09 April, 2019

Flown West: Richard "Dick" Cole, Doolittle Raider



The thunderclap you just felt in your soul was the sound of Eternity's welcome.

Not for you but for an old man you (probably) never met.

Wait - you didn't experience anything?  Read on.

On April 18, 1942, history minted an audacious act—80 USAAF aircrew launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet in 16 B-25 bombers to attack Japan.

To the machine of war, the moment was pitifully small.  An attack of sixteen twin-engine bombers were tactically and strategically so insignificant, their real threat to the enemy was less than a mosquito bite.  Additionally, the weight of resources—time, energy, money—required to "pull it off" was enormous; the Risk:Reward ratio was ridiculous, save for one powerful factor: the power of the human heart.


*break break*

Today, millions of Americans are bemoaning the lack of (insert whatever is bothering you, here).  However, all of the shirt-tearing about "our divided country" is unfortunately, largely true.  But not because of our differing beliefs—The United States is a living irony in that our nation was founded on the freedom that allows division.  We have so rarely been truly "united," our very name is worth a wry grin.

Instead, the American sense of division is because of another American irony; all of our prescribed freedoms have fostered a tumor of narcissism to grow wildly out of control.  "We the people..." is now, "I the universe."

We all know this.  There's nothing more to be said.


But.  In one more ironic act of hypocrisy, please read what I've written as it is important.

When I started interviewing WWII fighter pilots back at the turn of the century, it was less about combat stories as it was "old man stories."  At the time, the harvest was ripe.  There were plenty ofhighly accomplished veterans who, from their vantage of 70, 80, 90 years of age, had wisdom to share.

Though I've been told how "...lucky you are to get to spend time with..." so often I can't count, the truth is that the burden became heavier with every moment.  This sounds all-dramatic-and-noble but it isn't.  After the initial pleasure of wisdom's treasure, the reality remains:  it's worthless weight if no one sees the worth of carrying it.

It must be stated—wisdom is rare.  And gray hair is no guarantee of gold.  How often have any of us witnessed the result of a lousy life?  Self-centeredness, anger, cowardice, fear looks the same in spite of the person's apparent worldly "success."  Rich, poor, black, white, straight, gay, atheist, whatever...all look the same if powered by a dark heart and it's twilight beatings are a drum-thump to oblivion.

That's me with the peerless Marine, "Red" James.   Red flew Corsairs in WWII and Korea  and taught me how to identify a "coward."  If you're like me, the definition will cut to the quick and leave you thinking.  But that'll have to wait.

Ok, back to April 18, 1942.

This small attack was blessed by President Roosevelt who knew that the American people were badly in need of good news.  The opening months of WWII were bitter days of defeat.   Do yourself a favor and read up on the Bataan Death March; it was a horrible scene that embodied American defeat in the face of an arrogant enemy.  It won't be pleasant reading.

Yet, FDR understood the power of unity and what could be accomplished when the human heart beat, not as one, but as a million.

80 men clambered into their aircraft to launch from an improbable ship against a raging target towards an unknown destination...for the sole purpose of giving the American people something to believe in.

Repeat:  ...something to believe in.

It worked. 

Our nation rallied, tyranny was ruined and a generation laid the wealth of the greatest boom of prosperity the world has ever seen.

Back to the thunderclap I wrote about in the first sentence.

Again. Did you hear it?

It was the sound of Richard "Dick" Cole leaving the world, the last "Doolittle Raider."  Today, April 9, 2019, he died at age 103.

What an awesome photo!!  © Robert Seale, courtesy Air & Space Magazine.  Click here.

Many people knew the man—he quite literally lived his life to keep the story moving and would stop at the drop of a 'hello' to serve, speak, share.  Recently, Dick signed a limited edition print-run of some of my artwork and I was told by admirers, "Wow!  He signed this?!  It's gotta be valuable!"

Indeed, Dick Cole's signature makes anything priceless.  But on the basis of economics’  'scarcity-driving-demand,' it's laughably cheap as Dick Cole autographed EVERYTHING.  For anyone.  And he did so freely, without complaint.  The number of Dick Cole autographs has to be in the hundreds of thousands.   And that’s the way it should be with a legend; it can’t be hoarded.

Dick's daughter Cindy told me, "Dad knew what they all did.  He knew how important it was to teach people what could be done when you worked for something great."

Dick was a tireless advocate for the power of duty, honor and country.  He spent his precious time meeting with people, telling the Doolittle Raid story to anyone, from packed auditoriums to a phone call to a stranger.   Though years ticked off and his fellow Doolittle Raiders "head west" one at a time, he kept their legend alive, never (ever) promoting himself over the rest.  Would he (fly the Raid) again?  Of course.  Service to something greater trumps self.

