04 April, 2020

Profile 141 UPDATE: Curtiss JN-4, Kelly Field, c. 1918

So. What does 3 hours look like?
See if you can tell!
The picture above is actually an animated file, showing THREE  hours of futzing with this latest commission.

Can you tell the difference? HA! Neither can I! Actually...I can. My eyes are so buggy right now, I need to bathe them in hand sanitizer to clean them out from all the mental debris of...

"Would light shine here? No. Light would shine there. No. Light wouldn't be here at all. No. Wait. Who am I? What am I doing here?" (Cue Talking Heads song, 'Once in a Lifetime')

Nevertheless, I've been working on this ridiculous canvas and dope-clothed machine for too long. I'll get back at it this evening, after my three bottles of wine and blowing the empties off the backyard fence with model rockets and potatoes.

Hardest airplane I've ever drawn.

This is crazy.  I spent 90 minutes trying to figure out if light would shine through the spoke-cover and if the spokes would glisten in the (possible) light.  But maybe you're like me and just-now realized what the hole is for - to get at the inflator nozzle!

Photo: Vladimir Yakubov, taken at the Flying Heritage Collection

And this is the tail.  My decent into Jenny Madness is in full force.  

29 March, 2020

Profile 141: Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" c.1918, Kelly Field

Ok, don't look.  Yet.

Right now, I'm sitting on finished art of an SB2C-4, F6F-5 and a B-29.

Two were reserved for an ill-fated opening of a Gallery (featuring my work) and another for return to Saipan in honor of one of her crew.  

Covid-19 ruined all of that.  And more.   Of course, there's always postponement...but the moments that were in-plan, in-progress and in-place were AWESOME for any history geek.  I really, really was looking forward to sharing the cool news with like-minded souls.

And then, this - a commission that I'd put-off for over a year.

[face-palm - shame on me for focusing so much on the needs of the present...]

Have a look at the sketch above - it's a Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" biplane.

Consider this - the airplane above is over one. hundred. years. old.   Its ancient-ness is both startling and reassuring.  Startling in that 100 years ago, the world was in a place that can't be conceived today.  No internet, no fast-food, no interstate highways, no digital media and certainly no travel within the solar system.  


100 years is a pittance in terms of how the universe works.  Think about how much life has changed since the year 2020.... and yet, things still stay the same.  

*break break*

Have a look below.  It's the second-stage of my artwork that will go to a patron who insists on providing his family opportunity to see that their genealogy of success has persisted among the decades, leveraging common traits of excellence.

I'm stuck here... at once, the patron's message resonates with me and at the same time, I'm struck by the irony of thinking...


Circumstances change, stuff we hope-for doesn't pan out...and in the end, our talent, our experience and our willingness to respond prevail.

I sure hope you all get to see the SB2C, F6F and B-29.  But in the end, will it be this ancient biplane that ends-up inspiring us most?

Stand by.

23 February, 2020

UPDATE Profile 138: Curtiss SB2C-4 Helldiver as flown by Lt. Curtis Cameron, VB-87

Well!  It's starting to actually look like something, eh?

Before the philosophizing begins, there are some details to note.

A.  The white triangle on the tail was (likely) on the airplane c. 25 July, 1945.  But, within a few weeks, the insides of the white triangle would have been painted out to form a white "V."  

Buddy Barrett Tillman let me know that the U.S. Navy made a change to how the tail feathers were painted during June of 1945.   But, don't think for a second that, as soon as the edict was decreed, the ground-crew got to work and complied.   When the USS Ticonderoga (aircraft carrier) entered into combat during the summer of 1945, their minds were focused on other, more pressing matters (like going into combat).

VB-87 SB2C Helldivers, c. Sept, 1945. This photo is commonly reproduced in VB-87 lore and has been captioned as taken when the mission was aborted after Surrender was announced.  Probably not.   It's a much better guess that it was taken during the many "POW Patrols"** over Japan in the weeks just after the Ticonderoga took up home in Tokyo Bay, Sept. 1945.

 #206 is third from front.

B. Notice the lack of weathering (i.e. chipped paint, massive exhaust/oil stains, etc.).  That's because U.S. Navy airplanes were rarely "weathered" like their Marine or Army Air Force brethren.  

Sure, the grime of battle looks cool but no self-respecting Navy crew chief would allow his bird to be anything but as-pristine-as-possible.  How do we know?  One word: salt.

WWII ace Hamilton "Mac" McWhorter clued me in years ago when I was drawing his F6F from the USS Randolph.**  I showed him a progress shot and his reply (the gracious gentleman that he was) was quick, "Our (crew chiefs polished and cleaned those airplanes non-stop.  If it was on a ship, it was kept in as pristine of condition as possible.  The salt in the air was highly corrosive!"

