Later that month, we were busy at
Barksdale, participating in the first complete military
maneuvers simulating European combat operations. More than
300 aircraft took part, and we all got a small idea of the
type of flying we might be doing within a few short
In July, the Air Corps opened a training center at
Maxwell Field, near Montgomery. One part of the center was
the Air Corps Tactical School. I had grown more and more
interested in the potential combat capabilities of the
airplane, and more conscious of the ever-darkening
international situation, so I submitted an application to
attend the school, and it was accepted.
Near the end of the course, I went on a cross-country to
Langley Field, Virginia. There I was notified I had been
selected to go to England as a Combat Observer, and was
scheduled to depart New York aboard the Yankee Clipper in
just a few days.
I called Fluffy and asked her to get my winter uniforms
out of mothballs, and have them cleaned and pressed by the
next day. For security reasons, I couldn't tell her on the
phone where I was going, or why I needed the winter
clothing, but she later told me she felt I was heading for
trouble. She was right -- as usual.
The next night I returned from Langley and packed my
bags. Just before I climbed aboard the train, a hand truck
bearing a coffin trundled past us. It was a spooky feeling,
and we wondered whether it was a good omen or a bad
The Yankee Clipper flight of October 24, 1940 had eleven
pilots aboard. Two were crew members, nine were American
military observers. None of us had met prior to boarding
the Clipper, but we had a similar mission. We were to
proceed to England, inspect and learn everything possible
about the operational war machinery of the RAF and the
tactics employed by both the British and the Luftwaffe, and
report our findings to Washington. We were assigned to the
American Embassy in London.
Flying the Atlantic in those days was still an
impressive feat. Perhaps that explains why I remember even
small details of that flight after all these years. There
was a brief ceremony as the crew boarded the huge flying
boat, then the passengers embarked in single file. When the
tearful goodbyes were finished at last, the hatch was
closed, the engines came to life and the proud seabird
taxied into take-off position. After a smooth run across
the water, and the lift-off, the skyline of New York
disappeared behind the Clipper; soon all traces of land
were out of sight. First stop was Bermuda. The landing
there was very smooth, but none of the passengers watched
the touchdown. The window shades had been closed because we
were nearing a combat zone. We were getting closer to
but we still had no idea how near the war was getting to
A British Airways launch took us from the Clipper to a
wharf near a quiet, cool hotel. New York seemed a million
miles away. We were in a new world. That night we dined
English style as a negro orchestra played soft music behind
a curtain of low hanging vines which seemed to ramble
everywhere. It was a peaceful, beautiful night -- one of
the last we would experience for several months.
The next evening we resumed our journey. As we climbed
out of the harbor, we passed over the U. S. Navy light
cruiser, St. Louis, then burrowed into the overcast. At
4,000 feet, our skipper, Captain Gray, went on instruments.
Clear weather had been forecast 400 miles out to sea, but
that was not the first time in my flying career that a
weather forecast proved less than completely accurate. It
wasn't the last, either. The air was rough and we had
Quiet and beauty came with the dawn. We flew above the
overcast. Below, a billowy sea of clouds stretched to meet
the horizon. Occasionally we passed over small holes,
through which we could see the cold blue water of the
Atlantic. We were looking forward eagerly to our landing at
the Azores, but as we approached the islands, the captain
made contact with the ground crews and learned the sea was
too rough for landing or take-off operations. One clipper
had landed there the previous night and was being delayed
on its journey to the States because of the high
One of its passengers was Ambassador Joseph Kennedy,
from London to Washington. The Atlantic has no respect
for rank. The Ambassador would have to wait, and we would
have to continue to our next destination -- Lisbon,
Portugal. The weather deteriorated again as we flew on,
but, 26 flying hours out of New York, we touched down and
the Clipper was made fast to her moorings. Captain Gray was
a tired man. During the long flight from Bermuda, he had
brought the ship through the fringes of a hurricane, and
had flown 7 continuous hours on instruments. Aviation had
come a long way since Lindberg.
We spent the remainder of that day, and the next,
exploring Lisbon. The contrast between beauty and filth in
that city is something I shall never forget. We were
awakened at 3:00 a.m. on the morning of October 28, had a
cup of coffee and hired a taxi to take us to our aircraft.
It ran out of gas along the way. After what seemed at the
time a reasonable amount of American profanity and
Portuguese disgust (neither of which did any good), we
walked the last mile to the airport and boarded an Imperial
Airlines plane for the last leg of our trip. Flying out to
sea again, the pilot headed the aircraft north, and began
darting in and out of the clouds in an endeavor to avoid
contact with any German airplanes. We had been informed
that two previous flights on that route had turned into
games of hide-and-seek with German scout planes. Each time,
the airline pilots had managed to win the game by hiding in
At last, we turned east for a "sneak-in" approach to the
airport at Poole, England. We weren't sure whether we
were about to land or be attacked. We arrived at 5:30
p.m., which we later learned was "blitz time". True to
form, "Jerry" was overhead. Aboard the launch carrying us
to shore we were instructed to remain inside and keep the
curtains closed to prevent flying glass from cutting our
faces. As we docked and climbed ashore, we felt as if we
had arrived on the threshold of Hell.
We spent the night in the Royal Bath Hotel, and got our
first introduction to the English blackout. The next day,
before boarding a train for London, I purchased a diary and
decided to keep a record of my impressions in England.
Security restrictions would prevent me from logging
military information, but I wanted to note personal
impressions of the war, for later use. The entries in that
journal were often sketchy and ungrammatical, but they tell
something of a man and a war. When I look back over them I
get to know myself better.
OCTOBER 28th, 1940 - CUMBERLAND HOTEL, LONDON.
The train trip took about four hours. Once we were
forced to slow down to 15 mph because of a raid some miles
ahead of us. On the outskirts of London we saw bomb
craters, later, bombed houses. Arrived at Waterloo. The
station is intact, except for window panes. They've been
We came to the hotel and were given a room on the top
floor. (The 8th.) Am bunking with Bob Williams. He left
earlier for a visit to a night bombing field. I leave to
join him in a few minutes, but first want to note a
At 7:25, I was just climbing out of my bath. The hotel
alarm sounded. I dressed as quickly as possible, but before
I could finish, I heard the first bomb explode with a
strange, sickening "thud" or "crunch". It "touched", as
they say here, about a half a block away. I don't think
I'll ever forget that sound, or the way our hotel swayed
from the shock waves. I wonder if anyone can forget "the
first one". A moment later, a second bomb struck in the
neighborhood. I couldn't resist the temptation to watch the
action, so I opened a window. As I leaned out, a battery of
anti-aircraft guns fired a salvo from the street below. The
blast was so loud I was sure they had hit me: I pulled my
head back inside -- fast.
The all-clear has sounded. Must hurry to join Bob.
OCTOBER 29th - LINTON-ON-OUISE.
Boarded the train at Kings Cross station in London. It
has suffered more than Waterloo, although heavily loaded
trains continue to come and go. As they say here, "He
(Jerry) can't frighten us."
Arriving at York, I was asked to have a whiskey with a
young officer, one of the last to be evacuated from
Dunkirk. My escort came along, and we started toward the
base. I learned he flew in the last war at age seventeen.
We met Vice Air Marshal Conningham, and were shown the
Group's elaborate set-up.
The 58th Night Bombers were located nearby so our escort
drove us there. (How these people can go from one place to
another in total darkness is uncanny! I'm convinced another
year will find them with "night eyes"!) We arrived in time
for "Guest Night". The 58th was hosting two other
squadrons. Jerry hit their field yesterday, killing nine of
their fellow officers in the mess hall. I never would have
guessed it from their high spirits at the party.
The Wing Commander officiated with great pomp and
ceremony until the National Anthem was played. Then, we
drank a toast to the King, and the fun began! It reminded
me of our Mug Parties. All of the pilots were youngsters
who seemed to enjoy rough games. At their request Bob and I
Everyone, including the high-rankers, took off their
tunics and began with a tug-of-war. Later, we played
"alligator." It's a wild game! About twenty officers
face each other, lock arms and join hands, forming a sort
of long "cradle." Then, one person dives from a table into
the cradle. Everyone yells "Heave!" and he's thrown
for-ward. On the average, it took about four "heaves" to
reach the end of the line and be tossed headlong onto a
sofa or overstuffed chair. I did better than average. I
made it in three pitches and landed on a large chair, which
promptely collapsed. They laughed like the devil!
About midnight, scattered and torn clothes were gathered
up, everyone was mussed up, and the furniture was pretty
well broken up. The party was a complete success, so it
broke up, too!
These English are wonderful! War or no war, tea is at
five, and Guest Nights continue. I fear that Jerry will
drop a bomb on the mess hall one Guest Night and account
for at least a hundred of England's best night airmen. Even
if that should happen (God forbid), they'll die doing what
they like to do most, at work or play ... raising hell!
OCTOBER 30th - LINTON-ON-OUISE.
Today, after Bob and I made a few inspections, the Vice
Air Marshal had us over for tea. We discussed air tactics
and operations procedures. Marshall Conningham is not only
charming, but highly intelligent. It's good that he is. The
night bombing of Germany, Italy and France is his
Later, Bob and I rode in a night bomber to watch the
procedure of bringing pilots out of Germany and landing
on the field. Navigation is poor, weather is worse. Most
casualties occur on or near the airfields upon completion
of the missions. The pilots are tired after ten hours of
flying and being shot at. Crossing the North Sea, the Alps,
and locating a blacked-out target is no easy chore. Then,
there's always the long trip home. My hat is off to
They seem to like the Berlin missions best. The stories
they bring back are fantastic, but they swear they are
true. I believe them.
For example, "Penny", a 20-year old Canadian, was in the
Berlin area trying to locate his target. When he sighted an
airfield below, he pulled a star flare "just to see what
would happen". The Germans mistook him for one of their own
and gave him a green light to land. Penny squared away for
his "approach" and came across the hangar line. Instead of
landing, he presented them with half his bomb load. Then,
to add insult to injury, he made another pass during which
both he and his tail-gunner machine-gunned the field!
The Jerries retaliated by sending eighteen ships to bomb
an English airdrome. They inflicted severe damage, but
their revenge was less than sweet. Spitfires caught them on
the way to the coast. All eighteen were shot down.
Another officer, Wing Commander "Teddy" Beare, has made
37 night trips into Germany and Italy. Returning from a
particularly rough mission, he radioed a scrambled message
to his home base. When unscrambled it sparked a lot of
laughter. It read, "The natives appear to be hostile."
Incidentally, he has been nominated for the
Distinguished Flying Cross for long, hard service.
OCTOBER 31st - CUMBERLAND HOTEL, LONDON.
After a late dinner with Vice Air Marshal Conningham,
Bob and I returned to London, made our reports and spent
some time surveying the damage in our neighborhood. Many
places in the area have been bombed. So far, the Embassy
After dark, I went to a restaurant a few hundred feet
away from our hotel. Having been here for a few days, I
thought I could navigate the blackout like the natives, so
didn't take a flashlight. How stupid! I collided with at
least a dozen people. They seemed to come out of no-where.
Before you can duck, you're nose to nose with some-one.
At the restaurant ... another surprise. Some people
dressed in pajamas and carrying bedding stepped out of the
elevator. By day it's a restaurant -- by night, a
The subways (or "tubes", as they say here) are also used
as shelters. Women and children crowd into them, spending
hours underground, sleeping within a few inches of the
tracks, while the trains continue to run as usual.
The spirit here is strong. It's not uncommon to see most
of a huge tenement gone, the windows in the remaining
portion broken, doors knocked flat -- and a tattered Union
Jack defiantly waving in the wet breeze. I ask "When will
it all end?" They don't know, but they assure me they will
stand on and on. "'He' can't whip England", they say. I
hope they're right.
NOVEMBER 1st - BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - 12:05 P.M.
A German plane is over the town. I can see him from the
window. He has buzzed the hotel twice. Soon, he's bound to
locate his target and drop a "stick". The Germans have been
after the docks here, but this one seems to be looking for
something else --maybe a railway station or supply
I have lost count of the days. They all seem alike ...
rainy or just cloudy. Today it's raining.
He's pulling up a bit to make a turn. The people in
streets are looking up, waiting for the "stick" to fall.
They seem nervous. Can't blame them. I am, too.
I can hear .30 calibre machine gun fire. It's punctuated
by an occasional burst from a .50 calibre. The ack-ack boys
can't get on him. Too low. Where are the Spitfires?
He's making another pass! People are running for cover.
The guns are going faster now. The Jerry doesn't seem to
mind. It looks like a sighting run. Maybe he'll let go this
time. Still no Spitfires! He's coming fast as hell! Must be
doing at least 400 mph.
Passed overhead! Silence. Can't panic. People below are
quiet. Can't hear the motor now. Maybe he has gone away ...
Too good to be true! There he is again, coming out of the
clouds! The ground guns are going all out now! How can they
miss him? They do. He drops one. If we hear it --no danger.
If not -- no worries.
Thank God! We hear the explosion! Building shudders.
Downstairs, plate-glass window shatters into street.
Hear a woman crying - not loud. Now a baby cries,
A new sound -- rapid, short bursts of eight .30's,
followed by the whistle of a fast fighter. Spitfire! People
cheer. Planes go out to sea. Everything is quiet again. The
rain is coming down in torrents. I reach for a cigarette.
My hand trembles.
Four bombs dropped on and near concentration depots. Few
casualties. One JU-88 crashed 15 miles from Poole. Crew
killed. No RAF losses.
NOVEMBER 2nd - LINTON-ON-OUISE.
New DFC's for two bomber pilots. One to Wing Commander
Sutton, the other to Wing Commander "Teddy" Beare.
The fighters are receiving most of the praise on the
front pages. They are doing splendid work. They are old men
at 25. But, these boys at the Bomber Stations are the
work-horses. Four round trips to their targets equal a
water flight the distance of the Atlantic. They are
carrying the war to Germany and Italy at night! The misery
they deal to the population of those countries should serve
to let them know what London is suffering.
A special mission is in the works. Everyone wants to
make it. They're matching coins to determine who will go.
As an observer from an "un-involved" nation, I can't
participate in the matching – damit! After all the
bombing these past few days, I don't feel so "un-involved".
At any rate, it promises to be a great surprise. I hope it
will be a
NOVEMBER 4th - SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND.
One crew reported lost in the North Sea. I wonder about
their families. There is so much death. Been thinking a lot
about Fluffy. Hope she's well. In many ways I wish she were
here. I'm lonely as all hell.
NOVEMBER 6th - SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND.
1,000 bombs fell on England this day.
NOVEMBER 9th - SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND.
The Big Surprise ... The Munich Beer Hall was bombed!
Such a pity Hitler was not trapped inside. It was close,
but not quite close enough. We knew the opportunity was
going to arise long before the raid. England also has a spy
NOVEMBER 11th - CUMBERLAND HOTEL, LONDON.
Typical English weather today -- cold, damp and bleak.
Our room is on the top floor and we have a good view of the
city. London looks sad.
Barrage balloons, although firmly anchored in one spot,
seem to move in and out of the low-hanging clouds. They
look like huge sausages floating around in mid-air, but
they're a welcome sight to all of us on the ground. They're
a menace to dive-bombers.
It's almost "blitz time". In a few minutes we can expect
the Me-110's to drop their bombs from somewhere around
30,000 feet. Wonder where they'll hit? We won't see the
planes. They'll be above the weather. No doubt we'll hear
the bombs. They always whistle when released so high.
a strange thing to consider, but it's all too true --
bombs fall anyplane, on anyone! Hitler will probably send
many on this raid. It's Armistice Day.
NOVEMBER 12th - LONDON.
Good news! The night was quiet.
Early today 150 enemy aircraft approached the Dover
coast, but were driven back or scattered. The Italians sent
some planes along on the raid, but they were of "1937
vintage" -- wooden and obsolete. As the RAF Hurricanes
scattered the formation, 'twas a bad day for the
The RAF boys have been waiting a long time for a chance
like this. They seem to hate Italy worse than Germany. We
heard later that some of the captured Italian bomber pilots
were carrying wine, cheese, bayonets, and hand grenades. I
guess they wanted to be prepared to stay a while. Most of
them will -- the captured ones in prison camps, the others
in the North Sea where they fell.
NOVEMBER 13th - CUMBERLAND HOTEL, LONDON.
By actual count 1,000 bombs were dropped on London
today. How long can this city survive?
Seventy per cent of many important docks have been shot
away. Mile after mile of waterfront has been damaged or
destroyed. Millions of people are living underground. They
bring their children out for fresh air for a short time
around noon, then take them back into the "tubes" by 2:00
p.m. Two million persons have been evacuated; others are
leaving at the rate of 1,000 per day.
Not many streets have escaped the fury of a bomb.
in Hyde Park, hundreds of tame pigeons pace the walkways
looking for crumbs of food. With all the shortages, even
they must feel the effects of war.
The only living things thriving here are the lice and
NOVEMBER 14th - WARMWELL, ENGLAND.
What a day this has been! Bob Williams and I came here
by train for a look at the Central Gunnery School. This
time, we departed from Waterloo Station which has suffered
heavily during recent night raids. While we were waiting on
the platform this morning the alarm sounded. We just sat.
No need to run. We've learned that no one knows where "the
safe place" is.
We arrived here shortly after 4:00 this afternoon.
Bob and I were both "wounded" today! What the whole
damned Luftwaffe hasn't been able to do in several weeks, a
British WAAF accomplished within a minute! As we walked out
of the station she greeted us with a snappy salute,
re-porting for duty as our chauffeur. Returning the salute,
Bob dropped his "tin hat" on his foot. I knew it must have
hurt something awful, but I had to laugh. It was funny as
hell! As he hobbled to the car, it struck me even funnier.
What a situation! The poor girl was obviously quite
embarrassed (we were the first American officers she had
seen). As we settled onto the back seat, Bob was muttering
some-thing under his breath and I was trying, without much
success, to stop laughing. I didn't stop, until she
gingerly shut the door - on my finger! Then she was really
I managed to keep from crying, somehow. Bob was a good
sport. Even after we reached the base dispensary where they
relieved the pressure by drilling through the nail, he
didn't laugh once - at least, not out loud. I may never
Tonight we dined at the Officer's mess and learned we
missed a good show this afternoon. About an hour before we
arrived from Bournemouth, a JU-88 made a run on the base. A
20-year-old pilot named Marsh took his Spitfire up to stop
him. I'll never understand how he survived that clash. He
made a total of four passes at the Junker. On the first
three he couldn't seem to get a decent shot, but the German
gunner scored several hits on the fighter, inflicting
serious damage. On his fourth run, Marsh and the German
began firing almost simultaneously. A stream of bullets hit
the windshield of the "Spit" directly in front of the
youngster's face, but the bullet-proof glass held, and the
slugs were deflected. The JU-88 crashed in flames, killing
the entire crew.
Fighting is more luck than I thought.
Someone asked Marsh if he had heard the account of the
fight on the BBC news. "I don't listen to the news," he
said quietly. "I make it."
I'm impressed by these youngsters! In fact, there's only
one thing about them that bothers me. They have a fetish
for collecting our "U.S. "blouse buttons. They don't just
take them; they always trade, fairly. One RAF button for
one US button. Our uniforms are beginning to look a bit
strange. I only have a couple of US buttons left. Bob
NOVEMBER 15th - WARMWELL, ENGLAND.
Had a most interesting day. England's gunners are
trained here and Jerry has tried for the base many times.
So far he's had little luck.
We rode along on a practice gunnery mission this
Tonight we go to London via Bournemouth. London received
an extremely heavy bombardment last night. I'm glad we were
out of town.
NOVEMBER 16th - WARMWELL, ENGLAND.
Our plans to return to London were changed at the last
moment. We were lucky. Bournemouth was hit hard at the very
time we would have been there to change trains. Fifty
people were killed. We seem to be one step ahead, or
behind, the bombing. I hope it remains that way.
We had some "visitors" here last night, too. The Germans
passed overhead, en masse. We all stood by for the attack,
but it didn't come.
Coventry was bombed terribly! Jerry was trying for the
airplane works. Beyond a doubt, it was one of the worst
blows of the war. Civilians bore the brunt of the attack.
Thousands were killed! The Germans are really pounding now.
500,000 pounds of high-explosive and incendiary bombs were
literally dumped out over Coventry in a
let-it-fall-where-it-may style. What next?
LATER -- SAME DATE - CUMBERLAND HOTEL, LONDON.
It took only five hours to get "home". After living
where there is no heat, a warm room is welcome! Our
street was bombed while we were gone. As we returned this
evening, we stopped for a while to watch crews dig for the
I think I'll stop bathing here. Just like our first
night in this room, I had just stepped from the tub this
evening when the alarm went off. I threw on my robe, turned
out the lights and opened the window to watch the action.
Bob had gone out for the evening. I was alone.
I heard the drone of the engines approaching above the
clouds. Then the ack-ack guns started blasting from all
over the city. Jerry was looking for his target. I just sat
and waited. The sound of the motors seemed to be the only
thing that mattered. I followed it as it came closer.
Listening and waiting -- there's nothing else to do. The
gunfire increased as the drone deepened. I thought, "It
can't be overhead." Then, the inevitable happened .., the
loud whistle ... that familiar "sickening thud", and the
building quivvered. I listened for the second one. It hit.
I relaxed and turned on the radio to hear the news.
The RAF had bombed Hamburg again. I wondered how the
people there react during raids. Probably about the
NOVEMBER 17th - CUMBERLAND HOTEL, LONDON.
Today is Sunday -- skies are clear and the air is brisk.
In Coventry they're burying their dead and asking for
revenge at the same time. Dear God! What an experience, to
sit before this huge stage watching the war rage. To see
the misery and death it brings is a rare, but dreadful,
experience. I should feel soft, but I don't. On the
find myself wanting vengeance. The longer I'm exposed to
this life, the more I hope to see the day I can personally
deliver at least partial payment to the people responsible.
I've had all I want to take on the ground. I'm ready to
change planes with the Hun, and do a little dealing from
the sky. For what it's worth, I believe that we Americans,
if allowed to fight, can end this war. The English can
"take it", but they need help in "dishing it out". We can
"take it" AND "dish it out" -- American-style. The Germans
won't like that if they ever get a taste of it. I shall
remember these days. Who could forget?
SAME DATE - SAME PLACE - 9:00 P.M.
Spent a quiet day walking around the city. What a mess!
I am very lonely and think often of Fluffy. Hope she isn't
too worried about me. Maybe I'll dream about her
NOVEMBER 18th - SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND.
Can't say where we are tonight. This station is so
secret they have assigned an extra RAF officer to escort
us. Lord Beaverbrook gave us his car for transportation.
Several new aircraft are being tested here. One of them,
the DB-7, is regarded as a potential answer to the German
night bombing. Another plane they call the "Typhoon" is
being tested. I'm certain it will make a good reputation
for itself. Beautiful!
We ate an early supper in an underground restaurant. I'm
not going to leave the hotel tonight. It's too dark for me
NOVEMBER 20th - SAME PLACE.
Going to bed early tonight. Tomorrow Bob and I are off
to Scotland for a peek at one of the training fields
NOVEMBER 21st - ENROUTE TO SCOTLAND.
We're on our way at last. For a few minutes this
evening, I wasn't sure we would make it. I left for the
station fifteen minutes ahead of Bob, to buy sleeper
tickets. We were to meet at the ticket office located just
outside the station building. Before Bob arrived, we were
raided, and they moved it inside. The station has been
touched several times in the past, and could have been the
target for tonight. I'm sure everyone there knew it, but
instead of running away they stood still and looked upward,
waiting for that God-awful whistling sound. The raiders
approached and passed overhead. Nothing happened. As the
motor-noise faded, the travelers began to move again. At
five minutes to departure time, Bob hadn't shown up. I
started toward the front entrance to see if he might be
waiting there. We ran into each other in the crowd and had
to hurry to make the train.
NOVEMBER 22nd -- ENROUTE TO SCOTLAND.
A bit of excitement last night as Bob and I went to-ward
the diner. (These trains are strange to us. Every aisle
seems to be filled with luggage, and maneuvering through
them is a chore. Also, there are several baggage cars,
scattered without any apparent reason between the passenger
cars.) The train, on its way through the Mid-lands, where
Jerry has been working intensely the past
four nights, came to a sudden stop. The lights went out,
and I knew we were in for it. I opened a window and saw the
crew cover the engine-lights with a black cloth.
Searchlights were playing about in the sky. Everything was
quiet, except for the sound of motors overhead. I noticed
they were out of synchronization (a trick to confuse the
rangefinders). I was able to follow the raiders' course by
watching the bursts of ack-ack fire and the "on and off" of
the searchlights. An eerie sight!
Our fellow passengers spoke in whispers, as if afraid
the sound of their voices might attract the Huns'
attention, and bring down a rain of bombs. But the "rain"
never came. The bombers passed over toward some distant
target, and we began to move toward our destination.
Dinner was very late last night.
NOVEMBER 23rd - SOMEWHERE IN SCOTLAND.
We arrived here seven hours late. The only
transportation running on time these days is operated by
We're quite near the border of Northern Ireland.
Canadian fighter squadrons are sent here to rest after
completing eight weeks of duty around London. New pilots
are sent to practice gunnery.
This is a beautiful place. Looking out over the hills
dotted with grass-covered huts, with smoke rising
peacefully from their chimneys, it's hard to realize men
come here to learn the art of killing. On the other hand,
all the pictures I have ever seen of Bavaria were
NOVEMBER 24th - ENROUTE TO LONDON.
Our "first" anniversary! One month has passed since we
left New York. How much has passed under our wings, and
over our heads, in such a short time. It seems like a
Liverpool and Southhampton have been touched again.
According to news reports, the Southhampton docks were hit
very hard. Fires were numerous throughout the city, some
burning out of control for hours. Thirty million pounds of
badly needed foodstuffs went up in smoke. The Fire Chief
was discharged for so-called "inefficiency." It's probably
a happy thing for him. Who could be expected to cope with
so many fires, broken water mains, cluttered streets, plus
German bombers? I'm sure he can use some rest.
NOVEMBER 26th - LONDON.
Bob and I have moved to a flat. The hotel was getting
too crowded. The streets are crowded, too, despite an
incident just two days ago, when a dive-bomber made a
strafing run on some pedestrians. The people accept danger
as a matter of fact, and go about their daily tasks, as
best they can. Some stores don't even close during raids
any more. They simply lock the street-level doors, repair
to the basement, and resume business. Some display signs
reading "Business As Usual". Bombed stores and offices
carry "To Be Let" signs. Many streets are blocked by
rubble, and detour signs appear everywhere. I haven't
walked on a single London street which hasn't suffered some
The people are surely a determined lot. They
repair and re-appear after every raid. Many of the
buildings are completely beyond repair. When this war is
over (if it ever is) there'll be a helluva bunch of parking
lots in this city that weren't here before.
NOVEMBER 29th - LONDON.
I visited around the city today with one of the London
Fire Brigade Chiefs as my guide. Among the points of
interest was Dick Turpin's Pub, formerly a hideout for the
notorious highwayman. The building is 400 years old! Also,
we toured the East End, passed the Tower of London, and
crossed the Thames several times.
Early last September the Germans staged a raid,
concentrating their efforts upon the waterfront. The
bombing was continuous from 5:00 p.m. until dawn of the
next morning. Many docks and millions of pounds of goods
were destroyed. Hundreds of persons were trapped until
firemen rescued some by boat. A few managed to swim to
safety. Others were drowned. The docks of London are no
Our guide believes Hitler had the war won, had he
continued such ferocious raids. But, he slacked off - and
Later we visited the Main Fire Station and watched the
firemen at rescue drill. They can't seem to get enough
practice. When I learned that three hundred firemen have
lost their lives since the September Blitz, I can
DECEMBER 7th - LONDON.
The last two nights have been quiet. Tonight there is a
clear sky and a bright moon. If I have learned any-thing
about German tactics, I have a feeling we're in for
I'm currently reading Harry Harvey's new book, "THE
DAMNED DON'T CRY". It is about Savannah, Georgia, so I'm
getting a little homesick. Savannah seems so far away, yet
so near. I can see Bull Street in my mind at times. Last
night I dreamed of a large chocolate milkshake. We rarely
get milk or butter here. Guess I had better stop
DECEMBER 8th - LONDON - 11:00 P.M.
Hell is on the wing! The sky is dripping blood and
screaming thunder! I thought I had become accustomed to the
"Blitz", but up to now what I have experienced has been
trivial. This is the "real McCoy"! Will write more when the
bombers leave. Too much to do now.
DECEMBER 9th - LONDON.
Six-thirty was "lid off" time. Bombers came in
continuous waves for 7 1/2 hours! The Germans hit London
with full power. They came early and stayed late. It was an
At 6:30 p.m. I stood on the hotel roof, watching the
bombers jockey back and forth over the city. Off to one
side, the sky lighted up. Flares were burning in groups of
two. A ground battery opened fire, but failed to hit the
mark. The flares continued to burn, dripping long streaks
of fire as they swayed to earth.
London and its artificial lighting!!
Above the flares, the bombers wove in and out - back and
forth - drone-drone-drone. Gun batteries followed the
sound, and fired incessantly. Yellow blasts went off so
near they jarred the entire building. I watched the bursts
pit the sky like hundreds of shooting stars.
