Archive for May 2016

ARMY DAYS – AFRICA AND OTHER PLACES

I suppose it would be well to write this essay in a bit of a hurry. The reason has to do with the grim reaper mowing down people who served in the military services in World War II.

Two years ago, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs reported that World War II veterans were dying at the rate of 1500 per day. Yesterday, November 18, 2002, the same source reported that currently the rate of deaths among World War II veterans has now reached the 1800 per day mark. That is a very rapid increase. If I fail to finish this little essay, all readers may assume that I am being fitted for angel wings and a size XXX white toga and large sandals suitable for flying.

Harry Livermore observed my mathematical abilities from 1952 until 1955 and he seemed to conclude that I did not have any such ability. Now that I have had an opportunity from November, 1945 until November, 2002 to think about this problem of mathematics, it is concluded that I spent 39 months (three years and three months) in the service of the United States Army Air Force. The Army claimed that 28 of those months were spent overseas. The other 11 months were spent in being trained in Florida and New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, in a furlough after the Japanese were defeated, and finally, in getting out of the Army.

In the essay “They Never Betrayed Me,” I recounted my experience on detached service with the 12th U. S. Army Air Force which lasted somewhere around 12 months. This essay is to relate my experience as an Aerial Engineer in the Air Transport Command in Africa with trips to India and other places, which accounts for the remaining 16 months of overseas service. I have used the extensive graduate services of the Mathematics and Calculus Departments of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to compute these mathematical totals, just to make certain that they meet with Mr. Livermore’s approval.

As I write these lines in November, 2002, the talk of war against Iraq and the ill defined war on terror has intruded on our thoughts. After my recent essay on war in Italy (September 1, 2002), I had planned to deal with other subjects in forthcoming essays. But the current talk about war has brought back some thoughts about December 7, 1941 and the World War II years. In one series of thoughts, I have tried to recall the loneliest places that any soldier ought to be asked to inhabit. I can think of at least five such places in my own experience, but more about that later.

When war came to the United States on December 7, 1941, most of us were enjoying a Sunday, a traditional day off. At that time I had recently turned 19 years of age and I needed to work to pay off a loan on my 1937 Chevrolet, to pay board, and to keep the car running and to support my romantic endeavors.

Since September of 1941, I had been employed by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) in its Midwestern headquarters at 1010 Pine Street in St. Louis. At the beginning, the pay was $17 per week. Saturday work at AT&T was largely unheard of in 1941 as we were slowly emerging from the Great Depression. So I found a job in Harold Bauer’s Standard Oil filling station to occupy my weekends. Harold’s station was in a ritzy section of Clayton, Missouri at the corner of Hanley Road and Wydown Avenue.

Harold’s customers brought him many Cadillacs, Lincolns and LaSalles to work on. Every time one of the customer’s cars was to be moved, it was required that a seat cover on the upholstery be in place to keep it clean. On many occasions, the designated driver of customer cars was Dick (last name unknown now) because he stayed away from the grease rack and therefore, had little chance of depositing grease spots on customer’s upholstery.

On Saturdays, I worked a ten hour day, mostly on the grease rack lubricating chassis and greasing front wheel bearings which had to be done every 3000 miles in those days. This was dirty work which made me ineligible to drive customer cars. On the other hand, if a grease spot were found in a customer’s Cadillac, I could claim complete innocence.

On Sundays, I came to work at 8AM and left at about 1PM. The pay was not so great, but in that era, work was to be taken wherever it showed up. On top of that, Harold Bauer was a good man to work for. For all the years I knew him, he enjoyed a reputation for complete honesty and decency.

On December 7, 1941 after I had finished for the day, I went across Hanley Road to a drugstore for a sandwich. Then it was to North St. Louis to see a Polish girlfriend (Louella Tomeczek) and to join with her sister and my friend, Harley Wantz, for a walk. All four of us were standing under a large outdoor billboard sign advertising fresh fish. An excited man came along and said that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. That was the first we knew of it.

All of us knew that we had been in intensive negotiations with the Japanese. The American Secretary of State Cordell Hull, had thought that the crisis was probably below the boiling point. Communications in that era were much slower than today. Somehow, the Japanese had kept its large armada hidden for the long trip across the Pacific. We did not know the full extent of our losses at Pearl Harbor for a few days. But in any case, people of my age knew that life for us from this day forward would be changed dramatically. At 19 years of age with no dependents, I was fodder for the American Army.

There was at this time a group of three nations calling themselves the “Axis Powers.” Germany, with Hitler was the Axis Powers’ guiding light. He dominated Italy with Benito Mussolini. The third member was, of course, the Japanese with Hideki Tojo as its Prime Minister. So shortly after December 7, 1941, the Allied Powers consisting primarily of members of the British Commonwealth and the United States and others, were forced to fight a two front war in Europe and in the Pacific.

And then there was the German thrust into Russia known then as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). This also figures in our story, specifically as it relates to Basra, Iraq where Russian troops came to pick up American weapons – particularly the Douglas A-20 Attack Bombers and C-47 Cargo Carriers. Basra is back on the news today. The Russians loved the A-20 because it was a tough airplane. The Soviets liked to catch German air troop carriers, and to use the A-20 propellers to chop the Nazi planes until they were unflyable.

In getting supplies to our Allies and to our troops, we were very fortunate to have had the British Empire with its far flung holdings in Africa and India. We were also fortunate to count among our assets, Pan American World Airways. Pan Am had pioneered routes in South and Central America as well as in Africa and in the Orient. United States forces quickly moved to capitalize on those assets.

The first objective of U. S. forces was to support Allied efforts in North Africa and in Europe. Further down the line was the effort to confront the Japanese. It goes without saying that getting war equipment from the United States to Great Britain was greatly impeded by bad weather across the North Atlantic and by the presence of German submarines. So the U. S. forces, in the early years of the war, ordinarily elected to take the long way around through Central and South American, to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic and then to Africa. At Accra, Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast) one route led north to the North African and European fighting and the other led eastward through Yemen to Assam in India and then on over “The Hump” to American and British forces battling the Japanese starting at Kunming, China.

In the final analysis, this is the story of the Air Transport Command of the United States Army. It also involves the Air Ferry Command, which along with the Air Transport Command was headed by a four star general, H. H. “Hap” Arnold. This essay intends to give the reader an idea of the places that were used in an effort to supply troops and airplanes in the war against the Axis Powers. And as promised, it will deal with some of the loneliest places in the world to station troops.

This may sound like a travelogue, but in the last 15 or 16 months I spent overseas, it turned out that I had an opportunity to visit nearly all the African and Indian bases of the Air Transport Command, all the way from Miami to Assam, India. It was a lot of flying, but after 58 years or more, it makes for a few memories, some pleasant and some not so pleasant.

I have no familiarity with what was done in the Pacific Theater. I am assuming that Hawaii became our jumping off point in that theater, but the war ended before I ever got there, so this is an account primarily about the Atlantic operations.

