by Lt. Colonel Howard F. Beir- Commander
514th Squadron, 376th Heavy Bomb Group
You asked for some coverage of my years in the military.
This coverage is, of course, subject to fifty years of memory with all that
is entailed in that warning. With that proviso, here is the story.
The total included about six years of continuous service
during WW2 and if there was one theme that ran through it all, it was luck.
After reading the pages that follow, I think you will agree with me.
Luck in two categories. First can be termed survivability. My
only injury was a non-combat back injury, which later grew into a spinal
fusion. I lost many friends and many more were wounded, but came out
fairly whole. The second area was in assignments. I not only
never spent interminable periods in training or dull assignments but also
had a wonderful variety of jobs and activities. I should have made
more of them.
My military service actually started in 1934 when, at
the University of Pennsylvania. I elected to take R.O.T.C. instead
of athletics. I’ve mentioned to you that I was two years ahead in school
and my size and lack of real ability alone seemed to me to deny any opportunity
to compete on the playing field. Also, as I trust you did with the
Greys, I enjoyed the military. Did I see a war coming? Perhaps
twenty-five percent of my feeling and much of that might have been hopeful.
I liked R.O.T.C. and spent the last year as an officer of the regiment.
In between my junior and senior years I went to camp along with the rest
at Fort Dix but stayed an extra eight weeks for additional training, which
included achieving excellence in all infantry weapons. In those days,
I liked to shoot. My only real trouble occurred at graduation when
we were the ushers and had to appear in heavy winter uniforms with our sabers.
Not yet twenty-one by a considerable margin -- age was later reduced to
eighteen, I was the only one in my class that could not be sworn in as a
Second Lieutenant and so had to appear without any indication of rank.
If one more on-looker had tapped me on the shoulder and advised that I had
forgotten my insignia, I was prepared to pull the saber and skewer him to
the wall. I do not think I’ve ever been that mad!
After graduation, in 1938, I attended reserve training
at Plattsburgh, N.Y. at which we had an entire division for the first time
since World War I. We were not fully equipped by a long shot and many
troops used broomsticks instead of rifles.
The Colonel commanding my R.O.T.C. unit at Pennsylvania
had come directly from command of the Sixteenth Infantry at Governor’s Island.
It was a crack outfit, one of four regiments assigned to the First Division.
The Colonel graciously offered to see if he could have me assigned to the
Sixteenth as a Reserve Officer and I jumped at the invitation. They
agreed. After graduation, I took a job in Washington, writing for
the United States News and representing them in Senate hearings on the Hill
and coverage at the White House, but doing my reserve work with the Sixteenth.
In mid-1940 it seemed to me that things were starting
to heat up. I had a chance to go on active duty within the Executive
Office if the President in a newly formed outfit called the Office of Export
Control, and grabbed it. I was number seven or eight with them, as
I recall, and my first job was to set up an intelligence unit. I developed
contacts, for example, with the FBI, among others. One of their original
concerns was the trans-shipment of goods from South America to Germany,
based on orders given American suppliers. Could I help? Our
original list of items subject to export control was extremely small, theoretically
covering only items in very short supply for our own defense. We did
not have computers in those days but I had rolls of blank export licenses
printed up in five different colors with carbon paper in between.
These applications were then typed out and filed by different categories.
With this information which had hitherto not been available, we did indeed
pick up the American firms who had been trans-shipping via Central and South
America relay points, and put a stop to that.
Later I was moved up to become Executive Secretary of
Export Control’s Policy Committee, a group with representatives from the
State Department, the military and so forth. It was interesting work.
I remember one Canadian who having been refused export licenses for mica
to be used for spark plugs by the Japanese, appealed for special consideration.
He said he had been in the business all his life and it was the first mica
he had ever seen with almost invisible fissures or cracks running through
it. If used for spark plugs by the Japanese air force as planned,
they would sooner or later all blow up. I did my best to get him his
license but was turned down on that one. Too much danger of International
complaint, I was told.