During a raid you're convinced the bombs are about to
fall soon. Where? That's the big question! No need to run.
He can't see you. Wait. That's all you can do ---just wait.
The droning gets louder. More batteries open fire. The
whole city is shooting. Fireworks are everywhere! Finally
it comes -- a long, drawn-out swish. Then, a flutter.
Experience has taught you the meaning of this sound. It's a
stick of incendiary bombs, loaded with fire. They hit and
ignite. Men run for them. Women throw garments over them.
Taxi drivers stop and kick them out. Everyone fights the
Last night I heard a flutter, coupled with the drawn-out
swish, as the bombs crashed to the street below our
building. I hurried downstairs to see them. The street was
burning. Men were trying to stamp them out.
An elderly gentleman screamed that our roof was on fire.
Remembering that my clothes were on the top floor, I
started back upstairs. I was joined by a fire warden. At
the roof door we separated, to search opposite sides of the
building. "All clear on my side" I yelled, and started back
downstairs. He came through the door a moment later.
Suddenly we heard a high-pitched, shrieking whistle. The
warden screamed "For God's Sake, Captain, take cover!" I
dived for the landing, just a few steps below. The warden
and I hit the floor almost simultaneously and huddled
together, holding each other. The bomb fell like
lightning. It was not an incendiary, but a high-explosive
missile. It crashed across the street. We were safe. The
tension relieved, we began to laugh. Then we looked up and
realized that we had been crouching beneath a skylight for
protection against a bomb! Funny what people do when
they're excited. Instinct. Just plain damned fools.
DECEMBER 9th - LONDON.
Another day - another dollar. London continues to burn.
Most fires are under control, but many still smoulder.
Bob and I walked down to Baker Street, which is almost
covered by broken glass blown out of shop windows. Work
squads were busy cleaning up the debris. Firemen and rescue
teams were extinguishing small fires as they searched for
DECEMBER 11th - LONDON.
Have been so busy with paper work there hasn't been much
time for anything else. Hope I never see the day when my
flying will be confined to a desk!
Today Bob and I were forced to detour to reach the
Embassy. Some buildings on Baker Street are roped off
because of the possibility of collapsing. Traffic has been
DECEMBER 12th - LONDON.
One raider came over today, touched a shopping center
and killed several people. The past few days and nights
have been relatively quiet. This was one of those "lest you
forget" reminders that the war is not over.
Tomorrow we leave town for a few days. After all this
paper work, I can use a vacation.
DECEMBER 16th - LONDON.
After being away, even for such a short time, I notice a
difference in the people of London. They seem outwardly
composed, but in the wake of last Sunday's big raid, there
is an air of added nervousness. I feel it, too. Whenever I
hear falling bombs, my stomach tightens up worse than it
did at first. It's like walking down a dark alley, with
numerous unseen thugs swishing out at you with clubs. You
can hear them, but don't know which way to dodge.
DECEMBER 19th - LONDON.
"Home" for a day. We leave again tomorrow for another
inspection. Traveling is hectic and tiring, but it beats
hell out of sitting behind a desk in the Embassy. I've been
writing most of my reports (except the confidential
portions) on the trips back to London. I may be the first
officer in the history of the Army to get a Purple Heart
for writers' cramp.
Today we visited the "Holy of Holies" (that's what the
RAF boys have named the Fighter Command Headquarters). It
is elaborate and efficient. Twenty-six men and women work
at one plotting table. About half that number stand on
platforms, directing fighter operations. We watched the
progress of a German raider as he circled London, unloaded
his bombs and started for home. The RAF sent fighters after
him, but I didn't find out if they got him. He made it out
of London safely.
DECEMBER 23rd - COVENTRY, ENGLAND.
During the past two days we have seen a lot of this part
of the country. The scenery is beautiful, and under less
trying circumstances our journey would have been extremely
pleasant. Even in these days it is easy to experience
moments of fanciful enjoyment.
We passed through Banbury (of the Banbury Cross and the
Cock Horse stories), Shakespeare's Stratford-on-Avon and
countless other quaint little towns nestled in the hills.
They all look alike, with their "fair book" thatched roofs
and narrow, crooked streets.
Each village has a pub. They, too, are similar --with
winding stairs, narrow halls and high, comfortable beds.
The managers are almost always elderly women; the men have
We've been traveling by car. Frequently we've been
forced to ask for directions. All sign posts have been
removed from the roads, in case of enemy invasion.
Coventry is a wreck! In one raid, 30,000 buildings were
damaged or destroyed, and 3,500 persons were killed. (The
papers said "a few hundred".) Hell! There were 400 killed
in one hotel! As fire gutted the business section, workmen
dug long ditches in which to bury the dead. One of the
oldest cathedrals in England was ruined.
Christmas shopping was in full swing when we arrived.
Women and children were climbing over wreckage on the
streets and sidewalks to buy small gifts. Several times
since we left the States I've found myself wondering if God
has gone away. When I see spirit such as these people
display, I know He hasn't.
P.S. My escort, Squadron Leader Tweedle, and I found a
"Christmas present" this evening. We went to the third
floor of a ruined equipment depot to look at the damage. I
saw an object lying in a pile of debris, and asked what it
was. He told me it was a "Jerry Wing Commander", issued to
the officers of the RAF as part of their equipment.
Actually, it's an ordinary chamber pot with gold stripes
around it! I'm taking it with me to London. With the
plumbing what it is these days, I may need it.
CHRISTMAS - LONDON.
No mail, no cables, no nothing. Just memories of Fluffy
and Fuz. I'm alone. Bob is out of town. He fixed a few
"funny" decorations before he left, but they don't seem too
I had coffee, olives, crackers and soup for lunch. This
evening I walked to the Cumberland Hotel, expecting to eat
dinner. When I got there I found every seat and table had
already been reserved. Nearly all of the eating places were
closed, so I had "Christmas Dinner" in a "dirty-spoon"
cafe. Guess I'll stop writing and go to bed.
DECEMBER 26th - LONDON.
Christmas turned out better than I thought it would.
Just as I was getting ready for bed, Bob came back. He had
picked up a bottle of Canadian Club, so we had a few. We
drank to the United States, to our friends, to our enemies,
and then drank the rest of the bottle for ourselves. I'm
glad there was no raid last night. We were just a wee bit
DECEMBER 28th - SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND.
Out again. This mission is fun, in a way, but the damned
paper work is beginning to irk me more and more. All day, I
look, listen and take notes. At night, I write until 10:30
or 11:00 o'clock. I don't know how long my mashed finger is
going to hold out. Damn that WAAF who closed the car door
I've lost nearly all my blouse buttons and ornaments
now. Some of them have gone a long way with their new
owners. One of them is being worn by a fighter pilot who
has won the DFC. A Polish fighter pilot killed in action
A 19-year-old New Zealander, who has brought down eight
Germans - one as we were driving to the field - has one of
Bob Williams' insignia. Just to keep things even, Bob and I
both have a WAAF button, although I don't like to look at
mine. It reminds me of my finger, and I get mad. Women in
war - umph!
DECEMBER 30th - LONDON.
I'm still one jump ahead of the Blitz! Came back this
evening to learn the city was hit by another "fire-stick"
attack Monday night. From all accounts, the German intended
to "Coventrize" London, but foul weather moved in, and he
lost the target. No doubt he will be back.
JANUARY 1st, 1941! - LONDON.
HAPPY (?) NEW YEAR!
I went to a party last night and really enjoyed it. From
the way I feel today, I "enjoyed" it a little too much.
Tweedle and his wife took me to the 41st Group Mess for
the celebration. It was the first party many of these
officers had attended in a year. I felt like "Mrs. Astor's
Pet Horse". Everyone "just had to look" at my uniform. We
Americans are a great curiosity over here. I hope we are
making a good impression. The party ended after all the
decorations had been destroyed (an old English custom).
There was much singing, ending with "God Save The
The Tweedles managed to get me safely through the
blackout, and dropped me off at the hotel about 2:00
Just staying alive the last two months of 1940 fills me
with a sense of accomplishment. I wonder what the next
twelve months will bring?
JANUARY 2nd - SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND.
Tonight I write at another "hush-hush" place. I'm so
full of secrets now I feel like hiding in a corner, like a
gangster afraid of being shot.
It's 10:30 p.m., and airplanes are flying all over the
place. Some are going to Germany, some to Italy. I hope
they have better luck getting to their destination than
Fluffy's Christmas cable had getting to me. She sent it
Christmas Eve, and I got it just before leaving London this
morning. Merry Christmas, Darling!
Tomorrow, we motor 150 miles to another installation. On
the 7th I return to London, submit a report, then go out
for four more days.
I read some interesting Blitz statistics in the
newspapers today: London has been under "alert" 1180 hours
total of 48 days. The sirens have sounded the "alert"
alarm 400 times since August, 1940. (I've only been here
since late October, but it seems like I've been through all
JANUARY 3rd - SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND.
During our motor trip today we passed along "The Ditch
of England", a huge trench dug across the entire country
from north to south. It would be invaluable to the
defending forces in case of invasion. Should invasion
occur, all Church bells in England will ring as a warning.
(They are not rung for anything else - not even on
Christmas or New Years.)
Most of the farm land has been ditched or covered by
obstructions to prevent aircraft landings. For that same
purpose, long straight sections of highways are lined with
concrete poles, or have heavy cables stretched overhead.
Curves and intersections are "covered" by machine gun
Should the church-bell warning sound, the Hun will be
met in the field by every man, woman and child able to
walk. He'll have to fight for every inch of ground he
takes. I'm certain that every inland stread would fill with
blood, and the North Sea would be scarlet.
I hope the day will never come.
JANUARY 4th - SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND.
Millions of people have been evacuated to the inner
parts of England. Accommodations are poor, and scarce.
Adequate heating is non-existent. No heat when you go
bed - none when you get up. Last night I slept in my
JANUARY 8th - LONDON.
My tour carried me over 900 miles of highway to the
entire RAF Maintenance Command. I was treated royally by
the officers and men. They answered all of my questions and
showed me every place of importance -- secret or otherwise.
Elaborate is a poor word to describe their set-up!
Tomorrow will find me back at the "factory" (the
Embassy) writing reports. It will take a long time.
JANUARY 14th - LONDON.
The reports are finished at last! I try, but I can't
seem to develop a liking for paper work. I think I'd rather
fight the Germans. "Think", hell! I know I would!
I completed my reports about noon, and spent the rest of
the day looking at color films of camouflaged runways. I
should know something when I leave here.
Bob and I have signed up for some ferry flying on our
days off. I'm anxious to get some more "stick time".
We go to Liverpool day after tomorrow for the first
By the way, Bob has acquired an "English accent" -- a
bad cold and cough.
JANUARY 15th - LONDON.
I won't be going to Liverpool tomorrow. I'm going home!
Bob will stay on here a while.
This is the last entry I'll make in this diary. I have
just finished reading it from the beginning. I find
it un-informative as to exactly where we have been and
what we have done militarily. I wish it were more specific,
but security regulations are strict. However, I feel it
will serve well as a reminder of my personal impressions of
this war. It's hard to believe so much could happen in a
few short weeks.
Now that departure is so near, I know I'll leave with
mixed emotions. It will be wonderful to see Fluffy and Fuz,
and to become re-accustomed to the luxuries of State-side
life, but I'll never forget the misery and death I've seen
here. Certainly the courage and strength of the British has
given me new respect for this nation.
As I close this journal, I am stronger from experiences
noted on its pages. I have learned that a man can endure
far more suffering and hardship than he realizes. This may
be the best lesson of all. After observing the Germans in
action, I can't help but wonder if I might return someday
-- to fight, -- not write.
For the moment, however, I've had enough of hell!
Exactly one year after writing the last entry in the
diary, I was chomping at the bit, anxious to go back to a
combat zone. It was an eventful, but frustrating year,
during which I received two promotions and three transfers.
I was now a lieutenant colonel in the office of the
Assistant Chief of Operations, at Headquarters Army Air
Forces, in Washington.
I heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor while on Sunday
staff duty. Eating lunch when the word arrived, I nearly
choked on my hamburger! Here we were at war, and I was
chained to a desk in the Munitions Building. I had never
liked administrative work, and now that there was a need
for qualified pilots, I hated it.
I began writing and submitting transfer requests,
explaining what a poor desk man I was. I button-holed
officers in the hallways, asking them to use their
influence to get me a combat assignment. Nothing seemed to
work out in my favor, and I began to think I would be
waiving a small American flag from a Munitions Building
window as the boys returned from the war.
On January 24, 1942, Colonel Ira Eaker-- my former
commander during the old days on Airmail Route #4 --walked
into my office, unannounced, and uttered the most welcome
words I've ever heard.
"Army," he said quietly, "you're going to England with
me. The orders are being cut today; we leave around the
first of February."
Too startled to ask ally of at least a hundred questions
which immediately came to mind, I simply replied, "Yessir."
He looked curiously at me for a moment, then walked out,
without saying another word.
I was ready to go! Picking up a large stack of papers
from the desk top, I unceremoniously threw them at the
ceiling, grabbed my hat, and started for the door.
Washington was beautiful as I darted through the
traffic, anxious to tell Fluffy and Fuz of my good
Arriving home, I rushed up the front steps, taking them
two at a time. Entering the hallway, I met my son on his
way outside to play.
"Fuz, I have a big surprise for you!'.' I said happily.
"Your daddy is going to a combat zone!"
He looked up at me for a moment, then asked evenly,
"Bombers or fighters?"
"Bombers!" I replied proudly. "Probably Flying
"Phooey!" he said with obvious disgust, and left me
standing in the hail wondering at the irony of it all, as
he continued on his way.
Before I could recover from this unexpected reaction,
Fluffy entered from the kitchen drying her hands on her
apron. She had overheard the conversation.
"Is it true, Frank?" Her voice was unusually soft.
"It's true, all right! We leave-in about ten days!"
Her eyes filled with tears. She embraced me, planted a
moist, gentle kiss on my cheek, then walked quickly
into the kitchen and closed the door behind her.
It wasn't until that moment I realized how selfishly I
had acted. My eyes had been focused on the present; hers
were looking into the future at the lonely, anxious days a=
ahead. I could have kicked myself!
During the next days, Fluffy was magnificent. She was
her usual vivacious self up to the last moment before my
departure, but she cried as I kissed her goodbye. Had I
looked back as I walked away, I think I would have cried,
The next day I threw a farewell kiss to another lady, as
the Pan American Clipper lifted off the water of New York
Harbor. Although my vision was slightly blurred, I kept my
eyes on her until she tilted majestically behind the
Bad weather forced us to remain in Bermuda for several
days. Under different circumstances we might have enjoyed
our stay on the Island, but we were anxious to get busy
with the tremendous task awaiting us in England.
The skies cleared at last, and we flew on to Lisbon.
There we boarded a Douglas DC-3 airliner bound for the
west-of-England. It could have been the last flight for all
As we cruised over the Bay of Biscay, about a hundred
miles off the French Coast, we spotted a twin engine
aircraft approaching from the east. It was a German
fighter! Our DC-3 was slow and unarmed, but we knew this
wouldn't bother the German. Our pilot began to jockey the
bird" from side to side to present a more difficult
target to the fighter, now approaching from astern. I
wondered if the enemy pilot knew that he would soon have
the entire advance guard of the American Bomber Command in
his sights. Just as he neared gun range, Lady Luck stepped
in and saved the day. A blob of smoke belched from one of
his engines and the loss of power threw him off course. He
passed under us at about 800 yards, veered toward France
and a forced landing.
No one said a word for several minutes, but I know at
least one passenger offered a silent prayer of
thanksgiving. Our pilot came out of his compartment, turned
his coat collar up high under his eyes, and peeped at us
over the edge. That broke the tension and we began to laugh
-- just a little too loud.
The first of the seven officers stepping from the plane
on that gray February afternoon, was Ira Eaker, wearing his
newly acquired stars of a Brigadier General. In his
attache' case was a letter signed by Lt. Gen. "Hap" Arnold,
the Chief of the Army Air Forces, naming Eaker the Bomber
Commander in England. It also ordered him to "make the
necessary preparation to insure competent and aggressive
command and direction of our bomber units in England." This
was not to be an easy job.
England had changed during the year I had been home. The
intensive bombing efforts by the Germans had decreased. The
Blitz had been broken. The rubble was cleared from most of
the streets, and London looked a bit tidier than
when I last saw her, but there was no time for
sight-seeing or renewing old friendships. We began our work
I was designated Operations Officer and set up
house-keeping in a small office near the British Operations
Block. For once in my life I didn't seem to mind paperwork.
This job was important, and I felt as if the entire weight
of the war effort was upon my shoulders. At times, I
wondered how I could ever hope to organize an elaborate
system which would begin to compare with that of the
British. The other officers had similar doubts about their
capabilities, but somehow, seven months later, we were
directing raids from our own operations room.
Three months after our arrival, our family of six
officers became twenty-nine in number. We moved to our own
site, at High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, and our dreams
began to materialize, as the American Bomber Command
Headquarters took form. None of us could take all the
credit, however, for it could never have been accomplished
in such a short period without the cooperative spirit and
assistance rendered by the RAF.
Still uncertain as to how well we would function in
actual combat situations, we anxiously awaited the arrival
of our first aircraft.
General Eaker summed up our feelings at a dinner given
in his honor by the British. When prevailed upon to speak,
he arose slowly, faced his audience silently for a moment,
and said, "We won't do much talking until we've done
fighting. We hope that when we leave, you'll be glad we
came. Thank you."
With that he sat down. The applause was deafening. Every
officer in that room knew he was in the presence of a man
Still, the British disagreed with our proposal for
daylight, pinpoint bombing. They thought it was suicidal,
and made a concentrated effort to convince our leaders to
abandon this idea in favor of night saturation techniques.
They also felt that the B-17-E was inadequately protected,
from the defensive firepower standpoint. A team of British
experts claimed that the tail gunner's position was too
cramped, and the belly turret so awkward it was useless.
They suggested the Fortresses be put to work in Coastal
Their criticism was considered, but eventually we
decided to proceed with our original plans.
The first light bombardment squadron, equipped with
Martin A-20 Marauders, arrived in May. At the end of June
the first heavy bombardment group was on its way from the
When the report of the imminent arrival of the
Fortresses reached my desk, I lapsed into the old
"Washington feeling." I hated the office. I hated the
chairs. I began to hate the whole damned place! I wanted to
General Eaker sensed what was happening and called me
into his office.
"Army," he said firmly, "I know what's bothering you.
You want to go out with those combat units when they
Isn't that right?"
"I don't blame you. I would like to go with them, too;
but you and I have two strikes against us."
"First, we're too old; and second, we have our own type
of work to do for them, if they are to succeed."
After ordering me to go to a reception base to set up a
headquarters for receiving the incoming units, and to
dispatch them to their proper stations, the Old Man
As I saluted and turned to leave, his words stopped me
at the door.
"Army, you make or break yourself as an Operations
Officer on this mission. You know that."
I knew it. When the Old Man gave an order there was
absolutely nothing to do but obey it.
"Yessir," I said, and went back to work, resigned to the
fate of navigating a desk through the war. During the next
days, I flew from one base to another, out to sea and back
again, checking radio ranges and blind approaches. Offices
were set up and personnel installed. The Fourth of July
came and we celebrated. The following day we celebrated
again -- this time for Captain Charles Kegleman, with whom
I had served in the United States at a low-level altitude
bombardment station. We had spent many hours hopping the
banks of the Red River, out of both Barksdale
and Savannah. On the Fourth of July, Keg and a handful
of United States medium bomber pilots flew with the RAF on
a low altitude mission. He crossed the English Channel with
a squadron of RAF pilots at zero feet altitude, then pulled
up to a height which made it possible for him to locate his
target and went in. Guns and throttles wide open, he hit
the objective. The German ground defenses threw up a sheet
of fire ahead of the bomber. The hail of bullets from the
ground caught the airplane and covered it momentarily,
shooting one engine completely out of its mounts. Keg's
aircraft hit the ground and skidded across the enemy
airdrome. A sergeant gunner in the rear of the A-20 yelled
through the intercom, "Give 'em hell, Major! How he did it
I’ll never know, but Keg lifted the bird off the
ground, turned on his good engine toward the flak post,
shot it up, and came home.
The first group of heavy bombers arrived and were sent
to their bases. Soon afterward, I was in my headquarters
completing plans for the reception of additional aircraft
when I received a teletype message. It bore the heading of
the Bomber Command and the signature of General Eaker. It
merely said "Report to headquarters immediately." I had
never been afraid of the Old Man, but he had slapped me
down so hard on the combat question, and had sent me away
with such curt orders, that I couldn't be certain of
anything. My skin crawled, and butterflies began doing
pylon eights in the pit of my stomach. I would have sold my
interest in the Bomber Command for a sixpence. On the
way to his office I was in agony. I had been refused
combat duty, but was executing my operations mission
efficiently, so I couldn't understand why he wanted me. I
passed the Chief of Staff without speaking and reached the
C.G.'s door. I hesitated momentarily to collect my wits,
then knocked, and walked in. I'll never forget the Old Man
as he sat at his desk writing a letter. He suddenly
appeared to be as large as a house. He continued to write
for several minutes, finally looked up and said "Army,
what's wrong with you? Are you ill?"
I was, but I couldn't tell him why.
The General looked straight at me for a least thirty
seconds, then said "I have a job for you. I have asked you
to do many things for me, but this time I am putting a real
load on you. Can you do it?"
He had neglected to tell me what he wanted me to do, but
come what may, there was only one answer.
"I'll do my best, Sir."
The Old Man got up, walked around his desk until he
stood squarely in front of me, and said "I'm in a pinch,
Army. A commander threw a party last night for several
local dignitaries, including some royalty. Sometime during
the course of the evening, things got out of hand --or
perhaps I should say too much in hand. The Colonel pinched
Lady------- as she was in a going-away position. My first
official visitor this morning was the Lord. I have no
choice. I've got to relieve the Colonel."
The full impact of his words didn't strike me at
I could not imagine why he was telling me of the
incident. Then he said "You are going to complete the
training of his group, and fight them within sixteen days."
I thought I would die! I am not even certain whether I
saluted as I left and ran down the hallway, yelling and
whooping. As I bounded by his desk, the Chief of Staff
jumped to his feet and asked "What in the Hell is
I replied "I am going to combat!
With that he shot at me one word, "Fool!" and sat
Had I known what the future held in store, I would have
walked out in reverence, and with a prayer on my lips.
I returned to my quarters, packed, and arrived at the
new station late in the afternoon. No one there knew I was
to assume command so quickly, as orders had not yet
arrived. The guard at the gate doubted my veracity when I
informed him that I was the new group commander. He called
the Officer of the Day to take care of me. After giving me
directions, the OD informed me that there was to be a dance
that evening at the Officers Mess. "Would the Colonel be
"Later", I said; and later I realized why he had
inquired. Walking into the 97th Heavy Bombardment Group, a
total stranger, with a reputation of being a firm believer
in low altitude attack, was not a pleasant ordeal. That
night, when I went to the Officers Mess, the dance was in
progress and there was much laughter mixed in with the
familiar strains of American music. I strolled toward the
bar, coming into full view of the whirling couples. The
laughter and merriment ceased. The dancing continued
mechanically. Stags, gathered in small groups around the
room, began to whisper, and the young ladies who chanced to
look in my direction, quickly turned away. Nearby, a
Fortress captain with his officer crew around him said "The
'Butcher'--they say he's an expert in low altitude flying
... " The captain had unknowingly named the Fortress I flew
leading the first daylight raid against axis territory.
The 97th was in sad shape. Morale was low. Military
courtesy was almost non-existent. I knew if I were to
succeed in preparing this outfit for combat, I would have
to be tough. There was no need to delay the inevitable, so
I left the Club, went to my office, and started to
The next morning, the executive officer assembled the
combat crews in the briefing room. The boys I had seen at
the dance were present. They had been fun-loving youngsters
there, but today they were serious-minded men -- combat
crews who had never seen combat. As I looked at them I
wondered if they realized that they would make history in
World War-II and revolutionize high altitude day bombing. I
was expected to make a speech, so I told them all of those
things -- that we were to open the aerial warfare for the
United States; that the eyes of the world would be focused
on them; that the outcome of the war depended upon their
success or failure; that I did not come to them to die, but
to fight and live; that I would go in at high level or low
level, depending entirely upon the orders from Bomber
Command; that I could go in alone, if necessary. Then I
decided to gamble. I
told them that if there was anyone present who wasn't
willing to follow me, I would be thankful if he would stand
up. Not a man in the house left his seat. Turning to leave,
I was exhausted. As I reached the door, the crews stood as
one man and their cheers followed me down the long corridor
to my office. I thanked God for the victory that I knew
would be ours.
The following fifteen days were hell. The group had
occupied two airdromes for reasons of safety and dispersal.
Transportation was scarce. Lines of communication were not
much better than the can-and-string variety young boys
string from woodshed to woodshed. Weather did not often
look favorably upon us. The rains came, and remained with
us. Low clouds dropped tentacles into the valleys, cutting
off exits by air from the airdromes. Mud rolled up on the
runways and clutched at the ground crews as they labored
tirelessly day and night readying their airplanes for the
job ahead. Crew chiefs lived with their aircraft. Even
during blackout hours they crawled in and out of the rear
doors, shielding dim lights, trying to do "just one more
thing" before falling asleep on the floors of the
Spirits could not have been lighter, nor morale higher.
Mechanics cursed to high heaven as they crawled on hands
and knees through the mud and oil. Bomb loaders strained
muscles and tore ligaments as they dragged bombs through
the muck. No one complained. The deadline for the first
raid had been set, and each day found the ground crews
working with more fervor. When Jerry came over to pay a
visit they would not leave their birds; when he dropped
near the base, ground crews were silhouetted beneath
their Fortresses as the men stood under the wings and
shouted toward the sky, "You son-of-a-bitch, if you touch
this ship, I'll come up there and get you myself!"
Ground school was no longer a dull routine, and all of
the classrooms were packed. Every officer and man was
asking the same question -- "Who goes on the first raid?"
No one knew, including me.
At first flight training was done at low altitude. Our
strategy called for us to go in no higher than 300 feet,
nor lower than 50. The pilots began to enjoy the training
and joked about having to "pull up to land". We raced
across our assigned areas so near the ground that young
trees laid their branches back. Each day we received at
least a dozen calls from local residents, telling us an
American bomber had crashed. None had. One lady called me
personally to complain that we were disturbing the baby's
rest, loosening the plaster in her house so that it was
falling into her food, and that we were "all a bloody bunch
of crazy fools, flying too damned low".
During the fourth day of this training the ground radio
called "down" to me, as I was flying between the poles of a
radio tower complex. The message directed me to "take them
upstairs", and I knew that the complexion of aerial warfare
had changed for the American Eighth Air Force in Great
Even though we were practicing for low-level altitude
approaches to enemy targets, the outcome was not
looked upon by a majority of the military authorities.
The main drawback was the size of our aircraft and the fact
that the Fort was designed to carry a heavy load at great
heights. Near the ground, she was clumsy. At 25,000 feet,
she was in her element. Too, the enemy coastline was matted
with small calibre fast-action weapons. Aimed fire from
enemy installations would not be necessary. Germans would
have only to wait until the aircraft came into view, then
throw up a barrage of metal. We were in favor of low-level
attacks, but the more experienced RAF convinced our leaders
that it would be more than foolish to attempt such
We resumed our high altitude training on August 12th.
That afternoon, as we returned from a practice mission,
intelligence informed me that the date for the "curtain
raiser's had been set. If conditions were right, the first
daylight raid over Axis-held territory would be flown
August 16th. Our targets were the marshalling yards at
Rouen-Cotteville, France. The next three days dragged by,
as tension on the airdrome reached a new high. Then, just a
few hours before we were scheduled to begin our pre-mission
briefing, the raid was scrubbed. We were victims of an
enemy we would never conquer -- English weather.
I called operations, weather, and intelligence many
times during the next day, asking if they had received
further word from headquarters. They had none. My spirits
sank to a low depth as I paced back and forth in my office
trying to visualize what it would be like when we did
The phone rang. I nearly broke a leg getting to it. The
voice at the other end inquired, "Colonel Armstrong?"
"This is Operations, Sir. We have a message from
"What is it?"
"It says, 'Pull the string.'"
"Pull the string" -- the phrase sounded hollow and
meaningless at first. Suddenly it boomed against my brain
--"that day" was dawning. Tomorrow we would be off on the
first real run!
I told Operations to keep me posted, hung up, and then
wrote a letter to Fluffy. I filed it with the adjutant, who
would mail it in case I had an "accident". Writing the
letter seemed like an excellent idea at the time, but it
proved to be far more complicated than I had thought. In
later months I re-read that letter, and found it could have
been interpreted to mean almost anything- but it did not
convey my real thoughts.
I didn't sleep much during the few remaining hours
before the pre-dawn briefing.
The briefing was rudimentary, as none of us realized its
real import until much later. We knew only that we had a
target, where it was, and that we were going to smash it
with our bombs, come what may. The crew assembled early,
and we gave them a few minutes to settle down before
opening the session. Nervous coughs interrupted the
operations officer as he pointed out the route across enemy
territory. Gunners stood on their seats in an attempt to
see the exact location on the map where enemy fighters were
to be expected. a co-pilot in the rear of the room vomited.
