Do you know this man? Have you seen this image of a man wearing a bowler hat with a blanket over his shoulder? If so, please contact North Berrien Historical Museum at 269-468-3330, firstname.lastname@example.org, or stop by Tues.-Friday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. they would love to hear your stories.
The Paw Paw River Journal
The Widow Maker
Many of the airplanes we used in World War II were nicknamed by the guys who flew them. One such was the Martin Marauder, a twin engine light bomber. At first our pilots were intimidated by them. They were fast, sleek, and had a narrow wing that necessitated higher take off and landing speeds. Otherwise they would stall out, and that meant curtains! So many crashed, the pilots began to call it “The Widow Maker!” Those who were training on it felt the blistering speed at which you had to land and take off was just dangerous… after all most of us who were taught to fly in the service were told that the ideal, the slow landing, was three points – landing gear and tail wheel. That meant, ideally, you would stall out just as you came in contact with the ground… perfect. Not so with the B26! When you took off, you held it down on the ground until you got things flashing by like gangbusters! When landing, you had to fly it onto the runway at that higher-speed, lest you stall out too soon! McDill Air Force Base in Florida was one place they trained pilots on that ship. And they had casualties. The pilots had a saying, “One a day in Tampa Bay!” Then someone had a hot flash! They trained a bunch of women pilots on them and then got them to deliver new planes to Tampa. The day they arrived, the pilots buzzed the field one by one and pulled up into a beautiful chandelle. Coming around they landed one by one, not a casualty among the whole bunch! And when they got out of their airplanes… they were women!!! And from being “The Widow Maker,” that airplane came to have one of the best safety records in the Air Force! Two of my friends flew in them during the war. One was Paul Richter, local insurance man. He was a navigator and led many bombing raids over Europe in B26s. Another was Ray Dlouhy. His dad built Crystal Palace, and their family ran the place for many years. They sold it just before it was destroyed by fire. I’ve written about Crystal elsewhere, and probably will do so again in the future. Ray married a Hartford girl, Dorothy Warren; and they lived in a beautiful home on Paw Paw Lake for many years. We used to visit Ray after he was alone, and lonely. He had a beautiful collection of big band music and memorabilia. We sometimes took him out to lunch and often swapped stories. We had the common bond of both having served in WWII. Marion loved those big band days, and we spent hours with Ray talking about them. Back during the war he was a flight engineer in the Air Force. He was stationed in Scotland on a B26 base. In fact, he was flight engineer for the commanding officer’s airplane. He had to make sure the ship was always in tip top shape and ready to go. He also went on trips with the CO, and they became friends. And it was one such trip that Ray told me about. The CO (Commanding Officer) had to travel to an Air Force base in France. The war was winding down, and we were in control of much of Europe again. They took off on a sunny day, Ray, his boss, and another pilot. The engines on that ship had never sounded sweeter… tuned to perfection by Ray and his crew of mechanics. They conducted the CO’s business at the base in France and were ready to start back. Here was a G.I, an Air Force kitchen worker, who had been on leave and was hoping to hitch a ride back to England. Ray’s boss said they could give him a ride to Scotland and he could easily catch a shuttle from there to his base in England. As they took off, Ray was thinking, oh boy… 4 people on board, and we only have 3 parachutes! Oh well, we’re not expecting any trouble anyway. Little did they realize… Over the English Channel all of a sudden with a loud Bang! the left engine blew up! It popped one of the cylinders right off and ground to a halt. Of course, the Col. pulled the fire extinguisher, cut off the fuel to the engine, and rigged for single engine running. Not much else to do except radio out a Mayday! And ask for landing instructions at the nearest British coastal airfield. And Ray’s worst fears were realized… 4 crew members and 3 parachutes! Well, they found the field and came in hot, hot, hot! Hydraulics knocked out, and one pull of the emergency brake would set it. When they touched down, the Col. did it, the brakes locked, and one of the tires burst into flames. They skidded along the runway amidst a shower of sparks and flames. The ambulance and fire department hurrying to catch up with them. Ray said when the crew crawled out of the smoking ship, a Women’s Air Force member watching them said in a loud voice, “Isn’t that just like those Yanks? Always have to do it different!” But they were all home safe, and lived to fly another day as we saved the world. Yes, I believe we did… and we were weaving golden threads into the Great Tapestry of Life in these storybook towns along the Paw Paw River.
Watervliet District Library News Story Hour
Story Hour for ages 3 – 5 is on Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. and Thursdays at 1:30 p