Now, that doesn't mean that the paint didn't fade (a bit).  Or that the metal skinning didn't distort (it did).  Or, that a scuff mark was completely removed (there were other things to worry about).  But, it does mean there were very, very few paint chips and those that happened were quickly covered.

A nice, clean Helldiver of VB-85, mid-Aug, 1945.  Notice the guy in the back.  He's wielding a camera.
Notice the ships in the background, too.  That's Task Force TF-38.

What's a Task Force?  Well, this shot of TF-38 taken the day the Helldiver shot above was taken.
Nice "synchronized swimming" but the greater message is this:  Japan picked a fight in the hopes of quick peace.  That didn't happen.  Instead, the USA hunkered down, lit the fires and forged an industrial juggernaut that was unstoppable.

C.  If you squint, really hard, you'll see a bunch of circular holes in the wing root as well as a tinge of red.  That's because this particular Helldiver was of the variant that had perforated dive flaps installed.  

Red paint was applied to the inside of the flaps to let pilots flying behind know, "this airplane is going to be flying a lot slower."   Or, conversely, it could be used to let the pilots flying behind know, "you'd better get on the radio now and let him know his flaps aren't deployed or else he's going to be making a 15,000lb hole in the ocean/ground/target."***

Have a look at the picture below to get the effect...

That's me playing with a die-cast VB-87 Helldiver that I bought as a reference for this project.
BUT...notice the map!  That's an actual cloth "mission map" that Lt. Cameron used while flying combat over southern Japan!  I'm getting it properly scanned for inclusion here (at a later date).

But, it's a bugger getting SEVENTY YEARS of wrinkles out of delicate fabric...

So anyway.

Have another look at the photo above (the one with me "flying" the Helldiver over the map).  Specifically, look at the wrinkles.   

When I saw the maps (there are more), they were stored, wadded up, in a plastic tub. Truly, my heart just about "went Alien."****  In fact, I kinda made an unfortunate dork of myself in front of the family by exclaiming something like, "What?!  That's not how you store those maps!!  OH NO!!!"

Thankfully, Curtis Cameron raised gracious people and I quickly followed their calming lead, "Relax.  We'll figure out how to get the wrinkles out."  But, it was interesting to me when Cameron's daughter, now a mom, grandmother said, "John, we just didn't know.  He was just...dad, you know?  We had no idea that he was something so much more."

Of course, the family knew of Cameron's wartime service.  And yes, the medals were known.   And yes, the 'stuff' was kept (instead of being offered up as yard-sale fodder or worse, eBay).  Yet, it was the impassioned pestering and pontification from one-history-geek who refreshed the interest in the family jewels.

"He was a man's man," the daughter explained.  "Dad had three daughters. He loved airplanes, cigars, hanging out with the boys."

"Were you close?"

"Oh he was great!  He was, you know, my DAD!  But there was this distance.  (Husband) used to talk to dad about his wartime stuff but we girls, we just didn't.  It was another world."

"What do you think of him now?"

"This is fascinating to me!  It feels like (the family) is getting puzzle pieces to fill in part of our lives that we didn't know was missing."

 "Did you ever think of your dad as a hero?"

"Oh sure.  Who doesn't?! (laughs).  But now, I see that his being a hero meant more than just to our family."


And that's the thing - "...something more than just our family."

* break break *

So, years ago, our church pastor (at the time) Rick Weber, and I were having a little talk about the challenges of parenting.  He handed me a book from Watergate-crook-turned-born-again-evangelist Chuck Colson titled, "How Now Shall We Live?"   It was a pretty-ok book.  I read it once but don't know where I put it(maybe a yard sale?)

But, I will NEVER forget what Rick said after I asked, "Why you giving me this?"

He replied, "Because what we do matters.  If not now, some day."

Huh.  And here we are, living the dream, ironing out wrinkles, resurrecting memories and getting ready to memorialize a man in a space where hundreds, if not thousands, of spectators will walk by, pause and wonder...

I don't sign up for these projects to worry about markings, missions or medals (though it's really fun).  These projects are so much more impactful as they remind me of the power, the ripple and impact every act, every life, has on another.

More's coming.

*Japan had POW camps scattered around their country.  VB-87 flew patrols over the country to try and spot these camps.  I strongly recommend you read the book, "Prisoners of the Japanese" by Gavin Daws.  Click here and be prepared for easy but unsettling reading.

**Mac's Hellcat is some of my early work.  It breaks my heart to think my skills were so lousy then but I have good reason.  Some day, if we meet over coffee/beer/whatever, I'll tell you.  But, I'm freaking honored to have known him...

