Thursday, August 27, 2015

Profile 107: FINISHED—"Charlie's F-4" of VF-114

"It was hard.  But good."

Those are Navy Captain and ex-POW Charlie Plumb's words in regards to the trip he just took to Vietnam.  And I got it; I was—for good, bad and indifferent—there with him.

Deep breath.

Ok.  you should know that I am currently supervising the production of the next episode of my video show, "Old Guys and Their Airplanes."  This next episode features Charlie's story, hence the production title, "There. And Back."

We'll have a full Trailer ready in a few weeks but in the meantime, you can view five "Teasers" by clicking here.  But for now, I'm sitting here, late at night, wondering just how we'll capture all the details of this incredible story.

But for now...

Progress shot, about 33% complete.  
...this is my first Navy F-4; all the rest have been USAF versions.  This bit of trivia is rather strange in that the F-4 is, in its heart, a naval aircraft.  If you're like me, you think of the F-4 in its green and brown USAF "SEA" camouflage, bristling with bombs, missiles and fuel tanks.  Yet, the F-4 began as a Navy plane and that means the typical gray paint scheme. And the Navy also defined the F-4's original role as an "Interceptor" (as opposed to the aerial Swiss Army Knife that it would eventually become).

Ok, this is where learning about the nuances of history really provides leverage for elevating one's brain.  Did you ever hear the phrase, "No plan survives the first thirty seconds of combat"?  On one hand, it's an amusing rejoinder.  But on the other, it's prophetic warning.  Birth, School, Work and Death are liberally sprinkled with examples of how one thing is intended but another prevails.  Some people shrug their shoulders and accept Fate while others wonder, "Hmmm.  What can we do to make this work?"

Kind of like Charlie Plumb's morning aboard the USS Kitty Hawk on 19 May, 1967.  His plan was to fly his 75th mission, return to the carrier and go home to wife and country.  It didn't work out that way.

Charlie in front of a SAM missile.  The one in front is a real SA-2.  The one in the background is a decoy
that the North Vietnamese made out of woven bamboo/reeds in order to attract attacks.
Charlie's F-4 was hit by a decidedly "real" SA-2.
Nevertheless, think about this concept of "No plan survives..."  for a second.  Today, you're planning on going to work, the grocery store, work on the car...but tthe future' has another idea altogether.

Makes you think, eh?

Anyway, going back to the F-4...

Designed by McDonnell-Douglas, the airplane was intended to counter the Soviet threat of bombers reaching the U.S.  This is why they referred to it as an "Interceptor" —it intercepts.  It's meant to climb fast, get to the target fast and do its job fast.  Versus a commie bomber loaded with nukes, the traditional role of aerial gunfighting is a pure waste of time and energy.   So, the F-4 was designed without a typical dogfighter's weapon, the gun.  Tucked into elegant recesses under the fuselage, four ultra-high-tech Sparrow missiles were to be fired (from a distance) at whoever was stupid enough to start WWIII.

The Interceptor job was a brilliant one for the Navy, too.  Launched from carriers, F-4s could pick off any threat WAY before it reached the American continent.  

Charlie remembers "ground" training for future F-4 missions in a space suit connected to a portable air conditioner (see below).  Yep, that's real Buck Rogers stuff.  But it wasn't meant to be.  

Charlie's first F-4 flight suit looked kinda like this one.  Shown, NASA pilot Bill Dana and
the incredible X-15 rocket plane.  Source:  NASA archive
We all know what happened next, right?  Uh...yeah.  "Vietnam," and with that, previously accepted strategy, tactics and tech were rewritten to accommodate what the designers of 1955 couldn't know.  In the next ten years, the F-4 was adapted to carry a huge variety of bombs, more missiles and all kinds of electronic gizmos. Eventually, the USAF managed to stuff an actual dogfighting gun in the nose (the Navy refrained and maybe even wisely-so but that's another topic altogether).

Nevertheless, it's interesting to note here that the Navy was extraordinarily successful with the F-4.   According to one source, the USAF ended up with a 3:1 aerial victory ratio against the North Vietnamese Air Force.  But the Navy managed a 6:1 ratio.  And the Navy's figures are an average between the struggles of the war's early years and the later when new, adaptive tactics showed their worth.

Go Navy, eh?



Now, I've done a fair amount of jumping around even for my patented ADD writing style.  But I wanted to try establish the concept of "adaptability." The F-4 was intended for one thing and was forced to adapt to another.   Charlie Plumb signed up for one thing (life aboard a carrier, flying jets) and was forced to adapt to another, too (six years in a torturous POW camp).

