06 December, 2011

Profile 62 - FINAL - "229336" as flown by Ken Dahlberg

On October 5th, I made the post that WW2 ace and post-war entrepreneur Ken Dahlberg died - my artwork was posted in its unfinished form.  Well, it should be obvious that this post completes the picture.  Have a look.

One of the great disservices of popular culture is how it horrifies death.  Having been to a few funerals, all the talk of "Celebrating Life" is really just marketing BS.  Who's foolin who?  We all know what really happens at a funeral - the guy/gal is buried, we slap the dirt from our hands and head to the church for sandwiches.  In reality, the life is "celebrated" as long as the coffee holds out.

I'm really sad that I didn't get to meet Ken in-person.  But I'm really grateful for his example.  Like going from risking his life in service to risking his ideas in the marketplace to risking his wealth as an investor... What did Ken learn?  What about him is worth remembering?

More than ever, our country needs to glorify its successful history - from the leaders to the innovators to the laborers;  real people who built a real nation.  The artifacts of true success should never be buried but kept atop and examined.  In so doing, the past and present dissolve into each other, forming greater knowledge and wisdom.

In other words, we live what we learn.

If your interest in Ken has been raised, do your own search.  I hope that it inspires you to achieve and in so doing, he'll live forever.  And you will too.

11 November, 2011

Profile 60 - FINAL - "306" as crewed by Ken Salisbury

Complete!  “306” - the C-47 that carried Ken Salisbury through much of his WW2 experience.  And I purposely finished it to coincide with Veteran’s Day.

306 was chosen in part, because of her Operation Market Garden (OMG) service.  On September 17, 1944, this airplane - along with the rest of the 59th Troop Carrier Squadron (TCS) - took part in the largest aerial assault in history.  Some 35,000 gear-laden troops were unloaded over a 40 mile line that loosely connected a set of bridges that, if captured, would allow an easy artery for Allied blood to choke Hitler.

"The war will be over by Christmas!"  That was the plan anyway.

306 was bound for the northernmost point on said line- a punctuation mark named for the Dutch word for “Eagles Nest” - Arnhem.  Her cargo would be 12 to 18 members of the British First Airborne Division and placed by an aircraft slapped with the silly nickname “Gooney Bird.”

To the planner, British Field Marshall Montgomery, OMG was hardly silly.  Instead, it was supposed to be the fast ticket to an early end of WW2 in Europe.

Ken’s memories of that day come in flashes and bits.  He remembers helping the paratroops clamber aboard and up the C-47’s ground-bound incline before taking his seat at the airplane’s radio.  He remembers the steady throb of engines, the howl of wind from the open door and, in his words, “Hollering hello to the Brits who joked that I was lucky to be getting a ride back so quickly.”

Barks of gray smoke, a sudden shudder and the settling in of the steady drone of airplane engines marked just another mission to Ken.  “No one talked.  Mostly because the noise was loud.  Which was probably just as well.” He stated matter of factly.  “We flew with the door open - always with a ‘Stick of Troops’ aboard so (once in flight) there was a constant wind howl too.”  Ken pauses.  “We didn’t talk much.”

It’s also just as well Ken didn’t get too friendly as it’s quite possible that most of the British Paratroopers were dead within a week.  You cannot even begin to think about that.

Sorry for the downer...

It’s time to tell you the other reason why “306” was chosen.  It’s because this unarmed Gooney was also a Tactical Bomber during OMG.  Yeah, you read correctly.  This C-47 fought back.

Typically, airborne assaults took place at night.  But OMG was a daylight raid.  And, with a preferred drop altitude of 600 feet, 306 was not only 'right there' she was also well within small arms range.  And, with a drop airspeed of around 105 mph, 306 was slow.  They were aerial “sitting ducks.”  Yet, not completely defenseless.

“If we were towing gliders, we had to drop the tow rope.”  Ken explained.  It was 300 feet long, made of braided nylon and capped with two 6 pound “D” rings.”  Ken cleared his throat.  “After the drop, we’d dive to pick up speed and become a harder target for (enemy) fighters.  It was officially called 'Contour Flying' but most of us called it 'Hitting the Deck!"

