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Mission to Hell
By John C. Mouat
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 John C. Mouat
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCONDENSED SUMMARY OF LUCKY ACE
MISSION TO HELL is a follow-on sequel to LUCKY ACE which was a story of the Air War in Korea from 1950-1953. This book has as its theme the Air War in Vietnam. While the Vietnam War did not officially end until 1975, as a practical matter, it ended in 1972 when President Nixon began the precipitous withdrawal of American forces from the combat zone. The military forces of South Vietnam continued fighting until 1975 but their eventual defeat by North Vietnam was never in doubt, in the viewpoint of most accredited military analysts, from 1972 on.
The principal characters in the two books are the same. They are just thirteen years older in 1966 than they were when the Korean War ended in 1953.
The story in both books is narrated by Johnny Morrow, a 4-engine B-17 Flying Fortress pilot in World War II. He gets married in England in 1944 to Iris Wiggins who returns with him to the United States when the war ends. However, her life as the wife of an impoverished college student living in a one-bedroom apartment in Arlington, Virginia while her civilian husband is attending college on the G. I Bill is a far cry from the life she had envisioned while living with her highly-decorated 8th Air Force combat pilot husband in England during the war. So, after just a year in America with a poor, struggling-to-make-ends-meet college student, Iris abandons Johnny and returns to England to live with Mummy and Daddy.
One source of income Johnny has been receiving following his return to civilian life is approximately $150 a month for signing up as an Air Force Reserve pilot and performing monthly flight training from Andrews Air Force Base at nearby Camp Springs, Maryland. However, before returning to England, Iris demands that Johnny send her $75 of this amount for her "Separate Maintenance."
"The Good Lord knows that I deserve it after living with you in this dreary dump of an apartment and having nothing to do for the past year," she tells him.
Johnny had attended college for one year before enlisting as an Aviation Cadet shortly after WWII began following Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. And on Tuesday, June 20, 1950 he has graduated with a Masters Degree in Industrial Engineering at George Washington University in Washington, D. C. The next day, Wednesday, he is summoned to Andrews Air Force Base to fly a three-day mission to transport a plane load of Congressmen to Nellis Air Force base near Las Vegas, Nevada who had been invited to attend an air power demonstration there and who probably also intended to take in a show or two on the Las Vegas strip.
Johnny returns to Andrews Air Force Base with his load of congressmen and has just built himself a Dewars scotch and soda in his "Dreary Dump of an Apartment" in Virginia and has settled down with his drink in a recliner. He turns the radio on to a station playing popular dance music and, after taking a healthy sip of scotch, declares to himself:
"Johnny, you have survived three years as a combat bomber pilot in World War II, struggled for four more years to get a Bachelors and Masters Degree, and soon, with your credentials, you will be getting a job with a big corporation and earning good pay.
"No more struggling for you, Johnny, 'Just Let the Good Times Roll!'"
Suddenly the radio music is interrupted by a terse announcement:
"We have just learned that tank and infantry columns from North Korea have invaded their neighbor to the south, the Republic of South Korea. Fierce fighting is in progress at this moment. The President of the United States is meeting with his top military and civilian advisers and we expect to learn momentarily whether American Forces will be committed to the aid of our South Korean ally. Stay tuned to this station for further developments."
"Oh shit!" Johnny thinks to himself, "I hope I don't get dragged into this mess! Not just now when 'La Dolce Vita' is about to begin!"
On Sunday morning, June 25, 1950, President Harry Truman gets a phone call from General of the Army (five-star), Douglas MacArthur, Commander of Allied Forces in the Far East, with headquarters in the Dai Ichi Building in Tokyo, Japan.
"They struck like a cobra," MacArthur tells the President. "At four A.M. this morning, seven divisions of North Korean troops, spearheaded by 150 Russian-built T-34 tanks, launched a devastating attack across the 38th Parallel against unsuspecting South Korean forces on the other side. The surprise was complete. Although surviving South Korean soldiers defending positions south of the Parallel tried heroically to stem the onslaught, their rifles were no match for the tank cannons, artillery and machine guns of the onrushing enemy. North Korean forces have overwhelmed the defenders to the south and are advancing rapidly toward the South Korean capitol city of Seoul, fifty miles away."
