Friday, April 17, 2015

Profile 103: FINISHED—"Mary Pat" as managed by MSgt John DeBerg, 385th BG, 551st BS

Say hello to "Mary Pat," a B-17F that flew 59 flawless missions against Nazi Germany, circa July 1943 through February of '44.

Yeah, I can hear now the whistles of disbelief from all you History Geeks out there.  But for those who may not be so geeky, I'll clue you into why Mary Pat is worth the whistle:  she was an "F" model that arrived early in the 8th Air Force's sophomore blows against targets in continental Europe.

These early months were a time of untried tactics, expert Luftwaffe attacks and vicious flak.  Mary Pat's number of missions are near-miraculous because during that time period, a bomber crew's chances of not living out their 25-mission requirement was one-in-three while a B-17 airframe's odds of making 6 months was zero.

Have a look yourself:


So, now that everyone knows we're not dealing with a run-of-the-mill B-17 here, hold that thought.

The relationship between 'ground crew' and 'air crew' are oft-told tales.  I remember watching on TV as 357th FG ace Clarence "Bud" Anderson cried while describing how his ground crew worked throughout a cold night, scrubbing dark camouflage paint from the skin of his P-51 with gasoline and wire pads in order to make sure the airplane was better suited to blend-in over Europe's freshly snow-covered ground.  The next morning, Sgt. Otto Heino and crew presented "Old Crow"(in her newly shined aluminum livery) with a bloody hands, cracked open by cold, hard labor and 100 octane.

Later, while talking to Bud myself, he told the same story and cried again.  Though an ace and combat leader, Bud could not imagine that his ground crew were any less than himself.  And of these 'air crew and ground crew' stories, Bud's is just one of thousands.

Bud and Crew Chief Otto Heino, 60 years later.  While Bud went on to become a bona fide WWII celebrity (with absolutely zero of the celebrity 'attitude') Otto became a renown potter. 
The Crew Chief's role was to supervise the mechanical care of an assigned aircraft.  To put a fine point on the matter, each aircraft—be it fighter, bomber, whatever—was 'issued' to the Crew Chief as an item of responsibility.  The men who boarded the airplane were simply picking up a tool.  The Ground Crew, on the other hand, made sure the tool was useful.

No Ground Crew?  No Air Crew.  And, no mission.

Have another look at Mary Pat.  Only this time, give the title a little attention—Their brother's keepers.  You've probably figured out where this post is going; say hello to Master Sargent John DeBerg, 385th BG, 551st BG.


"Mary Pat" was John's B-17—he was the airplane's Crew Chief.  And those 59 missions?  Of course, part of the credit of Mary Pat's longevity goes to the German's poor/unlucky aim.  Part of the credit also goes to pilot Ruel Weikert and how he led the air crew.

But, imagine this:  black puffs of flak causing tooth-banging turbulence, shards of shrapnel slicing through aluminum skin and Ruel's steady hand and clear commands, all performing as expected.  Not a glitch, not a hesitation, not a fault...

Ruel Weikert's son has been emailing me asking what it'd take to get a print of this airplane for his family for some time now, but...

Look.  We're all connected—some how, some way.  I don't get it and realistically, neither do you.  But the bottom line is whatever we have is some how, some way bolted to someone else.

My interview with John DeBerg is too much for this blog post.  But suffice it to state, whatever you're doing has the potential to mean significance for someone else.

So, to the Weikert family: the DeBerg family is sending you a print—signed by John.  You asked about buying a print and now, here's your answer.  I apologize about being oblique in responding to your requests, but I've been under a higher authority; John thinks the world of your dad.  And some how, some way, I suspect your dad thought the same of him.   So, there.  Now you know why your money's no good here.  To John, he's just taking care of Mary Pat.

John DeBerg signs a print.  There's so much more to this story but it's just not the right time to share it all.  Suffice it to say, I'll give it its due at a later date.
Gawd, if you have half a soul, you're crying.  Just like Bud Anderson.

And the photo below?  That's Ruel Weikert, pilot of "Mary Pat."  The picture was taken after the bomber had completed her tour and was on her way back home; whole, hale and hearty.  No small thanks to Ruel's excellent leadership in combat and John's excellent leadership with a wrench.


PS - Just so you know that I'm not overstating DeBerg's significance as a Crew Chief, the Air Force gave the man a Bronze Star for his expertise.  Do yourself a favor and read it—that's how 'appreciation' is done...


