24 December, 2021

Profile 158: "Mammy Yocum" - Boeing B-29 Superfortress, 468th BG, 792nd BS as crewed by Malen Powell


Have a look at my B-29 sketch above.

Now, close your eyes and try to imagine what it really looked like...

Did you notice the nose art?

* break break *


My lifestyle requires that I 'hit the gym' every day.  Without the gym, I'd be a 300lb potato; working out is the only way I know to achieve any kind of physical fitness in my line of work.  But the essential practice is boring.  And solitary.  I'm not alone in this sentiment.  

Thus, it stands to reason that - social species as we are - there are a group of us that meet in the facility's dry and steam saunas.  Once the notion of being around naked, ugly, sweaty men in their pinnacle of "ick," (wrapping up in towels does not help much) is blocked out,  the conversations that follow make the place fascinating.

A scene from the sitcom, "Everybody Loves Raymond."
I do not recommend doing internet searches with the words:
"Old men in sauna."


As a twenty+ year gym member, most of the people there know me as "the guy who does war stuff."  I'm seen as a subject-matter expert on aviation, military, politics — an odd irony in that I'm simply a repository of other people's activity.  I know nothing other than what I learn from interviewing other people.  I'm just an observer.  Of history.  I tend to keep my eye's shut in the steam room (and observe with my ears).


Years ago, one of the 'steam room guys' and I got to know each other well enough to recognize each other through the hissing steam —at the time, he was in his 80s and did his swimming/sauna routine about the same time I did my weights; our schedules in the Steam Room coincided.  

We exchanged pleasantries —"Hey."  "Hey."   and "How's it going?"  "Good, you?" But judging from his lack of direct interaction with the steady exchange of other Steam Room Acolytes, I recognized him to be an Observer, too.  

Having participated in a few WWII memorial events, I got to be a pretty-good judge of age and figured him to be about 85.  Backed with a heavy interest in all-things-WWII, I decided to ask the obvious.  But, I'd learned that The Greatest Generation weren't always best approached from the front.  Sometimes, an oblique approach was better. 

In my minds-eye, I remember the moment like this — three in the steam room, the steady hiss of hot fog, the sharp scent of eucalyptus oil and weird acoustics that come from wet ceramic tile and the odd splat of sweaty feet.

Can you picture that?

Ok.  Anyway...

"Did you happen to go overseas in the '40s?"

"Yes," was his reply.

"Really.  Where?"

"North Africa."  Through the steam, I could see his posture hadn't changed and sat hunched, looking at the floor as men tend to do in places like this.  

(Ssssssss...splat, cough, sssssss...)

That was the roundabout-answer to the question I REALLY wanted to ask, "I see you're WWII age.  Did you serve in combat?" (For those of you who are history-challenged, North Africa was not much of tourist destination in the 1940s.)

A few seconds passed and I decided to ask another.  "Anywhere else?"

(Ssssssss...splat, cough, sssssss...)

In a flash, he stood up straight, and without making eye contact, announced to the doorway in a stern voice, "Italy!  And two Purple Hearts if it means anything to you!" And he fairly bolted to the door, obviously uncomfortable with something and obviously DONE with the Steam Room.

Poking around stories of the past is my work, but when it pokes back, I don't always know how to react.  This time, I felt horrible.

So did the other, silent dude, sitting in the mist in the corner... awkward?  Indeed.


As this old guy splatted his way out of the sauna, one hand holding his towel tight, the other strong arming the door, I noticed two ancient scars on his back.  One about nine inches long across his shoulder and the other wrapped around his ribs, perhaps equally as long.  Jagged, thick — these were not the marks of a surgeon but of the butchery of mortal combat. 

Again, I felt horrible.  And it took another year before we got back to pleasantries —"Hey."  "Hey."   and "How's it going?"  "Good, you?" 

Until, one day, the conversation eased back into his combat service and this time, he seemed more interested in talking about his wartime life — "One day, we'll have to get together.  I'll tell you all about it.  All of it."  

The day never came — like everyone on earth, he died.  And like everyone on earth, he died with a story still locked away... and I was left with the sparse framework of Operation Torch, the Invasion of Italy and sobering memory of two ugly scars slashed onto the skin of an old man.

Ok, so this post is supposed to be about B-29s.

Have a look again.

My finished B-29!
© Me.

Did you notice the nose art?   You can BARELY see it.  But getting that bit right took 50% of the time required to render, "Mammy Yocum," the B-29 crewed by gunner SSgt Malen Powell, 792nd Bombardment Squadron, among the first to use the airplane in the historic bombing of mainland Japan in 1944-45.

