Thursday, January 31, 2019

"Flying the Hump"-- Part 2: Of Dakotas and Gooney Birds

By the end of the war, the airlift was  moving 77,306 tons of supplies a month,  operating 622 aircraft supported by 34,000  military personnel and  47,000 civilians.  At the end of the war the army reported  509 plane crashes, 1,314 known crew dead and more than 300 missing.

Early in the effort,  the airlift was the work if C-47s, converted DC-3 twin engine airliners called Dakotas by the British and Gooney Birds by their crews.

Lacking cabin pressure, the planes should have been limited to 10,000 feet.  But the problem was that for 140 miles, the mountains were never lower than 12,00 feet.  Everyone on board had to wear uncomfortable oxygen masks.

The C-47s were eventually replaced by  C-46s with supercharged four engines that could fly higher, faster and with more cargo.  But a problem was the wings iced more readily.  Some just fell out of the sky.  And, they were also unpressurized.

The C-46s were later replaced by the Douglas C-54 which could carry even more cargo, 4,000 miles and had a 22,000 foot ceiling, but still unpressurized.  One specialized C-54 variation became FDR's personal plane, dubbed the "Sacred Cow."  "The Sacred Cow" is now at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.


Wednesday, January 30, 2019

"Flying the Hump"-- Part 1: Not Designed, Heavier Loads, Worse Weather

This past week I have been writing about Ray "Pops" Merrick and his role in "Flying the Hump" during World War II.  Most Americans have not even ever heard of "The Hump."

From the April 10, 2017, Inside Science  "Flying the Hump: 75 Years Later" by Joel Shurkin.

In April 1940, a few short months after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. military began a mission that tested the technical capabilities of its aircraft and the courage of its personnel.  The mission was designed to supply otherwise isolated Chinese forces and civilians after the Japanese cut off the only land-based supply route through Burma.  It was called "Flying the Hump."

Sometimes scientific and technological advances can win a war, like in the case of the atom bomb.  But "Flying the Hump" owes its success primarily on the courage and imagination of the American forces there.

The Himalaya Mountains, the world's tallest,  ran through what was called the China-Burma-India Theater (CBI) during World War II.    The men who crossed those mountains did so in planes not designed to fly that high, carrying loads heavier than they were designed to carry, in weather no one was supposed to fly through.


Monday, January 28, 2019

Community Chest and DeKalb County War Fund

From the October 24, 2018, MidWeek  "Looking Back."

1943, 75 Years Ago.

"In the drive for Community Chest and DeKalb County War Fund drive, a slogan has been adopted by Arthur Bergstrand, chairman of Squaw Grove township, which has met with approval  of the co-chairmen of the drive and worth passing on.

"Mr. Bergstrand in meeting with his crew of workers says, "An individual could spend much money and do little for boys in service, but through the USO, which greatly benefits from this drive, he can spend little and do much."


Christmas Presents For Service Men in 1943

From the October 17, 2018, MidWeek  "Looking Back."

1943, 75 Years Ago.

"The Clare Community Center was filled with considerable sewing being accomplished and many boxes filled  for the Christmas presents to service men."


Friday, January 25, 2019

WW II Vet Ray "Pops" Merrick-- Part 5: The Case of the Mess Kits and Post War

While in India, he volunteered for the night watch and as such could go to the officers' mess and they'd fix him anything he wanted to eat.  On the night shift, his main duty was to guard the planes which were each in revetments, this for bomb safety.

One night, he heard gravel sliding down one of the revetments and drew his pistol and challenged.    "I almost shot them, but I heard their mess kits rattle and knew they were Americans."  He had one himself and knew the sound well.

Mr. Merrick returned to Chicago and says the returning men were treated nicely.  He lived there until moving out to Schaumburg and has lived in Ingleside since 2009.  He went to school with his wife's brother and knew her because she used to play baseball with them.  They married when he came home and had three children.

Ray has been in the VFW, AmVets and our Post 703 since 2009.

