Pink Lady

by Joseph Morton

The airport dispatcher "somewhere in Africa" had her down as a B-24 bomber but the boys called her the Pink Lady.

I couldn't make sure why they chose such a name, although it might have been because she was painted pink for desert fighting, had a voluptuous red-headed girl in bathing trunks on one side of the fuselage and a brunette in even fewer clothes on the other.

There certainly was nothing else ladylike about her unless ladies, these days, are being turned out with four supercharged motors, wings more than 50 feet long, enough machine guns to slaughter a regiment and bombs so big they could sink a battleship.

She was a gal looking for a fight, on her way to the combat zone, when I stepped up to Lieut Jim Harden of Oklahoma City, the pilot, and told him I was going his way.

"Sure, you can come along," he said. "We're short a crew member, anyway."

As he spoke he kept an anxious eye on eeny, meeny, miny and moe. They were perfectly splendid motors, he said, but eeny and meeny had given him a little trouble the previous day and he wanted to be sure they were feeling well before taking off again.

First eeny, then meeny, then miny and finally moe warmed up for his critical ear until all were synchronized in a roaring crescendo. The lieutenant listened a minute, then made the "okay" sign with his thumb and forefinger.

"Let 'er rip," he shouted.

I climbed up through the belly and on to the flight deck where most of the crew was sitting to concentrate weight in the nose for the takeoff. We waited, poised, while another plane got out of the way, then streaked down the runway and into the air with plenty of room to spare. One sharp bank and we were on our way across Africa.

"I'm going to pull her up to 10,000 and then let George take her over," Lieutenant Harden hollered back. I hadn't met "George" but the other boys took care of the introduction. He was the little black box full of instruments on the dashboard in front of the pilot, they said — also known as the automatic pilot.

"Don't know what we'd do without him," Jim chuckled.

A little later I saw what he meant. The lieutenant had his brief case on his lap and was busy making out his payroll. "George" was flying the plane.

One by one the boys filed up to get paid.

"We do this every Tuesday," Jim said. "Tonight there'll probably be a crap game."

This job over, he handed me a newspaper and dug into a compartment for a mystery novel for himself. The copilot, Lieut Raymond C Walton of Clarksville, AR, watched George awhile to be sure he was on his toes, then dozed off in a catnap. The rest of the crew scattered out through the ship.

After reading awhile and watching the flat, sparsely-forested terrain sail by beneath us, I decided to go for a walk. By threading my way around some guns and along a narrow catwalk I got to the nose of the ship. Lieut Jerry Perlman of Philadelphia, PA, the navigator, was seated at his table checking a map, and Lieut Ed Keller of Taccoa, GA, was tightening a screw on the bombsight.

"This is the best boy in the world for high altitude work," he told me, patting it proudly. "But when we go in low she isn't needed. Got two subs awhile back and didn't even use her. Hell, we were so low everybody down here got wet."

At this stage of our 180-mph battle with distance, Sgt Anthony Sarine of Altoona, PA, poked his nose in.

"Luncheon is served," he said solemnly.

Back on the flight deck I got a cup of orange juice and a mess kit filled with hot meat, beans, cheese, bread and fudge.

After lunch, I went aft for a nap and found Sgt Henry B English of Oglethorpe, GA, and Pvt Mohlen C Bricker of Lebanon, PA, stretched out by their radio. They tuned it down, swung a machine gun forward, pushed a motorcycle out of the way and spread out a blanket and pillow. English apologized:

"Were a bit crowded right now. Lieutenant Harden picked up the cycle in case we were forced down in the desert. Besides it we've got tents, food and water for two weeks, three cases of cigarettes, about 20 personal weapons, and countless extra parts and tools back here."

I awakened to find that a storm was brewing. Outside it was nearly dark. I hurried back to the flight deck and looked anxiously at the radio operator, Sgt Ralph Jackson of Indianapolis.

"Were just about there," he said. "This dirt's a harmattan — fine sand blowing from the Sahara. Visibility's about a half mile … were going down now."

We dropped for 10 minutes until I could see a bit of the ground through the haze here and there. A few minutes more, and a small runway light blinked at us.

A little later I stepped on solid ground, a 1,000 miles from our starting point. Three of the boys walked with me to an automobile sent out to pick us up. The others remained behind, with Sgt Joe Cox of Greensboro, NC, in charge.

"They'll service her and stand guard." one of the officers explained. "We'd let the airport crews do it with most planes. But not with the Pink Lady. We're going to do some fighting with her."

This article was originally published in the May, 1943, issue of Flying including Industrial Aviation magazine, vol 32, no 5, pp 64, 162.