By late 1941 my original commanding officer, General Russell Maxwell, had
been sent on to another assignment and my new boss was a character by the
name of Henry Wallace, Vice-President under Roosevelt. He was rumored
to be a communist, which was never publicly proved, but certainly was an
extremely liberal type that I strongly disliked. He immediately had
a very long list of items added to those requiring export licenses.
This brought about additional representation on our Policy Committee from
various governmental branches; each involved with the additional items and
each requiring a copy of every licensee application. Within a short
time, we had an estimated ten thousand unacknowledged, unsorted applications
stored in boxes and all in all, I felt it was time for me to leave
The War Production Board had been set up to administer the country’s production
and allocation facilities and a good friend of mine by the name of Eddy
Locke was an assistant to Donald Nelson, the Chairman of the Board.
There was an opportunity to join them and Eddy had me taken off active duty
and had me go to work there.
Pearl Harbor was three weeks away!
At the time, we were starting to produce essential intelligence and sabotage
items in small quantities for American and Allied agents. These included
such things as short-wave radios packed in suitcases, TNT in the form of
coal blocks to blow up trains, etc., etc. They were very concerned
that German intelligence would plant an agent somewhere along the priority
granting chain and would uncover these covert items of military significance.
Their solution was to give me authority to grant priority applications on
a very small scale, sufficient to take care of these modest intelligence
needs by our own and allied forces but insufficient, of course, to affect
war production needs. Then came Pearl! The demands accelerated
for our work and I spent many nights as well as days at the office.
A couple of weeks after Pearl, I received a phone call from General Donovan.
I not only recognized the name as head of the office of Strategic Services
and a great World War I hero, but also had actually met him in Buffalo where
we had lived for a few years. In peacetime he was a prominent lawyer
in the country, he was neither fish nor fowl in terms of securing supplies.
Former suppliers who now had to ship all output to the armed forces had
rejected his orders. Could I help? I asked for a couple of days
and went back to the office. After some thought I produced about twenty
odd pages of every conceivable type of raw and finished material, and then
appended it to a priority application on which I gave him an A1A rating
- the highest. I made another date with General Donovan and turned
over the signed, dated form to him, stressing he was never to let it out
of his office. Instead, when needing anything subject to priority
control, he was to send them a telegram citing the A1A rating and the license
number which I had put on. Initially skeptical, he nevertheless tried
it out for a few days and called me back for a third meeting to advise it
was working beautifully with all suppliers cooperating.
What could he do to show his appreciation? I asked him for a favor
and he looked at me skeptically and asked what did I want? I gave
him one work, “Combat.” He smiled, and promised me that I would get
it. He then went further and said what would I like to do? I
explained that I had heard they were flying agents into occupied territory
and dropping them by parachute. “Are you a pilot?” he asked.
“No,” I said, “but we can overcome that in a hurry.” I had been told
the prewar twelve month’ training for pilots had been cut to seven months.
I assured him that I felt I could do it in ninety days and asked that he
sign a letter to General Arnold, head of the Air forces, making such a request.
He said “Why not?” I drafted the letter and he signed it. General
Arnold responded immediately to the request, had me put back on active duty
with orders to proceed to Southeast Training Command in Alabama within a
week. Eighty-eight days after arriving there, I was back in Washington
with wings and some 205 hours, as I recall, to my credit. I had no
advanced training for multi-engines, instruments, etc.
General Donovan asked me what other training I wanted. I had heard
that they were starting parachute training at Fort Benning and also raised
the possibility of having to get some of these agents in and out by boat.
I felt I needed some experience in both. He agreed and said, “Draft
some more letters.”
First came the Navy. Shortly after he made the request to the Secretary
of the Navy, then James Forrestal, I started to get telephone calls from
friends there wanting to know how I managed to get this assignment and, when
I started to discuss it with them, was told to “Shut up.” I simply
could not understand the problem until I received orders to proceed by submarine,
surface craft, commercial aircraft, etc., to the Solomon Islands in the Pacific,
where one of our great battles with the Japanese occurred a couple of weeks
later. Unhappily my destination was the Solomon Island Naval Training
station in Maryland, about 80 miles from Washington, where I spent a couple
of weeks learning to pilot LCP’s (Landing Craft Personnel), LCT’s (Landing
Craft Tanks) and several other small naval vessels. It was fun but
time was fleeting.