If you'd like your own print of "Mary Pat" signed by MSgt. DeBerg, email me: john@Johnmollison.com.  But in the meantime, if someone like John DeBerg has (like the print title says) been your keeper, you don't have to give them a Bronze Star Medal.  A Thanks and a snap salute may be all that's desired.

Profile 102: FINISHED—the F-4D as flown by the 523rd TFS


And here it is - "Hunting for MiGs," the F-4 Phantom as flown by the 523rd TFS circa 1972.

Very soon, this blood-thick band of brothers will be swapping pictures of grandkids, amusing vacation stories and plans for upcoming hobby projects; it's time for their annual Reunion.  Part of the agenda will be the doling out of prints of this F-4.  The process will begin with hoots, hollers, wish-they-would-have-forgotten-that memories...but will inevitably end up with the realization that this represents their moment...

...and the room will get quiet.  For just a moment and then someone will yell, "D---d B--!" and all hell will break loose.

Fast forward to the year 2065 where some kid is looking at this picture hanging on the wall—and some how, some way, another old man lives forever.

There are aspects to 'this job' that stop me cold and this is one of them.  But don't get me wrong—it's beautiful stuff.

(deep breath)

*break break*

Onto those pictures that I promised in a prior post.  Pilot and author Darrel Couch* is quite a writer! But man, that guy knew when to take a picture!

Have a look below.  Darrel has graciously allowed my sharing them with you here.

Above:  A formation of F-4s approach another formation.  Smoky things, aren't they?  But the coolest part of this picture is where they're going; it's a 12-ship of F-4s (plus the formation ahead) going to escort Bob Hope to Clark AFB, (Philippines) circa December 1967.

Above:  Same time-frame as the shot above, only a few minutes later.  Can you ID the jets ahead?  If you can, you're pretty sharp.  Hint:  they aren't MiGs.

Above:  Same time as the top two; Darrel shows us what formation-flying is all about.  He's tucked in nicely on the Element Leader's right wing.

Above:  Darrel stands on the spine of a 523rd Phantom.  This is an interesting shot in that it helps the casual observer appreciate the size and proportions of this beast.  Can you spot the three (maybe four?)  different airplanes in the photo?

Also, a few readers have asked me about the red line that many jet aircraft have painted around the fuselage (like the one about 3' in front of Darrel).  According to the Air Force Tech Order, it's called "Plane of Rotation - Engine Turbine."  Or, as some have called, "The Turbine Line."  In other words, if the jet engine turbine decides to self destruct, shards of metal are going to come slicing out of that area faster than a ginsu knife cutting through tomatoes.  So, step aside.

Above:  613th TFS "Huns" (F-100 Super Sabres to the rest of us) circa December 1965.  I show this photo because of the sore-thumb Hun in the "SEA" (South East Asia) camouflage.

Update:  The 613th was the first Hun unit to be in Vietnam and the camo'd plane was among the first to be done (within the unit).

Above:  Darrel took this shot while flying Forward Air Control (FAC) flying the tiny, single-engined Cessna O-1.   Clearly, the man can walk and chew gum at the same time as he's in a bank, looking down, aiming a camera and timing the shot JUST as a B-57 lays a line of napalm on a target.

This kind of shot makes me swallow hard. *Stuff* just got serious...

Above:  An unidentified armorer poses with the two tools of the trade:  the AIM-4 Falcon and AIM-7 Sparrow missile.  The Sparrow is only partially visible; it's tucked up into the recessed divot on the bottom of the fuselage (right next to the crewman's head).  The Falcons are the smaller missiles hanging from the pylon.  From what they tell me, the Falcons were virtually useless.  This is probably one of the brand-spanking-new F-4Es delivered to Vietnam in 1968 (can't see any gun-pod, so that means it's likely a nose-gunned E model).

Above:  There's a bit going on in this photo—the white 'line' is actually a sequence of cluster bombs going off.  Basically, a cluster bomb (here, a CBU-2) is a bunch of little bombs held in a case that splits open after being dropped.  The first to hit (left) are dissipating while the furthest right are actually popping open in flame.  The F-100 that dropped them is just off frame.

Update:  I got my CBU info wrong; the CBU-2 was not a self-contained bomb but a dispenser-unit.

