• Thank You Santa

I've been after Skip 'Gunner' King (US Army, ret.) for details of this incident since Christmas. It was worth the wait.

Just prior to Christmas 1969, I was one of three people waiting at a remote strip somewhere near Phan Thiet for a Caribou ride to Cam Rahn or Na Trang. I was trying to get back to my unit at Lane AHP near Qui Nhon. Two passengers and an RTO.

We saw a Caribou approaching and assumed it was our transportation, but it initially just flew past. But it turned back towards the strip and landed.

The first thing we noticed was the painting on the nose, like Rudolf, but it was Santa... about that time the real Santa poked his head out the astrodome.


The aircraft pulled up, dropped the ramp and there was a bar that looked like a chimney, a couple of very attractive elves, Santa and some people in flight suits.

One of us asked why the aircraft had turned around. A guys in a flight suit replied that this wasn't a scheduled stop, but that when they saw the three of us out in the middle of nowhere, they figured we needed a visit as much as anybody.

The eggnog was great, the girls were beautiful, and my green and red goody bag hangs on the mantle every Christmas, as it has for the last 39 years.

I don't think I ever said "Thank You" to the guys in the flight suits. So... "Thank You" for one of my life's most memorable events.

Anybody know who those guys were?

BTW, if anyone else has a flying-related experience they'd like to share (military or civilian)
send it to tailspintommy (at) gmail (dot) com, and I'll post it here. If you have photos or video that's even better. I have 10Mb broadband so send whatever you have. Of course, you're contribution will be acknowledged by name. Unless (snicker) you'd rather remain anonymous. More than one story? No problem. We'd love to share them!

• T'was The Flight Before Christmas




'Twas the night before Christmas, and out on the ramp
Not an airplane was stirring, not even a Champ.
The aircraft were fastened to tie downs with care,
In hopes that come morning, they all would be there.

The fuel trucks were nestled, all snug in their spots,
With gusts from two forty at 39 knots
I slumped at the fuel desk, now finally caught up,
And settled down comfortably, resting my butt.

When the radio lit up with noise and with chatter,
I turned up the scanner to see what was the matter.
A voice clearly heard over static and snow,
Called for clearance to land at the airport below.

He barked his transmission so lively and quick,
I'd have sworn that the call sign he used was "St. Nick".
I ran to the panel to turn up the lights,
The better to welcome this magical flight.

He called his position, no room for denial,
"St. Nicholas One, turnin' left onto final."
And what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a Travel Air sleigh, with nine radial Reindeer!

With vectors to final, down the glide slope he came,
As he passed all fixes, he called them by name:
"Now Ringo! Now Tolga! Now Trini and Bacun!
On Comet! On Cupid!" What pills was he taken'?

While controllers were sittin', and scratchin' their head,
They phoned to my office, and I heard it with dread,
The message they left was both urgent and dour:
"When Santa pulls in, have him please call the tower."

He landed like silk, with the sled runners sparking,
Then I heard "Left at Charlie," and "Taxi to parking.
He slowed to a taxi, turned off of three-oh
And stopped on the ramp with a "Ho, ho-ho..."

He stepped out of the sleigh, but before he could talk,
I ran out to meet him with my best set of chocks.
His red helmet and goggles were covered with frost
And his beard was all blackened from Reindeer exhaust.

His breath smelled like peppermint, gone slightly stale,
And he puffed on a pipe, but he didn't inhale.
His cheeks were all rosy and jiggled like jelly,
His boots were as black as a cropduster's belly.

He was chubby and plump, in his suit of bright red,
And he asked me to "fill it, with hundred low-lead."
He came dashing in from the snow-covered pump,
I knew he was eager to be drainin' the sump.

I spoke not a word, but went straight to my work,
And I filled up the sleigh, but I spilled like a jerk.
He came out of the restroom, and sighed in relief,
Then he picked up a phone for a Flight Service brief.

And I thought as he silently scribed in his log,
These reindeer could land in an eighth-mile fog.
He completed his pre-flight, from the front to the rear,
Then he put on his headset, and I heard him yell, "Clear!"

And laying a finger on his push-to-talk,
He called up the tower for clearance and squawk.
"Take taxiway Charlie, the southbound direction,
Turn right three-two-zero at pilot's discretion"

He sped down the runway, the best of the best,
"Your traffic's a Twin Beech, inbound from the west."
Then I heard him proclaim, as he climbed thru the night,
"Merry Christmas to all! I have traffic in sight."

• We're Not happy Until You're Not Happy

Over the years I've been faced with a severe case of what psychologists call "cognitive dissonance."

On one hand my experience has been that the folks that work for the FAA are, by and large, earnest, professional people with a real interest in aviation and safety. They've always treated me fairly (not to be confused with leniently). On the other hand I've met pilots and aircraft owners who profess something between mistrust and visceral hatred for the employees of the same agency. They really believe the FAA motto is, "We're not happy until you're not happy."


If you're among the latter, you can probably stop reading because what I'm going to write won't interest you.

To be entirely up front, I have to admit that my opinion is that the people who hate the FAA the most are the ones that have played loose and free with the regs the most, they're the people who treat "the Feds" as some kind of low lifes, and they're the people who receive, in return, just what they deserve.

Now that's not to say there aren't bad eggs in every basket. The apocryphal story of the Inspector who yellow tagged a bird with "Q-tip" props because its propeller tips were bent comes to mind. But consider that the basket of pilots is much larger (650,000) than the basket of FAA employees (50,000). And the number of those folks that you'll actually meet while committing the unnatural act of flight is smaller yet.

You don't have to be a math genius to figure out there are probably more asshole pilots than there are asshole Feds.

Yeah, I can hear you arguing percentages; asshole density, if you will. I don't buy it.

Sit in a parking lot by an airport fence and listen on your handheld, or sit in your cockpit and listen on your David Clarks. Y'all up there in the rarefied air can listen on your anorexic Plantronics too. How many times do pilots screw up? How many times do controllers? And which group is most likely to go into assholes mode when things don't go right?

Fact is, many of the FAA employees on the front line are pilots with experiences that you'd die to have, maybe even die from, since you may not be as good a pilot as they are. After all, half the pilots out there are worse than the other half. (Why do I hear a chorus from the tower, "More! Much more!")

But you wouldn't know those people from ATC and the FSDO have the depth of experience they do if you harbor a prejudice against them. That's true of everyone else in life too, come think of it.

When was the last time you took the time to go up in the cab and find out who the person is that's behind that voice your hear from the control tower? Have you ever figured out where the nearest TRACON is located and scheduled a visit to see what it's like to shepherd fast moving aircraft across a sector, essentially blindfolded?

All this reminds me of my favorite controller who once announced, when things were really going to hell in a handbasket,"All right, everyone stop right where you are, and we'll get this sorted out." Even the foreign student with minimal command of English flying up the downwind keyed the mike and laughed.

She's the same controller, I recall, who also told a bush pilot I was flying with in a busy Southern California weekend pattern "You have to do more than nod your head when I call you, 674H."