Among those in the room was Lieutenant Gene Raymond,
Hollywood's youngest leading man prior to the war. Unlike
some actors I had met, he never tried to capitalize on his
background. The first time we were introduced I said, "I
understand you're an actor." His reply was brief and
sincere. "No, Sir", he said, "I'm a First Lieutenant in the
Air Corps." Unwavering dedication to his difficult duties
as an intelligence officer proved the truth of that
statement countless times. He earned my deepest
When it was my turn to speak, a deep silence crept over
the room. There were no more coughs. Every man had his eyes
pinned on me, waiting anxiously for the words I had not yet
found. I searched my brain for the proverbial "immortal
phrase", but it wasn't there. There was no need for a pep
talk that day. All I said was, "I want you boys to fly as
close to me as possible. I'll be right up there in
The last man to speak was the Airdrome Control
an RAF man, who said, "Pilots, take-off today will be on
the North-South runway. I will be in the tower watching for
your return. Don't keep me waiting. God bless you."
The next hour was agonizing. I had read of criminals
sentenced to die reading the Bible, praying, preparing
themselves for eternity -- also of those, who after long
days of suffering, were faced with deliverance -- a new
lease on life. My emotions were torn between two similar
trends of thought -- one equally as intense as the other.
Physical pain would have been a relief; I could have
corrected that. The mental suffering could be eliminated by
one thing only -- take-off.
A jeep came alongside with my flying equipment aboard.
Paul Tibbetts, my co-pilot, dressed in his flying suit, sat
in the back seat on his parachute. It wasn't necessary for
us to exchange salutations. Each knew what the other was
thinking. The driver saluted and said, "Nice day for
flying, Colonel" -
Bombs loaded in bomb racks are enlarged to twice their
normal size, each time I look at them. The ones we carried
that day were the largest I have ever seen -- before or
since. In reality, they were small 500 pounders. Squeezing
along the catwalk between the bomb bay racks was an ordeal.
My clothing caught on the metal bars and retarded my
progress. It was necessary to drag the parachute harness
behind me to the forward compartment. It was unfortunate
that I entered the bomber along that tedious route the
first day. Each entrance thereafter was made the very same
amid some profanity for being so dumb, and disgust
because I was superstitious.
Fifteen minutes before take-off time I was in my seat,
safety belt fastened, and gloves on. Why the gloves I do
not know. They were on and off my hands a dozen times
before I realized I was wearing myself and the gloves out
before the flight started.
The co-pilot eased himself into his seat and adjusted
the radio. The two of us sat there in silence watching the
ground activity. Men were running from one truck to
another. Automobiles streaked around the perimeter track,
dispatching men here and there -- everywhere. I broke the
silence by asking a ground crewman "What in the hell is
going on out there?"
The reply was "You are flying only half the Group today
--everyone wants to go. Those are 'passengers' trying to
thumb a ride."
Silly fools -- but what would I have done if someone had
told me at the last minute I was not to accompany the
formation? Five minutes to go. The top turret gunner came
forward and reported that all gunners were in place.
The sweep hand on the clock slowed down into drawn-out
jumps. Why did time drag at a time like this? We were ready
-- time should be ready also.
A light tug at my right leg caused me to look down
through the opening between the pilot and co-pilot seats. A
sweaty, grease--streaked face looked up at me. The crew
chief lifted his two hundred pounds lightly through the
hatch and stood beside me. His eyes roamed across the
instrument panel and came to rest with a steady gaze into
"Is there anything wrong, Sergeant?" I asked.
"No sir! -- No sir! -- I just wanted to say good luck
and tell you 'she's a wonderful airplane'." A drop of
grease must have gotten in his eye, for he found it
necessary to pull the brim of his cap down on his eyebrows.
He laid his big hand gently on my shoulder for a moment,
then slid through the escape hatch. I reached for the
We went through the check-list rapidly. Then, number one
engine came to life with a rifle-like explosion -- number
two, three and four began a steady hum. The whole air-plane
began to throb.
We watched other airplanes across the airdrome come to
life and move slowly out of their dispersal points. They
wobbled over the rough spots on the perimeter track like
huge birds not accustomed to locomotion, forming up one
behind the other until the column faded from view behind
the large tail section of our own aircraft. The radio
signal for taxi-out came suddenly. The sweep hand on the
clock increased speed. A few minutes before, I had been
pleading for time to hurry; now I was afraid of time
--afraid I would not be on time at the fighter rendezvous
point. We would fly against time from now on. Time was to
us, life or death, success or failure.
Slowly we picked our way around water-filled holes in
the track leading to the runway. The few minutes that
required afforded me ample time to review many years of
my life. Queer thoughts of remote happenings, dormant many
years, raced through my mind. I remembered hurrying home
from church on Sunday to turn the handle of an old ice
cream freezer, for my mother. My initial payment was the
dasher, with its paddles covered with an abundant coating
of vanilla cream. The summer breeze that blew through the
colonnade of our home in North Carolina came back to me
through the cabin window of the Fortress. A soldier's dog
crossed the flying field ahead of the airplane. I
remembered the day I brought my pet fox-terrier home in my
shirt, shielding her from the cold as I walked across a
huge cotton field. A freight train killed her a few years
later. All the neighborhood kids came to the "funeral". We
buried her in the shade of a large bush in our back yard. I
We stopped momentarily for the final engine run-up.
Dozens of ground crews lined up near the strip. Their caps
held high above their heads, they cheered, frantically. The
big ship was swung into take-off position. The green light
from the control tower flashed the "go" signal. I thought
of the officer who handled the light, and of his remarks at
the briefing a few minutes before: "I will be in the tower
watching for your return; don't keep me waiting."
The co-pilot called out, "Time!" I was not the only
excited person in the formation. Each hand holding four
throttle bars experienced a tingle strange to its owner, as
the big ship began to move. I talked to my Fort as she
picked up speed. "Come on, Baby, you're going on a real
run today." Under my breath, I added, " -- and it better be
a good one."
Suddenly we were airborne. The first daylight raid
against Axis territory had begun! Tibbetts clapped his
hands and laughed. I glanced at the time, started a turn,
and began counting off the airplanes as they moved slowly
into position. I could not help but compare their airborne
grace to their clumsiness on the ground.
We assembled in a defensive formation before passing
over the airdrome -- a parting review for those unfortunate
souls on the ground who could not go with us. We dipped our
wings in salute and headed for enemy territory.
All of our anxious training hours faded into nothingness
as we climbed. Each Fortress was in position. Waist guns
were outside, pointing menacingly to the rear; top turrets
were spinning through 360 degrees. Ball turret gunners were
doing acrobatics with their bubbles. All had waited long
hours for this day.
To the Englishmen below, we must have appeared as tiny
specks, high overhead, placed at measured intervals in the
form of V's. The long drawn-out drone of the engines may
have reminded them of the Battle of Britain; but not for
long -- our noses were pointed toward the enemy coast.
There were more casualties at our Bomber Command
Headquarters that day than we suffered. When the sound of
the motors reached the ears of our friends, everyone rushed
to find a good spot to watch the show. Locating a
flying at twenty-five thousand feet is very difficult.
The sound comes from all directions. Some of the ground
officers tried to follow the beats of the motors by turning
in circles while their eyes were glued to the sky.
Consequently, after three or four fast turns in that
position, many had "spun in." Result -- three sprained
ankles, two wrenched necks. We had no casualties.
We reached our prescribed altitude two minutes early.
The beautiful country below was dwarfed in size. Seemingly,
under our left wing, the English Channel had changed to a
narrow river. Dover and Dunkerque were backfence neighbors.
From our point of view, Lands End was just a tip of England
from which I could have gone home -- had more urgent
business not been at hand. The great City of London had
shortened the hundreds of streets originating around
Picadilly Square. Ahead of us was the enemy.
We were four minutes early for our friendly fighter
rendezvous. Not a Spitfire came up to us. Should I go on
without fighter cover? Should I circle and lose time? Were
our fighters going to join us midway? Just what should I
do? I could feel cold sweat on my face beneath the oxygen
mask. I was panting. Thoughts raced through my mind so
rapidly none of them could be collected. I could continue
on course, eventually arriving over enemy territory without
our fighter cover, and be shot down. Perhaps none of us
would survive. I could return to base. That thought did not
remain long. In my mind we had reached the "point of no
return." There was no course on the compass but the
one that would lead us to our objective. The English
coastline disappeared under our wings.
I don't know what fighter pilots think when they engage
the enemy for the first time. Neither do I know what my
boys were thinking when we looked down at the French Coast,
that first time. I don't think anyone can go into combat,
for either the first or last time, without some
The top turret of our airplane quivered violently as the
gunner swung his guns through a 360 degree turn. The tail
gunner spoke on the intercom, "Fighters high at seven
o'clock!" The top turret boys in the wing Fortresses were
spinning like tops, searching for enemy attackers. Tibbetts
held up his left thumb and gave the command to our gunners,
"Don't shoot! They're Spitfires!" Our covering force had
arrived. My heart slowed down a little.
Just over the French Coast, a battery of enemy
anti-aircraft guns opened up. Off to our left, black puffs
of smoke spread out and hung in the sky. Another group
burst ahead of the formation. The ball turret gunner
yelled, "The dirty bastards are shooting at us." I asked
him later if he had not expected that. He apologized and
said he thought his intercom was "off", so he was talking
Lt. Beagle, our bombardier, began to sing. There was no
tune to his song, and its one line was short, so he
repeated it again and again. "I see the target -- I see the
target." The "singing" continued until the big ship
vibrated as she spewed her load of destruction from her
song ended with the sweetest lyrics I ever heard
Captain Rhudy Flack was leading the second squadron.
Before our departure we agreed on a radio signal to be
passed on to me when his bombs had been released. Upon
hearing the signal I was to turn right, allowing him to
catch up. We wanted all of our aircraft in a defensive
formation immediately after bombing. We expected the
Germans to attack us heavily on that course. I continued to
hold course after my bombs were released and waited for
Flack's message, but no signal came. The seat of my pants
were figuratively on fire. The enemy was certain to throw a
load of "stuff" at us if I flew straight very long. "Why in
the hell doesn't Flack signal us?" I thought. Tibbetts
punched me and pointed out to our right. Flack was off to
one side jockeying for position. The sky had been clear,
visibility unlimited up to that time, but suddenly the air
was black with smoke. Flack's formation was obscured from
view. We shifted our position rapidly and re-formed on the
course for home. The Germans had figured our turn. They
opened up with their batteries to catch us grouped
together. If Flack's radio had not gone out of commission I
would have been exactly where the heavy flack bursts were.
The German ground gunners must have thought we were either
very dumb, or exceptionally smart. Actually, we were just
General Eaker was riding in Captain Flack's airplane.
The General had picked the pilot with the most
name for that trip. Thereafter, Rhudy was known as "Flak
After a few course changes, to avoid more ground fire,
we straightened out for our homebound flight. Invariably,
the wind at high altitude blows from West to East. Going to
the target we covered the distance rapidly, but returning,
the formation appeared to be standing still.
Three hours after take-off, we flew across our home base
at low altitude. Captain Flack pulled out of formation and
landed General Faker. The remaining eleven air-craft landed
in turn and taxied slowly to their dispersal points.
Ground crews swarmed around their birds. Flight crews
were nearly torn apart before they could get out of their
positions. There was no show of bravado or egotism on the
part of the men who had flown. A genuine hug, or a casual
pat on the shoulder conveyed more to the crew chiefs than
an oration a mile long could have done. Emotions were well
concealed. The crews were tired, cold and hungry. The first
raid had been successfully accomplished. Well done!
Reporters and photographers were as thick as fleas on a
rabbit dog. Questions, questions, questions -- everywhere
and everybody. One gunner refused to answer any queries, on
the ground that he had "bailed out over a reservoir", where
he waited until we returned and picked him up. The truth of
the matter was that none of us realized what we had done.
Everyone else did. I feel if the Germans could have
recalled that one flight, they would have knocked us
down, had it cost half the German Air Force. The bomb
damage was minor, but the psychological damage could never
I returned to my quarters, sat on the edge of the bunk,
and gazed at the map on my wall, re-flying the mission. My
eyes rested on the target area we had bombed. From the
cockpit of the lead airplane I could not observe bombing
results; but as I sat alone in my room, I could see twisted
steel rails -- locomotives on their sides, gushing live
steam, exploding --good trains wrecked --foodstuffs strewn
up and down the railway yards -- belched-up debris falling
back to earth through drifting smoke --Hitler's doom.
I slept well that night.
I had promised the Group they could have a dance after
five raids, and they held me to it. A group of RAF fighter
boys lived near our airdrome. We had seen them sitting in
their fighters as they weaved above and around the
Fortresses over enemy terrain. Naturally, we wanted to show
our appreciation, so they were flown to our base in a
Fortress. I have never met a nicer group of youngsters.
The evening progressed rapidly. A Canadian fighter pilot
and a bomber pilot from Alabama decided the boys who had
dates were enjoying the dance too much, so they staged a
two-man raid in the middle of the dance floor. The two
entered on bicycles and begun a series of circles. The
bomber pilot carried a sack of Irish potatoes which were
used as bombs on the dance floor. The fighter pilot was
armed with a sack of flour. Anyone who attempted to
intercept the potato bomber was met with a long burst of
flour thrown by the fighter boy. Before the target was
completely "destroyed", six big boys built a human pyramid
in the center of the room. The two culprits were "shot
down" and passed up to the top, where they were tied
together by their shirt-tails and hung across a steel
rafter. From that lofty position they "hung the dance out"
the remainder of the evening.
Our rest and relaxation was short-lived. We had been
raiding enemy territory at will. The Germans got mad; we
got madder. Flights were no longer raids; raids had
developed into air battles. Fighters giving us close
support were engaged by enemy fighters, leaving the
Fortresses on their own. German fighters refusing to watch
us go unmolested to and from the targets began to bore in,
holding their fire until they were within 200 yards or
less. It was not unusual for them to-fly through our
formation rolling and shooting all the while. Some attempts
were made to ram our big ships. These maneuvers were
hair-raising. Gunfire from both sides was brilliant, as
tracer bullets streaking across the sky criss-crossed,
forming lattice-work patterns.
Puffs of smoke, from 20mm guns shot at the formation
from the rear, floated harmlessly by the cabin windows.
Quartering and head-on attacks exposed the muzzle flash of
enemy wing guns -- long red tongues pointing at us.
Fortress gunners, fired their guns in retaliation; the big
ships vibrated as they plowed ahead through the hell of
steel. The two .50 calibres in the top turret filled the
compartment with smoke and our ears with thunder. Enemy
fighters disintegrated in thin air. Others, veritable balls
of fire streaming long tails of black smoke, fell
vertically earthward. Fortresses, hard hit, struggled with
every ounce of power to hold formation, to defend and be
defended. Gunners worked their .50's to the maximum,
warding off attacks concentrated on a crippled Fort --
fighting to the death for victory.
The Luftwaffe commanders wanted a Fortress. They needed
one with the guns in place before their fighter
tactics against us could be perfected. We had no
intention of dropping a bomber for them. Instructions were
issued to all pilots to destroy a doomed Fort either in the
air or on the ground.
Attacks against us changed daily. We sat up nights
working out model defensive formations to meet the
Returning from one raid, the Spitfires were weaving
above us to the rear. A coupled frisky boys were slow
rolling just for the hell of it. The tail-gunner called,
asking if the RAF and Huns had formed a truce. The co-pilot
laughed and asked why such a silly question.
"Well," said the gunner, "a 190 is flying a tail-end
position with our fighters."
The fighter leader spotted the Hun in his rear view
mirror about the same time. The following few seconds were
exciting. Not knowing whether the "squarehead" was going to
blast the tail-end fighter, the RAF leader dived his outfit
across our formation, using us as a flak post to shoot the
enemy down. The German boy had other ideas and had doped
out what the reaction would be. He followed the English up
behind the last bomber, where he fell out of formation and
began rolling and shooting. Three of his buddies, watching
from a safe altitude in the sun, came in fast and nearly
finished off Lt. Lipsky, my wing man.
After the raid, Lipsky forwarded his report from an
auxiliary field. "Was forced out of formation near the
enemy coast. Number one engine caught fire and was
feathered. Rudder controls severed on right side. Right
aileron damaged by 20mm shells. Left flipper shot away.
Number four engine hit by 20mm and feathered. Enemy attacks
continued to twenty miles off French Coast. 900 small
calibre holes in the fuselage of the airplane. Two dead,
Lipsky crossed the English Coast on two engines. He flew
across an airdrome with his crippled Fort, and after
looking at the length of the short runway, decided not to
land there. Twenty miles inland he found a longer strip and
sat "her" down without further damage.
It was not Lipsky's lot to make many more raids. He was
flying on my left wing when we raided an airplane factory
north of Paris. Fifteen miles off LeHavre, two 190's came
down on the head of the formation out of the sun. One
passed the nose of our ship so fast, I barely caught a
glimpse of him. His speed, and our slight evasive action,
made him miss. The second German was more successful. One
of his 20mm shells exploded in number two engine of the
second element leader, who wobbled momentarily before
regaining his position. The two attacks were a signal for
the curtain to be raised. The feature show was in the
Off to the side, 190's were breaking through the haze,
noses held high, like mushrooms through thin top soil. I
watched them continue their climb, far out in front of the
formation. The captain was holding his own on three
engines. Our fighter cover had been engaged by the enemy
away from us. We were alone -- but not for long.
Suddenly the sky was filled with German fighters,
maneuvering for positions from which they could dart in and
My top turret fired a short burst in the direction of
three Germans forming up on our right. The leader ducked
away momentarily, then rocked his wings as a signal to
re-form and return. Luckily, an extra bombardier, Lt.
Mansell, was in the nose of my ship. He was on the trip to
"gain experience", as he put it. Mansell swung his right
nose gun into position and threw a short burst at the Hun
leader maneuvering for range. The top turret boy got
excited and held his trigger down on a long burst. Tracers
passing over the Hun gave him an opportunity to duck under
and come in. The co-pilot said, "Here they come!" as the
enemy fighters began firing at about 800 yards. As they
settled into the dive, Mansell released a one-second burst
and watched tracers bounce off the front armor plate of the
flight leader's airplane.
At about 500 yards, both Mansell and the top turret "sat
down" on him. Small pieces of wing structure flew off the
109 and trickled behind. The pilot, in an attempt to right
his aircraft, brought his right wing up for just a second.
The three .50's sawed it off close to the cockpit. The
pilot, pinned in his part of the airplane, followed by one
wing, passed over the formation and disappeared. Before I
could catch my breath, Mansell called on the intercom,
"Parden me, Colonel -- didn't mean to shoot him down in
What became of the other two enemy fighters I do not
know. They pulled up over the formation where twelve guns
were working. Reports came in from the tail gunner that
combat was being staged from all quarters on the following
The formation was maneuvered for the bombing run. Bomb
bay doors were lowered; ahead was the target. Between us
and the target were swarms of German fighters --
seventy-five in all. The storm broke suddenly. Enemy
fighters came at us from every figure on the clock. We were
concerned primarily with those attacking from the eleven,
twelve and one o'clock positions. Six 190's attacked from
above and below, simultaneously -- followed by others. Gun
flashes were blinding. A German bailed out high above the
formation; we nearly ran him down. Every space was filled
with tracers, but the Germans continued to bore in as we
moved steadily forward. Three miniature dark clouds
exploded near my window, followed by two on the co-pilot's
side. The Hun was skidding when he fired that burst at the
lead ship; otherwise, the five shots would have ripped out
our innards. Then, I heard friendly fighters talking to
"Break away right, Red two," -- "Look out, Red three,
he's on your tail." "Close up!" -- "What are you trying to
do, get me killed?" "Where are the bombers?" "There's a
helluva fight to the left of us." "That's the target."
My gunners had settled down to the business of killing;
it was kill or be killed. They were doing a commendable
The tempo increased, if such were possible. A long burst
from the top turret blew the signal pistol out of its
position in the top of the cabin. Powder smoke filled the
compartment. I was sure a 20mm had exploded in the
I opened my mouth attempting to call our fighters and
give them our position, but no sound came out. My voice had
left me. I tried again. My tongue was parched and my lips
were dry. Water seeped through my gloves, ran down my
wrist. Drops of cold sweat slowly emerged from beneath my
helmet. We were so near heaven surrounded by hell!
After three attempts, I managed to give my call sign to
our fighters. I knew they were fighting for every inch of
sky around them, but I wanted help, and was not ashamed of
it. "Come over here if you want to have some fun!"
I switched the radio back to intercom to close off all
outside communication. We were two minutes from the target.
The bombardier's voice drifted through my head-set, slow,
methodical, business-like: "Turn left, - left, - left..."
"Steady - steady" "On course." My eyes were glued to the
directional instruments. Soon we would be in the position
we'd been fighting for.
For some unknown reason I looked up. I couldn't believe
my eyes. A 109 was headed straight for us! At first, I
thought he was on fire, -- a halo of smoke dimmed the
outline of the fighter's yellow nose. Seconds later I
realized the smoke was the aftermath of forward guns tiring
at maximum speed. I stood the Fortress on her tail, then
back on the bombing run. The German skidded, raked
Lipsky across the nose with a long burst and dived away.
Lipsky's number three engine began to burn as his number
four engine puffed small ringlets of smoke. The crippled
Fortress slowed down. Our gunners were chattering like
monkeys. When our nose was raised to avoid a collision with
the 109, it brought the German face to face with the
"bubble" guns. Parts were falling off the enemy fighter
when last seen by the rear gunner. That was the second
enemy fighter shot down by my gunners that day.
Beadle continued his sing-song, "Steady, - steady ...."
Lipsky radioed "Am hit hard, must go down now –
see you in a couple of weeks." My tail gunner gave me a
detailed account of the fight that followed between the
Fort and three Hun fighters before Lipsky crash-landed near
the mouth of the Somme. He fought the rest of the war in a
German prison camp.
Many times we had returned to base and circled the
airdrome while the pilots with wounded aboard shot
emergency flares and landed. Always before, all the
airplanes had returned. Today was different. A feeling of
nausea came over me as I eased the four throttles back for
our let-down across the Channel. I looked out at what had
been an empty space on my left wing. Some time during the
return flight one of the youngsters from the rear had moved
into position beside me, shielding me from flanking
attacks. His vertical fin had a shell hole in it
which I could have thrown a wash tub.
After we landed I got out near the control tower to
dispatch a message, "One airplane and crew failed to return
... " The words looked foreign to me. I re-read it twice
before signing it.
From the tower, I could see battered airplanes limping
into their dispersal points. Far off to one edge of the
field there was an empty space. A small tent swayed back
and forth as men in soiled coveralls extracted tools and
kits from the inside and placed them in piles to be loaded
on a truck later. The men moved slowly and deliberately.
Occasionally the crew chief shielded his eyes with a pair
of greasy gloves and gazed hopefully into the sky toward
the East. He had been told that his "Baby" would not
return. He had heard that before, yet she came staggering
home. This time, it was true. She had gone, forever. He
lowered his hand and silently motioned to the others. Five
weary, heartsick soldiers walked slowly across the flying
field toward their barracks -- a funeral procession and
tribute to a great Queen of the Sky.
I knew then, as never before, what an airplane meant to
the men of the 97th.
The next day I sent them a message:
"To the Officers and Enlisted Men, 97th Bombardment
It is my privilege to express my gratitude to you for
the services you have rendered. I cannot meet you all
personally, as much as I would like to, so I am taking this
manner of expressing my personal gratitude to you
individually and collectively.
Our combat crews go into action, bomb the enemy, shoot
down their planes, then successfully return to our
stations. For that they are acclaimed Heroes and decorated
by our government. All this is well deserved. However, to
me and the entire Group, you men on the line are the unsung
heroes of all our successful engagements. I as Group
Commander and the combat crews of this organization fully
realize and appreciate all that you have done. Without your
cooperation the 97th would not have accomplished what it
has. Continue your good work and no more could be asked of
It is my desire that every soldier under my command feel
that he had a personal interest in having placed the 97th
Bombardment Group among the foremost fighting organizations
the United States Air Force has ever produced. You no doubt
fully realize that during our few days of day operation in
this theater we have revolutionized day bombardment. The
whole world has been astounded and amazed by our
accomplishments. After our first daylight raid, the traffic
in New York City was blocked when the news was flashed by
electrical signs on Broadway. The British Bomber Command
and RAF Fighter Command have acclaimed the bombing of
Abbeville as one of the outstanding accomplishments of the
successful withdrawal of British troops from Dieppe.
The 97th has made history. We shall continue to
accomplish the seemingly impossible. On the last raid the
97th was attacked by 75 enemy fighters when it had no
friendly pursuit protection. The Hun paid for that with
twelve enemy aircraft confirmed and 12 probable aircraft
shot down, That makes a total of one entire enemy fighter
So I give you a toast, 'Here's to the Hun -- a splendid
fighter, and here's to the 97th, his Master!' -- all
because of you men and your untiring efforts. God Bless
In October, the 97th was ordered to Africa. I looked
forward to the change in bases of operation, but it was not
in the cards for me to stay with the outfit I had come to
I was transferred to Bomber Command Headquarters in
October. A week later I returned to the States on temporary
duty. Along with six other officers, I toured selected
training bases across the nation, passing on first-hand
information about combat flying in Europe.
We hoped for a few days leave, but the schedule would
not permit it. Fluffy came to Washington for a reunion of
only a few hours. I saw her again in December as we passed
through on our way back to England. She told me that the
night editor of the Richmond Times Dispatch had kept her
posted on my activities before the news releases got into
print. I hoped his future calls would always convey good
Christmas found me back in England, wondering where my
next assignment would be. I didn't wait long for the
answer. On New Year's Day, General Eaker called me to his
office, informed me I had been recommended for promotion to
Brigadier General, then repeated those now familiar words,
"Army, I've got a small job for you." I didn't know whether
to laugh or cry. I was thrilled at the prospect of becoming
a general officer, but I knew a fellow could get killed on
one of those "small jobs."
I was given command of the 306th Heavy Bombardment
Group, a sharp outfit with an excellent record. Rumors
were strong that the first daylight raid against Germany
proper was in the offing, and I had a feeling that the
306th would go along. At Bomber Command Headquarters I
had been merely a spectator. Now, I was the player-manager
of a big league team -- lead-off man in the World Series of
After assuming command, I inspected the hangar line.
There, my vanity was insulted. Nearly all Fortresses were
named by their crews. Walking along the line, I was reading
the names on the 306th aircraft -- "Big Boy", -- "My Gal
Sal", -- "Berlin Buster II" ("Berlin Buster I" had been
salvaged -- too many bullet holes). One Fortress was
literally covered with names and "warnings". Outside one
waist-gun position was, "Shoot, you're faded." A pair of
dice showing a total of seven points served as a
background. The other gunner was more conservative -- all
he had written was "Danger! Men at work." Passing the
entrance to the tail gunner's position, I read, "A
sergeant's sanctuary where Generals fear to tread." That's
when I was insulted, and thought to myself, "As soon as I'm
promoted, I'll disprove that theory." Walking stiff-legged
away from the airplane, I glanced back in contempt at the
radio gunner's position and read, "If you can read this,
you're too damned close." I couldn't help laughing!
Lt. Col. J. W. Wilson, Operations Officer of the Group,
met me with one of the finest greetings I have ever
"Colonel," he said, "we have heard lots about you. The
boys are ready to go any place."
A few minutes later as we entered the officers mess, a
young bombardier came up to me and without catching his
breath said, "You're Colonel Armstrong, aren't you?"
"We heard you've come to lead us to Happy Valley. I just
wanted you to know that the day you go, you can count me
"Happy Valley" is the name the boys gave the Ruhr. The
little fellow did go to Happy Valley, but failed to
At the mention of "Officers' Mess" there is a natural
tendency to connect the place with food, only. In reality,
serving meals there is but a minor function. Nearly
everything, and certainly anything, can happen in an
Officers' Mess. It is there officers write home, play
games, listen to the radio, drink and dance. At this club
there was also a "Score Board" for raids accomplished
--good or bad.
After each raid, the leader was forced -- if necessary
-- to stand on the shoulders of three officers who had also
been on the raid, and "smoke" the name of the objective on
the ceiling of the club room. The smoke came from long
candles held high above the head. Naturally, the hot tallow
dripping from the candle ran down the sleeve, or onto the
face. The word had to be spelled correctly and written
legibly. (Wilhelmshaven is not easy, I assure you.) When
the word was completed to the satisfaction of all
concerned, three youngsters who had been circling the room
at top speed imitating Focke Wulf fighters, dived at the
knees of the boys supporting the "ceiling writer".
completed the job.
I noticed some half-moon splotches on the far wall,
about two feet up from the floor. A bombardier volunteered
to explain their presence. Each time a target was not
reached, because of bad weather, or any other reason, the
operations officer was caught and brought in. After a mock
trial, which automatically carried a conviction and
penalty, the poor operations officer was relieved of his
pants and shorts. He was "allowed to walk around the room
and pray off his sin", which added to his embarrassment,
before he was blacked with candle smoke. Amid loud cheers
and chanting, the official "Blacker" would solemnly apply
the smoke, and release the victim to the executioners. With
much precision, but very little accuracy, two officers
would swing the victim by his hands and feet, smacking his
black spot against the wall. Thus originated the "Ops
Spot". I looked around for the operations officer who had
come in with me. He was gone.
