From Headquarters

by Lieut Col Harold E Hartney (AF Res)

We may be slow getting started but woe betide the international gangsters when this country gets into its stride. Definitely things are much brighter here in Washington. Two epochal events contributed to our united determination. The first was Pearl Harbor. This column, last October, predicted a jolt; something which would stir us from peacetime to wartime processes and predicted also that it would not come from Hitler.

The second great event was the arrival of Gen Douglas MacArthur in Australia. One can hardly appreciate what an effect that had in Washington. Everyone seemed endowed with a new lease on life. Smiles supplanted wrinkled foreheads and our pace accelerated. Chins were held high and the curve of morale soared straight up.

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The Army Day military show at National Airport, sponsored by the Ferry Command, was a fine job. Something of this nature should be exhibited throughout the country. On Sunday, April 5, over 15,000 persons visited the big airport to view the planes on display. About one person in 100 had ever seen a big Liberator, for example, or the P-38s, A-20As, B-26s and others which were lined up in front of the terminal building. Of course no one was allowed to inspect them closely, but the public really doesn't expect that; all they want is to see something besides newsreels and photographs! And they got a thrill when the ships took off. It was "ohs" and "ahs," with a great feeling of pride apparent on all sides. The Army Air Forces band helped to put the show over in a big way. Let's have more of this … the folks who are behind the lines, and are paying and working without a whimper, are entitled to be "let in" on something once in a while. It gives them that personal touch so necessary for complete zeal and morale. The Ferry Command is to be commended for breaking the ice.

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While at the airport we reflected upon the fine job commercial airlines are doing these days. Ships came in and ships went out in orderly and routine manner. No fuss, no feathers; just doing their job in a most efficient manner. The airline boys deserve a lot of credit because of the extra pressure they're working under these days. More power to 'em. "They also serve!"

* * *

Military censorship leads to funny situations at times. When off duty, pilots like to congregate and talk shop but find themselves at odds most of the time with restrictions. Hence listening to their conversation gives one a good example of double talk. No outsider can come even close in unraveling their conversation. Civilians are also apt to be a little on edge in being careful not to talk about anything that might lead one to believe he was trying to guide him into loosening up. If this sounds highly complicated, then try to talk to one of 'em.

* * *

Swagger sticks are beginning to blossom out here sort of like the first tulips coming up, and all that. Some officers usually sport the sticks on Sundays only, or for formal occasions. We expect to see their general use spread rapidly, as it did during the last war. Of course all English officers use them, and those attached here carry them at all times. A swagger stick is a good thing for that jaunty feeling and reflects good morale.

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If you come to Washington to see somebody, you are as apt as not to have the experience we go through most every day. Just as you get your party located in one of the big buildings, and get in the habit of going there, somebody who has charge of such things figures out that the office would be better somewhere else. Then you've got to start in and find your party all over again. If you think this is tough, it's not half as tough as it is on those who have to use the desks. We know of one officer who actually had his desk moved from under him; and another who reported in the morning only to be told his office had been moved three blocks away during the night! This transition period is to be expected, but someday everybody will be battened down for the duration.

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At the risk of being charged with pleading a "cause," let it be said for the "old boys" who are going back in service that they are doing a fine job. Those lucky enough to be assigned to active theaters of operations have earned the admiration and almost worshipful following of today's youngsters who are doing the job. Take the AVGs, for example. Brigadier General Chennault has earned his spurs by the masterful job his boys are doing on the China front. His pilots would (and do) follow him through hell, and are running up a record most discouraging to the Japs. We had the same kind of leadership back in World War I. Many of the "old men" of then remain the "old men" of today. A little grayer around the temples, perhaps, but with plenty of "gray matter" within. If you could see the "old boys" who come here and strive to get back into harness, you might wonder about the wisdom of restrictions. Those who again are in uniform and chained to a desk, are privately chafing at the bit for action. And not one would rather be where he is, as against the chance of getting powder in his nostrils. But there may come a time when these men will be given the chance to once more lead a squadron. And when they do, it's our bet they'll give a darn good account of themselves. And the boys whom they'll lead will without a doubt love 'em!

* * *

Checking in at the War Department recently, in the line-up to get my badge, I saw a familiar face. To the man behind me I said, "Isn't that Winant, Ambassador to the Court of St James?" "It sure is," he replied. I checked with someone else and sure enough it was he. I went over and had a chat with him. He recognized your correspondent from AEF air service days and was most affable. I thought to myself, "What a grand guy," democratic, brainy and tactful. Someday he may be President. But here he was, hat in hand, waiting in line with the others when he should have been greeted with an escort and rushed through without the trying formality of registration, so disconcerting to many. He is very retiring. But this is quite in keeping with the big man he is and the grand job he is doing.

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The assignment of Brig Gen "Bob" Olds from guiding the Ferry Command to head swarms of squadrons reflects how quickly things move down here. Starting from scratch last June with but an executive order to "go," Olds built up an empire of transportation that would make James J Hills' railroads look puny. He literally circled the globe. Olds looks at a map of the world about as familiarly as the average man gazes at his state road map.

Winter and summer mean nothing to Ferry pilots. This week they may be working in Alaska, next, in Australia. "From Greenland's icy mountains to India coral strands" takes on new meaning. Col Harold George, taking over the Ferry Command, is not the same officer who flew out of the Phillipines with MacArthur — but he's just like him and started in with a vengeance to build up the fences on Olds' great air transportation system.

