As the bells pealed in London November 15, to give vent to the joy in Great Britain over the defeat of Rommel's army in Africa, back here in Washington there was unbridled rejoicing too.
Eddie Rickenbacker had been rescued! American boys took over northwestern Africa and our Navy and Army Air Forces knocked out a Japanese armada that Hirohito thought could overwhelm us in the Solomons.
It was difficult to measure which of these great tidings uplifted our morale the most. Frankly, I believe "Rick's" rescue took first place. When I received word on Friday, the 13th, from a friend in the War Department that "Rick's" pilot had been found, I called Mrs Rickenbacker in New York. She had already heard the news; charming and wonderful person that she is, she was certain that Eddie, too, soon would be found. Next morning, General Arnold telephoned from here and was first to break the good news to her.
Welcome back, Eddie old boy, we just can't get on without you!
The many alphabetical civilian agencies, which seemed so unnecessary to some old diehard militarists of horse-and-limber days (and appeared so bureaucratic to many columnists) now come into their own. They prove to be worthwhile and it gradually dawns on a bewildered public what it is all about.
WPB is looking after production problems. It has been an "expediter" to date (yes, possibly a poor one), but it now assumes control of material and acts as coordinator (with authority) of the production work on the home front. Recently the national commander of the American Legion, Roane Waring, was here and sounded the note for WPB: "The home front of America," said Waring, "cannot win this war, but it can lose the war for us if it does not make good in the supreme test that lies ahead."
OPA, which loomed so mean and tantalizing on the horizon last spring, when it warned us that we would be rationed on razor blades, etc (and people laughed in the movies when told to drive at 35 mph) now takes hold and regimentates the home folk so that all of us will work where best suited and best qualified. Rationing now dawns upon us, not as a pincer to hurt, but as a firm hand to see that we all get a fair share of what there is. Leon Henderson becomes our friend, one who is looking out for equal allowances and equal distribution for all
DTS (Mr Eastman) sorts out the trucks, freight cars and buses with the same motive.
BEW no longer appears as a bothersome cog in the side of our military machine it is now recognized as running interference against the troubles which set us back in the last war.
Economic Stabilization (former Justice Byrnes is director) goes to work to pare down big salaries, inflated dividends from huge profits on war contracts, and generally make for efficiency to alleviate the minds of soldiers and others who envied the margins allowed in overhead in "cost-plus-fixed-fee" contracts. Congress pinches off the last ray of hope of the wary but would-be profiteer by authorizing unheard of income tax levies. Ex-justice Byrnes now makes it mandatory that a man earn not more than $67,000 in any one year and keep not more than $25,000 for himself.
Air Transport Command (General George) daily flies air routes 12,000 miles long, and we all begin to visualize trips around the world by air. Gradually the picture of planned economy in wartime and mobilization of the home front develops.
It is no wonder the country has been bewildered. But a few weeks ago, Rankin Peck stated that Detroit was ready to give up gasoline voluntarily on Sundays while on the very same day Todd Stoops announced the organization of the "Hoosier Committee of 50,000," to fight for the postponement of gas rationing!
But now we realize that democracy can really fight in a modern war where civilians as well as armed forces are all subject to attack, for the ocean of the air knows no boundaries and military bases are attacked from over the top instead of around the flanks as before.
Aviation, meantime, gradually but surely, step by step, comes into its own. On the fighting fronts it "comes across" with all that its crusaders claimed for it and more; for transportation, the elimination of misunderstanding and closer intercourse all over the globe, it becomes a new hope. If only we have another chance, another opportunity to work out a Versailles treaty, aviation will now make it and the "association of nations" acceptable to the United States and workably feasible. "This present world struggle began," as General Smutts recently put it, "in 1914." This time it won't be just an armistice but a termination of a war destined to make the world safe for democracy, as was the original intention of our fathers the doughboys of the last war who fought and died with that hope.
Morale has been sour both on the home front and in the armed forces. But all is changing. In the new year, the curve will rise so high that someone will com- pose another jaunty "Over There," and instead of "remember," it will be "forget" Pearl Harbor.
