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|Sometimes when I reminisce .. my thoughts wander back to combat
in Korea. I can close my eyes and secret myself in the attic of
my mind, and there, just over there, parked beside the runway
... is a beautiful, sleek and graceful B-26 - loaded and waiting.
I pat and caress her fondly, rubbing my hand across the Oscar
logo on her nose, and, as if by invitation, I stick my right boot
into the foothold in the bomb bay doors and reach up to grab a
handhold on the side of the plane. I climb up onto her in the
dark of midnight. The crew chief has placed my parachute in place
in the cockpit. I settle into the womb-like security of the pilot's
seat, hook up the straps on my chute and belt myself in.
It's cold, bitterly cold, and a half-moon reflects the light snow
covering the mountain sides. I engage the starters, a cough, cough,
cough and a belch of ignition smoke prelude the rhythmic purr
of powerful cylinders singing in unison.
"Aircraft Mike in the Snow"
|I am back in North Korea with my crew. Look down there! There,
down on the valley floor of the canyon, you can see it in the
moonlight - a long black caterpillar is snaking its way along
a shelf just above the river.
See it? - look to either side about 15 degrees and you can see
him clearly in your peripheral vision. The track, laid on a narrow
terrace jutting out from the near vertical walls of this Korean
Grand Canyon, twists though a continuous series of turns leading
up to a tunnel. We cannot strafe with the wings level because
of the contour of the mountain. Even if the track were straight
there wouldn't be enough clearance between the track and vertical
wall for our wing to pass.
Ack-ack - the red balls of anti-aircraft fire, in surreal slow-motion,
begin to lazily arc ahead of us. They don't know where we are.
Their primitive guns have no radar control. They search wildly
in the darkness but we won't worry about that now.
The engineer has been warned and is straining for the sanctuary
of that tunnel just ahead. Quickly now I maneuver for attack -
mixtures rich, props set, bomb doors open, racks selected, guns
charged, gunsight on: flip - flip - flip ... flip - flip - my
fingers dance over a console of dozens of switches and circuit
breakers in the darkness of the cockpit, automatically playing
a tune in preparation for the dispensing of fire and destruction.
Each switch must be set with absolute exactness - no tolerances.
The train's steam engine is laboring at full capacity - you can
see by the smoke and steam being emitted. He thinks he has it
made but I'm going to teach that son-of-a-bitch a lesson. In about
five seconds I am going to punch the bastard's last train ticket
with a thousand rounds of 50 caliber ammo. I'm gonna stick fourteen
guns right up the ass of that caboose, walk them up the track
to the engine and relegate that train to the status of an inert
submarine at the bottom of that river. I am filled with rage and
a single-minded determination.
I bank sharply and dive - 45 degrees, more, a little more, that's
it, 390, 410, 430 mph, nose up just a bit, he's in the crosshairs
of my gunsight- bombs away with my left thumb, fourteen guns belch
flame with my right index finger, the airplane shudders and slows
a bit - the cockpit is filled with the acrid smell of burnt gunpowder.
Careful - another burst, another, another, the sheer granite walls
engender the foreboding feeling of guiding a brakeless Mack truck
down a steep, snow covered, one lane mountain road at night -
no center line - no guard rails - the canyon is dead ending.
There's the tunnel but the steam from the heaving engine beckons
us as a Lorelei - one more burst, just one more - surely he'll
explode!! Pull up! Pull up!! Pull up!!! Pull up with all my strength
- we skim over the wall of the mountain - look at that! I can
distinctly see, in the moonlight, the branches of trees, and there
- sitting on one of them as we dart past - the Grim Reaper - smiling.
"Next time! Yes, perhaps next time!"
Our immediate refuge now is to be found in altitude, up, up, up,
2,000 - 3,000 - 4,000 feet and out of the proverbial valley of
death rode the three of us - hearts pounding - we're in the clear
- the ack-ack now knows where we are. We can both see and hear
it clearly as it whoosh, whoosh, whooshes past the cockpit. The
airplane has been vibrating from the recoil of Stan's turret guns
firing back at the ack-ack. Though momentarily exhausted the breathing
Fleetingly, across the screen of my memory is juxtaposed a monster,
a Mr. Hyde, a masked executioner with the picture of a little
kid with bible in hand and his bead bowed at Sunday school in
Huntsville, Alabama so long long ago. Could they be ...is it possible
that... of course not. Don't even think about such things. Concentrate
on what you're doing.
My brain then makes a quick call to its logic center and asks,
"are our lives not worth more than some rickety, beaten-up Toonerville
On intercom, I ask, "Gunner, you OK"?
"Roger sir, no sweat back here".
On intercom to the navigator in the seat beside me, "You OK Charlie"?
"Yeah, I'm OK, Jim. Geez, I though you'd been hit".
I ask, "We get him?"
Charlie says, "I think he made the tunnel."
Gunner says, "I think we missed him".
I tell the crew: "Let's see if we can find another."
Charlie says, "Be my guest. You need the practice."
Gunner says, "I'm just along for the ride."
The navigator was Charlie Hinton, who today is retired and living
in Florida. The gunner was Stanley Brown, whose last address was
in the vicinity of Colorado Springs. Theirs was a kind of recurring
heroism, the purest form of bravery; indeed, valor, that more
often than not was taken for granted It was expected - it was
indeed demanded - for it simply came with the territory.
Now, almost half a century later, I say to them with the greatest
pride and affection, "Thanks to you, my friends, I owe you a great
debt - an unpayable debt. When God put you in my airplane, He
blessed me with two of His finest (albeit ugliest) angels.
-- James Willard Braly, Pilot
13th Bomb Squadron