This past July, right before we left for Hanoi, Charlie asked me what kind of a story I thought I'd get by following him around.  In a rare moment of wisdom, I deferred to the reality of Fate and replied, "I really don't know.  We'll see, I guess."  And off we went, tugging 300lbs of gear on an 18,000 mile journey that took us from Hanoi to Haiphong to Saigon to some hellishly hot river near the Cambodian border...

I'll leave it like this for now: the whole trip came down to single picture that I took with my iPhone.

Intrigued?   I hope so.

In the meantime, have a look at the F-4B below.  It's the airplane that  Charlie and RIO "Gary" Anderson launched from the Kitty Hawk on 19 May, 1967.  It was a day they never figured would happen and yet would forever alter the course of their lives.

Stay tuned for more information on the next episode of Old Guys and Their Airplanes, "There.  And Back."
Finished.  This is how Charlie asked for it - no tanks and with a sidewinder hung off each of the rails.
To him, it's a reminder of his past.  To me, it's a reminder of what can happen.

IMPORTANT NOTICE:  Charlie signed a number of prints of my artwork featuring his F-4B Phantom and the C-141A Starlifter that carried him to freedom.  If you'd like to purchase one, proceeds are going to the Southern California Wing of the Commemorative Air Force.   CLICK HERE.

Profile 106: FINISHED—"0641" as flown February 18, 1973

Chances are REALLY good that you give no thought of how much your life revolves around the word, "Logistics."

Bold statement, eh?  And how do I know?  Because I don't think about "Logistics" much either. 

Regardless, have a look at the airplane above.  It's a Lockheed C-141A Starlifter.  It's big, it's loud, but on an air show flight line, the "F" and "B" airplanes always seem to attract the bigger crowds.  "C" planes are really just big pickup trucks.  Right?  I mean, what self-respecting 10 year old, staring up at the model airplanes hanging over their bed, wishes, "Some day, I'm going to fly Cargo planes."

General Eisenhower, however, made a comment that those 10 year old would-be combat pilots would do well to think about:

“You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have
been won or lost primarily because of logistics.”

All that stuff in the grocery store?  Food at the restaurant?  Stuff at the store?  Logistics—the practice of hauling stuff from point A to point B.  Put another way, no cargo?  No combat.  Period.

Let's take a moment, step back and prepare to appreciate the most important aspect of any force, Military or Civilian.  And in this case, the C-141 is the Queen Mother.

Designed in 1960, the C-141 was a response to what the military learned in WWII—the world was getting smaller and military activity depended on moving materiel over huge distances, quickly.  We all have our opinions on whether or not the United States should have military presence in this country or that* but the reality is, if we don't want to fight HERE, we have to fight THERE.   And "there" means moving a lot of gear.

On paper, the potential of the C-141 had to be an outrageous dream.  Yet, compared to its WWII equivalent—the C-47 (aka DC-3)—the Starlifter truly lived up to its name.  Have a look at the graphic I put together...
The C-47/DC-3 is largely regarded as one of, if not the, greatest aircraft ever built and there are solid reasons why.  But in the military application, look at the numbers:  The Starlifter had twice the range, three times the speed and nearly twenty times the payload.  If you work out the ratio of cost/unit compared to hauling capacity, the C-141 crushes the C-47 by being three times as efficient.

Go ahead, do the math...I'll wait.

The C-141 was a simply amazing aircraft!

For all the news coverage of government waste, I wish the average folk could realize that, for the most part, the engineers of American industry and the bean counters of Military Procurement do their best.   And it's a pretty fine "best" too.

Sad to say, the Starlifter is no longer moving stars.  The last military flight occurred on 6 May, 2006.  It was a pretty big deal and someone did a great job documenting it on YouTube (click here).  But wait a bit before clicking on it, ok?  There's more you should know.

Today, the American airlift capability is practically spread out over three basic types - the C-5 Galaxy, the C-17 Globemaster III and the C-130 Hercules.  I made another graphic so you can see the how the heavy-lifting is distributed.

Somewhere between the ginormous C-5 Galaxy and the "jack of all trades" C-130 lies the former domain of the C-141.  Today, the C-17 is doing the 141's job and from what I've read, even more efficiently. 


Logistics isn't always about "the numbers."

Sometimes, Logistics is about...this.

Pulitzer Prize-winning photo, "Burst of Joy" by Slava Veder.
Please. Click here.