If the enemy happened to be on the ground somewhere close to that push-over point, they got the tow rope dropped on them.  “It played hell on anything on the ground.”  Ken explained.  “300 feet long, coming down at 100 plus miles per hour, it could ruin an anti-aircraft crew.”

But on September 17, 306 wasn’t towing gliders*.  Instead, her pilot authorized the decidedly unauthorized practice of grenade throwing on enemy troops.  And the target area was full of them.  “I had a rope tied around me, so I wouldn’t get sucked out the side door.  I looked up (through the cabin) and saw into the cockpit where the co pilot had his left hand - he gave the thumbs up and I pulled the pins and threw.”

You know, at first blush, the story sounds rather amusing.  Something of the sort that would be a comic-relief scene in a movie.  Maybe hear a “Yahoo!” from the good guy.  But Ken wasn’t Yahooing.  He looked at me matter-of-factly as if to say, “Yes. That’s war.  Kill or be killed.”

Did he hit anything?  “I don’t know.” he replied flatly.  “We just got out of there.”

After five hours aloft,  306 touched down at her base in Barkston Heath, England where Ken had his debriefing and an official shot of booze.

You know, listening to fighter pilots, one can be tempted to believe that war is tremendously appealing.  The duel, the test of skill, the mastery of machine, the roll of Fate...I like it.  But over the years, the closer I get to the ground, the faster things get ugly.  I spent 60 agonizing minutes with an infantryman on a tour bus, hearing him barf out out his story as if he'd been sick to his stomach for 65 years.  Which he'd been.  I don't want to be in that place again.

But here - "306" is a blend of both.  The glamour of flight, the ugliness of war.  

Have another look, would ya?  And however you do it, throw a salute to Ken, the British Paratroops, the misguided Germans below...

It's Veteran's Day today.

The picture above is Ken.  He's showing me a picture of his wartime buddy, Harold "Westy" West.  Harold was killed in one of those quirky twists of fate when Harold took Ken's place in the wrong C-47 - it's a long story but Ken's never forgotten it. This morning over coffee, Ken described how he visited Westy's mom right after the war and I thought this print should be dedicated to her.  

*The next day, on Sept. 18, 306 did indeed do a glider-pull and afterwards got aggressive with the tow rope.

05 November, 2011

Profile 60 - UPDATE - "306" as crewed by Ken Salisbury

When I started this C-47, the first post was a poke at the History Channel program, "Ice Road Truckers."  But the truth remains, I'm drawing a truck.  Granted, a truck with wings, but it's a truck nonetheless.

As you can see, we're getting close - about 80% there - and when finished, she'll haul the story of Ken Salisbury and Operation Market Garden on September 17 and 18.  I'm looking forward to sharing it with you because it's rather new.

But, unlike Ice Road Truckers - a success for the History Channel, Market Garden was a failure for the Allied military.  And at the heart of its failure was, ironically, the securing of transportation routes for supply and war materiel.  You know - "Trucking."

On paper, the idea behind Market Garden was hard to fault.  Gain entry into the heart of Germany by crossing the natural fortress of the Rhine River* via a series of bridges in the Netherlands.  Once secure, Allied infantry and armored units would own set of freeways to race into Hitler's front yard.

General Eisenhower** however, favored an even push Eastward along the entire front.  From the English Channel straight South to the Mediterranean.   By doing so, the Allies from the West and the Soviets from the East would deny any real place of retreat and a fast Surrender would be obvious even to Hitler's deranged state of mind.   However, the rapid advance of Allied forces had outstripped its own ability to supply itself.  Even Patton's famous Tankers were stranded for lack of fuel!  So, Eisenhower's wishes would have to wait until supplies built up to afford a final, strong puuuush!

However, British General Montgomery believed time was more important than tactics.  "We gotta go NOW!"   Instead,  paratroops could be dropped near the key bridges, have them secured and therefore open the asphalt arteries; Germany would be done before Christmas.

Montgomery and I have never met.  But from what I've read, he was sometimes confused between doing the right thing for the team versus doing the right thing for his career.***  Maybe he had a mental picture of himself riding into Berlin and personally ending the war.  Maybe not.  But this much is known - his plan depended upon everything going absolutely right.