Quite A Story.  --GreGen

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

WW II Vet Ray "Pops" Merrick-- Part 4: Crusing on the SS Lurline To Australia

Pops was carried over to Australia on board the SS Lurline, formerly a luxury ocean liner, now converted into a troop and supplies transport.  It had been the flagship of the Matson Company.  However, there would be no swimming for him or his fellow shipmates as the pool had been drained and was loaded with supplies.

It was not all luxury for him as he had to stand watch, 4 hours on and 8 hours off, nothing he couldn't live with.  They called the anti-aircraft guns pom-poms.  It was a long voyage over to Australia and they had air cover for part of the way, but continually zig-zagged to avoid the submarine menace.

He was fortunate enough to get a cabin that now slept five.  The soldiers on the other side of the Lurline were stacked eight high.  Over there, in rough weather, the guy on top would get sick and throw up on the guys below him.


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

WW II Vet Ray "Pops" Merrick-- Part 3: Beer, Tokyo Rose and Roy Rogers

While in the service, his orders were to "Take charge of this post and all government property in view."

One day, while in a tent, one of the guys had a banjo and they were all having a grand time singing and drinking beer, though that was warm.  Then, one guy poured his beer into a fan and it went all over the place.  When they were stationed near the Irrawaddy River in Burma, they would put their beer in the water and since it was coming down from the mountains, they would have cold beer.

One of their favorite pastimes was listening to "Tokyo Rose" over the radio.  They ignored what she would say about "the 4-Fs taking your wives and girlfriends away," but she played all the current hits being heard in the United States and they loved the music.  Her records were supplied by Japanese spies in the United States.

One time, he saw Roy Rogers who was an officer on a transport plane.  He was told not to say anything to him so he wouldn't be pestered.  Ray did salute him and had the salute returned.


Monday, January 21, 2019

WW II Vet Ray "Pops" Merrick-- Part 2: The Hump, The "Dragon Lady," Aluminum Alley and the Concussion

During the war he was involved in the Allied flying over "The Hump."  This was the name given to the eastern portion of the Himalaya Mountains over which they flew military transport aircraft from India to China.  The Allies were supporting forces of Chinese Nationalist Chiang Kai-hek who was fighting the Japanese.  Pops remembers once seeing Chiank Kai Shek's wife, the "Dragon Lady," and she was a beauty.

Mr. Merrick said this was referred to as "Aluminum Alley" because of all the planes that went down through accidental crashes, motor problems and being shot down.  One problem often encountered was hitting an air pocket and the sudden loss of altitude.

During his time over there he did see Japanese soldiers on occasion, but they would be dead.

While in Burma, he was in traffic control and security and part of what he did was going up a narrow trail with supplies.  It was while here that he was hit by something on his helmet.  "To this day I don't know what it was."  He ended up with a concussion.  He somehow ended up back at his encampment and was walking around with no clue where he was.

He was put in a hospital.  They gave him a spinal to check for blood on the brain and he woke up in a hospital in Calcutta, India.  By then, with the war almost over and having accumulated enough points to get a leave or discharge, he was given a 30-day leave and sent back to Georgia where he was discharged.


WW II Vet Ray "Pops" Merrick Turns 95-- Part 1: From Chicago to Burma

You very likely have seen "Pops" around the Legion, enjoying his gambling, beer and occasional blackberry brandy.  Most people, including myself just call him "Pops."  His sidekick is his son Ken.

He was born in Chicago on September 5, 1923, and was a member of the Army Air Corps during the war.  He was drafted right out of high school at age 19 and spent his boot camp training at places in Florida and Georgia.

During the war he served in New Caledonia, India, Burma and Australia and received a concussion from something, he doesn't know what, while in Burma.  Much of the time he was in the service, he was in charge of traffic control and security.

Even as an enlisted man, he could swear at officers if they goofed up as long as he said, "Sir."

Sir!!!   --GreGen

Saturday, January 19, 2019

William Liebenow at D-Day

William Liebenow's naval career did not end there with his saving JFK and the PT-109's crew.

The following year, in command of another PT-Boat, the PT-199, he rescued men whose boats were  sunk by the German defenders at D-Day.  His boat was responsible for the rescue of about 60 crew members of the destroyer USS Corry.