President Truman is advised by his Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense and other White House advisers of the difficulties the United States would face if it tries to come to the aid of South Korea. As one of them declares, "It's the wrong war at the wrong place and at the wrong time."
President Truman may not have been one of the most brilliant of presidents, but he certainly was one of the most courageous. After he had thought out the dire consequences to the United States and the Free World of failure to respond to the unprovoked attack, he asks an aide to place a call to General MacArthur.
"Douglas," he says when the connection has been made, "we kicked the Kaiser out of France in 1918 (Truman was an artilleryman in France during World War I); we kicked Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito out of free countries all over the world in 1945; now I want you to kick those North Korean bastards back across the 38th Parallel from where they came!"
"Oh damn!" I think, after listening to the news that North Korea has attacked its neighbor to the south. "I hope I don't get dragged into this mess just when the Good Life is about to unfold."
My worst fears are realized when I receive a telephone call from the Pentagon on Tuesday morning, June 27, 1950
"Captain Morrow?" inquires the voice at the other end.
"Yes," I reply warily, because nobody ever called me 'Captain' except on military business.
"This is Major Burns in the Military Personnel Office in the Pentagon. Will you come over to my office this afternoon and pick up some orders we are cutting for you?"
"Orders?" I inquire blankly, "what orders?"
"Orders sending you to Korea. You'll be leaving for San Francisco on Friday morning. That will give you the next two days to get your affairs in order before you go."
"Why am I going to Korea?" I ask. "Why is the Air Force sending me to Korea?"
"In case you haven't heard, Captain, President Truman has decided that the United States will help South Korea repel an invasion from the north. You'll be going over as an F-51 Mustang pilot. You'll be assigned an aircraft when you reach Japan. Your orders will tell you how to get from here to there. I'll see you this afternoon!"
"Major," I shout into the phone, "I don't know beans about flying combat in the Mustang. I only flew them from an assembly depot in North Ireland to military air bases in England when I was in the Ferry Command. I'm a multi-engine bomber pilot, not a fighter pilot!"
"Captain Morrow, all I know is that your name came up when we searched our personnel codes for MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) 1051 - North American F-51 pilot.
"You're going to be learning how to fly them in combat real fast, Captain! My orders were to dig up a lot of F-51 pilots fast and you're one of them. See you this afternoon!"
Needless to say, on Friday morning, June 30, 1950, Johnny Morrow is on board a commercial airliner leaving Washington National Airport (Now renamed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) and bound for San Francisco, the first leg of his journey to Korea. From there, he is bussed to Fairfield-Suisun Air Force Base (Now called Travis Air Force Base), about sixty miles to the north, where he boards an oil-spattered C-54 contract passenger plane bound for Hickam Field, Honolulu, Hawaii. From Hickam, he is told, the passengers will be flown to Wake Island and then to Haneda Airport, immediately south of Tokyo, Japan.
His seatmate on the San Francisco-Honolulu leg of the journey is First Lieutenant Anthony (Tony) Roberts. Tony has another nickname which he prefers - "Ace." He got that title because he has shot down ten Japanese planes in 1941 while flying as a mercenary pilot for the Flying Tigers, commanded by the legendary General Claire Chennault. Chennault was air adviser to Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek (Or more accurately, to the Generalissimo's wife, Madame Chiang Kai Shek who filled in for her husband on military air matters because he was fighting a ground war in China against Communist forces who were trying to wrest control of that country from Chiang).
On the first leg of the trip to Tokyo, Morrow learns that Ace Roberts was shot down by the Japanese invaders early in World War II and spent three years in enemy labor camps that were using prisoners of war to construct a railroad from Rangoon, Burma to Bangkok, Siam (Thailand). The purpose of this railroad was to transport Japanese troops heading north to conquer India from the British.