Mind you he's a pilot's pilot, an Alaskan 'Man of the Decade' for his selfless rescues, and a personal hero in an era when, as Styx puts it, "All the heroes and legends I knew as a child have fallen to idols of clay." But he's also someone who hadn't talked on a radio in years, except maybe to check in on the HF while crossing some of the wildest water and terrain in the world so his wife would know he's okay.

Mutual respect is what it's all about, in a phrase.

Doubts? Go out and drive a car blindfolded while someone talks you through an empty shopping center parking lot. A controller who'd done that, to appreciate the problems of a scared VFR pilot in IFR conditions, saved a woman's life because he understood. She's my wife today, and I appreciate his dedication. She found herself solid IFR in a snow squall on her second solo flight...but that's another tale.

• Where There's A Will There's A Way

On my first solo flight at K-13, Suwan, Korea, in June 1952, I took off in an F-80 Shooting Star. It was not a combat mission. All I had to do was go up and have fun boring holes in the sky for about an hour and a half.


Immediately after takeoff, I felt the left wing was heavy and determined that the left tip fuel tank was not feeding properly or not at all. Afraid it might fall off and rupture during landing, potentially melting asphalt on the runway, the tower would not let me land with the full tank. I was instructed to make a bomb run and drop the whole tank.

Arriving at the bomb range, I set up my bomb-release switches to release the tank. Flying over the impact area, I pushed the button but nothing happened. I tried a second time and again there was no response. On my next pass, I tried the manual release handle but to no avail. Making one final run, I used the button we called the "panic button" because it allegedly released everything hanging on the airplane. It worked as advertised and dumped everything, save my errant left tip tank.

The tower control officer advised me that if I couldn't get rid of the tank or its contents, I should give them my location, eject and await pickup. Well, pilots really hate to punch out of a perfectly flyable airplane and I figured I still had one option worth trying.

The canopy of an F-80 can be opened in flight up to about 220 MPH. So I opened the canopy and unholstered my G.I. issue Colt M1911 .45 automatic. Now, liquid fuel will not burn, at least not like vapors, so I aimed for the part of the tank I was sure would be full of liquid. Firing my first shot, I had no idea where the bullet went--perhaps airborne, high-speed physics were at work, or maybe just my nerves. But my next three shots punctured the tank, passing through the fuel and exiting cleanly out the far side of the 24" wide tank.

For the next thirty minutes, I flew with the left wing down in a series of circles to drain the fuel and slowly return to base. By the time I got to the airstrip the tank was empty. I made a routine landing. As far as I know, I am the only pilot in the Air Force who ever shot his own plane to correct a malfunction.

Thank goodness for my .45.

LCol. A.J. D'Amario, USAF Ret. Florida

• Last Flight

He was an old man, suffering from serious depression and an incurable illness. His future, such as it was, looked grim. Just a few weeks earlier he had been diagnosed as having Hodgkin’s disease.

In an effort to cheer their father up, his sons had driven him from Massachusetts to the great air show taking place in Genessee.



Their dad had been a Navy combat pilot in WWII. He’d often told them stories about his days as a younger man, a man they’d never met and perhaps never really believed existed. But they knew how his eyes would light up when he talked about his wartime experiences. Dad became young again, if only for a moment, as he remembered being strong and healthy, fighting against fascism so many years ago. The boys hoped that being around the old warbirds would lift his spirits for at least a day.

His sons, loving and attentive, helped him out of the car somewhere on one of the fields reserved for parking. He’d been glancing up more frequently as they got closer to the airfield. With a veteran’s practiced eye, he identified the aircraft as they wheeled and banked over the field or taxied to the parking positions. He’d already told his boys that “his” plane wouldn’t be there. They weren’t saved after the war like the more glorified Flying Fortresses or Liberators. Still, young men by the thousands had flown and fought in “his” type of aircraft, and not all of them had made it home. He knew that the model he flew was only a memory shared by a dwindling band of old men like himself. His own sons had never even seen one of the planes that carried him to war. For the most part, no one knew they ever existed. The old planes, like the old man himself, were fading away.

Once they had been young, the hope and pride of a nation. But now…no one cared anymore.

They walked slowly along the crowded flight line. Over the rumble of the engines, Dad gestured for his boys. “That one’s a B-17,” he’d explain, “we had those in the Pacific, too. There’s a P-38 Lightning. You can always tell by the twin tail booms. They were good escorts. They went in with us sometimes. We were glad to have them around.”

Further down the line they passed a Japanese Zero. The old man glared at it silently for a moment, some strange emotion passing briefly across his face. His sons didn’t know if it was grief, fear, anger, or a combination of all. He turned and without a backward glance continued his slow walk.

The memories were becoming stronger for him. The breeze carried the scent of rubber, aviation gas, and hot oil, just like his base used to smell. Planes jockeying into position along the line revved their engines, sending gale-force prop wash blowing across the tarmac as people clutched at their hats and leaned into the wind. Overhead was the deep-throated roar of ancient propeller-driven fighter formations passing in review, a sound unlike any other. Air show announcers all over the country call it the same thing: The Sound of Freedom.

The father and his sons ambled along, pausing occasionally to look up at whatever was flying over. After one particularly low pass by a British Spitfire, the boys turned to remark to Dad and saw him standing as if he were frozen in place. He had walked around the aircraft they’d been looking at and was staring like a man possessed at the next plane in line. A look of incredulous wonder began to spread across his face…

My God,” he whispered. “My God, there it is. It’s…someone…how…I never thought that I’d ever…

What is it, Dad? Are you okay?”

He seemed to stand taller and his shoulders squared. “Okay? Hell yes, I’m okay! THERE’S MY PLANE!




It just so happened that “his” plane was also “our” plane. Lockheed PV-2 “Harpoons” were never immortalized by Hollywood like the Flying Fortresses of “12 O’Clock High,” the B-25 Mitchells of “Catch-22” or any of a score of other films. Why this is so remains a mystery, for the missions they flew were some of the most heroic—and harrowing—of the war. Flying out of New York, Norfolk, and Pensacola, PV-1s and 2s scoured the Atlantic for Nazi U-boats. The WWII cliché “sighted sub, sank same” is attributed to a PV-1 crew. In the Pacific theater, astonished Navy pilots soon realized that the PV-1 could actually outrun the dreaded Japanese Zeros, a feat unheard of for a medium bomber. The Lockheed’s phenomenal speed saved scores, perhaps hundreds, of American lives.

With the debut of the heavier and more stable PV-2, Marine Corps pilots and ground crews, as usual, made a few non-standard “field modifications.” This normally meant torching extra holes in the nose and welding in as many .50 machine guns as they could cram into the forward bay. The Marines also tore out the torpedo and depth charge racks in the somewhat pregnant-looking bomb bay and installed hooks for 500 pounders and napalm. As if this wasn’t enough, industrious gunneys even bolted rails under each wing and loaded them with air-to-ground rockets! Aeronautical engineers were appalled when they heard this, but soon reports came back from the combat zones of Harpoons taking on everything from subs and fighters to tanks and heavy cruisers, all with disastrous results to the enemy. The Harpoons could—and did—fight anything. And somewhere amidst the fire and fury, somewhere between the Philippines and the Aleutians, there was a young Navy pilot who would live to be taken to Gennessee, New York by his sons….