I have no idea of how long the road from the U. S. to Kunming, China might be. I suspect it is several thousand miles. But it had to start someplace and that someplace was Miami, Florida. During the war, Miami was an around-the-clock operation. Once supplies were assembled in Miami, they were put aboard the work horses of the American Air Force, the C-47’s or as it was known in civilian days, the DC-3’s. The “D” stood for the Douglas Aircraft Company. The “C” in both cases stood for “cargo.” These were twin engine aircraft with a top speed of 230 miles per hour. It carried a load of 13,000 pounds and its service ceiling was 24,000 feet. Its range was 1350 miles. The C-47’s often had interior gas tanks in the cabin which tended to limit their hauling capacity but which greatly increased their range.

Helping out was another Douglas aircraft called the C-54 which was a four engine plane. It came along later than the C-47. The C-54 carried almost 30,000 pounds and had a maximum speed of 275 miles per hour. The service ceiling was 22,500 feet and it had a maximum range of 3900 miles. It was a clearly superior aircraft to the C47, but it was late arriving on the scene because it had not been produced before the war. Finally, the C-47 could get into small fields where the C-54 could not operate. This makes me sound like a cheer leader for the old C-47 – which I was and which I am today.

Also, in regular service across the Atlantic was the Consolidated C-87 which was the B-24 bomber converted to a cargo carrier. It wasn’t much of a cargo carrier, but it had a range of 2100 miles and a top speed of 300 miles per hour. It was used largely for trips between Miami and Accra and Dakar, Senegal and sometimes to Roberts Field near Monrovia, Liberia.

On the eastern side of the Atlantic, the primary landing was at Accra, Ghana which was the Gold Coast when I was there. If a cargo was headed for the North African or European theater, pilots occasionally would use Dakar, Senegal as their entrance to Africa. If Accra was out of commission, pilots would also use Roberts Field in Liberia.

Leaving Miami, the first stop on the long trip was Borinquin Field in Puerto Rico. My atlas tells me that this old regular Army base was located near the town of San Antonio. In recent years, the base has been renamed. It is now the Ramey Air Force Base.

The first time I ever saw Borinquin Field, was on my way back to the States aboard the oldest C-47 in the European Theater. The plane was to be taken to San Bernardino, California to be refurbished for a war bond drive. The flight had originated in Italy. I had been overseas for nearly 22 months and was the Aerial Engineer on the flight back to the U. S. This was my first look at a regular Army pre-war air base. It came as a very large surprise that the hangar floors were waxed. In wartime, that could never happen, but in this pre-war air base, we found out that the floors were waxed to provide a better dancing surface for parties! The radio operator and I came close to falling over when we received this news.

I went through Borinquin two more times going to and from Africa. The floors stayed waxed and this old time Army base operated something like clockwork. Now let us start at Borinquin and work our way south and east on our way to Africa and other eastern points.

 

The first stop in South America is Georgetown in what used to be called British Guiana. In recent years, the name of the country has been changed to Guyana. When I was flying, we had three Guiana’s reading from left to right, British Guiana, Dutch Guiana and French Guiana. Today we have, in the same order, Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana.

The base at Georgetown, as I recall it, was fairly close to the town. It had been hacked right out of the jungle. As in all tropical locations, it was mandatory that Americans and Europeans sleep under a mosquito netting in an effort to avoid being bitten by Anophelese mosquitoes which carry malaria. I had two bouts with malaria in Africa and I knew that it could often disable a man for months with high fever. The only treatment was quinine which caused an enormous loss of balance and dizziness.

The cure was almost as bad as malaria. On one occasion in Africa when I was laid up with malaria, I attempted to go from my bed to the john. If I had been dead drunk it would have been better for me because, for example, I could not negotiate an 8’ – 10” archway. The sides of the archway kept getting in the way. Negotiating the door to the john was equally frustrating. Now you may say why not use a bed pan. Forget it. The U. S. Army did not believe in them. According to the commanders in the Medical Corps, a good soldier ought to walk to the john. That’s fine with me provided the walls of the ward and the hallway and of the john would not move around.

So, I was a firm believer in mosquito nets. But in Georgetown, there were one or two drawbacks to the use of mosquito nets. Its name – or their name – was lizards. During the night, lizards would come out to play. I suppose some of them stayed in the barracks all day long only to come out after dark.

Lizards were generally considered harmless by the natives. I went through Georgetown three times. I never completely bought that “harmless” story. In the Army, we did not have house shoes that one might use for padding around the house. We went barefoot or we would put our feet in our unlaced work shoes. Unfortunately, the lizards liked to hide in everyone’s shoes so the first rule is to bang your shoes upside down before inserting the feet. There isn’t enough room for a person’s foot and a lizard in a GI shoe, so bang the shoe on the ground before putting it on.

Now the lizards had one other trick. They would hide in the rafters or on the walls and late at night, they would leap on the mosquito netting. Of course, the man in the bed would be awakened with a start when a full grown lizard would land on the netting. I suppose lizards may grow to perhaps one or two pounds, but netting is a fragile product aimed at letting air flow through. It isn’t meant to be lizard proof, but for the past 58 years, I have always recalled the famous Georgetown, Guyana, British Guiana lizards. And all things considered, I am in no hurry to go back to good old Georgetown.

The route from Borinquin Field in Puerto Rico to Georgetown, British Guiana was over open water. In those days, you made it or you did not. There were no rescue vessels standing by. From Georgetown, ideally the next stop would be at Natal, Brazil. This was a hazardous journey of almost 1500 miles over dense jungle. If a plane lost power, the jungle would literally swallow the aircraft and it would be almost impossible to locate the wreckage.

If a pilot thought it was improvident to make the Georgetown to Natal flight, he could stop over at Belem, Brazil which is about halfway. Or he might wish to use Forteleza which is about 350 miles above Natal.

Brazil is a BIG country. During the war years, its president was Guitillio Vargas who was sort of a benign dictator. United States troops were welcomed by the Brazilians. Obviously, we brought U. S. dollars which the Brazilians needed and wanted, but on the other hand, Brazilians are a warm people. I liked them.

Almost everyone passing through Natal or Belem bought boots. In malaria ridden countries, they replaced leggings which were often required after sundown. Aside from that, boots from Natal and Belem were easy on the feet and lasted a long time.

Now while I am high on boots, the reports on the Brazilian nylon stockings which GI’s sent home to their wives and girlfriends were unimpressive. The women reported that Brazilian nylons lasted only one or two wearings. The other commodity sold in Natal and Belem was perfume. Reports from the women in the U. S. were not encouraging. So I stayed with the boots.

Natal sticks out further toward Africa than any other location in the South Atlantic. Flying from Natal, the next stop eastward was Ascension Island, one of the loneliest places in this world. Ascension belonged to the British. I believe they used it in colonial days to exile prisoners, particularly political prisoners. It was a lonely, lonely spot but the weather was usually mild and often warm. Many times an overcast settled over the island.

Ascension is a tiny spot in the South Atlantic. At most, the island is about three to five miles long and about one mile in width. In the middle of the island was a rather large volcano. The landing field had to be drilled and dynamited out of this inhospitable place. I don’t believe it is an exaggeration to say that when a plane landed on this one way strip, it had no more than six to eight feet on either side of the wing tips. Absolutely no room for error.