Very soon, I'll play a small role in bringing the Doolittle Raider story to history teachers and students of South Dakota.  It's called "The Raid Across South Dakota" and entails flying a B-25 from Sioux Falls to airports across the state. Our hope is that History Teachers and their students (general public welcome, too!!) would show up, see/touch/hear the sound of this magnificent machine and walk away with a few mementos of the Doolittle Raid.

This is a big deal.  It's a U.S. Mint copy of the solid gold Congressional Gold Medal that was awarded
to the Doolittle Raiders.  To say it's "limited edition" is an understatement.  But, Dick wanted it to go to
the state of South Dakota in honor of the two South Dakotan's who took part in "The Raid."
It'll soon be on exhibit for people to look at...too bad you can't actually feel how heavy the thing is!
Yeah.  Dick signed it.
It's like that with wisdom—it's with us for a time...then, when the source is gone, only the stories remain.  Yet, for all of its selfishness and deceit, the human heart remains—inexplicably—malleable and ready for the impression of something greater than itself.

To the rest, if you didn't hear the thunder of a great man leaving behind an even greater legacy, there’s still hope - learning about people like Dick Cole has a wonderful way of opening the ears, eyes and mind.

Dick was, is and will always be, an American hero.

I, for one, join the many people who listened what he championed.

That's me.  And Dick Cole (r), daughter Cindy and 352nd FG ace Alden Rigby (l), in the back of my minivan.
There is no celebrity, no sports figure, no-no-one that can replace the honor of carting around two genuine
"normal, average, American" heroes.

Do you know a bona fide hero?

Take them out to lunch.

03 April, 2019

"The April 18th Project" - (post #4)



The story behind this art just gets cooler by the day.

Go ahead and read the Press Release (here).

But don't think for a second that this is simply about flying a bomber across South Dakota.

It gets waaaay better.

Oh.  And about the nose art, Dick Cole (sole surviving Doolittle Raider) said that any artwork done on the Raider's B-25s was done with chalk and washed off during the rainy gale on 18 April, 1942.   We'll never know for certain about the nose art on #15.

But what's life without mystery, eh?

More to come...

23 February, 2019

Profile 134 - "The April 18th Project" (post #3)




PROGRESS!

This project keeps getting more fascinating...and if it goes where (we all) hope, you're going to have a scoop here.  Really.  As in, "OMG! REALLY!"

But more on that later.

*break break*

I think I know why "History" so-often gets the short-end of the stick when it comes to teaching.  Two words:  IT'S.  HARD.  (actually that's three words, but I hated English).

Have a look at my progress on the Doolittle Raider B-25 as flown by Donald Smith.  It contains proof of my point that teaching history is the most difficult of any of the accepted subjects in school.

Can you find it?

Of course, we know the serial number on the tail, 40-2267, is accurate.  The U.S. Army Air Forces did a great job of recording the serial numbers of the things it purchased.  And, in case you're wondering where the "4" went, the first-digit was often omitted, hence the "02267."

I closed my eyes really tight and sent out pensive thoughts into the time-wave-space of The Universe/Force in case the eternal energies of Crew #15 could offer clarity.

I didn't get a response. So I drew this.

But the proof of my putting is above—the nose art.  I'm 99.9% sure it's wrong.  But, so is every other attempt to recreate the livery of Smith's aircraft.   And, the accepted Name of Smith's B-25, "TNT" isn't even on the airplane.  Instead, it's rumored that the chemical formula for the stuff (otherwise known as 2-methyl-1,3,4 trinitrobenzene) was actually used.

"TNT" is an explosive, btw.  Just in case you didn't pay attention in Chemistry class.

Indeed, there are photos of 02267 that can verify certain aesthetic detail but none regarding the nose art.  In fact, there's no complete proof that it was even painted on the nose save for reference by fellow Doolittle Raider,  Ted Lawson in his book, "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" and the accepted oral histories of the aircraft's crew (which have all Flown West).

Check the upper right-hand corner.
©unknown.
Have a look at the graphic above.

I found it online somewhere and can't testify as to its origin.  But, notice the upper-right-hand nose; supposedly that's "TNT".  Nevertheless, the symbol is mystifying as it's just not the chemical symbol for TNT.  Considering that pilot Donald Smith was a student of South Dakota State University, let's assume he would have thought enough to ask, "Hey. Anyone know what the symbol for TNT is?!"

Adding to the marking-mystery, there's one more very-crucial* bit of nose art that remains to be added but I'm going to do that last, pending comms with someone who fortunate enough to interview Gunner/Navigator on TNT, Edward Saylor.  Click here for that.

Why the white, hand-written scrawl?  Because the crews had chalk and wrote on the side of the airplane.  More on this later.

