2021 Fall Friends Journal Sampler

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My Time In (And Out of) the B-36

Extra Fuel Saved the Day



Our Fathers’ Sons



The magazine of the Air Force Museum Foundation




Fall 2021, Vol. 44 No. 4

mike’s musings



Dr. Pamela A. Drew

A volunteer, per the Cambridge Dictionary, is “a person who does something, especially helping other people, willingly and without being paid to do it.” As I think about the more than 500 volunteers supporting the National Museum of U.S. Air Force™ and our Foundation, truer words were never spoken. This incredible group gives of their time and energy to support us… from restoration, education, special events, exhibits, and more. They do it all. Curious as to why they volunteer, I asked. While their answers varied, there were several themes: “I want to give back;” “It’s important to tell the story, so that visitors understand the important role our Air Force plays;” “My story will hopefully inspire those who will follow.” It is no wonder that the visitors love them, as they make the exhibits, stories, and experiences in the Museum come alive. Volunteerism is indeed a powerful virtue, touching both the volunteers and those the they help. And for those brief moments while at the Museum, the volunteer and the visitor share a meaningful, personal connection, which enriches the journey and makes a visit to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force an experience unlike any other. So, to all our volunteers, thank you for your support, your service, and for making a difference. V/r,


Lt Gen C.D. Moore II, USAF (Ret) SECRETARY

CMSAF Gerald R. Murray, USAF (Ret) TREASURER

Brig Gen Paul R. Cooper, USAF (Ret) Ms. Angela L. Billings Col James F. Blackman, USAF (Ret) Mr. John G. Brauneis Mr. Roger D. Duke Ms. Anita Emoff Col Frederick D. Gregory Sr., USAF (Ret) Mr. Benjamin T. Guthrie Mr. James L. Jennings Mr. Scott L. Jones Mr. Ki Ho Kang Dr. Thomas J. Lasley II Mr. Scott E. Lundy Gen Lester L. Lyles, USAF (Ret) Maj Gen Ted P. Maxwell, USAF (Ret) Maj Gen Brian C. Newby, USAF (Ret) Gen Gary L. North, USAF (Ret) Mr. Edgar M. Purvis Jr. Maj Gen Frederick F. Roggero, USAF (Ret) CMSgt Darla J. Torres, USAF (Ret) Dr. Andrea Townsend Mr. Randy Tymofichuk


Mike Imhoff Air Force Museum Foundation Chief Executive Officer


Col Mark N. Brown, USAF (Ret) Mr. James F. Dicke II Ms. Frances A. Duntz Mr. Charles J. Faruki Maj Gen E. Ann Harrell, USAF (Ret) 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) Col Susan E. Richardson, USAF (Ret) Gen Charles T. (Tony) Robertson, USAF (Ret) Mr. R. Daniel Sadlier Col James B. Schepley, USAF (Ret) Mr. Scott J. Seymour Mr. Philip L. Soucy Mr. Harry W. (Wes) Stowers Jr. Mr. Robert J. Suttman II, CFA

what’s inside 38 IN EVERY ISSUE



This and That



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Medal of Honor recipient: Maj Horace Carswell Jr.


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“Suddenly, the engine dropped off the wing.”

Consolidated B-24D Liberator

14 |





“Their tracers come perilously close, in what appears to be white, red and yellow golf balls streaking past my canopy.”

Humanitarian Exhibit, open aircraft days, and more

17 |

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HOLD THE NUKES ”Several times a month I would answer the phone and then have someone place an order for a delivery from Pizza Hut.”

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“I could see burning helicopters on the ground with smoke lingering.”

24 |


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“Dominating the landscape at Ko Kha AS was a giant white radar dish.”

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“The plane was shot down on a mission to bomb the railroad marshalling yards at Steyr, Austria.”

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“In the middle of the night the whole camp was called out and we left on a march in a blizzard.”

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J. COLLINS “My father was called out as a member of the Massachusetts State Guard to search for the pilot.”