Mac, circa 2004; he's signing little prints of my artwork at a gathering of WWII historians and geeks.   If you have one of these prints, please contact me as I'd like to know more about the event...
***Dive bombers had to control their speed or else the forces of physics would overcome even the most determined will to pull the airplane out of a dive.

****That gross scene in the movie Alien where the monster leaps out of the hapless dudes chest.  I'd post a picture but it still freaks me out.

31 January, 2020

UPDATE Profile 138: Curtiss SB2C-4 Helldiver as flown by Lt. Curtis Cameron, VB-87


A couple things to note:

A.  The color.  It'll change.  But technically it is supposed to be "Glossy Sea Blue FS 15042."

But that's a moment in time, human-factor of the 'guy' mixing the paint, sun, salt, scuffs... life is like that, eh?   Getting the color right is no different than walking into McDonalds, looking up at the fantastic photo of a Big Mac®, ordering one, opening the box and then thinking...why does this look like it was played with by first-graders?

B.  The "Turtledeck."

For the unenlightened, the SB2C Helldiver had an interesting feature for the tailgunner—part of the fuselage, right next to the tail, would fold-down (kind of like an accordion)  and lower to allow the gunner room to move his twin .30s around.

Many photos of Helldivers in flight show the rear sliding canopy open but the Turtledeck in the 'up' position.  Trust me, this was NOT a combat-friendly configuration.  Have a look at the photo below.

Photo:  U.S. Naval Archives

You wouldn't want to go into combat with the turtledeck "up."   For one, the twin .30s did not have an interrupter system.  Rear-gunners were wholly and completely able to shoot the tail off their mounts at any time, no problem.  Putting one's mind into the headspace of a rear-gunner in a WWII dive-bomber, it's easy to think, "Geez.  That poor gunner had a lot of trust in the pilot!"

Well, that poor pilot had a lot of trust in the rear gunner, too.

Now, have a look at the photo below.  The turtledeck is lowered allowing MUCH more room two swing the guns around to protect the airplane.

Photo:  U.S. Naval Archives

But practically, I got to film from the back of the Commemorative Air Force's 'diver' while filming "South Dakota Warrior," about Battle of Midway hero, John Waldron.

Here's a still from a bit of video I took...

If I were an IJN fighter pilot and knew the plight of the Helldiver's rear gunner, I'd definitely attack from the rear, slightly tail-low.  They were helpless.  ©Me.
The white lines SORTA represent the space covered up by the Turtledeck area.   It doesn't seem like a lot but practically, it is.  I figure that lowering the turtledeck gave the rear gunner another 40% more room to fire guns.

Now, have a look at the video I shot, below.

So, I've decided to draw Curtis Cameron's "Beast" with the turtledeck lowered, ready for action.  It's going to be a little more ugly—if that can be done—but truth be told, I'm looking forward to drawing all the little details like the guns, rails and "lighten-ing holes."

AND...just got word today that it looks like the public unveiling is set for Friday, April 17, 2020.   More to come!

19 January, 2020

UPDATE Profile 138: Curtiss SB2C-4 Helldiver as flown by Lt. Curtis Cameron, VB-87

Bleh. It's ugly.

But, I didn't take the gig because I thought Helldivers were beautiful airplanes.

Actually, Helldivers don't even have (many) beautiful stories.

Practically, the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver is a tale of what happens when zeal, desperation and hubris collide.  Come to think of it, the story of this airplane could make a great semester course for an MBA program.  Need + Opportunity + Practicality added up to = a big, fat pig that probably shouldn't have happened.

In the end, however, it all worked out, pretty well.  A few years ago, I talked to a Marine test-pilot who had to certify rehabbed combat-worn Helldivers for future combat duty and he said, "Well, it wasn't a (completely) terrible airplane.  I'm alive, right?!"

Claude Hone (VMF-216) Marine F4U Corsair pilot who got stuck with testing Curtiss SB2C Helldivers c.July 1945 that had been rehabbed after hard combat duty.


Still, this isn't a story about Helldivers as much as it is about the people that flew them.

Right now, I've got a treasure box of artifacts and documentation that will accompany progress of this art. Be prepared to be blown away by some of this stuff; I will use this blog as a way to show you what I get to experience while drawing these historic aircraft.  Believe me, it's humbling to know you - the reader - want to see/feel/hear what I get to experience...

Hmmm x 2.

Anyways, the artwork will be publicly unveiled on April 18 this year and I'll put the finished piece up in this blog sometime after that.

In the meantime, let's start this off by going back in time to July 23, 1945.  The date-stamp is important because it's two days(?) before Lt. Curtis Cameron flew the mission that would fate him to be awarded the Navy Cross.

But, the date is also important because, Cameron's ship — the USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) was poised and ready to draw blood on 'the Japs.'  There's more to this story...and I'll brief you later.  But for now,   please click the graphic below to take you to the complete, official ship's newsletter, dated same.