Why the darker, surrounding area?  Because it's likely (repeat) that the crew would have cleaned the surface area before applying any artwork.  The ubiquitous Olive Drab paint of WWII, especially the stuff applied early-war, was notorious for fading and oxidizing.   Thus, it's a safe bet that whomever the artist was would have wiped the surface down with a rag soaked in 100 octane gasoline or soapy water beforehand resulting in a freshening of the paint.

So, why add the (dubious) artwork in the first place?  Good question!   My answer is that adding it is just-the-same as not.  Yet, by adding something new to the fray, the question stays alive and thus adds to the beauty of studying history at all: History fuels our imagination.




Again, the nose art on this bird isn't "done" yet.  There's more to the story.  But, in the space between now and the next post, have a listen to the short interview with Saylor.  It's only 4 minutes in length but at the very least, it's accurate—it's tough to argue History with someone who was there.

*Crucial and politically incorrect.  Trigger warning: prepare to get offended in my next post.




03 February, 2019

Profile 134 - "The April 18th Project" (post #2)


Have a look above!

The Pollyannic Eye will lead you to believe my rendering of a "Doolittle Raider" to be nearly, if not 3/4ths, complete.  Don't believe it.  I'm a third-done at best.

Of course, there's the greater context of the project—if you look at the preceding post, you'll notice that I must draw two airplanes.  The B-25B shown is simply part of a greater whole.

But.

*break break*

For the observer, drawing airplanes is boring.  Certainly the novelty of it captures the attention for, at least, ten seconds.  But if you were standing over my shoulder, you'd soon realize you were having as much fun as watching paint dry.  On the other hand, for me, it's an awesome way to dissolve 40+ hours into a mere moment.  So often, I start at 0500 and have to be pried away 'round dinner time.

However, I cheat a bit—I've got a couple screens situated around my desk that pipe in all kinds of entertainment and thereby help keep the the practice of creating of 'art' interesting.  Music, movies, photographic references... I tune-in and tune-out in little bursts.   Nevertheless, recently, one of my distractions—Netflix—released a new series that's attracted a fair amount of publicity and fanfare.  It's a series on Ted Bundy, the serial killer.

© Netflix.  I took this screen shot from the service.  I am SO not endorsing this show.
 Just using it as leverage for the greater message.  Hang with me, 'k?

Being a quasi-filmmaker, I decided to give their offering a 'go' to act as background noise for this project.

(If you'd like to see the film I think is my 'best,' click here.).

Ok.  Hold that thought.

A while ago, a story was told to me by a WWII B-25 pilot about why he was initially seen as a 'strange ranger' in his squadron and thereby avoided.  The story is actually a long one and probably worthy of a Keynote Address some time.  However, pulling a little snippet out for this post, the pilot described how he tried to figure out why he wasn't fitting in with the rest.

Observation and some critical self-reflection revealed a strange answer—the pilot came to the understanding that his fault lie in not being bothered by the things that bothered the rest of the squadron.  Specifically, the pilot was immune to the stresses of "flak."

Before I go any further, it may be useful to describe what "flak" is.   Simply put, flak is a ball of expanding shrapnel that radiates from the explosion of an aerial artillery shell.  As guided surface-to-air missiles were not developed in WWII, the point of flak was to create a cloud of supersonic debris that would then penetrate anything that flew into its space.   Evasive action could provide some relief but if the aircraft had to fly a fixed course —a bomber or a reconnaissance aircraft — the flak was unnerving and too-often lethal.

I put this together to get an idea of what a flak burst was like.  Bear in mind, this is a two-dimensional
illustration (top-down) of a three-dimensional affect.  But, you get the idea that "flak" is at once inefficient
and totally nasty at the same time.  It was all about "luck."

Back to the story.

The pilot described that he had been given a strange gift that attributed to God's mercy; the gift was to be able to easily recognize what was within his control and what was not and reconcile a sense of peace.

"Flak never bothered me.  And it never bothered me to go on particularly hazardous missions.  And it never bothered me to be in particularly vulnerable spots in the formation.  People thought I was crazy.  Perhaps a death wish," he stated in his methodical, aged midwestern drawl.

I remember him leaning forward in his chair, insisting on locking eyes and stating, "John. Flak is something you can't control.  There is very little (in life) you really can control.  But what you can control, you can control absolutely."

I asked, "So tell me what you can control."

He didn't hesitate.  "The knowledge I put in my mind."

"And how does knowledge help control flak?  Flak is random..."

He leaned back into his chair, closed his eyes and smiled.  "Exactly."

*break break*

So.  At the end of my drawing time, I went upstairs to partake in my genius-chef-wife's dinner.  Typically, this is a glorious moment for me but in this case, I wasn't so shiny.  In fact, I felt kinda gross.   I let her know too, "I feel like I need some mental floss!  I just watched this show on Ted Bundy.  Gawd it's just...yuck!"