“The needles were no longer dancing near E, but had thudded against the peg on the short side of the E.” On the Cover: Convair B-36J Peacemaker on display in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.(U.S. Air Force photo by Ty Greenlees)

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Make someone’s

with gifts from the Air Force Museum Store — pages 32-37 DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in the Friends Journal articles and Feedback letters are solely those of the authors in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc., the United States Air Force or any other entity or agency of the U.S. Government. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.


editor’s notes


Michael Imhoff


Christopher Adkins-Lamb



Gary Beisner


As I mentioned in my Editor’s Notes in the last issue, our reunion listings have dropped off over the past year. The listings we published in the Summer issue have all passed, and we have not received any new listings. Therefore, you will not find the Reunion Roundup in this issue of the Friends Journal. If we receive enough new listings in the future, we will consider reviving the feature. Of course, we wish all reunion groups good luck with their events.

Mary Bruggeman


Chuck Edmonson


William Horner


Melinda Lawrence

In this issue you will find a broad selection of stories. There are several World War II stories, including two about the featured aircraft in this issue — the Consolidated B-24 Liberator. We also have a story about the tragic end to a training flight in a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. Moving ahead chronologically we have several Cold War stories. The cover story relates the experiences of an Airman who survived bailing out of a Consolidated B-36 Peacemaker not once, but twice. You’ll also read about a flight that was longer than the pilot thought it could possibly be, and a missile silo crew’s sense of humor. And we have three stories from the conflict in Southeast Asia. A McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom pilot remembers a mission on Christmas in 1968; a member of a radar squadron stationed in Thailand; and a crewmember aboard a Lockheed C-130 Hercules equipped to deliver fuel, often under fire, to bases around South Vietnam.


As you probably read in the Summer issue, we are looking for stories related to upcoming exhibits at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force™. I requested stories related to humanitarian missions last issue. We are still looking for those types of stories. In addition, we are looking for stories related to Air Defense Command and strategic reconnaissance. Of course, any story about service in the U.S. Air Force is always welcome.


Sarah Shatzkin


Crystal Van Hoose


David Tillotson III


Alan Armitage

Cheryl Prichard


John King, Art Powell, Robert Pinizzotto

If your Friends Journal is damaged during delivery, you have a question about delivery, or you have a change of address or other information, please contact the FRIENDS OFFICE:

937.258.1225 friends@afmuseum.com

Alan Armitage aarmitage@afmuseum.com

P.S. My office telephone number has changed. My new number is 937.751.1549. Please leave a message and I will return your call as soon as I am able. However, the quickest and easiest way to reach me and receive a reply continues to be to email me at aarmitage@afmuseum.com.


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. The Friends Journal is mailed on a quarterly basis to donors to the Air Force Museum Foundation..


friends feedback

O YT N A 0 12:0 M P


“MORE HISTORY, LESS POLITICS, PLEASE” RETIRED COL THOMAS THACKER OF ORLANDO, FLORIDA WROTE: “I read the Summer 2021 Friends Journal article on “Supporting the USAF Water Survival School” by Capt David Delisio with great interest. I went through the Homestead water survival course in 1979 and it was interesting to read the efforts put forth by the UH-1N aircrew and maintainers. I commend Captain Delisio for his thorough and entertaining article on the Det 1 support. “Unfortunately, Captain Delisio decided to add a political aside to his article and, what was worse, he got his facts wrong. He stated that in January 1980 the UH-1Ns had difficulty maintaining their mission capable (MC) rate due to funding cuts under President Carter. He says by June 1980 under President Reagan they had money for parts and all their UH-1Ns were MC. “President Reagan wasn’t elected until November 1980 and took offi ce in January 1981. So, any budget improvements in June 1980 were due to President Carter, not then-candidate Reagan. Further, the defense budget was in freefall, as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) throughout the 1970s after Vietnam. It decreased under Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter, creating the “hollow force.” President Carter, aware of this problem, increased the defense budget starting in 1979 before President Reagan greatly increased it thru 1982. “Blaming one political party is misguided and leaders from both parties have either reduced or increased defense spending based on current realities or perceptions.”

Captain Delisio responded: “The reader is correct. I shouldn’t have injected politics into my story. I apologize to all the readers of the Friends Journal for my mistake. “The reader is also correct that I got my timeline incorrect. I signed into Det 1 in January 1980. The detachment had a commitment to the Water Survival School for two helicopters for water hoist missions. “Sometimes despite the hard work of our mechanics only one helicopter was available for the water hoist missions. We had a difficult time flying our flying hour allotment. By the late winter/early spring of 1981 the FMC rate for our UH-1N helicopters was greatly improved. By that time, we routinely had three of our helicopters FMC. We were able to fly three ship formation flights.”