This involved some precise navigation to find Ascension. While crews were absorbed in finding the island, German submarines would, from time to time, surface and send radio signals that would lead our crews wide of the path to Ascension. Unfortunately, room for navigational error was extremely limited, so if you missed Ascension, you wound up in the South Atlantic Ocean. The Army had a little couplet about this situation.

It went: “When you miss Ascension – Your wife will get your pension.” Two or three things were wrong with that couplet. Most of us were unmarried in the 1942-1945 period and there was no such thing as an Army pension, unless the soldier had served 20 years. If one of us were lost at Ascension or anywhere else, I assume that the Army insurance would pay off to the wife or parents. The maximum coverage was $10,000 for which a hefty premium was charged. I carried $3,000 or $4,000 for awhile, but the premium was such that in my later months in the Army, I dropped it all together. It was term insurance and it was very difficult or impossible to convert to long term coverage, so I cancelled it. No payoff for my wife which I did not have at that time either.

Everything at Ascension had to be flown in or brought in by an occasional freighter. There was a large amount of volcanic ash on the island. The men stationed on Ascension tried to grow vegetables hydroponically. It was a noble experiment, but the radishes and green onions I ate were largely tasteless.

Those men on Ascension as well as the transients passing through, ate every type of food that could be reconstituted in the war years. Perhaps it satisfied the need for food in the body, but I’m here to tell you, that in my three trips to Ascension, the food was basically tasteless. And the Army did not seem to care. Their attitude was that no one was shooting at soldiers on Ascension, so quit griping and be happy. For myself, I was happy every time our plane took off from that little island.

One last thought. On one trip through Ascension, I met a mechanic who came to our plane. He told me that his first tour overseas was in the Aleutian Islands, a remote treeless spot with no one around but Eskimos. So he put in at the end of his tour there for a transfer. His new assignment was Ascension Island. Talk about being snake bit. That fellow had snake bites all over his unlucky body.

Leaving Ascension and heading east north eastward, we next come to Accra. It is in Ghana now, but when I was there, the country was called the Gold Coast. There may have been gold there at one time, but by the time I showed up in 1944, it was the stuff of old time story tellers.

Ninety to ninety-five percent of the flights heading eastward or northward came from Ascension to Accra. In a 1980 Atlas, it is stated that Accra had 340,000 residents. It is the capital of Ghana. Accra is populated primarily by blacks with an overlay of British colonialism. When I was there, there were only a few hotels and eating establishments that were by common consent, white only. The Church of England had a pretty good representation in Accra bringing salvation to the natives. The natives were basically wed to ancient tribal rituals and did not warmly welcome Christianity which they identified with white people. The last 16 months of my overseas service, were spent headquartered in Accra and working out of the airport there.

Accra was a British military base which we shared. This is one of the many bases and routes that Pan American World Airways established. On days off, of which there weren’t many, I would try to go to a small restaurant run by English people who seemed to have a tie to the YMCA. I never saw any natives there, so I assume it catered to whites only. It may have had a religious component to it, but that did not interest me at all. I went to this out-of-the way place because they had eggs served over easy or sunny side up. Accompanying the eggs were British baked beans and toast and tea. For me, my dining at this obscure restaurant outside Accra was nothing less than a banquet. I suppose being in the Army and eating the cooking of British and American cooks could do that to a man. Here I am in 2002 some 58 years removed from that little place in Accra that served eggs, and I can still taste how good they were. But, in fact, I always liked eggs.

As a town, Accra was pretty much the same as any other African city. Walking through the city was a bit of an exercise because of the swarming crowds. All things considered, the local people were friendly. For reasons unknown at this late date, American soldiers were often referred to as “Joe” by the natives. By the same token, we would usually refer to an unknown native as “Joe.” There was no animosity in the greetings of “Joe” on either side. On the other hand, British troops were angered by being called “Joe”. They would say to the native that while you may not know my name, at least you can call me Lance Corporal, Corporal or Sergeant. For all the years that Great Britain had dominion over the Gold Coast and many other countries, they always asked for formality in their dealings with the natives. Even if I am forced to say so myself, the natives seemed to respond better to the informalities of the American troops.

The Army food at Accra was unadventurous, which is to say it was not so good; hence my trips on my days off to eat eggs at what seemed like a YMCA. We slept in bunks with one on top of the other. All the furniture as well as the shutters were made from mahogany. I believe my barracks was called “G-17.” I have no idea why I remember that after all these years. I am guessing now at this late date, but I believe there may have been 18 to 20 double header bunks in our end of the barracks, meaning that up to 40 men slept there. The other end of G17 was home to perhaps 40 other American troops. Mosquito netting was required. After sundown, soldiers covered every part of their bodies with boots, leggings and long sleeve shirts to foil the mosquitoes.

Every barracks had a houseboy, a carryover from the British Army traditions. The houseboy in our end of Barracks G17 was Mobo. He spoke English well enough so that he could carry on a limited conversation with the American troops who called the G17 barracks their home. The currency at that time was denominated in Gold Coast pounds which, or course, were based on the British currency system. Each week every person in the barracks would give Mobo a shilling or two shillings for his services. I think at this late date, that two shillings came to about 50 cents. For Mobo, this was a good living and he fiercely protected his job.

For a short time, I was the Line Chief on the Accra Airport midnight shift. Every morning, as many as 40 to 60 planes would leave Accra on their way to deliver supplies to the fighting in North Africa, Europe or the Chinese theater. My job was to run the engines on these planes up, make sure they were able to fly and taxi them from the work area to the departing terminal. At the terminal, I was responsible for inspecting the planes to see that they were in flying condition. By 8AM when my tour ended, I would then go to the transient mess hall where it was believed that breakfasts were better than at the regular mess halls. I’m not so sure that was the case. Maybe it was an illusion, but 8:30AM usually found me at the transient mess hall.

When I returned to G17, old Mobo would have my bed ready for me and he would have made up the beds around my own and would have done his sweeping to avoid bothering me as it was pretty tough to sleep during daylight hours. I always made sure Mobo was taken care of financially for the thoughtful service he gave me. I suppose when the Americans left the Gold Coast–Ghana after hostilities ceased, Mobo was probably a much lonelier man. His service in G17 made him an envied wage earner among his compatriots. Mobo was a good man.

One more thought about G17 barracks. The 40 men in our end of that barracks were matched by a similar number in the other end. They had a houseboy just like we had Mobo. Where we met was in the bathroom which was located between the two wings. The water there was generally unheated which made it a little tough for shaving. No one expected warm showers so there were no heart breaks there.

There were probably 8 to 10 commodes in concrete cubicles without doors. The Brits built the barracks for use by American troops and they built it to their specifications. As far as I can remember, when I was lodged on British Army or Air Force bases, there were no doors on the part of the bathrooms where the commodes were placed. I have no idea what the Brits have against doors for commodes, but it seems to me this would have been a superior reason for fighting the Revolutionary War as distinguished from the Tea Tax that George III tried to impose.

In any case, high etiquette demanded that newspapers from home be left in the commode section of what the Brits call the “Loo.” Newspapers were never delivered by air. Once perhaps every month, a boat would pull into Takoradi, which served as Accra’s harbor, and unload cargo from the States including newspapers. It was considered a very rude offense for a recipient of a newspaper not to pass it along to fellow soldiers. This was accomplished by leaving it on the floor outside or near the door-less commodes.