Eisenhower - at first - wouldn't hear of it.  Too much of a drain on tight supplies and too much of a reliance on assumptions.  But Monty basically pestered Eisenhower - having raised a couple fifth graders, I understand this process - until Ike said, "Fine."

And so began a herculean haul of paratroops and provisions to points "behind enemy lines."

I swiped the photo below from Wikipedia but it's supposed to be paratroops dumping into Holland.  You can see the men dangling beneath their chutes and the whispy shadows of British Horsa gliders.

What you can't see are the C-47s towing the gliders.

Or the sleepy Germans below.

But they're going to wake up really soon.

(insert sound of rifle bolt chambering a round).

*And tributaries.

**General Eisenhower was the CEO/Chairman of the Board for the entire Allied power in Europe.  Even the Brits saluted him and said, "Yes sir."

***General Patton had this identical issue, too.  So did MacArthur.  So did...(get the picture?)

04 November, 2011

Profile 60 - UPDATE - "306" as crewed by Ken Salisbury (Bombardier?)

Change in plans - I'm doing "C" instead of "R."

New information - in the form of the mission orders for the opening salvo of "Market Garden" on September 17 and 18, 1944 - have come to light and it's clear that Ken made his bombing run in C-47 S/N 42-23306, code-letter "C."

As you can see by the artwork, there's a LOT to do.  I'm not quite convinced of some of the particular airplane's markings and I'm totally unhappy with how my eye is perceiving the weathering of this hard-working hauler.

 But for the history geeks among us (and that'd be you, right?) you're probably wondering why I wrote "bombing run" for this particular airplane when it's also clear all she was supposed to do was run paratroopers to the landing zone.

Well, sometimes in war, things don't happen by the book.

The orders are posted below...

03 November, 2011

Profile 60 - "306" as crewed by Ken Salisbury.

11-4-11 note:  I'd planned on doing the C-47 with the aircraft letter "R" but new information came to light and now, it's "C". 

If it weren't for the "Kardashian Divorce" hogging all the headlines, you might have heard the good news that we found a photo of Ken's C-47, X5-C on CNN instead of here.

But sometimes a guy just has to have priorities and right now, getting this Bird right is mine.

Ken and I agreed that the best representation of his C-47 was circa "Operation Market Garden."   We liked the presence of the black and white Invasion Stripes and it was indeed a time where Ken was "behind enemy lines."  However I am rather fascinated with the Operation itself.

See...Market Garden was a failure.  So much so, it inspired a classic best selling book and a movie.  Want to know more?  Start with Cornelius Ryan's classic work - "A Bridge to Far."

But I'll give you a primer on Market Garden in 21st Century lingo:  A multinational corporation is expanding into new markets when a Senior VP decides it's his moment in history to create a spectacular success for the business.  The CEO disagrees.  The Sr. VP creates a scene.  The CEO relents to a modified plan...and in the matter of a few weeks, Ken Salisbury is sitting in his trembling C-47 awaiting take off.

It's September 17, 1944.

Things are going to get ugly.  Quickly.

27 October, 2011

Profile 60 - ???? as crewed by Ken Salisbury

10-29-11 note:  We're now pretty sure the Serial Number of Ken's C-47 is S/N: 42-32898.  Yay!  

"Ice Road Truckers?!" My friend shouted.  "That's not HISTORY!"

The scene was an after-five table at a local watering hole.  The issue was The History Channel's decision to persist in their popular show about driving loads across ice while canceling Dogfights - the definitive program that highlighted historical moments in aerial combat.

I even think he slammed his beer on the table for emphasis.  CUNK!

Now, your emotion may vary, but my frustrated buddy was arguing from apparent truth.  Compared to a swirling duel above Hitler's Germany, an "ice-road truck" doesn't fly!


Truth be told, war is won...not by sexy fighter planes.  Nor by burly bombers.  But by Logistics.  Unsexy. Unburly.  Unexciting logistics.   And for those who aren't familiar with the term, Logistics is basically this:  Hauling stuff to the people that need it.