The piece was created to represent the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) Society at Malen's 100th birthday party to be held on 11 December in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Powell was awarded the honor for his actions over a mission over Japan — in the packed formation, he identified a stick of bombs plummeting from another B-29 as on a collision course with his crew's own B-29 and helped the pilot make lightning-quick course changes to just-barely miss a sure-fire collision.  

This is a photo of bombs leaving the bomb bay of a 792 BS B-29.
I can only imagine what Malen saw...


DFCs aren't handed out like cookies.  And they're no mere 'at'a boy!' awards.  Gads, I wanted to know more about exactly what happened that day... and of course, what happened every other day in Mallen's life (which I found out was fairly stiched together with deeds of community service, profound Christian faith and friendship to many.  

Unfortunately, Malen contracted pneumonia in early December and his ill-health forced the decision to postpone his birthday party for...

"Six months?!" I said aloud, reading the notice.  


Anyway, back to the nose art.  Of all the B-29s he'd crewed, Malen wanted "Mammy Yocum"* to represent his service.  Now, as long as I have good photographic references, I'm pretty amped with nose-art challenges.  But in the case of "Mammy Yocum," I was less-so as only two (kinda) crappy references remained. 

The two lousy photos I had and my cobbled-up scrawl trying to simulate what "Mammy Yocum" would have looked like on the B-29 that Malen crewed.

You don't want to know what it took to figure out what color Mammy's clothes were and you certainly don't want to know how many iterations it took of sketching the iconic character on paper to get my head around how I could draw someone else's vision through someone ELSE'S minds-eye...

But!  The presses were fired up, proofs made, signed, numbered and readied for the party where Malen would be reunited with his airplane to a crowd of VIPs...

...when on 19 December, I opened my email to find a short note from Malen's daughter, "I'm sorry.  I'm trying to contact everyone.  He passed this morning..."


Life is terminal, I get that.  As much as we try to fool ourselves, there's a Higher Order that prevails, plucking every one of us from the time continuum.  Play by the rules, break them all or pick your ratio in-between — the end is the same.

I was really hoping Malen would have his moment, though.

However, in my brief interaction with Malen prior to his passing, he did get a chance to answer a few of my questions (thank you, DeAnna Powell for the help!)


Me: If there was painting of your plane made, would Mammy be in color?

Malen: It seems like she was.

Me: Do you remember if the colors matched the comic strip?

Malen: I just remember seeing her with her fists up like this (motions) ready to fight.  Tom Young said that she was the "fighting-est" old girl in the army.

Me: How many bombs would you want on your plane?

Malen: Well, there would be 19 bombs and 4 camels... 

My artwork showing a nifty effect I use with clear "varnish"
Notice the 100 (for Birthday), the five camels (for times flown over 'the hump')
and 35 bombs for Malen's combat total.

Later, we got around to questions of more substance.

Me:  Did WWII change you in any way?

Malen:  I don't think it changed me.  I was the same as before I joined.  We had a job to do,  we went over and did it. 

Me:  So then describe your WWII service...

Malen:  I am proud of what we did.  I saved my crew.  I've been thinking about the movie"Saving Private Ryan". In the movie the gov't heard of four brothers that were killed.  They sent a troop in to get the last surviving brother.  The leader said to pvt Ryan, we are here to get you out. The gov't doesn't want all of the brothers killed in combat.  Pvt Ryan looked at the leader and said, " Do you see that guy there, that guy there, that guy there,  they are all my brothers and I'm not leaving them". The feeling,  you've got friends here and there, but if you were in combat, your feelings for each other would be different.  There is a story of friends 50 feet apart.  One was shot,  and the other defied death to bring his friend out to get medical attention.  There's a bond between people who are in combat.  I'll use Martin as an example. We were in combat together. He was probably the best friend I've ever had.  When I lost him,  man, that hurt.  If it was the marines,  army, navy, it would be different, but when we were together,  there was no distinction between us.  Captain Barber was my Good friend. We went to the shows together a few times. When we were sitting around together there was no distinction between us.  

Me:  If you could do anything differently in your life, what would it be and why?

Malen:   That's a hard question.  I don't know what I'd do differently.  The only thing I can think of would be to go college on the GI bill. 

Me:  Are you particularly proud of any accomplishment you did?

Malen:  I took flying lessons to be a commercial pilot.  I would have been proud to be a pilot.  I'm proud of my military service.  Two different times I saved my crew from death.  I was on the last mission that stopped WWII. I'm very proud of that.  

Me:  When you go back into your memories of a B-29 mission, what do they comprise?