There was one fellow from Iowa named Merle Yocum. His wife back in Iowa was named Elmira. She sent the country papers to Merle which we all enjoyed. These were rural papers full of news about pigs and cattle and farmers. There were stories, for example, that Joe Jones had a cow who was carrying a calf. There were also stories about pigs being bred. Whenever a new shipment of newspapers from rural Iowa arrived, many of us would be all over Merle Yocum to know if Joe Jones’ cow had delivered or if he had a new litter of pigs. Iowa wasn’t my home, of course, but I enjoyed those papers – as well as papers from other parts of the country – a great deal. They sort of kept us in touch with what our fellow Americans were doing and even though I never saw a paper from my hometown, they seemed to make us feel better. So remember, always leave the newspaper in the john; some other lonely soldier may want to see it.

We will take our leave of Accra and head northward up the west coast of Africa. The first stop is Roberts Field outside the capital city of Monrovia in Liberia. Liberia, as most everyone knows, was founded by former slaves in the United States after President Lincoln declared emancipation. The Liberians use the dollar as their currency and English is widely spoken.

Roberts Field is where airplanes would land if Accra were fogged in, for example. As I recall it, the United States installation at Roberts Field did not have a mess hall as such. Food was served out of doors, as far as I can remember. Picnic tables were placed outdoors under thatched roofs in the dining area. I went through there twice and we always ate outdoors under the thatched roofs. I suspect that there must have been a more permanent dining hall, but I never saw it.

Monrovia, when I was there, seemed like a fairly gentle place. Since that time however, Liberia has fallen on hard times and a brutal internal war seems to be the fate of Liberians for the last several years.

Continuing north, the next major base is Dakar, the capital city of Senegal. Dakar was the main seaport of Western Africa during the fighting in North Africa. When I went over by ship in January, 1943, I landed in Dakar. When we came ashore, many people were waiting for us to ask where we had left from and where we were going after we left Dakar. It is fairly obvious that the questioners had a considerable number of spies in their midst. In later years when I went back to Dakar on telephone company business, the accommodations and the food were well done, particularly the lobsters that were served at lunch. I liked Dakar in 1943 in spite of the presence of spies everywhere around the docks. And even now – 18 to 20 years later after my last AT&T visit, I still recall the grilled lobsters offered for lunch. Our hosts were always Muslims so no wine was served, but the meals there were very good. Remember, that was in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s which is a long cry from being there in war time in 1943.

The base for Americans was 25 miles away from Dakar in the interior. It was called Rufisque and it had nothing but red, red clay all around. Not long after I showed up, some other soldiers were getting up a football game. The captain of the team was a fellow who owned a football which I supposed he had brought from the States. It was a tackle game and naturally, there were no pads or other football paraphernalia.

I wandered in late and found that the owner of the football had designated himself quarterback. His friends populated the backfield and the two end positions. The only spot for me was in the line. As it turned out, there was a tremendous mismatch. My opponent was Dean Coddington who had played for the Chicago Bears as a 255 pound tackle. I had no previous football experience and weighed in at about 155 pounds.

You may recall my saying that Rufisque was in red clay country. Furthermore, in this game – as it was in the 1940’s – players played both ways, on offense as well as defense. When I lined up against Coddington, he proceeded to rub my face in that red clay. I suppose the game went on for an hour or so, by which time I had had my fill of Coddington, of red clay and of football. When the call came for me to join the 12th U. S. Air Force in combat, I was ready to leave Rufisque, Senegal. Right now!

Now on our tour of Africa, we come to perhaps two of the loneliest spots anywhere on this planet. From Dakar flying north and northeast, we come to Atar, Mauritania. And then after a few more hours of flying time, we arrive in the absolute westernmost place in Algeria called Tindouf. Atar and Tindouf qualify as two of the most miserable places on this earth. They, of course, are in the Sahara Desert. The wind blows there constantly, carrying with it dust and sand particles. These particles get in your ears, in your hair, in your nose, and in your mouths and even in your eyes. Folks, I’m here to tell you that the wind in Atar and Tindouf is completely miserable.

In the mess halls, such as they were, the wind blown dust got into the food. At night when people were trying to sleep, they’d wake up to find a crust around their mouths and noses. The wind never let up. The latrines were built outdoors, obviously without running water. One lesson that had to be learned when you first went to these two places was NEVER to stand on the downwind side of another soldier. Never, never.

I went through these two places on two occasions. It was my misfortune to spend a night in Atar and then in Tindouf. Lonely, lonely, lonely. But there are two more in Sudan just like them. We’ll get to them in a little while.

Flying north northwestward out of Tindouf, we come to Marrakech in central Morocco. Marrakech is in the mountains and it should be a beautiful city. Winston Churchill used to come here in Winter and Spring to escape London’s chills. I was in Marrakech on three occasions. On two of those visits, I went into the city for dinner. We should have stayed at the Army base. Americans were in bad repute from earlier in the war when we helped overthrow Admiral Darlan, the Nazi puppet who headed the French government after Germany’s victory over France. In any case, the two restaurants made it clear that they were doing us a big favor by serving us. Such a shame in such a good looking city like Marrakech.

If one wished to head to the North African campaign, Marrakech could be skipped. Flying north northeastward out of Tindouf, our next stop was at the edge of the Great Western ERG. This is not going to be helpful, but an erg is a Greek word meaning work. So you see, in English, we were at the Great Western Work. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

The name of the town that we used as an airbase was Colum Bechar in Algeria. In recent maps it is called simply Bechar. It is on the edge of the desert near Morocco and is distinguished mainly by one thing – oranges. Big oranges with thick skins and absolutely delicious. They were better than any oranges I had ever tasted. And they were easy to peel.

Flying eastward from Bechar, the next stop was Tripoli in Libya. Early in the North African fighting, the British engaged German forces in Libya. Later, with Americans driving from the west and with the British Army driving from the east, the Germans were driven out of Libya. Libya was the crown jewel in Benito Mussolini’s dreams of African Empire. Tripoli was the capital city.

Tripoli is the place for transfer to the war in Europe. German forces gave up at Cape Bon in neighboring Tunisia in the May of 1943. Tripoli served the Air Transport Command as its base for shipments and ferry service of aircraft to the European theater. It is a short hop from Tripoli to the Italian mainland.

A year or so ago in 2001, I found a box with some medals and other things associated with the war. One of those things was my 1942 Zippo lighter. For some reason, that box had a ticket permitting me to enter the mess hall at Tripoli. Actually, that base was in a suburb called Tripolitania. As Army mess halls go, Tripolitania was a bit better than average, but I am now at a loss to remember why soldiers had to have tickets to eat Army food. I gave the tickets and my old Zippo lighter to my grandson Kevin, whom I have designated as the Official Family Historian. He doesn’t smoke and from what I hear, he doesn’t eat Army food.

From Tripoli, the next stop was Benghazi in Eastern Libya. Benghazi was the taking off point for the initial raid on the oil fields at Ploesti, Rumania. The only thing in my mind at this late date is that the air base there was named Wheelus. Cairo, our next stop, had an Army General Hospital named Wheeler. It took me several decades to get these two names fixed in my mind.