The old man stood at the front of the plane and, after a long moment, simply reached up and placed his hand on the underside of the nose. “I never knew they saved one,” he said softly. “I never thought I’d see one again.” To his sons, the man sounded as if he had suddenly found something priceless that he had lost many years ago.

One of his boys slipped around to the port side of the harpoon. He’d seen an open hatch and one of our crewmen standing near it. The younger man had decided to ask, plead—beg if he had to—for permission to let his father climb aboard a Harpoon just one more time. Please, please…

To his surprise and delight, he was informed that we welcome visitors aboard our plane. In fact, we encourage them to climb in and take a look around. It’s no fun having a bomber if you can’t show it off once in a while, right? Besides, we’re maintaining a living piece of American history, and we’re rather proud of that fact.

The fellow who climbed into the hatch did so with the grace and familiarity of a young naval aviator, not an old man suffering from Hodgkin’s disease. Our crewman offered to show the old gent around and point out objects of interest in the plane, a courtesy we perform for all visitors, but one of the man’s sons tugged at his sleeve. “Dad
knows his way around in here. Can we talk outside for a moment?

Our crewman was somewhat bewildered, but he was beginning to realize that something out of the ordinary was going on. He’d seen that eerie look in the old fellow’s eyes and it was plain that these other two guys wanted to explain his behavior. He hopped out of the hatch and listened to them. They told our man about their dad’s crushing depression upon learning of his incurable disease, how they had hoped to just cheer him up a little, and how overjoyed he was to see that a bunch of characters from Indiana were actually flying around the country in a plane that he thought no longer existed.

Our man knew there was more to it than that. There was a lot of happiness and relief in these men, too. Their mission was accomplished: against all odds, they’d broken the black spell on their father.

While the old aviator was still merrily poking about in our plane, a couple more of our crew strolled up munching on hamburgers. “What’s up? Anything going on?

Yeah. Wait’ll you hear this…

Within minutes, two of our crewmen set out to round up the rest of the gang. The old man was still climbing in and out of the plane, kicking the landing gear and inspecting the bomb bay, when they all arrived. Our whole “away team” shook his hand and took pictures of him and his boys. The old fellow’s joy was infectious, and our guys were glad to be a part of it. Then someone in the crew cam up with a brilliant idea. It was whispered from man to man and a hasty conference was held under the huge wing. Heads nodded all around. Yeah. It was agreed. They had to do this…

We were scheduled to make a flight the next day for “Aviation Classics” magazine. They wanted some pictures of our rare Harpoon doing its stuff. A photographer had been sent, a swift chase plane had been reserved, and takeoff was set for the following morning.

As is always the case, every seat available was already spoken for. Despite its size, and not counting the pilots and flight engineer, there are only five seats aboard our plane. She was designed as a combat aircraft, not a passenger plane. Even among the members of our organization, a flight is a rare treat. To be honest about the matter, at a fuel consumption rate of nearly two hundred gallons an hour we can’t afford much joyriding. At air shows, our fuel and other expenses are paid for by the promoters of the show so every time we lift off five lucky people get to take a “free” ride. These seats are always reserved well in advance, usually for our own people who’ve spend countless hours of hard work and a lot of their own money to “keep ‘em flying.” It’s a privilege we all look forward to every summer.

Our crew looked at the ancient Navy pilot standing beside the Harpoon. He constantly touched the aircraft as if to assure himself that it was really there and not just a dream. There was a haunted look about him, as if he were surrounded by the ghosts of his former comrades. He had survived the Zeros, but there would be no escape from the disease that now had a grip on him. The old veteran was fighting his last battle even as they watched…

He can have my seat,” one of our guys said softly.

Naw. You haven’t gone up for a while. Let him take mine.”

Soon there was a near fight among all five over who would give up their seat. It was a point of honor. Besides, people who fly and maintain old warbirds are slightly crazy anyway.

The argument was settled and, beaming delightedly, the whole crew marched over to the man and his sons. They told him about the photo run that was scheduled for the next day and that we just, ahh, happened to have a spare seat available. Would he like to ride along on the flight?

The question stunned him. “Are you serious?” He looked from man to man, and their faces answered for them. They were all grinning like idiots and nodding their heads in encouragement.

The aged Harpoon pilot blinked a few times and cleared his throat. Then, with his sons standing beside him, he lifted his chin and answered. “Yes,” he said. “I’d love to go. Thanks…thank you very much.

His sons didn’t comment on our crew’s invitation. For some reason they were suddenly having trouble with their voices. But the way they looked at our people spoke volumes on the subject of heartfelt gratitude. The men from Massachusetts stood with the men from Indiana on an airfield in New York state, and the axiom of a brotherhood among airmen demonstrated its truth once more.

The old aviator arrived at dawn the next day. Only a couple of our people were up and at the aircraft at that time, groggily sipping coffee and still yawning. One of our guys commented that the veteran pilot looked surprisingly wide awake for that early hour. He replied that most of his combat missions had begun at dawn or even earlier. Besides, he admitted sheepishly, he had been unable to sleep the whole night. “I felt like a kid waiting for Christmas morning,” he grinned.

Someone reached into a tool box and produced a thermos of coffee. The old fellow accepted a cup and sat a package down on the work bench. “I thought some of you might be interested in this.” He carefully unwrapped a tattered and patched photo album.

My boys talked me into bringing it from home when we came up here. I’m glad I have it with me now.” He opened the cover.

Our crewmen took one glance inside and snapped completely awake, nearly choking on their coffee. They stared at the book, then at each other.

The album was a gold mine. The then-young Navy pilot had taken dozens of black and white photos of his aircraft, both inside and out. Equally important, he’d taken many close-ups of the mechanics at work on his forward island bases. We had only been able to guess at where some of the equipment was mounted in the interior of our plane, and how some of the field-expedient repairs had been accomplished under combat conditions. This book could allow us to rebuild and refurbish our plane to her exact wartime appearance, the goal of all military aircraft restorers. We have a thick manual for the bird, but it’s no longer possible to do everything “by the book.”



Lockheed hasn’t made parts for this aircraft for over fifty years. We knew that Navy and Marine mechanics had accomplished wonders with baling wire, tin cans, and friction tape: the big question was how? Which backyard repairs could we get away with and which ones could cause a crash? What do you do when a control cable snaps at 12,000 feet or the port engine starts blowing oil or the landing gear jams halfway down?

Our crewmen suddenly realized that the fellow sipping coffee and looking calmly back at them was not merely an old man suffering from Hodgkin’s disease. He was also a retired United States Navy officer, a combat experienced aviator, and a government-trained expert on Lockheed PV-2 Harpoons. A few hours earlier, they felt as if he needed them. Now it dawned on our crew that they needed him—badly—and the knowledge he had carried for nearly half a century.

Sir, when the rest of our people get here, would you consider giving us a, uhh, briefing?

He sat his cup down and smiled. “Be glad to.”