Malen: I made 34 bombing missions. Half of those missions I don't remember dropping the bombs. I remember the important missions.  On the Mukden Manchurian mission we (almost) to have froze to death. It was 65 below zero, and we didn't take our coats. After about 25 minutes from dropping our bombs, we crossed the Great Wall of China. On a different flight from Pakistan,  we flew over the Taj Mahal.  

Me:  Any advice you'd give a total stranger?  Like me?

Malen:  I'm not sure.  I'm not sure...

And the interview was stopped to pick up another day.  Which of course, won't happen.

I just scribbled this. That's my Challenge Coin though.  Appropriate enough for today.


That this post is the last of 2021 seems fitting as  I'm tired from interviewing old guys and drawing their airplanes.

And tired of watching generations grow up in mind-tight capsules that can't learn from the past.

Tired too of shouted words and plugged ears.

And tired of seeing old people walk through the door of life, wisdom unshared, scars at their backs while the rest of us wonder what the hell just happened.

Blue Skies, Malen.  I hear there's a place especially prepared for folk like you... 

*Mammy Yocum was the tough-talking Matriarch of Dogpatch, USA of the then-famous comic strip, "Lil'Abner."

01 November, 2021

The Aero Scouts of Vietnam - Reading the Sign

At 100mph and 100 feet altitude, it’s amazing what you can see.

It’s also amazing what you can SMELL.

Have a look above.  It’s an unusual graphic for this blog because it shows three of my drawings with a suite of logos.

I will explain.

* break break *

This past weekend, I was able to participate in an event produced by the American Flight Museum (AFM) in Topeka.  The AFM is unique in that while most museums have doors and windows, theirs coughs smoke, makes noise and flies.  

We’ll get to that in another post, probably early-ish next year.   But suffice it to say the AFM is keenly interested in ensuring that the historical record is underlined with the preservation of personal accounts and the machines that helped make them.

This'd be the AFM's AC-47 Gunship, "Spooky" dolled up in Medal of Honor recipient John Levitow's historic decor.  More on this later.  ©Me.

Earlier this year, I was commissioned to draw a particular Vietnam War helicopter - a Hughes OH-6A Cayuse (or more popularly referred to as “Loach”) flown by veteran Hugh Mills.  Hugh is an extraordinary individual in that he’s been awarded just about every medal the military and law enforcement community can offer.  Adding to it, the man can write. He’s the author of the seminal book on U.S. Army “Aero Scout” operations, “Low Level Hell.”*

Hugh Mills signs prints of my drawing - the AFM will use these as a fundraising tool for their Museum.  The title of the print, "You can't make history sitting in the office" is a quote Hugh gave me while talking to him about his history.  Great one, eh? ©Me.  And if you want to buy a print, contact the AFM.   

However, these kind of moments are like when my neighbor starts up his 800hp Camaro; within minutes, every gear-head within a four-block radius is drawn to the noise like wasps to an open can of Mt. Dew…

… and suddenly, we’ve got Vietnam-vet Loach pilots taking turns at the controls of their old war mount, a hangar full of food, new friends and a hastily cobbled Live Stream featuring three extraordinary Aero Scout pilots (and me with a microphone).

Was it awesome?

Uh… you decide. (Be advised.  The audio at the beginning starts out "not awesome."  But, after about three minutes, it cleans up).

Ok, back to the SMELL.

It needs to be stated that the mission of the Aero Scout pilot was to find the enemy and direct operations to engage.  Of course, 'the Scouts' were part of a complicated package that included Cobra gunships, troops on foot, directing tactical air support (i.e. jets with bombs)... but, the Aero Scout was often (by design) the first to make contact.  And by making contact, it could include “I see some North Vietnamese way over there about a mile away.”

But most of the time, “…make contact” meant “Holy shite!” And right below, no further than twenty feet away are the angry enemy, blasting upwards with their AK-47s. 

“So how close did you get (to the enemy)?” I asked Aero Scout, Gary Worthy.

Gary waited a few moments, processing the question, then calmly nodded towards a clump of people in quiet conversation, standing no more than twenty feet away.  “Closer than that.”

To put a fine point on his statement, on 16 October of 1968 near Lai Khe, Gary took a brace of fire that riddled his Loach with nearly eighty bullet holes and left a 7.62mm bullet lodged permanently in his head.  And he managed to fly his crew, riddled helicopter and bleeding self back to base (South Vietnam) where he waited to be lifted to a hospital.

Let that sink in.  Gary’s survival story is miraculous.