My next training post was Fort Benning where they had formed the First
Experimental Paratroop Detachment. One problem was that they did not
know much about landing in those days and instructed us, if we hit while
swinging forward to put our right hand up to our forehead and roll forward.
That seemed to work. If we hit swinging backwards, we were to put
our butt next to our heels and roll back over our head. This proved
impracticable and we suffered some 35% coccyx and lower back injuries.
I smacked mine up but kept quiet because I wanted to fly at all costs.
Years later I compounded the injury by slipping on some stairs in Chicago.
The Head of surgery at Neurological Institute in New York recommended spinal
fusion, which was done. It’s never worked well. He, himself,
had the same operation and spent the last five years of his life in a wheelchair.
Within a few weeks, an individual representing himself from the Comptroller’s
Office at the Treasury, as I recall, phoned and told me that he had a problem
involving me. It turned out, they said, I was the first one to win
both pilot and paratrooper’s wings, and whatever I thought, they were not
about to let me earn jump and flight pay in the same month. In years
to come, of course, there were innumerable pilots who also secured paratroop
wings as well but there it was - I was the first. The irony was that
I was a Captain at the time. This meant that flight pay at 50% of base
pay of $200 a month, and jump pay at$100 a month for officers, was the same.
As requested, I put in for both the next month, having fulfilled the four
hours of flying and four jump requirement, and was officially denied one
of them. As far as I know, the ruling stands today.
My final training spent here was a few days in a Canadian intelligence
school. Nobody there was using his right name for security reasons,
the curriculum was not too well organized, at least in my opinion, and after
planning how to theoretically remove Toronto from the map, I went back to
Washington and told General Donovan I was ready to go. We had preciously
talked about the mission, which was to build and head up an American point
of exit and entry in the Mediterranean for our agents to the Balkans, Italy
and so forth. He had previously accepted my request that I be given
some time with the British outfit flying agents into France and other occupied
areas from England and had arranged for it.
I flew to London. There were just a few OSS personnel in England
at that time and we all headquartered at Claridges with full restitution
for room, food, drink, etc. One of my first stops was at our Embassy
where for security purposes they decided to carry me as an Assistant Military
Attache. The major benefit of this relationship was that shortly thereafter
they issued me a car, a rather attractive khaki painted, red leathered,
British built unit. To my amazement the car was charged, together
with gasoline from any outlet in England, to an account entitled “Reverse
Lend Lease.” I reveled in it.
Prior to reporting for flying, I managed to arrange a few days with the
British paratroopers and qualified for their wings. Before my first
jump a Sergeant Instructor took me aside and said, “I don’t know how you have
been taught to land in the States, but here we believe it best if you simply
collapse, acting like a drunk. I assured him that would be easy.
They had ½ of 1-% injuries compared with the 35% I had encountered
in the States and I promptly cabled General Donovan. I am sure that
many others were contributing to solving this problem but they did revise
landing procedures shortly thereafter. This under my belt, I reported
to 138 Squadron at an airport called Tempsford, a small secret airdrome some
fifty miles north of London. I was a newly made Major, trained - I thought
- fascinated by what lay ahead and eager for combat. How wrong I was!
138 Squadron was the one English squadron assigned to underground and other
special activities. Let’s start with a physical description: In the
United States we normally put four squadrons totaling an Air Group, at an
airport. This meant quite a sizable organization. We had ten
men to a crew in four-engine heavy bombers, and support personnel for a squadron
of about 600-700 men. The British for several reasons normally limited
their airports to one or two squadrons at the most. As I remember,
there were some 1100 airports in England during the war. They were
so close you could often see one from another. I have never been more
embarrassed than when I found once that I had landed at one airport base
on the instructions from the tower of another. Later I learned that
this was not uncommon.
Tempsford was quite comfortable. It did have top-notch security.
Cameras, for example, were not permitted. They had a smaller airport
in East Anglia near to France supporting Tempsford’s activities, which handled
many single engine landings.
