"WAKE THE SLEEPING GIANT"
Lieutenant General Frank A. Armstrong, Jr., USAF (Ret.)
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 future."
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 honored first.
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 being withdrawn from military service, I do not regret having made it.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 rancor
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 in
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 allowed cadets.
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 yesterday."
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 Monday morning.
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 secret word.
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 felt
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 that
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 miles!
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 month
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 business."
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 own.
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 perilous.
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 for
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 upon impact.
As Tanner leaned forward to tell me the gear was down
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 goodbye.
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 thing!"
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 preparing
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 close.
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 civilization.
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 on.
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 me sick.
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 base.
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 months.
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 one.
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 war,
but we still had no idea how near the war was getting to us.
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 difficulty sleeping.
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 swells.
One of its passengers was Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, enroute
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 thick weather.
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 blasted away.
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 memorable experience.
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 joined in.
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 responsibility.
Later, Bob and I rode in a night bomber to watch the procedure of bringing pilots out of Germany and landing them
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 them!
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. Rightfully so.
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 stands.
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 shelter.
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 concentration area.
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, too.
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 ring.
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. It's
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 "I-ties".
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. Yet,
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 mice.
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 upset!
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 laugh again.
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 morning.
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 dead.
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 same.
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 contrary, I
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 tonight.
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 to navigate.
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 there.
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 the Germans.
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 beautiful, too.
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 lifetime.
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 damage.
The people are surely a determined lot. They rebuild,
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 more.
Our guide believes Hitler had the war won, had he continued such ferocious raids. But, he slacked off - and failed.
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 understand why.
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 dreaming.
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 incendiary attack.
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 incendiaries.
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 bodies.
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 discontinued.
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 gone away.
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 funny now.
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 tipsy.
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 on it!
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 had another.
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 King".
The Tweedles managed to get me safely through the blackout, and dropped me off at the hotel about 2:00 a.m.
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 - a
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 400.)
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 emplacements.
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 to
bed - none when you get up. Last night I slept in my overcoat.
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 ferrying job.
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 fortune.
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 Fortresses."
"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 back
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, too.
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 horizon.
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 of us.
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 "gooney
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 almost immediately.
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 more
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 of action.
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 Command Operations.
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 States.
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 fly!
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 arrive.
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 dismissed me.
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 once.
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 wrong?"
I replied "I am going to combat!
With that he shot at me one word, "Fool!" and sat down.
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 present?"
"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 work.
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 Fortresses.
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 flares
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 Britain.
Even though we were practicing for low-level altitude approaches to enemy targets, the outcome was not favorably
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 tactics.
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 go.
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 headquarters."
"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. Nerves!
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 respect.
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 front."
The last man to speak was the Airdrome Control Officer,
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 way,
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 mine.
"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 battery switches.
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 cried.
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 formation
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 foreboding.
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 to himself.
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 belly. The
song ended with the sweetest lyrics I ever heard --"Bombs Away!"
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 lucky.
General Eaker was riding in Captain Flack's airplane. The General had picked the pilot with the most appropriate
name for that trip. Thereafter, Rhudy was known as "Flak Happy Flack".
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 be repaired.
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 situation.
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, two wounded."
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 making.
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 and drawn
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 blast us.
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 your lap."
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 elements.
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 each other.
"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 job.
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 cockpit.
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 settled
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 ...." "Bombs Away!"
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 through
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 Group:
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 any man.
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 squadron.
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 You."
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 love.
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 news.
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 Aerial Warfare.
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 received.
"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 in."
"Happy Valley" is the name the boys gave the Ruhr. The little fellow did go to Happy Valley, but failed to return.
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". Gravity
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 me.
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 doorsteps.
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 out.
About nine o'clock that evening, I received a call from Colonel Wilson at Base Operations.
"Better hurry down here, Colonel. Something big is cooking."
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 combat
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 routine.
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, too!
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 raids.
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, formations
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 hesitated above.
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 drifted
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 comfort.
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 anticipate
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 Away!"
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 was history.
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 attack ...
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 formation.
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 feet.
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 systems.
Looked at pilot and co-pilot to see how badly they were wounded.
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 forward compartment.
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 fly,
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 reached ...
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 was.
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 was waiting.
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 dreamed possible.
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 schedule.
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 extremely effective.
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 since 1942.
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 systems.
