15 August, 2008

Profile 25 - FLYING DUTCHMAN flown by Robert Goebel

"Flying Dutchman" is an old rendering that was hastily masked and updated to meet a signing deadline.  Unfortunately, it's beyond my usual standard of imperfection.  Flying Dutchman's pilot, Bob Goebel, was articulate in discussing a warrior's own imperfections.

“Of course I have seen pilots, some old and some new, vomit their breakfast before getting into the cockpit for a mission. I always thought that it took real courage to fly under those circumstances and I still do. One of my close friends finally took himself off flying status but none of the rest of us held it against him. We just felt that he had some inner demons which he could not control. ”

I had the chance to sit in a P-51 on a small airstrip north of London. The owner was kind enough to let me sit and imagine for a bit - the sun bright, gleaming in the curve of canopy...and it struck me that if I were high in the sky, I would have no where to hide.  No place to duck.  No nook to protect myself.  Just a shoulder-high skin of thin aluminum and a backrest of armor plating.  No wonder the pilots always warn to "turn into the attacker" instead of run away.  

Would I have been a pilot who turned into the attacker?  Or would I have abandoned my confidence, my training and tried to hide in the great expanse of sky?  Feet on rudder pedals and stick in hand, the senses of g-forces and skid seemed real enough - the big black propeller blades in front were easy to conjure into a whirl of power...and curving into the path of a gray green Me-109, chattachattachattachatta.... 

All I can remember of my first victory is that I was leading a flight of four aircraft to Vienna and after my victim, an Me-109, was shot down, I babbled shamefully on the R/T to the rest of my flight to make sure they witnessed it. Once on the ground my colleagues, who came into the group with me from Panama, quietly congratulated me.

Robert Goebel's combat record spanned six months. In those months, he tallied over sixty missions in southern and eastern Europe flying with the relatively unsung but highly decorated 31st Fighter Group. He shot down eleven Me 109s in the process of protecting bombers and managed to survive mortal combat without injury to self or machine. His military decorations include the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster, the Air Medal with seventeen oak leaf clusters and the Presidential Unit Citation with one oak leaf cluster.