There were several types of planes kept at Tempsford. First came
the four-engine Halifaxes destined for dropping purposes. Those utilized
for personnel had the bomb bay converted into a circular unit. We
sat on the edges and when drop time approached, watched first an amber light
come on, and then pushed forward, exiting the plane when the pilot put on
a green light. The ripcord was anchored to the plane making this a
stati-chute. One of the first things I learned in England was that
they were dropping from 400 down to 250 feet compared with the 750 we had
used in the States. They wanted those dropping to be in the air a minimum
number of seconds.
The next plane was the Lysander, a high wing, single-engine unit, somewhat
similar to the Beaver used in Canadian logging operations. It had
a rugged landing gear and carried automatic slots and flaps on the wings.
The slots were on the forward edge and the flaps on the rear, extending
automatically and offering increased surface at low speeds for takeoff,
etc. The speed range of this plane was extraordinary. It had
a 905 horsepower Perseus engine and could go from a 40 mile an hour takeoff
to more than 200 miles an hour. Halifaxes and Lysanders were only operational
during the so-called moon period of about eight to ten nights, when we had
some light from the moon. While Halifax pilots were all English and
depended on their navigators and the own skills to bring them to the drop
zone, the Lysanders were a very different story. They carried only
the pilot and he was almost invariably a Frenchman or other European, intimately
familiar with the specific pick-up area. We used three lights in an
L position for pick up, the pilot landing between two and using the two on
the left for alignment. He tried to be on the ground for not more than
sixty seconds and, if essential, could carry up to three agents. Space
was not wasted on parachutes. I never did pick-up flying but did get
checked out in the plane. It was fun to fly.
The third plane at Tempsford was the Mosquito, which in my opinion was
the finest conventional plane of the war, twin engined and made out of pressed
wood in Canada. It never achieved its deserved popularity because
jets came along before it could be widely used. I was once given a
demonstration by being taken on an upward roll off the deck on one engine.
Admittedly we were cleaned out of any weight but also admittedly I had some
strange feelings at that moment. Fortunately I have never seen this
The fourth type of plane at Tempsford consisted of two Lockheed 12’s which
had been assigned to fly the two Princesses to Canada if England had been
invaded. Ten of the twelve passenger seats had been taken out and
long range tanks built in. The planes were never needed for that purpose,
of course, and I used to fly around England on one of them, stopping where
convenient for a casual drink and lunch.
I must tell you of my admiration for British aircraft at that time.
A very high percentage of their flying was done on instrument, which I knew
of only in theory. But I found that on every British plane all instruments
were in exactly the same position in front of the pilot. In American
planes each plane was different, because of varying manufacturers and no
attempt at standardization. We used basically three units for instrument
flying, Needle, Ball and Airspeed, as they were called. Needle referred
to the altimeter, which told you how high you were. The Ball referred
to the artificial horizon powered by a centrifuge, which enabled you to fly
straight and level or make turns when you could not see outside the cockpit.
Properly maintained, Airspeed kept you from stalling out. There was
one additional instrument, a compass. It was much larger than American
compasses for more precise flying and was mounted on gimbals between the
My living accommodations were really very good.
As a Major - Squadron Commander in their ranking system, I was given my
own Nissan hut, complete with wood stove, bed and bath. no shower
but a nice tub. Two or three times a day there would be a knock at
the door and a young English girl in uniform would come in to put wood on
the stove, make the bed and so forth. It was my first introduction
to women in uniform and I thought they did a wonderful job.
Now comes Squadron Commander Pickard, in charge of flying
operations at 138. Somewhat older than I, he had been captain of the
king’s Flight in peacetime, acting as pilot on any flight carrying the King
of England,. There was a Wing Commander, equal to our Lt. Col. in
administrative charge of the entire airport. To get back to Pickard,
he was the finest pilot I ever knew of or flew with.
There is no doubt in my mind that I survived the war
because of what he taught me. I’ll give you an example or two later
on. Pick was certainly shocked at my minimal couple of hundred hours
of flying, lack of any advanced or instrument training capability and yet
he was always gracious and never criticized. I put myself in his hands,
telling him I hoped to pick up enough training and knowledge so we could proceed
with a similar type operation in the Mediterranean. He smiled and said
he would do his best to help me. And he did. Morning, noon and
nighttime, we flew. Often from one airport to another, sometimes just
on compass courses at night. Navigation at that time was difficult,
but while I was with the RAF they brought into operation a radio triangulation
service called “George” which proved of considerable help.