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Editor’s note: I also am partly responsible for the error as I did not thoroughly review Captain Delisio’s timeline and notice the discrepancy concerning the end of the Carter administration and the inauguration of President Reagan. Also, in reality a president only proposes a budget; it is Congress that approves it. My apologies.

THIS ISSUE’S STAMP The stamp in this issue is a 2005 37-cent stamp from the American Advances in Aviation series depicting a Consolidated B-24 Liberator. The B-24 was the most numerous American bomber of World War II. By the end of the war, a total of 19,203 Liberators had been manufactured. The Liberator could carry a larger bomb load to a greater range than the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. The B-24 played a key role in the Pacific where its great range allowed it to strike targets over the vast distances between islands. TALK TO US Send your comments to P.O. Box 1903, WPAFB, OH 45433 or email aarmitage@afmuseum.com. For comments or questions directed at the Foundation that don’t pertain to the magazine, please visit the ‘Contact Us’ page at afmuseum.com. facebook.com/ Air.Force.Museum.Foundation @AFMFoundation #airforcemuseumfoundation @airforcemuseumfoundation #airforcemuseumfoundation


USAF photo

My Time In (and Out of) the


In 1947, I was a gunner assigned to a Boeing B-29 Superfortress crew flying out of Fort Worth Army Air Field (AAF), Ft. Worth, Texas. Across the runway was an aircraft factory developing a very large bomber for the Army Air Forces, the Consolidated B-36 Peacemaker. In 1948, Ft. Worth AAF was renamed; in January as Griffiss Air Force Base (for Lt Col Townsend Griffi ss, the first U.S. airman killed in the line of duty in Europe during World War II), and then in February as Carswell Air Force Base (for native son and Medal of Honor recipient Major Horace S. Carswell, Jr.). In June, the first B-36 was towed across the runway and delivered to the 7th Bomb Wing. The size of this aircraft 6

was something to behold: a 230foot wingspan, six engines, ninefoot-long prop blades, and a 19foot prop arc. Some crewmembers wanted no part of this aircraft; a few got out and enlisted elsewhere, and some managed a transfer. One pilot I knew and fl ew with in the B-29 resigned his commission and re-enlisted as a master sergeant to work in air traffic control. A few crewmembers quit flying and went to work in maintenance. Maintenance was a problem the first two years or so. The first problem was getting one ready to fly. I recall standing by many hours after scheduled take off time, only to have the flight canceled and rescheduled. When we did get

one in the air, we had all sorts of problems: engine fi res, oil leaks, prop problems, flap problems, electrical problems, you name it and we had problems. I don‘t recall any landing gear problems. Thank God we were, at least, able to land. I had the idea that the 7th Bomb Wing was doing the testing on this bomber. At times, the gunners would help perform maintenance. We reported to the crew chief and did whatever we were told to do. Much of the ground training was on the B-36 and related systems: the electrical system, three phase alternating current, 400 cycles alternator connected to a constant speed drive on engines two, three and four.

The engines were Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Majors, 28-cylinder radials with four rows and seven banks. This was a ver y good engine but mounting it pusher-style caused some problems. It put the carburetor up front where it got no heat from the exhaust manifold and was subject to icing. The exhaus t manifold it self went through many modifications before they got it right. This was during the Cold War with the Soviet Union and we made good use of our down time by expanding ground training. The gunners were cross-trained as radio operators, and the radio operators as gunners. Some of this ground training was escape and evasion training; they made no bones about who the enemy was and where our targets would be once we were combat ready. They even taught us to speak Russian... a few phrases. I could ask for a cigarette in Russian, and I didn‘t even smoke. In 1949, I was scheduled to fl y a test hop on aircraft 034. This was about my third flight in the B-36, and my first flight with a new aircraft commander pilot, Capt Harold Barry. The rest of the crew included co-pilot Capt R. V. Green, engineer MSgt Dudley Gardner, gunner in the right scanner seat SSgt Bill Weiter, I was gunner in the left scanner seat, and SSgt Clyde Rose was on the bunk waiting to relieve one of the other gunners. Take off and climb were without incident. We climbed to 40,000 feet as required for test hops at that time. Shortly after leveling off at 40,000 feet, the flight engineer called me and asked if I could see anything wrong with the number three engine, as he had a fire warning light on it. I could not see anything wrong at first. Then, while I was reporting this to him, the top of the cowling on number three started to turn dark and blossom open, but there was no smoke or flame. Suddenly, the engine dropped off the wing, (you haven‘t lived until


