RCE MUSE FO
Vol. 41 No. 3
The Magazine of the Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc. â&#x20AC;¢ afmuseum.com
Featured Articles 7 Task Force Interpreter 32 The Fire Fight 50
Despite the Overwhelming Odds
From the Executive Director A few months ago I met a young man named Seth, the lead singer and composer in a band called His Dream of Lions. Their music is upbeat and lyrically poetic, reminding me of Bob Dylan. The band name, though, was intriguing. Turns out, it was inspired by “The Old Man and the Sea,” a short novel written by Ernest Hemingway in 1951 that tells the story of Santiago, an aging fisherman who catches a giant marlin and struggles to get the fish ashore. On that difficult journey, both on land and sea, Santiago dreams of lions on the beaches — symbolizing his lost youth as well as his pride. I was confused. Why would this young man reference not only a mid-20th century author like Hemingway, but also the loss of innocence and youth in his band’s name and music? Not something I would have expected. So I asked. Seth, as I learned, has a passion for history and storytelling. Learning from the past, he uses his music to improve the present and influence the future. As I reflected on my conversation with Seth, it was clear that our passions are similar. Without question, you and I, via our support of the Museum through the Foundation, share a passion for connecting with and inspiring future generations. We have been “inspiring” for almost 60 years — be it through traditional narrative and visuals, or the latest cutting-edge interactive technology that harnesses the power of augmented and virtual reality, to enhance the visitor experience. It has been said that while you may learn from the past, and be influenced by what is around you, only you, through your ingenuity and drive, can make something no one has ever seen, or thought, possible. Sounds corny, until you walk into the Early Years Gallery and see what Orville and Wilbur Wright dreamed, and with firm resolve, made immortal. Each of you, through your generosity, enable every Museum visitor to connect to what others have dreamed and made immortal. And their unique stories, like Seth’s music, indeed will inspire. Now...and well into the future. Thank you!
Mike Imhoff P.S. If His Dream of Lions or another band like them comes through your area, go see them. Those around you might be a bit younger, but joining hands across generations might present opportunities to inspire you weren’t expecting.
FRIENDS JOURNAL • Fall 2018
THE AIR FORCE MUSEUM FOUNDATION, INC. BOARD OF TRUSTEES Col Susan E. Richardson, USAF (Ret) - Chairman Dr. Pamela A. Drew - President Lt Gen C.D. Moore II, USAF (Ret) - Vice President CMSAF Gerald R. Murray, USAF (Ret) - Secretary Mr. Robert J. Suttman II, CFA - Treasurer Mr. John G. Brauneis Dr. Thomas J. Burns, PhD Brig Gen Paul R. Cooper, USAF (Ret) Mr. Timothy O. Cornell, CIMA Mr. Roger D. Duke Ms. Frances A. Duntz Ms. Anita Emoff Mr. David C. Evans Col Frederick D. Gregory Sr., USAF (Ret) Mr. Benjamin T. Guthrie Maj Gen E. Ann Harrell, USAF (Ret) Mr. James L. Jennings Dr. Thomas J. Lasley II Gen Gary L. North, USAF (Ret) Gen Charles T. Robertson Jr., USAF (Ret) Maj Gen Frederick F. Roggero, USAF (Ret) Mr. Philip L. Soucy Mr. Harry W. (Wes) Stowers Jr.
