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Flying Tiger memories (continued)

© 2012 Pamela Woodward Happe

So we arrived in secrecy at a railway siding near Toungoo. There we encountered the Group Adjutant who seriously tried to be a sergeant-major type. After two or three trials at getting us to line up, stand straight, count-off, his face collapsed. He never tried again, and he became an able adjutant. I think, deep down, all of us tried to help him, after he found that neither he nor we were automatons

Dicipline within the Group was wholly dependant upon the desire of each indidual to stay with it. Inevitably a few dropped out.

I am compelled to regard the "mixing" of the Group to be similar to the "mixing" of the people who joined wagon trains at St Joseph Missouri for the Oregon trail. There, as in our group, were illiterates, poets, farmers, wheelwrights - all manner of people. People with dreamy idealism; those going to make a fortune; others to "develop the West." So, too, in our endeavour were there all those. At the end I find that the least common denominator was Adventure. Whether for God, banditry, country, or politics (on the apparent side), the romance, the adventure of the project underlay every person - man and woman.

We were, I suppose, a peculiar lot. In total I believe, about 250 were recruited. Ninety-seven percent of us came directly from the services:- U.S.Army Air force. U.S. Navy and U.S.M.C.

We had two ladies recruited from the States: Jo Stewart as Chief Nurse and "Red" Foster, later Petach. These two provided as much "glue" to the organisation as did the general sense of adventure. Emotionally they gave us all a sense of "Mother, Wife, Sister, Friend."

We had another woman in the group. She was denominated to be "Group Historian". However, though she wrote a book, I consider her most notable achievement was her marriage to Harvey Greenlaw. Greenlaw, an old China Hand, was Group Executive Officer.

In the year we were all together Harvey is recalled by all for one notable achievement:

One evening before hostilities with Japan, G.I. Paul [Preston Paull?] was in the Toungoo railway station refreshment room when Greenlaw and wife came into this only watering hole in town. Harvey had wife on one side and a square bottle of green Creme de Menthe on the other. G.I. Paul made a lewd remark to Olga. Greenlaw broke square bottle of Creme de Menthe on Paul's head.

Greenlaw, after sluicing Paul with table water, awakened him and demanded and collected 15 rupees for the loss of liquid (green). I suppose men are remembered mainly for their balls and their humour.

But since we have G.I. Paul in mind, I present another picture: A few months later, at Kunming, a new pilot, one Ajax [Albert] Baumler, fresh from the Spanish wars and a delay at Midway Island due to Japanese interference, arrived at the Peking restaurant. As a new boy, but already a blooded combat pilot, and somewhat drunk, he thought it to be a good thing to shoot the lights out. He missed.

G.I. Paul, not knowing the formidable reputation of the man, said, "Sonny Boy, put that shootin arm [shooting iron] away!" After which Paul ostensibly left the place. Shortly after, Baumer left, to discover G.I. Paul just outside. Paul took Baumler's pistol and pushed it and two teeth down the throat of "poe ole Ajax." To parlay this series, in Life magazine, early 1945, is a photo of Ajax Baumler, sans dents, the first to have downed five Germans from the Republic [P-47] Thunderbolt.

Then there was that time, at Loiwing, on the Burma-China border. We had a new pilot, Van [Shapard], recently transferred from instruction at the China flying school (he said it was too dangerous for him). On his first combat mission (against the Japanese coming towards us) the right wheel of his machine would not retract. He kept climbing and asking for advice. Then came a rather disjointed and interrupted series of cries, comments and songs, all in Van's Tennessee voice: "Hey you guys, they's a Jap on my tail. Whatamy gonno do naow? Hey! He's still theah! Somebody don't do somethin'. When the roll is called up yonder (in song) --- I shore am gonna be there, somebody don't do nothin!"

Van got turned around after "somebody" cleared his tail. He shot down one Jap ... wheel still down. Half an hour later he taxied up, slipped out of harness, tiredly climbed out of cockpit, dropped his tail onto the wing-root, slithered down until his feet were on earth, pushed up his goggles and dropped his straw-hat over his back Looking very serious, he said, " Hot damn! That's the toughest five hundred bucks Ah eveh made".

It might have been the next day the Old Man (Colonel Chennault) himself was with us when we learned that Pete [John] Petach had stranded himself in a riverbed 300 miles to the south. The Colonel asked if I'd like to do whatever good judgment dictated about Pete and his plane. There could be no backup expected - not from General Stillwell or anyone. The lines of ground fighting were not definitive and communications were lousy.

"Blacky" [Harold] Blackwell and I set out in the evening in an International Harvester truck By shortly after the following noon we were in Mandalay which was completely flattened by bombs and fire, stinking of burnt and rotten flesh but not taken. About there we struck the straggling, continous line of the China Fifth Route Army in full rout to the north. Walkers, wounded, vehicles, all made progress so tedious that the next 150 miles took us 18 hours.

Somewhere about 6 or 7 in the morning we found Pete with General Stillwell near Pyawbwe. We all had breakfast together while listening to the General, whose Chinese Fifth Route Army were fleeing, berate the British for letting down the side. At his breakfast table were Pete and Blackie and I, the General, and two or three others one of whom I will always remember for his use of English - virtually everything he said was in Limerick!

The General said we could do as we pleased about the plane, but he had no way to help - no reliable troops, no communications. Pete knew the route and guided us to the aircraft. It lay exposed on the white sand of the riverbed. The nearest cover, a clump of trees, perhaps 600 yards distant. The occasional overhead aircraft gave us the shivers.

continued in part 4