Thanksgiving in America

And so it is Thanksgiving again in America. It is the one specifically American holiday, and a religious one as well, in which we gratefully acknowledge the bounteous land He gave us. But you know, that is exactly what He gave us, a strip of undeveloped land along the Atlantic Ocean. The rest is a story of the use of God-given gifts and talents and hard work.

The First Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving

But so much of what we do is so very inherently dangerous, and we have made it safe.

For instance, I could walk into the Denver Airport this afternoon, and have lunch tomorrow in London. I will have a safe and pleasant trip (of course, more money will make it more pleasant, although not safer). But truly this is a miracle. How did it happen?

It’s the long story of man’s climb from, child-like beasts–to men and women who hold dominion over all they see, and the costs involved. But a couple of anecdotes can serve.

Back in the mid-30s Boeing built a bomber according to what they thought the Army needed, not what the RFP called for. It was a risky move but time was short and Hitler and Tojo were plenty scary. In fact, Martin’s B-18 which fully met the RFP won the competition and was pretty much useless. But the Air Corps guys also found some money to continue testing, and even build a few more.

Then disaster struck. Boeing’s chief test pilot took off one lovely day and flew straight into a stall. Killing all aboard, Destroying 299 amid rumors that it was too much airplane for two, let alone any pilot. It also very nearly killed Boeing.

It was a simple enough answer. The engineers feared the aircraft would beat itself to death on windy hardstands. So they designed a gizmo to lock the elevators while on the ground. It was clearly marked with that streamer known to every pilot, ‘Remove Before Flight‘. But it hadn’t been. That’s why all of us, from that day until the weekend after next, who do things that can kill you quick, work from a checklist, one reading it, and the other doing it.

Boeing 299 was the prototype of the B-17 Flying Fortress that carried the American Air War in northern Europe against Nazi Germany from 1942 until 1945. Could we have won without it? Maybe. The men who flew her simply called her (and still do) ‘The Queen’.

But you know, and I know that the flight I talked about above will be safer than walking out my drive to get the mail. And that is no accident, it is the result of a lot of very hard, amazingly unflattering work by a lot of people over the last hundred years.

If you’re the average consumer when you walk into a really good hardware store you’ll end up mightily confused, why on earth does anyone need 16 different ¼ nuts? Well, the answer is that that they do sixteen somewhat different jobs, within limits they can substitute for each other, although usually, it won’t be as good.

But the thing here is, you cannot (legally, anyway) use any of those nuts on your private aircraft, let alone an airliner. They might be fine, most likely they are cheap knockoffs of the real thing. And so, in the 20s and 30s NACA (later NASA) and the Bureau of Standards, (later NIST), standardized all this stuff, especially hardware and plumbing. It’s not used only in aircraft either, it’s the basis of the specifications for race cars, and for agricultural machinery, and in automotive as well.

The catalogs, by the way, are like page after page of spreadsheet output. How do you tell them? One they’re expensive, and second, they all have part numbers that start with AN- (which stands for Army-Navy) and sometimes now NSN which is usually the same spec but stands for NATO Stock No.

As always, Rudyard Kipling spoke for us grungy doers and movers. He traces us back to Martha who didn’t have time to listen to the Lord, because her work was never done. He had a point.

The Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary’s Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.

It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.

They say to mountains “Be ye removèd.” They say to the lesser floods “Be dry.”
Under their rods are the rocks reprovèd—they are not afraid of that which is high.
Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit—then is the bed of the deep laid bare,
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware.

They finger Death at their gloves’ end where they piece and repiece the living wires.
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires.
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall,
And hale him forth like a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall.

To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar.
They are concerned with matters hidden—under the earthline their altars are—
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city’s drouth.

They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
They do not preach that His Pity allows them to drop their job when they damn-well choose.
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand,
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s ways may be long in the land.

Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat;
Lo, it is black already with the blood some Son of Martha spilled for that!
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessèd—they know the Angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessèd, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the feet—they hear the Word—they see how truly the Promise runs.
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and—the Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons!

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving, we sons of Martha will be on the job, as usual, so you can be your usual selves.

 

The Milwaukie Bomber

I hear there was a debate of sorts, last night. I missed it, intentionally. There may well be Democrats out there who believe enough of the same things for me to support them. if there are they aren’t running for President. Personally, I’d vote for Jeremy Corbin before any of these cretins. So if you want to know about it, and their enabler from the Chicken Noodle Network, you’ll have to keep looking. Here we do important, American Stuff. Like the Milwaukee Bomber. Enjoy!

Art Lacey & his crew of filling station attendants at the Bomber Gas Station; Milwaukie, Oregon

 

Art Lacey was a crazy sumbitch. You have to understand that from the beginning or this story will make no sense, not that it will anyway. Still, it’s something you should know.

Art was celebrating his birthday in 1947, had knocked back a few, and, from out of nowhere, proclaimed he was going to slap a B-17 bomber on top of his gas station. A friend of his told him he was crazy, which, of course, was true but made no never mind and was all the provocation Art needed to prove him wrong.