Read the whole thing - CLICK HERE.
It's the real deal, it came from the family that commissioned this drawing. I scanned it myself and felt the time-worn paper in my own hands.  It's all here - even the politically incorrect stuff.

However, I hope you read it.  Again, it's a time-capsule of sorts and interesting in that regard alone.  But maybe you're like me and, while thumbing through the pictures and words, you find that life during the Greatest Generation's winning moments weren't so different than today.

More to come. :)

04 January, 2020

Now live!

The Old Guys and Their Airplanes episode, "The Mettle Behind the Merit" is now live, along with a (pretty cool!) Educator's Kit.

The film and kit are free and viewable/downloadable on the Distinguished Flying Cross Society's website - click here.

Though I was fortunate to have spent a bit of time with Steve, I still feel like there simply wasn't enough time to really get to know him.  My 2013 post (and rendering of his Spitfire) is here.

In the meantime, I hope you find the episode and Ed. kit as cool as I do. :)

22 December, 2019

Profile 138: Curtiss SB2C-4 Helldiver as flown by Lt. Curtis Cameron, VB-87

Are you a Knowledge person or a Wisdom person?

You'll do well to decide because it's important to know.  Ultimately, at least.

Yesterday morning, I got to spend some time with my first mentor. He's a 90 year old man of exceptional success, having lead innovation in many areas, some of which have probably affected you (yes, you!) at some point.

In the course of conversation, the question of "What do old men think about?" came up.

In other words, after life's trajectory—family, career, dreams, thrills, hobbies, failures, successes—has spent itself, what goes on in the mind of a man who knows time is on its last ticks?

The conclusion was puzzling, "knowledge and wisdom."

Naturally, when having discussions with mental giants, the terms had to be defined; great minds can sometimes slice concepts into thin ribbons of subtlety that knuckle-draggers like me don't appreciate. Whereas I ask for a beer, the connoisseur is perceiving the type of dirt in which the hops were raised...

Anyway.  We came to these definitions:

Knowledge is the gathering, processing and analytics of data, of information.

Wisdom is the application of knowledge—for lack of a better way—"...to People."

Eager for the 90 year old man's insight, I had to ask, "Which one is more important?"

** break break **

Above is my latest project.  A Curtis SB2C-4 Helldiver flown by a recipient of the Navy Cross.  The man and machine made their mark in history on July 24, 1945 when Lt Curtis Cameron struck the killing blow onto the Imperial Japanese Navy cruiser, "Tone" in Kure Bay, Japan.

The act of blowing apart a giant ship is one thing.  Doing so in a ridiculous machine is another.  That the story still lingers is yet, another.

The number of artifacts at-hand to support this drawing/story are extraordinary.  Be prepared to receive a rarified look into the times.  And, if I do my job right, the project will culminate in a public unveiling of my art by a woman who cannot speak of her father without bursting into tears.

I'm boggled; doing these drawings can be so complex...

But I've been given the roadmap for success with two destinations, vaguely marked.

One is "Knowledge."

The other, "Wisdom."

I have to choose wisely as they both lead to different ends.

The Navy Cross is one-step 'below' the Congressional Medal of Honor.
One doesn't get this award for sitting at a desk studying.
But it also isn't awarded for ignorance.
Life is complicated, eh?

09 November, 2019


Happy Veteran's Day!

Behold "Gravel Gertie" — a B-29 bomber of the 500th BG, circa late-July, 1945.  This airplane was the periodic office of gunner, Ed Lawson and his story will soon grace this blog!

But hang on for a sec as I must digress.  I'll get back to the B-29 but for now, on this day, it's appropriate to jump the timeline.

Ok?  Ok!

A week (or so) ago, a (highly) decorated Vietnam War vet and I were thumbing through his photo albums.  If you've never had the pleasure of doing-same with someone who's kept a photo album of their life, consider it a 'bucket list' challenge.

There are no guarantees the moment will be fantastic or even mildly interesting. In fact, you can expect that the pages will be flipped and flipped and flipped (mostly) in silence and any commentary, terse and/or seemingly irrelevant.  Going through old photo albums with old people can be excruciatingly boring.

Unless you know what you're looking for and in this case, I did.

My signal wasn't the photo but the reaction of the veteran.  The page turned and had I not been watching for the man's reaction, I would have missed it—a quick twitch of the forehead and reflexive narrowing of the eyes.

A bit of background information—I was given extraordinary permission with this man's documented life to copy, scan and publish just about anything I wanted.  Until I pointed at the particular photo and asked, "Can I take this photo with me?"

"Sure...well—(insert about a four second pause)—No. I'd like to keep that one."