You knew it was coming.  "0641" was not just hauling stuff.  This C-141 was one of 16 that ferried 592 American POWs from Hanoi to Clark, AFB during Operation Homecoming.

Take another pause, ok?  Think about what it would be like to have someone you hold dear taken away from you, held in uncertainty...and then returned.  Forever changed.

(I was serious. Take the pause)

The process took almost a month and a half.  C-141s would lumber into Hanoi's Gia Lam airport l and pick up the POWs as they were processed out of the infamous North Vietnamese prison system. 

Each C-141 would carry about 20 POWs.   Of course, a Starlifter could carry many more than that, but Operation Homecoming wasn't a cattle car operation.  Instead, it was a strange diplomatic maneuver that took a month and a half to work out.  I bet it drove the C-141 crews crazy, too.  Left to their own devices, they could have probably had them all home in 12 hours.

This all being stated, have a look at the drawing again—0641 is the very C-141 that flew into Hanoi's Gia Lam Airport on February 18, 1973 to return 20 POWs, one of which was then Lt. (jg) "Charlie" Plumb.

Ok.  The C-141 retirement video mentioned previously is really a fine piece that captures what the C-141 was all about.  But before you do, watch the video below.  The man shown is Charlie and the song is one written and performed by the POWs for President Nixon as an act of gratitude.

Logistics, indeed.

(Special thanks go to the Plumb family for putting together this very cool clip).

IMPORTANT NOTICE:  Charlie signed a number of prints of my artwork featuring his F-4B Phantom and the C-141A Starlifter that carried him to freedom.  If you'd like to purchase one, proceeds are going to the Southern California Wing of the Commemorative Air Force.   CLICK HERE.

Profiles 108, 109: IN PROGRESS—"The Snakes" of the North

Chugging up a tropical river on a leaky wooden boat...

Jungle trees hanging over hot brown water, sweat stinging my eyes...

Clothes stucking to me like cling-wrap stretched over a bowl of hot soup... 

Three sweat-soaked Americans, twelve dry Vietnamese...

I lean over to cameraman Rick and whisper, "Did'ja ever see the movie, Apocalypse Now?"

He grimaces, then softly sings the opening bars to the haunting vocals of Doors song that opened the film, "This is the end.  Beautiful friend.  This is the end..."

It was no stretch of my imagination to imagine the river bank ahead erupting into shards of splintered trees and metal shrapnel as a Huey Gunship roared overhead.

Yet, the reality of the moment was more improbable than the scene playing my head—I was going to a caucus of North Vietnamese fighter pilots with one American fighter pilot, Capt. Charlie Plumb.

Charlie's credentials are pretty amazing—author, speaker, Naval academy graduate, 75 combat missions and ex-POW; in his career, he's pretty much seen it all.  But the Vietnamese contingent was rather experienced as well—among them were two Generals, a Colonel a successful entrepreneur and a captain of Vietnamese industry.  And two also happened to be the Honchos of the MiG-17:  Le Hai and Nguyen Van Bay.  Between them, they accounted for 13 American airplanes.

Hold that thought and have a look at the MiGs below.

Le Hai's MiG-17.  

Nguyen Van Bay's MiG-17.

It was a strange day.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining!  Our hosts were fantastic, the scenery amazing,  food delicious..and yet, the history of the moment was sticky like that plastic wrap referred to in line three.  

War can do weird things to the brain and if merely studying it can warp my own (a Gen-x'er who's never really had to suffer much for anything) I can't comprehend what it does to those who actually have experienced it.

It was, as they said back in the '60s, "...a trip."

Anyway, back to the MiGs.  Notice the green-black MiG-17?  That's Le Hai's.  The silver one would be Van Bay's.  Of course, the men flew other MiG-17s too—the NVAF didn't have assigned airplanes; they took whichever one was ready when the scramble-call came.  But, I can confirm that the "Bort" numbers on the nose are accurate.

So, to the plastic modelers reading this blog, these are indeed their MiGs.  And, they're especially proud of them because these were, during the VN war, technically second-string fighters that gave the #1 military power in the world a nasty bite.  It needs to be understood that when the MiG-17 was first-flown back in 1950, it was state-of-the-art in an "art" that was in a state of rapid flux; by 1967, the airplane was out-of-date compared to the much more advanced American iron like the F-4 Phantom or F-8 Crusader.

But "out of date" doesn't necessarily mean the pilot was condemned.  For a variety of reasons (next post) the North Vietnamese used the MiGs with remarkable effectiveness.