Cairo, Egypt was a very important base for both the British and American war efforts. As a result, it had tons of generals and colonels and other military brass. I genuinely liked Cairo mainly because the Egyptians seemed to welcome us. In the latter stages of the war, the Egyptians would come up to us on the street and offer to take us to our destination. Very often, they would stop to see a fellow who sold printings or sand sculptures. In 1980 many years after I left the Army, the guides, as they were called, were still at work leading wealthy Americans to bargains. I was still a sucker and bought some paintings but 20 years later, the paintings are really not so bad.

The Army warned us about eating in Cairo because the food may have been handled by unclean hands. When we could escape the U. S. Army, the meals I had in Cairo were not so bad according to my often faulty memory. But whatever the food contained, it was no match for the warmth the average Egyptian showed toward us.

Leaving Cairo and heading southward in our tour of Central and North Africa we come to the capital city of the Sudan, Khartoum. If the desert wind blew hard at Atar and Tindouf, it blew just as hard in Khartoum. And the wind still carried desert sand and dirt. It got into the food and on our faces when we tried to sleep. Khartoum is an Arab city. It runs to Arab rhythms with prayer coming in at five times a day. Of course, not everyone prays five times, but it is clear that Allah was not being asked to make the American soldiers any more likeable. I was in Khartoum three or four times and went into the city on one occasion. Once was enough for me.

The American soldiers – as well as the British soldiers – seemed to be regarded as infidels. Together with the sand and the bleak landscape, Khartoum was a good place to stay away from. But at least Khartoum had the accoutrements that go with a city of some size. There were British merchants left over from before the war, so some things could be found in town. But bad as Khartoum was, it was at least 100% better than the next two places, also in Sudan, that were the postings of American soldiers.

Leaving Khartoum and flying westward, the first of these desert outposts is reached in western Sudan and it is called El Fasher. New atlases call it Al Fasher, but in my Army days it was always El Fasher. I am not an Arab and so I am constitutionally incapable of saying that “Al” should replace “El,” so it will always be El Fasher in my mind.

If El Fasher was out of commission because of a sand storm or some other atmospheric condition, we were to land at what we called El Genina on the Sudanese border with Chad. If the town still exists, and modern atlases do not show it on the Sudanese map, it is eight or ten miles from the easternmost Chadian town of Adre.

El Fasher, El Genina, Atar and Tindouf together with Ascension Island are to my mind the loneliest places in the world. And the four Arab towns have unfavorable climate conditions. In El Fasher and El Genina, the wind blows constantly carrying dirt and sand. To a large extent, transients through those two wide places in the road often depended on boxed Army rations to avoid the possibility of sand in the mess hall food. I really felt sorry for the men who had to work there and the men who ran the mess halls in those two places.

As you might imagine, the sand and dirt in the air was bad news for aircraft engines. As the Aerial Engineer, I always encouraged pilots to minimize ground warm-ups. At the first opportunity, I put shrouds around the engines to try to keep the sand and dirt out of them.

There is one other distinguishing thought that comes to mind about El Fasher and El Genina. The first time we landed at both places, Army ground personnel such as mechanics came to meet us wearing what we thought were white coveralls and white work clothes called fatigues. In the American Army, fatigues and coveralls were always olive drab. There were no such things as white work clothes. Finally, I asked a mechanic at either El Fasher or El Genina why he wore white work clothes when everyone knows that being an airplane mechanic involves dirty work. The mechanic explained to me that when he first came to this desert spot, his work clothes were indeed olive drab, just like every other mechanic in the American Air Force. However, he said that when the Arab women washed their work clothes and hung them on a line to dry, it was only a matter of time before they took on a gray or even a sort of white appearance in the desert sun. He also explained that the laundry was picked up and delivered by Arab men who took it to their wives. The wives were never seen by the GI’s at El Fasher or El Genina.

So I decided then and there, to stay away from desert spots where it was hard to breathe and where airplane mechanics wore gray or off white work clothes.

We are on the home stretch on our tour of Central and North Africa. Leaving the desert of Sudan and flying westward over Chad, we come to Maiduguri, Nigeria. Maiduguri is basically a Moslem City, but taking one thing with another, it is light years ahead of Khartoum, El Fasher and El Genina. There was a town at Maiduguri with lively commercial transactions. The local people seemed pleased to have us. I suppose part of that may have been the impression that American troops were loose spenders. But in my case, the attitude in Maiduguri was 180 degrees different from the towns in Sudan, another Muslim country. The Sudanese assumed American troops were Christians and that meant problems.

But what set Maiduguri apart and more or less advanced it to the head of African cities was eggs. That’s right – eggs. In the Air Force base at Maiduguri you could ask for eggs in the transient mess and they would be provided on the mess hall line. I went through Maiduguri perhaps three times and that was in late 1944 and 1945. Now, close to 60 years later, I can still recall those fresh eggs which were found no place else in African mess halls run by the U. S. Army. So you see, I am consistent. I liked the eggs in the YMCA room at Accra and I liked the Army eggs at Maiduguri, Nigeria.

There is one more stop before reaching our taking off place in Accra, Ghana. Flying westward, the next stop is Kano, Nigeria. Kano is now the seat of fundamentalist Muslim culture in Nigeria. There, the authorities have ordered the Muslim Sharia laws into effect which provide, among other things, the stoning to death of women involved in extra marital affairs. The men involved in such affairs are never arrested or even questioned. I only went into Kano once. It struck me as an African city where Muslim clerics had a lot to say about what went on. It was a thriving place, but largely unattractive and so on subsequent trips, I never left the air base.

And so now we return to Accra, Gold Coast which was the hub of African operations for the U. S. Army. The trip that I suggested around North and Central Africa covers an enormous distance. However, by flying out at dawn or before, it is possible to make sometimes more than just one stop in the bases I have described. One of the big obstacles in African flying when I was there, was the complete absence of flood lights to light the runways. In effect, we were ordinarily limited to daytime flying. When there were matters of some urgency, airplanes could land and take off using their own wing lights. Pan Am pilots who flew the Ascension Island – Accra route often landed in Accra just at daybreak, but in the absence of combat conditions, it was much, much better to wait for daylight.

As you can see, the Americans and the British together with Pan American Airways had done an enormous amount of work in the so called “Dark Continent.” As it turns out, it was essential to our success in North Africa and in the European combat operations.

 

War Against Japan

But Accra also had an ancillary purpose. Early in the war against the Axis Powers, it seemed clear that Japan would have to be attacked from China. Later, of course, when Allied Forces were successful in the island campaign advancing from one island to another closer to Japan, there was not the urgency to mount an attack from China. In the meantime, however, there were substantial Allied Forces at work in Burma, Laos and western China. To support this effort, the supply chain stretched across the Atlantic, through Africa, through Yemen into India at Karachi and ending in the Assam Province which adjoins Burma.

This is a lot of territory. If we come eastward from Accra all the way to Khartoum, the next stop is in Aden, Yemen. American soldiers were more or less barred from Aden. And that did not bother me at all. I was glad to be on my way to Karachi, India. After the war, India let the Muslim part of their country go and Pakistan was created. But during the war years, India was the main target.