Patton without fuel?  Lame.

The Mighty 8th Air Force without bullets?  Toothless.

Wal-Mart® without trucks?  Empty.

Have a look at my rough sketch above - it's a Douglas C-47 from the 61st TCG.  TCG stands for Troop Carrier Group.  Or, in other words.  Truckers.  The C-47 was the backbone of Allied logistics efforts in WW2.  People, fuel, bullets, food, mail - chances are very good that any Allied "Point A" was connected to its "Point B" by a C-47, somewhere along the line.

I'd like to introduce y'all to Ken Salisbury - Radio Operator and some-time Crew Chief in an airplane that has hauled more men, machines and materiele longer, farther and more faithfully than ANY Ice Road Trucker.

Right now, I'm overloaded with the task of finding solid reference material on 59th TCS/61st TCG C-47s but Ken's in great shape and we've harnessed the passion of historians around the world to make sure I deliver the goods - an accurate rendering of one of the C-47s Ken flew in combat.

And combat?  Ken was there for it all.  And when I mean all, I mean, ALL.  He's a veritable History Channel!

Don't touch that dial!

17 October, 2011

Profile 59 - FINAL - "Miss America '44"

Here she is - Miss America ’44!  
I’ll save you the squinting - there are 133 bombs painted on her nose.  Eventually, two more would be added for a career total of 135 combat missions.   To put those figures into perspective, on average, a B-24 was expected to last only 65 missions. 
I wasn’t able to figure out precisely how many different crews took Miss America for her hellish rides but I’ll guess at 10.  A hundred guys, of which Howard Jensen was merely one.
Howard was a Flight Engineer, an on-board doctor, tasked with making sure the engines, electronics, hydraulics and fuel worked the way they were intended.  Or, if you’re a child of the 70s like me, he was “Scotty” on Star Trek.
“Ah’can’t give’ya aneh’more power cahptun!”
But today, Howard is just shy of 90, works out at his gym four-five days a week, treats his wife of 60+ years like a best-buddy (which she is) and remains, at heart, a Flight Engineer. 

Typically, there'd be a story here about Howard as a young man in combat.  But for some reason, the following seems like the the right one to post.  Maybe, maybe not - you decide.
A couple weeks ago, Howard needed a ride some place and circumstances presented themselves that he had a choice of vehicles - a Minivan or (cough cough) a Sports Car.  Now, there’s something about “old people” that seems to bring out the Mother in everyone. In a blink, a team of concerned individuals decided that the best car for “Sweet Howard” was the Minivan. Of course!  Minivans require little (if any) effort and are far easier than anything (cough cough) you know (cough cough)... 

But some smart-ass in the room decided to put the choice to Sweet Old Howard and ask him - “Hey.  What do you want the ride in?”
“A minivan?” Howard smiled politely.  Then he grit his teeth.  “No.”
Gasp.  That would mean he would have sit down low.  And it would be loud.  And he’d need help getting up.  And he might not be able to…

"I want the red car."
We burned rubber in the parking lot.  “I like this.” he said, scanning the gauges,  watching the gears, listening to the engine...later, he told me that he'd spent time researching my car, learning what he could - power curves, compression, reliability... he remains a Flight Engineer, I guess.
I’ve learned a thing about aging.  Time is a powerful refinery - people tend to become more of what they already are.  It surprises me how often I meet someone in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and think, “I bet they’ll be a blast at 103!” or, unfortunately, “Poor grandkids.”
Back to Miss America.  Again, the average B-24 lasted about 65 missions.  By then, time, tide and The Nazis were expected to have beaten the old bomber down.  But Miss America not only hit the the goal, she doubled it.

So, that begs the question, “Why?”   According to Howard, Miss America's success was a bit of luck and a lot of conscientious performance on the part of the many different crews.  Something about her inspired her crew to hand her off to the next with the kind of pride that improves the odds for long life.