* * *

Some fine soldiers are coming back into the service. Service in World War I gains priority, as it should, but there is one noticeable and inexcusable trend here that may lead a few to a Class B board and "out" unless they become more discreet.

One new major had only served three days when he was inquiring of his commanding officer about his promotion. Another made a habit of greeting his chief each morning with: "When do I get my promotion?" This, I know, seems incredible but it is as true as it is dangerous.

A country whose citizens think only of their own personal welfare is on the skids; one whose people think only of the good of the whole is well on the way to higher ground and victory.

* * *

Bumped into Lord Beaverbrook and Viscount Halifax in the Mayflower Hotel the day the former came up from Florida. They were each in a rush, waving goodbye, and looked just as democratic as two butter-and-egg men at an annual convention away from home. They were here in connection with the establishment of the Pacific War Council. Its formation is much more significant than appears on the surface.

"Headquarters" here in Washington sure means "Headquarters" from now on. Few appreciate the country's responsibility to civilization and to the winning of the war.

The job of subduing the Axis is right in our lap. This is a serious business — no room for politics, no place for the advocates of "business as usual" or "after-the-war-is-over" talk.

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If the current statements of strategists and men in semi-official positions here are any indication, history will probably designate the war this spring as "the battle of the American airplane." The battles of the Atlantic, for Russia, India or the Middle East, will be part of the greater battle of the American plane. For, from every front today, wherever there is action or preparation for action, comes the recurrent cry: "American bombers and fighting planes are needed." There can be no doubt now that the proponents of keeping one's air forces supreme in the air have been vindicated. Air power will be the deciding factor between victory and defeat.

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Maj Geoffrey Bonnell, a member of the First Pursuit Group of World War I and one of the first "old-timers" to get back into uniform, has literally "come back from the wars." He is the first American officer of the Ferry Command to return here after an extended tour of duty in "a certain theater of operation." "Jeff," as he is so familiarly known to his many friends, had a little siege at Walter Reed Hospital and subsequently was given a clean bill of health for service anywhere. Awaiting assignment, Jeff meanwhile has had many happy reunions with brother officers. He is an example to inspire esprit de corps in any organization. By the time you read this, Jeff will be somewhere leading his young charges and you can bet your boots he will have the situation well in hand.

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Having read Col Arthur Ennis' article on publicity, I can write a little about Pearl Harbor without fear of violating censorship. The Japs are aware of all I put down so nothing new is being revealed to the enemy. Japan had planned this attack for one year at least. Even their aerial torpedoes were altered so that in a sneak raid where carriers could approach closely, more space could be used for additional explosive. This alteration would have taken at least eight months.

The Nippons knew the exact location of every one of our vessels. The charts found on the pilot who, in desperation, actually landed and crashed on one of our ships, was right up to the minute and even more accurate than our own.

The pilots were dressed in full dress uniform. However, unlike those being shot down by our boys in China they did not carry a sword with them in their planes.

They misjudged the power of the .50-caliber machine guns fired from our boats. Flying low on their first flights over, they were easy prey for our boys. It can be stated truthfully that Billy Mitchell did more to bring into reality the .50-caliber gun than any other one man. Your correspondent picked up an early single-shot anti-tank .50-caliber gun near Verdun after the Armistice and gave it to Mitchell, who swore he would have machine guns of that caliber aboard our planes and on the ground against enemy craft. Thus, Pearl Harbor vindicated Mitchell in more ways than one.

It was reported that 500-pound bombs were the largest dropped. It makes one shudder to imagine what would have happened had the Japs been using the 4,000-pounders now being dropped daily over Germany by the RAF.

Despite the fact that the Jap buzzards were able to fly very low over our vessels and catch them unawares by sneaking in as they did, their "Lewis-copy" machine guns failed to kill a single sailor. Defiantly our men shook their fists back at those trying to machine gun them. From this standpoint this attack was a complete "dud."

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Damage to Japanese planes was greater than generally supposed as many of them were so badly shot up and their gas tanks so badly pierced that they ran out of gas not far from the Harbor and perished at sea unable (for lack of fuel) to reach their carriers on the return trip.

Comparatively speaking and taking into consideration the edge, through treachery, the Japs had on our boys, one can predict safely that they are not as good airmen as was first thought. They rank about equal to the Italians and will keep going for just about as long a period.

Definitely, there were German pilots aboard some of the planes. This is not surprising, for the writer heard an American broadcaster from Tokyo a few nights before December 7, state: "This hotel over here is full of German pilots."

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A group of well known writers came here recently to find out for themselves just what the Army Air Forces are doing and how they could best offer their services. In the group were John P Marquand, Carl Bixby, Russel Crouse, Clifton Fadiman, Rex Stout, Rose Franken and Paul Gallico. They were flown to Langley Field, VA, on an inspection trip, then returned to Washington to meet Lieut Gen H H Arnold and other ranking officers of the Air Forces.

This column was originally published in the June, 1942, issue of Flying and Popular Aviation magazine, vol 30, no 6, pp 48, 88, 90.
The original column was illustrated with a thumbnail portrait of the author.
The photo is not credited.