From Headquarters

by Lieut Col Harold E Hartney (AF Res)

From a disunited half-hearted hodge-podge of factions, the warplanes of the Nipponese have overnight brought a metamorphosis that will go down in history as one of the great moments in civilization's progress.

How different life in Washington is today from what it was just before bombs fell on Pearl Harbor.

No more strikes. Only one or two silly political chatterers camouflaging their drivel under the sugar-coating pretext of patriotism. No more rackets. No more boondoggling. Intrigue and vanity "out the window." In a matter of hours, the long-looked-for jolt has come like a bolt from the blue. The country is united. The Quislings have slunk away. We are united and facing cold hard facts and the greatest of these is the power of the Air.

There is no time here for saying "I told you so." It is beside the point to upbraid ourselves for not having had more courage in our convictions. We do not have time to give thanks that no longer will we be called insincere and crazy flyers and job-seekers when we venture our opinion.

Our backs here in Washington are "against the wall" and now the good in those at Headquarters and those in the field will at last come out.

But it makes no difference now. The democracies are lined up squarely against the totalitarians. One or the other will win. If it be the former, there will be hope and in due course prosperity and happiness. If the latter, from Fort Knox to the Potsdam will go our gold and even our dollar will be worthless, freedom and liberty will vanish from the world; instead of three-car families it will be one car for every third. Aviation in the hands of international tyrants will hold in check the forces of corruption, greed and selfishness over the whole globe, but according to the standards of a tyrant.

Shakespeare said that man could ever "Smile and smile and be a villain!" He was right.

Even as the smiling, cringing Nippons were talking peace with our own sincere statesmen, their bomb- and torpedo-loaded air carriers were closing in on Pearl Harbor, their subs and cruisers steaming to our keys to the Pacific.

As one looks back at the events of the last few weeks there are many interesting sidelights.

Consider the radio forums wherein was debated the power of the air. Where are those statesmen and defense experts now who ridiculed the power of the air or the victories of the RAF? Since writing last for this column many interesting airmen have been in Washington. Recently came a flyer known from coast-to-coast, to join the Army Air Forces. He brought his trophy room fixtures with him. Therein was an autographed photograph of one of our best known stunt flyers who had become the idol of our people. In the box of trinkets was a German Iron Cross given him personally by Udet. Said the flyer's wife to him, "I won't let you hang that picture and I'm going to throw that German medal in the Potomac." They compromised, hung the famous flyer's picture upside down and pinned the iron cross above it.

Another interesting flyer of world war days, shortly before Japan jumped us, came down here to debate as the colleague of another famous flyer the subject, "shall we break off diplomatic relations with the Vichy government?"

Bearded to cover a world war wound, he was very picturesque. He and his partner were up against one of our most eloquent statesmen and his colleague, a leading newspaper columnist. To say that they made monkeys out of their opponents would be putting it mildly. It made one feel that, after all, flyers could talk as well as fly. They put up so good a case for poor France that they were invited over to its Embassy where they were actually embraced, kissed on both cheeks and treated to the last two quarts of "Moet et Chandon" in the cellar.

The war is not very old yet but already Frank Luke's record is broken — at least in theory. Sam Moore, now a Major in the Air Corps, of "Happy Haven" fame to you QBs, Early Birdmen and Aviation Legionnaires who read this column, came in and reported that his son joined up recently and, in maneuvers, with three wooden guns, his battery shot down 32 airplanes in one day — got Luke beaten a mile.

Major John Huffer reporting here in Washington for his appointment in the Specialists Reserve Air Corps this month, told some most interesting stories of his experiences in France before and during the recent capitulation. Huffer commanded Rickenbacker's 94th Aero Squadron before "Rick," having served in the last war with the French before joining up with us.