Let's run the numbers.

It's generally accepted that MiG-17s accounted for 28 aerial kills between 1965 and 1972.   In that time span, approximately 65 MiG-17s were lost in combat for a Win:Loss ratio of about 1:2.  Granted, those numbers put the North Vietnamese on the short side of things but are actually rather remarkable.

Consider this—Le Hai (the green MiG) was credited with six aerial victories.   Van Bay (the silver MiG) was credited with 7.  The 13 victories between them account for nearly 50% of the total aerial losses due to MiG-17s during the Vietnam War.

REPEAT:  Nearly fifty percent! It doesn't matter what side you're on, these are the mounts of two pilots who deserve respect.  

Now.  You might be wondering why on earth Charlie was meeting these two guys.  Well, it turns out, he may have met them back on 24 April, 1967 but wasn't able to get a good look at their faces.

Not that he would have had the time...

Stay tuned.

I get into the craziest places...
I have no idea what I was saying at the time I took this picture but to have three guys of this
calibre listening to me is a page out of the Twilight Zone.

PS - Why "Snakes"?  It was the nickname given to the often snake-colored MiG-17s.  There are two versions of the story; one is that the name was given by the North Vietnamese pilots who saw their aircraft as deadly, quick and maneuverable. Like a snake.  The other version is that the name was given by American pilots who saw the MiG-17s as pestilent, nasty and to be dispatched as quickly as possible.  Like a snake.

Pick your poison.

Profile 105: FINISHED—"SDANG" F-51 and Sliver Phantoms.

"Break! Break"

Allow me a second to describe how I'm in business. 

Anyone can draw airplanes.  To prove it, if we ever meet, I can teach you how to draw an F4F Wildcat in less than 5 minutes.  And if you practice for a bit, you can probably give me serious competition.

My airplane art is...(sigh) a commodity. 

BUT, as you might already know, the value in my artwork is that it is signed by the pilot who flew it in combat.  That is not a commodity.   The reasons 'why' I do this should be self-evident to you as a reader.  For now, however, you might be interested to learn 'how.'   In two words:  digital printing.   And, digital printing has been to the printing industry what digital cameras have been to the photography industry:  transformational. 

Let me explain.

Twenty years ago, I would have drawn my airplane with a pencil and colored it in with an airbrush or a colored pencil.  This is actually a sweet and theraputic process that would have resulted in a physical drawing about 24 inches by 48 inches.  

Then, I would have hired a photographer—one that had a large-format camera, prior experience and an eye for the particular job—to take a picture of the artwork using especially high quality film.  Once the film was developed, the negative would then be transfered onto "plates"  that would correspond to varying degrees of Light Blue (Cyan), Pink (Magenta), Yellow and Black.  These plates would then be used as "stencils" (sort of) that would apply the inks in such a way that the end result would be an optical illusion that would look like...well, one of my color drawings.

4-color separations kinda look like this.  This is only a simulation but you get the idea.

It's called a "4-color Process" and it's been the accepted way to reproduce color photography and artwork for a long time.

But, it's time consuming, costly and leaves little room for error.  And it's a process that's dependent upon a fair amount of skill all around—from the artist to the photographer to the plate maker (called a stripper and usually a grumpy guy with OCD) to the pressman (another grumpy guy with a different kind of OCD)...

...from finished art to finished prints, the process took about two weeks.

However using today's digital press, I simply walk into my printer's office, drop a USB-drive off with the pressman and later that afternoon, stop by for a press check that is almost always PERFECT.  And a half hour later, I walk out with prints.

From finished art to finished prints, the process takes about two hours.

When interviewing "old guys and drawing their airplanes," that time saving can mean the difference in getting the story and having it fly off into eternity without anyone being the wiser.  Which kind of reminds me of that old phrase, "When an old man dies, a library burns."  But that's a whole'nuther topic altogether.

Anyways, my first limited edition print run was in 2003. A few months later, another edition was literally printed in the morning and on the plane to an interview with me that afternoon!  Fantastic, eh?

Over the years, I've used a wide variety of digital printers.  From the home variety to the ones that are delivered in semi-trucks and require print shops to move to bigger buildings.   Some are good at this, some at that...but the one that I've found that's good at everything I need is made by Xerox.  In fact, I've been using a particular Xerox printer almost exclusively now for the past three years.*

This is what a typical press-check scene looks like.  On a normal 4-color press, this could take hours.
With Xerox's digital press, it minutes.