He recalled, "We spent most of that day picking up guys out of the water."

The Greatest Generation.  --GreGen

Thursday, January 17, 2019

He Saved JFK's Life-- Part 6: All Those Who Saved Kennedy

The epic story of the sinking of the PT-109, survival and rescue of its crew and the coconut, of course, would go on to become part of the Kennedy lore and a presidential selling point.  Seventeen years after rescuing the crew, Liebenow helped Kennedy campaign in Michigan.  Kennedy said he regularly met veterans who swore that they were on the boat that rescued him in the Pacific.

"Lieb." Kennedy told his old friend, "If I get the votes of everyone that claims to have been on your boat the night of the pickup I'll win in a landslide."

When Kennedy won, he kept the coconut shell, which he had made into a paperweight on his desk in the Oval Office.

After the war, William Liebenow married, had two children and worked as a chemist for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

He Saved JFK's Life-- Part 5: "No Thanks. I Just Had A Coconut"

Off they went with William Liebenow in command.  They had to reach Kennedy as quickly as possible but travel slow enough so they wouldn't create a wake big enough to alert nearby Japanese ships of their presence.

John Hersey, who wrote the book "Hiroshima" wrote an article for the New Yorker in 1944 describing what happened next.  When they encountered, Kennedy shouted, "Where the hell you been?"

Liebenow yelled back, "We got some food for you."

Kennedy replied:  "No thanks.  I just had a coconut."


Monday, January 14, 2019

He Saved JFK's Life-- Part 4: "We Were the Most Expendable"

Kennedy needed to get a message for help through to Allies and with these natives.  A big problem was that he didn't speak their language and they didn't speak English.  He did not have any paper, but he did have a knife and an island full of coconuts.

He picked one up and began to carve.  "11 ALIVE",  he wrote.  "NEED SMALL BOAT."

It worked.  The coconut was carried to an Australian coast watcher, who relayed the message to the U.S. base on the island of Rendova.  But when it arrived, the Navy brass were skeptical.  Could this coconut be a trap to lure U.S. forces into an ambush?  It was decided that only one boat could be sacrificed for a rescue attempt.

Seventy years later, when William Liebenow was asked why his boat, the PT-157, was picked for the job he'd say they were "the best boat crew in the South Pacific."  He's also offer up this reason on occasion and that was one of his crew member's jokes:  "We were the most expendable."


Saturday, January 12, 2019

He Saved JFK's Life-- Part 3: Thinks Looking Very Bleak

For six days, Kennedy and his crew waited on that island and subsisted on coconuts and hope.

Kennedy didn't just wait, though.  He tried moving his crew to another island.  He tried swimming into the ocean at night with the idea of being able to intercept another PT boat.

But, back on the island where he was stationed, leaders assumed that the explosion of the PT-109 had left no survivors.  No rescue boat was coming.  The man who was to become the 35th president, at this point, seemed destined to live but a few more days.

As fortune would have it, the Americans were spotted by two Pacific islanders passing by in a canoe.  Erono Kumana and Biuku Gasawere were two of the many people enlisted by Western forces to help fight the war against the Japanese.  Kennedy, however, couldn't be sure who they were fighting for but knew there was a chance they might be headed for a place occupied by the Allies.

He just needed a way to get a message through to them.


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

He Saved JFK's Life-- Part 2: PT-109 Cut In Half By Japanese Destroyer Amagiri

William Liebenow joined the Navy almost immediately after Pearl Harbor.  Almost two years later, he was stationed in the Solomon Islands, an archipelago east of Australia and Papua New Guinea.  One of  his tent mates was a 25-year-old skipper from Massachusetts, "Jack" Kennedy.

Both men were commanders of patrol torpedo boats, better known as PT boats.  Theses swift, wooden ships held about a dozen men, four deadly torpedoes and three powerful engines that could send them zooming across the water and in between the bigger and slower Japanese ships.