In other words, he wanted to keep 'that one' quiet.  For good reason, too.  Yet, you would have NEVER known its significance on face value.

It was a glossy, black and white snapshot of four crew-cut men seated around a cheap folding table, their faces captured in the moment of enjoying something really amusing.  Their attire was period-correct of civilian of the mid-60s; white short sleeved shirts, dark pants.  The room was sparsely furnished and judging by the sweat stains, the temperature of the time was hot—tropical hot.  A bottle of something stood proudly in the middle of the table, half-drunk glasses at the ready...had I a time machine, I would expect to see a few more empty bottles; hear the groan of metal chairs drug across cheap linoleum and the rising/falling hoots and whispers of buddies "shooting the shit."

"What's so special about this picture?" I asked.


"Do you remember who the people are?"

After a handful of heartbeats, the veteran answered obliquely, "I'm trying to get this story declassified.  Until the (insert government entity) allows, I just can't tell you who they were, even if I did remember all of their names."

"What were you doing?"

"We were toasting something, I can't remember."  He pointed to a dark corner of the photo and said, "Earlier that day, I was told to eat as much of that bread and butter as I could as things could get hairy."


"Because we'd be toasting and drinking for a long time.  It's what they did.  The bread and butter would diminish the effects of the alcohol."

"Did it?"

He smiled, "Not really."

As a leaky pipe can suddenly break apart, the moment opened up to a story that seemed more out of the movie Apocalypse Now than anything else. Ten, maybe fifteen minutes passed and he finished fleshing out the back, side and front-story of the photo to the point where I could do no more than lean back in the chair, fold my arms and say, "Huh!"

"I want to see everyone involved get the Silver Star.  I'm sure a lot of them are dead but their families should know."  He paused, looked at me and asked rhetorically, "Don't you think?*"

Another look at the photo refreshed my perspective.  I now perceived the deep creases of worry lines, the smiles could have just as easily been grimaces and the rigid body language that seemed to say, "I'd rather be somewhere else."

I wondered what I could to help get those men in the picture (and the rest) get the Silver Star.  Of course, I could do nothing other than think the oft-spoken platitude, "Thank you for your service."

Break, break.

I've never served a moment in the military and my sole claim to heroic action has been keeping two ten year olds from beating each other silly at Scout camp.  I'm a writer with a penchant for doodling airplanes and making films. Nothing more and nothing less.  But, according to the analytics, there are more-than-a-few-thousand people who read this blog.  For my lack of experience, I do seem to have a pulpit of sorts...

So.  About that call-to-action promised at the beginning of this post (and yes, I'll get back to the B-29!).

Today is VETERAN'S DAY.  For the most part, military veterans comprise a small percentage of the American population.  According to a report from the PEW Research Center, about 7% of Americans are military veterans and that number is declining.

Yet, while the chances are still good that someone in your sphere has served our amazing and wonderful country, take this opportunity now to do more than "thank you for your service."

Ask to see the photos.  Watch the reactions.  Inquire of the moment, listen and talk about it.  99% of military vets, especially the ones who've seen combat, are 'big people' and won't get offended by a question you may feel is insensitive.  If they want you to know, they'll tell you.  If they don't, no amount of prodding and prying will crack the box.

Chances are good, you won't hear anything incredible, top-secret or mythic.  But you will learn that the military veteran is privy to a camaraderie and understanding of the world that the rest of us simply aren't.  The military veteran experiences both the love of brother/sisterhood and the inhumanity of humanity.  They value chain-of-command as if their life depended up on it and place the same value on individual initiative, too.   Lastly, and arguably most importantly, they're (often) given front-row seats at the moments that define how the rest of us live.  Don't think for a second that a Hollywood movie or public school curriculum (no matter how well intentioned) can even come close to teaching anything about, say, the Vietnam War.

Sharing stories is the stuff that makes us human and who better to learn humanity than those who've seen the greatest depth and breadth?

There's nothing wrong with "Thank you for your service" or any other expression of gratitude.  But, to really value the veteran's service, it requires the things we all can afford—an investment in time, open eyes and a willing ear.

Ok.  Back to the B-29...

So, I'm at a dinner, someone says to me, "See that old guy over there?  He was in WWII and got the Distinguished Flying Cross as a gunner on a B-29!  You should go talk to him!"

And I did.

And the first thing out of my mouth was, "Thank you for your service."**

*Said story is classified and will likely remain so until 2040+.  The veteran's attempt to get the record-book opened is a vain effort and down deep, he knows it.   I recognize that my little bit of prose was tantalizing and meant to spark interest—a cheap writer's trick.  I don't have a problem going into a little more detail if we ever meet but it won't be much.