Many of us had become slightly superstitious. All the
crews were well aware of the Baby Shoe I carried as a good
luck charm. They knew that the thirteen-year-old piece of
footwear had seen rough service before its original owner
had discarded it, because his big toe had become exposed,
and once I left a practice formation to re-turn for it.
From that day on, it was a certainty I had that shoe with
The 306th was a veteran group. It had bombed every place
of importance along the French and Dutch coasts, as
well as several important inland installations. It made
so many trips to Lorient the crews casually spoke of them
as "milk runs". "No one goes to Lorient anymore. Who wants
to bomb a ghost city?"
The crews were interested in any raid ordered by Bomber
Command, but they were growing restless, were on edge, and
eager to carry the fight all the way to the Germans' front
On January 26th, the war news was tremendously
encouraging. From Casablanca came word the Allies were
calling for "unconditional surrender." The British Eighth
Army was moving forcefully toward Tripoli. The Russians
reported the German forces in Stalingrad were being wiped
About nine o'clock that evening, I received a call from
Colonel Wilson at Base Operations.
"Better hurry down here, Colonel. Something big is
I felt no need to hurry. I was certain this was "the
mission". We had been anxiously awaiting it, but now that
the orders had come through, we would fly it as a matter of
routine. Before going to Ops, I shaved and shined my shoes
-- two things I always did before going on a raid.
At ten o'clock I entered the Ops Block, expecting to
find it just as it was -- a madhouse! Anyone who has ever
been connected with a flight operations section can attest
to the fantastic pace triggered by the receipt of a
order. Telephones ring and short crisp messages are
delivered. Aircraft availability is checked and re-checked.
Bomb loading instructions are issued, briefing time is set.
The Charge of Quarters is given a time to call all crews.
Transportation is notified where to be, and when to be
there. The whole tactical problem is reviewed from
beginning to end. Taxi and take-off times are worked out.
Assembly places for Squadrons, Groups, and Wings are
designated. Courses are plotted to and from the target.
Co-ordination plans with other participating units are
reviewed. Errors are corrected. Plans are changed on a
moment's notice. Those, and a few dozen other problems are
Four a.m., briefing time, found us still working
hurriedly. What had originally been anticipated as a calm
evening -- a routine mission --- developed into a cyclone.
Everyone was excited. I couldn't stand still. The boys were
singing, "Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here - What the Hell
do we care now." Before morning they had me doing it,
Our briefing room was overflowing with crew members.
Everyone was there -- those scheduled for the raid, and
those who were not. Those not scheduled tried to bribe
those who were, to remain at home.
The tension was so great at the time I entered the room,
the atmosphere could have been cut with a knife. The crews
knew where they were going, but none dared breathe it
before briefing. Something had to be done as an attempt to
relieve conditions before the briefing could begin. I
stepped out on the platform and said, "Wilhelmshaven".
The roof nearly blew off the building!
Finally, after several minutes, there was quiet. The
intelligence officer opened the briefing: "Gentlemen, the
target for today is an important installation in Germany
proper. You are to hit the submarine pens at
Wilhelmshaven." Following the description of the target,
its importance to the enemy, and why we were bombing it at
that particular time of day, he uncovered the course we
would fly. Sighs came from all quarters of the room. On all
previous raids we had gained altitude over England. The
course laid out on the screen projected far into the North
Sea before it turned toward the target. We were to fake a
long end-run at low altitude before cutting back across
tackle at high altitude.
After the briefing, the crews disappeared in the dark.
Take-off was scheduled for dawn. Far down the hangar line,
I heard laughing voices making "cat calls" for the benefit
of some buddies not lucky enough to get a ride.
Climbing into my airplane, I struggled, as usual,
through the bomb bay and swore a little. My stomach muscles
were drawn tight. They did it every time, and from all
indications, they would continue to do it on any future
We were in the cockpit adjusting oxygen masks when the
"All Clear to Taxi!" signal was given. We moved slowly to
the active runway, shoved the four throttles forward, and
took off. One turn at the assembly point brought the other
groups behind us and we headed out to sea at minimum
altitude -- 500 feet.
It was a beautiful spectacle. All around us,
were jockeying for positions. Aircraft in the lower
slots cast huge, fast-moving shadows on the calm, green
sea. Reflections from the higher outfits resembled small
round balls skipping across the lazy swells. Bewildered
fishermen lay down their nets and gazed up at the huge
birds of war gracefully dipping their wings in response to
the gentle gusts of wind.
We flew many sea miles in a tight defensive formation.
God help the Hun who might have attacked the formation at
that altitude. There was no air space between the formation
and the sea to which he could dive for safety after an
attack. Thousands of bullets were awaiting anyone who
When we reached the point of climb, the navigator
pressed his throat "mike" button and said, "Going up!" Lt.
Col. Claude Putnam, my co-pilot, warned the crew that we
were going to altitude. Everyone reached for his oxygen
mask as the altimeter hand gradually wound around the dial
to our bombing altitude of 25,000 feet. From that height
Germany was a peaceful country. The beaches and terrain
could have been a dozen places in the States. Yet, there
was a feeling inside us that everything below was in
another world -- a strange land with strange people. One
thing was certain -- we were over Germany.
We had been told of the ground defense around
Wilhelmshaven. The RAF crews always returned from night
raids over the city with reports of intense and accurate
flak. Expecting resistance at any time, we methodically
from one side of the course to the other in a slight
evasive action. We managed to lead the huge formation
across the coastline between heavy anti-aircraft gun
installations, then headed for the German port city with
its submarine pens. A few fighters came up and made two
half-hearted attacks. One fighter went down; the others
withdrew to a safe range and just watched us. The Germans
couldn't believe what they saw. They had been told that
bombs would never devastate their homeland. The RAF had
long since disproved that theory, but Goebbels had promised
them faith-fully the Americans would not bomb them in
daylight, Now, high to the northeast, an invading force
approached their shores. Fifteen minutes later the huge
formation, flying the course as briefed, straightened out
for the bombing run. Drifting cloud banks were moving in
and the Fortresses raced them for the target. The clouds
won, and the city was saved, momentarily. We were deprived
of the safest route, but slowly began an encircling
maneuver. Small black clouds formed to the left of us;
ground guns were defying our entry. Two bright-colored
flares exploded near us signalling our corrected altitude
to the ground batteries. We started evasive action just in
time. A barrage broke near our low group -- too close for
A break in the cloud layer! The navigator reported,
"This is the heavily defended run, but we'll have to take
it -- Turn left ... left ... On course."
We had been waiting for an opportunity to strike quickly
and had opened our bomb bay doors minutes before.
Apparently the enemy anti-aircraft crews did not
our maneuver. Suddenly the formation came to life,
turned quickly, and darted in. Not a shot was fired at the
lead group before the familiar voice sang out, "Bombs
Putnam and I were basking in ease, chuckling to
ourselves how we had fooled the "squareheads", when
suddenly we both left our seats and strained against the
safety belts! A salvo had exploded beneath us! Fifty feet
lower and we would have been blown out of the sky. Captain
MacKay, leading our high squadron, disappeared in a burst
of black smoke.
As the sky cleared, I began to breathe again -- but not
for long. Getting away from the target we had lost three
thousand feet and had unconsciously leveled off directly
above an enemy convoy escorted by gunboats. It is
impossible to speculate which of us was more frightened. I
pulled back on the control column and we started to climb,
making frequent turns in both directions. As we banked into
one of the turns, we saw that the gunboats were also
zig-zagging. They fired a couple of blasts which missed us
entirely as we headed over the open sea for home. Within a
few hours, the first daylight raid against Germany proper
Shortly after the Wilhelmshaven raid, my promotion was
approved. Unaware of my good fortune, I slept soundly while
two of my officers quietly entered my room and pinned the
new stars on my blouse which was draped over the back of a
chair. When I awoke, the first things I saw were the shiny
stars. Groggy, I couldn't figure out what a general
was doing at the base. Finally, it dawned on me -- the
general lived there! I heard a noise outside the door and
opened it to find the two officers who had "promoted" me
matching coins for my old "eagles".
As the newness wore off, I became conscious of two
important facts. I had been promoted to greater
responsibility, which carried with it unending hours of
hard work, and untold numbers of difficult decisions which
could affect millions of lives. It also meant I had to
relinquish command of my Group. That stung. But, if I
couldn't command them as a Group, I would lead them into
combat as part of a Wing.
My first raid as a general was flown against Brest. The
next one was scheduled to Antwerp. I went along as an
observer to check the proficiency of the pilot and
co-pilot, as Wing leaders.
Spitfires covered the formation to Ghent. Far ahead, we
saw German fighters gaining altitude for the attack, and
when the RAF fighters were forced to leave us because of
fuel shortage, the Huns moved in.
Approximately twenty-five head-on attacks were made on
our Fortress. Her number four engine was hit. The main spar
in each wing was shot up. At least two 20mm shells ripped
through the nose and cabin, damaging the hydraulic and
oxygen systems. One more 20mm would have finished us, but
the pilot managed to crash-land on our airdrome.
The following notes were made as time and events
allowed, and were reported by the Associated Press: BY
BRIGADIER GENERAL FRANK ARMSTRONG
A United States Bomber Station in England - (Delayed)
(AP) Stood behind pilot while he took off ...
Moved to navigator-bombardier compartment and rode with
them until we gained considerable altitude, when I returned
to a position behind the pilot and co-pilot ...
Adjusted oxygen mask and arranged parachute so
top-turret mechanism would not knock it down ...
Placed the pilot's parachute in a better position for
him to get if an emergency arose ...
Made sign language to pilot to be on alert for enemy
attackers through this overcast in early stages of the
Pointed out two smoke trails coming out of France high
to our left ...
Checked time of turn as we left the English Coast ...
Checked on the formation by looking through the side window
Looked at Belgium as we crossed the coastline, wondering
how the people were doing down there ...
Cursed a Focke-Wulfe 190 as it came into our right ...
Watched the first enemy attack develop ahead of the
Pointed out the attackers to the pilot as they became
more ferocious and concentrated.
Pressed the control column forward as a FW-190 met
us head on. Back-seat driving, and I was sorry about it.
FW-190 rolled under wing, missing a collision by a few
Watched fire from cannons as Germans increased their
attack. (Only one cannon was firing from a few of the enemy
aircraft - out of ammunition, maybe.)
Flinched as shell exploded the oxygen and hydraulic
Looked at pilot and co-pilot to see how badly they were
Began to feel queer ... checked oxygen supply --
pressure down to 100.
Tried to attach oxygen lead to emergency supply bottle.
Couldn't get it to fasten, so tore up mask.
Co-pilot reached for emergency oxygen bottle. Gave it to
him. Asked for a whiff and he gave it to me.
Pilot told me that Captain Robert J. Salitrnik,
navigator, had been hit and wanted some assistance. Got
another whiff of oxygen from co-pilot and started to
Crawled through hydraulic fluid on hands and knees to
navigator. The navigator had received a severe shrapnel
wound in the leg and was bleeding badly. Used oxygen mask
connecting hose as tourniquet on navigator's leg.
Helped to take navigator's parachute off and stretch him
out. Rearranged tourniquet and gave it to bombardier to
hold (had my own thumb in it) ...MAPS CONFUSING
Took navigation data out of navigator's pocket and
tried to locate our position on the map. Couldn't get
maps straight ...
Crawled back to pilot's compartment to give him compass
course on the paper ... lost information on the floor and
crawled back for it ...
Rearranged tourniquet and continued to nose of aircraft.
Put on throat mike and head-set. Called pilot to inform him
we would be forced to land at the first RAF station because
the navigator was seriously wounded --gave pilot course to
Could not locate any field on the ground.
Crawled over to navigator and slapped his face. Looked
at his eyes. Requested pilot to get down as rapidly as
possible as all oxygen for navigator had been used ...
Sat by navigator feeling his head. Rearranged
tourniquet. Held navigator's arm while bombardier tried to
give him a hypo. (Fluid ran out before needle got in.)
Pilot called to report a fire had started in the
cockpit. Remained seated. Just sat until lower altitude was
Crawled back to pilot's compartment and notified him I
would stand by rear door with fire extinguisher ready. Sat
behind ammunition box for crash-landing ...
Opened door and ran around to front of airplane after it
had stopped -- no fires ...
Placed $400 in the back seat of an automobile and
walked away and left it .. Forgot what driver's name
Tried to get the pilot to go over for a cup of coffee
Money was handed to me later ...
Drank coffee and ate doughnuts ...
Began to function normally ...
My combat career ended suddenly, by orders from Eighth
Bomber Command. I had been assigned other duties. There
would be no more leaving the office for hours just to go on
a bombing raid. My European tour was finished. In a way, I
hated to leave -- but, in another way, I was glad. Fluffy
It is impossible to describe the happiness of our family
reunion in August, 1943. Fluffy was lovelier than I
remembered, and Fuz far more mature than I would have
After a three week leave Fuz returned to Staunton
Military Academy, while his mother and I traveled to
Dalhart, Texas. There I took command of the 46th Bomb
Operational Training Wing. Our students were destined to
become replacement crews for the Eighth Bomber Command.
Knowing all too well what they would experience upon
assignment to Europe, I insisted upon a rigid training
In early 1944, the Wing was transferred to Ardmore,
Oklahoma, where we initiated some highly unusual, but
effective, training aids. The flight line was made to look
exactly like those on our bases in England, complete with
"Player Cigarette" posters and sign posts pointing the way
to London. Missions from Ardmore were flown as though the
crews were actually in the air over Europe. We devised
overlay maps of England and the Continent for use by the
navigators. The transparent overlay was placed atop local
and regional maps. Thus, a few minutes after take-off, a
pilot would be "over the Channel," when in reality he was
flying above the snady soil of Oklahoma. The method proved
While we labored at the task of developing new and more
effective training procedures, another group of men
in Massachusetts put the finishing touches on a new
technological development which would have a decided effect
on the war effort. The unending search for an instrument
which would permit precision bombing without visual
sighting of the target was fulfilled with the perfection of
the AN/APQ-7 airborne radar. Called the "Eagle" radar
system, it had been under development at the Radiation
Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Earlier radar sets used in so-called "blind bombing"
presented a 360-degree scan on the scope. Target definition
was usually uncertain, at best. The beam of the APQ-7 was
narrowed so that only a 60-degree sector was projected on
the scope, and the target image was far superior to the old
In November, 1944 I was given command of the 315th
Bombardment Wing (Very Heavy), at Peterson Field, Colorado.
In December, the Air Staff decided that the 315th would be
the first combat organization equipped with APQ-7. Further,
we had no turrets and guns, except those in the tail
section. This allowed us to carry heavier bomb loads,
achieve greater speed, and fly at higher altitudes.
Within a few months, we were slated for heavy duty in
the Pacific Theater of Operations, but before actually
going we endured one of the most intensive training
programs ever undertaken by an air combat unit. The duty
was trying and difficult, but it was also stimulating and
Numerous veterans of the European Theater air battles
were among the officers and men of the 315th. As the
315th began to receive her full complement, more
familiar names appeared on our rosters. They were mostly
volunteers who had expressed a desire to serve under my
command for the second time. I considered that the most
profound compliment I ever received. I called them my
Much of our flying in the Pacific would be over water,
so we ran frequent practice missions between Puerto Rico
and New York. These long distance over-water flights placed
heavy emphasis on navigation, and on cruise-control fuel
saving techniques. We also made "dry-runs" on familiar
cities, becoming proficient with the operation of our
"Eagle" radar. Soon, we were experts at target
Blessed with a high degree of spirit and morale, only
one major breach of discipline was to mar our good record.
It involved a member of my household, so I kept a record of
the incident from beginning to end.
315th Bombardment Wing (VH)
Peterson Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado
2 January 1945
SUBJECT: Disciplinary Action Under 104th Article of
Against "Colonel" Doberman Armstrong.
TO: Commanding General, 315th Bombardment Wing (VU),
Peterson Field, Colorado. THRU: Wing Surgeon and Chief of
1. It has come to the attention of the undersigned that
the subject has been guilty of conduct unbecoming an
officer aad that this breach involved action considered by
the Surgeon to be hazardous to the health of this
2. The specific breach of conduct referred to did occur
at 1300 hours 29 December 1944 in the Headquarters of
this command wherein the subject did willfully lift his
left leg and piddle with force and volume upon the right
leg of our esteemed Special Services Officer in the
presence of others.
3. Recommend that subject be reduced for one week to the
grade of WO (JG) and called Mr. Armstrong or "Come here,
you unsanitary mutt".
/s/ D. T. CARNEY,
/t/ D. T. CARNEY,
Colonel, Air Corps,
Deputy C/S Administration.
OFFICE OF THE WING SURGEON, Hq. 315th Bomb Wing (VH),
Peterson Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2 January
TO: Commanding General, 315th Bomb Wing (VH), Peterson
Colorado Springs, Colorado. (THRU: Chief of Staff)
1. Wing Surgeon has upon the verbal request of the Chief
of Staff convened a Board of Officers to consider the case
of subject canine.
2. Findings of the Board indicate:
a. Examination of offended officer reveals only a vague
similarity to a fireplug.
b. Incontinence of accused was not due t) organic
disease and therefore is presumed to be with malice
afore-thought or from sheer damned laziness.
3. In view of the lack of moral fiber and the presence
of undeniable habits and traits of character the Board
recommends that the ease of Colonel Armstrong be disposed
of under the provision of Section VIII, AR 415-360.
/s/ HOWELL J. DAVIS,
/t/ HOWELL J. DAVIS,
Lt. Col., M.C.,
OFFICE OF THE CHIEF OF STAFF, Hq., 315th Bomb Wing (VH),
Peterson Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2 January
TO: Commanding General, 315th Bomb Wing (VH), Peterson
Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
1. The Provost Marshal has reported that the accused has
been under observation by that office for some time. Also,
that the Landscape Architect of Peterson Field has
submitted complaints to that office stating that trees
and shrubbery attacked by the accused have exhibited odd
and peculiar characteristics and in some cases have even
withered and died.
2. The nature of the indiscreet and wilful act demands
severe punitive action, and therefore, concur in
recommendation contained in basic communication with the
addition of an official, reprimand by the Commanding
/s/ LELAND S. STRANATHAN,
/t/ LELAND S. STRANATHAN,
Colonel, Air Corps,
Chief of Staff.
OFFICE OF THE COMMANDING GENERAL, 315th Bomb Wing (VH),
Peterson Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2 January
TO: Chief of Staff, 315th Bomb Wing (VH), Peterson
Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
1. 2nd Ind. is concurred in by the Commanding
2. I do hereby confine the little son-of-a-bitch to
quarters for a period of one week and rationed, bread --no
/s/ FRANK A. ARMSTRONG, JR.,
/t/ FRANK A. ARMSTRONG, JR.,
Brigadier General, U.S.A.,
The "Doberman Armstrong Caper" was finished almost as
quickly as it began. In one day, the case had gone through
four staff sections, and the punishment was leveled
--without, I must add, much success.
In May, 1945, we said goodbye to our families, packed
our gear aboard our aircraft and moved out. Our new base
was on the Island of Guam. The 315th was part of the XXIst
Bomber Command, under Major General Curtis LeMay. When the
war in Europe ended, many high-ranking German leaders had
expressed the opinion that one of the greatest effects of
Allied bombing had been the destruction of much of the Nazi
fuel supply. In many cases, they still had sufficient
equipment to fight, but no fuel. Thus it was decided
that we would strike at the heart of the enemy war machine
by destroying the key petroleum refineries and storage
centers on the Japanese mainland.
With the exception of long over-water flights, actual
flying operations against the Japanese Empire bore little
similarity to our missions against the Germans. In Europe
we struck from formation; in the Pacific, we approached,
hit, and returned from our Japanese targets in one
continuous single file. Each pilot was assigned a specific
altitude, course, and speed. He was required to follow his
flight plan explicitly. Much of each mission was flown in
darkness, and several miles out of enemy territory it was
necessary to extinguish all aircraft running lights. Visual
contact with the other aircraft on the raid was not
possible. Everyone had to be where he was supposed to be,
or he could chew the tail off the aircraft ahead of him, or
have his chewed off by the aircraft behind. If navigators
were inaccurate, or pilots did not fly with utmost
precision, the results could be disastrous.
There was no comparison in enemy resistance. In the ETO,
bombers could encounter flak or fighters any time after
crossing the Channel. In many instances, aerial combat had
been encountered approximately 20 miles from enemy
territory, and continued until the raiders reached that
distance on the return trip. German flak was intense and
accurate, and we often encountered such opposition for as
long as three hours.
Our raids over the Empire were comparatively easy in
this regard, since there was much less resistance enroute
to and from the targets. The Japanese had fewer fighters
and less formidable anti-aircraft weapons. Flying at night
was also beneficial to us.
Whether the B-29 could have been used in the ETO is
problemmatical. Few English airdromes were large enough to
accommodate a B-29 Wing, and none of the existing run-ways
could have supported the heavier weight, often as much as
135,000 pounds. The B-29 bomb load was equal to that
carried by 5 1/2 B-17's.
Our first strike was flown against the Utsube River Oil
Refinery the night of 26-27 June 1945. The bombing altitude
was established at 15,000 feet, much lower than the
original conception of altitudes to be used by our Wing.
The method of attack planned was by individual aircraft,
each using synchronus radar bombing (a term employed to
denote the use of the bombsight in conjunction with the
radar equipment). A maximum effort was ordered and 38
aircraft were scheduled to take off.
At 5:00 p.m. I nosed the "Fluffy-Fuz III" down the
runway, and 42 seconds later we 'were airborne. Our target
held a Number One priority in the Japanese petroleum
industry and consisted of an oil storage and hydrogenation
plant for aviation gasoline. We flew the route according to
plan, and our compressibility over the target was good,
with 80% of the striking force over the refinery in 22
½ minutes. We dropped 223 tons of general purpose
bombs, lost no aircraft,
and no men were lost or injured.
Reconnaisance photographs after the mission disclosed
that 30% of the roof area was destroyed or damaged as a
result of the mission. Many of the vital portions of the
refinery were hit and seriously damaged. Ten small
by-products tanks and one large crude oil storage tank were
It was decided, however, that the refinery had not been
put completely out of action, so another mission was
scheduled and flown against it on July 9. After that one,
nothing was left.
We arrived in the Pacific Theater late in the war, but
the 315th gave an excellent account of itself during the
following weeks. Those who preceded us in Pacific combat
operations had set standards which were hard to match --
but everyone did his damndest to live up to them. That they
were successful in their efforts is evidenced in this
message from Major General LeMay, following our fourth
"Successful strike is subject. I have just reviewed the
post-strike Shimotsu, the night of 6-7 July. With a
half-Wing effort you achieved 95% destruction, definitely
establishing the ability of your crews with the APQ-7 to
hit and destroy precision targets, operating individually
at night. This performance is the most successful radar
bombing of this Command to date. Congratulations to you and
After leading the first five missions, I remained on the
ground for a while. The extremely long flights were
exhausting for the youngest pilots and crewmen, and I was
an "old man" of 43. Also, I was the victim of what I
believed the most tenacious case of dysentery in medical
history. This uncomfortable, irritating and often
embarrassing malady plagued me during most of our stay on
Guam. Throughout each mission it was necessary for me to
sip from a small bottle of paregoric. Afterward, our flight
surgeon, "Stinky" Davis, an amiable Kentuckian, would meet
our aircraft and drive me to my tent. There he would pour a
water glass half full of whiskey, order me to drink it,
then order me to bed. I rarely complained. Dr. Davis and I
became close friends, and exchanged many letters after the
war, but I never told him one important thing -- he didn't
have to order me to take the "post-flight medicine". As
exhausted as I was (and perhaps for other reasons, too), I
would have gladly taken my "medicine," without so much as a
There is no need to elaborate on the missions of the
315th. The record speaks for itself. At the end of Mission
Number 12, the Wing Intelligence Officer wrote: "Rather
than detail the extensive damage inflicted, it can be said
that these three targets were no longer of use to the
Other damage summations read: "Photo reconnaissance
after Strike 14 disclosed that the target had ceased to
exist"; "The target was thoroughly saturated with bombs and
obliterated ... beyond repair."
Perhaps the most unique feat by the 315th was the manner
in which it destroyed the Ube Coal Liquefaction Company,
one of Japan's leading producers of synthetic oil. The
damage report read: "Dikes which had been built to hold
back the sea from the low reclaimed land were breached by
the bombs, permitting such a flooding of the area that
photo-interpreters were able to report – ‘This
target destroyed and sunk.'"
On August 15th, a strike against the Nippon Oil Company
Refinery was scheduled, postponed, and re-scheduled. Peace
negotiations were underway, and there was some doubt
whether we would reach the target before a cease-fire order
was issued. When none was received, the raid had to be
flown as scheduled. At 4:37 p.m. "Fluffy-Fuz III" rose
gracefully from the runway on a history-making flight. It
was the longest non-stop combat flight ever made, a
distance of 3,740 statute miles from Guam to the target and
return. Also, it was the last heavy bombing mission of the
war. As we returned from our strike, we listened to a
Stateside broadcast as an excited announcer described the
vistory celebration in Downtown San Francisco. The war was
over! Having led the first daylight bombing raid in the
European theater and the longest bombing raid the last
night of the war, I had opened and closed the affair like a
Every man aboard our aircraft was outwardly jubilant,
but inside, each experienced mixed emotions. We wanted no
more of war, but it was difficult not to think of those
who had not lived to see the dawn of this day. These
thoughts brought waves of sadness, irony and gratitude.
Too, there was a sudden surge of awe. Some of us had been
in the business of killing for nearly four years. How would
we adapt to a peaceful existence, and how much would we
regret the havoc we had wrought, even though it had been
Searching my conscience, I could find only one regret.
It stemmed from a decision I made on the second mission
against the Empire. Just before reaching the Japanese
mainland, one of our engines caught fire, and I elected to
wipe out a town of seven or eight thousand before going
down in the Pacific. After releasing our bombs, we managed
to snuff out the flames, and made it safely to an emergency
field on Iwo Jima. Yet, even now, after all these years, I
sometimes wonder how many "flames" were snuffed out by our
exploding bombs. That incident remains my one regret.
In the short time of its operation, the 315th
revolutionized heavy bombardment by proving that it is
possible to knock out small and difficult targets through
the use of airborne radar. It was a pioneer organization,
blazing a new path in aerial warfare, and accomplished its
job with the lowest combat losses on record. On every
mission, the primary target was found and attacked with an
extremely high percentage of the crews hitting their
assigned objectives accurately. Blasting the nine
refineries and storage areas seriously crippled Japan's oil
production capacity. Had the attacks continued much longer,
the Japanese petroleum
production would have been cut to a trickle. We had so
seriously handicapped the enemy's war effort every officer
and man in the outfit went home feeling he had contributed
to shortening the war, and in so doing, had saved countless
"When do we go home?" That was the big question in
everyone's mind during the following weeks. We all wanted
to go, but not everyone could. I was one of those who
couldn't, and remained in command of the 315th. If it was
difficult for me, it was a disaster for Fluffy. But she was
a good soldier, and in her letters I could find only
In October I was ordered to headquarters on Guam. No
reason was given, but I knew that something big was in the
wind. When I arrived, General Nate Twining requested that I
report to him. When I walked into his office, he said,
"Army, I want you to make the flight from Hokkaido to
Puerto Rico by way of Washington that the other boys
didn't complete." He was referring to a mission flown in
September in an attempt to set a long distance record. In
three B-29's, Major Generals Barney Giles, "Rosie"
O'Donnell, and Curt LeMay had been thwarted by bad weather,
and were forced to land in Chicago and Pittsburg, a
considerable distance short of the goal. These three
gentlemen represented some of the best flying talent in the
Air Force, so I knew my work had been cut out for me.
General "Nate", like General Raker, was a man of action.
As usual, there was only one reply I could make -
"Yessir." Then came the second part of the
"I want you to take three combat crews behind you," he
said casually, as if asking me to stop at a drug store and
buy him some aspirin.
In a matter of days, we were in Japan waiting for a
break in the weather. Our aircraft fueled to maximum
capacity, each weighing nearly 140,000 pounds, we were to
take off from Mizutani. The runway was made of individual
concrete blocks which wobbled with the weight of a jeep.
Our birds were so heavy we could not let them stand in one
place overnight. Ground crews moved them every few hours to
prevent them from pushing the blocks into the earth.
My co-pilot was Lt. Col. Mike McCoy, an amiable man, and
an excellent aviator. (I seemed to be blessed with talented
co-pilots. Colonel Paul Tibbets, who flew the
Rouen-Cotteville mission with me, was the pilot selected to
drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.)
The code name to be used on the flight was "Hyena". We
were Hyena-One, Colonel Ken Sanborn was Hyena-Two, while
Hyenas Three and Four were piloted by Majors Chester Wells
and John Cox.
At last we were cleared to go. We used nearly every foot
of runway taking off, and Cox's aircraft actually picked up
a small shrub as it became airborne.