It's a crummy picture of a far-crummier occasion that ended up pretty beautiful. Gary, recovering in the hospital, was visited by Col George Patton IV - yes, THAT Patton's son. Gary was impressed by the man and grateful for the visit.  Photo courtesy of Gary Worthy.

But Gary’s engagement story was common; remember that the Scout's role meant essentially meant poking a wasp nest with a stick and hollering, “They’re HERE!”

Uh... wow.

At any rate, in Hugh’s book, he wrote about how a Loach crew*** would need to be extraordinarily observant for all kinds of “Sign” of the enemy.   Hence the word, “Scout” that harkens back to the days of the Wild West when trackers were used to find outlaws hiding in the wild country.   That Sign could include, odor.  Cooking odor, human waste odor and simply normal, routine body odor.  

As someone who grew up in the country, the concept of looking for observable Sign was somewhat easy to grasp.  But SMELL??  How on earth can people be ‘sniffed out’ from a helicopter zipping over trees at 80 miles an hour?!


Wait.  Before I get to the smell-thing, let's get back to the moment.  Remember that it started with a lowly art commissioning.  But by now, there were flying warbirds involved and a host of Vietnam War vets (and their friends, families and a slew of History Geeks).   

History Geeks + History Maker - L-R, Me, Gary Worthy and AFM President, Robert Rice. (note to world, Robert hosted the gathering, backed by a beautiful team of other History Geeks that showed up, cleaned up, poured up, laughed up, shook hands and shared in the awesomeness of the moment).

Gary had obviously survived the war and in time, established a successful business as a crop sprayer.  Over time, he'd accumulated the resources to do something he felt needed to be done — tell the story of his service in such a way that people could touch, hear, see (and ironically, smell).  To Gary, that meant buying a vintage, brilliantly restored OH-6A helicopter and fly it.

Obviously, you know where this is going. 

First flight of the day, I'm with Bruce Huffman, another highly decorated Aero Scout preflighting for a sortie over the Kansas countryside. 

I had no idea that, “Fly a re-enacted combat mission with a combat pilot who flew said mission in combat” was on my bucket list.  It should be on yours, too.

"Aero Scouts, crank engines!"  from Old Guys and Their Airplanes on Vimeo.


We’re buzzing along, maybe 100mph, right over a narrow river, lower than the tree line and I wondered, "So what's this reading Sign all about?" 

If there ever was a class in understanding the term, Situational Awareness, it should surely involve flying in a Loach!

I took this at about 80kts — notice we're below the tops of the trees. I know what I thought I saw...did YOU see anything?! ;) ©Me.

The tiny helicopter is not only fast, the bubble canopy and open doors provide an exceptional view of the world around.  Though we were racing, low-level, I could identify various sizes of submerged tires, distinguished between a 2 x 4 piece of lumber and a 4 x 4 post, spotted an old chair left to rot in a bush and could follow the weave of game trails throughout the copses and clearings.  The amount of information that I could glean was astounding. 

LOOKING FOR SIGN at 80kts from Old Guys and Their Airplanes on Vimeo.

But, the Loach was also suprisingly quiet.  Twice, we surprised animals — one was a buzzard picking at a dead raccoon; ever see a big bird flinch?!  It didn’t react until we were just overhead and even then it quite literally scared the sh*t out of it. 

Suffice it to state, I was blown away by how much information could be obtained from buzzing around in these little Loaches. I was also blown away by how little time there was to process it.

An Aero Scout at the stick (Bruce Huffman)  from Old Guys and Their Airplanes on Vimeo.

Years ago, Bruce explained to me that a Loach crew had to function on a high level to do the job.  Every set of eyes had to be working.  Every mind alert.  Unlike a Hollywood movie, there were no lazy minutes leaning on the door gun thinking of ‘back home.’  There was no time to reflect on life as the scenery scrolled below.

Nope — from start to finish, the Aero Scout mission was all about acutely tuned, astutely sensed and accurately interpreted inputs from the world outside.

Smell was one of those inputs.

Ok.  So we were heading back to base, 500’ altitude, whopping-along at about 100mph when suddenly, I get this sharp scent of a barbecue — hickory smoke, ribs, to be precise.  I look down (straight down) and one, two, three… there he was, a highly surprised Backyard BBQ Master, eyes upward, mouth agape, spatula frozen in mid-flip of the juicy rack.

And poof!  We were gone.

A few more moments passed and sniff!  Burning leaves!  Sure enough, there they were, a small pile of Fall leaves, smoldering away, and another surprised soul, stunned as our green tadpole shot over his yard.

And poof!  We were gone.

