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.

Hmmm.

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

PROFILE 137: THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE (and then some)

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.

Silence.

"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."

"Why?"

"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.

Anyways...

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.

Anyway.

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?
(Sigh)

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.  

04 July, 2019

TRAILER UP: "The Mettle Behind the Merit" - The Steve Pisanos Story



In 2014, I was able to get some decent time with WWII ace Steve Pisanos and in the process, capture an amazing interview.  But for a number of sensible...and strange reasons, efforts to make an OGTA episode out of the time just. fell. flat.

Five years later, it's happening.  And dangit, it's 2 years after Steve 'Flew West.'

But, I think this is going to be the best episode of OGTA to date.

Please watch the trailer, pass it on, "like" it...and get ready for a wake up call for anyone interested in making the most of their time here on earth (at least in America!).




OGTA #14 - TRAILER: The Mettle Behind the Merit - the Steve Pisanos Story from Old Guys and Their Airplanes on Vimeo.

09 April, 2019

Flown West: Richard "Dick" Cole, Doolittle Raider



The thunderclap you just felt in your soul was the sound of Eternity's welcome.

Not for you but for an old man you (probably) never met.

Wait - you didn't experience anything?  Read on.

On April 18, 1942, history minted an audacious act—80 USAAF aircrew launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet in 16 B-25 bombers to attack Japan.

To the machine of war, the moment was pitifully small.  An attack of sixteen twin-engine bombers were tactically and strategically so insignificant, their real threat to the enemy was less than a mosquito bite.  Additionally, the weight of resources—time, energy, money—required to "pull it off" was enormous; the Risk:Reward ratio was ridiculous, save for one powerful factor: the power of the human heart.


*break break*

Today, millions of Americans are bemoaning the lack of (insert whatever is bothering you, here).  However, all of the shirt-tearing about "our divided country" is unfortunately, largely true.  But not because of our differing beliefs—The United States is a living irony in that our nation was founded on the freedom that allows division.  We have so rarely been truly "united," our very name is worth a wry grin.

Instead, the American sense of division is because of another American irony; all of our prescribed freedoms have fostered a tumor of narcissism to grow wildly out of control.  "We the people..." is now, "I the universe."

We all know this.  There's nothing more to be said.


But.  In one more ironic act of hypocrisy, please read what I've written as it is important.

When I started interviewing WWII fighter pilots back at the turn of the century, it was less about combat stories as it was "old man stories."  At the time, the harvest was ripe.  There were plenty ofhighly accomplished veterans who, from their vantage of 70, 80, 90 years of age, had wisdom to share.

Though I've been told how "...lucky you are to get to spend time with..." so often I can't count, the truth is that the burden became heavier with every moment.  This sounds all-dramatic-and-noble but it isn't.  After the initial pleasure of wisdom's treasure, the reality remains:  it's worthless weight if no one sees the worth of carrying it.

It must be stated—wisdom is rare.  And gray hair is no guarantee of gold.  How often have any of us witnessed the result of a lousy life?  Self-centeredness, anger, cowardice, fear looks the same in spite of the person's apparent worldly "success."  Rich, poor, black, white, straight, gay, atheist, whatever...all look the same if powered by a dark heart and it's twilight beatings are a drum-thump to oblivion.

That's me with the peerless Marine, "Red" James.   Red flew Corsairs in WWII and Korea  and taught me how to identify a "coward."  If you're like me, the definition will cut to the quick and leave you thinking.  But that'll have to wait.

Ok, back to April 18, 1942.

This small attack was blessed by President Roosevelt who knew that the American people were badly in need of good news.  The opening months of WWII were bitter days of defeat.   Do yourself a favor and read up on the Bataan Death March; it was a horrible scene that embodied American defeat in the face of an arrogant enemy.  It won't be pleasant reading.

Yet, FDR understood the power of unity and what could be accomplished when the human heart beat, not as one, but as a million.

80 men clambered into their aircraft to launch from an improbable ship against a raging target towards an unknown destination...for the sole purpose of giving the American people something to believe in.

Repeat:  ...something to believe in.

It worked. 

Our nation rallied, tyranny was ruined and a generation laid the wealth of the greatest boom of prosperity the world has ever seen.

Back to the thunderclap I wrote about in the first sentence.

Again. Did you hear it?

It was the sound of Richard "Dick" Cole leaving the world, the last "Doolittle Raider."  Today, April 9, 2019, he died at age 103.

What an awesome photo!!  © Robert Seale, courtesy Air & Space Magazine.  Click here.