Anxious to renew his commission in the French Aviation Service just after Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, he was not permitted to see even his old buddies, now Colonels and Generals. He purchased a French officer's uniform, hailed a staff car and proceeded to his old commanding officer's headquarters several miles outside Paris. Saluting and in his best diction he greeted him saying "reporting for duty, sir."

Being congratulated on his joining up so promptly, Huffer hurried to explain, "As a matter of fact, that's what I am here to discuss with you." He was back in service again within 30 days or he would probably have been court-martialed.

Huffer's family is still over there now. He will bring them back as soon as he can. He worries now, not so much of the present shortage of fuel and food, but the aftermath when victory is ours and France is freed again from the heel of the Hun.

John Sherman Donaldson, pilot in the 185th Night Pursuit Squadron of First Pursuit Group AEF who distinguished himself there not only for piloting in that so-called "suicide" outfit, but also by inventing a practical device for releasing instantly in the air a machine gun jam, came to Washington the very day the war broke. In his car rested another invention which is secret and of great importance. On coming out from paying his respects to Senator James M Mead, his car was gone, invention and all. Within four hours the police and FBI had the car back again, its contents thoroughly mussed up but nothing actually stolen.

Jack Cameron, sponsor of Major Savage's skywriting, like all friends of that business, will get a kick when he learns that British pilots on several occasion have come over Paris and, unmolested by either antiaircraft fire or Nazi planes have written in the sky bang over the Hotel Crillon a huge "V" with three dots and a dash.

From far off Libya comes the report that our best interceptors are excellent "middle altitude" fighters. Why not make them excellent high altitude fighters and then, if we want middle altitude jobs, cut down on the "revs" or compression and let it go at that?

What will happen to the civil flyer now? many are asking. Despite all the palaver on that it appears that there will not be much change. It seems unlikely that the airlines will be taken over by the Government, and very soon now the Air Patrol will be transferred to the Army.

Capt Wright Vermilya, Jr ("Ike"' to many of our readers,) has been in town from Florida "off and on" during the autumn. The State Air Force which he was instrumental in bringing into being down there is working nicely. The order of Administrator D H Connolly, of the Civil Aeronautics Administration, effective December 8 revoking private pilot certificates had been anticipated and "Ike's" volunteer unit will undoubtedly continue to "show the way" in pilot private activity in Civil Defense.

As for Civil Air Defense, a leaf must be taken from the books of experience in other countries facing the problem of defending the civil population and property against the novel third arm of modern warfare.

The idea of 100 per cent volunteers does not work. Not because "we humans put the dollar above patriotism" but because at least 50 per cent must be on a payroll or the organization will not work smoothly for long. It will be panicky and undependable when most needed. In at least one of the vanquished European countries volunteer wardens "just weren't there" when the pinch came. In England it was found that at least 50 per cent had to receive a "quid a week" or there was no organization, except in drill on the parade ground — when the bombs started screeching down.

More planes and still more planes is the cry down here now. Pretty soon we will wake up to find that in military aircraft it is the best compromise between production and performance features that spells a good airplane, not racing qualifications or one-sortie-per-week planes. Personally, your correspondent has always felt that he would rather have a common jitney than Sir Malcolm Campbell's wonderful racing freak, and most people he has met feel that way too.

Of all the amusing, if it were not so pathetic, bursts of patriotism to emanate from the loudspeaker shortly after the Congress decided that it would fight back at Japan was that of the loud-mouthed orator who said "we will spend 125 billion dollars if necessary to win this war." No world war was ever won by gold, and never will be; it will take the "blood, sweat and tears" of our citizens on the sidelines helping out those in the thick of it who hold the joystick, drop the bombs, man the tanks and wield the shiny bayonet.

It is WAR, WAR. Worse than famine and pestilence — War, and in modern warfare the airplane is tops.

This column was originally published in the February, 1942, issue of Flying and Popular Aviation magazine, vol 30, no 2, pp 73, 114, 118.
The original column was illustrated with a thumbnail portrait of the author.
The photo is not credited.