01 July, 2008

Profile 16 - "1031" flown by Hank Snow

From Hank Snow's personal log:

"May 5, 1945: Mission #88; this mission was scheduled as four flights of four aircraft each to destroy a radar station located on the Yellow River just 90 miles from Sian. Ironically, it was a station which I had seen several weeks earlier. Lt. Col. Donald “Flash” Gordon, our commander briefed that I was to lead the third flight and was to bomb and then strafe the site until he called me to break off because he would be in low level for a napalm drop. My flight consisted of Horace Cumberland and William Knavel. I do not recall the name of the fourth pilot who had aborted on take-off due to a rough engine.

"We bombed on schedule and started strafing. We were on our sixth pass which is next to suicidal, because Lt. Col. Gordon had not called a break. I got hit hard, knocking out my radio and starting a fire somewhere underneath me. I crossed the river into friendly Chinese territory and climbed to about 3,500 feet before I bailed out. When I jettisoned the canopy, I got a face full of hot coolant which added to the severity of the situation. What saved me was discipline in having thought out what I would do ahead of time so everything went as previously planned. I slowed the aircraft to just about the stall speed, got my left leg up on the seat, let go of the stick, grabbed the edge of the windshield and cockpit and launched myself face first toward the wing. I kept my head down so that if any part of my hit the tail, it would be my legs. I fell clear with not contact, did a flip or two, was impressed with how quiet it was once I left the aircraft. I grabbed my “D” ring, pulled it and threw it halfway across China. My chute opened but one of the risers hit me on the right temple, an injury which I did not discover until several hours later. That is what adrenaline will do for you.

"The aircraft had nosed over, crashed and was burning furiously below me, so I started pulling the risers in an attempt to avoid the fire. As a result I got to swinging back and forth so that when I contacted the ground, but I did so on my rear end, hard enough to jar my eye teeth, but luckily, it was freshly plowed ground which prevented injury. As I stood, I was looking down the muzzles of 8 rifles held by Chinese soldiers. I raised my arms and said, “Americano! Ding Hoa!” and turned so that they could see the flag on the back of my jacket. They lowered their guns and gathered up my chute as we started walking toward the aircraft which was still burning. As we drew near, I saw a Jeep and recognized Lt. Lang, an American laison officer with the Chinese forces, whom I had met at Sian. Lang said, “Snowball, nice of you to come visit us!” I had a few choice words in reply..."

Most combat pilots have 50-80 combat missions. Bomber crew might have a few less, reccon pilots might have a few more. Hank Snow has 666 spread over W.W.II, Korea and the Vietnam conflict and that also includes a combat parachute jump into North Vietnam! One might expect a man who’s literally beat death’s gamble beyond all odds to be a braggart or boorish. Not so with Colonel Snow. He's a real life version of the cartoon, "Mr. Incredible" - affable, paternal and when he can get away with it, silly. But when it comes to the raw dynamics of leadership, he is a master of the most effective method - Example.