06 October, 2009

Profile 36 - YO-YO as flown by Senator George McGovern

Presenting "YO-YO" - a B-24J Liberator as it flew with the 741st Bomber Squadron, 455th Bomber Group, 15th Air Force, Italy, circa 1944.

Some historians have recorded George flying a B-24 named "Dakota Queen." No photographic reference exists of that airplane. However, George's logs show that he flew "YO-YO" in combat and being that ample photographic documentation remains of this airplane, I went with what could be verified.

I hope to soon get the Senator's blessing on the artwork, but I'm confident enough that YO-YO is on-target, so I'm posting it now.

Anyway, I believe that in WW2, unique cultures emerged within each aerial discipline. Whether by nature or nurture, I can't quite tell, but suffice it to say, fighter pilots tend to act like fighter pilots, bomber pilots like bomber pilots, recon pilots like recon pilots...My explanation is that the man had to fit the mission.

A fair number of history buffs read this blog so the following may be old-hat. Nevertheless, the job of a WW2 bomber pilot was governed by a strong value system. Teamwork, consistency and single-mindedness were absolutely necessary for their mission. Strength was in numbers, security in discipline and success by collectively doing the job so well, it needn't be done again.

Today, there is no proper analog to the job George did. The image of the bomber pilot, working to hold his clumsy machine in formation, trundling through clouds of supersonic shrapnel* and parenting a crew of eight, ten men is forever locked in the 1940s.

Thankfully, the inspiration of such dedication and focus is timeless. Without a doubt, George's sense of public service and passion for the rights of others was honed in that cockpit. I remember that during the 1972 presidential election, George took more flak for his aggressive opposition to the Vietnam War, Though history has vindicated his position, I wonder if back then people really understood that he
knew what he was talking about...**?

Today, George is nearing his fifth DECADE of leadership within Food for Peace, a program that distributes food overseas. John F. Kennedy appointed him Director in 1961. A few weeks ago, George stated Food for Peace's purpose rather simply. "Every kid needs lunch."

What a brilliant mission - and he shares leadership roles with none other than Bob Dole. Talk about beating bombs into plowshares, eh?

Oh - George turned 87 this year and maintains that he could horse a B-24 off the ground if the chance remained. Two years ago, he proved he could yet fly and land a BT-13 (the airplane he learned to fly in Basic Training).

*The lethal blast radius from a German 8,8 cm FlaK shell was approximately 50 feet and sprayed 300+ shards of metal at initial velocities of around 2,000 fps.

**George McGovern flew 35 missions in combat, received the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters and twice experienced battle damage that resulted in casualties and/or scrapping the airplane. If we figure that George commanded an average of 4,500lbs of bombs on each of his missions, he was responsible for about 80 tons of explosive dropped on the enemy.

Photo: George McGovern, Ground School Flight Training, July '43, Carbondale, IL - George is standing 2nd from the left.
Photo courtesy of The Senator George McGovern Collection, McGovern Library Archives and Special Collections, Dakota Wesleyan University

Note: Special thanks to historian Dave Ungemach for his provision of excellent photographic documentation of "YO-YO," especially that silly bunny on the side. I spent a whole night at the kitchen table drawing that stupid rabbit; if it weren't for Dave, I'd have ended up drawing a big old happy Elmer Fudd proudly dangling Bugs by his ears.