EMERITUS BOARD MEMBERS Mr. James F. Dicke II Mr. Charles J. Faruki Col William S. Harrell, USAF (Ret) Mr. Jon G. Hazelton Mr. Charles F. Kettering III Mr. Patrick L. McGohan Lt Gen Richard V. Reynolds, USAF (Ret) Mr. R. Daniel Sadlier Col James B. Schepley, USAF (Ret)
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This month marks the centenary of the end of World War I. The “War to End All Wars” did not live up to the hope it’s ending inspired and a generation later war raged across a far greater expanse of the world. The generation of the First World War is gone and with them went any unshared stories of their service. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs estimates that there are roughly half a million World War II veterans still alive, but their numbers are rapidly dwindling. I was honored to meet World War II B-17 pilot John Klette in June. In this issue of the Friends Journal you can read John and waist gunner Art Unruh’s detailed description of a harrowing mission they flew in 1944. John passed away 11 days after sharing his story with me and I feel fortunate that I was able to speak with him in person, and to work with Art to share their story with you. If you served in the United States Air Force you have a story to share. Whatever your story, please share it while you can. And if you feel inclined to share it with the Friends Journal I would be honored to help you tell it. This issue of the Journal contains stories from World War I up to Vietnam. In addition to John Klette and Art Unruh’s World War II story, topics include: the early years of aircraft maintenance in a World War I depot at Issoudun, France; a B-26 bomber pilot operating from Australia in early 1942; recollections of a midair collision from a B-17 pilot; an Air Force medic’s experiences flying med-evac in Vietnam; the U.S. effort to supply aircraft to the Nationalist Chinese after World War II; Col Harrison Thyng’s flight into a thunderstorm; a helicopter gunship pilot’s description of a fire fight in Vietnam; and a ground-based radar operator recruited to fly Forward Air Control missions in Vietnam as a French translator. Enjoy,
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On the Cover: World War I replica aircraft took to the skies during during the eleventh WWI Dawn Patrol Rendezvous at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force™ on Sept. 22-23, 2018. (Courtesy photo by Bill McCuddy)
FRIENDS JOURNAL • Fall 2018
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The Friends Journal is published quarterly by the Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc., a Section 501(c)(3) private, non-profit organization dedicated to the expansion and improvement of the National Museum of the U.S.Air ForceTM and to the preservation of the history of the United States Air Force. The Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc. is not part of the Department of Defense or any of its components and it has no government status. Printed in the USA. USPS Standard A rate postage paid at Dayton, OH. Subscription to the Friends Journal is included in the annual membership of the Friends of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
Contents F E AT U R E S
F E AT U R E S T O R Y
D E PA R T M E N T S
Victor W. Pagé and the Issoudun Flying School
Despite the Overwhelming Odds...
“The site was regarded as the ‘worst mud hole in France.’”
“The 301st BG was now a sitting duck flying over Austria.”
Trapped in a Thunderstorm
Five Simple Words 28
“Then suddenly the engine flamed out.”
Classic Aircraft of the NMUSAF
Task Force Interpreter
“All formal qualifications and prerequisite training requirements were to be by-passed.”
Air Force Museum Theatre 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 7 Mission
The Diffenbaugh Project — Flying the Hump “One Last Time”
2019 Events at the NMUSAF
“All were dusty, rusted and corroded, and seemed in no condition to fly.”
Lt Gen John “Jack” Hudson, USAF (Ret) “Thank you.” 46
Dawn Patrol Rendevous 47
With MacArthur in 1942 “If I try to make it, will you stick with me?”
Med Evac in Vietnam “We were able to fly him out to Da Nang where we hoped he survived.”
20 -25 Don’t miss these specials from the Museum Store. A perfect way to wrap up your holiday shopping!
The Fire Fight “You smell the gunpowder as you clear the LZ.”
Fall 2018 • FRIENDS JOURNAL
Friends Feedback And Mack Parkhill of Dublin, OH wrote: In 1955, between my junior and senior year in college, Air Force ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) summer camp occurred for me at Ft. George Wright in Spokane, Washington. Among the scheduled events were two orientation flights; one in a T-33 jet trainer and the other a cross-country mission in the massive B-36 bomber, both from nearby Fairchild Air Force Base. My first taste of jet flying occurred during a cool T-Bird ride that included a flyover of my hometown, Wenatchee. The following day we were placed into groups of 12-15 ROTC cadets to fly in a B-36 on a three to four-hour mission over Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Only two sections of the “36” were pressurized — the roomy forward cockpit area and a section in the rear of the fuselage that had two small viewing bubbles for crew members who watched the engines for possible fires. To get from one to the other you had to lie on your back on a wheeled platform and pull yourself through an 85-foot long pressurized tunnel using a rope overhead. The plan was for each ROTC cadet to spend time in both sections, with the rotation occurring thru the tunnel. We drew straws and I was disappointed to draw a short straw and be placed in the rear section on takeoff. Long story short, those guys in the front never came back thru the tunnel, and those of us stuck in the back were P.O.’d, to say the least. It was highly unlikely that any of us in the back would have another opportunity in that front section when we were eventually commissioned and on active duty, due to the planned replacement of the B-36 by the all-jet B-52. Many years later while serving as a docent at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force I finally was able to make up for that lost trip to the “front office.” At the time, one night per year after closing, several display models normally off-limits to entry were opened for volunteers to explore.