Later that morning they were assembled around the elderly pilot, hanging on his every word. His constant touching and staring at the aircraft had not been the ghostly reminiscences of days gone by, but a careful and professional examination. Instinctively, he’d been giving our Harpoon a pre-flight inspection. He’d been quietly “grading” us on our reconditioning, maintenance, and craftsmanship. He’d noted where we had done well—and where there was need for improvement. Our crew jotted don page after page of memos on everything from how the navigator’s table folded up to which hydraulic lines to inspect frequently. To no one’s surprise, he said that some portions of the manual were nonsense, then went on to tell us how to do things the right way.



He gave our pilots detailed information on how to crash-land the plane in the event of total power failure. Harpoons are not noted for crash survivability, something we all keep in the back of our minds. His crew in the Pacific had been lucky to have him at the controls. He ran out of fuel once and had to belly in on a beach. The plane was a total loss, but the young Navy flyer saved his crew. Someday—God forbid—we may have to try it ourselves.

The veteran continued on for some time without any apparent fatigue or effects from his illness. Presently a civilian aircraft noisily taxied up to the Harpoon and braked to a halt. Two men clambered out of the plane, the photographer and his pilot. They exchanged information with our pilots on how the photo flight was to be handled, shook hands, and hopped back in their plane. The Cessna turned and began to taxi back out to the runway.

Flight line workers began to circle the Harpoon, warning spectators away from our bomber and clearing a path for it to roll out from the parking area. Our pilots and engineer climbed up into the cockpit and began their pre-flight checklist. Two of our people, one at each engine, stood guard outside with fire extinguishers while four more eagerly entered the plane.

For the first and only time in their lives, the old man’s sons watched him climb into a PV-2 Harpoon. Just inside the hatch, he turned and looked at his boys for a long moment. Something seemed to pass between them for an instant, then he gave them a “thumbs up” and shut the door.

He never thought that he’d see another of “his” planes and certainly never dreamed he’d fly in one again, if even only as a passenger, but fate had reserved him one more takeoff, just one more time.

The last flight was under way.

Our pilot shouted out his window. “Clear!” The ground crewmen stood by with the fire extinguishers, just in case. The number one starter motor engaged the flywheel, causing that eerie high-pitched whine that quickens the blood of anyone who ever heard it. Then the pistons fired, coughed, and fired again, blowing out rapid puffs of smoke as the Hamilton-Standard prop began to spin. The engine smoothed and revved to a high idle, pounding out a sound like nearby thunder. Number two engine whined, backfired, and blew out a great cloud of white smoke. Its prop remained motionless. Doubtless cursing under his breath, the pilot initiated a restart while the ground crew eyed the engine suspiciously, extinguishers at the ready.

The flywheel built up speed again, the switch was thrown, and this time the mighty Pratt & Whitney radial roared into life, fairly bellowing strength and defiance. The whole aircraft shook visibly as the great 2,000 horsepower engines warmed up. The brakes strained to hold the ship in place while the preflight was completed, then they were gradually released and the bomber started to roll.



As always, she gained speed rapidly. Halfway down the strip, the barn-door sized tail lifted and the plane seemed to balance on her main gear. Then, with the awesome sound of a warbird—the Sound of Freedom—the Harpoon thundered into the sky.

They circled the field once, gaining altitude. The chase plane fell into formation with them, the photographer taking advantage of a beautiful cloudless day. The Harpoon banked gracefully, easing back over the airfield. Together the two aircraft made repeated passes giving the cameraman every shot he could wish for. When the photo run was over, both planes slowed and dropped into a landing glide path, flaps and gear down. The smaller plane led the way, touching down well ahead of the big blue Navy patrol bomber.

It was the moment our crew had been waiting for. The airspace was now clear.

The Harpoon’s gear went back up and the engines throttled forward. She picked up speed, streaked over the runway at a breathtaking fifteen feet, and rocketed back up in a tight climbing turn.


One of our ground crew grinned at the old pilot’s sons. “I think your dad is in for a little treat.” The Harpoon was now going in excess of two hundred fifty knots. The bomber stood on one wing, whirled around in a high-stress turn, and dove like a falcon—straight towards the field. Her engines were audible for miles, and the vast crowd of spectators looked up as one. “What the hell are they up to?” Hot dogs and soft drinks were dropped by the score as people snatched for their cameras. The plane shrieked over the flight line, a blue streak above the Mustangs and the Liberators and that thrice-damned Zero. In the wink of an eye they blew past the throng of spectators as babies cried, women covered their ears, and children howled with delight. The slipstream sent hats, programs, and paper cups flying in every direction.

The plane rocked back on its tail and flew into the sun. The crowd squinted and tried to follow it. Eventually even the sound of the engines grew faint. The plane was gone—but to where? A few minutes passed, then someone shouted, “There! To the north!

They’d gone for altitude, and were now diving back in again. But this time something was different. The plan was flying strangely. A teenager asked his father, “Are they in trouble?



The Harpoon was dodging rapidly left and right and flinging itself up and down in the dive. Experienced combat pilots—and there are many at air shows—knew at first glance what the Navy bomber was doing. “Jinking” is how pilots are trained to avoid ground fire in combat. The plane was coming in under evasive action and gaining speed at an alarming rate. Two hundred sixty knots, two seventy, two ninety…Then the aircraft straightened and flew with determined precision, seeming to aim itself at a point just opposite from the crowd on the other side of the runway.
The bomb bay doors snapped open and half dozen dark oblong shapes spilled out.

Spectators gasped as the objects tumbled and fell, whistling loudly as they came. The missiles hit the field and exploded into a spectacular red and green spray. The crowd sent up a mighty cheer as they realized what they’d seen, and the sons of our passenger laughed and cheered loudest of all.

Gennessee, New York had just been bombed by a planeload of Indiana watermelons.

After pulling up from its surprise “bomb run,” the Harpoon slowed to cruise speed, circled, and came back for a final pass before landing. She swooped in low and slow, one wing tipped in salute to the crowd while cameras clicked and video recorders whirred. Then the great flaps lowered, the gear came down, and the tires screeched on contact with the tarmac. The bomber taxied to the parking apron, turned, and rolled slowly to her assigned area.

Flight line workers held back the crowds who surged in around her, waving, applauding, and holding children on the shoulders. The old aviator’s sons stood with our ground crew, shielding their eyes from a final wind blast as the port brake was locked, the starboard engine revved, and the plan ground-looped perfectly into exactly the same spot she had left. The engines were cut, number two giving its characteristic double backfire, and the props clattered to a halt. The elevator surfaces on the huge tail lowered and thumped softly down to their rest positions. The flight was over, the bomber now silent.

Our crew formed a semicircle around the hatch, the veteran’s sons standing expectantly in the front. For a long moment the hatch remained closed. Then the handle rotated, the door swung slowly open, and a figure appeared at the top of the access ladder. The sons looked up solemnly, as if seeing their father for the first time, He paused there, returning their gaze. Then the emotion became too great for even him to control, and his loving, joyous smile became framed by streams of tears that rolled down both cheeks. He hopped down the short ladder and into the arms of his boys. Our crew surrounded them as they gripped each other, laughing and weeping, in an impassioned, back slapping, three-way hug.

The scene was best described to this writer by one of our female crew members.