Ever the pragmatist, she responded, "Then why'd you watch it?"

Hmmm.  "Why..?" indeed.

The contrast of having a story of an evil criminal flicker on side of my desk while I'm drawing the bomber of a Doolittle Raider on the other popped into consciousness like a flak shell.   At first I felt ripped off for having exchanging an hour of time for a story that provided little other than the attention-grabbing that comes from shock-value.

But after the sting wore off, I noticed the contrast between the two screens.  I have to state it—Ted Bundy's story has some real fascination to it; what makes people go so evil, so dark?!  The answer to the question is useful in the same way that knowing it's not smart to wack your thumb with a hammer is useful—see it, know it, don't do it again.

Still.  I'm amazed that the serial killer received a whole freaking... series?!

I pouted about the hour I'd never get back and then wondered the thousands of people who'd plop down on their butts for the whole deal, looking for thrill, looking for drama, looking for terror...I don't know why people exchange precious time to learn about cheap people...

©Shutterstock.  I grabbed this off the internet.  I don't own it.  But it makes special sense in this case.

And then the irony of my project sunk in; the B-25 before me represented the same elements—thrills, drama, terror.  Yet, the story also represented the stuff that celebrates the best of us, too.  Duty, faith, discipline, optimism, love, hope...

It's an age-old problem of mankind - realizing we are responsible for what we plant into our psyche and therefore reap its fruits.  Surely, I learned that  Ted Bundy had been bent from the beginning—little positive guidance, a predilection for the prurient and a fascination with the violent; genetics?  A gift from the Devil?  Or maybe someone just wasn't there to show him that life is flak and it's what you do with it that determines your fate.

A gentle reminder is due. There are stories 'out there' that do not grub in the gutter.  Stories that have all the fascination of the awful but somehow leave behind a mark, not of filth but of inspiration and power.

I'd like to introduce you to Donald G. Smith, pilot of "#15" - the second to the last B-25 that took off from the US carrier Hornet on April 18, 1942.

It's a heck of a story and I'm still not even half-done with the art.

And I promise it will give you knowledge...the kind you want in your brain while you're flying through the flak of life.


I grabbed this picture from a blogger who lives in Bountiful Utah.  I hope he approves (dude! PLEASE check your email!)


As for Netflix's deal on what's-his-name?  I'm tuning out.  But I can't wait until they show this movie.

The cheesy poster totally rules over the sh*te that Neflix made for their poster-boy.  Again, the movie is cheesier than your local pizza parlor but still...it's awesome.  
It's as sappy as an IHOP pancake and over-acted.  But I'd rather fill my mind with that than the dreck of some loser.




20 January, 2019

Profile 134 - "The April 18th Project" (post #1)


So, after a needed many-month break, I return to the studio, coffee cup in hand, to start publishing the HUGE backlog of artwork/stories when suddenly, a project pops up on the radar that totally demands clearance to buzz my desk...


Indeed, "...the pattern is full."  (love the quote, hate the movie).

But this one* must go first. Frankly, it's one of the top-5 Great American Moments** of the 20th Century and that's why it sends the rest back to the stagnant hold-pattern over my desk.

So. Have a look at the pencil-sketch above.  The most extreme Wing Nuts and History Geeks will know exactly what's going on.  But if you're not one of them, let me digress.

*break break*

Have you ever wondered where Character comes from?   Have you ever wondered what Character means?   Just recently, the family table fired up when the topic of "What is character?" came up among four generations of participants.  And boy, did it get hot!

Gay marriage. Fatherless children. Divorce.  Generational dynamics.  The Vietnam War.  Rock'n Roll.  Even buying vs leasing cars (really!) were offered as arguments for one way or the other.  In the end, all faces were red, all blood pressures high...but thankfully we all kept our cool and no one threw a punch or hollered an awful epithet (though one—a highly educated academic-type— came close).

Yet, in the end, we settled on this sort of understanding that we have hope for the future that they will be better than "us." And they will embody the character in which we all hope will prevail.  Who is they?

The future generations.

And again, what is this "character"?

No one could define it.

(deep breath)

In the meantime, look at the progress-shot below.  Are you a teacher?  A CEO?  A shift-manager?  A department-head?  A housewife? A student?  An Instagram Influencer?

Look below.

This indistinct shape you see represents everything you (hopefully) want to be.


*You should SEE the stuff that's coming up!   F-100 combat gun cam footage, a tragically glorious Avro Lancaster, a TBM story that's the stuff of gut-busting pride, "MiG Killin'," a loooong overdue AC-130...and then, along comes a project that stops them all, fairly demanding a flyby.

**The other four?  I'd love to discuss!  Next time we meet, I'll buy the first round while you state your case.