Darrel corrected me on this and added (thank you!):
CBU 2 & 12 were delivered in level flight. CBU 12, had a max delivery altitude of 75'. It ignited as soon as it cleared the dispenser tube and, if higher, would burn out before hitting the ground. CBU-24 was dive bomb delivered. The AGL release altitude was critical. Too low and area coverage was significantly reduced. Too high and the bomblet spread would create a doughnut. Center targets would remain untouched. After a few months of use, the timed case opening fuse was replaced with a radar fuse. This allowed a wide range of delivery options. When the container reached the proper altitude, the fuse would activate the explosive chain to open the clam shell and release the bomblet load. The bomblets were basically round with spin up molded in vanes. Spin would cause the bomblets to spread.
However, ever hear of Agent Orange?  If you look at the left third of the photo, you can see what looks like tan/dirt colored areas; that's where the AO hit.  Darrel told me that it must have been a recent strike as it didn't take long for AO to do a total-job of defoliating; that we can see green at all means it must have been 'fresh.'

Above:  This is Quan Loi Airfield, circa July 1967.   The top of the photo is nearly straight North and the red-dirt runway is running from NW to SE.  It's near the town of Ahn Loc.  Do your own research on the topic, but suffice it to say, it saw its share of action.

Anyway, a couple things to note;  See the dark trees that frame the runway in triangle patterns?  Those are rubber trees.  You should be able to see a C-130 airplane at the SE end of the runway; chances are good it's taking off.  But, if you look at the middle-middle-right of the photo and see a jagged edge to what looks like a growth of trees, that's where the Viet Cong would gather to lob mortar rounds into the area.

*break break*

If you're like me, these photos are a rare glimpse into the times; many thanks to Darrel for sharing his story.  He's helped me understand the cost of war, the purpose of duty and the value of friendship.

If any of the above photos were interesting to you, click here (there's more, there).

But to the 523rd, on the appropriate day, I'll be toasting you in-spirit, to the strength of your legacy.  It's been an honor to be a part of yours.

Profile 104: IN PROGRESS—"A-Bar" as flown by Newton Cobb, 364th FG, 385th FG

Have a look at "Newt" Cobb's 'A-Bar.'   It's almost finished.   In fact, it should have been finished months ago.  But it isn't.  And yet, it's a "hurry-up!" work because I'm all out of time.

(sigh)

I tell ya—though today is a balmy April day, it 'feels' like one from a bitter November; gray, spitting sleet and hissing of a vicious winter ahead.  Too poetic?  Maybe.  But years ago, when I heard so-many people moan, "We're losing all those WWII veterans so quickly!" I still had a contact-list of a hundred or more, all of who would either answer their cell phones or respond to an email (usually within a few hours).

Today?

(sigh)

By the time you view this, Newt's P-51 will be finished and if I'm fortunate, in the production que at my printer's place.   I'll post the final version here along with Newt's story of being (possibly) the shortest-time POWer of WWII.   Shot down during the last days of Hitler's reign, the man waited out the inevitable end by agreeing to a fascinating (and bizarre) code of ethics with a German officer.

Yeah, you'll want to read the final story.

But in the mean-time, I'd like you to click the link below and watch a quick video of Newt describing a encounter with another German officer that, if you're like me, will leaving you wondering about the strange poetry of how life works.

"By that time it was too late...I don't understand why I'm alive today."


Stand by.  The next post might give a little more clarity to Newt's comment about not understanding why he's alive today...

UPDATE:  I doodled this quick sketch of what Newt might have seen regarding that Me-163.  The proportions are off (the 163 was about half the size of a P-51) but you'll get the drift...
Newt Cobb vs. Me-163

Profile 99—JUST STARTED: "675" as flown by Richard Hilton, 433rd TFS


Finally!  I get to do something with that Pave Knife pod I spent half a year trying to draw!

A quick recap is in order—Dean Failor, an F-4 "Guy In Back" had been hounding me to look into the laser-guided bomb program of the Vietnam War.  I took the bait and ended up absolutely fascinated by the technology, passion, danger and importance of it all and promised him that I'd draw the "the knife."

However, the process was like trying to catch flies with chopsticks—for such an influential piece of technology, there just wasn't much out there, especially in terms of photographic references.   But, fortune prevailed; over the next few weeks, I'll be drawing the F-4 of 433rd TFS Squadron Commander, Richard Hilton.

Be warned, this won't be a terribly glamorous F-4.  In fact, according to Hilton's "Form-5" she's a run-of-the-mill D-model clad in nothing more remarkable than a few years of wear, tear and faded paint.  But, from what I know of her pilot, I don't think glamor matters too much.

Over the next post or two, we'll be heading "North" to see if Hilton & Co. can finally put a hole in that bridge.

What bridge?  Well, on May 10 and 11, 1972, there was only one bridge that really mattered...

(more to come)

©Richard Hilton.
Doh!  I forgot to tell you— about May 10, 1972:  that date was important enough to warrant a book.  Click here if you want to get yourself primed for what's to come.