Oh, you should have seen it! These macho guys of ours in the plane came out and they were all crying. They were embarrassed by it, but they had to keep wiping their eyes. The old man was the happiest person I’ve ever seen in my life. He kept on laughing and crying at the same time and asking his boys if they saw the bomb run. They were nodding and hugging him. The ground crew was sniffing and snorting and looking at everything except each other. I finally gave up myself and said ‘What the hell?’ So I started crying too.”

The aviator told everyone within earshot how happy he was to have been with us, even if only for a short while. Another of our ladies appeared at his side and asked if he would like to join our organization. Before she could even finish the question he exclaimed, “Yes!” She pulled an application out from behind her back and, grinning, handed the old fellow a pen. He quickly read the document and signed it on the offered back of our flight engineer. After handing the paper back, he reached inside jacket. “I have my checkbook with me. I can pay my first annual dues right now and…

There was a cry of outrage and our “recruiting officer” steadfastly refused to take a cent. She looked around threateningly at the rest of the team and called for a forum. By immediate and unanimous voice vote, the veteran was made a life member of our crew on the spot, all dues waived forever.

Addresses and phone numbers were exchanged. The retired naval officer was told that he could expect our first organizational newsletter within a week and that we’d stay in touch by mail, keeping him abreast of developments with the plane. He replied that he had many photographs and notes pertaining to PV-2 Harpoons that he’d send us, as well as personal observations and letters answering any questions we might have in the future.

After some time, they had to leave for the long drive back to Massachusetts. Our men shook his firm hand for the last time, our wives and girlfriends each gave him a kiss, and it was time to leave. One of the sons kept repeating to our crew, “You don’t know. You don’t know what this has done for Dad. This has brought him back. He’s his old self again. You just don’t know…

Well, maybe we don’t. But we have a pretty good idea. We know what he did for us.

Whatever else life may have in store for him the veteran will always know that one of his planes is still flying, crewed by a new generation. And we will know that we have a friend, our senior member, who we can turn to when the skies grow dark and we need advice.

Sometimes people ask me why I love air shows.

I never know what to tell them.

Ken Ballard

• First-hand view of the Dolittle Raid


This is a really excellent firsthand account, by the pilot of aircraft #13, of the Doolittle Raid off the Hornet in 1942. A great piece of history. 



 My name is Edgar McElroy. My friends call me "Mac". I was born and raised in Ennis , Texas , the youngest of five children, son of Harry and Jennie McElroy. Folks say that I was the quiet one. We lived at 609 North Dallas Street and attended the Presbyterian Church. 


Whenever I got the chance, I would take my girl on a date up to Love Field in Dallas . We would watch the airplanes and listen to those mighty piston engines roar. I just loved it and if she didn't, well that was just too bad. 

We were on our way back to California on December 7th when we got word of a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. We listened with mixed emotions to the announcements on the radio, and the next day to the declaration of war. What the President said, it just rang over and over in my head, "...With confidence in our armed forces, with the un-bounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God." By gosh, I felt as though he was talking straight to me! I didn't know what would happen to us, but we all knew that we would be going somewhere now. 

Actually it was lucky for us that the Japanese didn't attack the west coast, because we just didn't have a strong enough force to beat them off. Our country was in a real fix now,  and overall things looked pretty bleak to most folks. In early February, we were ordered to report to Columbus , South Carolina . Man, this Air Corps sure moves a fellow around a lot! Little did I know what was coming next!

In early March, we were all called in for a briefing, and gathered together in a big building there on the base. Somebody said that the fellow who head of this thing is coming to talk to us, and in walks Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle. He was already an aviation legend, and there he stood right in front of us. I was truly amazed just to meet him. 

My dad had an auto mechanic's shop downtown close to the main fire station. My family was a hard working bunch, and I was expected to work at dad's garage after school and on Saturdays, so I grew up in an  atmosphere of machinery, oil and grease. Occasionally I would hear a lone plane fly over, and would run out in the street and strain my eyes against the sun to watch it. Someday, that would be me up there! 

After my schooling, I operated a filling station with my brother, then drove a bus, and later had a job as a machinist in Longview , but I never lost my love of airplanes and my dream of flying. With what was going on in Europe and in Asia , I figured that our country would be drawn into war someday, so I decided to join the Army Air Corps in November of 1940. This way I could finally follow my dream.

I graduated on July 11, 1941. I was now a real, honest-to-goodness Army Air Corps pilot. Two days later, I married "Aggie" in Reno , Nevada . We were starting a new life together and were very happy. I received my orders to report to PendletonOregon and join the 17th Bomb Group. Neither of us had traveled much before, and the drive north through the Cascade Range of the Sierra Nevada 's was interesting and beautiful. 

We were transferred to another airfield in Washington State, where we spent a lot a time flying practice missions and attacking imaginary targets. Then, there were other assignments in Mississippi and Georgia, for more maneuvers and more practice.

The first weeks of the war, we were back in Oregon flying patrols at sea looking for possible Japanese submarines. We had to be up at 0330 hours to warm up the engines of our planes. There was 18 inches of snow on the ground, and it  was so cold that our engine oil congealed overnight. We placed big tarps over the engines that reached down to the ground. Inside this tent we used plumbers blow torches to thaw out the engines. I figured that my dad would be proud of me, if he could see me inside this tent with all this machinery, oil and grease.  After about an hour of this, the engines were warm enough to start. 

We flew patrols over the coasts of Oregon and Washington from dawn until dusk. Once I thought I spotted a sub, and started my bomb run, even had my bomb doors open, but I pulled out of it when I realized that it was just a big whale.  Lucky for me, I would have never heard the end of that! 

Then I was assigned my crew. There was Richard Knobloch the co-pilot, Clayton Campbell the navigator, Robert Bourgeous the bombardier, Adam Williams the flight engineer and gunner, and me, Mac McElroy the pilot. Over the coming days, I came to respect them a lot. They were a swell bunch of guys, just regular All-American boys.

 We got a few ideas from the training as to what type of mission that we had signed on for. A Navy pilot had joined our group to coach us at short takeoffs  and also in shipboard etiquette. We began our short takeoff practice. Taking off with first a light load, then a normal load, and finally overloaded up to 31,000 lbs. The shortest possible take-off was obtained with flaps full down, stabilizer set three-fourths, tail heavy, full power against the brakes and  releasing the brakes simultaneously as the engine revved up to max power. We pulled back gradually on the stick and the airplane left the ground with the tail skid about one foot from the runway. It was a very unnatural and scary way to get airborne! I could hardly believe it myself, the first time as I took off with a full gas load and dummy bombs within just 700 feet of runway in a near stall condition. We were, for all practical purposes, a slow flying gasoline bomb! 

 On one of our cross country flights, we landed at Barksdale Field in Shreveport , and I was able to catch a bus over to Longview to see Aggie. We had a few hours together, and then we had to say our goodbyes. I told her I hoped to be back in time for the baby's birth, but I couldn't tell her where I was going.  As I walked away, I turned and walked backwards for a ways, taking one last look at my beautiful pregnant Aggie. 