We elected to remain under the thick overcast as long as
possible. From Hokkaido, where the ceiling was
about 900 feet, the cloud cover gradually lowered to the
east. We flew to Shemya at only 400 feet! Along the
Aleutian Chain, it lifted. We gained altitude and reported
over Adak at 14,000 feet. Continuing toward Juneau, we
continued climbing slowly. Our hands grew numb as the
temperature dropped inside the aircraft. Mike asked the
crew chief to bring us some coffee. He disappeared into the
rear compartment, returning a few moments later
"Where's the coffee, Sarge?" I asked.
With an expression of "you-won't-believe-this-Sir,-but"
he said, "Sir, the coffee is frozen!"
Someone had neglected to replace the cover on the
insulated bottle, and we had been flying for several hours
below the freezing point. Some stimulant was becoming
necessary, so we swallowed small benzedrine pills provided
by the flight surgeon. Coffee would have tasted much
We made constant checks with the other aircraft,
relaying wind and weather data back to them. We hadn't seen
any of the three since take-off. They weren't expected to
catch up until we neared the end of our journey. We wanted
to arrive as close together as possible, and if anyone had
sufficient fuel remaining, he was to continue to Puerto
Rico. That would have bettered the long distance record in
effect at that time. Held by the British, the mark was set
in 1938, at 7,158 miles. The distance from Mizutani to
Puerto Rico was 8,088 miles.
Even as we crossed Juneau, I wasn't sure we could make
it to Washington. Had I been certain at that point, my
instructions were to radio ahead, giving the code phrase
"Call Richmond". However, it wasn't until we were
approaching Minneapolis that I was reasonably sure of our
success. Soon after sending the message, we hit a
tremendous storm over the Great Lakes and were blown fifty
miles off course: Fortunately, all four aircraft drifted an
equal distance off the proposed path. Passing Pittsburg, I
asked the other pilots for fuel reports. None had
sufficient gasoline to make the flight on to Puerto Rico
and still remain within the specified safety limits, so I
gave the order to terminate at Washington. A few minutes
later I radioed the tower at National Airport, "Hyena-One
now entering traffic pattern."
The operator gave me clearance. Then we heard Hyena-Two
report his entry. It had been half an hour since we
received a report from Cox in Number Four. He had taken off
forty-five minutes after Mike had pulled up our gear, and
had been trying every possible trick to shorten the
distance between us.
"Hyena-Three now entering the traffic pattern."
"Roger, Hyena-Three, you're cleared to enter traffic.
Report on base leg."
Then we heard, "Hey: Don't forget me: Hyena-Four
entering the pattern!"
Despite the fatigue and the bad weather, the boys had
done me proud. We made it together.
Twenty-seven hours and twenty-nine minutes after leaving
Hokkaido, our wheels kissed the ground at Washington.
We hadn't broken the world's record, but by traversing
6,544 miles in bad weather we felt we had scored a laudable
The only serious incident on the trip occurred as Cox
neared the end of his landing run in Hyena-Four. As he
applied the brakes, three tires blew out, but he maintained
control of his ship and no one was hurt. Later, when the
ground crews were repairing the tires they discovered the
bush picked up on take-off.
We trailed the "Follow Me" jeep to the parking area
where several familiar figures stood shivering in the cold,
awaiting us. The crew chief opened the hatch, and a half
dozen empty ration tins clattered through the opening onto
the ramp. They were followed by pilot and crew, all of whom
looked a little "used", too. As Mike stepped off the bottom
rung of the ladder, I slapped him on the back and said as
heartily as I could, "Mike, how ya doin', boy?"
He looked at me dazedly for a moment and said "I'm doin'
fine, General." Then he collapsed on the concrete, amid the
laughter of everyone assembled.
General Eaker was among the dignitaries who had come to
meet and congratulate us. It was good to see him, but at
that moment something happened which made the entire ordeal
worthwhile. As I turned to face a battery of photographers,
a beautiful little blonde ran up and threw her arms around
me. Then, as she put her hands on my cheeks and kissed me,
I think a thousand flashbulbs went
off -- not all of them were in the cameras. At that
instant, with Fluffy in my arms, I realized I was home at
last! At that instant, with Fluffy in my arms, I realized I
was home at last!
Our stay in the States was brief. I spent Christmas on
Guam, lonely for Fluffy, and bitter because we couldn't be
together now that the war was over. I drank too much at the
Christmas Eve party. One New Year’s Eve, I did the
The New Year brought a change in fortune, however, as I
was transferred to Headquarters Pacific Air Command in the
Philippines. Lieut. General Ennis Whitehead was the
Commanding General. We had never met personally, but he
wanted a general officer experienced in B-29's to be his
Chief of Staff for Operations. If I had anything, it was
Soon after joining his staff, our headquarters moved to
Japan. I made application to bring Fluffy and Fuz to the
theater and received notice they would arrive in September
1946. Fluffy, excited and happy, purchased a new ward-robe
and began preparing for the trip. Before she received firm
orders I returned to the States, to become the senior Air
Advisor at the Armed Forces Staff College, Norfolk,
Fuz continued school at Staunton, and Fluffy moved to
Norfolk as we began a new era in our lives.
The most outstanding incident of the War College
assignment began at a party in the Norfolk Country Club. I
arrived after the festivities had been underway several
hours. The guests, many of whom were Naval Officers,
in high spirits, and good humor was the "order of the
evening". When they spied me entering the scene, the humor
became satirical, and was aimed at the Army. In found it
amusing, but challenging. When asked to speak, I retaliated
with a story about the U. S. Marine Corps, a part of the
Navy. A naval officer had told me the story just a few
minutes before and to repeat it seemed most appropriate at
the time. It was received with laughter and applause, so
after the party I went home and forgot about it.
Four months later, that satirical commentary was printed
by a nationally-known columnist who assumed it to be
serious. The reaction was immediate and severe. I received
letters from parents of Marines, citizens with no
connection with the Corps, but a profound respect for it,
and from Congressmen.
I answered each letter quickly and sincerely, assuring
those concerned I meant no harm but had spoken in jest. The
furor eventually died down, but while it raged I began to
realize I was in a completely new world. My last peacetime
duty was in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and I had not
yet learned the level of discretion required of the men who
wear stars. From that experience I did learn two things: If
a General wants to tell a joke, he must first make certain
it is funny; also, I learned of the power of the press.
Both lessons proved invaluable in later years.
We remained at the War >Staff< College until May
1948, when I was ordered to Alaska as Chief of Staff,
Alaskan Air Command,
under Major General Ramp Atkinson. He was an old friend
and an able officer, and I was anxious to serve under him.
We had heard conflicting stories about the merits of
Alaskan duty but viewed the assignment with neither undue
enthusiasm nor disdain. To me, Alaska was just another
station and, so long as our family could stay together, I
didn't care where we went.
After a short leave, we trained to Seattle where we
boarded the MSTS Sergeant Mower. Our accommodations were
comfortable and we enjoyed a smooth voyage until we entered
the Gulf of Alaska. The first indication of the storm
became evident during Sunday Worship services as the
Chaplain began swaying from side to side. When the asked
the congregation to stand and a hymn, the results were
drastic. Those pious brothers and sisters at the end of
each row were suddenly tossed against the bulkhead, or on
the floor. Services came to an abrupt halt after one of the
shortest sermons I've ever heard.
The storm grew worse and by midnight the sea was so
violent it was almost impossible to walk. But, being a
landlubber, I decided to see what was happening on the
bridge. I managed to make my way up there and was talking
with the pilot when a huge wave built up on our portside.
It looked like the whole Gulf as it towered high above the
bridge. I closed my eyes and tightened my grip as it hit us
The pilot lost his hold on the wheel and was thrown
behind me in a sitting position. He bounced off the
bulkhead, assumed a belly-down attitude and took off for
the opposite side of the pilot-house, vainly clutching for
something to stop him. He finally managed to regain control
and slowed the ship to four knots.
I returned to our cabin to find Fluffy sitting on the
edge of her bed, crying. Her hands were skinned and her
knees were beginning to change color. She had been tossed
out of bed and thrown against a metal locker.
Later we learned the ship had rolled nearly 60
We docked at the Port of Whittier two days overdue, then
proceeded to Anchorage by train. The scenery was
breathtaking, but a close inspection of the soil, even from
the train window, revealed it was soft and mushy. We found
this strange since we expected nothing but ice and snow.
Actually, we arrived at the beginning of "break up", the
short period in spring when the ground thaws, creating a
sea of mud.
Alaskan climate varies according to location within the
State. There are four "weather belts". With the exception
of the extreme far north and the Arctic shelf, the severity
of the winters is no worse than in Montana. At the
Elmendorf-Fort Richardson complex near Anchorage,
temperatures generally run between zero and minus twenty
degrees during the four hard winter months. Within a few
short weeks we became accustomed to the climate, friendly
with many Alaskans, and happy with our new surroundings.
One by one, the old myths we had heard were disproved,
we found the pioneer spirit of the Alaskans refreshing
Militarily, however, the picture was grim. Our problems
were of such great magnitude only political action could
surmount them. The Congress was advised of our situation in
a speech delivered to the House of Representatives in
March, 1949, by Representative O. C. Fisher, of Texas, who
"There is no question today but that Alaska is woefully
underdefended. There is no secret about that fact. The
Alaskan Command has publicly stated that the Territory is
presently vulnerable to enemy thrust and that the defenses
are presently inadequate to repel a possible attack.
General Spaatz has stated:
'Provided with bases close to the Arctic area an enemy
could attack the most important cities of the United
States, and inversely, American bombing forces located
close to the sixty-fifth parallel of north latitude could
carry out reprisals of the same nature against the most
important centers of population of any possible enemy.'
That means that, operating from bases in Fairbanks, for
example, enemy bombers could bomb most of the industrial
heart of America.
The fall of China to the Chinese Communist armies,
thereby bringing China under Communist pressure and Soviet
Union influence, if not control, threatening to engulf the
larger part of the Asiatic land mass, changes the
complexion of the entire Pacific area and lays bare
the weaknesses of our Alaskan defenses. A glance at the
map reveals the fact that thousands of miles separate the
California coast from the Asiatic mainland in the deeper
latitudes. But the mainland of Alaska is only 56 miles from
the Soviet Union, across the Bering Strait.
Moreover, it is well to point out that the security of
Alaska is the security of the great circle -- the most
efficient -- air route to the Orient. A further glance at
the polar map shows that the Aleutian chain stretches along
this air route toward the Kamchatka Peninsula, to Japan,
China, and the Philippines. This main air route to the
Orient uses Anchorage, Alaska, as an important base.
In considering the over-all problem of defending Alaska
from possible attack, it is well to recall that the
Russians are thoroughly familiar with most of the airfields
and installations in the Alaskan area. During the war more
than 7,000 lend-lease planes were delivered to Russian
fliers at Fairbanks. Quite a large number of Russian
officers and men were kept there during much of the war and
others received training in the Aleutians.
We do not know what the Russians are doing with regard
to their military installations in Siberia in the vicinity
of Alaska, but we do have good reason to believe there is
much activity in that area. We know that Russia's Eulen
Field is only 200 miles from Nome. We know that the Soviet
base of Anadyr, on the Siberian coast,
is in that immediate vicinity. We know that not since
1944 has an American plane been permitted to fly across
that area, enroute to Moscow via Alaska and Siberia. We
know that the Russians now hold the former Japanese naval
base of Paramushira, which is only 716 miles from the
Alaska Aleutian chain. And we have good reason to believe
that an all-out industrial-development program is taking
place in Siberia, with stepped-up military preparedness
activities being pushed ever closer to the Bering Straits.
According to Maj. Gen. William E. Kepner of the United
States Air Force, the Russians across the Bering Straits
are very likely conducting tests of men and equipment
similar to our own experiments.
Now, in order to carry out plans for the defense of
Alaska, there are three important considerations:
First. A comprehensive warning system, such as is
contemplated in the bill we are now considering.
Second. The deployment of more troops, equipment, and
airplanes to Alaskan bases.
Third. More adequate housing in order to make possible
such deployment and in order to make more effective the
best utilization of the radar screen in the Arctic
It is certainly important that we recognize the danger
of relying too much upon the presence of radar and other
installations and not forget the human element which is
necessary to operate them effectively. The more we build up
our Alaskan defenses, the more we shall need
personnel to man and protect the equipment for possible
defensive and offensive warfare.
We can no longer think of Alaska as a sort of
sentry-base. Alaska is likely to be a major base in any
future war. There is every reason to believe that such a
war would see planes and missiles sent back and forth
across the North Pole. Arctic tests of such equipment, as
the Air Force has announced, are going on in Alaska this
In our last two wars, the United States sent its
strength around the wide circumference of the earth, east
and west across the oceans in the traditional and
conventional concept of a flat projection of our planet.
That geographical concept is archaic and abruptly we are
faced with the military need to reorient our thinking in
terms of east and west alone, and to start thinking of the
different picture which the earth presents looking north
and south across the polar cap. In the last war, for
example, we used Africa as a stepping stone to Europe, and
Australia was on our route to Asia. But if we look at the
world from the Arctic region, we see that Europe and
Siberia lie almost next door -- between North America and
Africa, the Sudan, India, Indo-China, the East Indies or
Australia. This is a whole new view of geography, and we
must learn to think in these terms if only because the
Soviet Union is assuredly thinking in them.
I am thinking of national defense plans in relation
to the only great power with which our country could be
forced into conflict at this stage of history. This is the
air age and we have placed our hopes for peace largely on
air power; in consequence, as part of our planning for
peace we must turn our thinking toward Alaska.
I have spoken of possible attacks by air. But there is
no guaranty that an attack would come by air alone. I was
interested in reading a recent statement by Maj. Alexander
de Seversky, a well-known aviation writer. In This Week
magazine he singled out the Alaska-Kamchatka area as the
only one in which, during another war, sea and land warfare
would also be import-ant. Major de Seversky cannot be
accused of bias in favor of the importance of land and sea
forces as compared with air power, and for him to make such
a statement is significant.
But without attaching too much weight to any one
commentator, we can all agree that the defense of Alaska is
of the utmost importance
The Air Force has announced that flights by Alaska-based
squadrons proved Air Force units could fly anywhere in the
polar regions during any season of the year. I am informed
that already years of work, millions of flying miles and
many millions of dollars have gone into the work of testing
material and personnel, observing and photo-mapping the
Alaskan area for the strategic location of defenses.
The armed forces in the Territory, I believe, have done
a good job with the resources and equipment available. The
joint command of the services in Alaska has been unified,
with Lieut. Gen. Nathan F. Twining, an Air Force officer,
as commander in chief for Alaska, and Rear Adm. A. E.
Montgomery as deputy commander. Army Alaska is commanded by
Maj. Gen. B. L. Scott, an engineering officer, and the
Alaskan Air Command, formerly under Maj. Gen. J. H.
Atkinson, is now under Brig. Gen. Frank A. Armstrong.
The teamwork among these officers has been carried down
the line to various bases and installations, each of which
likewise has a unified command.
What is the present state, however, of Alaska's
defenses? According to a new York Times dispatch of last
February 14, the 586,400 square miles of the Territory,
with its coast line of 33,000 miles, is defended by one
anti-aircraft battalion, a few B-29's – which are
actually weather and photographic planes -- about one group
of Air Force jet fighters, one squadron of all-weather
fighters, and a few naval patrol planes. There are no
infantrymen and no combat ships, according to this report,
permanently assigned to its defense. The military personnel
of all services are chiefly members of supply, service,
experimental or testing units, or staff and headquarters
The deployment of additional units, I am informed by the
Air Force, waits upon the provision of additional
housing. After the completion of housing now under way
at Elmendorf and Ladd Air Force Bases, and the erection of
temporary barracks authorized for Eielson Air Force Base,
there will still be a shortage of space for 4,700
Those troops we now have in Alaska are in many cases
inadequately housed, This was my own observation during a
trip to Alaska last October, and I am pleased to have it
confirmed by the New York Times reporter, Hanson W.
Baldwin, who wrote on February 13 from Anchorage as
'Nowhere has this correspondent seen soldiers and airmen
and their wives living in such squalid, ramshackle huts as
pass by the name of houses here.'
At Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks in the
interior, an Air Force inspector recently reported that
enlisted personnel were housed in Pacific-type huts --built
for a very different climate -- in most cases in-adequately
heated, poorly lighted, and crowded. The latrines were a
long way from the huts, and at winter temperatures of 20 to
45 degrees below zero, their walls and floors stayed
covered with ice.
The shortage of space -- even after present construction
is completed -- for some 4,700 additional troops is based
upon emergency living-space conditions of 50 square feet
per man. It does not allow for expansion to normal
peacetime quarters of a personnel already stationed there.
Ordinary peacetime space allowances run from 72 square feet
for privates to larger spaces for
higher ranks; in Alaska, the average allowance should be
something like 90 square feet per man, compared with the 50
square feet which is provided. And the Arctic is not a good
place in which to cut the soldier's living space. In this
long, dark winter, and sparsely settled country, most of
his off-duty time must be spent indoors. This means, in
practice, that a soldier coming inside from temperatures of
20 degrees or more below zero, to a heated barracks, is
confined there to a space 5 by 10 feet or less. This area
is largely taken up already by his bunk. When he takes off
the heavy parka, boots, and other outside clothing and
hangs them up, there is hardly enough room left to turn
Nor does the estimated shortage of barracks space on an
emergency basis for 4,700 troops, which will still exist
when current construction projects are completed, take into
account the urgent need for family quarters for the men who
are already there. There cannot be many areas in which this
need is greater. Alaska is a long distance from the
continental United States, and is itself an enormous
Territory -- stretching in length a distance about equal to
the width of our country. It has less than 100,000 people
and a handful of small towns and cities separated by
hundreds of miles of wilderness. The leading towns are
smaller than the military bases which are nearby, although
their populations have already been swollen by the last
war. They can offer very little accommodation to the
soldier or civilian who wants
to bring his family along. If you will imagine the most
crowded boom town near the camps and war factories in the
United States during the last war and multiply the shortage
several times over, you will have a rough idea of the state
I have spent some time referring to the housing problem
in Alaska. I saw some of it under favorable weather
conditions, and I can testify. The acute shortage applies
also to civilians. The shortage has made it very difficult
for the armed services to recruit the number or quality of
civilian technicians needed. The bases are like small
cities -- for Alaska, they are big cities -- each with its
public utilities, streets, heating, telephones and so on,
to be operated best, most economically and efficiently by
trained civilians. But capable technicians of the sort who
are most needed can seldom be persuaded to leave their
homes and families in the United States for civil service
pay and dormitory life in the Arctic. I was informed that
the annual turn-over in those civilian employees runs more
than 100 per cent.
The services have done their best to provide for all
these needs with their available funds. The Air Force, for
example, gives priority to Alaska in all its housing
schedules. But it is costly to house forces in the Arctic.
Because of the need to import labor and ship building
materials from the United States, and because of changes in
design needed in areas of permanent
frost, construction costs on the average and two and a
half to four times the cost of comparable housing in the
United States. For example, cement delivered in Alaska has
cost $60 per barrel and in Seattle the cost is only
Funds should be provided with the minimum of delay to
meet all the needs I have mentioned: first, for additional
barracks to permit the deployment of additional forces, and
as soon as possible to permit the men now overcrowded to
spread out into a normal space; second, to replace the
present temporary barracks -- rapidly wearing out -- which
house 11,000 men; and third, to provide family housing for
an estimated total of 5,600' dependents and housing for
All these shortages, the Air Force informs me, have
combined so far to prevent deployment of forces in the
desired numbers, to retard the training programs, to lower
the morale of the personnel, and cause difficulty in
securing enough civilian specialists. Thus, the lack of
adequate housing in Alaska has already seriously interfered
with national defense at one of its most strategic
Let us not be lulled into false security by legislation
such as the radar bill, nor by reports of technical
progress in planes, guided missiles, or other weapons which
may be used in possible future battles over the top of the
world. These things by themselves do not win wars. They
must be operated, and defended,
by men on the ground, who must have adequate quarters
for life in the Arctic regions.
In the hands of an enemy, Alaska would be as frightful a
menace as it is now an asset and a safeguard. We have only
to remember our brief taste of such a danger during the
last war when the Japanese obtained a lodgment on the
Aleutian Islands. This Aleutian episode, costly as it was
in life and treasure, was only a feeble slap compared to
the devastating blow which the United States would suffer
from the loss of Alaska in a future war.
Mr. Chairman, before concluding I should like to put in
a good word for Alaska generally and its future. It has
many attractions, great opportunities for outdoor
recreation, and remarkable resources for industry and
agriculture. One of its main drawbacks has been lack of
transportation facilities. Alaska raises only 10 per cent
of its food.. Its roads are limited and inadequate. Many of
its resources have been exploited. But it is still a virgin
country with tremendous possibilities for the future. I am
hoping for ultimate peace rather than ultimate war, and I
am sure that our present military investment in Alaska can
some day be repaid many times over by the future growth and
development of this magnificent territory. There is no
better place to build for the future."
Representative Fisher sent me a copy of the speech a few
days later. In acknowledging its receipt, I
him on the accuracy of his remarks.
I enjoyed many adventures during our first tour in
Alaska, including a flight over the Pole to Norway, for
which I received that nation's highest civil aviation
In late summer of 1949, I inspected the 10th Air Rescue
Squadron, based at Elmendorf, and commanded by Colonel
Bernt Balchen. A native of Norway, Belchen's experience in
Arctic flying included piloting Admiral Byrd over both
poles. During World War II, he served in the U. S. Air
Corps, heading the rescue service in the Greenland-Iceland
areas. Many of our Europe-bound aircraft were ferried along
that route, and Bernt became a legend for his uncanny skill
in rescuing downed fliers from the ice caps. Still a
national hero in Norway, he had been invited to be a guest
of honor at a huge Oslo aviation festival in September.
After the inspection he wondered if I could spare a few
minutes. I joined him in his office and asked what I could
do for him.
"Cheneral," he said, "how vould you like to go to Norway
ven I go?"
"When are you leaving, Bernt?"
"Vell, da big shindig is on da tventieth of September. I
guess ve leave on da nineteenth, if dat's okay."
"You'll never make it on time. It'll take ... "
"Oh, ve'll make it all right. Ve're gonna go over da
"You mean over the Pole?"
"Vhy not? Dat's da qvickest vay."
The fact that no one had ever made the flight didn't
seem to worry him, and I had to admit it was "da qvickest
vay", so I agreed to go along. We made the trip in a
Our biggest problems were navigation, communication, and
ice. Once out of range of Alaska, we were unable to make
radio contact with anyone until we neared Norway. Celestial
navigation was the only reliable means of finding our way
across the rugged ice cap, but for a time bad weather made
that impossible. We had two navigators aboard, but at one
point they disagreed on our location and the course we
should follow. To put it mildly, there was confusion on the
We had a conference. Bernt looked at the charts, ran
some estimates, talked with both navigators, and rechecked
all the data. We had been flying in one direction for over
an hour and it would have been senseless to start
floundering around. We could not radio for a position fix,
and a cloud cover made celestial observation impossible. We
faced a very serious decision. Bernt hesitated just long
enough to point toward the nose of the ship, then settled
the problem by saying, "Ve go dis-a-vay:" And we did.
We passed from beneath the overcast a few minutes later
and, after shooting the stars, the navigators reported we
were only slightly off course. We cheered up --- but not
Ice began forming on the wings. I tried to break it
loose, using the pneumatic de-icer boots, but it didn't do
any good. They were punctured, and inoperative. As the
thickened, the aircraft grew heavier. We started using
more fuel than we had planned. We didn't have any to
The situation grew more critical as the added weight
decreased our airspeed and we began to lose altitude. For
over an hour we flew dangerously close to our minimum safe
altitude. Even in the arctic darkness we saw a couple of
jagged peaks pass below us, too close for comfort. Finally
the ice peeled away from the leading edges of the wings,
our weight decreased, and the bird gradually returned to
We made contact with Norway shortly after that and were
instructed to land at a Norwegian Air Force base located 22
miles from Oslo. The approach into Oslo is made through
several fjiords, and the visibility was considered too poor
to allow a tired crew to attempt going all the way in. We
landed, transferred to a C-47 "Gooney Bird" piloted by a
Norwegian officer who knew the area well.
When we stepped from the plane at Oslo, we were amazed!
There to meet us was the King, the Crown Prince, and a
crowd of nearly 40,000 people. Balchen was more famous than
The next five days were so packed with events I don't
remember much about them. We attended ceremony after
ceremony, interview after interview, and ate wonderful food
until we could hold no more. At one of the ceremonies I was
presented with the Gold Medal of the Aero Club of Norway,
an award previously presented to very few men. (Balchen
already had one.) Mine was number 13. It is one of my
We returned by way of Washington. Ironically, the
over the Atlantic was more dangerous than the one over
the pole. Shortly after reaching the point of no return we
ran into a terrible storm. Our de-icer boots were still
inoperative, so we could not climb above the weather. The
last half of our crossing was bumpy as a ride on a
We stayed overnight in Washington, and after eighteen
more flight hours touched down at Elmendorf. The great
adventure was over. The newspapers in Alaska proclaimed our
efforts "a great stride in the pioneering of new air routes
across the top of the world." Perhaps it was, but we set
out on that course simply because it was the shortest
distance between two points. As Balchen said, it was "da
A few weeks after returning from Norway I received a
telegram from a Hollywood studio:
"DEAR GENERAL ARMSTRONG STOP WE WISH TO INVITE YOU TO
WORLD PREMIER OF TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX FILM TWELVE O'CLOCK
HIGH TO BE GIVEN WEDNESDAY EVENING DECEMBER TWENTY FIRST AT
CHINESE THEATER HOLLYWOOD STOP EAGER TO HAVE YOU AS OUR
GUEST FOR DINNER PREMIER AND RECEPTION AS WELL AS OVERNIGHT
STAY AT LOCAL HOTEL STOP PICTURE WAS MADE WITH FULL AIR
FORCE COOPERATION AND APPROVAL STOP WE ARE INVITING MANY
OTHER WARTIME AIR FORCE LEADERS STOP HOPE YOU WILL ATTEND
"Twelve O'Clock High" was written by Beirne Lay, Jr. and
Sy Bartlett, two former VIIIth Air Force Officers. Beirne,
commanding a B-24 Wing, was shot down shortly before D-Day.
He evaded capture by hiding at a French farmhouse until the
Allied Armies reached that location. Sy Bartlett served as
aide-de-camp for General Spaatz in England, and later
became intelligence officer for the 315th on Guam. He
started writing the story while we were still in the
States, but his progress was interrupted by our movement to
After the war, Sy returned to Hollywood, teamed up with
Beirne, and wrote it as a novel. They based the main
character on me and asked that I check the manuscript for
technical content. I advised them on several matters, but
they did the creative work, and credit for the book's
success is theirs.
I flew to Hollywood the day of the premiere and enjoyed
a reunion with many old friends, including Generals Ira
Eaker, Curt LeMay and "Rosie" O'Donnell. Needless to say,
we enjoyed much reminiscing and "hangar flying". Also in
attendance were Lieutenant Colonels John Meyer, Francis
Gabreski, and Captain Don Gentile, three of America's top
We arrived outside Graumann's Chinese Theatre at 8:00
p.m. Searchlights pierced the chilly night sky, their
brilliance dimmed only by the glitter of the two dozen
Hollywood stars who honored us with their presence. The
sixty-piece Lackland Air Force Base Band, flown in from San
Antonio, lent a military atmosphere to the festivities.
Armed Forces Radio Service broadcast the proceedings to
military posts around the world.
At 8:30 p.m. the house lights dimmed and the movie
began. Some dramatic license was necessary to strengthen
the story line, but the aerial combat scenes were
The director, Henry King, flew nearly 16,000 miles in
search of an area similar to our English airdrome. He found
what he wanted at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and Ozark
Air Force Base, Alabama. Washington allowed him to use one
of Eglin's nine satellite fields as a shooting location. He
transformed it into a duplicate of a wartime American base
in Great Britain, complete with Nissen and Quonset
Two former members of my group, Colonel John de Hussy
and Major Johnny McKee served as technical advisors. Mr.
King wisely heeded their advice and even referred to one of
de Russy's experiences in the film. John had suffered a
neck wound at twenty-six thousand feet over enemy
territory. He escaped death only because the intense high
altitude cold froze the blood around the wound.
The English airdromes had dark runways to make them more
difficult targets. When informed that the white concrete at
Eglin was not authentic, Mr. King photographed the take-off
and landing sequences at Ozark, where the airstrip was
As a flier, I can attest to the realism of the film, but
its artistic merits were best summed up by critics. One
representative review, printed in The Hollywood Reporter,
ZANUCK'S '12 O'CLOCK HIGH' PACKS TREMENDOUS WALLOP
With "Twelve O'Clock High", 20th Century Fox and Darryl
F. Zanuck bring a distinguished production year to an
appropriate climax, for this magnificent drama of the Air
Forces during the early days of American participation in
the war is a dramatic thunderbolt. In the first place,
there is a great script which Zanuck had the foresight to
allow the authors, Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay, Jr., to
adapt from their own novel. Consequently they work with an
affectionate hand and with the greatest respect for the
dignity of the original story. >Out< [written in the
margin]The heroics come gracefully and naturally in "Twelve
O'Clock High". They are born of human dignity, will, and
determination. One doesn't see formula rearing its
stereotyped head in either the
characters or the situations.