FRIENDS JOURNAL • Fall 2018
Among the opened aircraft on one of those nights was our B-36. I took full advantage of that opportunity spending time seated in each forward position experiencing what I had been denied in 1955, minus, of course, the hum of the engines and the fabulous view from several thousand feet. Four years later, and 45 years after my Fairchild summer camp disappointment I decided to stay at the Museum one evening to take in a dedication ceremony of some forgotten significance. Sometime before it commenced, I noticed an older gentleman sitting alone so I introduced myself. He was retired from the Air Force and we bantered for a bit until I asked where he was from. It turned out he lived in Spokane. I disclosed that Wenatchee was my home town and off we went on stories of the Inland Northwest. When I asked if he had been stationed at Fairchild, he replied that he had retired as a full colonel and deputy commander of the 92nd Bomb Wing that operated B-52s from there at the time of his retirement. This prompted me to relate my B-36 experience and how P.O.’d I still was for being denied time “up front” during my ROTC orientation ride. He then asked when that had occurred and to my amazement informed me that during the summer of 1955 he was a squadron commander assigned as the command pilot of all the ROTC B-36 orientation flights, including mine. There we were, 45 years after the fact, finally sitting next to each other. One of those “small world” events that makes your day. Following the ceremony as we were departing, my new friend said, “Mack, the next time Parkhill you are set for a B-36 ride, I’ll see that you start in the front.” I’m still waiting, but it sure made my day.
“Despite the overwhelming odds…” by John
Klette and Art Unruh with Alan Armitage
round 4:00 a.m. on July 26, 1944, the officer of the day entered 2nd Lt John Klette’s tent at an airfield near the town of Foggia, Italy, to make sure Klette and the other officers scheduled to fly the day’s mission were awake, up and starting to get dressed. Klette, of Covington, Kentucky, had begun flying combat missions as a Consolidated B-24 Liberator pilot with the 15th Air Force out of an airfield near Cerrignola, Italy. He had been transferred to the 32nd Bomb Squadron of the 301st Bomb Group at Lucera, Italy to fly the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress due to high casualties in that group. He would be flying as a co-pilot on this, his 31st mission. The day began as every mission day began, according to Klette. “Using the upside-down helmet as a wash basin, we proceeded to wash our face and hands, shave, brush our teeth and get dressed in our regular uniform, before putting on heavy wool-lined winter fly gear and boots to offer protection from the anticipated 30° below zero temperature that would fill the unheated B-17,” he said. The officers then wandered into the mess to have breakfast. “The gourmet dining room consisted of an extra-large tent, screened-in sides, large table and benches and a kitchen area for cooking,” explained Klette. Breakfast consisted of oatmeal, toast, French toast, eggs, coffee, and there were large jars of jelly and peanut butter on each table that were for unlimited use by any person eating in the mess. Klette described his approach to food John Klette
on days when he flew missions; “I was not in the habit of eating a large breakfast; maybe a piece of toast and a little beverage” he said. “Even though we were given a sack containing a Spam sandwich to consume along the mission, I never found a desired time to eat it,” he continued, “and usually I dropped it through the bomb bay over the Adriatic Sea on our way home.” After breakfast the squadron commander announced that all combat crews should board trucks for the ride to the briefing room located across the road in a barn on the flying field. “Once inside,” Klette said, “the pilots sat in a group on top of former bomb shipping containers that now made a comfortable seat.” Klette sat with 1st Lt John Kelly of Bothell, Washington, his pilot for this mission. “When our briefing officer appeared, all personnel jumped to attention, saying good morning and waiting for our command to be seated.” After a few corrective messages and reports from the battlefront, the briefing officer removed a cover from a large wall map to reveal the target of the day. The 301st BG would be supplying 28 B-17s as a decoy mission and bomb an aircraft plant in a suburb of Vienna, Austria, known as Wiener Neudorf. “The plan was for our planes to fly at high altitude and attempt to draw the attention of the Germans, to make them think a large armada was assembling on a mass raid to Vienna,” explained Klette. “Other bomb ☛
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groups were being assigned other targets in this super attempt to force the attention of the Germans away from what was being assigned as a prime target of the day.” That mission was a group of 76 Lockheed P-38 Lightnings and 58 North American P-51 Mustangs of Fifteenth Air Force on a return leg from Russian airfields as part of Operation Frantic (shuttle missions to and from airfields in Russia). These fighters strafed aircraft and facilities in the Bucharest-Ploesti regions of Romania en route to their home fields in Italy. “The briefing officer proceeded to lay out the plan of attack,” Klette continued, “the initial point (IP, starting point for the straight and level bomb run in to the target), approach to the target, altitude, type of bomb load to be released, and plan of exit. He also explained the estimated number of fighters en route and flak guns in the target area.” After receiving a weather report and synchronizing all watches crews split up and crew members gathered according to their occupation. “Pilots remained as a group for further information applying to the operation of the aircraft,” explained Klette, “navigators had gone to a section by themselves to be briefed by the lead navigator of the day. The bombardiers flying in each plane discussed their plans with the lead bombardier explaining the service required from the other planes in the squadron. And the gunners gathered to discuss expected fighter opposition and tactics.” The other two officers on the flight that day were 2nd Lt Richard Larkin of Manchester, New Hampshire, and 2nd Lt Robert McArthur of Vidalia, Georgia.