During one night patrol Kennedy's boat, PT-109, couldn't get out of the way fast enough.  It was rammed by a Japanese destroyer. the Amagiri, and cut in half.  It's engine, powered by high octane gas, exploded.  Two men were killed and the others clung to the boat's floating front end.

Eventually, Kennedy and ten survivors swam four hours to a small, unoccupied island, where they could wait for help to come.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

He Saved JFK's Life With the Help of a Coconut-- Part 1: William Liebenow

From the August 31, 2018, Chicago Tribune by Jessica Contrera The Washington Post.

"It was a coconut that sent William Liebenow on a mission to rescue the man who would become president.

"A tenacious Navy commander in World War II, Liebenow's acts of heroism stretched from the waters of the South Pacific to the beaches of Normandy -- evading the enemy, launching torpedoes, rescuing more than 60 men from a sinking boat on D-Day.  But none of these were the tale of the war that would come to define him.

"Everyone wanted to hear about the time he saved the life of John F. Kennedy."

He died February 24, 2017, at the age of 97 at his home in Mt. Airy, North Carolina.

He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery  in August 2018.  He is now buried less than a mile from the body of JFK.


Monday, January 7, 2019

Shabbona Township Tops It War Loan Quota in 1943

From the October 17, 2018, MidWeek  "Looking Back."

1943, 75 Years Ago.

"Shabbona Township, under the capable  direction of Superintendent of Schools T.A. Watne went over the top in the third war loan drive, which is now completed.

"The quota for the township was $60,050 and the final report shows sales running to $73,762, putting the township over the top by better than $13,000."


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Hemp Mills Near Completion in DeKalb County

From the October 24, 2018, MidWeek  (DeKalb County, Illinois)  "Looking Back."

1943, 75 Years Ago.

"DeKalb residents who have been in the vicinity of Kirkland and Shabbona in the last  two weeks, report that construction work on the hemp mills at both places  is going along very satisfactorily.

"The mill at Shabbona, it is understood,  is nearer to completion than the one at Kirkland, but both will be completed within a short time."


Friday, January 4, 2019

The War Is Costing Big Bucks, Nearly $8 Billion A Month

From the October 10, 2018, MidWest (DeKalb County, Illinois)  "Looking Back."

1943, 75 Years Ago.

"Did you know that Sycamore is nearly $90,000 short of meeting its quota for the Third War Loan?  Did you know that this bloody war is costing the United States practically $3,000 every time you watch a second tick?

"That means nearly 265 million dollars a day and nearly eight billion dollars a month.  And remember that there are many hard, bitter months of war ahead of us yet before Germany and Japan are annihilated.  It is true that Italy has thrown in the sponge, but that is just a mere drop in the pocket as to what must be accomplished by the Allies before the war is won."


Thursday, January 3, 2019

Jamaicans Thankful For Good Treatment in DeKalb

From the October 10, 2018, MidWeek  "Looking Back."

1943, 75 Years Ago.

"A most interesting letter has been received by the California Packing Corporation from one of the Jamaicans employed at Station Three of the DeKalb division.  The letter was written by Telamon Taylor on behalf of the group of Jamaicans who worked at the station.

"For the past several weeks they have been working for the canning corporation helping to pack the vital food crops.  The appreciation of this group is expressed for the fine treatment they received and the letter states that they will have memories that they will never forget."


A Housing Shortage Continues

From the October 10, 2018, MidWeek  "Looking Back."

1943, 75 Years Ago.

"Homeowners are still being reminded by the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce of the need for private rooms and housekeeping quarters, both furnished and unfurnished.

"There is a continuing influx of new people and many requests are made daily for places to live."


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Corn Pack Finished, Jamaicans To Be Sent Elsewhere

From the October 3, 2018, MidWeek  "Looking Back."

1943, 75 Years Ago.

"Word from authoritative sources was to the effect that the corn pack at the Sycamore Preserve Works was about completed and within the next two or three days the Jamaicans, who have been here many weeks assisting in the canning operations will be sent to some other locality to work."

Bringing in workers from Jamaica to help with labor shortages.  German prisoners were also used to help as well.