**Yeah, a platitude.  But, I've found that this phrase is often the start of a great conversation.

21 September, 2019

PROFILE 135: "The Dot T" - as flown by Lt. Cyril Huss, 74th FS, 23rd FG

Be careful how you live your life.  People are depending up on it.

Break break.

Have a look at the airplane above.  It’s a P-51C Mustang fighter plane.  For the record, it’s the best Mustang I’ve ever done, too.  If you keep reading, you'll learn why it couldn't be anything but.

But first let's get the nerdy stuff out of the way.

Firstly, Mustang fans will notice that the tail is mated to the fuselage with a fairing that is more common on the D/K models than the B/C models.  Recognizing that the vast (repeat) majority of humans don’t care about this detail, I won’t wax poetic about it other than this—the fairing was applied as a field-conversion to help with certain, perceived stability issues.   Did it help?  Well, a buddy of mine who flies a beautifully restored C-model Mustang took the fairing off.  He says that removing the dorsal fairing removes some of the airplane's yaw stability, making the rudder forces lighter.  He told me, that removing the fairing makes the P-51 a nicer aerobatic airplane.  

If you're thinking, "Hmmm.  Don't you want a 'nicer aerobatic airplane' for air combat?"  Not necessarily and that's a topic for another time.

Shout out to the people at Air Corps Aviation for their jaw-droopingly awesome
restoration of "Lope's Hope."  Photo courtesy of Warren Pietsch.

But philosophically, life is like that, right?  The ‘solution’ we’re given sometimes fixes a problem we preferred in the first place.


Secondly, notice the lack of serial number.  Why not?  Dunno.  Things were different in the CBI (China-Burma-India Theatre of Operations).  Of all the WWII veterans I’ve been able to interview, most served in the CBI.  Having the privilege of sifting through bajillions of personal photos from the time & place, I can testify to CBI’s comparative ‘roughness.’  The theatre of operations was transacted over huge, diverse tracts of land that ranged from scrub flatlands to thick jungle bound with the common thread of, at the time, third world living.  "Dirt and diarrhea," I was told.

Therefore, I’m not surprised that somewhere, somehow, the P-51’s serial number marking was omitted or never painted on in typical USAAF convention.  Nevertheless, a little bit of sleuthing revealed that the factory serial number of this P-51C was  43-25228.*

Buddy Don Erickson was flying #4 (far left) when this photo was taken in Spring of 1945.
Click his name to see his airplane and read a bit about him.  Amazing man...  

Thirdly, check out the nose!  IMO, the 23rd Fighter Group—of which this P-51 was a member—had really wonderful paint schemes using the color black.   The 75th Fighter Squadron painted their P-51s with black tails.  Have a look at the two photos above; the black-tails of the 75th are my favorite P-51 markings as it compliments the bare-metal-silver and overall aesthetic.  The black noses of the 74th Fighter Squadron are my second favorite.  

However, now focus your eyes on…

I know what you're thinking.
"Man!  Where on earth is beach sand that white?!?"

Hang on a sec I need to digress.

The other day, I was in a medical examination room, listening to a cardiologist describe to a patient his chances of surviving a heart surgery.  In contrast to the sobriety of the moment, working through the ratios of percentage-risk of doing the surgery, not doing the surgery, expected lifespan-with, expected lifespan-without was fascinating, if not fun.

As the doctor added and subtracted percentage points like a bookie, I noticed he was actually listing off the cause-effects of a matrix of influences: genetics, choices, goals, obstacles, hopes and fears.  In that particular moment, the spiderweb of life was apparent—connections and links of one thing leading to another. 

And, I thought of Dorothy.  She’s the woman in the photo above and, as you’ll see in a few more paragraphs, one of those binding moments that transcend time.

So, back to the story.

Please focus your eyes on the airplane on top of this post and focus on the words painted in white script on the nose:  "The Dot T."  That was 2nd Lt. Cyril "CJ" Huss's idea.  For the record,  CJ was a late-war fighter pilot with the 74th FS, 23rd FG.  For posterity, however, he was something far more significant.

This. Was. It.  The only known photo of The Dot T.
Getting the nose art script 'right' on my art took at least HALF the total time doing the whole plane.

A little background is in order.

I have no idea what Cyril Huss thought when he found out he was posted to China.  From what I’ve learned about the state of war in the China-Burma-India theatre, I wouldn't be surprised if CJ was less-than thrilled.  By Fall of 1944, the grit and grime of the CBI was well known, especially in contrast to historic, picturesque Europe.  Were I a fighter pilot of the day, discovering I would not be spending the prime of my life dueling Hitler and meeting buddies in English pubs, I’d have simply dropped my face and muttered, “Crap.”