There are three reasons I have come to insist on Xerox's process: color accuracy, color consistency and a brilliant process that coats my image with clear 'varnish' to aid in the protection of the image. 

Well, Xerox caught wind of my loyalty and wondered if I would have any interest in a new development they have perfected:  metallic ink.

"Would I?!  Duh!  Show me the metal!!"

Well before I wax poetic about actually doing silver airplanes in SILVER, have another look at the F-51 Mustang above.

This particular Mustang was actually commissioned by the fundraising arm of the Veteran's Memorial Park (VMP) of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  It's a representation of the first aircraft flown by the South Dakota Air National Guard and a full-size replica will become part of a pretty awesome outdoor memorial.
Concept art of the proposed Veteran's Park Memorial © Confluence

The VMP will offer my artwork, hopefully signed by an SDANG pilot who flew the F-51, to the community as a fundraiser. It should be a pretty awesome way for people to recognize the service of the area veterans and also (cough cough) have something cool on the wall.

It's probably my best F/P-51 ever. 

Ok.  Back to Xerox.

Recently (as in really recently) they printed my F-51 using this new metallic ink process and shipped a box to me.  Evidently, they're using it as a tradeshow premium.  But for me, I was so gobsmacked by how cool it was to see a silver F-51 actually printed in silver ink that I neglected to keep a single piece for my records. 


But, the folks at Xerox were kind enough to sponsor our next episode of "Old Guys and Their Airplanes" and actually used their silver ink in a special run of my drawings of Charlie Plumb's F-4B and C-141A.

I wish you could reach through the monitor and see the subtle yet very real distinction this touch makes to my art.   A photo of this special "Silver Edition" of Charlie's F-4B and C-141A is shown above and it doesn't do it justice.  However, if you're interested, you can purchase one of these "Silver Edition" prints on my website by clicking here (proceeds go to the SoCal Wing of the Commemorative Air Force).

In the meantime, I am truly grateful for the team at Xerox for their work.

And now you know HOW I can do what I do!  (Watch the video below to find out what Charlie has been wanting to do for a long time, too).

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Profile 104: FINSHED—"A-Bar" as flown by Newton Cobb, 364th FG

A-Bar” is complete, prints are signed and pilot “Newt” Cobb is happy.

So am I.  For an airplane with such an exciting tale to tell, it's really a pretty bland P-51.  No nose art, no victory markings.  And Newt is not an ace or a famous combat leader.  He was, however, one of the many late-war replacement pilots sent in to fill depleted ranks and mop-up the last moments of the war.  He was simply a work-a-day soldier doing his job.

But war doesn’t play favorites with whom it honors.  Or curses.

Hold that thought.

By April 13, 1945, everyone (aside from the most crazed zealots) knew WWII in Europe was over, at least in terms of who was going to win.   Nazi Germany was so utterly crushed, every bullet they fired against the advancing Allies was as much criminal as it was a symbol of stupid human vanity.

I heard the words from a vet regarding this time of obvious defeat, “Why didn’t they just stop?!”  It’s human nature, I guess.  “Pride” can be such a costly thing…

But that’s the point of total, committed war.  You don’t stop until the enemy is defeated.  Utterly and wholly.  And until that point, the bullets must fly.

So that morning at Honington Field of Eastern England, four flights of four P-51s of the 385th Fighter Squadron took off for a sweep against an airfield at Tarnewitz, Germany.  The place was a weapons-testing facility that specialized in testing of aircraft machine guns and anti-aircraft cannon.  Read that again. Sounds like a rather—shall we say—ominous target to attack?  It’s kind of like a dog catcher getting a call to nab a pack of wild dogs and the dispatcher shouts out, "By the way, they're attack-trained Dobermans."

You get where this is going, right?  Right.   For the 385th, the 16 P-51s "got going" east.

Click to enlarge.  But it wasn't a terribly long flight for Newt & Co.

According to Newt, the cloud ceiling was around 3,000 feet.  Not terribly low but enough to provide an opaque background that would silhouette the airplanes.   This is an important point because, if you’ve ever been hunting, you know that a Duck is a lot easier to see on a cloudy day than if it’s coming out of the sun.

Again, you know where this is going, right? And I won’t even bother detailing how “Intelligence” had briefed the pilots that the test facility was not well protected...

