01 June, 2017

PROFILE 126: IN PROGRESS - A6M2-21 Zero flown by...who?!

Just so you know, 'this' all starts with the scratch of graphite on paper.  The picture above is my pencil-work of a Mitsubishi A6M2-21 "Zero-sen" fighter aircraft, circa June, 1942.

Hold that thought.

The picture below is a cheesy auto-generated image from my t-shirt retailer, "Redbubble."  Click here if you want to know more.  But regardless, look past the nameless model's sultry awesomeness and focus on the message...


Want one?  Click here.

It's a phrase that I first-heard from a Vietnam War veteran who offered it up as a rationale as to why he wrote his memoirs.  Since then, it's become a brand-statement of sorts, telegraphing the motivation that drives me to "interview old guys and draw their airplanes." A Generation is only as good as the education they've received...and the lives of Old Men and Old Women are indeed "Libraries" that can provide the necessary knowledge and wisdom to build the future.

But, like any physical Library, the Library of one's life is useless unless its volumes are (metaphorically speaking), "checked-out."

So, back to the Zero.

Me, drawing, "filmed" for your amusement.  All-told, this one took me about 5 minutes.  I also used my 1/72 scale Corgi® die-cast Zero display model as a reference.  And as a tax deduction, too. 

Zero's are easy to draw.  In fact, if we ever meet, challenge me to sketch one; I guarantee you'll have a respectable rendering in less than sixty seconds!   But this particular specimen has been an exercise in hardship as the markings are impossible to verify.  Specifically, I'm trying to figure out an A6M2-21 that would have absolutely attacked VT-8* as it zeroed-in on the Japanese fleet on 4 June, 1942.

This means...

A. What carrier?  Why?  Because the fuselage stripes changed depending upon which IJN carrier the squadron was assigned.

B. What status was the pilot?  Why?  Because the stripes on the tail corresponded with the pilot's status as flight leader, squadron leader...**

C. What was the aircraft number?  Why?  Because "this" is ultimately the identifier of a specific airplane's moment in history.

And, more specific to the moment...

D.  What specific Zero pilots flew CAP (Combat Air Patrol) over the IJN fleet?  Why?  Because four IJN carriers had planes in the air on 4 June, 1942.  Some went to attack Midway Atoll, some were CAP and some where still on the carriers.

E.  Which Zero CAP pilots were flying at the time VT-8 made its run on the carriers?  Why?  Well, this helps me narrow it down all-the-more.

Typically, these kinds of questions aren't that difficult to figure out. Militaries tend to keep decent records and being war and all, the eyewitnesses tend to be plentiful and engaged.  Of course, there's room for dispute—after all, we're dealing with the enemy (right?). But, in this particular case, the definitive answers to my questions are impossible to answer as the eyewitnesses are dead and any physical evidence is lying on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

Hmmm.  I do have this though...

This is the only substantive bit of flight ops for IJN Zeros on 4 June, 1942.
Dan King, author of the book "The Last Zero Fighter" translated it for me and it brought some
fascinating information to light.  I'll share what he discovered in the next post.
Graphic courtesy of Alvaro César Lino

Anyway, 75 years later, it sometimes seems that the only people who care about these things are  history-nerd-types who, at times, are willing to resurrect the war itself with arguments over one detail or another. Yet, if you're going to start WWII all-over-again (this time over a beer instead of a battlefield), 4 June, 1942 is a terrific place to start.   Why?  Because it's all-about The Battle of Midway (BoM).  As a refresher, BoM was the turning-point of the Pacific Theater in WWII.

For those that don't quite have a grasp on what it means to be a "turning point,"think about it this way:  if the BoM would have not happened as it did, WWII would have been prolonged.***

It doesn't look like much but it reflects about 25 hours of fussing around and in the end?  I'm starting over.

And, when wars are prolonged, the toll rises, costs increase and the pain continues.  Playing, "What if?", what if WWII would have gone on another day?  Another month?  Another year?  You—especially if you've got Pacific G.I. in your family line, might not even be here!

"Real life" Historians hate this game of "What if?"  So, to honor the "real life historians" that suffer through this blog, I'll stop.  At least for a month or two.  But nevertheless, you won't find a time in history so chock-full of miracle moments, mystifying circumstances, ridiculous leadership, heroic action and teachable treasures like The Battle of Midway.

Now, back to figuring out how to rebuild the long-burned-out library of at least one old man who's last chapter of life still speaks volumes today...