numerous casualties during the previous six months. “February 25th was a very bad day for the officers of my crew,” he said. “They were on a mission with another crew of enlisted men. I was on the ground that day. They were shot down over Germany. My pilot was killed, the co-pilot and navigator were prisoners of war.” This and other losses were particularly hard for Unruh. The crew had bonded during their time training at Rapid City, South Dakota, prior to flying overseas. “As a crew we became closer and closer,” he remembered. “This included our officers. We were a team. We had the best of times together. All ten of us would go into town together for dinners at one of the hotels. At one hotel a major told us that the officers and enlisted men could not eat together, so we went to another hotel for our meal.” But combat losses had changed all of that. “Having lost most of my crew,” he said, “I had to fly with lots of different crews.” This would be Unruh’s 49th and 50th mission, completing his combat tour [Editor’s note: long missions at high altitudes were counted as two missions]. After the briefing it was time to proceed to the aircraft. “Each crew climbed aboard a truck with seats attached to its side for the trip from the briefing room to the
The gunners for this mission were TSgt Elliott Bryan of Kalamazoo, Michigan; TSgt Clarence Murphy of Massillon, Ohio; SSgt Albert Bernard of Alpena, Michigan; SSgt K. J. McClure of Independence, Kansas; and SSgt Eugene McKimmy of Cleveland, Ohio. Not all of them were part of Klette’s regular crew. Also sitting with the gunners assigned to Klette’s crew that day was SSgt Art Unruh of Hutchinson, Kansas. Unruh had been with the 32nd BS since arriving in Italy on January 17, 1944. An aerial gunner, he had flown six missions as a tail gunner before being moved up to the waist gun position. “At six feet tall I was too big for the tail gun spot,” he explained. Unruh was flying as a fill-in that day, as did many personnel in the 32nd. His own crew had suffered Art Unruh stands in front of the B-17 Memphis Belle™ during a recent visit to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force™.
FRIENDS JOURNAL • Fall 2018
John Klette in the cockpit of one of the C-47s he flew during his career.
John Klette AFMF
location of our assigned aircraft to be used on our day’s mission,” said Klette. “Finally, instructions were given by colored flares to line the bombers up in train and proceed to the designated end of a runway. Then the commanding officer flying in the lead plane would fire the proper colored flare denoting the start of take-offs. Usually each plane followed at thirty-second departures. The first plane off flew straight for a longer period before starting a curve to the left. The second plane off flew to an imaginary point and a little shorter distance before starting its turn to the left and hopefully fit into one of the wing positions of the first plane. This continued until all seven of the squadron planes were airborne and assuming a tight box formation en route to the initial point of attack on the target.”
The Silver Star and Air Medal John received for his acts of heroism or meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight
point making it too difficult to accomplish a successful mission. Therefore, word was sent to all flying units to abandon the mission and return to base. However, word was never sent to the 301st BG which was now a sitting duck flying over Austria. It just so happened that the seven planes of the 32nd BS were flying as ‘tailend Charlie’ of the 30lst BG formation consisting of approximately 28 aircraft.”
At his position in the waist of the aircraft Unruh prepared himself for his role in the mission. “I had my heated suit on, Mae West jacket (inflatable life vest), throat mike, oxygen mask at hand. My parachute, chest type, hanging on a hook nearby,” he said. “The formation separated just enough for all gunners to test fire our machine guns. We went on oxygen at 10,000 feet. As we entered enemy skies, we watched for German airplanes.”
Unruh described how the German attack on their formation began. “About 30 miles from the IP, at about 24,000 feet altitude, we were attacked by between 50 and 70 Me 109 (Messerschmitt Bf 109) and FW 190 (Focke-Wulf Fw 190) fighters,” he said. “The fighters were sighted and called out by the enlisted crew members, massing for attack at six o’clock (behind the bombers) and about two-thousand yard out. The initial attack consisted of three waves of 18 fighters abreast, firing rockets at about one-thousand yards range, then continuing their attack with 20mm cannon and machine gun fire at extremely close range.” The attack was so intense and violent that almost simultaneously the three rearmost B-17 aircraft flying in the 32nd BS formation were destroyed.