So, Blue Flight (of which Newt was the rear-most airplane of the flight of four) peeled out to unleash 24 blistering .50 cal machine guns against the enemy.   Coming in low, line abreast and guns blazing, the Mustangs faced an unexpected eruption of defensive fire. Not unlike a watering system on a golf course—only the water was a mist of 20mm and 40mm cannon fire.  

The Germans weren’t firing for the sake of nothing; Tarnewitz indeed had targets—a handful of aircraft were placed, semi-hidden around the airfield.  And then there's that reflex-thing that makes you hit back if someone hits doesn't matter.  The "Intelligence" folk were dead wrong.

“This was it. I was going to die...”  Newt sighed in recollection.   Yet, the Flight made it through on account of their shattering surprise.  The German gunners had barely enough time to get their guns firing, let alone aim the things.

But then, a moment of insanity occurred in the form of, “Blue Flight, make another pass.”  The Squadron Commander who observed from one of the 12 Mustangs orbiting ‘on top,’ made the call.  Newt recalled,  “For what?! The war was almost over!  Why risk this?!”   

Debate over "orders" was out of the question.  Blue Flight regrouped and formed up, again in line-abreast formation, for that ‘another pass.’  Passing a tree line that surrounded the field, the Germans responded with another fusillade of fire.  Accurate fire, too because every airplane in the Flight got hit.  Newt got the worst of it.

“A 40mm locked onto me.  I could hear it and see it; black puffs of smoke.  I (tried zig-zagging) and all of a sudden I heard a loud explosion and the sound of tearing metal - one third of my right wing was gone!”

And then another round hit.  This time, it sliced open the Mustang’s belly and severed the fibula of Newt’s left leg.  “I was fortunate it didn’t hit the tibia too as, without a (full) right wing, I had to hold full left-rudder to keep the airplane from snap-rolling onto the deck.”

Ok, picture this:  a P-51 Mustang, 350 miles per hour, on the deck, wing shredded and blood spurting from Newt’s snapped leg...and all of it happening that fast—BOOM!   There is no pain, no consideration, no time to do anything but flinch-react.

This isn’t like a blowout on the interstate.  It’s like losing an entire wheel on a Colorado mountain pass at 70 miles an hour.

“I kept control of the airplane,” Newt stated soberly.  “And it was such a shame.  A brand new airplane, too.”   

Again, the speed of the attack was crucial in that, a second later, the wounded man and his machine had hurtled out of sight.  Of course that made little difference to the urgency of the matter.  With a boot full of blood and a dying airplane, Newt knew he had to put down, quickly.  In a few moments he’d be dead from blood loss.
I tried to draw this JUST as the prop tips slice the grass...
In a gentle, terrible arc, Newt held his fractured leg hard against the rudder pedal and coaxed his wounded Mustang towards a farm he’d spotted.  Too low to bail, he tightened his harness and bellied-in at 150 miles per hour.  The crash was violent.

“As it hit the ground, that scoop underneath me dug in and I slammed forward, dislocating my shoulder.”  With the dust still wafting to the ground, Newt tried to apply a tourniquet to his leg but couldn’t on account of his splayed arm.  Clambering out of the dead airplane, he staggered as four men approached.  “I held out my (.45 calibre) holster in a signal I was surrendering.”

The four men turned out to be French and Russian prisoners who’d been pressed into working on the farm.  Removing Newt's own belt, one of the prisoners made a tourniquet and clamped the blood flow shut.
Can you imagine stamping down on your leg with half of it broken in two?
“A piece of (the 40mm round) was stuck in my leg.  I reached to pull at it but one of the men said, “Nix! Nix!” and pushed my hand away.  He took a handkerchief, pulled it out and pocketed it as a souvenir.  A Brit Florin* fell out of my pocket then and he took that too.   A young boy in Hitler Youth** uniform showed up on a bicycle and I told him to call the Luftwaffe.”

Newt was hoisted onto an oxcart, wheeled into a barn on the farm and placed on a mound of hay.  Left alone for a brief moment, Newt began to tear up his identification papers and stuff them into the hay but was caught.

“One of the men, a big one, had my .45.  He cocked it, placed it against my head and shouted, “Vo ist das papia?!  Vo ist das papia?!” Or, “What were you hiding?!”

Suddenly, “ACHTUNG!”  

A Luftwaffe Captain entered the barn and all stood at attention.  Of course, the .45 was now lowered.  Taking the weapon from the Russian, the Captain extended his hand to Newt and stated (in a British accent no less), “I am Doctor Straub.  How do you do?  You are Canadian?”