Same model, different shirt.
Want one?  Click here.

*I'm referring to the TBD-1 Devastators of the USS Hornet's VT-8.  True History Geeks will know that VT-8 was actually deployed in two elements with the second flying TBFs from the island base on Midway Atoll.

**This bit of information is potentially useless as maybe a Leader's particular airplane would be undergoing maintenance and another aircraft actually flown during the telling sortie.

***Ok.  Got me.  We don't know for certain if an alternate history of the BoM would have prolonged WWII.  But it's a pretty good guess.  And even if the lengthening were just one more day, isn't that extra day significant enough?  Ha!  The Red Herrings are schooling madly but at the very least, it makes you think, eh?

Reprise: Requiem for the Unsung; John DeBerg "hitched a ride" West...

Who do you want to make your hamburger?

Who do you want to fix your car?

Who do you want to remove your appendix?

Who do you want to write your Business Insurance policy?

I know who— the best one at the job.

There is nothing—nothing—more attractive than being excellent.

A couple years ago, I drew "Mary Pat," a B-17F assigned to the 385th BG.  At the beginning, the project was rather novel as I wasn't drawing it for any of the Flight Crew but for the Crew Chief; in essence, the airplane's chief mechanic.

John DeBerg never physically flew combat on the Mary Pat.  However, he undoubtedly participated in every one of the aircraft's 59 missions over Germany; 59 flawless missions over Germany.

Here—have a read of what the U.S. Army Air Force wrote about John's work:



JOHN R. DEBERG, 17037566, Master Sergeant, Army Air Forces, United States Army.

For meritorious achievement in the connection with military operations against the enemy from 17 July 1943 to 25 August 1944.  Through Sergeant DeBerg's proficient service, performed under many adverse conditions, his aircraft completed fifty-nine (59) consecutive operational missions against the enemy without having to return because of mechanical difficulty or failure.

This enlisted man, by courageously and wholeheartedly devoting his skill to a vital task, has made a noteworthy contribution to the successful record in combat established by his group..The initiative, resourcefulness, and devotion to duty displayed by Sergeant DeBerg reflect highest credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United Sates.

Put another way, DeBerg's service is the equivalent to...

...never screwing up the hamburger.

...never having the car break down.

...never botching the surgery. 

...never leaving a customer exposed.

And, just to be clear, DeBerg's work wasn't during the comparatively "easy" missions of late 1944/45, when Hitler's broken bones were justly pulverized.  Instead, John's birds flew the toughest—the ones where scared flight crew learned their trade, enemy flak and fighters were at their fiercest and manufacturers like Boeing were scrambling to improve their machines based on the urgent lessons learned from continuous combat.

So, now that there's some context here, did you whisper, "Wow..." under your breath?

So did I.

I like how John signed this print of Mary Pat at work.
Photo: The DeBerg family
Anecdote—having coffee with John, he produced a little hand-held gizmo and placed it on the table as a physical representation of his days.  It's called a "Disk Speed Indicator" and was used to measure anything that relied on precise rotary motion, be it the gyroscopes in a bombsite to the crackling rumble of an idling aircraft engine.

"I got to the point where I could hear what an engine was doing," he said, tapping the device.  "But I used this to check anyway.  We had to do it right, you know?"

What struck me was the man's sincerity.  He stated his concern as if he were still sweating out the return of 'his' airplane, knowing that if the flak and fighters didn't hurt the crew, sloppy workmanship would just as easily.

It's days like this that I feel so lucky in circumstance and inspired to be a better human.

And it's days like this that I wish would be more common.

But they aren't.  But they should, you know?

Anyway, last year, on 28 October, John DeBerg died.  However, it was only a few days ago that I found out; where had the time gone that I would have missed such news for six months?!  Did I miss an email?  A voice mail?!  (sigh) Regardless, the detail was lost on me.  Ugh.

In the end, the man was 98 years old and left behind a legacy of impeccable workmanship to machine, community, family and friend alike...

...and a welcome inspiration for the future.

And if you're interested in that kind of inspiration, Click.

John DeBerg's  Disk Speed Indicator and Bronze Star.
The chunk in the middle is a piece of German "flak" that did it's damnedest to  take Mary Pat out of the war.

PROFILE 127: IN-PROGRESS - AC-130A flown by "...the rest of the guys."