"I couldn't be a pilot but I still wanted airplanes, so I became a Gunner and a Flight Engineer.  It isn't so much about getting what you want as it is being the best at what you can."
Not having interviewed any other of Miss America’s crews, I can only speculate on their motivations.  But I’ve decided they had to have been a lot like Howard - Men who believed their task was worth doing well regardless of the odds.  
I think it was Ray Mitchell who told me that there were guys who decided to die before they died. Subconsciously at least, and sure enough, it seemed that they did.  And then, there are guys who decide they're going to live before they've lived (make sense?) - like Howard.

“Howard?  You really should ride in the Minivan."
“No.  I'll take the sports car."

Or Miss America.

Oh.  Today we had the public unveiling of Miss America's prints.  That's Howard and me.

05 October, 2011

Unfinished work - Ken Dahlberg died today.

Ken Dahlberg - entrepreneur, leader and WW2 fighter pilot died today.  He was 95 years of age and ended a life of accomplishment that few people will ever approach.

When I heard the news this morning, my first thought was to hurry up and post the finished work of his P-47 fighter.  But I think I'll wait - there's an ironic lesson to be had.

My experience with the man was momentary.  Years ago, Joe Foss suggested I call him, gave me his phone number...and I made the dial.  Ken and I talked for maybe ten minutes and I made plans to get in touch at a later date.  I never did...until too recently.   My notes are probably half a page and contain nothing of real importance.  My loss - I wasted the opportunity.

Life is linear.  Like a P-47 howling over the earth at 400mph, time consumes distance.  Zoom!

Many people will mourn Ken's death, talk about his accomplishments and be grateful for his example.  But, if I've learned one thing from talking with successful "old people" it's this - at the end of life, they don't talk much about what they haven't done.  Though it's a repackaging of the age-old thought - "Is the glass half full or empty?" - the best of the breed think about what's to come rather than what's been left behind.

And that, of course, only makes sense.  Flying with the past as a reference only leads to crashing.

So, for now, I think I'll keep Ken's "Bolt" up as a work-in-progress for the reminder that life is short and the number of tomorrow's are finite.

Yet, for the opportunities at-hand, I will seize this day and move them forward.

In the lingo of the 352nd FG "Bluenosers,"  Blue Skies, Ken.  We'll catch up to you.

In the meantime, learn more about Ken by clicking here.

04 October, 2011

Profile 59 - UPDATE - "Miss America" as crewed by Howard Jensen and Ken Tesch

It seems a few people want to put together a little unveiling party for Howard, so I'm going to move quickly to get Miss America to meet the Press (figuratively and practically).

So, the next post should be Miss America's debut.

01 October, 2011

Profile 59 - UPDATE - "Miss America" as crewed by Howard Jensen and Ken Tesch

Note (10-2-11) - white or yellow Mission Markers?!  THAT is the question!

Posted above is my update to Howard's B-24.  Give me a week and she'll be done.

I learned something new about B-24s that caused a chain reaction that will boggle your brain - regardless if you care about WW2 bombers or not.

It started with learning that "Miss America" was actually a product of The Ford Motor Company.  See that demarcation between the upper "olive drab" color and the light gray on the bomber's bottom?  That's the clue.  The bombers built by Consolidated Aircraft were painted with a straight line. Ford went wavy.

Now, I knew Henry Ford turned America into a manufacturing powerhouse and played a vital role in Allied materiel production in WW2.  But a little research into the matter left me stunned.

Ok.  Clear your head.  It's about to get filled with stuff.

The B-24 remains the most produced strategic bomber in history.  Over 18,000 were built.  Lined up wingtip-to-wingtip, a parade-review would take over SIX HOURS at 60mph!  You'd be sick of B-24s after ten minutes let alone a third of a waking day.

Of those 18,000 B-24s, nearly 8,000 were built by Ford at one manufacturing plant in Willow Run, Michigan.  At peak production, Ford blew 650+ B-24s out the door in a single month!

Now, think of all the aluminum, rubber, fabric, steel, oil, gasoline... that went into the whole lot.  And now, realize that of those 18,000, fewer than 20 complete B-24s exist today.

If you're like me, you wonder, "Where did all of that aluminum, rubber, fabric, steel... go!?"

According to the Law of Conservation of Mass, the total mass of the B-24s still exists.  From frying pans to airborne pollutants, they're all still with us, recycled atom by atom, into the maw of life.