Newt declined and responded, "American."  As the majority of ‘enemy’ soldiers in the area were Canadian, Newt’s nationality was a non sequitur.  Still in possession of his military ID, Newt handed it to the officer. 

A few moments of study, silence…and the German stated, “You are from Panama.  I was the ship doctor on the Bremen (when it docked there).  Pier 18.”

The SS Bremen.  Newt was just a kid when he'd met Dr. Straub aboard the ship.
Well what do you know.  Newt knew the guy!*** (read note below)

Though amazed by coincidence, Newt was not happy about it.  With his leg beginning to pound with pain, the weight of reality sunk in.  He was now a Prisoner of War.  Panama, childhood memories and past smiles meant very little.

It was a truly stupid moment;  that late in the war, that useless of a target and that apparent foolishness of a command.  In the span of a few moments, Newt’s life had jumped a handful of fate’s streams to end up in a place he couldn’t have imagined.  Carried into the Captain’s staff car, he was driven to the airfield hospital.

Here, he met the young Wehrmacht soldier who—via telling the story to Dr. Straub—had likely been the trigger man against Newt.  The German was excited to meet Newt and claim his ‘victory.’  There was, of course, no excitement for the wounded Cobb.  Though he was indeed in a hospital, priority of treatment went to the Germans, who—all things considered—were struggling to care for themselves, let alone an American pilot.   But, the medical staff, seemingly unbound by the allegiances to Nazism were at least able to apply a crude version of mercy.  In meeting with the commanding doctor (a General, no less), Newt was given a simple treatment of logic—“I am a doctor and you are my patient.  If you act like a patient, I will treat you like a doctor.  But if you do not act like a patient, I will treat you like a prisoner.”

Newt was in no place to do anything but accept the Doctor's deal.  And the Doctors kept their end of the deal, too.  Hitler’s ‘elite’ soldiers, the SS, made visits to the hospital looking for allied prisoners healthy enough to take back to the prison camps.  Attention to Newt was deftly averted, though, as Newt describes, his wounds made it easy for the medical staff to intercede on his behalf.

“I remember a nurse.  Monica.  She came in, pulled away the blanket over my leg and gagged.  “Das stinkt!” she said.”  Gangrene had set into Newt’s leg.  In other words, flesh was rotting on the bone. And since the target at Tarnewitz remained, the air raids persisted.  Each time, a guard (whom Newt remembered had the name of Kurtz) had to carry him down three flights of stairs to the safety of the basement.  One can only imagine the scene of the German orderly hoisting the reeking prisoner down the steps…

“The doctors told me that my leg had to come off.” Newt stated matter-of-factly.  “They didn’t have penicillin. Infections like mine didn’t just stop by itself.  (On the day the Germans fled the hospital) I was reminded to tell the liberators that my leg had to come off immediately.”

This time, however, fortune favored Newt.  The Americans arrived with penicillin and a few injections and proper care later, Newt’s leg began to heal.  It was a long process that didn’t end until back in the states at Oliver General Hospital in Augusta, Georgia.

“I was out of place there,” Newt remembers. “It was a plastic surgery hospital and most of the guys there had burns or extreme disfiguring.  My heart went out to them.  But, (today) I think about this and see how they gave that for the freedoms we all can enjoy.”

“Break break!” (as an F-4 pilot taught me to say a few years ago to indicate that the subject is changing).

On one hand, the value of these stories is interesting because they’re so dramatic.  Newt’s has it all—guns, explosions, tragedy, drama, humanity, redemption…  However, I’d like to offer these stories have an even greater value because they, in spite of incredible circumstances, are also so ordinary.  Remember, Newt, the commanding general, Kurtz, Monica, the Squadron Leader…they're are all normal people, doing work that—after a few clicks of time—dissolve into a greater spectrum of life.

That guy at work?  The new customer at the window?  The owner of the business?  The doctor tapping your knee?  Who knows if that was once a Monica.  Or Straub.  Or...

Please don’t consider these just war stories.  They’re life stories, too.

By the way, Doctor Straub and Newt kept in contact, exchanging Christmas cards and well-wishes every year until Sraub died a few years ago.

The picture immediately below is of Newt’s dresser.  And that’s a picture of Straub.  And that's a picture of Newt and his bride.  And at the very end of this post, that's Newt, quite happy with his work-a-day P-51 drawing. 