Klette remembered the mission being a total SNAFU (Situation Normal, All Fouled Up). “The commanding officers located at 5th Wing headquarters in Bari, Italy, concluded that weather reports being gathered at various places along the route had deteriorated to a
The fighters rallied and continued to attack with added vigor and in the next six or seven minutes of intense aerial combat eight additional 301st BG B-17s were shot down. Two of these were from the 32nd BS, leaving only two aircraft still airworthy from that squadron. ☛ Fall 2018 • FRIENDS JOURNAL
Klette recalled “I took a quick look to my left and saw a man from the plane that was flying on my left wing as the aircraft became a mass of flame and vanished from my vision, the plane then blew up behind me.” “So pressing was the enemy attack,” Unruh continued, “that enemy fighters were observed firing from ranges as close as 50 feet. This concentrated enemy fire destroyed one-half of the rudder, the left elevator and elevator trim tab, jamming these controls in position. Many hits were sustained in the fuselage and wings, severely damaging both wing spars, puncturing both inboard propellers and destroying and setting fire to all radio equipment and the oxygen system from the radio room to the tail.” Despite the severe pounding the plane was taking, the crew continued to fight to save the aircraft. “The tail guns were destroyed and the tail gunner received very serious injury,” recalled Unruh. “During this action eight enemy fighters were destroyed by the gunners, two of which were destroyed by the tail gunner before his injury. The situation was so critical it was impossible for the gunners to maintain an account of probables (aircraft believed, but not confirmed, to have been destroyed) and damaged enemy aircraft, recognizing only those seen to explode from their fire. In addition to successfully warding off the persistent attacks from fighters, the gunners also managed to extinguish the three different fires that had started during this engagement.” Meanwhile, in the cockpit, the pilot and co-pilot were struggling to keep the plane in the air. “Not realizing how badly we were damaged,” Klette said, “Kelly was barely managing to hold the plane steady, and shouted, ‘Klette, get on the rudder. I can’t hold it!’ We managed to get the plane flying level despite the badly damaged rudder and seeing a cloud ahead I put extra power on the engines and dove toward the clouds. Once inside the cloud, Kelly took over since he held a qualified instrument rating and I had no training in instrument flying.” Unruh remembered that the formation entered heavy clouds and their ship could no longer keep in contact with what was left of the group. The plane soon emerged from the clouds and the bombardier salvoed its bombs near the town of Mürzsteg, Austria. “Shortly after,” Unruh continued, “we were again attacked by enemy fighters. Between 15 and 20 enemy aircraft participated in this assault which bore the same ferocity as the first attacks.”
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Holding a copy of his book, Shadow Casters is Art Unruh (left) with Lt Gen John “Jack” Hudson, USAF (Ret) (right) during a recent visit to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force™.
Klette remembered this attack vividly. “We re-appeared out of the cloud and a FW 190 was bearing down on us. Luck was with us and Art Unruh’s dwindling supply of bullets found their way into a key component of the 190 and caused it to explode.” Unruh in turn praised other crew members for their efforts. “Though alone and against such tremendous odds, this valiant crew fought off attack after attack, destroying two more enemy fighters,” he said. “Disregarding the fact that his turret was hit by a 20mm cannon shell, was on fire and he was without any oxygen, the ball-turret operator continued to suppress fighter attacks. Finally, from lack of oxygen, he passed out while firing at a FW 190. The left waist gunner pulled him from the turret, extinguishing the fire and reviving the stricken gunner with oxygen from the one remaining walk-around bottle (a portable bottle of oxygen that allowed the crew to leave their regular position). After being revived, the ball-turret gunner insisted on returning to his position where he remained until his aircraft was in safe territory. With five of the ship’s guns inoperative, a running battle ensued until the pilot maneuvered the crippled aircraft into some clouds and lost the remaining enemy fighters.” In the cockpit, Klette and Kelly were still struggling to control the aircraft. “I then talked with Kelly,” Klette recalled, “and said, ‘Let’s cut off some of the power and try to get as far away from the target as possible.’” It was also at this time that they began to learn more about the condition of their aircraft. “We also learned that the tail gunner had been seriously injured, the radio man slightly