Many of the readers of this blog have a sense of nostalgia for a United States of the past - what's perceived to be a better, sweeter, more productive time.

Thanks to the Ford Motor Company, Miss America is still here.


Maybe your iPhone?

Photo Source:  "B-24 Research Team" via Bob Livingstone.  Artwork and graphic, me.

28 September, 2011

Profile 59 - "Miss America" as crewed by Howard Jensen

I've been asked "How do you find these guys?!"

Fair question.  The fair answer is by hook, crook, this, that and a lot of travel.  But sometimes, I see them almost every day and have no appreciation until a quirk of circumstance forces a meeting.

Not that you care, but I work out as much as I can.  And, the Club to which I belong has a chalkboard in the entrance of the Men's locker room.  The Porters use it to write generic notes to the Members - "Good morning!  Your porter for today is Troy" and stuff like that.

Well, I enjoy erasing the names and chalking dogfight scenes.  It's my little act of rebellion.  But anyway, a couple of years ago, I happened to overhear one of the elderly members state - to one of the Porters - "How come he never draws any B-24s on the chalk board?"

Well...hook lead to crook lead to this and that...and...well...here we are.

So, I'm finally getting around to Miss America of the 739th BS, 454 BG.  A B-24 H of a whopping 133 combat missions!  And tonight, a little conversation between myself, Flt. Engineer Howard Jensen and his wife settled the first critical question - Do the nude on the co-pilot side of the airplane?  Or, do the enormous mission-tally on the pilot side of the airplane?

Suffice it to say, Howard's a good husband and agreed with his wife.  Which is just as well because I'm lousy at drawing naked women.

Watch this spot...but in the meantime, you might find it interesting to learn where the war took Howard & Co.

20 September, 2011

Profile 58 - FINAL - "Lillian's Limousine" as flown by Eugene McGuire

Have you ever wondered if people notice?

Read this.

"I remember being about 10 yrs old and we had a project at home and he needed some wood.  We were cruising the trash bins of a row of small manufacturing companies and came across some he wanted.  After looking for someone to ask for this scrap wood he took out a pen and paper and left his name and phone number where the wood was.   When I was young I wondered why he would do that for something that was obvious trash but as I got older I knew why."

"Lillian's Limousine" is dedicated to Eugene McGuire, fighter pilot, husband of Lillian...and the father of Eugene, Jr. - a ten year old son who noticed.

R.I.P. Eugene McGuire, Sr.

You're going to live forever.

20 August, 2011

Profile 57 - FINAL - "192" as flown by Don Erickson

Note:  8-21-11 - something about this post has struck a nerve.  This post has received more unique views from around the world than any this year.  Any insight?

Have a look at "192"!

That black tail really does it for me - menacing, sleek; it's a mean machine.  Though I do have a certain loyalty to yellow tails and blue noses, this single P-51 of the 75th FS, 23rd FG  is my best to-date. 
But in comparison to some of the more colorful birds of the past, it's rather unremarkable.  No victory markings, no pin-up girls, no clever name painted across the cowl - just the black tail and the last three numbers of the machine's serial number stenciled onto the nose.
And, pilot Don Erickson isn't sure how many times he flew "192."  As a replacement pilot to the squadron, he didn't have the kind of seniority or rank to warrant his own plane.  "Erickson.  Today, you're flying XX."  "Yes sir."  