This war has been described by some as a fight for freedom, a struggle to save democracy, etc but isn't it really just an issue of "Will the tyrants control the air and use it for enslavement'?" or "Will democracy (freedom) prevail with its blessing and use aviation to promote international goodwill, prosperity and higher standards of living for all, irrespective of race, creed, color, or Herrenvolk?"
About the only real hazard that aviation now faces is man-made and something that must not be tolerated it may became a political football again.
In numerical strength, the Army Air Forces are destined to overtake and pass the enlistments of the Navy and will actually amount to one-third of the whole Army itself. If costly battleships and vulnerable aircraft carriers become passe, appropriations (the actual dough that counts for so much both in peace and war) will surpass the Navy. Land- based aircraft, now under Army jurisdiction, will be increasingly coveted by each. High-ranking, though youthful, officers in both services will provoke the wrath of professional men who have devoted their lives and dedicated their careers to defense, but who must salute when a young flyer comes along. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth neither the Army or Navy will want any part of them.
Down here in Washington, it now looks as though the advocates of a "Department of Defense" with three equal-ranking undersecretaries of War, Navy and Air will win out. Not only troops in our far-flung battlefronts realize that they will die and soon be forgotten if compelled to fight where there is no air supremacy, but actually the men at home out on maneuvers now know it too. In democracies, time and the laws of economics invariably win out in the end, and aviation will be no exception.
Can it be that "From Headquarters" one can see the trends of aviation better than from anywhere else? Maybe so. For example, down here we observe Reuben Fleet (Consolidated); Howard Hughes; Jack Frye (TWA); Grover Loening (internationally known aviation engineer and early associate of Orville Wright); and William B Ziff, boasting of what five-cents-direct-cost-per-ton-mile cargo planes will mean for national transportation. Forty dollars, New York-Los Angeles per passenger in 13 hours non-stop; all first-class mail by air; express rates by air lower than now by train, etc, etc. We check up and find that it can be done at less than that with the Martin Mars flying boat, not to mention the Kaiser or Higgins untested giant land planes. The Mars can operate on schedule New York to Chicago as a cargo plane at 3.2 cents per ton-mile! Then we check in and find that the railroads already know it, but that surface vessel operators, bus and trucking concerns are uninterested.
We hear of the Nazis equipping their big Junkers with tires so large that in the desert they can land beside a disabled tank and, by simply providing a new spare part, repair it in a matter of minutes. We notice Churchill refusing to risk his navy in the Skageraack because of air power; and others, farther removed from the realities of modern war, parking battlewagons where they are sitting shots for dive bombers. We see unity of command accepted in the Middle East with its attendant inevitable success against water- and air-borne transports servicing Rommel, and a whole menacing army melts away.
Possibly it is the "From Headquarters" perspective that foresees so clearly air power as the inevitable spearhead of any modern strategical and tactical move.
Col William Westlake, assistant to Col Art Ennis, Air Forces PRO, is recuperating from an infected left leg. Bill, returning from a mission, scraped his shin getting out of his ship. He thought nothing of it until the wound started to swell. The medico ordered him to quarters and later to Walter Reed Hospital. He's coming along nicely now.
Maj Sherman Altick, AC, former aviation editor of the New York Sun, also is a patient at Walter Reed Hospital, recovering from a major operation. Sherm has had a tough time of it ever since he donned his uniform. He'll be all right now, it is reported.
Lieut. Bill Scripps (Detroit News) is doing a swell job of turning out the Air Forces communications section bulletin. Maj Dick Kirschbaum is doing his illustrations. Incidentally, Dick (former aviation editor, Newark, NJ, News) has been shifted from chief of cartoon and features section, WD/BPR, to graphics of the pictorial branch, same office. His cartoons on Air Forces heroes and "Brainy Brownie" are getting wide circulation. His song, "Wings to Victory," is being played on many Army radio shows.
Lt Col Harold Hinton (formerly New York Times) is now part of Colonel Ennis' staff in Air Forces public relations. Harold was, until recently, on the staff of Gen Ira Eaker in England.
This column was originally published in the January, 1943, issue of Flying including Industrial Aviation magazine, vol 32, no 1, pp 34,126.
The original column is illustrated with a thumbnail portrait of the author.
The photo is not credited.