Karachi is the main seaport in that western part of India. I went through there on two occasions during the war and found it to be a Wild West sort of city. In short, almost anything was accepted in Karachi including kidnapping and murder. Even the British who had long ruled India were wary of Karachi.

I have told about this little song on several occasions. The Brit who taught it to me called the city “KEE-RACHI”

When you go to Kee-rachi
Keep your money in your shoes,
Because the Kee-rachi women
Sing the Kee-rachi blues.

I took my hints from British colleagues and mostly stayed at our base far from what the Brits called “Kee-rachi” snake pits.

In 1983 on my way from Paris to Beijing, Air France had a short layover in Karachi. I had no desire to leave the airport to go to the city. From what I learned, Karachi was not improved over the war years.

From Karachi the next stop is about 900 miles away in Āgra. Āgra, of course, is the home of the magnificent Taj Mahal which was built between 1631 – 1645 as the tomb of Shah Jahan’s empress. Shah Jahan must have thought a lot of that woman – his wife – as he made the Taj Mahal an enduring monument that has lasted 350 years.

The other fact about Āgra is that the citizens there have an inordinate affection for gold. Women wear gold earrings and nose pieces as well as rings and bracelets. Men wear gold rings. One way or another, they produce a golden thread that is used to sew garments on the outside where it can be seen. All American soldiers and air men wore shoulder patches on the left shoulder of the uniform. In many shops in Agra, those U. S. patches were faithfully reproduced using gold thread. I found them attractive, but I bought them as souvenirs, not to be sewn on a uniform. It is quite likely that a by-the-book Army officer would order a GI such as myself to get rid of such un-GI symbols of gold thread shoulder patches. Some 58 years later, I have some of those patches in my file cabinet, never worn on a uniform.

The people in India often spoke English due, of course, to England’s rule over them. Communicating with Indians was thus made much easier. In Agra, it was easy to deal with Indians in what was largely a commercial town. Perhaps because American troops spoke our version of English, we seemed to get along well with the Indians. Like anyone else, the Indians seemed to react well when treated with respect by American troops. It is unfortunate that some troops – particularly from the rural South of the United States – regarded the Indians as gooks and put them down because of their Hindu religion. I got along very well with Indians and they were often helpful to me.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, it fell to me to make a few trips to Bombay and New Delhi. I enjoyed them a great deal although there was an occasion when my AT&T colleague Howard Pappert took an Indian couple to one of the finer restaurants in Bombay. They were the Ramaswamis.

Mrs. Ramaswami was the wife of a treasured Indian colleague with whom we had dealt for years. At dinner she sat to my right. She wore a diamond ornament on both sides of her nose. I began to wonder whether the nose was punctured to accommodate the diamond ornament or whether it was simply pasted on. I would like to report to you the outcome of my wondering, but I left India no wiser about the nose doo-dad. And to his everlasting disgrace, Howard Pappert, who had India as one of his responsibilities, could offer no help. Howard’s attitude was that I should not wonder about such things but here I am almost 20 years later and I am still wondering.

Leaving Agra to embark upon the last leg of Air Transport Command flights in India, the next stop is in India’s far eastern Province of Assam. It is a flight of about 1000 miles which tells you that pre-war India is a big country. The base in Assam was at Shillong. It was all business at that air base as we transferred cargo and new planes to the crews who flew what was called “The Hump” into Kunming, China. Some of the mountain ranges between Shillong and Kunming were as high as 25,000 feet with raging winds. I never flew “The Hump,” but I had the utmost respect for those who did it.

Assam was as we would now say, “Out in the boonies.” It was a primitive place and the object for us was to deliver whatever we had brought and to get out of Assam as soon as possible. All over India, irreverent GI’s from Assam would tell you that “My ass-am dragging”. In that Indian province, that is about the best joke that GI’s could make. It was not a particularly lovely place.

Now that we have dealt with Africa and Yemen and India, perhaps we ought to say a few words about trips from Accra to Johanesburg (Jo’burg) with a return through Nairobi.

Before World War II, Belgium was a big colonial power. They had possession of an extremely rich country in Africa which they called the Belgian Congo. Today, with the Belgians being kicked out, that country is called Zaire. In the Belgian Congo days when I was there, there were two main cities. One was Leopoldville, named after the Belgian king. It is now called Kinshasa. Now the Belgian king had a wife who was named Elizabeth. You may be stunned to know that the Belgians called that big city at the southern of the Congo – Elizabethville. It is now called Lubumbashi. The Belgians were greatly unloved by the natives because of cruel treatment. At the end of the war when native uprisings occurred, no one raised a finger to help the Belgians who had drained the Congo’s resources for more than 100 years. They were simply thrown out and told to stay away.

The object in going first to Leopoldville and then south to Elizabethville, was to get to Johannesburg in South Africa. Because of the unrest, I never left the two airbases in the old Belgian Congo, but Jo’burg was a different story. The people there were divided between the old line “Dutch” who had fled Europe many years earlier, and the English who more or less governed things. In all candor, the so called Dutch were more German in origin and their support for World War II was lukewarm. The English were completely in the war. I flew with squadrons of the South African Air Force stationed in Foggia, Italy and they were virtually all from the British side in South Africa.

Jo’burg was a delightful spot for those of us who had been to the horrors of Europe and then to the backwardness of Central and North Africa. The food was good and we were treated sort of like visiting royalty. That is saying something for an American GI. I only made one trip to Jo’burg during the war years, and I remember it to this day.

In the 1980, my AT&T colleagues and I made another trip to South Africa. At about that time, the whites were losing their mastery over the country. What we saw was a deterioration of the life that had caused everyone to envy South Africa in the ‘40’s. In 1980, I recall seeing natives building cooking fires on the downtown sidewalks and using the gutter for personal matters of hygiene. I greatly regret Jo’burg being subjected to such uncivilized conduct.

Leaving South Africa during the war years brought about a long flight to Nairobi, Kenya. In World War II, Kenya was a British possession and things worked well. Nairobi had largely been untouched by the fighting in North Africa and Europe. The English more or less used Nairobi as a rest and recovery location. After a long time, it seemed to me that the food and the services that Nairobi provided were first class. Which is to say GI’s like myself were astounded to see people enjoying themselves in a city that was pretty close to first class.

In recent years, Nairobi has largely run aground. Reports from my colleagues going there have to do with pick-pocketing and violence. It is out of sorrow that it is necessary to scratch Nairobi from the list of places to be visited.

I sincerely hope that my readers have stuck with me as I recounted memories from World War II which included Central Africa, North Africa, East and West Africa, South Africa, Yemen and India.

I enlisted in the United States Army more than 60 years ago. I had no idea that Army service would take me to so many places in Africa, in Europe and in India. It is nice now to put my feet up and ponder some of the things that GI’s saw including the most lonely places known to man: Ascension Island, Atar, Mauritania; Tindouf, Algeria; and El Fasher and El Genina in the Sudan. But more than anything else, it is a most pleasant thought to know that this old GI will not be going back to those miserable forsaken places. Not now, not ever.