 Within a few days of returning to our base in Florida we were abruptly told to pack our things. After just three weeks of practice, we were on our way.  This was it. It was time to go. It was the middle of March 1942, and I was 30 years old. Our orders were to fly to McClelland Air Base in Sacramento , California on our own, at the lowest possible level. So here we went on our way west, scraping the tree tops at 160 miles per hour, and skimming along just 50 feet above plowed fields. We crossed North Texas and then the panhandle, scaring the dickens out of livestock, buzzing farm houses and a many a barn along the way. Over the Rocky Mountains and across the Mojave Desert dodging thunderstorms, we enjoyed the flight immensely and although tempted, I didn't do too much dare-devil stuff. We didn't know it at the time, but it was good practice for what lay ahead of us. It proved to be our last fling. Once we arrived in Sacramento , the mechanics went over our plane with a fine-toothed  comb. Of the twenty-two planes that made it, only those whose pilots reported no mechanical problems were allowed to go on. The others were shunted aside. 

 After having our plane serviced, we flew on to Alameda Naval Air Station in Oakland . As I came in for final approach, we saw it! I excitedly called the rest of the crew to take a look. There below us was a huge aircraft carrier. It was the USS Hornet, and it looked so gigantic! Man, I had never even seen a carrier until this moment. There were already two B-25s parked on the flight deck. Now we knew! My heart was racing, and I thought about how puny my plane would look on board this mighty ship. As soon as we landed and taxied off the runway, a jeep pulled in front of me with a big "Follow Me" sign on the back. We followed it straight up to the wharf, alongside the towering Hornet. All five of us were looking up and just in awe, scarcely believing the size of this thing. As we left the plane, there was already a Navy work crew swarming around attaching cables to the lifting rings on top of the wings and the fuselage. As we walked towards our quarters, I looked back and saw them lifting my plane up into the air and swing it over the ship's deck. It looked so small and lonely. 

Later that afternoon, all crews met with Colonel Doolittle and he gave last minute assignments. He told me to go to the Presidio and pick up two hundred extra "C" rations. I saluted, turned, and left, not having any idea where the Presidio was, and not exactly sure what a "C" ration was. I commandeered a Navy staff car and told the driver to take me to the Presidio, and he did On the way over, I realized that I had no written signed orders and that this might get a little sticky. So in I walked into the Army supply depot and made my request, trying to look poised and confident. The supply officer asked "What is your authorization for this request, sir?" I told him that I could not give him one. "And what is the destination?" he asked. I answered, "The aircraft carrier, Hornet, docked at Alameda ." He said, "Can you tell me who ordered the rations, sir?" And I replied with a smile, "No, I cannot." The supply officers huddled together, talking and glanced back over towards me. Then he walked back over and assured me that the rations would be delivered that afternoon. Guess they figured that something big was up. They were right. The next morning we all boarded the ship. 

Trying to remember my naval etiquette, I saluted the Officer of the Deck and said "Lt. McElroy, requesting permission to come aboard." The officer returned the salute and said "Permission granted." Then I turned aft and saluted the flag I made it, without messing up. It was April 2, and in full sunlight, we left San Francisco Bay . The whole task force of ships, two cruises, four destroyers, and a fleet oiler, moved slowly with us under the Golden Gate Bridge . Thousands of people looked on. Many stopped their cars on the bridge, and waved to us as we passed underneath. I thought to myself, I hope there aren't any spies up there waving. 

 I set up quarters with two Navy pilots, putting my cot between their two bunks. They couldn't get out of bed without stepping on me. It was just fairly cozy in there, yes it was. Those guys were part of the Torpedo Squadron Eight and were just swell fellows. The rest of the guys bedded down in similar fashion to me, some had to sleep on bedrolls in the Admiral's chartroom. As big as this ship was, there wasn't any extra room anywhere. Every square foot had a purpose.. A few days later we discovered where they had an ice cream machine! 
There were sixteen B-25s tied down on the flight deck, and I was flying number 13. All the carrier's fighter planes were stored away helplessly in the hangar deck. They couldn't move until we were gone. Our Army mechanics were all on board, as well as our munitions loaders and several back up crews, in case any of us got sick or backed out. We settled into a daily routine of checking our planes. The aircraft were grouped so closely together on deck that it  wouldn't take much for them to get damaged. Knowing that my life depended on this plane, I kept a close eye on her. 

 Day after day, we met with the intelligence officer and studied our mission plan. Our targets were assigned, and maps and objective folders were furnished for study. We went over approach routes and our escape route towards China . I never studied this hard back at Trinity. Every day at dawn and at dusk the ship was called to general quarters and we practiced finding the quickest way to our planes. If at any point along the way, we were discovered by the enemy fleet, we were to launch our bombers immediately so the Hornet could bring up its fighter planes. We would then be on our own, and try to make it to the nearest land, either Hawaii or Midway Island.

 Dr. Thomas White , a volunteer member of plane number 15, went over our medical records and gave us inoculations for a whole bunch of diseases that hopefully I wouldn't catch. He gave us training sessions in emergency first aid,  and lectured us at length about water purification and such. Tom, a medical doctor, had learned how to be a gunner just so he could go on this mission. We put some new tail guns in place of the ones that had been taken out to save  weight. Not exactly functional, they were two broom handles, painted black. The thinking was they might help scare any Jap fighter planes. Maybe, maybe not. 

On Sunday, April 14, we met up with Admiral Bull Halsey's task force just out of Hawaii and joined into one big force. The carrier Enterprise was now with us, another two heavy cruisers, four more destroyers an another oiler. We were designated as Task Force 16. It was quite an impressive sight to see, and represented the bulk of what was left of the U.S. Navy after the devastation of Pearl Harbor .. There were over 10,000 Navy personnel sailing into harm's way,  just to deliver us sixteen Army planes to the Japs, orders of the President. 
 As we steamed further west, tension was rising as we drew nearer and nearer to Japan . Someone thought of arming us with some old ...45 pistols that they had on board. I went through that box of 1911 pistols, they were in such bad condition that I took several of them apart, using the good parts from several useless guns until I built a serviceable weapon. Several of the other pilots did the same. Admiring my "new" pistol, I held it up, and thought about my old Model-T. 

 I began to pack my things for the flight, scheduled for the 19th. I packed some extra clothes and a little brown bag that Aggie had given me, inside were some toilet items and a few candy bars. No letters or identity cards were allowed, only our dog-tags. I went down to the wardroom to have some ice cream and settle up my mess bill. It only amounted to $5 a day and with my per diem of $6 per day, I came out a little ahead. By now, my Navy pilot roommates were about ready to get rid of me, but I enjoyed my time with them. They were alright. Later on, I learned that both of them were killed at the Battle of Midway. They were good men. Yes, very good men.

 Colonel Doolittle let each crew pick our own target. We chose the Yokosuka Naval Base about twenty miles from Tokyo . We loaded 1450 rounds of ammo and four 500-pound bombs... A little payback, direct from Ellis County , Texas ! We checked and re-checked our plane several times. Everything was now ready. I felt relaxed, yet tensed up at the same time. Day after tomorrow, we will launch when we are 400 miles out. I lay in my cot that night, and rehearsed the mission over and over in my head. It was hard to sleep as I listened to sounds of the ship. 