injured, a fire in the radio equipment and oxygen system shot out. The gunners had to walk around the oxygen bottle that they kept passing to each other in order to stay conscious. The navigator station was still functional and he would give us headings to keep us safely away from major cities below.” “After descending to approximately 12,000 feet and realizing that the B-17 was still flying,” Klette continued, “Kelly and I decided to head for the Adriatic Sea, remembering that there was an emergency runway on the island of Vis off the coast Yugoslavia, near Split. We openly broadcast our “May Day” distress call and reported our condition. Base heard our distress call and said we were cleared for a straight in approach. With Kelly at the control he was able to gracefully set the bomber on the Adriatic end of the runway and then coast for about 5,500 feet before making a slight ground loop to the right and bringing the plane to a stop. Naturally, we were trailed by an ambulance to take charge of the seriously wounded tail gunner and intelligence officers wanting to de-brief the remaining members of the crew.” For Art Unruh, however, this was more than just any safe landing. “On the ground back at Home Base, I stood on good, old terra firma,” he recalled. “Hardly believing what had just happened to us, I kissed the ground and kissed that bullet-riddled old B-17 airplane that brought us home. The crew stood there knowing that there were only two planes out of seven that had made it back. I know we all were saying a little prayer for ourselves and for the crews that had not returned.” Then, it all began to sink in. “As I walked around the battered airplane, my knees began to tremble and the fear that I didn’t have time for in the air took hold of my mind and body. Gradually, the shock receded to a bearable level. I was alive! I had made it. This was my last mission.” Klette remembered it taking somewhat longer for what they had survived to sink in for some of the crew. “Back at our quarters, we stayed around the tent until the evening meal time, when we proceeded to the officer’s club for the evening equivalent of a gourmet meal. After dinner, several of us decided to walk to the flight line and inspect the damaged air craft. Approaching the plane from the rear, Kelly and I soon saw the damage to the rudder that caused such a problem stabilizing the plane. We noticed the damage done to the tail gunners’ position and elevators before commencing a tour around the plane, counting various holes that were exposed in the side, wing and propeller areas. Due to the self-sealing gasoline tanks, we had been most fortunate by being hit
many times in the tanks with the shell returning to the open sky at the front of the plane without the fuel igniting and blowing up. My count was approximately 200 holes in the surfaces of the plane. Other crew members took into consideration small holes and reported a higher count than I did. In simple terms, the plane was a mess but had held together long enough to safely land us at our home base.” In his book Shadow Casters, Unruh quotes 1st Lt Robert Piper: “I was the 32nd Squadron leader on that mission… That was a difficult mission as the clouds built up to the point that we could not properly bomb our target. The Fifteenth AF canceled the mission and recalled the planes. Somehow our group did not get the radio message and we continued on alone. The fighter planes were waiting for us. We lost 12 planes from our 28 plane group. The survivors were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for their efforts on this mission.” But not everyone received the DFC. “A couple of weeks later in the early afternoon on an overcast day,” Klette remembered, “several of us were requested to meet at a location in the tent area. To my surprise, there were three to four men gathered there in fatigue-type clothing. This turned out to be an embarrassing event for me because I failed to recognize the men as a general and four colonels and failed to salute them when I arrived. Calling the group to attention, one of the officers began to read the message spelled out in the order of the day. In brief, it was a description of our mission, the number of planes our gunners shot from the sky, and the excellent piloting procedures the two pilots followed in their effort to save the aircraft and flying personnel. In conclusion, the order stated that the Silver Star was being awarded to all ten crew members of the flight.” Art Unruh was not among the group that day. He had already processed out of his unit and was on a ship headed back to the United States. He received his Silver Star in a small stateside ceremony during which two other enlisted men received the DFC, and three widows received Purple Hearts for their husbands who were killed in action. THEY NEVER MET John and Art had flown on the same aircraft during the same mission mere feet away from each other for several harrowing hours. They had won the Silver Star together. And they had never even spoken to each other or met face-to-face.