Many people knew the man—he quite literally lived his life to keep the story moving and would stop at the drop of a 'hello' to serve, speak, share.  Recently, Dick signed a limited edition print-run of some of my artwork and I was told by admirers, "Wow!  He signed this?!  It's gotta be valuable!"

Indeed, Dick Cole's signature makes anything priceless.  But on the basis of economics’  'scarcity-driving-demand,' it's laughably cheap as Dick Cole autographed EVERYTHING.  For anyone.  And he did so freely, without complaint.  The number of Dick Cole autographs has to be in the hundreds of thousands.   And that’s the way it should be with a legend; it can’t be hoarded.

Dick's daughter Cindy told me, "Dad knew what they all did.  He knew how important it was to teach people what could be done when you worked for something great."

Dick was a tireless advocate for the power of duty, honor and country.  He spent his precious time meeting with people, telling the Doolittle Raid story to anyone, from packed auditoriums to a phone call to a stranger.   Though years ticked off and his fellow Doolittle Raiders "head west" one at a time, he kept their legend alive, never (ever) promoting himself over the rest.  Would he (fly the Raid) again?  Of course.  Service to something greater trumps self.

Very soon, I'll play a small role in bringing the Doolittle Raider story to history teachers and students of South Dakota.  It's called "The Raid Across South Dakota" and entails flying a B-25 from Sioux Falls to airports across the state. Our hope is that History Teachers and their students (general public welcome, too!!) would show up, see/touch/hear the sound of this magnificent machine and walk away with a few mementos of the Doolittle Raid.

This is a big deal.  It's a U.S. Mint copy of the solid gold Congressional Gold Medal that was awarded
to the Doolittle Raiders.  To say it's "limited edition" is an understatement.  But, Dick wanted it to go to
the state of South Dakota in honor of the two South Dakotan's who took part in "The Raid."
It'll soon be on exhibit for people to look at...too bad you can't actually feel how heavy the thing is!
Yeah.  Dick signed it.
It's like that with wisdom—it's with us for a time...then, when the source is gone, only the stories remain.  Yet, for all of its selfishness and deceit, the human heart remains—inexplicably—malleable and ready for the impression of something greater than itself.

To the rest, if you didn't hear the thunder of a great man leaving behind an even greater legacy, there’s still hope - learning about people like Dick Cole has a wonderful way of opening the ears, eyes and mind.

Dick was, is and will always be, an American hero.

I, for one, join the many people who listened what he championed.

That's me.  And Dick Cole (r), daughter Cindy and 352nd FG ace Alden Rigby (l), in the back of my minivan.
There is no celebrity, no sports figure, no-no-one that can replace the honor of carting around two genuine
"normal, average, American" heroes.

Do you know a bona fide hero?

Take them out to lunch.

03 April, 2019

"The April 18th Project" - (post #4)



The story behind this art just gets cooler by the day.

Go ahead and read the Press Release (here).

But don't think for a second that this is simply about flying a bomber across South Dakota.

It gets waaaay better.

Oh.  And about the nose art, Dick Cole (sole surviving Doolittle Raider) said that any artwork done on the Raider's B-25s was done with chalk and washed off during the rainy gale on 18 April, 1942.   We'll never know for certain about the nose art on #15.

But what's life without mystery, eh?

More to come...

23 February, 2019

Profile 134 - "The April 18th Project" (post #3)




PROGRESS!

This project keeps getting more fascinating...and if it goes where (we all) hope, you're going to have a scoop here.  Really.  As in, "OMG! REALLY!"

But more on that later.

*break break*

I think I know why "History" so-often gets the short-end of the stick when it comes to teaching.  Two words:  IT'S.  HARD.  (actually that's three words, but I hated English).

Have a look at my progress on the Doolittle Raider B-25 as flown by Donald Smith.  It contains proof of my point that teaching history is the most difficult of any of the accepted subjects in school.

Can you find it?

Of course, we know the serial number on the tail, 40-2267, is accurate.  The U.S. Army Air Forces did a great job of recording the serial numbers of the things it purchased.  And, in case you're wondering where the "4" went, the first-digit was often omitted, hence the "02267."

I closed my eyes really tight and sent out pensive thoughts into the time-wave-space of The Universe/Force in case the eternal energies of Crew #15 could offer clarity.

I didn't get a response. So I drew this.

