01-25-2018 Tri-City Area History

Donkey at Deer Forest (year unknown) North Berrien Historical Museum is always interested in photos, stories or information sharing. The museum can be contacted at 269-468-3330 or by email to info@northberrienhistory.org.

The most dangerous airplane


Just recently friend Tony Meloche sent a story to me by email. Guess it has become quite a tradition up in Canada… a story about an RAF pilot in 1957 who is flying his jet fighter back to England from his base in Europe for the Christmas holidays. He gets lost over the North Sea, and is rescued in a most unusual way. I won’t tell you the plot, but guarantee that it has the feeling of reality… titled The Shepherd, and written by Frederick Forsythe. That story put me right back in the days of WWII, and thinking of a story told to me by a friend Ray Dlouhy. His family built and then operated Crystal Palace for many years. They finally sold it in the early 1960s, and while it was being renovated caught fire and was completely destroyed. Ray and wife Dorothy (Warren) lived in the home they built right across from that fabled dance hall. Dorothy was a Hartford girl. They are both gone now (God rest their souls); but during the last years of his life, Marion and I used to visit Ray and talk about Big Band days, while his stereo played music from that era. One day he told us the following story from WWII, and I thought of it when I read the Tony Meloche’s story. Ray was a sergeant in the Air Force and stationed in Scotland. They had a squadron of medium range B-26 Bombers. And this was considered to be the most dangerous airplane in the Air Force. It was what pilots call a “greasy” airplane. Smooth, fast, and unforgiving. It cruised at almost 300 mph, and had to be kept at 150 mph when coming in for a landing. It would stall out at 100 mph with flaps and landing gear down. Training accidents were numerous, and the B-26 Marauder soon got the reputation of being a “widow-maker.” It was called by numerous names, including “the flying prostitute,” because it was fast and had no visible means of support. This was a reference to its skinny wing. That made it fast and prone to stalls if the pilot did not keep the airspeed on 150 after lift-off or on approach, which scared students used to much slower speeds. McDill Air Base in Florida trained pilots on the airplane, and they had so many accidents the first year they had a saying: “One a day in Tampa Bay!” Then someone had an idea… McDill needed more airplanes, so they had a squadron flown in from the factory by WASP pilots… women fliers who volunteered to deliver airplanes for the Air Force. Everyone was outside to see the new B-26s come in. They flew over the field, pulled up in a graceful chandelle, dropped their landing gear and completed the tight circle with a short field landing. And when they got out of the airplanes, THEY WERE ALL WOMEN! That would show those timid student pilots! And they did learn to fly the Marauder. It became one of the safest ships in the Air Force, had a great safety record, and delivered a lot of bombs to enemy targets. So Ray Dlouhy was crew chief for the commanding officer’s B-26 on a base in Scotland. Captain Shirley liked Ray, and they became good friends. Whenever the captain had to go somewhere, Ray went too. And it was on one of their trips that Ray had a bizarre adventure. The war was winding down, and Captain Shirley had to go to a meeting in France, which had now been freed from the Germans. When they were ready to fly home, the captain noticed a GI hanging around, waiting to find a ride back to England. He said, “Well, son, we can get you to Scotland, and from our base you can hitch a ride back to duty.” So they boarded the ship and headed for home. It was then Ray thought of something. On the captain’s ship a crew of three… now one more passenger, but they had only three parachutes!!!!! Oh well, too late to think about that. The crew settled in at cruising altitude, and all relaxed… except Ray! All of a sudden, over the English Channel one engine exploded! It threw a cylinder right out of the nacelle. Capt. Shirley immediately trimmed the ship for single engine. He closed the cowl flaps and pulled the fire extinguisher to prevent a fire. No more relaxing! He then called a “Mayday” for the nearest English Air Base and turned on a heading to get there fast! With permission for a straight-in approach, Capt. Shirley got the landing gear down, but the hydraulic system was damaged and the brakes would not work. He could pull the emergency brake, but it would lock “ON,” so he would have to wait until the last moment. They came in over the fence “hot” so the plane would not stall out, and flashed past the operations office. Then Capt. Shirley pulled the emergency brake. With tires shrieking, they slowed. Sparks flying, then one landing gear couldn’t take any more strain and twisted around. They stopped in a cloud of smoke and flames, while the fire truck and meat wagon pulled up and doused the fire. Quite a crowd had gathered, and Ray said as they crawled out, he heard one Women’s Air Force say, “You Yanks! You always have to do it different, don’t you!” Well, Capt Shirley caught a ride back to their base, leaving Ray to supervise repairs when the parts came in. He said he got to know the crew in engineering, and while he was there they went to a different pub every night! I don’t know what happened to the hitch-hiking passenger, but I’ll bet he found some place to change his pants! So that’s my story on the most dangerous airplane… and I still miss Ray, as I sit here writing this at my desk, weaving more golden threads into the tapestry of our lives in these storybook towns along the Paw Paw River.

Coloma Library News Read with Spirit

Spirit, a certified therapy dog will be at the library on Tuesday evenings from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. Children may sign up for a 15-minute slot by stopping in at the front desk or calling the library at 468-3431. Reading to therapy dogs is a fun way for children to build reading confidence and fluency. Book Club The Coloma Library Book Club is meeting on Thursday, February 8 at 5:30 p.m. The title to read before the discussion is “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly. Gener