But that was no ordinary ship... It was a merchant ship (no military), filled with..... Mustard gas*) and fighter pilots! Normally, militarily strategic ships would only dare cross the Pacific in convoy, with heavy Naval protection. This ship got none of that. The mustard gas was too dangerous to have in a convoy!! It set out on a solo trip... They figured, one merchant ship, all by itself, looked pretty harmless and they hoped they wouldn’t attract any attention from Japanese or German subs or warships.... And it worked!! (I’m here to tell the story). Must have been scary as hell though...!
*) During my military training (from 1966 to 1968, I was a Lieutenant, in command of a Platoon of five tanks) I saw instruction films of what mustard gas can do to you or, rather, an enemy. People die like bugs sprayed with “RAID”: twisting, twitching and turning, slowly going crazy, yet - at first - still with full consciousness of what was happening...
Crash landing in
Dad was at Air Force basis in Sydney, Brisbane, and
Well, by the time Dad had done all that, he put on his goggles, stuck his head outside, looked out front and, at some 200 MPH, what little runway he had left was a mere few yards and then.... the deep blue sea!
By this time, fast as he was still going, he didn’t have enough speed anymore to pull up and there was no stopping it either!! In a split second he had to choose: the sea, or a hard left, straight into a sand bank. He chose the latter and, to brace for the impact, he put his left hand against the frame of the little windshield in front of him. That saved his face from slamming into the instrument panel, but the impact was so hard that the dome of his cockpit, which he had slid back to open, slammed shut, forward, with FULL force against the frame of the windshield in front of him... with his hand in between, like scissors!! The plane was destroyed, and so was his hand! It was cut off, through the bones in the middle of his hand. The only things that kept the mess a bit together were the tendons that led to his fingers....
Now, the biggest danger in an aircraft crash is always: FIRE! So, it is drilled into fighter pilots during years and years of training to, whatever condition you’re in, GET the hell OUT of there!!!!
That’s what he did, with half his left hand dangling loosely, bleeding like a pig...!
With his right hand he grasped the mess together and he started running. And he never stopped running until he reached the Base’s hospital where he pleaded to the surgeon: “Sir, can you sew this together again?” That Australian surgeon did and, in doing so, he did the impossible: he saved Dad’s hand!
Not only that it stayed on, Dad could even use his hand.... a little bit. He could close his hand about half way, and he could open it about ¾... Not much, but he could use his left hand during the rest of his life! And he could still fly!
Throughout his life, the number "23" was his lucky number.
Even here, in the jungle of New Guinea, he painted "Crazy number 23!" on his plane
To go to the next chapter, please go to the top of this page, in the left hand column and click on: "MIA; Jungle rescue"