Letters From Readers – February 2008 – Military History

The Irrepressible Chuck Yeager

[Re. “The Coldest Winter,” by David Halberstam, November:] My dad, Harry B. Howell Jr., was a U.S. Air Force captain when he came home from Korea. He was with the 159th Fighter/Bomber Squadron in Seoul.

My claim to fame is that he was one of the pilots flying an F-86 in the 1950s John Wayne movie Jet Pilot.

Remember those two Sabrejets doing barrel rolls around each other? One of those pilots was my dad, while the other pilot was none other than Chuck Yeager.

Last December I wrote to General Yeager and asked if he could recall anything about flying with my dad while making that movie. Barely three weeks passed before I received a response. “Dear Casey,” he writes, “I had to teach your dad a few things about dishing out of rolls.” He went on to mention that the last time he flew the X-1 was on the wing of a B-45 camera ship, that he never met John Wayne—always too busy flying places—and that he still flies a P-51 and a floatplane. Can you imagine? He’ll be 85 this year, and he still flies a hot-rod plane! If any of your readers happen to remember my dad and wish to correspond, their comments are welcome: dac2902@earthlink.net.

Casey Howell
Mount Holly, N.C.

Heartfelt Thanks

I was pleased to see the article regarding Nyles Reed [News, November] finally receiving his Purple Heart after all these years, although as an active duty naval officer, I was a little embarrassed by the reply he received from the Navy.

I can see he is very proud to wear the awards he received and remember when my father, also a Korean War veteran, proudly displayed his in a shadow box. Please relay my thanks [to Reed] for his service and congratulations on his award.

Joseph A. Drake
Ledyard, Conn.

More Stands on Custer

[Re. “Worst Battlefield Blunders,” by Stephan Wilkinson, September:] How does anyone know Custer ordered an attack? My impression is that the Indians took the initiative. The hilltop provided no cover. Could the Indians have chosen the site and attacked from all sides?

So Custer graduated “dead last” in his West Point class? Ed Raynor and Ron Stapley [Debunking History, 2006] state, “Custer was, while training, a brilliant if rather unpredictable student.” Custer was known to Indians from earlier assignments against them. The Indians may have realized this was a lucky break to settle old scores.

Perhaps the “blunder” was set in motion by persons higher up in the chain of command. Custer’s wife/widow [Libbie] corresponded with my friend’s grandmother. The letters told of Custer’s efforts to have the expedition canceled. Custer was told emphatically to get going.

Given the number of Indian warriors, can anyone be sure of a different outcome had other cavalry units been present? My suspicion is a number of Custer’s contemporaries were willing to have the public conclude it was his blunder.

Edwin McClure
Franklin, Ind.

I could not disagree more with Alden L. Head [Letters, November] regarding factors leading to Custer’s defeat. It was certainly a military blunder—to move unsteadily in confusion, making careless mistakes along the way. Custer’s troops were poorly equipped with the Springfield trapdoor carbine, and he refused the offer of two Gatling guns for his mission.

Custer was an egotistical, vainglorious man whose legend was created by his widow. As commanding officer, Custer was responsible for equipping, training and outfitting his troops. This was sadly neglected.

Barry M. Drubin
Stuart, Fla.

History or Myth?

[Re. “Masada, Israel,” by Gary L. Rashba, Hallowed Ground, October:] The “symbol of heroism, a place where few stood against many and opted for an honorable death rather than slavery” remains problematic [when describing Masada].

This story relies on two sources. First, the Jewish turncoat Flavius Josephus, who must be read with caution and relied on only when there is corroborating historical evidence, which there is not for the deaths the author describes. The second is an Israeli general and war hero turned archaeologist who excavated portions of the site. Indeed, it is suggested the good general understood the need for an inspiring story and essentially created the “Masada myth.”

One thing is for certain: Unless the remains of the presumed Zealot dead are found and confirmed by independent archaeologists, there is no solid historical or archaeological evidence for this story. Thus the Masada legend remains unproven, if not truly myth. It is certainly not military history—no matter how badly some want to believe it is.

Joseph F. Connolly II
Orlando, Fla.

Helicopter Hangover

I enjoyed matching the helicopter quiz [“Happy Heli-Days!,” War Games, December]. I have been a U.S. Army helicopter pilot for over 21 years. However, your answer key is wrong.

The correct answer should be H-J-I-A-F-E-D-B-C-G in order.

Louis H. Jordan Jr.
Tucson, Ariz.

Cuban Nightmare

[Re. “Cuban Nightmare,” November:] Grayston Lynch is a patriot and a very brave man. The historical record shows that President John F. Kennedy made clear to [CIA Director] Allen Dulles and [CIA Director of Plans] Richard Bissell that he would not commit U.S. combat forces to save the Bay of Pigs operation.

The CIA knew it couldn’t accomplish this type of overt paramilitary mission without direct Pentagon participation.

It is also now known that the CIA still went ahead with the mission even after it discovered the cover had been blown. At the end of the day, the brave men of Brigade 2506 were less than cannon fodder.

Sean Ryan
Auburn, N.Y.

Correction

On P. 54 of the November feature “Day of Doom,” the caption reads in part, “Prussian dragoons overrun French positions.” However, the illustration clearly depicts French dragoons overrunning infantrymen in Prussian blue. Please forgive our color blindness.

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