Fall 2018 • FRIENDS JOURNAL
One afternoon in 2015, shortly after John’s 98th birthday, he was chatting about his military service with his longtime neighbor, Philip Ryan. Out of the blue John expressed an interest in seeing if any of the men from his Silver Star mission were still alive, and Phil said he would see what he could find. On John’s 99th Birthday, after a year of research and many obituaries of some of John’s fallen crew members, Phil was able to locate Art and speak with him for the first time. After a brief conversation Phil asked Art if he would like to speak with John, the co-pilot of his Silver Star mission in 1944. Art’s “YES!” Maria Hale sent Phil running down the street into John’s home where he found him on the sofa and said, Art Unruh (center) John Klette (right) sitting with Lt Gen John “Jack” Hudson, “Happy Birthday John! I have someone on the USAF (Ret) (left) during the Park Hills, Kentucky, Memorial Day Parade this year when they were co-grand Marshalls. phone that would like to speak with you. Are you up for it?” John, not too thrilled to hear years after that day when, as their Silver Star citations another congratulatory “Happy 99th,” said, “Awe Phil, described, they survived “despite the overwhelming who is it?” “Ssgt Arthur Unruh,” Phil replied, “your odds.” waist gunner from July 26th,1944!” John replied with a resounding, “I sure would, I sure would!” For the first time in 73 years, 3 months and 23 days, two aviation heroes were reunited! John with tears in his eyes asked Art how he’d been and Art did the same. It was as if they had just seen each other yesterday. After approximately 10 minutes, John said, “Phil, Art would like to speak with you.” Phil picked up the phone and Art thanked him for reconnecting him with John. Then John interrupted saying “Hey Phil, ask him what side of the plane he was on?” Phil asked Art and he said, “Same as John, the right side.” John then interjected saying, “Ask him if he was the one that shot down the last Focke Wulf 190 coming at us on the right side?” Art replied, “That was me!” John then said, “Thank him for saving our lives, if he hadn’t shot that plane down, we wouldn’t be here today.” No sooner had Phil relayed that message than Art said, “No, thank him for saving our lives, if it wasn’t for the two pilots working together, as shot up as that plane was, we never would have made it back alive!” Earlier this year as plans were being made for John to be honored as the Grand Marshall of the Park Hills, Kentucky, Memorial Day Parade, Phil asked if John would like him to call Art. “Yes, yes,” John said, “that would be great. I’d just like to see him, I’d like him to be here.” And so Art and John were reunited, and met for the first time, as co-Grand Marshalls nearly 74
FRIENDS JOURNAL • Fall 2018
Author John H. Klette, Jr. was a B-17 co-pilot based in Italy who flew 51 bombing missions over Nazi territory during WWII. He was also a C-47 and SA-16 co-pilot flying 50 combat and rescue missions in the Korean War. After the Korean War he joined his father in the practice of law. He was a fan of the Cincinnati Reds being a season ticketholder for 40 years. John’s favorite pastime was to take friends and relatives to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. He was married to Emily Keeney Klette (1918-2013) and had one child,V. Ruth Klette, who practiced real estate and probate law with him until his death, July 7th, 2018. Art Unruh finished the war at the B-29 school in Denver, Colorado, training aerial gunners. After the war he returned to Kansas where he worked as an auto parts manager for Studebaker and Packard. He received his pilot’s license in 1947. After moving his family to Washington state he continued in the auto parts business, retiring after 23 years with Piston Service Auto Parts. He continued to fly and owned his own aircraft at one time. Art has dedicated untold hours to educating the public about WWII through his work as a docent at the Arlington (Washington) airport’s Air Station Museum, and speaking at area schools where he estimates he has spoken to thousands of students. He flies his American flag every day in remembrance of all those airmen “who didn’t make it back.”
Trapped by a Thunderstorm’s Tornadic Winds by LT
COL JOHN LOWERY, USAF (RET)
Original story published in the Daedalus Flyer, Fall 2017. Reprinted with permission of the author and the Daedalian Foundation.