Did he fly 192 only once?  Twice?  Three, four times?  Who knows.  It was just a rank-and-file airplane assigned to the grind of shuttling bombs to bridges and blowing bullets at trains.
When I met Don, we were at the Air Force Memorial in Washington D.C.  When I asked him about his service in WW2, he replied matter-of-factly, "Nothing much" - hence the name I gave it during the prior posts.  "I've only got twenty one missions," he stated dryly.  "I saw a Zero once but fired way too far away.  I'd have never have hit it."  He raised an eyebrow and smirked.
In comparison to the swirling dogfights over Europe, or crashing into retaining barriers atop heaving aircraft carriers or dramatic bail-outs over enemy territory, Don's missions were rather lackluster.   When I was introduced as "an aviation artist and historian, Don's immediate reply was polite, but terse. "You don't want to interview me.  Really.  I didn't do that much."  
In comparison, Don was right.  He was simply one of thousands of pilots in WW2 who, in their vernacular, "...did their job."  Truly, the mythic deeds of men like Joe Foss, George Preddy, Joseph Priller and Douglas Bader were much rarer than popular entertainment would have you believe.  
Yet, to focus attention only on the mountain peaks means you miss the valley, the forest, the stream, the trees...  That being stated, I think you might find Don's story of "Nothing much" more interesting than he might lead you to believe.
In July of 1942, Don answered the Call (i.e. Draft) in typical future-fighter pilot fashion  - he took matters into his own hands and decided to be a Naval Aviator.  Airplanes were "interesting," there was a challenge, a bit of fun, sounds good!  So, he went to the nearest Naval recruiter in Minneapolis.  The Land of a Thousand Lakes served the Midwest with the next best thing to ocean, I guess.  Anyway, during the examination, Doctors detected a hernia and rejected him.  
"You'll never pass.  Next!"
And that was it.  Idea, plan, rejection.  Next!
With that dream dashed and the War Machine just beginning to whet its appetite for flesh, Don reported shortly thereafter at Fort Crook, Omaha for induction into the Army.  Again, Doctors detected the hernia and rejected him.  "1B" was his classification.  That meant he was potentially suitable, but only for limited service.  
This degradation didn't make sense to a guy who'd played football and handball.  And growing up sharing his bedroom with two other siblings AND grandparents,  Don learned a thing or two about cooperation and compromise.
Sure he'd had an appendectomy, but that'd been fixed long before and it was far worse than any hernia.   Don decided to petition the Draft Board for another examination.  This time, another doctor passed him on but not without the caveat, "When this bothers you, go on sick call and request limited service."
Three times, The System rejected Don.   Three times, the experts, working within their well-tried process, found Don unsuitable for combat, let alone Flight.   Instead, Don was lead to the realization that the Military believed his best service would be to study (drum roll) Teletype Maintenance.    I'm chuckling as I write this - can you imagine having your sights on flying fighters only to have it suggested that you're only fit to fix the FAX MACHINE?!?

Don Erickson swallowed this fate in September of 1942 at Chanute Field, Rantoul, Illinois. 
What would you do?   
Don't hold it against Don when, after doing outside calisthenics in October's frigid spit, he remembered that he could, "...go on sick call and request limited service." Right now, my mind is conjuring the soft-faced South Dakotan grinning wryly at his miserable buddies doing jumping jacks in the rain while he trots off to get his get-out-of-gymnastics card punched by the base doctor. 
I'll tell you what I'd do - if I knew the die was cast that I'd be ordered to handle screwdrivers while my heart was in the sky, I'd feel condemned.  Darned right I'd ditch Drill!  
Yet, that visit to the doctor turned into a strange twist of fate.  It lead to a quick conversation with a surgeon who commented that the hernia could be repaired.  A two week recovery, 30 day leave and...maybe...just maybe...that 1B could be reclassified and maybe, just maybe...
Of course you saw what-happened-next coming.   Notice the type under my artwork that reads, "...as flown by Don Erickson."   Equipped with his born-in sense of determination and maybe even a skill or two picked up via Teletype Repair Training, Don went on to make the highest selection-cuts of all and graduate to flying fighters.
Don's story is - to me - the classic American story of what happens when the individual is free to move freely within the confines of destiny.   Great societies and bold works happen when individuals are strong enough to question the system and follow their own compass in order...well, to form a more perfect union.

Don, you're anything BUT "Nothing much" to me.  You're an ordinary example of how it's done.

PS - I almost forgot to mention that Don was Class 44A's highest scoring pilot in aerobatics.  He put this skill to good use when after WW2, he joined Congressional Medal of Honor holder Joe Foss's fledgling South Dakota Air National Guard.    While with the SDANG, Don flew aerobatic displays at airshows.  However, he "settled down" and became the Warden of the South Dakota State Penitentiary. I am grateful to the Erickson family for their help in getting this project put together and completed and look forward to hearing of a wonderful time at Don's upcoming 90th birthday.  