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you‘ve seen that) and the intercom went dead. Not knowing what the intentions were up front, the gunners (Clyde Rose, Bill Weiter, and I), decided to bail out. The first order of business was to dump the pressure, so that we could open the hatch. The B-36 had a pressure regulator with a dump valve on it, much like the B-29, so we turned the dump valve to dump but could not open the hatch. What we didn't know was the B-36 had a cut off valve that must be closed to stop air from coming in, in order to dump the pressure. Bill Weiter solved this problem with the crash axe by chopping out the lower right blister. The hatch was opened and Clyde Rose said, “We will freeze to death.” I knew he was right. We were wearing summer flight suits and it was 40 degrees below zero at that altitude. I started trying to hook up on intercom to see if I could contact the pilot. The next thing I remembered was being slumped over against the gun

sight and thinking, “This is a hell of a time to take a nap.” Then it dawned on me what had happened. The other t wo gunners swear they did not pass out but I don‘t believe them, (it is very sneaky). We were below 10,000 feet now and I remembered that we had two intercom systems and number two was working. The pilot informed us not to bail out, instead to stow all loose equipment because we were landing. Clyde Rose (before I could stop him) threw the water jug through the open hatch. I explained to him the instructions were to stow the equipment, not throw it overboard. Looking out the left blister, I could see that in addition to number three being missing, engines numbers one and two were shut down and the props feathered. That meant we were landing with three engines out, all on one side. We were only about 20 miles north of the base when this started and I believe we made a straight-in approach and a very smooth landing. ☛

collection connection 7TH BOMBARDMENT WING PATCH The 7th Bombardment Wing traces its lineage back to World War I, but rose to fame flying missions in B-24 bombers in the Pacific during World War II. The Wing received its first B-36 Peacemakers in 1948 and was initially responsible for training new crews to operate the huge six-engined bomber. The 7th BW continued to operate the B-36 until 1958 when it transitioned to flying the B-52 Stratofortress.


NMUSAF photo


collection connection MT-522 A/U MICROPHONE AND HEADSET The Convair B-36 Peacemaker’s crew compartments were fully pressurized allowing crewmembers to complete their missions without the need for heavy electrically-heated fl ying clothing, uncomfor table oxygen equipment, and throat microphones necessary in unpressurized WWIIera heavy bombers, like the B-17 and B-24. This simple headset and boom microphone was used for communication among crewmembers inside the B-36.

NMUSAF photos

A-11 FLYING HELMET AND B-8 GOGGLES The leather A-11 summer flying helmet and B-8 flying goggles were developed and first issued to airmen during World War II. Representing the pinnacle of technology in 1944, they continued to be used by USAF bomber crewmen through the late 1950s. These items were worn by SSgt Dale K. Mueller, an RB-36H radio and ECM operator. He served with Strategic Air Command’s 346th Bombardment Squadron at Fairchild AFB, Washington from 1954 to 1956.


Of course, there were fi re trucks and ambulances there when we stopped on the runway. The number t wo engine prop was feathered but was still turning: it sounded like one cylinder was still firing, in a dieseling effect. It was hot, so the fire trucks sprayed it with foam, and the engine shut down. A staff car arrived with a bird colonel, a liaison offi cer from the aircraft factor y across the runway. He greeted the flight engineer MSgt 8

Dudley Gardner as he came down the ladder, “You came down pretty fast, didn‘t you sergeant?” Dudley replied, “Like a big ‘bleep‘ out of a tall ox.” Indeed, we did come down fast. Dudley said he would write it up as the number three engine missing. We were transported to the hangar locker room where we changed clothes and headed home. At home, I found my wife with a visitor, a woman from across the

