11-29-18 Tri-City Area History Page

The Paw Paw River Journal

Radio operators There aren’t so many of us left now from World War II. Just recently friend Bob Harrison from Lake Michigan College sent me a newspaper story about the loss of a radio operator from the China Burma India Theater. He had done his missions over the Hump, come home, reared his family, and lived a full life. I never met him, but I knew where he was stationed. Every flight we carried two pilots and a radio operator. They were usually young and probably more terrified about flying over those mountains than we were. Our only contact with them was when we were on a flight. The story Bob sent brought those times back to me… particularly one trip and the radio operator they scheduled to go with us. Whenever I flew somewhere with the Colonel, I was just along for the ride. Ditto when I went up with Capt. Moss and some of the other headquarters pilots. And I really wanted to get checked out in a C-47. Must be I had been complaining bitterly about it, because one day Honus Wagner came into the tent and said, “Get your gear. You and I are going to make a run to Calcutta. And this time… YOU are going to do it!” I was overjoyed. We filed a flight plan, gathered up our radio operator (just a kid), and rode the jeep out to the C-47. There was our old war-weary, Niner-four-niner-eight. When I climbed into the pilot’s seat… the kid looked a little distressed. What! This guy going to fly us down to Calcutta? Why… he isn’t any older than I am! Honus was a great instructor. He taught me more in those next few hours; than I had learned all the time I had been overseas. And this in spite of the fact that when the radio operator was not using his set, he stood back between us… I could feel him wringing his hands. It was glorious. I went through the outside visual check, removing the cover from the pitot tube and checking that the control surfaces were free. We filled our Zippo lighters when we opened the petcocks on the wing tanks to drain out any condensed moisture. Then inside, I went through the preflight check… Honus was watching me every step. Fired up the engines and got tower permission to taxi… down to the end of our long blacktop runway, checked the magnetos, got tower permission for takeoff… and I said, “Half flaps and full throttle,” which Honus did… and then we felt for the sky. It was most joyful! So, on that day I learned to fly the C-47, we headed for Calcutta. We even had to make a couple of stops along the way, and I practiced landings. Honus grinned at me, because both times I just painted that ship onto the runway. You know you’ve done it right when your tires contact the blacktop with a long squeal, and there is no jolt… just a settling down gently. Our radio operator stood between the pilots’ seats… probably would have liked to do some back seat driving, but he had far less experience than I. We set our course southwest and headed for the gray smudge of smoke on the horizon that was Calcutta, listening to Big Band music on Armed Forces Radio. That huge city, even on a bright, clear day, remained covered by smoke from a million small cooking fires. The fuel? Cow dung patties, dried like pancakes and then burned. Even today if I were set down blindfolded there, I would take a breath of that acrid, pungent smell and say, “Calcutta!” Something else happened with our radio operator also. When we got ready to take off for home, the young man approached me, sort of scuffing his toe, and said, “Ahhhh, Lieutenant Davis, when we came in for a landing, I forgot to reel in the trailing wire antenna.” While in flight our radio people had a wire antenna with a weight on the end that they could reel out and it would trail along, giving them good reception… in fact, with their big rigs back in the radio compartment, they could talk and use Morse code clear around the world. When on a Hump trip, they were constantly giving position reports back to our base. I said to our operator… “What happened to the antenna then?” He said, “Well, when we came in over the fence, it got ripped off.” He probably told me about it, because he thought I would not be as formidable as Honus. Now I was getting a little alarmed, and he hastened to add, “So I just stayed with the ship here and told Maintenance that we had lost it, and you wanted another one installed… and they did it.” Well, I let that go, thinking I’d give the kid a good mark for ingenuity! And now he had no right to wring his hands while I was in command! He had screwed up! The rest of the trip was uneventful and I was adding to my flight experience. I don’t remember running into that young man again, but we were getting to be a bigger base. So… the sands of time have been sifting through the hourglass of life ever since then. And here we are still weaving 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, December 13 at 5:30 p.m. The title to read before the discussion is “The Autobiography of Santa Claus” by Jeff Guinn. Generally, depending on demand there are titles available for check-out at the front desk. The book club regularly meets every other Thursday and is always looking for new members. Story Hour Story Hour meets on Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. Story Hour is for older toddlers and preschool children. Join Miss Amy for a story, simple craft and song-time. Story Hour is a free program, sign-up is not required. Call 468-3431 for questions on any Coloma Library activity.