Then, up ahead I saw a column of white smoke from a much larger fire — the kind of controlled burn that a farmer would have after clearing out half an acre of old growth.   A few moments later, the smell hit me and I realized how these Aero Scouts used all of their senses to play their extraordinary role in combat operations.

Kansas?  Khe Sanh?  Doesn't matter.  Where there's smoke, there's fire.  ©Me.

Sight, Surprise, Smell… 

Later on I was sharing my experiences with Hugh, Bruce and Gary; they nodded in sober response to my musings.  But I knew that THEY knew there was way more to learn about being an Aero Scout than one flight above rural Kansas.  Nevertheless, they were pleased to teach.

Rear view, turbine heat from Old Guys and Their Airplanes on Vimeo.

“Now you can appreciate why I wanted to be off the pad before sunrise and be over our AO (Area of Operations) so early in the morning.  To catch the last wisps of smoke from cooking fires.  To smell their food.  War is about getting and using information.”  Bruce smiled, gave me a firm pat on the shoulder.

There's no better way to learn History than to actually look at the eyes, hear the voice and make the mental connection with someone who was actually there.  No. Better. Way. 

And poof!  The night was over, handshakes, smiles, good cheer... and a whole lot to think about.

L-R Aero Scouts Gary Worthy, Hugh Mills and Bruce Huffman in front of Gary's Loach, hangared and loved-up for the night.  

(deep breath, exhale)

These are tough days.  

We have a crisis in this country and it’s greater than COVID, gas prices, trigger warnings or canceled flights at the airport.  It’s the crisis that occurs when the lessons and examples of one distinguished generation fade away before the generation before can read the Sign.

(deep breath, exhale)

This is why I put “When an old man dies, a library burns” on my personal challenge coin.  Crisis, threat, terror, trouble - those things happen and they always will.   But they’re so much easier to manage when we - as a team -  stay humble, stay aware and stay vigilant in learning from the experiences of others.   

More stuff to come… I can smell it. 

Thank you to Vaerus Aviation for letting us have our little party in their "little hangar." God Bless America, Amen and Good Night. ©Me


** (pilot, observer and door gunner/crew chief) 

Hugh Mills (R) and "Roddy" Dill (L) - our prime pilot for the day.  Among History Geeks, Roddy is totally ONE OF US — on behalf of HG's everywhere, we're proud to call you one of our own. ©Me

Ah heck.  One more photo.  And thanks again, Roddy.  btw - Mills and Huffman said you're one fine pilot.   ©Me.

27 October, 2021

"The Obstinate Owl II " - F-86F Sabre, 35th FBS, 8th FBG as flown by...

 Quick post - this blog is 'trending' again and figured a post should be made to keep up appearances. 


Aside from the fact that the above is about 50% of the way to completion, the most interesting thing here is what you don't see (yet) — the nose art.

There are only TWO known photos of this airplane, almost to spite the fact that its pilot is a human legend.  One is a photo of the brand-new Sabre on its way to K-13 (the airfield from which it was based as assigned to the 35th FBS).

It's a fantastic photo of 458 in-flight! Photographer unknown but obtained here and attributed to an F-86 pilot named Paul Gushwa, 36th FBS.

How do I know it's "on it's way from Depot in Japan (possibly Itazuke AFB)?  Well, the pilot said that when the airplane arrived at K-13 (Suwon Air Base),  he picked it out as 'his.'   So, seeing that the Sabre doesn't have the pilot's quirky nose-art applied, we can assume it's INBOUND.

Prolly February, 1953 but what do I know?

Anyway, the photo below is the only other photo of "The Obstinate Owl II."  

A totally funny, ridiculous and sworn-to-secrecy story is behind the name.  I'm trying to get the man's blessing on sharing it here.  I gotta keep my promises...

So, I'm working on mastering that fantastic script-work of whomever it was with the 8th FBW that did it.  How do I know 8th FBW?  Well... the photo below is the boss's bird.  Col Walter Gotlieb Benz was obviously Sierra Hotel, awarded the Silver Star, DFC and Bronze Star... and obviously influenced a few of the 8th FBW aircraft's nose art.  Click the two photos and see what I mean — TOTALLY 'same guy' who did the brushery. 

Photo of Col Benz climbing out of his F-86F, "The Dirty Old Man."  Copyright unknown but found at: http://www.flyingfiendsinkoreanwar.com, a mighty fine site featuring the 35th FBS's sister squadron, the 36th FBS.

And here's where things get amusing — the pilot who flew "The Obstinate Owl II" does have a photo of him standing in front of "The Dirty Old Man."