street. They had heard about the incident and asked about it, I told them what I knew, and the old foul mouth from across the street said, “B--- s---, no wonder the plane had trouble. Every SOB out there claims he was on it.” Some character had been there ahead of me and claimed he was on that plane. Well, I didn't want to argue so I got a beer out of the fridge and walked outside and down the street. I saw three men sitting on the curb talking, so I walked down there. Sure enough, they were talking about the B-36 that landed missing an engine, I said nothing until asked, then when I told them I was on it, two of them pulled their pant legs up and walked away. Then and there, I swore never again to tell anyone about it. Three months later, I went on a fishing trip with my Dad, two brothers and a brother-in-law. We sat around a campfire drinking strong coffee until about midnight when things got somewhat dull, so I broke my vow and told them about the engine drop on aircraft 034. My Dad and brothers said nothing, but my brother-in-law said, “Fairy tales, fairy tales.” He was a brother-in-law that truly knew about fairy tales. Aircraft 034 never flew again. Why? The cause of the engine drop was attributed to a wing crawlway fire that crystallized the engine mounts. No doubt, the plane was cannibalized for parts or perhaps the wing spar was damaged? I don't know. I continued to fly with Captain Barry for another year or so. We had all sorts of problems that we considered minor after the incident on aircraft 034. After about six months of flying together, we were coming in to land one day and I could hear the flight engineer ask the pilot, “What's wrong?” The pilot did not respond on intercom; I could not see anything wrong from my position, six engines were turning, the gear and fl aps were OK. After we landed, I asked the flight engineer what was wrong. He told me that Captain Barry said it

was his first six-engine landing and that made him nervous. In early February 1950, we were outfitted with heavy winter flying gear, boarded a Douglas C-54 Skymaster, and were flown to Alaska. We were told that we would fly a 28-hour mission on a B-36 as soon as the plane was made ready and flown up to Alaska by a ferry crew. All we had to do was wait. With the outside air temperature at minus 40, the three gunners, Staff Sergeants Pollard, Straley, and I, and radio operator Staff Sergeant Ford, stayed in the barracks and played bridge. Pollard had taught us to play bridge on previous TDYs (temporary duty away from their assigned base). He had read all the books about bridge while a POW (prisoner of war) in Germany where he was shot down in World War II. We played bridge 12 to 14 hours a day for about 10 days. One day we did go out to build an igloo. Straley was the engineer on this project; he had been to arctic survival school. February 13, we were told that our plane was on its way and we were ready. As soon as it taxied-in and shut down the engines, we began loading our gear as the ferry crew unloaded theirs. I spoke with one of the gunners, Charlie Hall, and asked about the plane's condition. He replied, “Oh, it‘s OK, but it will never make it back to Carswell.” I wanted to hit him. Re-fueling started ASAP (as soon as possible). I was looking at the plane and noticed something green dripping from the wings. It was 145-octane fuel. The fuel tanks were just part of the wing structure and at minus 40 degrees they leaked. I was sure that once we started the engines there would be one big fireball, but nothing happened. We took off, climbed out and headed down the west coast of Canada. I was in the left scanner seat, and everything was going so smoothly that I thought this was just going to be another long, dull mission. So, after about three hours, I asked Pollard to spell me and I lay down on the bunk and FRIENDS JOURNAL ❙

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dozed off. I was dreaming, playing bridge, what else? But, what was this? I opened a hand and there was a joker in it. I threw the cards down and woke up. I dozed off again and the same thing happened. I didn't think much of it at the time, but I have thought a lot about it since then. I told Pollard that I could not sleep, so we swapped places again and that is when things started to happen. We were at about 12,000 feet and started picking up some ice on the wings and tail. We began climbing to tr y to get out of the icing conditions, but to no avail. We got to about 17,000 feet when the engines started to lose power and caught on fire. We lost three engines in less than three minutes: they were shut down, the props feathered, and the fire went out. We began losing altitude. Barry informed us that we were going to bail out, but first we must go out over water to get rid of a weapon. We made a right turn, held this heading until we were over international waters, and then dropped the weapon. It was one of the old 10,000 lb. A-bombs, without the plutonium core. Someone asked, on intercom, “Are we going to get an air burst?” The answer was. “That‘s affirmative.” I saw the flash. There was a cloud deck below us. We turned back toward land, but the radar was out so how were we to do this? Can you imagine getting ready to bail out over the wilds of British Columbia, at night, from 5,000 feet, with a cloud deck below you? We had no choice, so I loosened a leg strap pulled my parka through and tightened the leg strap. Then, I decided that I wanted a Mae West, which goes under the chute. I removed the chute, put the Mae West on and started to put the chute back on. Then, Barry gave the order to bail out while I was trying to fasten my chest strap. Straley was stuck in the hatch, but I did not notice. Technical Sergeant Stephens pushed him through,