"Twelve O'Clock High" grows in impressiveness from the
gallantry of the subject, and not because a set of hacks
have filled it with worn cliches. Its action matter is
thrilling, and its subtle emotional content grips the
heart. Its quiet note of patriotism stirs deeply.
There is apathy toward war pictures, and the producer
who tackles one must compensate in other directions,
especially if he hopes to entertain the distaff side. In
surmounting this difficulty Zanuck's supervision hits the
bullseye; first, in the assignment of Henry King to direct;
secondly, in the assembling of one of the finest casts of
actors put on a motion picture screen in recent years. For
superb histrionic rapport it even dims this reviewer's
recollection of the memorable "Wilson".
>Out< [written in the margin] Henry King,
inevitably must be accorded a large share of the credit for
the work of s company. There are fine, outstanding actors
in the troupe, but under King they become great. The
onlooker feels boundless admiration for the sustained
sensitivity of this characterization or that, for the
amazing effectiveness of King's steady underplaying. Truly,
this is a unique achievement. >Out< [written in the
The gripping story of "Twelve O'Clock High" is told in
the simplest flashback form as Dean Jagger, a major in the
Air Force, bicycles out to the air field where he was one
of a valiant band of men who fought back against the
Luftwaffe during the worst days of the Battle for Britain.
It is the era when Americans and British combined to take
by sweeping down over the enemy in a series of daring
day-time raids. Millard Mitchell is the General brash
enough to institute this policy, and Gregory Peck is his
The whole thing is experimental and the pushing of the
men to the breaking point is the most pressing of the
problems involved. Mitchell selects Gregory Peck to step
into the command of Gary Merrill, who recoils under the
strain. Peck assumes the guise of a martinet and, by sheer
force of his military bearing, pulls the company into an
efficient combat unit. What is missing in personal
affection between the soldiers and their C.O. is
compensated for in their improved performance. After Peck's
first few days on the job, the pilots ask for transfers.
His objective is to keep them without letting up on
discipline. One by one they come over to his side, but by
this time Peck is like his predecessor, completely
identified with his men, and they in turn are totally
dependent on his leadership. His own crack-up saves him
from the ignominy of being removed. This is the crux of
"Twelve O'Clock High", and it does not begin to explain the
depth of characterization achieved as the actors assume
identities for the cameras. Nor does it describe the wealth
of suspense and drama in the action scenes during which the
spectator sees confidence, know-how, and, finally, success
take place in the daylight bombing strategy.
>Out< [written in the margin] Gregory Peck, who
would be the first to agree that here-tofore he has been a
personality rather than a polished actor, rather than a
polished actor, need no longer make apologies, for his
portrayal of the youthful Air Force general is a superbly
rounded, authentic and credible characterization. Hugh
Marlowe, portraying a coward who is >Out< [written in
>Out< [written in the margin] bludgeoned into a
sense of responsibility, continues the fine promise of
"Come to the Stable" with a sound, well-shaded
characterization. Gary Mertill is exceptionally fine as the
beloved C.O. and Millard Mitchell's top man is one of those
performances that delight the lover of fine acting.
Dean Jagger starts a whole new career for himself as a
character man by playing the over-age major with charm, wit
and humor. Robert Arthur delights as the young sergeant,
and Paul Stewart makes much of his sides as the doctor.
John Kellogg, Bob Patten, Joyce MacKenzie, Lee MacGregor
and Sam Edwards stand out in the large supporting cast. Of
the latter group there is not a bit role played in anything
less than impressive fashion.
Technically "Twelve O'Clock High" is a masterpiece of
coordination. Leon Shamroy's photography captures all the
fine points and subtleties of Henry King's direction, and
the art direction of Lyle Wheeler and Maurice Ransford is
authentic to the most minute details. Credit Alfred
with superlative music and Barbara McLean with
distinguished editing. -----
Other publications were equally liberal with praise for
the production. As previously stated, I am not a critic,
but I found the movie far more realistic than any war
picture seen up to that time.
The only regret I was to experience in later years was
the scene in which my celluloid counterpart "cracked up"
from mental strain. At least a hundred times people who did
not serve with us in England asked how long it took me to
from the breakdown. Those who were there have never
ceased to jokingly tell me "it's too bad you never quite
got over your mental problem."
The premiere was described as one of the most
outstanding in the history of Graumann's Chinese Theatre.
After it was all over we went to a party, had a late dinner
and managed to get a few hours sleep before returning to
Just as I was checking out of the hotel, I was paged and
informed I had a phone call from Washington. It was
Secretary of the Air Force, Stuart Symington, phoning to
tell me he planned to spend Christmas in Alaska. He had
invited Bob Hope to entertain our forces, and when Bob said
he wanted to enjoy the holiday with his own family for a
change, the Secretary told him to take the family, too.
Hope agreed, and the trip was scheduled.
Mr. Symington's aggressive approach to the military
housing problem in Alaska was encouraging to the soldiers
and airmen compelled to live in sub-standard quarters. His
visit was gratifying to those of us charged with the
defense of the territory, since too many of our plans were
thwarted or postponed for lack of housing.
On a previous visit, some months earlier, the Secretary
was impressed with the need for more military housing and
he announced his intention to spearhead a construction
program. Developments came rapidly. Plans were made for
3,000 housing units in Anchorage and Fairbanks. The
building program was scheduled to start in the spring of
Two huge 500-man barracks were completed in December,
1949, and others were nearing completion. Mr. Symington's
pro-gram was the foundation for the establishment of a
permanent military force in Alaska on a sound and
economical basis. His leadership and self-sacrifice
resulted in getting things done, and earned him my deepest
The distinguished visitors from Washington and
Holly-wood landed Friday afternoon, December 23rd, and for
three days followed a hectic schedule. It included a show
at the Air Force Hospital Friday night, a program Saturday
morning in an Elmendorf hangar, a trip to Kodiak Saturday
afternoon, then back to Elmendorf for another appearance
that night. On Christmas they flew to Eielson and Ladd,
near Fairbanks, for two more performances. That night the
Hopes and their troupe left for Hollywood, so Bob could be
home in time to rehearse for his regular Tuesday radio
Mr. Symington remained for a two day conference with
General Twining and Mr. Ernest Gruening, the Territorial
Governor of Alaska. They discussed defense problems as well
as further housing plans. When the Secretary returned to
Washington, he was thoroughly briefed, and indicated he
would not hesitate to speak out for more and better
equipment for our forces. The only question in my mind was,
"Would anyone listen to him?"
In 1775, George Washington wrote to Richard Henry Lee,
"It is among the most difficult jobs I have ever undertaken
in my life to induce these people to believe there is,
can be danger, until the bayonet is pushed at their
throats." The same situation existed prior to Pearl Harbor,
and again in 1950, when the "bayonet" was the start of the
Korean Conflict. It demonstrated in bloody detail the
inhuman lengths to which Communism is willing to go to
In January, 1950, I was promoted to the rank of Major
General, and as the end of my Alaskan tour drew near, I
hoped for a combat assignment. These hopes were shattered,
how-ever, when I read the reassignment orders. Instead of
going to the Far East, I was to be Commanding General,
Sampson Air Force Base, New York -- a new Training Command
Not until we began saying our farewells to our many
associates and friends did we realize how much we had come
to love Alaska. Its wild beauty, vast size, and the
magnificent spirit of its citizens left a deep impression
on our hearts. The Territory was truly "The last
frontier".... a place where no one cared what you had done
in the past; it was what you could do now that counted
most. The potential of Alaska, too great to be understood
by unimaginative minds, had not yet been exploited. Its
strategic geographical location was still largely ignored.
As we boarded the aircraft for our journey south, I
wondered how long it would be until we awakened the
sleeping Giant of the North, to take advantage of its
latent resources. I hoped we would not wait until it was
Our new base was formerly Sampson Naval Training
Station. During the war, half a million civilians were
converted into sailors on its 2500 acres. In 1947 it was
abandoned as a training center and quickly fell into
serious disrepair. High weeds had sprouted on its drill
fields, almost all its windows were broken, doors hung
loosely from their hinges, and in many barrack drill sheds
and mess halls, water seeping through the roofs had formed
pools on the floors.
When the Air Force took over, the base was not expected
to be ready for trainees before April at the earliest. But
civilian contractors began work in January, 1951, and soon
doubled their efforts when overcrowding at Lackland Air
Force Base, Texas, forced a suspension of recruiting.
Typical of the problems I faced as Base Commander was the
condition of the huge mess hall capable of seating 5,000
men at each meal. It was devoid of kitchen equipment, its
floors were badly warped, almost all its windows were
broken, its paint had peeled, and its staircases were
unsafe. Within three weeks new equipment was installed and
the hall was re-painted and repaired.
Tentative plans called for building up the base to
ac-commodate twenty thousand trainees and seven thousand
Fluffy and I lived in a Syracuse hotel while our base
quarters were being readied. We received word through
"grapevine" that I would be transferred again. The rumor
came from a high source, so when we moved onto the base
Fluffy was faced with a problem: Should she unpack, or
shouldn't she? The poor facilities at Sampson created a
morale problem among the junior officers and enlisted men.
Had they learned of the projected change of command, the
problem could have been magnified, so we unpacked, hung
curtains and pictures, and set up housekeeping as though we
planned to remain permanently. One week later, however, my
transfer orders came through, so we repacked, said our
farewells, and moved to McDill Air Force Base, near Tampa,
The new assignment offered exciting possibilities. I
commanded the Sixth Air Division, a unit of the Second Air
Force. We were a part of the Strategic Air Command.
We were to get the first Boeing B-47 Stratojets in SAC.
Our immediate task was to learn all there was to know about
flying them, then, to fly them better than any jets had
ever been flown before. We wanted to be able to get the
most out of every last pound of thrust their engines could
put out, and we wanted to use it to train our first teams
who fly these bombers all over the world.
It's one thing to build a new aircraft, and quite
another to fly it. Pilots were sent to Texas several months
prior to my arrival, for eight months of intensive training
in navigation and radar. Ground crews attended Air Force
factory courses were set up for jet mechanics and
electronic technicians. I was advised to expect the first
B-47 in the fall of 1951. Before then, I had many other
problems to overcome.
The Base Commander was responsible to me for the
ad-ministration of McDill. He "ran the store" while I
shouldered operational responsibilities of the division. I
needed a man who would keep unnecessary problems off my
back. I was pleased to learn that the new Base Commander
would be Colonel Brintnall Merchant. Brint's records
indicated he was a man of character and efficiency. He
enlisted as a flying cadet in 1918, but, after one tour,
left the service to enter the business world. When World
War II came along, he was a successful financial adviser in
a Washington, D. C. Firm. Not satisfied to "sit it out" for
the duration, he re-entered the Air Corps. He flew with the
Air Transport Command, went to the Pacific where he
commanded bases in New Guinea, Australia and Manila, and
after the war studied at the Air War College at Maxwell Air
Force Base, Alabama. >then on to Japan.
I'll never forget the circumstances of our first
meeting, the beginning of a friendship we would enjoy long
after we were out of uniform. Brint, resplendent, ruggedly
handsome, and eager to get to work, reported to my office
early in the morning of his first duty day. I wondered how
well he could operate with minimum supervision, so I
decided to find out, right away.
"What are your instructions, Sir?" he asked.
I waited a few moments before answering, searching for
"just the right words." Then, I looked straight into his
eyes, and said casually, "Well, Colonel, the Officers' Club
is losing money. Put a stop to that."
"One more thing; the stabilizer fell off a C-47 onto the
runway yesterday. You might look into the maintenance
"That will be all, Colonel."
I don't know what reaction I expected, but Brint didn't
bat an eye. He saluted, left the office, and started to
One of the few problems Brint was unable to overcome
without my help involved the attitude, bearing and courtesy
of the base personnel. For a while lethargy threatened our
efficiency. As ranking officer, it was my job to get things
shaped up, so I ordered every officer in the Division to
re-port to the base theatre. Because of its effectiveness,
I kept a copy of the address they heard:
"Gentlemen, I brought you together today to solicit your
cooperation. I can't do the job unless you help me, but I
can do without you, if that is what you desire. I want to
tell you a story.
Two gunmen in Tombstone, Arizona, decided to gang up on
the local marshal. The marshal saw them approaching and
walked out into the middle of the street to meet them.
said, "Gentlemen, I know you've come to kill me, but I
want to remind you of one thing -- I can beat either of you
to the draw." They hadn't figured on that, so they looked
at each other for a split second; the marshal drew his gun
and killed both of them. I'll get to the moral of the story
in a few moments.
The B-47 program is the most important program in the
United States Air Force today. There are eleven
organizations on this base, some 11,000 souls. There are
two combat wings and an air base group. The combat wings
will eventually be pulled out, and go into combat if
necessary. The sole purpose of the air base group is to
support the two combat wings. Without the three units
pulling together we can-not accomplish our mission. Every
officer in this division should do his best to help get
these wings ready for combat. Every airman should be told
what his job is, should know he is doing it to attain a
goal. It will not take much of your time to speak to your
airmen to tell them what part they are playing. I'm telling
you now what I expect of you. We must have an educational
program so that each individual on this base will know that
he is important in our mission. We face a challenge that
will test your ability, and mine. I'm sure we can meet it,
if you desire. So, I want to reiterate that I am now asking
politely for your assistance. On the other hand, I'm not
fooling myself by thinking that all of you will give me
what I am asking. So, I am getting set for that, too.
Many of you have been called back into the service
civilian life. I had nothing to do with it. I didn't ask
for you by name. You have gone through many hardships to
come back into the service. I realize and appreciate that.
Housing is not good, pay is not exactly what you would have
it, but you are back to do a service.
Officers who have accepted a responsibility should
assume that responsibility. I think you should know your
job, and should give Uncle Sam an honest day's work. If you
don't, someone else must carry your load, for the work must
It has been my good fortune in the past to command some
excellent combat outfits. I can truthfully say I have never
commanded a second-rate organization. The reason? The
officers and men under me were working toward one goal. I'm
too old to command a second-rate outfit now.
Gentlemen, I'm going to be fair and honest with you. I'm
laying my cards on the table. I'm not going to pull
any punches, and I expect the same treatment from you.
What I have to say to you, I'll say to your face. If you
have anything to say to me, say it to my face. I have an
office here. You have access to it. You can come there, or
I can come to see you. I can't make you a better offer than
Ordinarily, when a new commander comes on a base he
establishes a policy; he gets a broom and starts sweeping
out. You have just heard my policy. All of you won't agree
with it. Some of you will help me. Some won't.
I want you to decide now whether you are for the 6th Air
Division, or against it. It is a simple decision. If
you are against it, have the guts to come and tell me. I
challenge you! Don't misunderstand me. I'm not threatening
anybody; I'm just challenging you.
Now for you who have decided to help me make this a
Number One organization: I thank you sincerely, because I
need help -- all the help I can get. I have had some
experience with combat. The only people I respected in
combat were those with fighting 'hearts. If you will just
give me a fighting heart, we'll have the best outfit in the
United States Air Force. If you don't, I want you to
remember the two gunmen; you'd better speak to your pal and
see who's going to draw first, because one of you is going
Thank you, Gentlemen."
Within a few weeks, the base was a showplace.
The first B-47 assigned to SAC arrived at McDill early
in November. Mike McCoy, my old co-pilot on the
Hokkaido--Washington run, delivered the ship from the
factory at Wichita, Kansas. Mike was Commander of the 306th
Bombardment Wing, a part of my Division. He climbed down
from the cock-pit, grinning with pride, like a kid with a
new toy. Later, he died in a toy just like that one.
The runways were extended, new shops set up, and a
vigorous training program got underway immediately. We
worked hard, made mistakes -- once, and learned how to
handle the aircraft considered then to be the fastest
bomber in the world. As our crews became "combat
qualified", they were transferred to other units, forming a
nucleus for training other operational units.
The B-47 was built for one thing -- to deliver atomic
bombs. Its creation ushered in a new era -- The Jetomic Age
-- a wedding of the jet and the atom. This marriage altered
many aspects of the world military situation. For three
years it increased the safety of the United States against
enemy surprise attack. With new air-to-air refueling
techniques, it was possible to launch a devastating
retaliatory attack on enemy targets within their own
In October, 1952, I took command of the Second Air
Force, with headquarters at Barksdale A.F.B., Louisiana.
The Second was America's first all-jet bomber force
responsible for the accomplishment of a large part of SAC's
global mission of training and maintaining combat-ready
crews and jet bombers for instant retaliation against an
attack on this country.
Every day and night we flew mock bombing missions in the
United States using our great industrial centers as
Each mission was scored, either visually with
or by radar, and crew performances were accurately
evaluated. The results proved conclusively that bombs
consistently hit the targets.
Supporting our crews we had Strategic Support Squadrons,
operating C-124 Globemasters, and KC-97 tanker squadrons
which had perfected refueling techniques to vastly increase
the operational range of our jets.
A unit of the Second Air Force, based at Turner, made
the first mass flight of jet fighters over the Pacific
1952, and with another of our wings completed non-stop
crossings of the Atlantic from Georgia to England and North
Africa in June, 1953. Also in 1953, one of our wings, the
first complete jet bomber unit to deploy to England,
established and then broke all records for the Atlantic
crossing during its flight to England from Tampa, Florida.
A bomb wing from Barksdale was the first complete jet
bomber unit to deploy overseas for training in North
Africa, early in 1954.
The Russians were not content to allow SAC to enjoy
these capabilities unchallenged. By late 1954, Russian
scientists had developed a weapon which all but neutralized
our effectiveness. It was an Intermediate Range Ballistic
Missile, capable of knocking out the island stepping stones
where our tankers were based. We could not reach a Soviet
target and expect to return, unless we could be sure of
being refueled in flight during the mission. We had built
our strategy around the tanker, and although it was our
only hope at the time, we soon realized the "tail was
wagging the dog". I felt the only solution was to base SAC
aircraft in foreign countries, within striking distance of
our tar-gets, without reliance upon tankers. No changes
were made in our Emergency War Plan to compensate for the
new Russian capability, so, >I
in I wrote the following:< Commander in Chief,
SAC: "In September, I will fly four to six wings on an
overseas maneuver. The route will be the same we have flown
many times, because it is the only one available. The
Russians know the route well. Personally, I do not expect
it to be available during hostilities. If it is, we win.
If not, we go no place. Once again, I point out that the
complexion has changed, and we are absolutely dependent on
tankers and tanker bases.
I assume the Russian has as much sense as I. I am
certain he knows our routes across the Atlantic. I am also
certain he understands that we must use islands for our
tankers to support our bombers. I believe these islands
will be on the top of his list of targets. A non-stop
strike from a ZI base to Russia and return requires three
refuelings for each bomber, with the possibility of one
tanker going down. That is a costly, as well as doubtful,
To mount a strike from this country and reach the target
requires hours. Even if we were going to make a surprise
attack, it is doubtful that we could do it from the ZI.
Should we mount a strike and reach the North African
complex to find it denied -- no tankers available -- we
could not reach the primary targets, and the bomber force
would be a complete loss. We could never retrieve them
because of the lack of fuel and crashes. The same thing
would occur along the northern route if bases in England
were denied. Our first and main efforts must be mounted
from those bases where refueling is not required. Time and
distance will be of the essence. We must be in position to
get to the target immediately, if we hope to pin the
Russian down by knocking out his bomber fields, thereby
preventing the Russian Air Force from
denying ocean islands to us.
Where our initial striking force will be located, and
who will command it, is of no importance to me. Our bomber
force has increased to such an extent, sufficient tankers
are not available. To move one division out of the U.S.
would not curtail SAC's capability. One recommendation is
to move one division of ninety bombers, less tankers, to
Africa. There are at least five bases available for bombers
there. This division could be a part of the Fifth Air
Division. That would keep them in SAC. Dispersion could be
accomplished as far forward as Turkey. These bombers could
be assigned enemy medium bomber bases as primary targets. A
team composed of Second Air Force and Fifth Air Division
personnel to survey bases in the Mediterranean area for pre
and post striking B-47 and KC-97 aircraft, was approved by
you but disapproved by USAF. Fifth Air Division alone does
not have the capability of conducting such a survey;
therefore, I strongly recommend going back to Headquarters
USAF request-ing reconsideration. Information and
recommendations from this team could prove invaluable.
The whole thing boils down to this: B-47's are dependent
upon tankers. Tankers are dependent upon forward bases or
islands from which to operate. If either is denied, the
bombers cannot carry out their mission completely. They
might do the job half-way and then become lost for further
operations. We must have a force capable of destroying USSR
medium bomber bases immediately when hostilities begin.
can only be done by having a force in being, within
striking distance of the targets. If we lose our refueling
bases, SAC cannot strike. It is just that simple, or
complex, de-pending upon the way one looks at it. We 'go'
provided we can refuel. We 'stay home' if we cannot."
>Out< [written in the margin] The reply, dated
July 26th, acknowledged that my views represented a "lot of
thought", and were "being given consideration".
CINCSACC stated concern about the vulnerability of
force- in the advance areas. He considered SAC a back-force
'or limit theater-capability, with the probability that SAC
would conduct a majority of e active operations in winning
the air battle.
CINCSAC agreed that we must plan or the employment of
the B-47 and KC-97 force until the B-52 became operational.
Until then, "we would be dependent upon intermediate bases
support the tankers and/or bombers." He believed, even if
we lost the island bases and major portion of our prepared
bases in the North African-Spanish-Mediterranean area, the
late production models of the B-47 could be staged through
bases in the northeast states. They could still "fly
non-stop to such bases as may be available in Spain or
North Africa." If we launched an all-out effort, operating
through these advanced bases, it seemed "probable we could
strike the Soviet Target system."
He admitted this type of operation required bases with a
minimum support capability Spain, North Africa, and the
Mediterranean area, and recognized the ''total number of
programmed base in that area was inadequate " He agreed the
acquisition of additional minimum support bases would have
greatly increased our operational flexibility and the
probability of placing more effective weapons on assigned
target . But he had received information from Headquarters
USAF indicating it would not be possible for us to get base
rights in most countries under active consideration, within
the near future. We could not plan on an immediate survey
within those countries. Also, the survey of additional
bases in Spain was prohibited for the time being. If more
survey data was required on base, or base locations in
French Morocco, and could get the concurrence of 17th Air
Force in the conduct of these surveys, I was encouraged to
gather the required information.
>Out< Past experience had conclusively proved to
him that a unit placed overseas "very quickly begins to
lose its effective combat potential." By the end of the
first year, "the combat potential would be degraded to the
point that the loss of two wings from our relatively high
stateside potential would make this movement unprofitable."
In addition, he felt the overall support required for
overseas deployment was "in excess of what he Air Force
According to his letter, he had a choice between the
"probable loss of this combat capability if located on the
North African base comp ex, and he probability of having
the ninety B-4's intact in the U.S., with a
>Out< [written in the margin] capability of
effective employing them again: t the assigned objectives."
He chose to "retain the force in the United States with a
probability of employing them at the earliest possible time
in the war."
CINCSAC ended the letter by stating he '.s hopeful "o e
word 'aggression' would be redefined and accepted by the
United Nations.' The new definition, in his opinion, "must
recognize that we e living in an age when it can no longer
be an issue of morality that nation must receive
>Out< the first physical blow before it could respond
with force; in fact, the first blow could signal the end of
a conflict, rather than a beginning." Therefore, "certain
enemy actions short of war" should constitute sufficient
threat to the non-aggressor nation that t "would be
justified in launching, the direct attack, at least on
enemy strategic a power, to for stall its own
Something had to be done about the situation the public
was being unfairly treated and mis-informed. Everyone not
directly involved seemed to consider SAC the ultimate
answer to our defense needs. Those with the SAC missions
knew otherwise. >?< [written in the margin]
In December, 1955, two of my Wing Commanders came to me,
each officer separately, without consultation between
themselves, and asked identical questions: "What's the
solution? What is the alternate plan?" They realized that
un-less they were actually enroute to the target and had
passed through the last refueling area, their chances of
through were anything but good. Also, they were aware
that their chances of returning to a friendly base were
>Out< [written in the margin] SAC not longer had
the capability of bombing the EWP targets unless the enemy
wanted them to, and I assumed he did not. SAC would be
neutralized except f. token raids, which would deplete our
forces with practically no results. The enemy could have
given us ten hours notice, and still restricted our
effectiveness by eliminating our post strike bases.
>Out< I hated to think of the consequences had SAC
been in-operative during the first stages of the war. It
would have 'seen a catastrophe. Hysteria would certainly
follow since SAC had been held up to the public as THE air
arm which would stop the enemy.
>In< [written in the margin] The urgency of the
situation was unchanged after six more months, so I wrote
of it to General Nathan Twining, the Air Force Chief of
Staff. We were old friends, and I wanted to advise him of
my personal views, just for the record. Dated January 4,
1956, the letter read, in part: "Dear General: I have
written to CINCSAC expressing my views on the subject
covered in this letter. His answer is in my files. At the
outset I want to make it clear that I am not critical of
the Strategic Air Command. CINCSAC has made SAC an
outstanding organization and I personally believe that he
is as much concerned with the future as I am; perhaps more
so, if that is possible. In no way am I condemning SAC from
an operational viewpoint. I do not
believe that any changes are possible because of our
present equipment and capabilities. CINCSAC is doing the
best he can with the equipment on hand."
After outlining the problems in great detail, I
concluded: "General, I have given much thought to this most
important matter. My commanders think of it daily. They fly
the routes -- are cognizant of our capabilities and
restrictions -- and also of the Russian capabilities. I
feel certain this matter is of grave concern to you. I feel
so strongly about the subject I consider it a life or death
issue. I have written this letter as a personal matter
between the two of us -- not as an Air Force Commander to
the Chief of the Air Force. I hope you will consider it as
a friendly conversation between you and me. Believing as I
do, and knowing what I know, I would consider myself a
traitor if I did less. The Russian has the capability,
discounting submarines, of controlling a SAC bomber strike
during the initial phase of the war, and of retarding
bomber operations thereafter. Personally, I feel there is a
solution to this problem."
The solution was forthcoming, as more SAC forces were
eventually based in advanced areas. I was no longer a SAC
Commander when the new bases were opened, but I felt pride
at having played even a small part in strengthening SAC
In July, 1956 we returned to Alaska where I again headed
the Alaskan Air Command. Two months later, I be-came
Commander of the Alaskan Command aid was promoted to
Under the military system in effect since 1947, my
function was largely that of a coordinator for the Army,
Navy and Air Force during peace time. I assigned their
missions, but did not actually have operational command of
those forces except in war time. Should we have engaged in
war, my Headquarters would have to make the transition from
a coordinating agency to an operational command during a
Each service was responsible to its particular
department, but the Air Force was the executive agent for
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, under the Department of
In 1958, President Eisenhower made a proposal which
streamlined the Defense Department, and the operational
chain of command was changed. The line ran from the
President to the Secretary of Defense, to the Chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, directly to me. This eliminated
the Department of the Air Force from the chain of command
and decreased our potential reaction time in
>Out< [written in the margin] Sampson, McDill, and
Second Air Force were tough nuts to crack, but they were
kindergarten compared to the problems of the Alaska Air
The Army in Alaska was an efficient command. The
Navy had an abundance of well trained personnel, but no
ships. The 11th Air Division at Ladd AFB was in fine shape.
However, some units of the Alaskan Air Command were the
most disorganized, frustrated establishments I ever
en-countered. The 10th Air Division was described by an Air
Defense Command inspector as "the sorriest outfit I've ever
inspected." Elmendorf was cluttered with unnecessary
detachment headquarters which contributed nothing to our
mission, but drained our support funds.
The Eielson comptroller reported a support fund deficit
of more than a million dollars for the first three-quarters
of the fiscal year. Yet, among other unnecessary functions,
the Base supported twelve four-engine aircraft used for
daily reconnaissance. The large birds were needed during
the early days of Russian A-bomb tests, but now the same
information could be gathered by pilots in single engine
I made all of these things known to the Vice Chief of
Staff of the Air Force, in a letter dated October 31, 1956.
I also stated that I visualized Eielson as a one-time
strike base, provided the strike force was on the base
prior to the beginning of hostilities. Eielson was located
just ninety minutes from Russian bomber bases, and could
have been hit twice within a four hour period. No American
bomber could come from the States in less than five hours
--three hours too late!
I reminded the Vice Chief that nothing had been done to
strengthen the Air Force position in Alaska since 1949,
and our air defense capability actually diminished. I
recom-mended that competent representatives from SAC,
Weather, Rescue, ADC, Reconnaissance, Plans, Installations
and Op-erations be flown to Alaska to be briefed on the
spot, at Eielson, Ladd, and Elmendorf. In closing, I wrote,
"I believe many problems will be eliminated, space
generated, and many dollars saved. I would be remiss if I
did not tell you that the Alaskan Air Command is decadent
and incompetent. I stand ready to prove it."
Three weeks later, the Vice Chief of Staff replied,
"Usually, when things are as bad as you describe, a great
deal of corrective action is possible by a good commander,
on the spot." I was "encouraged to forward in appropriate
detail those items requiring Headquarters, USAF action" but
I was being told to clean up the mess alone.