Evidently Col Benz didn't worry to much about who was flying "his" airplane when he was away.  And rightly so as the guy above was pretty much Sierra Hotel himself. 

More later.  :)   I think the next post, I'll be able to share why this F-86F is so darned special to the lore of American history.

16 October, 2021

"The Obstinate Owl II " - F-86F Sabre, 35th FBS, 8th FBG as flown by...

"Gawd.  You get to meet the most amazing people..."

Ever hear the phrase, "If you're the smartest/best/coolest person in the room, find another room"?

(cough cough)

Uh... my seat in the room of "...most amazing people" is hewn from solid granite with a foundation that sinks a mile into the earth.  I ain't moving anywhere.

It's a great gig.  But, it's spoiled me.  Perhaps rotten.  At least for the word, "Leadership."

To this point, the word often makes me blanch — what my generation passes as Leadership is (often) simply not.  At best it's naive.  At worst, it's a manufactured veneer.  Narcisism anyone?

To me, this photo represents the Bonfire of the Vanities.  

"Oooh.  That's a little negative, don't you think?" 

Nah.  Hear me out. (irony-alert!)

Need to experience this for yourself?  Clue into LinkedIn and read the myriad of posts stuffed with the pronoun "I," the bullet-pointed lists of assured success-tips, pontificated musings and the remarkable youth (of all ages) from which they're conveyed.

Will Rogers was a "National Treasure."  If he were alive today, I'd vote for him.  So would you.  Prolly.

Guilty as charged, too.

Nevertheless, the more I spend time with "...the most amazing people," the more I'm convinced that Leadership is a deep, personal void that one fulfills by using God-given talent, perfecting acquired skill and confidence that every human has a responsibility to the other.

Hmmm.  Maybe I should post that. 

(cough cough)


Have a look at the sketch at the top of this post — it's a North American F-86F-30 Sabre, circa Spring, 1953, South Korea, airfield "K-13."

The story that will follow includes bombs, rockets, risk, reward, the moon, a drunk executive and his grateful wife and the kind of cache that will make even the most distinguished hero straighten up, shut up and listen up.

And it involves The Brady Bunch.  Yes.  With Marcia, Greg and Florence Henderson ("Mike Brady" was kind of a 'meh' but that's another story).

So... ©CBS (I guess) owns the copyright to The Brady Bunch.

Jan vs. Marcia.  I was (and remain) TEAM JAN.  Marcia was too vain. (Oh! My Nose!)

But first, let's get the Geeky stuff out of the way.

• This is an F model (not an A or an E or an H and certainly not a fat-nosed D).

Significance?  The F model Sabre was the perfection of the breed.  Aesthetically, it's probably the most beautiful jet fighter ever made.  But Aerodynamically, it was almost perfect.   Though unable to sustain Mach 1 in level flight, it absolutely mastered its flight envelope.  Rumor has it that if the pilot (somehow) managed to get it in a spin, all one had to do was center the controls and it would return to normal vectored flight.  

Beautiful AND pleasant.  How's that for airplanes?!*

This is an F-86D.  I drew this for a family who loved their Patriarch.

Someone actually said, "The D-model is ugly!"  Bah.  They wouldn't know 'ugly' if it farted on their lap.

• The particular Sabre I'm drawing right now is an "F" model and part of the 8th FBG.   That'd be "Fighter Bomber Group" for those who don't care to know all the military acronyms.  And in case you're wondering about FBS, that'd be "Fighter Bomber SQUADRON."

But, back to the letter "B."

Significance?  "B" in the Air Force world means "Bomber."  Though her pilot "...thinks (he) saw a MiG, once..." (and would have loved to tangle with it), this F-86F was a ground-pounder, dropping bombs and strafing targets.  

So I asked him, "Did you ever want to get into a dogfight (with the North Korean** MiGs?)"

He replied, "Ah hell no. I liked bombing missions!  I could have flown around (on MiG patrol) all day and never see (MiGs)!  But when I was bombing, I was getting something done!  'Something happened' every time I took off and something happened every time I dropped my bombs."

So, I asked, "How'd you do hitting the target?"

He just glowered, coughed, looked away for a moment... then locked eyes and stated flatly, "I always hit the target."


I got his point.  The man never missed.  Which is good because... uh... never mind.  I'll hit that point in a later post.

"Major Tom to Ground Control..." © NASA

• The F-86F that I've been commissioned to draw represents the absolute apogee of the pilot's career (at least that's what he thinks).  But, you'd never, ever guess it because the pilot of this particular aircraft is an American Gawd.

Significance?   Well, that gets into this word, "Leadership" - at least how my generation has tried to promote it. 