Pick told me many stories of their early days.
One, I recall, told of a pickup using a Lysander. Because he had lived
in northern France for a while before the war, he did a number of early pickups
himself. On one mission he was telling me of, the pick-up went smoothly,
and he took off heading north with two agents in the rear seat. He
ran out his ETA, looked out and saw nothing but water. He kept on and
finally checked again. Lots of water, nothing else. Had to be
the Irish Sea. Like many other RAF pilots he carried a flask, keeping
it in his breast pocket. Leaning over to fly, the pocket was right
over his compass, and looking down as he pulled out the flask, he saw his
compass jump wildly. The flask was a new one, a recent gift.
Realizing there must be iron in it, he pulled the window back, threw the
flask out and headed east.
The compass settled down, and he throttled back, minimizing
fuel use and hoping for the best. He slowly descended, the shore finally
coming into view. Seconds later the engine quit and he made a dead
stick landing on the beach in the moonlight. No one was hurt but the
plane had to be taken out by truck. Did I believe his story?
Yes, but I had the advantage of knowing the man. Incidentally, if any
American pilots were caught with a flask in the cockpit, his career would
have ended right there.
For weeks I trained until finally one afternoon with
the moon coming up, Pick said, “How would you like to go as co-pilot
on a trip to northern France?” I jumped at the chance. But first
he said, “The intelligence people want to talk to you.” With no idea
of the subject, I went over. And they carefully explained that if
I was captured, the Germans would know immediately that I was American,
and surmise that no matter how much I told them, I knew more and they would
do anything to get the information - and described some of their methods.
I couldn’t argue with them. As a result of this, they said I was offered
a cyanide pill carried by all agents. I had heard of them but never
seen one. It was slightly less than one-quarter of an inch in diameter,
gray in color and guaranteed, they told me, to end things within thirty
seconds. I concealed it, using the first flesh colored adhesive tape
I had ever seen. It was never needed and eventually I discarded it.
By this time Pick only went on what he called the diciest
of jobs. For example, the Gestapo had taken over a house in Brussels
and converted it to an interrogation and torture facility. He took
a Mosquito, went in and bombed the one house without causing additional destruction.
Unhappily he did not survive the war. We corresponded
after I left England but I only heard about his death months after it happened.
The Germans had captured a number of French underground personnel, imprisoning
them in Amien. The British had reason to believe that one of the Frenchmen
had some information as to the proposed invasion, and decided on trying
to blow the end of the cell block, releasing or killing the Maquis as they
Pick insisted on leading the attack using Mosquitoes for the purpose.
After the bombing, which was successful, he came back and inspected the
results flying on the deck. It was there that the Luftwaffe caught
him and with no room to maneuver; he was blown apart by a couple of ME-109’s.
I had no better instructor or friend.
That first mission as co-pilot on a Halifax was followed
by other missions as co-pilot, then pilot. We were lucky and were
never jumped. Those that were jumped, simply disappeared from the
scene. We flew alone but I know that in many cases the RAF had diversionary
aircraft bombing not too far away. I was told that German radar, while
installed on the coasts, had not yet reached full strength inland and that
as long as we kept our propeller ports covered with a flame resistant paint
to reduce visibility, we stood a good chance. Time went on and finally
even Pick admitted my flying was “satisfactory,” and I was ready to go on
I cabled General Donovan, turned in my car, picked up
some supplies - including a bottle of very good Brandy, which was later
smashed at the Heliopolis airport and proceeded by a convenient flight to
Cairo, OSS headquarters in the Middle East.
There were only a few of us there at that time.
I was put up in one of many fairly large boats tied to the banks of the
Nile. We had about eight cabins on the boat and I can remember the
English weather officer, and two females, an American OSS middle-aged woman,
who had just come in from the Far East and a South African girl involved
with security. We were a fairly compatible quartet.