Bah!  I couldn't find it!  I just spent nearly an hour looking for what is—at least to my wingnutty mind—one of the greatest Saturday Night Live sketches of all time.

It aired on 21 January, 1978.  I was but a punk—a model-airplane building, patriotic punk—that stayed up late and watched TV.  So, when actress Jane Curtin actually evoked the hallowed name of "B-52," I snapped-to!

Here's the gist - SNL had a skit called "What if?" and it was centered around a ridiculous (but totally awesome) question regarding changing history.  In this sketch, the question was, "What if Napoleon had a B-52 at the Battle of Waterloo?"

This is all I could find of the "What if Napoleon had a B-52 at the Battle of Waterloo?" skit!
Dan Akroyd is the B-52 pilot with the silver helmet, John Belushi is Napoleon and Loraine Newman is Napoleon's wife, Josephine.
©NBC or something like that.  No idea who to credit. :(

Of course, imagination went wild; What if the Brits had a Vulcan during the Battle of Britain?  What if Patton had an A-10 in North Africa?  What if the Marines had F-18s at Chosin Reservoir?

And recently, on this eve of the 73rd Anniversary of D-Day, I wonder...What if Eisenhower had an AC-130A in 1944?

Have a look at the opening-sketch of an AC-130A.  It's being done as a Thank You to a guy who, for now, doesn't want any attention...and I'll get to that, later.

So, moving forward...

For those of you who don't understand all-things-AC-130, recognize this:  the airplane is a flying battleship.  First flown in combat in 1968 during the Vietnam War as a tool to halt traffic on the "Ho Chi Minh Trail,"  (actually more of a system than a single trail), the aircraft set a new standard of what could be expected from "air support."

Of course, the airframe is the iconic C-130 Hercules cargo plane that virtually every human being on earth has seen.  Since 1954, over 2,500 of the hulking heavy-lifters have been built, serving in just about any capacity, any where, in over seventy different variants.

Here's a really cool photo that I found.  It's the LC-130.  No idea what "L" means but for now, let's say it stands for LOOK'IT THIS!

LC-130 on snow/ice.  How cool is this?!
Photo: USAF
But the adaptation to "A" (for Attack) turns the workhorse "Hercules" into fire-breathing beast from the Dark Dimension.  This version is nicknamed "Spectre" but in terms of names, I think it's just a little understated.


Well...let me count the ways.  In one second, a typical AC-130A can spew 200 rounds of 7.62mm bullets (2 x 100 rounds/second), 84 rounds of 20mm shells (2 x 42 shells/second) and (about 2) rounds of 40mm shells (2 x 5 shells/second).  That's almost 300 rounds in the time you can say "Found'ya."

And that's for just the A-model.  Starting with the AC-130E, the aircraft have been equipped with 105mm howitzer cannons and the current model, (The AC-130W) is also equipped with a battery of missiles.  Though this may seem like ridiculous over-kill (pun intended), it's really rather reassuring because the USAF can target with incredible (and ironic) life-saving efficiency.

Watch the video below and then imagine my "What if?" scenario for D-Day.  I figure three, maybe four AC-130s would have effectively ended WWII in Europe in...maybe a day.


So, I'm at this party.  It's a hot southern summer night, I've experienced my first "Mullet Fry," (delicious!), the patio is a loud cackle of drawled conversation...great time...and someone nudges me and whispers, "John, y'all need to meet that gah,' nodding towards a shortish, blonde-haired fellow in a flowered print and baggy shorts.  'He flew AC-130s and I think he got a DFC in Panama."


"Yeah.  C'mon. I'll intruh-doos ya."

Two hours later, I'm in the party-shirted warrior's living room, looking at his wall full of memorabilia that read like a book of post-Vietnam military history.  I was blown away by just how little of it I'd heard about, too.


"Sure,you can tell the DFC story," he stated.  "But it's not my story.  It's ours.  It's about all of us."  He pointed to a picture of a very specific AC-130A and the listing of its crew.  "And every one of us gets a print, okay?"

"Yes'sir." (of course!)

Unfortunately, I don't think I'll get everyone to weigh in—it's hard to wrangle 14 people into a coherent conversation.  But I think I've got enough to tell a story you've never heard before and yeah, there's a big "What if...?" attached to it, too.

This is as far as I've gotten for now.  There's an extremely awesome logo I've got to paint on this beast's fuselage
that will take some serious practice. 

PS - This guy died recently.  He plays a pretty prominent "behind the scenes" roll in this whole story.