So.  Back to that bonfire... Thank you @Cracked.com. 

Pour yourself a cup/glass of whatever you think is prudent and clear your December calendar.  The unveiling of this art will be live-streamed.

And you'll see (hopefully) that "Leadership" walks slowly, needs a cane (sometimes) and clears whatever space he's in of poseurs. 

More coming. :)

The quote is ©ME!.  If the Kardashians call me up and want to buy it, it will cost ONE MEEELION DOLLARS.  No... Seven.  No... TWELVE.   NO... 

Stand by.  This is going to get GREAT.   :)

*The Supermarine Spitfire is beautiful, pleasant and... amazing.

**Also (disproportionately) Chinese and Russian pilots.  

21 September, 2021

Flown West: Eugene "Red" James. Are you supposed to read this?

Eugene "Red" James sits in his Corsair, VMF-311 sometime in August of 1945.

At some point, everyone must come to grips with the reality that life is personal.

There is a point to-it-all and there is a test.

* break break *

Years ago, “life” afforded the opportunity to learn about itself in the form of “old guys.”  Specifically, combat aviators from WWII.  

As a history geek, it’s one thing to actually meet the people who’d participated in the peaks and valleys of the human timeline.  It’s another to learn that real life is transacted, mostly, between those peaks and valleys.

In between dogfights, bombing runs and secret missions, life was common, if not mundane.  

These Old Guys, eyewitnesses to huge crescendos of humanity, mostly raised families, started businesses, walked to work, were married, divorced, hurt their children, were hurt by their children, made money, lost fortunes…. normal life. 

Life, however it is lived is a Process and Truth the result.

The process of sorting this “truth” is like the Prospector’s practice of panning for gold — swishing out the dirt and debris to leave behind the nuggets of value.  Hanging around “Old Guys,” especially those who’ve experienced much, can make someone rich. 

However, there’s that phrase, “Not all the glitters is gold.”  Conversely, “Not all gold glitters.”  In fact, sometimes the most valuable is hard, black, and so jagged, it draws blood.

Meet Eugene “Red” James. 

Red with his VMF-312 squadron on the CV, Badoeng Strait (CV-116)

As a fighter pilot, Red was a commoner of the extraordinary breed.  He was not an ace, neither did he partake in war-changing battles.  He did, however, accumulate an impressive tally of missions in WWII and the Korean War.   Years ago, I wrote a little .pdf about his life called, “Marine Red.”  It describes how he learned to master the famous fighter, the Chance-Vought F4U Corsair and wield it in mortal combat.  

You can read it by clicking here.  But not quite yet. Read on, ok?


“I just did my job,” he’d say after recalling a particular memory of this or that combat action.  Though he was highly decorated — The Distinguished Flying Cross is not handed out to just anyone — his modesty was sincere.  Utterly so.   He didn’t swagger, he didn’t brag, he didn’t boast… his participation in war was simply the result of circumstance, born at the right/wrong time with the right/wrong genes.

Later in life, he was content to poke around his small town, hands in pockets, making small talk, playing pinball and doting on his wife, Dorothy.  Bumping into him ‘at the store’ was an invitation for fifteen, twenty, thirty…minutes of friendly banter about ‘stuff.’

“See ya Red!”


And he’d putter on his way, leaving you/me the happier.

I got to meet Red by bumping into his grand daughter (in a fashion).  She was thrilled to talk about this representative of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” to such a degree, she handed out her mom’s phone number.

“You will call my mom, right?  She’ll connect you with my grandpa!  He flew Corsairs!”

“Yep. Sure.”  A little weird to have strangers extract promises and offer family phone numbers… but life is weird.  So, why not?!

Besides, Corsairs are cool.  The greatest fighter aircraft of WWII?  Quite possibly.  But that’s not important here.  Suffice it to state, I got to know the Old Guy.  I think…we became friends of a sort, at least the kind of friendship that can happen between someone who’s twice one’s age and separated by huge distance.

Red's granddaughter, Red and me.  I made a presentation at the National Naval Air Museum about Red.  If you squint, you can see a checker-nosed F4U-4 in the background; Red flew that precise airplane, BuNo 97349

But, there was a moment when I wasn’t so sure he’d even tolerate me again.  

Early on in meeting Old Guys, I developed a set of patent questions that reached beyond the cockpit and into the vague, the personal.  Socrates wrote, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  As exiting as a Corsair is/was, once the data is known, it’s just a machine.  The pilot, however, is a life.  And there’s far more to life than war, right?