I was the only flying officer in OSS, Middle East, at
that time and it soon became apparent to me that OSS lacked status, or even
potential status, in the area. It was a British sphere of influence
with a British Commanding General, British Diplomats in control of foreign
policy, etc, etc. General Donovan had done the preliminary work with
a previous General; the present one wanted no part of American intelligence
operation in his area of operation. In part because they were in the
midst of what was called the Tito-Mihajlovic mess (Yugoslavia), two competing
political leaders, both of whom were shot shortly later in the war.
I was more than irritated, when, in an effort to appease
me, I was invited to see an operation on the Mediterranean coast quite close
to Alexandria. It was destined for the Balkans and I found they were
using four B-24’s, supplied out of American air force stock. My pleadings
got nowhere and I was told the British would go as high as necessary to
keep me from operating.
A few Cypriots arrived from Cairo asking for help.
They had armed themselves by killing German troops who were occupying the
island. They were an embarrassment to OSS and I was told by my commanding
office to promise them supplies if they would go back. I asked for
and got the order put in writing. Then in desperation I flew to North
Africa where General Doolittle, the nearest American General, was located.
He was commanding the 9th Air Force. I had heard they had a German
plane recently delivered by a German crew that was surrendering, and had
vision of using it. I managed to see General Doolittle, who first beat
me severely in a ping pong game and then insisted he would be in very serious
trouble if he let me borrow the German plane especially for use outside
his theater. It was my last straw. I told him the story.
He sat there for a moment and then said, “I have a better idea. I’m
going to Washington next week on a quick trip. I know Bill Donovan
quite well. Let me talk to him and see if he will release you.
If so, I I’ll give you a squadron of b-24’s in the 15th Air Force, which
I am taking over in a few weeks.” Doolittle was of course one of my
idols and I jumped at the chance. About a month later I flew to Italy
to take command of the 514th Heavy Bombardment Squadron, one of four in the
376th Bomb Group based at San Pancrazio, Italy.
The RAF flew alone and at night. The Americans
did the opposite. This meant I had to bring up my formation flying abilities
and it took a week or two of intensive effort to learn the 25 to 75 foot
separation flying that we preferred. At this distance and always flying
based on the man on your left and below, we did present a formidable opposition
to potential enemy fighters. There were waist guns, top and bottom
guns, tail guns and forward firing machine guns on later models of the 24.
The Germans later developed rockets which could go 600 to 1000 yards but
when we first started out, their guns were effective only up to 200-300 yards,
matching us at that stage.
I promised to give you at least one example of how Pick’s
training had helped me. Here it is. The messiest part of bomber
flying is to lead a group, especially in tight formation, into clouds.
It’s total chaos because you cannot see the planes on which you are flying.
You can hear the crashes. The first time it happened to me was when
the Wing Commander well ahead of us took the entire wing into clouds when
we were just over Yugoslavia. Instinctively I pulled the throttle
back to stalling speed and simply dropped out of the formation at a lower
flying speed than I believed anybody else could maintain. It worked.
I easily caught up with the remnants of the Squadron a bit later.
It was Pick’s insistence on superior instrument flying that brought me through
the two or three occasions it happened. I passed the concept along
to my pilots.
Squadron Commanders were supposed to fly only rarely and we usually limited
it to when we were leading the wing or even a larger group. Ploesti
was a major target and also a source of substantial losses. We had
no fighter support for the first year and a half of operations and all in
all out of the thirteen Ploesti raids, of which I was on eight, we lost some
500 heavy bombers - our biggest airforce loss of the War as far as I know.
This represented about 6,000 men. Of course, some later walked out,
reaching Turkey or safe havens in Yugoslavia, and would dribble back to
us over the months with wonderful stories of survival!
We also did some short run missions into Northern Italy, longer ones into
Germany, and even an unusual low level run at Anzio.
At one point, thinking that bombing photos were not
showing enough results, I suggested to General Doolittle - who came down
to the Squadron occasionally - that he let me go into Ploesti with a couple
of hundred paratroopers and do the job on the ground. He burst out
laughing, then apologized by saying he had been expecting a court martial
after Tokyo, instead of the Congressional Medal which he got, but would
surely get a court martial if I deprived the Airforce of a strategic Target,
especially if we were successful.