Referring to the general level of efficiency within AAC,
he wrote, "this may not be a suitable task for an Air Staff
party." However, if I wished, he would arrange "a special
inspection to obtain specific information upon which action
could be based." I wondered how much more specific I could
>Out< [written in the margin] It was obvious we
could expect little assistance from Headquarters, so we set
to work whipping the air defenses into shape. Blessed with
a staff of dedicated professional officers and a complement
of intelligent, hard working enlisted men, the Alaskan Air
Command pulled itself up to meet the highest standards.
In later years, Pentagon inaction ceased to be a
surprise. Headquarters' reluctance to accept advice from
field commanders did not diminish during my remaining years
of service. That reluctance, coupled with poor coordination
between staff sections, has cost taxpayers millions of
dollars, and in some cases, has jeopardized our defense
For example, in late 1957, a Washington team made a
study to determine whether Shemya or Attu was the best
location for a new installation needed in the Aleutians.
Shemya had been abandoned some years before, and its runway
was deteriorating, as were the old wartime buildings.
Northwest Airlines, after establishing their
Seattle-Anchorage-Tokyo air route, moved a few personnel to
the is-land, but held housing and operating facilities to a
Shemya is plagued by high cross-winds, snow, rain, and
fog. It is not unusual for the air field to be "socked in"
for days at a time. Fog reduces visibility to zero, and
remains for extended periods, even in high winds; 500 miles
of fog cannot be quickly blown away. Weather cannot be
accurately forecast in that vicinity.
Docks are almost impossible to maintain. The tides of
the Bering Sea and the Pacific Ocean were not coordinated
when installed; where they meet, the waters wage a
continuous battle. Ship cargoes must be landed in barges.
The tricky tides and bad weather often make this a
If Shemya were chosen for the site of the new
installation, it would be highly expensive. New buildings,
messes, garages and storage facilities had to be built.
New heating plants and underground pipes for water and heat
distribution had to be installed. The runway would have to
be reinforced to accommodate heavy, continuous traffic.
Supply problems would be a source of unceasing worry and
>Out< [written in the margin] In my opinion, based
on first-hand knowledge, Attu was a better site, but the
decision was not mine to make. However, I was compelled to
inform the Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations
of the pertinent factors, so I wrote him a letter outlining
the comparative merits and shortcomings of the islands.
Apparently my views were not considered valid. The
installation was built on Shemya.
In later months, the Air Staff disregarded other bits of
advice, so I drafted the following memorandum and placed a
copy in my personal files:
"14 March 1958
MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD:
My interest in Alaska has been long standing, this being
my second tour. I am not only interested in this area
because of its comparative newness, but also because of its
nearness to Russia; its strategic location; its
capabilities -- if exploited; and its vulnerability to
enemy attack. This theater, and its military installations,
cannot be defended. The enemy has the capability to destroy
by air, or to seize and hold by airborne tactics, the
latter primarily for harrassment, or as a morale factor
the west coast. If I were the enemy, I would destroy
Ladd, Nielson and Fort Greely from the air, and secure
Elmendorf, Kodiak, Juneau and Nome with airborne troops.
This could be accomplished on any long weekend.
In an emergency, the lack of dispersed operational bases
for fighters and the restricted capability of Ground
Control Intercept, additional fighters assigned to this
theater would be a hindrance rather than a help. Those
fighters now in place and under control will be all with
which we can fight. This "island" will not be reinforced by
ground troops or aircraft from the States. SAC will not
have a refueling capability out of Elmendorf; consequently,
SAC targets beyond Provideniya will not be hit by aircraft
operating from Stateside bases. At the best, SAC bombers
will do a one-way mission and hope to bail out crews along
the ALCAN highway. I do not believe we have sufficient
bombers and crews to fly one-way missions. Fighter pilots
operating in this theater will be forced to crash land or
bail out as soon as their fuel is expended as there are no
alternate operational fields available. Elmendorf, Ladd and
Eielson are considered priority enemy targets.
The ground forces in this theater consist of two battle
groups -- one north of the Alaskan Range and one south.
Combined, they are not capable of repelling an enemy
air-borne attack in force. If one highway bridge and one
railroad bridge are disabled, one battle group will be cut
off completely from the other.
Do not misunderstand me. Should an emergency arise, we
will be at the enemy with all we have available and as long
as there is one gun handy; however, I want-to state the
facts concerning this theater and its capability. We cannot
stop an enemy air attack. >Out< [written in the
margin] Alaska as a target can be attacked with no warning,
especially at low altitude. We have gates in our fence
which we cannot close against low maneuvers. We are an
alarm system for NORAD.
SAC refueling will not be a reality so far as Alaska is
concerned. Refuelers must take off from forward bases and
we will not have them available after the first or second
enemy strike. Neither will bombers stage through Nielson
after hostilities have started. Nielson is strictly a
peacetime operation with the exception of twelve B-47's
stationed there on TDY -- and alert. Those bombers are not
considered defensive weapons.
That brings us to what I believe to be Alaska's real
role in the overall military concept. Alaska, to me,
includes the Aleutian Chain as well as the mainland. Adak
and the Shemya-Attu complex are of major concern in this
As stated above, the ground installations in this
theater cannot be defended; however, that fact does not
alter the offensive capability in this area, if exploited
immediately. Alaska is the only American soil from which
the medium range missile (IRBM) can be launched with
IREM missiles launched from the Alaska hearland could
reach approximately 60% of the enemy targets in my are of
responsibility while missiles from Attu and Adak would
reach 95% of those targets.
>Out< [written in the margin] Regardless of all
arguments pro and con, one missile site on the island of
Attu with Petropavlovsk as its target, distance 520 miles,
would more than offset any monetary cost. The Petropavlovsk
complex must not be allowed to stand even one hour.
lntelligence in this theater points up the fact that the
enemy are in question probably to be a missile launching
site. That fact alone bears out the importance of the of
the target. The Petropavlovsk complex is the main enemy
submarine, air, and supply base in the Pacific. With a
tow-thousand mile missile fired from Attu, the Vladivostok
complex (in the sea of Japan) could be hit.
Attu has underground capabilities and can be supplied by
air and sea.
The Adak Naval Base the necessary harbor and airfield to
support a missile installation.
I recommend that immediate steps be taken to erect three
missile launching sites in this theater -- one IRBM on the
mainland, one IRBM at Adak, and one IRBM at Attu. In
addition, at least one ICBM site should be erected on the
mainland as soon as operationally available. Unless we have
the capability of retaliation against the enemy, not only
Alaska, but the west coast of the United States
will suffer severely. This is not necessary and should
not be allowed to happen.
From what I can learn of the proposed sites for
launching the IRBM, I am convinced that the one enemy area
capable of mass destruction of Alaska and the West Coast is
not in focus. Intelligence points up the fact that mass
developments are taking place on the Chukotskiy and
Kamchatka Peninsulas. Fighter and bomber activities are
increasing daily. Runways and support areas are in being
and are capable of handling any type aircraft. The Russian
knows that we do not intend to invade either peninsula;
therefore, there is only one answer concerning his
activities -- attack.
Alaska is American soil, occupied by Americans, located
in a strategic position and if exploited, capable of an
offensive mission not available any other place in the U.
S. I venture to say that if Alaska were on foreign soil we
would be hurrying to secure it as a missile platform.
This is my personal feeling. First, I am an American
concerned with the future of my country; second, I am a
unified commander and have definite instructions defining
my responsibilities in this theater; and third, I am an Air
Force officer. In the best interest of the United States,
from a military point of view, I am convinced that at least
two, preferably three, missile sites should be established
in Alaska -- one on the mainland, one at Attu, and the
third at Adak, These three sites are a necessity for the
protection of Alaska and the West Coast and to blunt or
eliminate enemy activity
in this part of the Pacific, including submarines, which
will be a hazard of no mean proportion. If submarines are
allowed to base and operate from Petropavlovsk they will be
"Therefore, this memorandum is an attempt on my part to
point out these well--known facts and to implore that these
missile sites be installed in Alaska without delay. One
ICBM site on the mainland of Alaska would have the
capability of hitting long-range strategic targets anyplace
in Russia more accurately than from the United States while
three medium range, two-thousand-mile missile sites on the
Aleutian Chain and on the mainland would have the
capability of destroying all targets from Tiksi to
Vladivostok. The close-in enemy staging bases must
eliminated immediately once hostilities have begun. With
three hardened missile sites in Alaska and a force of
B.-47's on alert, dispersed on the two main air bases
(Eielson and EImendorf), we could destroy those staging
bases at any time; otherwise, this area and a portion of
the West Coast should be earmarked as critically
"This is a matter of grave concern not only to me but to
everyone, civilian and military, in Alaska and the west
coast of the United States. As the commander of this
unified command, it is not my purpose to recommend the
utilization of the missiles of any particular service to
perform this vital mission, but I would be derelict in my
duty if I did not strongly urge that this job must be
The joint Chiefs of Staff were aware of my position.
I briefed them on several occasions, vainly hoping they
would bring the Alaskan defense picture into focus and take
positive action. I did not expect everyone to agree with me
in principle, but none could disagree in fact. Still, no
action was taken.
December 1958 was an especially important month in our
lives. Fuz and his lovely young wife, Louise, became the
parents of a baby girl. She was christened Lloyd (Fluffy's
middle name) and her Daddy immediately nicknamed her
"Cholly". Nine months later, at Luke Air Force Base
Hospital, Louise died of cancer. As a career jet pilot, Fuz
could not provide a home for little Cholly, so Fluffy
brought her to live with us. Despite the tragic
circumstances, her presence brought new warmth into our
It was not easy to adjust to a baby in the house, but
Fluffy managed beautifully and within a few months we
re-established some semblance of household routine. I
worried about Fuz and wondered how he would react to such a
grievous loss. His strength was greater than expected, and
I was proud of him.
I regretted not being closer to Fuz, but the war had
separated us during his early teens. He attended high
school at Staunton Military Academy, then took his college
training at Wake Forest. We did not see much of each other,
except during the summers. The decision to enter the Air
Force was his, and he chose to enlist as a flying cadet
rather than getting his commission through ROTC. He was
determined to make his own way in the world, and perhaps it
was this self-reliance which helped him through his
Alaska entered the Union in January, 1959, and became
the 49th state. I hoped the new status might have some
effect on the defense effort, but these hopes were in vain
as were my continuing pleas, for missiles.
Statehood brought a new danger-potential into the
picture. Should an enemy land even small parties on one of
the remote beaches of northern Alaska, he could rightfully
claim a successful invasion of United States territory.
Such an operation might not be of great military
significance, but its psychological impact could do great
damage to our relations with small uncommitted nations.
Further, it could create panic and hysteria similar to that
on the West Coast following the Pearl Harbor attack.
In June, 1959, I attended a Worldwide Commanders'
Conference at Ramey AFB in the Carribean. Again, I made a
pitch for the establishment of offensive missile sites on
Alaskan soil. Again, no positive action was taken, and I
was convinced the danger was steadily increasing. I decided
to brief the Alaskan Senatorial Delegation, believing that
once aware of the peril, they would take appropriate steps
to obtain the hardware we so desperately needed.
When Senator E. L. Bartlett visited Anchorage in July, I
invited him to come to my Headquarters for a briefing.
Unaware of the seriousness of the problem at hand, and
heavily committed to a pre-arranged itinerary, he was
unable to come. He suggested we discuss the matter at a
dinner we both planned to attend. I agreed.
The social demands of the evening prevented a private
discussion prior to serving time. During the after-dinner
oratory a speaker gave an eloquent, but misguided,
dissertation on the "wonderful state of readiness" of the
As he spoke, I glanced at the many responsible citizens
seated in that room, being exposed to misinformation which
could conceivably cost them their lives or freedom. I was
invited to make an off-the-cuff address, and as I arose
from my chair, I knew the time had come to explode the
One week later, those "off-the-cuff" remarks echoed in
the United States Senate.
"August 5, 1959 - CONGRESSIONAL RECORD - SENATE
KHRUSHCHEV' S IMPENDING VISIT
MR. GRUENING. Mr. President, it is doubtful whether any
great harm can come from the interchange of visits of
Premier Khrushchev to the United States and of President
Eisenhower to Russia. Some good may come out of it. But I
feel a great deal of caution and reserve is highly
desirable on the part of all of us before we hail this
important step embodied in the exchange of visits of the
two chiefs of state as the ushering in of a new era of
friendliness and peace. The record of Soviet duplicity and
brutality is too long and too current to justify any
assumption that this would produce any alternation in the
obvious policy of the Kremlin to conquer the free world . .
Incidentally, it might be well if the invitation to
Premier Khrushchev included the suggestion that he travel
one way, either coming or going, by way of Alaska, He has
recently made a statement that the United States had shown
its belligerent intent by ringing the Soviet Republics with
military bases. We are acutely aware of the fact that in
Alaska we can stand on the mainland of Alaska, or on
several one of our Alaskan islands, and view the headlands
of Siberia with the naked eye.
The fact is that the numerous military bates in Siberia
are as near to American soil, as near to ' Alaska, as any
if our bases either in Alaska or in foreign countries are
to the Russians.
I also think it is pertinent to call attention, At this
point, to the public statement of Lt. Gen. Frank A.
Armstrong, the commander in chief of the U. S. Forces in.
Alaska, that --
"It would take only two enemy bombers to put the Alaska
bases out of action, and if these attacks were followed up
by paratroops, Alaska Would be out of action."
And he went further to say:
"With Russians in the Fairbanks and Anchorage areas,
President Eisenhower would have to decide quickly whether
to bomb Alaska to save Chicago or leave the country open to
close range attack."
Additionally, he pointed out that Alaska needed
inter-mediate range ballistic missiles,. and that "unless
Alaska gets IRBM's soon,are going to be in one hell of a
“.... General Armstrong pointed out that Alaska
does not need intercontinental ballistic missiles to put
his forces in range of Cairo and Australia but intermediate
missiles that will allow us to nullify those 26 Red bases
"And he added this somewhat alarming but realistic
'The Nation's thinking is Northeast-oriented but the
obvious and practical attack route to the United States is
through Alaska. If Alaska does not get the missiles it
needs soon, Alaska and the west coast are through; Seattle,
Portland, San Francisco, and down the coast are done.'
"What he says is of the greatest pertinence, and I ask
unanimous consent that the article from the Anchorage Daily
Times, quoting General Armstrong's statement at a public
dinner before the Association of Local Transport Airlines
last Wednesday, July 29, be incorporated in the RECORD at
There being no objection, the article was ordered to be
printed in the RECORD ....
Mr. President, the numerous bases that we have erected
around the world in Spain, in Morocco, in Saudi Arabia, in
Iceland, in the Par East, at tremendous cost, are no doubt
in the class of calculated risks. When the decisions were
made to spend astronomical sums to establish them in a
score of countries, it no doubt represented the best
judgment of our military authorities at the time. But we
must not delude ourselves that many of these bases are not
built -- figuratively speaking on quicksand. We know that
their tenure is far from secure. We know that through
rampant nationalism, Communist subversion, and other
factors, are likely to asked to withdraw these bases.
Indeed, that has happened even in the case of friendly
countries, and has required the utmost effort and
diplomatic finesse, as well financial compensation, to
prevent these decisions from foing into effect. It is not
an unfair statement to say that in the case of a number of
foreign countries the United States is, in effect, being
blackmailed to enable us to keep our bases
there. We are paying through the nose. But when we build
bases in Alaska, we are building them on the solid rock of
American soil, surrounded by a 100-percent militantly
patriotic American citizenry. It is utter folly for us not
to make Alaska not only an impregnable bastion, which, in
the view of the commanding officer of Alaska it is not, by
any means, but to make it a great base both for defense and
offense for the protection not merely of the United States,
but of the entire North American Continent, and indeed, of
the Western World. It is as true today, even with the
change in types of weapons, as it was when Billy Mitchell
uttered his great wisdom nearly a quarter of a century ago,
that: 'He who holds Alaska holds the world.'
"I particularly urge our Armed Services Committee to
investigate the Alaska military situation from the
standpoint of General Armstrong's challenging
Senator Bartlett told newsmen, later that day, he had
spoken with Senator Richard B. Russell, the Chairman of the
Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator Lyndon B.
Johnson, Chairman of the Preparedness Subcommittee. Both
expressed concern, and Bartlett was assured the
Preparedness Subcommittee would begin staff work
immediately, and would "look into the matter
As Senator Gruening had already urged the Senate to make
an investigation, we began to think some results might be
forthcoming, at last.
The next day, I received a message from the Chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff advising me he had discussed
remarks with the Secretary of Defense and suggested I
issue a press release clarifying my position, and making it
clear that the United States had "no--repeat--no intention
of giving up Alaska." Also, the message noted that my
remarks, as quoted by the newspapers, were almost identical
with those I had made at a recent JCS meeting, when they
were top secret.
I replied that while the JCS meeting was top secret, my
statements were not; but, I felt my efforts to apprise
appropriate individuals of the strategic value of Alaska
were being misused on a political level, and public
discusscions on this subject wild be even more misleading,
and would serve no useful purpose; I didn't consider it
necessary to fix blame for the condition of our forces,
since the use of Alaska for the preceding few years had
reflected a satisfactory compromise between the state of
technology, and the threat which existed at the time; but,
the problem, as I saw it, was to adjust now to a changing
threat and more recent technological developments; I though
a secret briefing was needed for all concerned, both
military and civilian, to clarify my actions, and to
fulfill my responsibility of keeping the JCS informed.
No such briefing was held.
In compliance with the Chairman's request, I drafted a
press release and sent it to Washington for clearance. It
read, "To clarify remarks that I made 29 July 59 in
Anchorage, I make this statement: 'My efforts to increase
the effectiveness of Alaska's contribution to overall
defense, apparently have been misinterpreted to mean
that I believe Alaska at the present time, is defenseless.
I am completely satisfied with the defense forces presently
assigned and programmed for Alaska. The air defense
environment in Alaska is at its highest state of
efficiency, and will give an excellent account of itself.
It is fundamental to understand that because of the lag in
defensive technology, and the advantage of initiative that
lies with any aggressor, a purely defensive effort cannot
succeed 100 per cent against a determined attacker. I do
believe, however, that an addition to the offensive force
in being the State of Alaska would immeasurably improve the
overall national defense effort. I have recommended the
establishment of such an offensive force, and it is being
seriously considered at this time by the Joint Chiefs of
In a statement dated September 15, 1959, addressed to
the Chairman of the Preparedness Investigating
Subcommittee, the Secretary of Defense wrote, in part:
"Dear Mr. Chairman: .... During the past month, your
Cornmittee has been provided with certain information
relative to the readiness of the Alaskan Command in
response to requests from you and from Senator Bartlett.
Since much of the information provided has been of a
classified nature, and in view of public interest in the
question, I believe it appropriate at this time to present
to the Committee an unclassified summary of this
information. With specific reference to the statements
allegedly made by General Armstrong
in Anchorage on July 29, I can state that the Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff
have assured me that they attach to the defense of Alaska
the same degree of importance as is given the other parts
of the United States. In their opinion the Alaskan
Commander can accomplish his assigned mission with the
current and programmed military resources. The Alaskan
Commander is supported by the Strategic Air Command, the
North American Air Defense Command, and the
Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, in carrying out his assigned
mission. The Alaskan sander has reported recently to the
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that he is satisfied
with the defense forces presently assigned and programmed
for Alaska. The missions assigned to the commanders of our
unified and specified commands are interlocking and are
designed to be complementary to produce the best overall
integrated defense of the United States. Forces are
strategically located throughout these United States and
throughout the Free World, and are assigned by the Joint
Chiefs of Staff to our unified and specified commands in
sufficient numbers to enable the commanders to carry out
their individual missions in support of our national
effort. In this day of supersonic planes, missiles, and
advancing technological developments, we cannot afford to
limit our defense posture by state boundaries and fragment
our total effort. In no case do we assign to any single
state of the United States, forces required to defend that
state alone. To do so would obviously dilute our total
effort and would weaken our defense of this country.
It is the responsibility of each commander to press
strongly for his own particular needs. It is, however, the
responsibility of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to consider our
total needs and to assess the needs of each commander in
the light of the requirements of the nation, and then
develop, within the resources available, the strategic
plans and assign the world-wide mix of forces necessary to
provide the maximum integrated effort in defending these
United States. You and the members of the Committee may be
assured that we in the Department of Defense are always
glad to discuss with you any matters affecting the security
of the United States. The opportunity to work with you on
such matters is one which we prize highly. Sincerely, ....
Secretary of Defense."
You will note that while the Secretary quoted my words
regarding the defensive capabilities of the Alaskan
Command, he made no mention of my request for offensive
capabilities. Instead, he brushed this off by stating "It
is the responsibility of each commander to press strongly
for his particular needs." In other words, "You can't blame
him for asking."
Also, you might consider the remark, "we cannot afford
to limit our defense posture by state boundaries and
fragment our total effort. In no case do we assign forces
required to defend that state alone." This I considered a
complete misnomer. In calling for missiles to be based in
Alaska, I was not thinking in terms of the defense of that
state exclusively. The proximity to the source of a
enemy threat rules out any such possibility.
My views, had not changed, nor had I indicated in any
correspondence that they had changed. The Secretary merely
misinterpreted the true meaning of my warning.
On September 2, 1959, the Secretary of Defense arrived
at Elmendorf, where he again used. the same approach. in
ans- wering questions from the press concerning the Alaskan
defenses. He made. no. mention Of the fact I still believed
offensive missiles were needed, but Again quoted my
sentiments about- the defense of the state bein;
At one point during a private discussion, I mentioned
another shortcoming in. the established system was in the
area of survival of our crews. Since Alaskan main bases
would undoubtedly be knocked out first, the SAC aircraft
flying from the southern 48 states would not be refueled by
Alaska-based tankers; this meant they would be on a
one-way. mission. His reaction was, "Hell, Frank. We're all
on a one-way mission." To this, I replied, "Pardon me for
saying it, Mr, Secretary, but that's a helluva way to run a
For weeks that one fatalistic sentence haunted my
consciousness. Remembering numerous - World War II
incidents in which hundreds. of American fighting men had
risked their lives to save just one of their comrades, the
paradoxical nature of the statement was magnified.
As the weeks passed, I examined and re-examined the
strategic situation. So much resistance was being given to
my proposals, I had to prove to myself again and again
I was right. If I was wrong, I wanted to know where, and
how. Countless reappraisals did not change my opinion nor
those of my staff.
In December, Senator Bartlett wrote "To be frank with
you, I am not at all satisfied with the position taken by
the Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs, or the Air
Force in response to the suggestions you made in your
Anchorage speech late in July. The more I consider this,
the more sound your position appears to me. It was
comforting to know someone in Washington was still
interested. To many, it was a dead issue.
Still very much alive, however, was the problem of
getting proper equipment for the defense of Alaska. My
staff officers were frustrated when I could not give them a
reason why missiles were not forthcoming. I was unable to
give them a reason because my superiors would not give me
The only explanation I ever heard was directed to the
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I had been called to
the JCS meeting to give a briefing on the capabilities of
my Command. When I stated the need for offensive missile
capabilities, the Chairman, General Lyman L. Lemnitzer,
looked surprised. He immediately asked the Air Force Chief
of Staff, "What's wrong? I thought missiles were programmed
for Alaska." I would not attempt to quote the answer
word-for-word, but it was to the effect that it would cost
87 million dollars; the money would have to come from Air
Force funds; and the Air Force didn't have the money.
President Eisenhower visited Alaska in mid-1960 and was
given a short tour of the installations near Anchorage. In
a private conversation later he said, "General, I have just
two questions. Why aren't you dispersed? and, why don't you
My answeres were brief, but truthful, " Mr. President,
we're not dispersed because I don't have sufficient funds
to accomplish dispersal, As to why were don't have missiles
- I wish you were the gentleman I had to talk to when I am
in Washington." He said he would see that the situation was
investigated, but, if such an investigation was made, we
never learned its results.
The President's visit was noted in a news analysis
written by Hanson Baldwin, a Pulitzer Prize winner and one
of the most astute military writers in the world. In the
New York Times article on June I5, 1960, Mr. Baldwin
revealed another development, and expressed opinions a
military commander could not.
"A WEAK LINK IN DEFENSES - Alaska's Vulnerability Now
Pointed Up By Plan to Abandon Fighter Squadrons. -- By
Hanson W. Baldwin.
President Eisenhower's overnight stop in Alaska focused
attention on a region that, in the President's words,
"constitutes a bridge to the continent of Asia and all its
This traditional description of the strategic importance
of Alaska is, however, vitiated by the military weaknesses
of the forty-ninth state. The President's visit to
the Anchorage area may, indeed, have provided an
opportunity for Alaskans to impress on the
Commander-in-Chief the virtual defenselessness of an area
that is about one-fifth as large as the entire United
In considerable measure, the responsibility for Alaska's
weakness lies with the President's own defense policies,
particularly his level budget concept, and the increasing
tendency of the Air Force toward a "Fortress America"
concept. The latter concept envisions the withdrawal of its
prin-cipal installations into the continental forty-eight
states. WEAKNESS NEWLY POINTED UP
This weakness has been reemphasized recently by an issue
that has caused a storm in Alaska and elsewhere -- the
elimination and inactivation of one of the two fighter
squadrons that had been assigned to the forty-ninth state,
and the inactivation of the 71st Air Rescue Squadron.
The 449th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, operating
twenty-five Northrop F-89 fighters, equipped with missiles
armed with nuclear warheads, is to be inactivated within
This squadron, the only one north of the Alaska Range,
was based on Ladd Air Force Base near Fairbanks. Its
elimination leaves Alaska defended by thirty-three F-l02
fighter-interceptors, normally based at Elmendorf Air Force
Base, near Anchorage, where the President spent the
These air defense forces are part of the Tenth Air
Division, answerable to the North American Air Defense
Command, with headquarters at Colorado Springs.
In addition, Alaska has two Nike-Hercules
battalions, one near Fairbanks, one near Anchorage, and
two Army battle groups. Its coast line in ringed with
radar, and the scopes daily record the tracks of Soviet
aircraft rising from fields just across the Bering Strait.
NO SUBSTITUTE FOR SEEING
The value of the fighter-interceptor squadrons in Alaska
was primarily for identification of "unknown" aircraft.
There is, so far, absolutely no substitute for this visual
identification of enemy aircraft and there is no other
United States territory where it is so badly needed as
Because of the proximity of Soviet bases, and the
"over--flights" of many commercial lines, "bush pilots,"
and so on -- the "unknowns" recorded on the Alaskan radar
screens are often within the coastline before they can be
It is routine, in Alaska, to scramble fighter
interceptors three or four times each month to identify
unknown aircraft before they approach vital centers. If
they are Russian, as they sometimes are, they turn away
before the intercept is made.
There is no substitute for this visual identification
and it is idle to assert that thirty-three aircraft can do
the job as well as fifty-eight. Thirty-three aircraft
--those that will remain in Alaska -- will be able to keep
perhaps six planes on constant ground alert.
The Air Force has indicated that the squadron at
Anchorage will rotate some of its planes to the Fairbanks
area and that Alaska will be defended from the continental
States. But any such arrangements obviously reduce
materially the effectiveness of the defense.
MODERNIZATION THE INTENT
The newest reduction in strength of our armed forces in
Alaska was originally intended to be a modernization. The
old F--89's at Fairbanks were to be replaced by modern
However, the strict Administration ceiling on defense
spending and the Air Force tendency to try to concentrate
offense and defense within the United States led to the
If the F-89's had been replaced by weapons --- planes or
missiles --- with an offensive capability, this would have
made great strategic sense. Not a single fighter in Alaska
has the range to reach and return from Soviet bases -- just
across the Bering Strait and in Kamchatka Peninsula.
Lieut. Gen. Frank A. Armstrong, Jr., Commander in Chief
of the Alaskan Command, has long asked for some offensive
capability in the form of a few intermediate range
ballistic missiles or even light bombers, or longer range
aircraft such as the F-101.
The Thor or Jupiter missiles are already proved and in
place in England and elsewhere. Some of them emplaced in
the uninhabited wilds of Alaska could do more to neutralize
the Soviet bases across Bering Strait and in Kamchatka and
to defend Alaska and the rest of the United States than a
multiplication of our purely defensive strength. COULD BE
Moreover, missiles or long-range fighter-bombers or
light bombers in Alaska would have a strategic diversionary
effect upon Soviet plans; some of the atomic "lightning"
would be attracted away from our shores by the Alaskan
But the Air Force, in its strategic plans, is committed
to an isolationist, "Fortress America" concept
(technologically speaking), and Alaska, after the Panama
Canal Zone, is the weakest command under the United States
The impending reduction in the forty-ninth state's
fighter--interceptor strength will leave both Alaska and
the rest of the states weaker, not stronger. And no amount
of the "gobbledegook" and double-talk by which the cut, was
justified to a Senate Appropriations subcommittee can
change this fact."
When it became increasingly apparent we would not be
equipped with offensive missiles, the Alaskan Command Staff
agreed some other method of offensive. defense must be set
up. After many hours in conference, and weeks of staff
studies, we recommended a Nomad operation of F-105
supersonic fighter-bombers in Alaska.
The system had many advantages which would have given us
some of the strength we felt was necessary.
There were, and are, numerous auxiliary airstrips in the
State, relatively close to potential primary targets. With
the addition on only moderate runway extensions, these
remote, hard-to-find airfields could accommodate from two
to four fighter-bombers. I believed the operation would be
as effective as the Polaris missile launched from
The cost would have been relatively minor, since the
runways were already in existence, and only needed
lengthening. The aircraft were operational and were proving
their value with the Tactical Air Command.