Pollard dove through, and I made the decision to fasten my chest strap under the chute. When it was my turn, I too was stuck, like Straley. We were “going by the book,” but the book was wrong about the bailout procedure. Fortunately, good old Stephens pushed us through the hatch. Out of the plane, I felt like I was falling head down; the parka was slapping against my legs. I was trying to find the D-ring to open my chute. Thank God, my memory was better then. I reached under the Mae West, but still could not find the ring. I took my hand out, removed my glove and found the ring to open the chute. That jolt felt good. I was below the cloud deck by then and could see black and white below me. I thought it was ice and water. Then a swish and I really thought it was water. Suddenly, there was a tree trunk in front of me and I was standing on a tree limb. I was in total darkness; I couldn't even see my hands. But I could feel, and would you believe I still had that glove in my left hand? Not a scratch! The tree limb turned out to be an exposed root. I was on the ground! I wondered what I should do. The ground seemed to be dry, no snow, so I inflated my one man dingy, got under it and tried to sleep. I thought about what just happened. It could not have been more than two minutes from bailout until I hit in that tree. I must have taken quite a free fall. The free fall, I would learn later, may have saved me from falling into the icy water. I thought about my wife, two boys, and my mom. My mom was a wonderful person. I was number seven in a family of twelve. When we were bad, Mom said, “If you don‘t behave, the boogeyman will get you!” But if we were afraid of the dark, she would say, “Don‘t worry if the boogeyman gets you, come daylight when he sees what he has, he‘ll let you go!” So, I didn‘t worry, and I slept a little. Daylight came, and I tried climbing that tree to get my chute down. ☛ 9

collection connection

It was Ford, Stephens, Lieutenant Gerhart, and Lieutenant Colonel McDonald. They had built a wigwam out of parachute silk and had a smoky fire going. Everything was too wet to burn. This was a real morale booster for me, just being with others. It was about four in the afternoon and we decided to wait another night before walking to the coast. We wanted to see if any other crewmembers would join us, but nobody did.

OUT IN AN EMERGENCY! The Switlik back-type B-11 manualrelease parachute pack was the standard escape parachute issued to USAF aircrew during the early to mid-1950s. It was typically paired with a chest-type reserve chute, both holding parachutes with 28 ft diameter canopies. These two packs were produced in 1952, and were carried by SMSgt Delwin A. Meyer, an RB-36 aerial photographer.

NMUSAF photos


I soon discovered that it was hopeless, so while I was up there I yelled as loud as I could and got an answer. It sounded like the radio operator, Staff Sergeant Ford. I told him to stay put and that I would come to him since he was in the direction of the coast. I defl ated the one-man dingy thinking I might need it on the way. I started out, but the walk was over one deadfall and under the next. Man, I was thinking if it were all like this that, I would never get there. When I finally cleared the brush, the snow was knee deep and wet. Mukluks were not made for this trek. You changed the cold water in them with every step. After about an hour of breaking trail through knee-deep snow, I came 10

to what looked like a small lake. I wondered what to do. It appeared to be 100 to 150 yards wide but much further to go around. I thought I would save time by inflating the dingy and crossing in it, rather than walking around. So, I inflated the dingy, by mouth which took longer than I thought it would. When I got in the dingy, it sank just enough to drag on frozen snow about two inches below the surface. Since I couldn't get anywhere in the dingy, I abandoned it. I started to walk around the slush pond (that is what we decided to call them). The snow was knee deep. I was hungry and tired. It was a long way. Shortly after reaching the far side, I heard a low whistle.

We broke camp at daylight. Gerhart pointed the way with his compass. He was a navigator, by the way. Stephens, a gunner, was the oldest and the undisputed leader. He made sure that everyone, including McDonald, took his turn at breaking trail. The snow was very deep, so we went single file. After about two hours, we came to a small mountain, not very wide but steep. We decided it would be best to go around the peak because it looked impossible to climb. We made a left turn to go around it. About halfway around, we heard someone calling for help; it was Staff Sergeant Tripodi, a radio operator. He said that he could not walk and wanted us to come help him. We had a decision to make, someone needed to go help Tripodi. We asked for a volunteer. Everyone considered this, looked at this steep hill and the mukluks we were wearing. Gerhart assured us that we were very close to the coast and rescue, that we could send someone better equipped to rescue Tripodi. We told Tripodi someone would come back to him. We all felt bad about not trying to rescue Tripodi. I know I did. Soon after this, we came upon tracks in the snow. The best we could fi gure was that it was two people, heading in the same direction. We followed them and no longer had to break trail, we came to a mountain stream, and the water was cascading over huge rocks. We needed to cross the stream to get to the coast. We followed the tracks in the snow several hundred

