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.