So, Art turned to his friend, Bob, and asked him if he had any money on him. How much you need, asked Bob. About $15,000, said Art, pulling a number out of his butt. Sure, said Bob, I got that on me. Now, it may seem odd to you that folks would be carrying tens of thousands of bucks on their person but it was perfectly normal in post-war Portland, which was a wide open town, hip deep in vice of every kind.

Some sober people of sound mind may ask why, exactly why, would you want to put a bomber on top of your gas station? Maybe you are one such curious person, so let me explain you the answer: Because this is America, that’s why. If you want to hoist a bomber above your place of business, that’s what you will damned well do. Why do I even have to even explain this to you? You should know this. Stop interrupting me, for Pete’s sake, and let me tell the story. Sheesh!

America built 12,731 B-17s during the war, which, even allowing for the terrific attrition they suffered in ferocious aerial combat, about 4750 aircraft destroyed, left the brand spanking new United States Air Force with thousands of B-17s it did not need parked at air bases all over the country. Art found a field in Oklahoma, Altus Air Force Base, full of idle B-17s where he charmed the officer in charge into selling him one for $13,000, a considerable discount from its original price of $238,329 and who knows how many cents. The officer told him to show up with his co-pilot and he could fly it away, just like that. This was before gun control and background checks and waiting periods and whatnot. You could just buy a bomber and do what you wanted with it.

Source: The Milwaukie Bomber – BLACKFIVE

Memphis Belle

71 years ago this month something quite remarkable happened. An 8th United States Army Air Force heavy bomber completed 25 missions against Europe. This was the first time this had happened, the average crew life expectancy in my recollection was in the neighborhood of  12 to 15 missions. This was the crisis of the American bombing program, without fighter escort, the price of the offensive was very high. To the point that the 8th AAF took higher casualties than almost any other unit in Europe. That plane was the Memphis Belle, and she became one of the most famous aircraft in history.

N3703G_124485_B-17G_Flying_Fortress_The_Movie_Memphis_Belle_Nose_Art_2011_Cleveland_National_Air_Show

article-2619482-1D8AFCAA00000578-792_306x475And yes, I did note that a very silly official at RAF Bassingbourn did order a fence built around the memorial to the Memphis Belle but, I also note that MOD ordered it removed with a comment about ‘some bloke with a clipboard’, so I won’t carry on about it.

The Memphis Belle is being restored at the National Museum of the Air Force at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, and this is from their fact sheet.

The Memphis Belle, a B-17F Flying Fortress, is one of the most famous aircraft in history. In May 1943 it became the first U.S. Army Air Forces heavy bomber to complete 25 missions over Europe and return to the United States. The pilot, then-Lt. Robert Morgan, named the aircraft after his wartime girlfriend, Margaret Polk, of Memphis, Tenn. Lt. Morgan chose the artwork from a 1941 George Petty illustration in Esquire magazine. 

Flying in the 324th Bomb Squadron of the 91st Bomb Group (Heavy), the Memphis Belle and its crew of 10 flew their first combat mission on Nov. 7, 1942. Until the arrival of long-range fighters later in the war, USAAF heavy bombers often flew without escort for part of their missions. Faced with hordes of enemy aircraft, deadly antiaircraft fire and the lack of friendly fighters in the target area, it was highly unlikely that a bomber crew would finish their required 25 missions.

The crew of the Memphis Belle beat the odds with their 25th combat mission on May 17, 1943, against the naval yard at Lorient, France. Interestingly, this raid was the Belle’s 24th combat mission–the original crew occasionally flew missions on other 91st BG (H) B-17s (and others took the Belle on some missions also). So, on May 19, the Memphis Belle flew its 25th combat mission on a strike against Kiel, Germany, while manned by a different crew.

Upon their return to the United States in June 1943, the Memphis Belle’screw flew the aircraft across the country on a three-month war bond and morale boosting tour. With the bond tour and the 1944 William Wyler documentary film titled The Memphis Belle — depicting actual combat footage — the aircraft and its crew became widely known and celebrated. In 1990 a major motion picture of the same name added to their fame. 

For many, the story of the Memphis Belle has become a timeless symbol of all the heroic USAAF bomber crews who flew against Nazi Germany in World War II. In need of a thorough restoration, the Memphis Belle arrived at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in October 2005. A careful, multi-year conservation and restoration effort by museum staff — including corrosion treatment, the full outfitting of missing equipment and accurate markings — will bring the Memphis Belle back to pristine condition. 

As many of you know, I contracted a huge love of history when I was young, and one of my first loves in history was the 8th AAF, and I learned much about many things from reading about them, not least a huge appreciation of the steadfast British people, and that is why it hurts nearly as badly when they doing silly freedom eroding things as when we do them ourselves.

In 1944 the War Department made a documentary about the Memphis Belle, upon which the 1990 movie was based (the movie was pretty good, by the way) but the documentary tells the story quite well as well. Here it is.

Many of our countrymen who flew those missions are still in England, at the Cambridge American Military Cemetery, in the heart of where our bases were, as we go through May and prepare for Memorial Day, I think it incumbent upon us to remember that our people willingly laid down their lives for our freedom, yes. But also for others freedom as well, to use as they wish.

maddingley

 

And it never has

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