yards down the stream and came to where two large trees had fallen and crisscrossed over the middle of the stream. So, on hands and knees we crawled on one log to the middle of the stream, climbed onto the other log and crawled to the far side. Gerhart was the last to cross and we were not sure he was going to make it. He would crawl a few feet, then fall, with his arms and legs hanging on either side of the log. After several attempts, he finally made it. Not far down the trail, we found the two who made the tracks: Barry and Lieutenant Whitfield. They had been with Tripodi and assured us that we did the right thing not trying to rescue him. The place was too steep, so they had taken him to the top and made him comfortable instead of bringing him down. Very shortly after we joined up with Barry and Whitfield, a Canadian fishing boat, the Cape Peny, with Capt Vance King arrived and picked us up. The crew treated us as if we were something special. We got dr y clothes, food, and coffee royale (laced with rum). That was the best coffee I had ever tasted. From there a Coast Guard Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina picked us up. They flew us into Port Hardy, British Columbia. From there, an Air Force Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar flew us to McChord Air Force Base, Washington, where we spent the night. Tripodi joined us after being rescued by an Air Force rescue team. The next day we boarded a C-54 and flew back to Carswell AFB. There were five crewmembers missing: Captains Phillips and Schreier, and Lieutenant Ascol, all from the forward compartment, and Straley and Pollard from the rear compartment. Phillips and Ascol were the first to bail out from the forward compartment. We don't know when Schreier bailed out, possibly third. Sergeants Straley and Pollard were first and second from the aft compar tment and I was third. These five missing FRIENDS JOURNAL ❙

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crewmembers probably landed in the water. I really miss Pollard; he was my good buddy. After the British Columbia accident, I was moved from Barry's crew to Major Crecelius's crew. This was a promotion for me as this crew was the squadron stand board crew. That meant more flying because we flew with other crews to see if they were following standard operating procedures. One of the first crews we checked was Barry's crew. My old buddies told me they were having less trouble now that I had left the crew. I never thought much of this because every crew had less trouble; we were getting some of the bugs out of a new aircraft, and maintenance was getting better. The next time I flew with Barry, he came to fly with Crecelius's crew. We proceeded to Denver to do RBS (radar bomb scoring). We lost one engine on the way up there, lost another while we were there, and a third engine on the way home. This was one of the last aircraft I flew in

that did not have jet pods. I don't recall the exact cause of shutting down those engines, but two of those engines were alternatorequipped engines, and this aircraft only had three: engines two, three and four. Later models had four installed, with one on engine five as well. We made it back to base and landed OK. I was sure that Crecelius made the landing. But this was the second time a three-engine landing happened with Barry on board. On April 27, 1951, we were a selec t combat ready crew, complete with spot promotions. We were scheduled for a training mission, RBS, over Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and fighter/bomber intercept with fighters (Nor th American F-51 Mustangs) out of Tinker AFB, Oklahoma. Capt Barry was going with us. Fighter/bomber intercept was when the fighters made passes on the bomber as if at tacking and the bomber gunners tracked them. There were cameras that took pictures through the gun sights. ☛

collection connection B-5 “MAE WEST” LIFE-PRESERVER VEST The B -5 life preser ver ves t was developed during World War II as a basic personal flotation device for airman in the event of a crash or bailout over water. In an emergency, the B-5 could be automatically inflated by two integral CO2 cylinders located at the bottom of the vest, or by mouth as necessary. Found to be simple and effective, the B-5 remained in use through the late 1960s.