A moment in time, 'snap!' and here we are, 80-some years later.
Yet, the fight against Axis tyranny remained.  History geeks know that by mid '44, Hitler's demise was wholly assured.  Continuing the war in Europe was, effectively, a formality to absolutely wreck the Nazi machine.  As for the island-hopping war in the Pacific, that too was a done-deal.  Of course, the Japanese military's senseless strategy of suicidal defense had to get played out, but Japan's war culture was shattered into smithereens. 

But in the CBI, the Japanese army remained powerful force; so powerful, they were still launching successful offensives well into 1945.  Yeah-yeah, Japan's plan for Pacific domination was 'doomed' after 1942's miraculous moment at Midway.  But three years later, that-fact wasn't apparent to the millions of Chinese who still suffered under Japan's strong-arm rule.

Do yourself a favor and read up about the CBI.  You’ll learn about how China got to be the power it is today, how French Indo-China was practically encouraged to erupt into the Vietnam War and mostly, how “the history books” are as incomplete as a one-handed wristwatch.


The 23rd Fighter Group was the most experienced fighting organization in the CBI on account of its heritage.  Before the United States entered the war, it sponsored the legendary group of volunteer warriors, The Flying Tigers, to aid China in her dramatic struggle against Japan.  Tactically, the Flying Tigers were a mere nuisance to the “Japs.”   Strategically, however, the Flying Tigers became the theatre's foundation for American aviation.

Yet, when WWII between Japan and the U.S. was officially declared on December 8, 1941, the Flying Tigers** were doomed.  Not by the Japanese but by bureaucracy.  The Flying Tigers’ hired-gun ways were forced to join the rank and file of the United States Army Air Force.  It wasn’t a smooth transition.  Some of the “real” Tigers quit and went back to the United States for fates unknown.  But, some stayed and formed the 23rd Fighter Group.  Of course, the Flying Tigers heraldry and brand were happily appropriated by the newbies.  And why not?  We ALL stand on the shoulders of giants, right?

Let's move on.

©John Shaw.  The painting is called "Shark Sighting" and is one of the greatest pieces of art, ever. And ever.  And ever.
It shows a pre-23rd FG P-40C in Flying Tiger livery.  To you, John Shaw, I raise my lowly pencil and bow.

The wild-winging days of shark-mouthed P-40 flown by hired-guns, dogfighting against Japanese Army fighters quickly waned.  Air superiority was never part of the Japanese Army’s critical plan in China.  As 1942 passed to ’43, to ’44 and into ’45, the Japanese Army air force was blasted into pieces.  Sure, a fighter pilot could—and did—get lucky and rack up a few victories but nothing like the happier hunting grounds of the Pacific and Europe.  So, the pilots of the 23rd FG did a lot of, as they say, “ground pounding.”  In other words, dropping bombs and shooting up targets on the ground.

It was ugly work.

Some day, if we ever meet, ask me about the pilot who, in his words, may have killed the most people in one mission by one man, ever.  He was a CBI pilot who acted out of rage—not (necessarily) at the enemy but at his lot in life.   But I digress…

Have a look at the animation below.  It’s a time-lapse drawing of Cyril Huss flying The Dot T on a low-level strafing run on a Japanese airfield near Shanghai.  

These kinds of missions were crazy-dangerous.  Against an aerial opponent, a pilot had decent odds against quantifiable variables:  talent vs talent, skill vs skill, tool vs tool.  But against the ground-bound fury of an angry opponent, the game changed.  Torrents of lead, shrapnel and the natural hazards of flying aircraft at high speed 200’, 100’, 50’, 20’ 10’ off the deck make mastering the moment a crap-shoot.

Did I mention it took just one piece of metal to slice an oil or coolant line to bring down a P-51?  Don’t think for a minute that such an occurrence was rare; Bill Creech had it happen to him twice (and parachuted both times).

So anyway…

On 20 January, 1945, Cyril took The Dot T down low, “four fifties” blazing and in return, had his bird’s tail turned into a sieve.  Fortunately, the 30+ holes did not sever a control cable.  Unfortunately, the damage spoiled the aerodynamics to the point where The Dot T was marginally flyable.  Over friendly territory, bailing out was an option.  But over Japanese-held territory, that was not an option.
Why not?  Easy.  Did you know the Japanese POW system had the highest death rate in WWII?  About 30%, give or take up to a dozen points. Huss made the right call to take his chances getting home.

So, he pointed The Dot T towards Kanchow and hoped like heck the "Forward (Air)field" remained in American hands.

“Forward field” is a particular term denoting the compromise between “established air base” and “there-are-still-enemy-bullets-wizzing-past-were-we-just-bulldozed-five-minutes-ago.”  These hastily hacked landing strips where made for exactly Cyril's moment.  Coaxing the broken Mustang onto the dirt, he hoped that it could eventually be repaired.  He also (probably) even looked forward to the extra days-off as he waited for the USAAF ground crew to arrive and make The Dot T whole again.