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 rewarding.
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 "thugs".
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 identification.
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 War
Against "Colonel" Doberman Armstrong.
TO: Commanding General, 315th Bombardment Wing (VU), Peterson Field, Colorado. THRU: Wing Surgeon and Chief of Staff.
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 command.
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 1945.
TO: Commanding General, 315th Bomb Wing (VH), Peterson Field,
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 1945.
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 General.
/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 1945.
TO: Chief of Staff, 315th Bomb Wing (VH), Peterson Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
1. 2nd Ind. is concurred in by the Commanding General.
2. I do hereby confine the little son-of-a-bitch to quarters for a period of one week and rationed, bread --no water.
/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 destroyed.
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 mission:
"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 your men."
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 request.
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 enemy."
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 fan.
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 absolutely necessary?
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 American lives.
"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 cheerful news.
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 assignment.
"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 empty-handed.
"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 better.
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 victory.
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 same thing.
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 experience.
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, Virginia.
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, were
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 almost broadside.
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 degrees!
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, and
we found the pioneer spirit of the Alaskans refreshing and inspiring.
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 said:
"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 area.
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 winter.
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 units.
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 troops.
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 follows:
'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 around.
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 of affairs.
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 $15.
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 civilian technicians.
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 points.
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 complimented
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 award.
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 top."
"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 C-54.
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 flight deck.
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 for long.
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 ice
thickened, the aircraft grew heavier. We started using more fuel than we had planned. We didn't have any to spare.
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 normal.
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 I realized.
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 proudest possessions.
We returned by way of Washington. Ironically, the flight
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 man-killing bronco.
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 qvickest vay"!
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 STOP"
"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 Guam.
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 air aces.
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 frightfully realistic.
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 huts.
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 black.
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, read:
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 margin]
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 the offensive
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 valued aide.
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 the margin]
>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 Newman
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 recover
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 Elmendorf.
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 1950.
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 respect.
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 program.
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, or
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 submerge Freedom.
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 installation.
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 too late.
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 permanent personnel.
Fluffy and I lived in a Syracuse hotel while our base quarters were being readied. We received word through the
"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, Florida.
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 schools and
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 situation."
"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 work.
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. He
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 from
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 go on.
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 that.
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 to die.
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 borders.
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 tar-gets.
Each mission was scored, either visually with cameras
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 in
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, operation.
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. That
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 could afford.'
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 questionable
>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 disaster.'
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 getting
through were anything but good. Also, they were aware that their chances of returning to a friendly base were nil.
>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 effectiveness.
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 Lieutenant General.
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 critical period.
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 Defense.
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 emergencies.
>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 Command.
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 jets.
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 be.
>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 effectiveness.
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 minimum.
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 dangerous operation.
If Shemya were chosen for the site of the new installation, it would be highly expensive. New buildings, barracks,
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 expense.
>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 affecting
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 discussion.
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 maximum effect.
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 deadly.
"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 wounded.
"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 done."
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 lives.
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 tragedy.
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 Alaskan defenses.
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 myth.
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 fix."
“.... 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 in Siberia.'
"And he added this somewhat alarming but realistic comment:
'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 this point."
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 statement."
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 thoroughly."
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 my
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 national
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 Staff.'"
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 potential
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; adequate.
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 railroad!"
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 that
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 one.
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 have missiles?"
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 people."
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 States.
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 six weeks.
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 night.
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 anti-aircraft
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 Alaska.
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 identified.
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 United
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 F-101's.
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 projected inactivation.
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 DIVERSIONARY
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 "lightning rod."
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 flag.
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 submarines.
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 an eyewitness.
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 territory.
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. FRUSTRATED
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 fighters now.
But he is not bitter. He is proud of his command; he considers it the hardest, leanest, toughest arm of the Air Force."
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 compliment.
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 Alaska.
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 Service."
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 missiles?
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 heart?
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 wrote:
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 orator like
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 war.
"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 follow.
"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 read."
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 dagger?
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 every day.
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 minutes?
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 programmed.
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 altered.
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 country."
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 giving us...."
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 again.
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 be lost.
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 radiation sickness.
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 can't.
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 me."
Another writer urged me to find a job and keep busy, because "playing golf everyday can be more work than a paying position."
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 of gentility.
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 wrote:
" ... 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" there.
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 for me.
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 Alaskan
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. "
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