NMUSAF photo


At preflight, I was busy removing down-locks, etc., when I bumped into Crecelius and Barr y, who were making their walk-around inspection. Barry asked Crecelius, “Is Thrasher going with us?” Before Crecelius could answer, I spoke up and said, “Yes sir, this is my crew. When they fly, I fly.” Barry said, “We are bound to have trouble.” He was dead serious. We took off and proceeded to Oklahoma City, made numerous RBS runs, then for whatever reason, Crecelius came to the aft compartment. He looked around and asked, “Where is Buddy Keith?” I responded, “I thought you gave him the day off.” He replied, “Maybe I did.” After that, he went back up front. It was time for the fighter/bomber intercept. With Buddy missing, we had a gunsight open. I called up front for the number two flight engineer, Lieutenant Melberg to come aft to man that sight. He said he did not want to make the trip through the 80 ft. tunnel. [Ed. The B-36 had a forward and an aft compartment that were connected by a tunnel through the bomb bay — crew lay on a small trolley and pulled themselves through the tunnel by a rope.] I told him that we needed film from that sight in order to maintain our “select crew with spot promotion” status. So, he came back. As soon as he arrived, I pointed to the spare chute and told him to put it on. I got him seated in the left scanner position, where I showed him the straps that were used to hook into the d-rings on the parachute normally used to fasten the one man dingy to the chute. For this exercise, the straps fastened him to the floor, allowing him to lean way out in the blister to operate the gunsight. The only bad thing about being fastened to the floor was there was no quick release. To get free from it, you had to unsnap the two straps separately. The four F-51 fighters arrived and started making passes on the tail and sides, all of which seemed normal to me. Then they were 12

asked to make frontal passes so that the nose turret position could get some film. Two of the fighters proceeded up front, and I lost sight of them. Then, I heard Sergeant Wolf on intercom say, “What in hell are they doing?” At that time, I got a glimpse of one passing under our right wing. Then, I saw all this debris go by my blister. All six engines shut off, and we were out of control. I feared the worst; got out of my seat and started down the ladder. By that time, the pressure had been dumped and the hatch was open; I dived through it and opened my chute. The debris appeared to be below me, there was about a 12mph wind, which carried me about five miles from the crash site. Upon landing, the wind dragged me and I skinned my elbows in the process of collapsing my chute. That was the only physical injury I received. I sat down and vomited. A man came running across the field toward me and asked if I was OK. Then a second man showed up and said he was an Air Force Reserve colonel from Tinker, and that he would return my chute for me. At that point in time, I was kind of weak and shaky, so I let him take the chute. The first man took me to his car and asked where I wanted to go. “To a telephone?” I said, “Yes.” He took me in to this small town, which I believed to be Tryon, Oklahoma. We found a phone booth and I called my wife. All I told her was that there had been a terrible accident and I had to bail out, but I was okay. I told the man that my mouth was dry, and I needed a drink of water. He took me to a saloon that looked like an old-time saloon like ones you see in western movies. I had a Coke. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol showed up and took me to the crash site. He parked about 50 feet from the nose section. The image was horrifying, but you would not want to know the details. There were no survivors from the forward compartment. T hree sur vivor s s howe d up: Melberg, Sergeant Blair and

Sergeant Maxon. We were loaded into an ambulance and taken to the hospital at Tinker where we were examined for injuries. We were kept there for about three days. Melberg had a cracked leg bone. Maxon had a knee injury. Blair and I were OK. Carswell sent a C-54 for us to return to Fort Worth. Back at the 436th Bomb Squadron, I learned that I was considered a jinx and that no one wanted to fly with me. So, I went back to the gunnery school, but continued to fly. I was a gunner instructor. One old buddy working there told me, “Either you have a lot of guts or else you are crazy.” I told him, “No. I am just stubborn and determined to put in 30 years and retire. I am an instructor gunner — how can I teach something that I do not do? No way.” The B-36 became a 10-engine bomber with the addition of four jets. There were no more power problems. Oh yes, the early years of the B-36 were exciting, but we lost many great crewmembers. In 1959, I trained into the B-52. But it had been around a few years and all problems had been fixed. I flew many hours in the B-52 and only on one occasion did we shut down an engine — that was on a 24-hour Chrome Dome mission. It‘s a very reliable aircraft. I flew 28 combat missions over Vietnam, and retired in 1971.

Dick Thrasher served for 30 years in the Army, Army Air Corps, and Air Force. He received the Air Medal for flying 28 combat missions in B-52s during the Vietnam War. After retirement, he bought a small farm where he built a home and lived for 35 years. His wife of 72 years, Blanche, died in 2014.They had three children, two of whom have died. He passed away in October, 2020.

NMUSAF photo


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