 Early the next morning, I was enjoying a leisurely breakfast, expecting another full day on board, and I noticed that the ship was pitching and rolling quite a bit this morning, more than normal. I was reading through the April 18th day plan of the Hornet, and there was a message in it which said, "From the Hornet to the Army - Good luck, good hunting, and God bless you." I still had a large lump in my throat from reading this, when all of a sudden, the intercom blared, "General Quarters, General Quarters, All hands man your battle stations!  Army pilots, man your planes!!!" There was instant reaction from everyone in the  room and food trays went crashing to the floor. I ran down to my room jumping through the hatches along the way, grabbed my bag, and ran as fast as I could go  to the flight deck. I met with my crew at the plane, my heart was pounding.  Someone said, "What's going on?" The word was that the Enterprise had spotted an enemy trawler. It had been sunk, but it had transmitted radio messages.. We had been found out!

 The weather was crummy, the seas were running heavy, and the ship was pitching up and down like I had never seen before. Great waves were crashing against the bow and washing over the front of the deck. This wasn't going to be easy! Last minute instructions were given. We were reminded to avoid non-military targets, especially the Emperor's Palace. Do not fly to Russia , but fly as far west as possible, land on the water and launch our rubber raft. This was going to be a one-way trip! We were still much too far out and we all knew that our chances of making land were somewhere between slim and none. Then at the last minute, each plane loaded an extra ten 5-gallon gas cans to give us a fighting chance of reaching China . 

 We all climbed aboard, started our engines and warmed them up, just feet away from the plane in front of us and the plane behind us. Knobby, Campbell , Bourgeois and me in the front, Williams, the gunner was in the back, separated from us by a big rubber gas tank. I called back to Williams on the intercom and told him to look sharp and don't take a nap! He answered dryly, "Don't worry about me, Lieutenant. If they jump us, I'll just use my little black broomsticks to keep the Japs off our tail." 

 The ship headed into the wind and picked up speed. There was now a near gale force wind and water spray coming straight over the deck. I looked down at my instruments as my engines revved up. My mind was racing. I went over my mental checklist, and said a prayer? God please, help us! Past the twelve planes in front of us, I strained to see the flight deck officer as he leaned into the wind and signaled with his arms for Colonel Doolittle to come to full power. I looked over at Knobby and we looked each other in the eye. He just nodded to me and we both understood.

 With the deck heaving up and down, the deck officer had to time this just right. Then I saw him wave Doolittle to go, and we watched breathlessly to see what happened. When his plane pulled up above the deck, Knobby just let out  with, "Yes! Yes!" The second plane, piloted by Lt. Hoover, appeared to stall with its nose up and began falling toward the waves. We groaned and called out, "Up! Up! Pull it up!" Finally, he pulled out of it, staggering back up into the air, much to our relief! 

One by one, the planes in front of us took off. The deck pitched wildly, 60 feet or more, it looked like. One plane seemed to drop down into the drink and disappeared for a moment, then pulled back up into sight. There was sense of relief with each one that made it. We gunned our engines and started to roll forward. Off to the right, I saw the men on deck cheering and waving their covers! We continued inching forward, careful to keep my left main wheel and my nose wheel on the white guidelines that had been painted on the deck for us. Get off a little bit too far left and we go off the edge of the deck. A little too  far to the right and our wing-tip will smack the island of the ship. With the  best seat on the ship, we watched Lt. Bower take off in plane number 12, and I  taxied up to the starting line, put on my the brakes and looked down to my left. 

My main wheel was right on the line. Applied more power to the engines, and I turned my complete attention to the deck officer on my left, who was circling his paddles. Now my adrenaline was really pumping! We went to full power, and the noise and vibration inside the plane went way up. He circled the paddles furiously while watching forward for the pitch of the deck. Then he dropped them, and I said, "Here We Go!" I released the brakes and we started rolling forward, and as I looked down the flight-deck you could see straight down into the angry churning water. As we slowly gained speed, the deck gradually began to pitch back up. I pulled up and our plane slowly strained up and away from the ship. There was a big cheer and whoops from the crew, but I just felt relieved and muttered to myself, "Boy, that was short!"

 We made a wide circle above our fleet to check our compass headings and get our bearings. I looked down as we passed low over one of our cruisers and could see the men on deck waving to us. I dropped down to low level, so low we could see the whitecap waves breaking. It was just after 0900, there were broken clouds at 5,000 feet and visibility of about thirty miles due to haze or something. Up ahead and barely in sight, I could see Captain Greening, our flight leader, and Bower on his right wing. Flying at 170 mph, I was able to catch up to them in about 30 minutes. We were to stay in this formation until reaching landfall, and then break on our separate ways. Now we settled in for the five hour flight. Tokyo , here we come! 

 Williams was in the back emptying the extra gas cans into the gas tank as fast as we had burned off enough fuel. He then punched holes in the tins and pushed then out the hatch against the wind. Some of the fellows ate sandwiches and other goodies that the Navy had put aboard for us... I wasn't hungry. I held onto the controls with a firm grip as we raced along westward just fifty feet above the cold rolling ocean, as low as I dared to fly. Being so close to the  choppy waves gave you a true sense of speed. Occasionally our windshield was even sprayed with a little saltwater. It was an exhilarating feeling, and I felt as though the will and spirit of our whole country was pushing us along. I  didn't feel too scared, just anxious. There was a lot riding on this thing, and on me.

 As we began to near land, we saw an occasional ship here and there. None of them close enough to be threatening, but just the same, we were feeling more edgy. Then at 1330 we sighted land, the Eastern shore of Honshu . With Williams now on his guns in the top turret and Campbell on the nose gun, we came ashore still flying low as possible, and were surprised to see people on the ground waving to us as we flew in over the farmland. It was beautiful countryside. 

 Campbell, our navigator, said, "Mac, I think we're going to be about sixty miles too far north. I'm not positive, but pretty sure." I decided that he was absolutely right and turned left ninety degrees, went back just offshore and followed the coast line south. When I thought we had gone far enough, I climbed up to two thousand feet to find out where we were. We started getting fire from anti-aircraft guns. Then we spotted Tokyo Bay , turned west and put our nose down diving toward the water. Once over the bay, I could see our target, Yokosuka Naval Base. Off to the right there was already smoke visible over Tokyo . Coming in low over the water, I increased speed to 200 mph and told everyone, "Get  Ready!" 

 When we were close enough, I pulled up to 1300 feet and opened the bomb doors. There were furious black bursts of anti-aircraft fire all around us, but I flew straight on through them, spotting our target, the torpedo works and the  dry-docks. I saw a big ship in the dry-dock just as we flew over it.. Those flak bursts were really getting close and bouncing us around, when I heard Bourgeois shouting, "Bombs Away!" I couldn't see it, but Williams had a bird's eye view from the back and he shouted jubilantly, "We got an aircraft carrier! The whole dock is burning!" I started turning to the south and strained my neck to look  back and at that moment saw a large crane blow up and start falling over!...  Take that! There was loud yelling and clapping each other on the back. We were all just ecstatic, and still alive! But there wasn't much time to celebrate. We had to get out of here and fast! When we were some thirty miles out to sea, we  took one last look back at our target, and could still see huge billows of black  smoke. Up until now, we had been flying for Uncle Sam, but now we were flying for ourselves.