Taking one thing with another, as Henry Mencken used to say, I consider myself very fortunate to have seen so much of the world. My service extended from my 19th year until my 23rd year. At that time of my life, I simply wanted to be a soldier; hence my early enlistment rather than waiting for the draft.

The fact that it was my good fortune to visit many countries has aroused a life long interest in foreign affairs. On many occasions when a news commentator says that the next story comes from Algeria or Mauritania or the Sudan, causes me to still think, “Hey, I was there once.” So in spite of the hardships and inconveniences and lousy food and sleeping with sand on the pillow, I consider myself a lucky man. The Army service instilled a desire to know more about some of the places that I have written about in this essay. I did not join the Army to see the world, but in fact, I suppose I did see quite a bit of it. And to top it all off, we know that World War II vets are dying at the rate of 1800 per day. I am sure that I won’t live forever, but I’m doing my best to do so.

E. E. CARR
November 28, 2002

 

The wing positioning of the C-47 is completely different from today’s passenger planes, and the angle of the plane’s body when it lands seems like it would leave pilots staring up at the sky instead of looking at the runway.

As for the rest of this essay, it is sort of incredible how a man from such humble beginnings would get to see so many different places. I usually hear the phrase “Join the army, they said — see the world, they said” as a joke more than anything, to describe some recruit who gets stuck in the middle of nowhere in the US. Pop had the distinction of seeing all sorts of nowheres in Africa and beyond. Perspective is invaluable, even if it’s just “Hey, I was there once.” I hope to be as well-traveled as Pop, but ideally under much more pleasant circumstances.

Officially the longest essay on this site, and one of my favorites. Microsoft Word clocks it at 10,000 words exactly.
Cheers, Pop.

FLAGS, FLAGS – EVERYWHERE FLAGS

In November, 1945 Winter was making its frigid appearance felt in the Mississippi Valley in the general vicinity of St. Louis. Daytime temperatures had trouble in breaking the freezing point. Night time temperatures were somewhat colder. Cold in this region of the Mississippi Valley is made somewhat worse by the presence of high humidity.

So on November 8, 1945, a very cold and rainy day, it came my turn to present myself to the United States Army discharge center at Scott Field Army Air Force Base near Belleville, Illinois. My last assignment had been at Greenwood, Mississippi where we had been sent to prepare for the projected invasion of Japan. When Japan surrendered, this was a fortunate turn of events for me because it left me in the Continental United States as opposed to being on a foreign assignment. Being in the U. S. was a major step in getting out of the Army. My friend Harry Livermore, was on the Aircraft Carrier Ticonderoga in the Pacific Ocean. He had to wait for January, 1946 to get out of the Navy.

The Army brass desperately wanted all of us to re-enlist in the Army Air Force. There was a reason for wanting us to stay in the Army, and it had nothing to do with patriotism. Simply put, if all the enlisted men elected to be discharged and go home to civilian life, there would be no troops for Captains, Majors, Colonels and Generals to command and such Army brass would be out of work.

Consider the shoe clerk, for example, who served part time in the National Guard before the war. Enlistment in the National Guard caused the shoe clerk or the plumber’s helper or the filling station attendant to earn perhaps $20 or $30 extra each month. As we were in the grip of the Depression from 1928 to the start of 1942, that extra income was a major help to low wage earners. This money was earned by attending meetings which took place every two weeks. After 20 years, the National Guard also provided a pension. In the Summer, National Guard troops were called up for two weeks of marching and gunnery practice. In Missouri, for example, the National Guard went to the cool waters of Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin for the two week summer encampment. Many Guardsmen were allowed to bring their families along so the mid-Summer drills really became a vacation which many National Guardsmen could not have afforded without the Summer drills. So for many men, the National Guard was a good deal that offered extra money, a pension, and a trip to Wisconsin in July or August.

After December 7, 1941 when National Guard troops were federalized, many of the Guard troops walked into a rapidly expanding U. S. Army that had all kinds of officer vacancies to fill. The Guard troops often had first pickings and many of them wound up as Captains or Majors or even as Colonels with hundred of troops to command.

Now the former shoe clerk or plumber’s helpers were in a position to give orders. They no longer had to worry about whether their shoes made customer’s bunions feel better or whether that pesky leak in the kitchen was fixed. They were now giving orders.

At the end of hostilities, the shoe clerks and the plumber’s helpers certainly wanted to avoid going back to their former lines of work. So the solution was to get men to re-enlist so that they could continue to be powerful Army officers.

There was a mousy fellow who worked for AT&T and who had enlisted in the National Guard in the 1930’s. When war broke out, this fellow had never risen to the lowest level of management. This man was federalized and by the end of the war he was a Brigadier General in the Army. AT&T took him back at the lowest level of management to avoid the embarrassment of a Brigadier General now relegated to a job of very modest importance. It must be clear by now that many returning officers looked with dread toward returning to their former occupations.

As soon as it became clear that the war was over, enlisted men such as myself were called to individual and group meetings on Army bases where the intention was to persuade us to re-enlist. Failing that, the next objective was to get people to enlist in the Army Reserves. If that failed, the officers were to insist that the enlisted men at least enroll in the National Guard.

Most of the men at the Greenwood, Mississippi base where I was, were veterans of three years or more in the Army and nearly everyone had served substantial tours overseas. Under the point system announced after heavy pressure from wives and mothers on Congress, this meant that most of us in Greenwood had more than enough points to be discharged immediately. Medals and awards also counted. In my case, 60 or 65 points were all that was needed to qualify for discharge. If my memory is anywhere near correct, I had accumulated 105 discharge points and man, I was ready to go.

When we were called in to meet with Army brass, most of us, say 95%, laughed at the urgings of the Colonels and Majors and demanded to be let out of the Army. Whereas in the past the Army brass were giving orders, they were now importuning us to stay. Horse laughs were in order for enlisted men.

The war ended on August 16, 1945. I was on furlough at the time and reported back to Greenwood around September first. All of September and October were lost while the Army tried to persuade and bully us into enlisting in the Army, the Reserves or the National Guard. When it became clear that this old Sergeant rejected all three enlistments, the Army gave up and sent me in early November, 1945 to the Scott Field Discharge Center.

We were instructed to wear our uniforms and overcoats which was agreeable because it was cold. At 8AM on November 8, 1945, the harangue at Scott Field started all over about re-enlistment or joining the Reserves or the National Guard. This went on into the afternoon and it only made me more determined to kiss the Army life goodbye. After a particularly unpleasant meeting with a Sergeant, I was moved to say, “Sergeant, screw you.” That is the sanitized version of what I said, but my meaning was quite clear.

Late in the afternoon, the Army considered me a hopeless case and finally proceeded to process me for discharge. They announced that my overcoat had to be returned and that the Army would replace it with a rubberized slicker. Not very warm on a November evening, but what the hell, I was finally getting out. The overcoat return was fine with me as my plans for civilian dress did not include an overcoat with brass buttons.