The F-105's were to remain in the TAC inventory, and
would have come to Alaska for short tours of up to 30 days.
They were not to remain on the major installations, but
would have been dispersed to several AC sites scattered
across the State.
As an example of how the system would work, let's
suppose you are a fighter pilot assigned to a TAC unit,
based in North Carolina. You receive orders to proceed to
Alaska for a thirty days of temporary duty.
Upon arrival at Elmendorf, you are instructed to fly
pour aircraft to a radar installation near Nome. There, you
are provided with adequate quarters. A small maintenance
crew is assigned to take care of your aircraft, and to
insure that it is constantly ready to fly. During your
stay, you will never be more than five minutes from your
bird, though you can enjoy any local recreational
facilities which do not take you away from the
installation. When flying practice missions, you never
allow your fuel supply to become too low to make an actual
attack, should you receive orders by radio.
Your aircraft is fully armed at all times.
Should it become necessary to make a combat raid, you
proceed to your target at low altitude. Since you have a
relatively short distance to travel, this is possible. For
aircraft coming from the Southern 48 states, it is not.
Fuel limitations would prevent it.
Starting at least a thousand miles closer to your
target, you will reach it sooner, stand a better chance of
not being detected, and if you are detected, you present a
much more difficult target for enemy defenders. Should you
be attacked by interceptors, you are not bound to a
prescribed flight-path, but can take evasive action.
Once within range, you fire your air-to-ground missiles
at the target, make a 180 degree turn, and hightail it back
to Alaska. However, you do not return to the AC&W site.
It may not be there by that time. Instead, you proceed to
an alternate airfield located in an area far from any
manned military installation. There you refill your fuel
tanks, and rearm your bird.
The fuel and weapons have been stored there,
underground, for just such an emergency. Your ground crew
was airlifted there while you were on the strike, and by
the time you returned, they were ready and waiting, to
assist you in preparing for the next mission.
Refueled and rearmed, you fly a second strike at the
enemy. This time, your target is an important bridge
complex. To use a weapon in the high megaton range against
such a small target could be compared to killing a fly with
a ballbat. It isn't necessary, and in many cases, not as
practical. Your missiles released, again you turn and head
for a base in Canada, or the northern United States.
As in any combat situation, there is no guarantee you
will make it to and from your target safely. However, your
chances for success and survival are reasonably good.
The information you could give intelligence agencies
would be invaluable. It would be accurate, first-hand
accounting of the situation in enemy territory, reported by
Had your recovery strip been destroyed before you
returned from the initial strike, you would have diverted
your aircraft to an alternate, or even a second alternate
field. This, however, would not be likely, since the
auxiliary fields have no buildings above ground, and are
easily concealed from the view of enemy raiders. Destroying
one of these remote strips would require the enemy to score
an extremely near miss, if not a direct hit. He would be
forced to direct some of his fire away from heavily
populated areas. If he chose not to try to destroy them,
the F--105's would inflict severe wounds to the main body
of his war machine, almost at will.
Like our request for offensive missiles, this plan was
not destined to meet with approval at the Pentagon. I feel
sure the Tactical Air Command would have been willing to
cooperate. I base this belief on remarks made by General
Opie Wayland, TAC Commander until his retirement in 1959.
Before retiring, ()pie made his views known to newsmen.
This article appeared in the Washington Daily News, under
the by-line of Scripps Howard Staff Writer, Jim G. Lucas:
"LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va . , July 29 --Air Force Gen. O.
P. Weyland said today his fighters -- tho it is not their
prescribed mission -- could reach and destroy fully half of
major targets now assigned to heavy bombers.
Gen. Weyland, head of the Tactical Air Command (TAC)
retires tomorrow after 36 years in uniform.
In a farewell interview sizing up our air power, he said
he didn't think it was balanced right -- as between the
role of his TAC fighters and that of the bombers under the
Strategic Air Command (SAC).
This, he said, was because the nation's strategic plans
were approved when nuclear weapons were so cumbersome only
the heavy bombers could handle them.
Today, said Gen. Weyland, a small fighter can deliver a
one-megaton payload (the equivalent of one million tons of
TNT). Moreover, supersonic fighters can move in faster --at
twice the speed of sound -- at lower altitudes and with
less risk of radar detection. Flying from established bases
along the rim of the iron curtain, he said they can deliver
a nuclear payload without refueling over enemy
Carrying even smaller and more advanced nuclear weapons,
Gen. Weyland said, TAC fighters could knock out targets
such as bridge complexes, on which SAC's heavy payloads
would be wasted.
Gen. Weyland called for revision of plans which assign
SAC against most enemy targets. In language seldom heard
around an Air Force base, he warned that the Pentagon's
preoccupation with strategic bombing and long-range
missiles may soon leave us unprepared to fight a limited
war. "We are fast approaching our pre-Korea military
posture," he said.
Gen. Weyland said TAC, which has more than 1000
supersonic jet fighters is at "rock bottom." He said he had
been forced to come down from 24 to 16 wings, and his plans
to give TAC an all-weather capability with four wings of
F-105's had been delayed three years for economy reasons.
In many respects, "Opie" Gen. Weyland leaves the Air
Force a frustrated man. He is frustrated by what he feels
is the Joint Chiefs of Staff's over-emphasis on massive
retaliation as opposed to his own concept of balanced
forces, and by his losing fight for more and better
But he is not bitter. He is proud of his command; he
considers it the hardest, leanest, toughest arm of the Air
Opie had ample experience upon which to base his views.
Among the more publicized accomplishments to his credit was
the efficiency of his 19th Tactical Command during World
War Two. The 19th provided air support for General George
Patton's Third Army, as it smashed across France. Patton
once called Weyland "The best damn general in the Air
Force". Considering the source, that's quite a
Approximately two weeks prior to the Armed Forces Dag
telephone call from the Pentagon, I was called to
Washington for one explicit reason--to meet the President
and the Secretary of Defense. As explained to me, it was
thought best that unified and specified Commanders appear
in person before the President and Secretary. - At
infrequent intervals world wide telephone conversations
were participated in by Washington and the unified
commanders of which I was one; therefore, a personal
meeting would make it possible to associate a face with a
name. I accomplished that mission and returned to
On Armed Vices Day, in late May, 1961, I was enjoying
breakfast in the Fort Richardson officers' Mess when I
received a long distance telephone call from the Air Force
Vice Chief of Staff. He requested I come to the Pentagon
soon as possible, as he wanted to talk to me "for about
five minutes."He declined to disclose the subject on the
phone insisted it was necessary speak personally.
I had just returned from Washington the >two
weeks< previous day, so the prospect of another eighteen
hour flight was unappealing; however, there was reason to
believe the journey might worthwhile. The Chief of Staff
was retiring; the Vice Chief was replacing him; and several
command changes were expected at lower levels. As one of
the highest ranking Air Force Lieutenant Generals, and long
overdue for reassignment, it seemed reasonable to assume
good news was forthcoming, Enroute to the Capitol, I
entertained many speculative thoughts concerning the
immediate future. All were incorrect .
The Vice chief was seated behind a huge desk as I
entered the office.
"Hello, Frank," he said evenly. "Have a seat."
After I complied, he began fumbling with words,
obviously leading up to an important announcement. Finally,
he decided to lay the cards on the table.
"Frank, there's no easy way to do this thing," he began.
"There are four high ranking officials who want you out of
The words seemed unreal. Had I heard correctly? Surely
he wouldn't joke about such a thing.
"Wh-who are they?" I stammered.
"I'm not at liberty to say . "
"How soon do they want out?"
"I don't want to rush you," he replied. "But,
General-------is completing a tour at the Armed Forces
Industrial College, and he's replacing you, I thought sixty
days would be about right."
I wanted to cry out in protest -- to curse -- but there
was nothing to be said. Stunned, I sat motionless, gazing
at >in< disbelief at the man who had been chosen to
break the news. I had served under him in both war and
peace; he had awarded my second Distinguished Service
Medal; I had long admired and respected him.
Suddenly a wave of bitterness engulfed my consciousness.
I arose and asked if I might be excused. Then he dropped
the final crushing verbal bomb.
"Frank, if you'll go back to Alaska and quietly submit a
retirement request, no one but the four interested parties,
and ourselves, will know about this. "
Without a word, I walked out. After devoting 33 years of
my life to my country's service --- dismissed with only
>five minutes< two months notice!
During the flight home, I - plagued by a hundred nagging
questions. Why had the Vice Chief been designated as the
"hatchet man"? obviously had not enjoyed his work. Who were
the "four interested parties", and why hadn't they
given the news? >As one of the first certified
Commanders< I was directly responsible to the
>Secretary of Defense through the< Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs f Staff; it would have been more proper to
hear it from >them< him; or the Secretary of the Air
Force; or the Chief of Staff. But none of them even asked
to see me.
Why had I been dismissed? Was it because of my frequent
dissertations on the need for Alaska-based offensive
As the plane's tires kissed the concrete surface of the
Elmendorf runway, I was confronted with a more immediate
question: How could I tell Fluffy, without breaking her
She shared my love for the Air Force and had always
willingly sacrificed her personal desires to fulfill the
myriad tasks required of a commander's wife. Financial
restrictions had been no problem since the early days of
our career, but the social demands were relative to my
progression up the ranks. She never shirked her
responsibilities, but met them with the charm, wit and
grace of the great lady she is.
At a time in life when most women are enjoying their
greatest freedom, she lovingly undertook the rearing of a
baby and experienced all of the inherent frustrations and
irritations without complaint.
As we endured our share of disappointment through the
years, she accepted adversity with surprising grace. She
could not tolerate injustice, however, and I knew of no way
to justify the abrupt end of my career, and the crude
manner in which it was handled.
I told her as gently as I could, but it was a crushing
blow. Outwardly, she was calm, but her inward anguish was
so violent, within a few weeks she developed an ulcer. She
was permitted to convalesce at home, but her doctors
insisted she refrain from physical effort and remain in bed
as much possible.
Her affliction added to my bitterness and introduced a
sense of personal guilt into my mind. Fluffy had done
nothing to deserve her pain and discomfort. The problems
resulting from the abrupt manner in which her husband had
been withdrawn from military service were not due to her
actions. Had I been willing to take "no" for an answer, we
might have enjoyed a longer career. Had I not continued to
"fight city hall," she would have been spared much
suffering. Yet, had I not battled for my convictions, I
would have been unworthy of leadership.
My superiors' reluctance to recognize Alma's strategic
values was not entirely their fault. That the values
existed, was a fact; that they went unrecognized, was
partially due to my failure to convince others.
My old friend and mentor, General Eaker, stressed the
importance of a leader's ability to express himself when he
RUSHING [written in the margin] Rushsing through the
fabric of leadership is one calm
mon thread. All successful leaders seem to have been
articulate. They could and did say the right thing at the
right time. This does not mean that a leader needs to be an
Mark Anthony, Bryan or Churchill. MacAuliffe was
Articulate at Bastogne with - word, 'Nuts . ' Patton was
often articulate with two words, 'Follow me.'
"When Pershing arrived in France with the vanguard of
the U. S. Army Expeditionary Force, he was called upon to
speak at the tomb of Lafayette. It was a great speech. He
said, 'Lafayette, we are here.'
"There have been great leaders who were blind, more who
were deaf, but there have been none who were dumb. All have
had the wit, the timing and the courage to influence their
followers to action at a critical time by a few well chosen
words, or by example, or both."
My case involved my leaders, not my followers; but the
principle was basically the same. The realization of my own
shortcomings lessened my bitterness, but increased my sense
of guilt by revealing my stupidity.
Again, General Eaker's philosophy came to the rescue and
saved me from senseless self-recrimination. Regarding
intelligence with relation to leadership, he wrote:
“My historical and biographical studies of great
leaders of the past, and my observations of the leaders I
have known, do not indicate that a high I. Q. is the
certain hallmark of the leader. I do believe that all are
above the average of the group they lead; all are brilliant
in some areas. Some have been stupid in some ways. At least
one leader who achieved phenomenal success for a time was
quite mad. I hasten to say that his name was Hitler, lest
you think I refer to some of your commanders in the last
"In my book, courage is still the first requisite of
the leader ......
"The brand of courage top leaders were required to
display in the last war was the courage of decision making.
There are not many candidates for leadership, and one
reason is that most men hate to make fateful decisions.
When the military commander must make a decision which will
mean success or defeat, which will cost men's lives, most
men shirk from the task. The great majority are happier to
"It seems an anomaly that anyone should strive to be
recognized as a leader, as the rewards have been slim
indeed. Churchill was repaid for saving Britain by being
defeated at the next election. Napolean died in exile.
Lincoln was shot. Robert E. Lee came away from Appomattox
with nothing but his horse and his sword.
"Economic leadership may pay better. I suppose it does.
But the rewards for both political and military leadership
seem to be a plot in Arlington, and a paragraph in history
....usually written long after its subject has ceased to
Those words, from a man I consider one of the greatest
generals of our time, gave me new peace of mind. I had not
hesitated to make the decision to get missiles for Alaska,
and despite frequent frustrations, I stood my ground. I
could not put myself in the category of Churchill, Lincoln
or Lee, but in view of the tribulations of such great men,
I had no right to wallow in the loathsome mire of
self-pity. If my refusal to remain silent was to cost my
career, I would
accept my defeat with dignity and humility.
The reference to the plot in Arlington reminded that my
superiors were only hen ; therefore, capable of, and likely
to make, errors. Whether the "paragraph in history" would
read in their favor would be decided at a later date. If I
was wrong in maintaining my belief in the necessity of
bolstering Alaskan defenses, I would be happy to read of
their wisdom. If I was correct, that small paragraph might
be printed exclusively in Russian.
Though my ire had been bridled and my ego deflated, I
still was perplexed at the Pentagon's apparent disregard
for a fact acclaimed by Generals Mitchell and Arnold, even
before the advent of the "jjetomic age." It was distressing
to see our highest officials pitting ignorance against the
intellect of those two brilliant minds. How long would we
stand facing the Northeast, allowing a dangerous adversary
to stand behind us, honing a razor sharp edge on his
I did not deny the validity of their arguments of
construction, resupply, weather and cost problems; however,
the Russians had problems, too. They could use the Bering
Straits only few months each year due to the weather. Also,
they lacked rail facilities on the Kamchatka Peninsula.
Yet, recent medium and long-range bomber operations had
increased along the Kamchatka Peninsula, and large
shipments of concrete were delivered in the summer of 1960,
indicating some construction was contemplated. If my
assumptions were correct, the dagger was getting sharper
We could blunt that weapon by building six or seven
hardened missile sites. Once built, we would be reasonably
assured an enemy attempt to operate through the Kamchatka
complex would be impossible.
New weapon systems scheduled for operational status
would eliminate some of our problems. The loss of forward
tanker bases would be less critical as the B-47 was
replaced by the longer range B-52. Tital and Minuteman
missiles promised to add new power to our retaliatory
muscle. They were to have a range of at least 5,000 miles
and could deliver nuclear warheads. No doubt they could.
reach many Soviet targets from launching pads in the
southern 48; but from an Alaskan pad they could get there
sooner. Why give an aggressor an advantage of even a few
According to published reports, the Titan could be
broken into two parts for easier ground or air cargo
transportation. If true, this weakened the argument
missiles could not be transported to Alaska. The announced
plan to fire the Minuteman from train launchers seemed to
further weaken that contention. Still, no missiles were
The Navy, aware of the advantages of Arctic operational
capability, cast aside its traditional conservatism in
favor of a crash program to wed the nuclear submarine with
nuclear missiles which could be fired from under water. The
Polaris promised to be our most survivable weapon system.
Though it enhanced our ability to strike the enemy quickly,
it could not nullify Alaska's advantages. No nation can
afford to depend entirely upon any single concept. For
every weapon devised, a counter weapon has been developed.
It is doubtful
that law will ever change; only the time element will be
We had spent more than a billion dollars building all of
the essentials, other than an offensive capability, in
Alaska; however, without offensive capability, our huge
military installations were little more than one big
target. We were committed to spend more, or risk losing
everything already spent, and more. To quote a statement
made in 1960 by Lyndon B. Johnson, then the Senate Majority
Leader: "If we speed our defenses and they are not needed,
all we lose is the money. If we fail to step up our
defenses and they are needed, we could lose our
The possibility they might be needed was accented by
another high government official just five months later.
The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Allen W.
Dulles, stated: "For the second time in recent history,
have had an antagonist tell us in advance both by word and
by action what he proposes to do. Hitler in 'Mein Kampf'
gave the world a clear picture of his intentions. We paid
little attention to it until too late and he had moved on
to the attack. We cannot afford to ignore the present and
even more precise warnings which the Communists have been
Mr. Dulles was qualified to speak with authority
regarding both Hitler and the Communists. His years as
Director of the Central Intelligence Agency undoubtedly
gave him a close look at Red tactics and intentions.
During World War II, he negotiated with the anti-Nazi
German underground movement from his post in Switzerland.
After the war, he wrote a book in which he noted several
times when Hitler's life was spared by the indecision of
key underground figures. Idealistic, intelligent men who
wanted to save their nation from needless destruction, they
couldn't agree whether to kill Hitler. Because they lacked
strong leadership, many paid with their lives. Hitler had
no scruples about the elimination of opposition, now did he
give a damn about his own people. He refused to admit the
futility of war until his nation was totally destroyed.
Our leaders were men of the highest caliber; men who
would never start a war. Their patriotism could not be
questioned. They loved their country; many had even fought
and bled to defeat Hitler's forces. Yet, once again faced
with an enemy whose history and doctrine were splotched
with the blood of innocent millions, they hesitated to
place :our deadliest weapons on the American soil closest
to that enemy's homeland. I believed they were inviting
disaster, and I prayed to God their reluctance to send
offensive missiles to Alaska was based on judgment and
wisdom greater than mine.
Hitler was allowed to gain strategic and diplomatic ad.
vantages prior to World War II, but they did not prevent
hostilities. The concessions made at Munich did nothing to
soften the sound of bombs exploding in London, where I
became well acquainted with the frustration of being unable
to fight back. It was a feeling I hoped never to experience
One evening shortly before my retirement, I was sorting
through my personal papers when I found the old London
Diary. I tried to imagine what might be written in a
similar journal, during some future nuclear Blitzkrieg. The
terrifying vision conjured by those thoughts prompted me to
write a fictional diary. It reads:
KENAI PENINSULA - SUNDAY, January 14, 19 --
Dear God, it happened! Luckily, we were driving in a
valley when it exploded and were shielded from the flash.
Still, it was so bright I blinded momentarily . I couldn't
imagine what happened until we reached the, pass and looked
at Anchorage -- at least, where Anchorage had been.
My first reaction was to get to the Base as quickly
possible. A few momenta later, the car skidded into a ditch
and the front axle snapped. Then I realized how foolish I
had been. There was no Base anymore.
We held a family conference and decided to make the best
of the situation. Until someone comes along to help us,
we're going to set up a camp. I am keeping this record to
remind us of this experience when get out of here.
MONDAY - January 15, 19
Still here. Only a few cars have passed. We tried to get
a ride, but no one had room, One driver fleeing with his
family, noticed Louise's condition and offered to take her,
but she refused to leave us. The driver was from Kenai. He
said all hell broke
loose when they saw the f lash down there. People
panicked. They even looted stores. He saw a lot of
accidents on the road between Kenai and us. I wish had gone
with them, but surely someone will help us before too long.
In the meantime, Jack and I packed snow around one side and
on the roof of the car for insulation. Then fashioned a
lean-to on the other side. We have enough rations for about
days, and an extra five-gallon can of gasoline. I’m
glad my field equipment was in trunk. Without that we would
Becky cried nearly all night, and none of us slept much,
Jack and I plan to makes snares. Maybe we can get some
fresh meat for dinner, It's at least twenty-below-zero . I
hope we don't have to spend another night out here.
TUESDAY - January 16, 19--
Only two cars passed during the night. One didn't stop,
and I wish the other hadn't. It was jammed full of people.
All of them looked terribly ill. I guess it must be
radiation sickness from the fall-out. The driver told me
that the radar site south of Kenai had been wiped out by a
smaller atomic weapon. No one from the nearby village of
Homer had been seen. He guessed the road was knocked out. I
asked about the ranger station near Kenai Lake. He said it
had been and burned. He saw a body in the ashes, but it
was too charred to be recognizable. I begged him to take
Louise with him, but he refused. Said he was trying to
reach Whittier. What will he do if he gets there?
WEDNESDAY - January 17, 19--
We nearly froze last night! The only way we could keep
reasonably warm was to undress and huddle together --- two
in each sleeping bag. Jack and Becky (10 and 12
respectively) were hesitant about the idea at first. I
appreciate their desire for privacy, but this is no time
for a sense of modesty. It's work --hard work --- just to
stay alive. We're almost out of food, No luck with the
snares. Louise is cheerful, though she doesn't look too
well. I hope she doesn't miscarry again (she's lost three,
since Jack was born). THURSDAY - January 18, 19--
I killed a stray dog this morning. Hated to do it, but
we need food. He came ambling up the road from the south,
wagging his tail and looking mighty hungry. I hit him with
the tire iron. We'll have fresh meat tonight.
I'm worried about Louise. The baby isn't due for three
months, but she's been having pains. I pray to God it's
false labor. I don't know how to deliver a baby.
I considered trying to walk out of here, but it's
unrealistic to believe we could make it to civilization
if there's any civilization left. We haven't seen any
cars since Monday night. Is everybody dead? FRIDAY --
January 19, 19-
The baby came last night, but he died right away. Just
too cold. Louise is in a trance. I'm afraid she may die,
too. We have only a few matches left, so Jack and I have
been taking turns keeping the fire going all the time. He
and Becky don't seem to be feeling well. Maybe the dog had
I'm afraid to leave to find help. It's suicide to stay
out in this weather very long. I guess we'll just have to
sit it out until aid arrives.
SATURDAY - January 20, 19-
Louise is gone. God knows she died the hard way! I
buried her in a snow bank and covered her with rocks. If
she's ever found, she'll be our monument to the rape of a
state, a martyr ... but for what? I loved her so much! I
wish I could die, too; but I've got to do whatever I can
for Jack and Becky. They're awfully sick, now. I don't
think they even realize their mother is dead. I feel more
alone than I ever have in my life. I've tried to cry, but I
SUNDAY - January 21, 19-
Wolves: They howled all night. I didn't know there were
any around this part of the State, but they're out there. I
can't even chance going out to check the snares. This could
be the end of us. Jack is delerious. Becky simply sits and
stares. We have no more food.
It's only a matter of time now.
MONDAY -- January 22, 19-
Jack crawled outside last night. The wolves got him just
a few feet from the car. I can see the bloody snow where
they attacked, but his body is gone. They dragged him away
to eat him. Dear God, how much can a man endure?
TUESDAY -- January 23, 19--
The wolves must have found prey elsewhere. Didn't hear
them all night. Can't get through to Becky. She doesn't
seem to hear and she won't talk. Just stares into space. We
can't stay alive much longer. Funny ... I don't care.
THURSDAY - January 24, 19-
Becky wandered away Tuesday night. Tried to follow her
tracks. Got too tired. Managed to burrow into the snow for
shelter. Tomorrow will try to get back to car. Think feet
are frostbitten ... left hand, too. No pain, but I can see
blisters. Hope Becky died peacefully.
SATURDAY - January 26, 19---
I think this is last day. Weak. Eyesight failing. Three
fingers on left hand falling off -- frostbite. Want to die
near Louise. Got to hurry to reach her grave. No! Why
hurry? Eternity is a long time. Those imaginary events
could actually happen if our strength did not remain equal
to, or greater than, that of our enemies. Those who assume
Communist leaders would not take advantage of the slightest
chink in our armor are
misguided. The inhuman lengths to which Communism is
willing to go to submerge freedom have been cruelly
demonstrated by bloody purges and murderous aggression in
Korea, Indo-China, teary, and Malaya.
The presence of offensive weapons in Alaska would not
necessarily spell the difference between war and peace; but
their absence tipped the scales in favor of those who would
decide between war and peace.
Our few remaining days in Alaska passed quickly. Fluffy
and I spent hours discussing our future and where we should
settle permanently. We loved Alaska, but concluded it would
be imprudent to remain there. The new Alaskan Commander
would inherit enough problems without his predecessor
living in his back yard -- especially since local sentiment
was so strong in our favor.
When the Alaskan press reported the news of my
retirement, we received letters from all over the State.
Many writers sensed our departure was not entirely
voluntary and urged that I try to get the decision
reversed. Their support was comforting and flattering, but
I knew any such effort would be fruitless.
Several nationally-known columnists printed the story.
Each expressed a different view concerning the reason for
my dismissal. One claimed the decision was made by the Air
Force Secretary and the Chief of Staff; another said I was
the victim of a new "youth policy" laid down by the
Administration. I didn't know which account, if either, was
correct. No official explanation was ever revealed.
As the news spread, we heard from many old friends and
acquaintances. Some of their letters contained job offers;
others extended invitations to "come live near us." It was
heartening to know so many friends were thinking of us
during that difficult period.
We chose not to make any definite commitments until we
returned south and became accustomed to the idea of a
civilian existence. Letters from friends who had retired
previously indicated the transition was not easy. One
retired general wrote: "Frank, when I was on active duty,
all I had to do to get things accomplished was point my
finger. Now when I point my finger, it just points back at
Another writer urged me to find a job and keep busy,
because "playing golf everyday can be more work than a
The warmest letter came from Francis Cardinal Spellman.
We first met during one of his annual Christmas visits to
the men assigned in remote areas. We treasured the memories
of each moment we spent with him.
Another gratifying letter bearing a New York postmark
came from Ed Sullivan. Our first meeting had occurred when
he filmed his TV show in Alaska in late 1958. Any comic
trying to get laughter by mimicking Ed fails miserably at
our house. I know of no man who reflects a greater degree
Every communique from an old friend was heartening, but
the most inspiring was from General Eaker, then an
>Our< executive with a large aircraft corporation. He
" ... you should not look upon this as the end of the
line. I have found more interesting things to do in the 14
years of my retirement than I did in my 30 years of
service, except in the war years. "
Colonel Brint Merchant, my Base Commander at McDill Air
Force Base during the early '50's, retired and took a
position with a Tampa bank. He and Alice wrote us an
invitation spend a few weeks with them. We had many fends
in Tampa and the prospect of becoming permanent residents
was appealing, so we decided to "establish a beachhead"
During our last few days in Alaska received many honors
from both civilian and military officials. The largest
military review ever witnessed in the 49th State was staged
for the retirement ceremony.
Thousands of civilians were present, as members of the
Army, Navy, and Air Force units of the Alaskan Command took
their places on the Elmendorf flight line.
The band played "Adjutant's Call," and the review got
under way. After trooping the line, I returned to my
position before the reviewing stand and saluted the Colors
as the National Anthem echoed across the field toward the
beautiful Chugach Mountains. General Nate Twining presented
the Second Oak Leaf Cluster for my Distinguished Service
Medal, and Assistant Secretary of the Interior John Carver
presented an Interior Department Award for my efforts in
the field of conservation. Then, the ceremonial document
and retirement order were read.
For reasons I shall never publicly disclose, I chose
not to deliver my farewell address. Governor William
Egan, who had proclaimed that day "General Frank A.
Armstrong, Jr. Day" throughout the State, read the address
Among those who heard it was General Benjamin D.
Foulois, the first Air Corps Chief. It was he who addressed
my flight school graduating class, the day I received my
wings. A touch of irony!
The ceremony reached a colorful climax as troops passed
in review, while jet aircraft flew overhead in a tight
formation, which formed the letter "A".
There were tears in many eyes as Fluffy and I climbed
into our sedan and were whisked away from the scene. My
career was history.
Early Monday mornings July 31, 1961, we climbed the
stairs toward the open door of the aircraft which was to
take us away from Alaska. Fluffy tearfully led Cholly into
the passenger compartment. I hesitated on the platform for
a final look at the land we so dearly loved. My vision
blurred, so I turned and entered the aircraft.
The crew chief closed the door, the engines roared to
life, and as we moved slowly forward, we waved to the many
loyal friends who had come to see us off. While the pilot
guided the plane toward the end of the runway, I wanted to
order him to turn back. My job was not yet done.
The engines roared impatiently during the pre-flight
run-up, but, for once, I was not listening for unusual
noises. I was unsuccessfully trying to convince myself that
problems were no longer my concern. But I knew until the
proper weapons were based there and the strategic values
were exploited, I would always be concerned.
The engine roar subsided, then increased again as the
tower radioed take-off clearance. The ship rolled forward,
turned until her nose was pointing down the center of the
runway. The pilot added power, released the brakes, and we
started our take-off roll as my thoughts turned to one
article of the Code of Conduct established as a guide for
military men taken prisoner by the enemy. My banishment to
inactive duty made me a non-combatant in the struggle to
make known the advantages to be gained if we would only
>”< >W< wake >T< the >S<
sleeping >G< giant.
As the wheels left the runway, I silently repeated that
article of the Code: "I will never forget that I am an
American Fighting man, responsible for my actions, and
dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I
will trust in my God and in the United States of America.