Anyway, Red’s daughter had warned me that in his age, some of his cognitive abilities  were like skips in a vinyl record.  I could always come back to a point but not to be frustrated if he couldn’t express himself so clearly.  The question, “What makes a man successful?” resulted in a poignant moment of frustration as he appeared to struggle with the answer.

As it turned out, the struggle was no fault of age but the churning through eight decades of life, sorting and distilling the answer in a way that I could understand. 

So, He told me a story.

It’s a good one!   The story involves an attack on an ocean port near Pyongyang, North Korea during the Korean War.  There’s flying into flak, taking battle damage, a fantastic crash landing and a host of circumstances that will make even the most cynical believe in the Divine.  Against all odds, Red brought his once-damaged Corsair back to the carrier, healed and whole.

I kid you not. You should hear it, but that will have to wait for another day.  Today,  it’s more important to get to the point... Red finished his story with his finger stabbing at my chest, his voice slightly raised and his blue eyes shooting icy cold condemnation, “…and that man was a coward!”  

I will never forget how that last word came out of his mouth, “…coward!”   He spat it as if it were the most repulsive filth he knew. A few seconds passed, a deep inhale, sigh and he sank back into his chair, defying me to break his stare.

Awkward?  Yes.   Uncomfortable?  Absolutely.  Riled-up old men are not at all pleasant to be around.  Still, the story he told didn’t have what I’d imagined as the traditional expression of Cowardice.

In Red’s story, no one ran away from battle.  There was no sobbing at the bottom of a war trench.  No cries for mommy.  But the word remained – a word that embodies perhaps the worst, at least for a man.  To be called a Coward is a curse of the worst order — to be known for failure, for fear, for worthlessness… “coward” is a bad word for sure.

Was this "the coward moment"?  Dunno - could be.  Does it matter?  Prolly not.  The best thing was that it was one of many over the years.  

Red remained simmering in his chair, a calm fury betrayed by a slight tremor of the hand and trembling of the jaw.

I gulped… perhaps a wiser person would have left well enough alone. But I wasn’t quite as wise as I am today.

“That’s a hell of a story.  But I have one more question.”

Red glared.

“That guy you called a coward.  He didn’t really seem like a coward to me.  A jerk, sure.  But a coward? What’s a coward to you?”

(Again, the story is pretty incredible.  You’ll have to wait for the details).

He leaned forward, placing his hands at the end of the seat as if he were going to leap onto mine and hissed, “A coward is someone who doesn’t do what he’s supposed to.”

Please.  Read that again.  

In a moment, his words blew through me like a cold South Dakota wind scours a stuffy, dank house.  Clarifying, shattering and sobering — in an instant.  There’s a reflexive action to slam the door and, “keep the cold out!”   But then, there, I knew better — Truth can be like that.  Icy, brutal.  And at times, necessary.

Of course, all the images, memories and moments of Cowardice, as expressed in my rich American life came to mind.  The failings of politicians, celebrities, business leaders, ministers of faith… friends, family and of course my own rap sheet were distilled in a simple, harsh paradigm that somehow, someway an Absolute was written onto a human’s soul and it alone was Judge and Jury.

To Red James, life came with a personal obligation and the obvious answer was to fulfill it.  Yet, any number of temptations and distractions could deflect our time.  Some small, some large but none inconsequential. 

What makes anyone successful? To Red James it was a personal calling, a fulfillment of responsibility that if avoided or ignored resulted in the condemnation of cowardice.  

“So what am I supposed to do, Red?”  Pssshhh!  Don't think for a second that I actually asked that question!   I’m so damn glad I had the common sense to keep my mouth shut — I knew damn well the answer was one afforded by the voice of conscience, the work of reason and the faith that the soul is hard wired for a thing greater than daily life.  

The answer to that question was mine and mine alone. 

Another quote came to mind, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36, NASB).

I have since stopped asking that question about "Success."  It's really none of my business.

Life is so short… it’s devilishly easy to get distracted by fame, pleasure, ease. I am extraordinarily grateful to Red for the sobering touchstone that life is a mission — a personal one — that transcends the temporary.

Yesterday, September 20, 2021, Red James died.  I’m certain he’s in the presence of Grace, woven into the eternal fabric of those giants that proceeded him, resting in the sweet peace that he did what he was supposed to…and one of those ‘supposed to’s’ was direct me.

Godspeed, Red James.

I believe I'm supposed to meet you again, too. 

Red leaves the train station, bound for WWII, some time in the summer of 1942.  He was 20 years old.

See ya, Red...but not before I've done what I've supposed to do.

Red's F4U-4 Corsair.  Not my best drawing but to me, it's one of my most important.