t was April 27, 1954, and the cross-country flight in a Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star had begun in routine fashion. Piloted by World War II and Korean War ace Col Harrison R. Thyng, with backseater Maj Hubert C. Vantrease, the flight had departed Tinker Air Force Base (AFB), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on an instrument flight plan, along federal airways to Luke AFB, Glendale, Arizona. Their departure was in visual conditions; then, at around 4,000 feet, they encountered “instrument flight conditions, while maintaining a heading of 268 degrees.” Their climb in the clouds was relatively smooth until reaching 24,000 feet, whereupon they suddenly encountered severe turbulence. The accident report states, “Up to this point all instruments had indicated normal and the wings were straight and level. Suddenly the rate of climb [instruments] in both cockpits showed a maximum climb indication (6,000 feet per minute).” The report shows they quickly reduced engine power to approximately 75 percent, “with heavy forward pressure applied to the control stick, but the aircraft continued to gain altitude rapidly.” Then, at an altitude of 29,000 to 30,000 feet, the aircraft suddenly began snapping violently, with the occupants brutally slammed around the cockpit. As the airplane continued snap-rolling Colonel Thyng reduced engine
power to idle. Yet inexplicably it continued to rapidly gain altitude. Then suddenly the engine flamed out. Colonel Thyng quickly initiated an “air start, which was successful, and [which] quickly gave the aircraft a burst of power.” But it was a “hot start,” (not enough air flowing around the combustion chamber to cool it, resulting in excessive temperatures) forcing him to again reduce power to idle. The accident report shows that the two pilots now had no control of the aircraft. Major Vantrease then asked Colonel Thyng if he should jettison the canopy, and quickly received permission to do so. Because both pilots had failed to fasten their helmets’ chin straps, as the canopy ejected the wind tore off their helmets and oxygen masks. Both pilots began to be pelted by 1 ¾ inch hail. Major Vantrease abandoned the aircraft at 12,000 to 15,000 feet, “… without use of the ejection seat.” (He had neglected to remove the seat’s safety pin before takeoff and was unable to remove it while being tossed around in the extreme turbulence.) Then, at around 8,000 feet, and an airspeed reported as 500 knots (575mph), Colonel Thyng ejected successfully. Still, their unbelievable torment wasn’t over. The thunderstorm’s tornadic winds reportedly held Colonel Thyng captive deep inside the massive cumulonimbus
for about 30 minutes — with his continuously pummeled by the Complicating their problems, downburst was producing surface knots (81mph).
face, head and hands golf ball size hail. the thunderstorm’s winds reported as 70
Upon hitting the ground the five foot six inch, 160 lb World War II and Korea War hero was blown helplessly on his back across the flat Oklahoma ranchland. Since this was before “quick release parachute harnesses,” it wasn’t until his chute’s canopy caught on a rancher’s fence that his vicious slide was mercifully stopped. Colonel Thyng was exceptionally lucky in that his injuries were only “severe multiple pock-like hail injuries to his face, head, neck and hands.” The accident report did not include details of Major Vantrease’s landing, but he was more seriously injured with abrasions to his left eye, combined with compression fractures to two vertebrae in his back in addition to the same severe multiple hail injuries to his face, neck, hands and wrists. The accident board found that Colonel Thyng “had personally cleared the flight without obtaining a complete en route weather briefing,” and that “… apparently Colonel Harrison R. Thyng was not aware of the possible severity of thunderstorms in the Oklahoma area.” The Board noted too “…that thunderstorms in the Great Plains region often greatly exceed both in severity and height the thunderstorms in areas where many USAF thunderstorm penetration studies have been conducted.” This accident proved important because during that era there was a burgeoning push for an “All Weather Air Force.” Thunderstorm penetration was actually being taught as a routine affair at the USAF Instrument Instructor Pilot Course. But the lesson learned from this accident showed there was actually no such thing as all-weather flying. Even with on-board weather radar, thunderstorms can show that Mother Nature always holds a trump card.
school in March 1940. After WW II broke out First Lieutenant Thyng was assigned as commanding officer of the 309th Fighter Squadron, 31st Fighter Group, and sent to England, then secretly transferred to Gibraltar, to open an air offensive for the invasion of North Africa. After the conquest of North Africa was completed Lieutenant Colonel Thyng, now the commander of the 31st Fighter Group, with 162 missions and eight kills, was wounded and returned to the United States. A few months later, and still in his twenties, he was promoted to colonel and made commander of the newly activated 413th Long Range Fighter Group. It was this group that made the first single-engine fighter plane crossing of the Pacific in P-47Ns, which they later used to escort B-29s over Japan. During the Korean War Colonel Thyng commanded the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing and flew 113 missions in the F-86 Sabre, being credited with seven enemy kills. At the end of his Air Force career Brig Gen Harrison R. Thyng was one of six pilots who were aces in both reciprocating engine and jet fighters. Lt Col John Lowery, USAF (Ret) was a tactical fighter pilot throughout his Air Force career, flying combat tours in both the Korea and Southeast Asia wars. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from Auburn University and a Master of Aviation Science degree from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. He began writing aviation related articles in 1968 as editor of TAC Attack, the safety magazine for Tactical Air Command. He has continued writing as a free-lance author throughout a 24-year career in civil aviation, and has had a number of articles published in the Friends Journal.
U.S. Air Force
Colonel Thyng’s survival was actually as miraculous as his Air Force career had been. He was a high school valedictorian and graduated from the University of New Hampshire in the class of 1939 with a reserve commission in the US Army infantry. But he quickly volunteered as a cadet for Army Air Corps pilot training, finishing flight Lockheed T-33A Shoot ing Star at the National Museum of the U. S. Air Force.