But the proof of my putting is above—the nose art.  I'm 99.9% sure it's wrong.  But, so is every other attempt to recreate the livery of Smith's aircraft.   And, the accepted Name of Smith's B-25, "TNT" isn't even on the airplane.  Instead, it's rumored that the chemical formula for the stuff (otherwise known as 2-methyl-1,3,4 trinitrobenzene) was actually used.

"TNT" is an explosive, btw.  Just in case you didn't pay attention in Chemistry class.

Indeed, there are photos of 02267 that can verify certain aesthetic detail but none regarding the nose art.  In fact, there's no complete proof that it was even painted on the nose save for reference by fellow Doolittle Raider,  Ted Lawson in his book, "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" and the accepted oral histories of the aircraft's crew (which have all Flown West).

Check the upper right-hand corner.
©unknown.
Have a look at the graphic above.

I found it online somewhere and can't testify as to its origin.  But, notice the upper-right-hand nose; supposedly that's "TNT".  Nevertheless, the symbol is mystifying as it's just not the chemical symbol for TNT.  Considering that pilot Donald Smith was a student of South Dakota State University, let's assume he would have thought enough to ask, "Hey. Anyone know what the symbol for TNT is?!"

Adding to the marking-mystery, there's one more very-crucial* bit of nose art that remains to be added but I'm going to do that last, pending comms with someone who fortunate enough to interview Gunner/Navigator on TNT, Edward Saylor.  Click here for that.

Why the white, hand-written scrawl?  Because the crews had chalk and wrote on the side of the airplane.  More on this later.

Why the darker, surrounding area?  Because it's likely (repeat) that the crew would have cleaned the surface area before applying any artwork.  The ubiquitous Olive Drab paint of WWII, especially the stuff applied early-war, was notorious for fading and oxidizing.   Thus, it's a safe bet that whomever the artist was would have wiped the surface down with a rag soaked in 100 octane gasoline or soapy water beforehand resulting in a freshening of the paint.

So, why add the (dubious) artwork in the first place?  Good question!   My answer is that adding it is just-the-same as not.  Yet, by adding something new to the fray, the question stays alive and thus adds to the beauty of studying history at all: History fuels our imagination.




Again, the nose art on this bird isn't "done" yet.  There's more to the story.  But, in the space between now and the next post, have a listen to the short interview with Saylor.  It's only 4 minutes in length but at the very least, it's accurate—it's tough to argue History with someone who was there.

*Crucial and politically incorrect.  Trigger warning: prepare to get offended in my next post.




03 February, 2019

Profile 134 - "The April 18th Project" (post #2)


Have a look above!

The Pollyannic Eye will lead you to believe my rendering of a "Doolittle Raider" to be nearly, if not 3/4ths, complete.  Don't believe it.  I'm a third-done at best.

Of course, there's the greater context of the project—if you look at the preceding post, you'll notice that I must draw two airplanes.  The B-25B shown is simply part of a greater whole.

But.

*break break*

For the observer, drawing airplanes is boring.  Certainly the novelty of it captures the attention for, at least, ten seconds.  But if you were standing over my shoulder, you'd soon realize you were having as much fun as watching paint dry.  On the other hand, for me, it's an awesome way to dissolve 40+ hours into a mere moment.  So often, I start at 0500 and have to be pried away 'round dinner time.

However, I cheat a bit—I've got a couple screens situated around my desk that pipe in all kinds of entertainment and thereby help keep the the practice of creating of 'art' interesting.  Music, movies, photographic references... I tune-in and tune-out in little bursts.   Nevertheless, recently, one of my distractions—Netflix—released a new series that's attracted a fair amount of publicity and fanfare.  It's a series on Ted Bundy, the serial killer.

© Netflix.  I took this screen shot from the service.  I am SO not endorsing this show.
 Just using it as leverage for the greater message.  Hang with me, 'k?

Being a quasi-filmmaker, I decided to give their offering a 'go' to act as background noise for this project.

(If you'd like to see the film I think is my 'best,' click here.).

Ok.  Hold that thought.

A while ago, a story was told to me by a WWII B-25 pilot about why he was initially seen as a 'strange ranger' in his squadron and thereby avoided.  The story is actually a long one and probably worthy of a Keynote Address some time.  However, pulling a little snippet out for this post, the pilot described how he tried to figure out why he wasn't fitting in with the rest.

Observation and some critical self-reflection revealed a strange answer—the pilot came to the understanding that his fault lie in not being bothered by the things that bothered the rest of the squadron.  Specifically, the pilot was immune to the stresses of "flak."