Ace's guard in these prison camps is a brutal sergeant named Yoshi Watanabe. For minor infractions, Yoshi's punishment is to chain offenders to a wall while in solitary confinement and then beat them to death with a club he carrys with him at all times. Ace's friend in captivity, a Welshman named Lew Owens, was killed in this fashion because he was helping Ace recover from a life-threatening illness. Ace escapes a similar fate only by promising that he will hook Yoshi up with Ace's ex-wife when the Japanese have won the war.
Ace manages to survive his prisoner-of-war years although he has gone down from 180 pounds to 97 and is a living skeleton when the war ends in 1945. And after a year of rehabilitation in American hospitals, he is back to his normal weight, well-distributed over his six-foot plus frame. After he finally recovers from his near-death condition at the end of the war, he is returned to flying duty with the United States Air Force.
When the Korean War starts, he is flying F-80 fighter jet aircraft (Lockheed Shooting Stars) at March Air Force Base near Los Angeles and has transitioned to them after flying for several years in propeller-driven F-51's. Because of his previous experience in this aircraft, he is caught up in the same net as myself - headed for Korea to fly Mustangs in combat against the North Korean Communists who have invaded their neighbor to the south.
After Ace has related his many near-death experiences while a Japanese prisoner-of-war, he suddenly asks Johnny:
"How much flying experience do you have in the Mustang, Johnny? How many hours total and how much of that is actual combat time?"
"About fifty hours total and none of that combat," I reply. "All my time was spent in ferrying the birds from the repair depot in Ireland to P-51 bases in England." (Author's note: During World War II, fighter plane designations were preceded with the letter "P" meaning "Pursuit," like P-38, P-40, P-47 and P-51. In 1950 the "P" was changed to "F" which stood for "Fighter").
"You mean to tell me that you've never flown the '51 in combat?" he asks incredulously.
"Nary an hour," I reply. "All of my combat flying has been in 4-engine bombers - B-17's and B-29's."
"Good godamighty!" breathes Ace. "You won't stand a chance in Korea!"
"That's what I tried to tell the Pentagon Major who sent me over. 'Put me in bombers,' I said. 'I have thousands of hours in bombers;' but no, he tells me that he has bomber pilots out the gazoo. What we need in Korea is fighter pilots. And this punch card here in front of me says that you're a fighter pilot. So, over you go as a fighter pilot!
"And that's why I'm here with you and the rest of the Mustang jockeys. I'm just going to have to make the best out of a screwy deal and learn how to fly combat in the '51 in whatever way I can."
Ace remains silent for a moment while he digests what I had just told him. Then he says:
"Johnny, you're sure as hell going to get your ass shot off if you don't get a lot of combat-style flying experience in the '51 before you start flying in Korea. And I'm just the guy that can give it to you when we hit Japan. I've got thousands of hours in fighters and I'm going to tell the brass over there that I'm going to teach you how to fly combat in the Mustang before you have to go up against the enemy. Just leave everything to me, Johnny! I'll stick with you and both of us will come back from this cruddy war together and all in one piece!"
I didn't know it at the time, but his words would be prophetic. And I didn't know either that Ace had a lot more in mind than just saving Johnny's fanny when he made his declaration that he was going to make a true fighter pilot out of me before I am sent into combat. He has his own private axe to grind.
But before our tours of combat in Korea were over, both of us would owe our well-being and our lives as well to each other.
When we reach Japan, an Air Force Personnel Officer tells Ace that he is going to ship him over to Korea immediately because he is already combat-ready. And he tells me that they are going to send me to Johnson Air Base just a few miles north of Tokyo, to get additional training in the Mustang before sending me into air combat in Korea.
But Ace intervenes. "I'm not combat ready either," he tells them, "and that's why I got my ass shot down in World War II and became a prisoner of war - because I was not properly trained. I'm staying right here with Captain Morrow and take additional training with him so both of us will be ready to face the enemy in Korea when we are sent over there."