PSS - note to self;  Ask Don if he ever repaired the Squadron's teletype.

15 August, 2011

Profile 57 - UPDATE - "Nothing Much" as flown by Don Erickson

Don flew two models of the P-51 - the C model and the D model.  He asked that I do "The D."  And so it will be.

Did you have a look at the photo in the post below?  The black-tailed Mustangs look more like sharks than they do their horse namesake.

Funny about the sharks, however - a Shark was the squadron's mascot.  The shark is a logical choice, too.  Most people have seen the white-toothed P-40 fighters of the "American Volunteer Group" (AVG) - that group was originally a bunch of mercenary pilots who were hired by the Chinese government to help repel the Japanese invaders.

After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. politicos took a dim view (rightly) of Americans flying for foreign powers against a common enemy and 'appropriated' the AVG into the Army Air Forces.  Naturally, there was a rebellion - the mercenaries vs. the bureaucrats - and for the most part, the bureaucrats won.  There's a saying - "Be careful of the guy who sits in the plushest chair."

So, the shark-toothed P-40s lost their Chinese nationalist markings and became the 23rd Fighter Group...but kept the shark motif as a mascot.

I'll be publishing parts of my interview with Don in the next update.  But until then, I thought you'd appreciate the patch he wore on his leather jacket.

Interesting stuff's a'comin.

Profile 57 - "Nothing Much" as flown by Don Erickson

Today is August 15, 2011.  

In case you're not the history geek that I am, this date marks 66 years since the surrender of the Japanese forces.  Can you believe it?!  And WW2 continues to hold a fascination over people worldwide.  And get this - every day, the more and more of those people will never have known anyone who experienced those critical months between September 1, 1939 and August 15, 1945.

But there's also additional significance to this date - albeit small significance.  See that photo on top?  It's possible that the photo was taken pretty close to that August 15 date.

They're four P-51 Mustangs of the 75th Fighter Squadron, 23rd Fighter Group and if you want to read between the wings, there are at least five pilots there that know their work is basically done.  

I'd like to introduce you to Don Erickson, fighter pilot.   For the next few weeks, while I finish up some loose ends hanging over Ken Dahlberg's P-47, I'll be attempting to bring Don's P-51 Mustang back from those last days of WW2, China.

And maybe along the way, we'll figure out what the hell is in that bottle he's holding.

06 August, 2011

Profile 56 - ????? as flown by Ken Dahlberg

Today was the first time in two weeks where I could really sit down and indulge myself in this particular airplane.  I'm sorry I can't report more details at this time, but I hope to shortly.

In the meantime, this gorgeously brutal P-47 Thunderbolt of the 354th Fighter Group will likely be finished this weekend.  I just have to mask-in the tail and even out the lighting on the hard-worn fuselage.  And redo the skull.

Not too many photos of Ken's P-47 exist, but enough do of the 353rd Squadron's flying-skull nose design.  As a little kid - geez, maybe 5 years old - the photo below made its way into my memory.  The specific book is forgotten, but the image of the page on the kitchen table remains vivid.  But one of the strangest recollections of that time was that I somehow assigned construction sounds to the photograph.

Of course, I'd never heard a taxiing P-47.  But mentally, I could imagine clanks, whirrs and strains of metal, gears, engines.   And that logo!  Brilliant!  I'd like to meet the mind that created it - today, that winged-skull trademark could launch a million dollar clothing line...

Anyway, in hindsight, that childhood audio memory makes sense - America was in the construction business.  The Axis needed to be demolished and the scene made anew to build it back up again.

The American nation's sense of cooperation, of shared responsibility, of compelling vision is - in a tiny way - portrayed in the photo of the soldier laying on the pilot's wing, guiding him through the taxiway of a foreign land...

I look at the photo and feel very, very proud to be an American.

Maybe it'll do the same for you today, too.

The airplane above was flown by Maj. Glenn Eagleston, 354th FG, 353rd FS.   If you'd like to know more about Eagleston, I suggest you click here to learn more about his military career.  He died in 1991.