 We flew south over open ocean, parallel to the Japanese coast all afternoon. We saw a large submarine apparently at rest, and then in another fifteen miles, we spotted three large enemy cruisers headed for Japan . There were no more bombs, so we just let them be and kept on going. By late afternoon, Campbell calculated that it was time to turn and make for China . Across the East China Sea , the weather out ahead of us looked bad and overcast. Up until now we had not had time to think much about our gasoline supply, but the math did not look good. We just didn't have enough fuel to make it! 

 Each man took turns cranking the little hand radio to see if we could pick up the promised radio beacon. There was no signal. This is not good. The weather turned bad and it was getting dark, so we climbed up. I was now flying on instruments, through a dark misty rain. Just when it really looked hopeless of reaching land, we suddenly picked up a strong tailwind. It was an answer to a prayer. Maybe just maybe, we can make it!

 In total darkness at 2100 hours, we figured that we must be crossing the coastline, so I began a slow, slow climb to be sure of not hitting any high ground or anything. I conserved as much fuel as I could, getting real low on gas now. The guys were still cranking on the radio, but after five hours of hand cranking with aching hands and backs, there was utter silence. No radio beacon!  Then the red light started blinking, indicating twenty minutes of fuel left. We started getting ready to bail out. I turned the controls over to Knobby and crawled to the back of the plane, past the now collapsed rubber gas tank. I dumped everything out of my bag and repacked just what I really needed, my .45 pistol, ammunition, flashlight, compass, medical kit, fishing tackle, chocolate bars, peanut butter and crackers.. I told Williams to come forward with me so we could all be together for this. There was no other choice. I had to get us as  far west as possible, and then we had to jump. 

 At 2230 we were up to sixty-five hundred feet. We were over land but still above the Japanese Army in China . We couldn't see the stars, so Campbell couldn't get a good fix on our position. We were flying on fumes now and I  didn't want to run out of gas before we were ready to go. Each man filled his canteen, put on his Mae West life jacket and parachute, and filled his bag with rations, those "C" rations from the Presidio. I put her on auto-pilot and we all gathered in the navigator's compartment around the hatch in the floor. We checked each other's parachute harness. Everyone was scared, without a doubt.  None of us had ever done this before! I said, "Williams first, Bourgeois second, Campbell third, Knobloch fourth, and I'll follow you guys! Go fast, two seconds apart! Then count three seconds off and pull your rip-cord!" 


 We kicked open the hatch and gathered around the hole looking down into the blackness. It did not look very inviting! Then I looked up at Williams and gave the order, "JUMP!!!" Within seconds they were all gone. I turned and reached back for the auto-pilot, but could not reach it, so I pulled the throttles back, then turned and jumped. Counting quickly, thousand one, thousand two, thousand three, I pulled my rip-cord and jerked back up with a terrific shock At first I thought that I was hung on the plane, but after a few agonizing seconds that seemed like hours, realized that I was free and drifting down. Being in the total dark, I was disoriented at first but figured my feet must be pointed  toward the ground. I looked down through the black mist to see what was coming up. I was in a thick mist or fog, and the silence was so eerie after nearly thirteen hours inside that noisy plane. I could only hear the whoosh, whoosh  sound of the wind blowing through my shroud lines, and then I heard a loud crash  and explosion. My plane!

 Looking for my flashlight, I groped through my bag with my right hand, finally pulled it out and shined it down toward the ground, which I still could not see.. Finally I picked up a glimmer of water and thought I was landing in a lake. We're too far inland for this to be ocean. I hope! I relaxed my legs a little, thinking I was about to splash into water and would have to swim out, and then bang. I jolted suddenly and crashed over onto my side. Lying there in just a few inches of water, I raised my head and put my hands down into thick mud. It was rice paddy! There was a burning pain, as if someone had stuck a knife in my stomach. I must have torn a muscle or broke something. 

 It was a cold dark lonely night. At 0100 hours I saw a single light off to the east. I flashed my light in that direction, one time. It had to be Knobby! I waited a while, and then called out softly, "Knobby?" And a voice replied "Mac, is that you?". Thank goodness, what a relief!  Separated by a wide stream, we sat on opposite banks of the water communicating in low voices. After daybreak Knobby found a small rowboat and came across to get me. We started walking east toward the rest of the crew and away from that Japanese patrol. Knobby had cut his hip when he went through the hatch, but it wasn't too awful bad.

 We walked together toward a small village and several Chinese came out to meet us, they seemed friendly enough. I said, "Luchu hoo megwa fugi! Luchu hoo  megwa fugi!" meaning, "I am an American! I am an American!" Later that morning we found the others. Williams had wrenched his knee when he landed in a tree,  but he was limping along just fine. There were hugs all around. I have never  been so happy to see four guys in all my life! 

 Well, the five of us eventually made it out of China with the help of the local Chinese people and the Catholic missions along the way. They were all very good to us, and later they were made to pay terribly for it, so we found out afterwards. For a couple of weeks we traveled across country. Strafed a couple of times by enemy planes, we kept on moving, by foot, by pony, by car, by train, and by airplane. But we finally made it to India.

 I did not make it home for the baby's birth. I stayed on their flying a DC-3 "Gooney Bird" in the China-Burma-India Theatre for the next several months.  I flew supplies over the Himalaya Mountains, or as we called it, over "The Hump" into China . When B-25s finally arrived in India , I flew combat missions over Burma , and then later in the war, flew a B-29 out of the Marianna Islands to bomb Japan again and again. 

 After the war, I remained in the Air Force until 1962, when I retired from the service as a Lt. Colonel, and then came back to Texas , my beautiful Texas .  First moving to Abilene and then we settled in Lubbock , where Aggie taught school at MacKenzie Junior High. I worked at the S & R Auto Supply, once again in an atmosphere of machinery, oil and grease. 

 I lived a good life and raised two wonderful sons that I am very proud of.  I feel blessed in many ways. We have a great country, better than most folks know. It is worth fighting for. Some people call me a hero, but I have never thought of myself that way, no. But I did serve in the company of heroes. What we did will never leave me. It will always be there in my fondest memories. I will always think of the fine and brave men that I was privileged to serve with. Remember us, for we were soldiers once and young. With the loss of all aircraft, Doolittle believed that the raid had been a failure, and that he would be court-martialed upon returning to the states. Quite to the contrary, the raid proved to be a tremendous boost to American morale, which had plunged following the Pearl Harbor attack. It also caused serious doubts in the minds of Japanese war planners. They in turn recalled many seasoned fighter plane units back to defend the home islands, which resulted in Japan 's weakened air capabilities at the upcoming Battle of Midway and other South Pacific campaigns. 

  
 Edgar "Mac" Mc Elroy, Lt. Col., U.S.A.F. (Ret.) passed away at his residence in Lubbock, Texas, early on the morning of Friday, April 4, 2003.