Before I go any further, it may be useful to describe what "flak" is.   Simply put, flak is a ball of expanding shrapnel that radiates from the explosion of an aerial artillery shell.  As guided surface-to-air missiles were not developed in WWII, the point of flak was to create a cloud of supersonic debris that would then penetrate anything that flew into its space.   Evasive action could provide some relief but if the aircraft had to fly a fixed course —a bomber or a reconnaissance aircraft — the flak was unnerving and too-often lethal.

I put this together to get an idea of what a flak burst was like.  Bear in mind, this is a two-dimensional
illustration (top-down) of a three-dimensional affect.  But, you get the idea that "flak" is at once inefficient
and totally nasty at the same time.  It was all about "luck."

Back to the story.

The pilot described that he had been given a strange gift that attributed to God's mercy; the gift was to be able to easily recognize what was within his control and what was not and reconcile a sense of peace.

"Flak never bothered me.  And it never bothered me to go on particularly hazardous missions.  And it never bothered me to be in particularly vulnerable spots in the formation.  People thought I was crazy.  Perhaps a death wish," he stated in his methodical, aged midwestern drawl.

I remember him leaning forward in his chair, insisting on locking eyes and stating, "John. Flak is something you can't control.  There is very little (in life) you really can control.  But what you can control, you can control absolutely."

I asked, "So tell me what you can control."

He didn't hesitate.  "The knowledge I put in my mind."

"And how does knowledge help control flak?  Flak is random..."

He leaned back into his chair, closed his eyes and smiled.  "Exactly."

*break break*

So.  At the end of my drawing time, I went upstairs to partake in my genius-chef-wife's dinner.  Typically, this is a glorious moment for me but in this case, I wasn't so shiny.  In fact, I felt kinda gross.   I let her know too, "I feel like I need some mental floss!  I just watched this show on Ted Bundy.  Gawd it's just...yuck!"

Ever the pragmatist, she responded, "Then why'd you watch it?"

Hmmm.  "Why..?" indeed.

The contrast of having a story of an evil criminal flicker on side of my desk while I'm drawing the bomber of a Doolittle Raider on the other popped into consciousness like a flak shell.   At first I felt ripped off for having exchanging an hour of time for a story that provided little other than the attention-grabbing that comes from shock-value.

But after the sting wore off, I noticed the contrast between the two screens.  I have to state it—Ted Bundy's story has some real fascination to it; what makes people go so evil, so dark?!  The answer to the question is useful in the same way that knowing it's not smart to wack your thumb with a hammer is useful—see it, know it, don't do it again.

Still.  I'm amazed that the serial killer received a whole freaking... series?!

I pouted about the hour I'd never get back and then wondered the thousands of people who'd plop down on their butts for the whole deal, looking for thrill, looking for drama, looking for terror...I don't know why people exchange precious time to learn about cheap people...

©Shutterstock.  I grabbed this off the internet.  I don't own it.  But it makes special sense in this case.

And then the irony of my project sunk in; the B-25 before me represented the same elements—thrills, drama, terror.  Yet, the story also represented the stuff that celebrates the best of us, too.  Duty, faith, discipline, optimism, love, hope...

It's an age-old problem of mankind - realizing we are responsible for what we plant into our psyche and therefore reap its fruits.  Surely, I learned that  Ted Bundy had been bent from the beginning—little positive guidance, a predilection for the prurient and a fascination with the violent; genetics?  A gift from the Devil?  Or maybe someone just wasn't there to show him that life is flak and it's what you do with it that determines your fate.

A gentle reminder is due. There are stories 'out there' that do not grub in the gutter.  Stories that have all the fascination of the awful but somehow leave behind a mark, not of filth but of inspiration and power.

I'd like to introduce you to Donald G. Smith, pilot of "#15" - the second to the last B-25 that took off from the US carrier Hornet on April 18, 1942.

It's a heck of a story and I'm still not even half-done with the art.

And I promise it will give you knowledge...the kind you want in your brain while you're flying through the flak of life.


I grabbed this picture from a blogger who lives in Bountiful Utah.  I hope he approves (dude! PLEASE check your email!)


As for Netflix's deal on what's-his-name?  I'm tuning out.  But I can't wait until they show this movie.

The cheesy poster totally rules over the sh*te that Neflix made for their poster-boy.  Again, the movie is cheesier than your local pizza parlor but still...it's awesome.  
It's as sappy as an IHOP pancake and over-acted.  But I'd rather fill my mind with that than the dreck of some loser.