Let me get rid of one thought here and now. There
are some, often non-combatants, who talk of the thrill of combat.
Of course there was a tremendous rush of adrenaline when, at several hundred
miles an hour, we could see, or were told, that the German fighters were
approaching us head on.
We had no rear view mirrors in bombers, at least in
those days. When we turned off the straight and narrow bombing run
(needed for good results) to take evasive action and try to throw off enemy
action, one could look to the side and see the bombers crashed together,
smoking or in flames, or exploding because their ammo had been hit - all
slowly starting to sink the five or six miles to earth with bodies dropping
out sporadically. For several years after the war I had constant nightmares
involving those scenes. I can still recall them by simply closing
my eyes. Needless to say, I don’t do it very often. It may have
been like a cavalry charge at a hundred times the speed of horses.
But no part of it was fun. I think I felt it especially because, like
other commanders, I had ordered the men into those planes. That is
part of the price you pay for command. Finally I got up to 57 mission,
seven over the tour limit, and was ordered home. That, together with
my RAF missions, gave me top score in the European theater of operations
at the time.
At one point, King Peter of Yugoslavia made several
Honorary Pilots in the Royal Yugoslavian Airforce. The only benefit
I can recall being told about was free passage on Yugoslavian railways if
he was ever put back on the throne. He wasn’t. Mother has the
pin if you ever want to see it; maybe Meredith would like it eventually.
And so I returned to the States wondering what assignment
I would have next. An interviewing officer finding I had five sets
of wings, that is American pilot, American Paratrooper, RAF, British Paratrooper,
and the previously mentioned Yugoslavian, said I was the only one in the
American armed forces with that number. Because of my Washington background,
he felt I could be of more use on speaker’s duty than anywhere else.
So I did that for several months, turning back airports to use, helping
to sell war bonds, etc. At one point I got to Colorado Springs where
they were assembling B29 crews for Japan. They scoffed, however, when
I asked for a squadron, pointing our that with recent loss rates on pilots
well under anticipated loss rates and with the European war over, the regulars,
who had been on training command, were clamoring for combat assignments on
That ended any hope of further combat for me and within
a few months I asked for reversion to reserve status. This was granted
and it was only a few weeks later that I found had I stayed in, I would
have made full Colonel on the basis of time in grade promotion policy then
in effect. That about ended my military career. In 1946 when
I went to Saudi Arabia, the Airforce decided it would not be safe to send
military material through the mail to Saudi Arabia. I had to
resign my commission.
I recall one final incident in 1948 after finishing
my time in Saudi Arabia, I flew to Rome and rented a car there to drive
up to Switzerland and see the green trees. On the final day of driving,
I picked up a chap whose English was not too bad. He finally started
talking about the war and said he had been a German fighter pilot based in
Yugoslavia during my time there. At that time the hair went right up
on the back of my neck. I couldn’t help it. I dropped him off
And that, John, is about the end except for one subject
I want to write to you about, because you were involved, although your memory
may not go back that far.
For 25 years, from the time I was 16 until 40, I was
a total alcoholic. Why, I don’t know. It could have been a habit
gone bad. It could have been an environment where there was a lot
of drinking, which was certainly true of college, Washington, and the Airforce.
It could have been as some in AA believed, an attempt to find something
which I could do as good as, or better than, my peers. Often in the
early stages, they told me, alcoholics can drink substantially more than
I any event, I did my best starting around 1956 to break
the addiction but had several slips. Now, I was not a belligerent,
check-bouncing, falling down type of drunk. I never bounced a check,
never got into a scrap, never drank compulsively when I was flying, but other
wise I was constantly drinking. Did it affect me? Certainly!
My judgment, my planning, my thinking. Any addiction that supersedes
your judgment affects you.
Finally the possibility of having you became apparent.
I swore to your Mother that if that developed and we were lucky enough to
have you, that you would never see me take a drink. And you never
have. I believe my last one, to date, was March 31, 1958, or perhaps
it was the day before.
With much love,