Congratulations on the fine Scarsdale Jack story in the July issue. The famous R.T. Smith photo you used in Bob Bergin’s article “Flying Tiger, Burning Bright” shows a five-ship formation. R.T. also took another shot of just three of the five the same day. The P-40 closest to the camera in both pictures is indeed no. 68, Chuck Older’s plane.
A reader looking at those photos and Older’s 68 being “bore-sighted” on P. 26 might assume Older was the pilot in the fiveship photo. Not so. I have a letter from Smith in which he explained, “On this occasion Old er’s #68 was flown by Sqdn. Leader Arvid ‘Oley’ Olson.” He identified the next two nearest pilots as Bill Reed and Tom Haywood.
In that same letter Smith, then 77, mentioned his fight against lung cancer. He wrote: “Radiation treatment has kept it fairly well in check, but I know I’m due to cash in my chips before too long. Oh well, it’s been a helluva life, and I’m already ahead of the game.” That brave Flying Tiger died on August 21, 1995, soon after he mailed the letter.
Your article in July’s “Briefing” about the retirement of Marine KC-130F no. 147573 prompted me to look at one of my old logbooks and also brought back an interesting memory. The North Vietnamese Eastertide Offensive of April 1972 resulted in my temporary assignment to VMGR-152 from the 130th Squadron at El Toro (VMGR-352), which needed aircraft commanders to help support operations against the NVA. I managed to be one of the first aircrewmen sent to Nam Phong, about 30 miles south of Udorn. It was supposedly a never-used Air Force F-111 base that we appropriated, with a nice runway, parallel taxiway, high-speed turnoffs and a small ramp. The Marines there dubbed it the “Rose Garden.”
One of my more memorable missions involved an aborted refueling effort. We launched late in the day, but the strike was canceled, so we were orbiting with almost a full load. Because fuel was in somewhat short supply, we were directed not to dump it if we had to return. We had to land at what was basically a dark hole—since half the runway lights were out—at a gross weight far greater than normal. Sure enough, the Herk was 573. Glad to see she suffered no ill effects.
Captain Don Gray (ret.)
U.S. Marine Corps Reserves
I appreciated seeing July’s “Letter From Aviation History” about Don Lopez. I was privileged to oust him as the youngest pilot in the Fourteenth Air Force when I joined the 75th Fighter Squadron—the “White-Nosed Sharks”—in March 1944. Besides being a fine pilot, he was a very funny guy. We had esprit de corps like you wouldn’t believe, and the witty ones like Don kept it lively. I visited Don at the museum shortly after he became deputy director for aviation. As he commented, what a fabulous job for a flying man.
On P. 9 of the “Briefing” section in the May issue, you carried a story regarding Snafu Special, the aircraft on which my father, Staff Sgt. Joseph R. “Buck” Buckner, flew as radio operator on D-Day missions as well during the Operation Market-Garden fiasco. Ac – cording to the flight logs, dad spent more time on that aircraft than did any other crew member. The original crew consisted of Lieutenant James P. Harper (pilot), co-pilots Donald Smaltz and Murray Lawler, crew chief Sergeant L.J. Nerrin and my dad. Snafu Special belonged to the 95th Squadron, 440th Troop Carrier Group, Ninth Air Force.
I have been in contact with at least two of its surviving pilots, Captain Henry D. “Hank” Moreland of Ballinger, Texas, and Gene Nobel of Tulsa, Okla., about the upcoming dedication at the museum at Merville, France. I’ve also contacted Dr. Sally and Cindy Harper, “Hot Shot Charlie” Harper’s daughters, as well as widows Barbara Smaltz and Margaret Lawler. The modern version of the 440th is the 440th Airlift Wing, based at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., commanded by Colonel Merle Hart, who is as enthusiastic about this project as the rest of us are. We will be in France in June for Snafu’s dedication.
I cannot tell you the feeling I had when the museum director’s call came last August, telling me that my dad’s plane had been found. It seemed to once again bring me closer to him.
EAA Ford TriMotor
I enjoyed the May issue on several counts, including the article on “Ford’s Forgotten Aviation Legacy,” by C.V. Glines. When the EAA Ford TriMotor came to the Washington, D.C., area two years ago, I took my two grandsons for a ride. Before getting aboard, while standing under the right wing, I gave them a quick rundown of commercial aviation in the ’20s. When I realized they were more interested in getting a window seat, I explained that everyone gets a window seat on this plane. They were amazed at the Ford’s interior, window seats and all.
When I asked the pilot about performance, he told me, “We take off in a couple of hundred feet, climb at 80 knots, cruise at 80 knots and come in on final at 80 knots”—bit of an exaggeration maybe, but not much.
Frank J. Regan
Ellicott City, Md.
Originally published in the September 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.