Near the end of this very long day, say around 6:30PM, a seamstress appeared to take my jacket. She quickly explained that she had no plans to confiscate it; she simply wanted to sew a Ruptured Duck above the right breast pocket. This signified that the wearer was an honorably discharged soldier. That jacket has hung in various closets of my homes for pretty close to 58 years and the Ruptured Duck is still in good shape. (see Attachment 1)

Actually, the insignia is an eagle stepping through a wreath. Irreverent G.I.’s always referred to that insignia by no other name than the Ruptured Duck. If you ever have reason to ask about that insignia, kindly refer to it as the Ruptured Duck because if you use any other name, particularly to an old G.I., your question will probably not be answered.

Shortly before a Colonel bade us farewell, he presented each of us with a metal lapel pin for our civilian clothes. (see Attachment 2) It was the Ruptured Duck rendered in some metal that looked like gold. Every discharged soldier got the lapel pin. To my best recollection, I rarely, if ever, saw it worn. My former G. I. luncheon companions were Lloyd Rockamann, Gordon Gintz, Tom Laflin, Ralph Rauscher and one or two others. None of us ever wore the pin in our lapels and if we referred to it, it was done in a mocking laughing sort of way. In any case, I have been unable to locate my Ruptured Duck lapel pin for several decades.

All of that brings me to the flags that every male member of the Bush Administration wears in the left lapel of his suit. I have nothing against the flag, but there is something unseemly about it becoming part of the civilian uniform. My reaction to this blatant display of the flag is that if the flag wearer is so moved by patriotism, perhaps he ought to join the Armed Forces.

When it is said I have nothing against the flag, it should be acknowledged that I very much like flags. In our front coat closet are flags from perhaps 10 – 12 nations which we sometimes affix to holders under all the front windows. Until the lapel pin wearing came into vogue, I was the most exuberant displayer of flags in this neighborhood. There is also a United States flag and an Irish flag on seven foot poles which flank the bookcases in our family room.

Millions of Americans, males and females, are patriotic citizens. Millions of us served in the Armed Forces during war time. Very few of us are now flag-wavers. When Bush who reminds us that he is the Commander-in-Chief, had his chance to be a hero, he punted and fled to the Texas National Guard and never served a day in the Vietnam War. Cheney applied for and got five deferments during that same conflict, so he missed his chance to sing “Hurray for the Red, White and Blue.” In all of Bush’s cabinet, as far as I can tell, only Colin Powell ever served his country, but every member sports a flag in his left lapel to make certain that shirking is not in the vocabulary of this Administration. And to think that all of my colleagues from World War II , most of them combat veterans, declined to wear the Ruptured Duck emblem largely because it might say to other people that the discharged vet is somehow better than anyone else. It is sort of like a woman flashing a $900 Coco Chanel handbag while squeezing potatoes at the local greengrocers market. Most veterans of WWII did not want to call attention to themselves. When a neighbor of mine in New Jersey persisted in wearing his Army officer shirts on Saturdays after the war, it was widely frowned upon by the veterans among us. Most of us preferred to stay below the radar.

To be generous about the people around Bush, perhaps it might be that our fearless Commander-in-Chief may not be known to other presidents and major political figures abroad. Perhaps he wears the flag in his lapel to give people a hint that he is the President and Commander of all of American Armed Forces. If that is true, then it would seem proper that Jacques Chirac ought to have his administration wear the Tri-colour. And Tony Blair, whom even members of his own Labor party call Bush’s lap dog, might dress his administration in the Union Jack. Because all three countries share the red, white and blue colors, seeing those three leaders together would be a full fledged riot in color.

But Chirac and Blair do not make a show of their patriotism. In that respect, perhaps they are much like the WWII vets who had no desire to show anyone up. In Bush’s case, it may be that young George is covering up a large deficiency in his makeup. As I said earlier, when he had a chance to perform in a war, he punted. It may be that when he wears his lapel pin, his confidence receives a boost. I suppose that all this lapel pin wearing is why psychiatrists are in business.

Aside from the lapel pin flags, it is now obvious that when Bush makes a speech he stands in front of a flag draped scene. As an example, when Dan Rather got his interview with Saddam Hussein, it was broadcast at 9PM on Wednesday, February 26, 2003, in the regular time slot for “60 Minutes II.” Bush’s people insisted that they ought to provide dissent from Hussein’s responses, presumably by making Rather stop the tape whenever the Bush people wanted to dispute a point. CBS told the Bush Administration to get lost.

In retaliation, a Bush speech to the American Enterprise Institute was moved up to 7:30PM on that same evening to draw listeners away from “60 Minutes II.” As it turned out, the interview with Hussein was viewed by at least 17 million listeners, setting a record for “60 Minutes II.” The Bush speech was viewed by a small percentage of the CBS total.

Be that as it may, the Bush speech was delivered in front of four large American flags on poles behind him. Every shot of the TV cameras had to include the flag backdrop. I suppose that when Bush wears his lapel pin, and stands in front of a display of flags and speaks to an audience of right wing zealots, as in the case of the American Enterprise Institute, he must feel like a patriot in spite of his war time record. Maybe psychiatrists should prescribe this sort of therapy for all their patients suffering from depressed self esteem.

Well, I suppose times change and modesty is among its first casualties with Bush and his followers. Just by observing cars in parking lots and watching cars on the streets and highways, it seems to me, in a totally unscientific study, that the bigger the car the more flags it is wearing. Maybe this says that people who drive gas guzzlers are first rate patriots. And the SUV’s display the most flags, by far. Flags are hooked on to radio antennas. Some are pasted on the windows of SUV’s and others are placed on the paint on the rear lift up door. This week I followed an exterminating company van with an enormous flag on the rear door. I suppose he was telling us that as he wiped out nests of rats, he was somehow serving his country.

Flags are everywhere. I see cell phones decorated with the flag. Professional basketball and football players attach the flag to their uniforms. What does this say? This team is an American team, so prepare to get trounced? Not one of those athletes ever marched on an Army drill field.

It seems to me that such displays of the flag tend to make it routine and thus, irrelevant. Maybe I am not a good one to judge about the flag. The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars have always revolted me. They had the odor of professional patriotism. And that is how I view the flags on SUV’s and on the lapels of Bush administration flunkies. They are the chicken hawks, that is, let’s bomb Iraq, Iran, Syria and North Korea back to the Stone Age. Unfortunately, none of the chicken hawks have ever dealt with a war up close, as in the case of an enlisted Infantryman.

And so it seems to me that if the flag wearer is so moved by patriotism, perhaps he might express his support of the flag and join the Armed Forces. And if he is lucky and survives to earn an honorable discharge, he may get to wear a Ruptured Duck over his right breast pocket to go with his flag on his left lapel, the flag on his SUV, the flag on his cell phone and the wrap around flag on his pajamas.

E. E. CARR
February 25, 2003

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Those who are still curious as to the plight of out-of-work generals should watch “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby, which not only expounds about this theme but makes it a central plot point. There’s even a song. Now, this movie isn’t particularly good, but with some margaritas you can get through it; the Shepherd family this yearly.

The flag-waving discussion reminds me of the ever=popular injunction to “support our troops.” It’s incredible that millions of housewives across central Texas, for example, have decided that the best way to support our fighters is to put a bumper sticker on their SUV. These same housewives would not consider simply voting for a politician who seeks peace, even though keeping troops out of war is probably going to always be the best way to support them.