Ace prevails in this confrontation and when it is over, he is not only sent to Johnson Air Base with me for further training, he even manages to talk his way into becoming my instructor pilot. To this day, I don't know how he did it - perhaps it was because the fighter operations people at Johnson were in desperate need of instructor pilots for the F-51 aircraft and Ace had a brilliant record of performance in that aircraft. All I know is that the next morning, he came out of the inner sanctum of pilot training heads with a paper in his hand stating that he had IP (Instructor Pilot) status and that his immediate mission was to train Captain Morrow how become a combat-ready pilot in Mustang aircraft as rapidly as possible.
I wasn't worried about my ability to become a skilled combat-ready pilot in short order provided that I had proper instruction. When I was going through Basic Training in 1941 at Bainbridge, Georgia and flying the all-metal BT-13, affectionately known as the "Vultee Vibrator," I had as my instructor a veteran Royal Air Force Flight Lieutenant (Flight Leff-tenant) named Rodney Swales. He was a survivor of the 1940 Battle of Britain with seven "Jerry" kills to his credit and had been loaned to the United States in 1941 to inject a degree of realism into the training of American Aviation Cadets in order to make them combat-ready fighter pilots. Flight Leff-tenant Swales believed in stark realism when instructing his five students. He taught us to fly in tight formations, how to perform advanced aerial acrobatics and how to "dogfight" potential enemy pilots. He accomplished this last feat by requiring each of his students to fly simulated combat engagements with him. These dogfights forced us to learn how to do Immelmans, Vertical Reverses, Lufberry Circles and steep spiraling climbs and descents designed to gain a firing-position advantage over an adversary.
Swales cut us no slack whatsoever in this mock fighting. Many a time I closed my eyes fearing a mid-air collision with my instructor but he always somehow avoided smashing into my aircraft while he was maneuvering for a position that would allow him to fire imaginary shots into my aircraft from behind.
So thorough was my basic combat-style training in the Vultee Vibrator that I applied for advanced single-engine fighter training as my next assignment when graduating from Basic Training at Bainbridge. To my disappointment, I was sent instead to a multiengine training base at Columbus, Mississippi, which would be my last training assignment before graduating from the final stage of my aviation cadet pilot training and receiving both second lieutenant bars as a commissioned officer as well as official military pilot wings.
My training period with Ace takes three weeks. In that period of time, he has taught me to make formation takeoffs and landings in the F-51, perform virtually every form of aerial acrobatics with skill and engage in air-to-air combat with him until I was able to land on his tail for an advantageous position to shoot him down almost as often as he was able to land on mine. His early-on criticism of my flying reaction time as "slow as old people s-w" soon evaporates and in its place comes praise such as, "I couldn't have done that maneuver any better myself."
Following the flying training phase of my instruction, Ace shows me how to make consistent hits on targets with the F-51's six .50 caliber wing guns, how to drop bombs on target with the two 500-pound bombs on racks beneath the wings and how to score direct hits on moving targets with the two rockets that also hung beneath the wings.
Excerpted from Mission to Hell by John C. Mouat Copyright © 2010 by John C. Mouat. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Contents1 CONDENSED SUMMARY OF LUCKY ACE....................1
2 CALL TO DUTY ONCE AGAIN....................45
3 ROLLING THUNDER AND THE SPARROW....................71
4 INVITATION TO THE WHITE HOUSE....................145
5 ROLLING THUNDER CONTINUED....................198
6 DESCENT INTO HELL....................249
7 HENRI NAVARRE'S FLIGHT FROM HELL....................301
8 SHOOTOUT AT FORTRESS LEO....................342
9 TAIWAN SANCTUARY & THE MCNAMARA LINE....................392
10 TERESA'S STORY....................464
11 JOURNEY HOME....................486
ADDENDUM TO "MISSION TO HELL"....................537