To me, however, it's anything but work-a-day.  
Newt's dresser top.  Yeah, that guy in the German army uniform is Dr. Straub.
Thank you to the reader who hooked me up with this story.  It made me almost as happy as Newt was to tell it. 
Newt and my drawing of his P-51.  "This" is the coolest part of my gig.
*A Florin was another name for a higher-value coin.  

**Hitler Youth were a state-run program to indoctrinate young boys into the ideals of Nazism.

***Why was Newton Cobb in Panama?  Good question.  I asked Newt's son about that and this is what he wrote:  Dad was born and living in Memphis when his father passed away. It was during the depression and he was 8 at the time.  His mother, he and his brother moved in with her sister and her husband Captain Sam Fairchild (US Army) who was commanding a CCC Camp.  (Note:  the CCC was short for Civilian Conservation Corps, a work-program of the government designed to put Depression-affected Americans to work).

Shortly thereafter Cpt. Fairchild was transferred to Ft. Clayton in thePanama Canal Zone and Dad, his mother and brother went along as dependents. His mother married an optometrist in Panama who was a German National and that is how dad came to get a tour of the Bremen when it docked at Pier 18 in Panama.  Dad attended Balboa High School in the CZ and went into the Army Air Corps from there.  After the war he returned to the CZ where he ultimately retired and moved to Austin Texas.  

PROFILE 106: IN PROGRESS— "0641" as flown on February 18, 1973

Two things.

1.  This isn't the "Hanoi Taxi."  

Oh, it's very similar to the more-famous C-141 that flew the first group of Vietnam War POW's out of Ha Noi on February 12, 1973...but it's not that airplane.

See, in 1973 there were nearly 600 American POWs were released from the North Vietnamese prison system and it took more than one sortie to bring them home.  50-some shuttle flights between Ha Noi and Clark AFB (Philippine Islands) took place over the rest of February through March 29th.

From what I've read and heard, the emotion of seeing this giant symbol of America on the ramp of Gia Lam Airport was initially stunning but culminated into an eruption of pure joy at the first sensation of flight.  Home.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to have never been tested as these men were simply can't imagine what it must have been like.  I suspect the photo below doesn't even come close to capturing it.

American POWs cheer as their C-141 heads toward home.  Source:  U.S. Air Force

2.  Though this particular post is short, it's going to be a long story.

It's going to be a while before I can post again but...please.  Stay.  Tuned.

And to the person who put together the video below, email me.  

PS - because more than a few of you are capable cyber-sleuths, I'm posting the progress-shot of the artwork.  The serial number is accurate.   ;)

Profile 105: IN PROGRESS—SDANG F-51

Behold!  The F-51 of the SDANG!

"The what?!" you say?

On the outside chance that you're not a total history nerd, an "F-51" is the same as "P-51" except that the "F" reflects the refreshed aircraft naming convention adopted after the formation of the Air Force as a separate branch of the military in 1947.

If you're ever on a game show and the million-dollar question is somehow tied to knowing when to call a Mustang "F-51" or "P-51," look for the horizontal red stripe in the 'Star'n Bar' insignia.  Better yet, have a look below.  It's the F-51 as flown by Hank Snow of the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, Korea, circa 1952.   The red stripes in the insignia should be pretty clear (in spite of the fact that my Mustang-drawin' skills have improved substantially since I drew Hank's F-51 a few years ago!).

Hank Snow's F-51, "Lil' Warrior."  The name was his crew chief's idea.

Anyway, I am bringing this point up to emphasize that the Mustang was still a bona-fide war plane even into the jet-powered 1950s.   In fact, if you click the link below, it'll take you to a little bit of Hank's Korean War guncam footage.  I don't know if it was filmed while flying "Little Warrior," but I do know that he was flying an F-51 at the time.

As for the word, "SDANG," that stands for South Dakota Air National Guard. The bureaucratic structure was formed by WWII ace and legend Joe Foss in 1946, with delivery of aircraft taking place the next year.

If you live in South Dakota—which I figure you don't as the state only contains about 800,000 people—you know there are four things that make the residents swell with pride:

1. Mt. Rushmore.
2. Enduring the weather.
3. Pheasants and Walleyes.
4. "Our Guard."

Of course, South Dakota operates an Army National Guard in addition to the winged variety.  But, the powers-that-be have decided to make the '51 a symbol for...well...I can't say right yet.  However,  when I post my finished rendering*, it'll also come with a story that might inspire you to do something similar in your hometown.

*So far, though this Mustang warrants an "F" it's definitely my best Mustang to-date.   I can't wait to display it along with the cool back-story.