It wasn't to be.

A fresh Japanese offensive was under way and the forward field was smack-dab in the middle of the inertia.  There was no time to fix The Dot T.  It was time to retreat, but not before destroying the broken bird with friendly fire.  After all, no sense giving the Japs any inspiration to build a better weapon, right?

Note the date - 18 January.  When The Dot T was ruined on the 20th of January, it was actually the second strafing trip to Shanghai in 3 days. Note how long it took General Chenault to send out personal "thank you" letters to the pilots...

Curious. How long does it take YOU to send out a thank-you letter?

Carl Molesworth—the defacto historian of all-things-CBI-aviation—did me a solid by providing a little context on the moment: 

"Since September 1944, the 74th Fighter Squadron had been flying out of Kanchow, a forward airfield located in a pocket of Chinese-held territory roughly midway between the Japanese strongholds of Hankow and Hong Kong.

Initial missions had been fighter-bomber strikes against those two areas, as the squadron transitioned from P-40s to P-51 Mustangs. Then the 74th began utilizing the long-range capability of its Mustangs to reach deeper into eastern China. On Dec. 8, 1944, the Mustangs went north to hit airfields and rail facilities at Nanking for the first time. Building on this success, the 74th struck east against Shanghai on Jan. 17 and 20, 1945. 

The first Shanghai raid netted credits of 73 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air and on the ground, making it the most destructive single mission ever flown by the 23rd Fighter Group.  With Japanese ground forces approaching, bad weather closing in and fuel supplies running low, the squadron abandoned Kanchow for the safety of Luliang in late January 1945. In recognition of its successes at Kanchow, the 74th Fighter Squadron adopted the nickname “Guerrilla Squadron.”

Break break.

Have a look at the picture of Dorothy again.  The one in the bathing suit,.

And have a look at the picture below.  That's Cyril and Dorothy many years later, still together.  How cool is that?!

Just keep reading.

Ok.  Here’s where things get real.

Fueling my fragile (but gigantic) ego, I’m starting to get recognized in places.   A short-while back, a guy in an airport indulged me with, “Hey! You’re the guy I saw on…” For a second, I felt like a bigshot.

But trust me, though my ego is gigantic (and fragile), I know the truth: “When an old man dies, a library burns.”   My job is only to point towards the pyre's of history’s tragic, powerful and beautiful moments and check them out for all to see.

Since I evoked the word, "pyre," know that on October 18, 1995, Cyril "CJ" Huss, died leaving behind generations of families and...

...The Dot T.

Or as you and I would address her, Dorothy.  Or you can call her by her nickname, "Dotty."   But you figured that out long ago, right?  

Please.  If you’ve read so far, watch the video below because it's the crux of this post.

A patron commissioned me to draw Dorothy's husband’s airplane for the sole reason that the history of the moment must persist and prevail.  This past August, Dorothy, and her assembled family, was presented the finished piece at a special event held in Dorothy's hometown of Faulkton, SD.

It was such a freaking cool moment, I can't even speak about without getting incoherent.  And of Dorothy's remembrance of her husband, it's... wonderful.  Wouldn't it be great if we all could be remembered like that??

We talk of “The Greatest Generation” - a term minted by a fellow South Dakotan, Tom Brokaw. But recognize this.  Our generations, now and future, remain.  How we live our lives matters in ways and fashions that we can’t ever perceive until they happen.  There's no way on earth that CJ could have envisioned any of this.  Yet, it happened to him, to Dorothy to family...and now you.

Of all the great heroes I’ve had the pleasure to meet, none capture the spirit of why any of us serve and sacrifice like Dorothy Huss and the P-51C that bore her name.   This picture is a treasure to me.
Take one last look at the artwork at the top of this page.  Did you notice the title?

Of Hearth and Home.

Indeed.  Be we separated by time, tide, geography, race or status, we all live for the blessing that comes from knowing we've done good.  We won't be forgotten.    And what we've left behind is worth remembering.

Best wishes to you as you build your own Hearth and Home.  And in the meantime, God Bless America and everyone who's made it so.

Especially, CJ, Dorothy and The Dot T.

MORE HERE. __________________________________________________________

*So how did I get the serial number of an airplane that didn't have it applied?  Well, first, the military keeps records of EVERYthing.   Even when they lose stuff, someone, somewhere has it.  I've learned to just-keep-digging.  However, it also helps to know highly educated people (again, thank you Carl Molesworth).

**The mercenary-era Flying Tigers kicked Nippon Butt.  Under the amazing leadership of General Claire Chenault, they were a bulwark against the Japanese Army.   Interested in learning how to "get sh*t done"?  Read up on Chenault and his band of warriors.