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I Always Wanted to Fly

I Always Wanted to Fly: America's Cold War Airmen

Wolfgang W. E. Samuel
With a foreword by Ken Hechler
Copyright Date: 2001
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    I Always Wanted to Fly
    Book Description:

    Until now, no book has covered all of Cold War air combat in the words of the men who waged it. InI Always Wanted to Fly, retired United States Air Force Colonel Wolfgang W. E. Samuel has gathered first-person memories from heroes of the cockpits and airstrips.

    Battling in dogfights when jets were novelties, saving lives in grueling airlifts, or flying dangerous reconnaissance missions deep into Soviet and Chinese airspace, these flyers waged America's longest and most secretively conducted air war.

    Many of the pilots Samuel interviewed invoke the same sentiment when asked why they risked their lives in the air--"I always wanted to fly." While young, they were inspired by barnstormers, by World War I fighter legends, by the legendary Charles Lindbergh, and often just by seeing airplanes flying overhead. With the advent of World War II, many of these dreamers found themselves in cockpits soon after high school. Of those who survived World War II, many chose to continue following their dream, flying the Berlin Airlift, stopping the North Korean army during the "forgotten war" in Korea, and fighting in the Vietnam War.

    Told in personal narratives and reminiscences,I Always Wanted to Flyrenders views from pilots' seats and flight decks during every air combat flashpoint from 1945--1968. Drawn from long exposure to the immense stress of warfare, the stories these warriors share are both heroic and historic.

    The author, a veteran of many secret reconnaissance missions, evokes individuals and scenes with authority and grace. He provides clear, concise historical context for each airman's memories. InI Always Wanted to Flyhe has produced both a thrilling and inspirational acknowledgment of personal heroism and a valuable addition to our documentation of the Cold War.

    Wolfgang W. E. Samuel, the author ofGerman Boy: A Refugee's Story(University Press of Mississippi) and a distinguished graduate of the Air Force ROTC in 1960, served in the U.S. Air Force until his retirement as a colonel in 1985.

    Ken Hechler is the author of The Bridge at Remagen.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-135-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Ken Hechler

    I Always Wanted to Flyis a comprehensive collection of first-person narratives depicting the heroism of young men who grew up with a compelling desire to fly airplanes as well as of the changing nature of the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War. The author is a veteran of many reconnaissance missions against the Soviet Union and of air combat in the Vietnam War. I found this book to be a series of gripping stories, told in such remarkable detail that I felt I was alongside the pilots and crew members, living with them through every thrilling moment in...

  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xx)
    Wolfgang W. E. Samuel
  5. Part 1: The Berlin Airlift, 1948

    • [Part 1 Introduction]
      (pp. 1-11)

      On July 16, 1945, President Harry S. Truman decided to take a look around Berlin when Stalin did not show as scheduled for the Potsdam Conference because of his slight heart attack, a carefully kept secret at the time. “I took advantage of this unscheduled delay,” wrote President Truman in his memoir. “About halfway to the city we found the entire American 2nd Armored Division deployed along one side of the highway for my inspection. In an open half-track, I passed down the long line of men and vehicles, which comprised what was at that time the largest armored division...

    • Chapter 1 Men of the Airlift
      (pp. 12-55)

      Sam became interested in flying early in life. His father was a World War I navy aviator who flew a twin-engine Curtis NC-4 seaplane on antisubmarine patrol out of Queenstown, Ireland. “They would see the submarine out there, pick up a bomb from the cockpit, and lean over the side,” said Sam, with pride in his voice as he spoke of his father’s experiences during World War I. “When they got to the release point, they dropped it.” His father’s stories fascinated Sam, and there was little doubt in his mind that once he grew up he would fly airplanes....

    • Chapter 2 The Bomber Boys
      (pp. 56-71)

      Although the Berlin Airlift was fought by air crews flying unarmed C-47 and C-54 transports, behind them towered a big stick, the B-29s of the newly created Strategic Air Command, better known as SAC. Little has been said about the men who manned these bombers and their contribution to the airlift’s success, but without their presence, no American or British combat capability in Europe could have checked the territorial ambitions of Marshal Joseph Stalin. In late June 1948, one B-29 squadron of the 301st Bomb Group was on rotational training at Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base near Munich. With the Soviet implementation...

    • Chapter 3 “Ramp Rats”: The Men Who Kept Them Flying
      (pp. 72-86)

      The first things that come to mind when speaking of the Berlin Airlift are the airplanes and their pilots. In the final analysis, they made the airlift happen. Thoughts then turn to the vast tonnages of food and coal delivered and to the number of missions flown. Finally, one recalls the men who died to save Berlin. Often forgotten are the men who kept those airplanes flying—who sealed leaking fuel tanks, busted their knuckles trying to change recalcitrant sparkplugs, swept snow off wings with push brooms, and changed lightbulbs in two-story-high vertical stabilizers. These men worked twenty-four hours a...

  6. Part 2: Korea, 1950

    • [Part 2 Introduction]
      (pp. 87-94)

      In early 1950, Americans were concerned with making a living and achieving their dreams of owning their own homes and cars. There was plenty of work, and the lean years before World War II were a fastfading memory. The U.S. military was still downsizing, and the defense budget for the year was a mere $13.5 billion. Although the McCarthy hearings (accusations of communist penetration at the highest levels of government) troubled some, there was no war. Times were good.

      To those entrusted with national security, however, things looked much more worrisome. The Soviets exploded an atomic device in 1949, and...

    • Chapter 4 The F-51 Mustangs from Dogpatch
      (pp. 95-103)

      In the sunshine of southern California, where Charlie Schreffler settled after an eventful air force career, he recalled one particular June afternoon in 1950. “While sitting on the porch of my quarters at Clark Air Base in the Philippines, I saw innocent-looking puffs of smoke seeping out of the jungle foliage. It was an artillery duel between the communist Huks and the local constabulary, just beyond the Clark Air Base perimeter. A flight of four Philippine F-51 Mustangs passed overhead in echelon formation to join the fray. My unit, the 18th Fighter Bomber Group, had converted to the F-80 jet...

    • Chapter 5 Night Interdiction in the B-26 Invader
      (pp. 104-118)

      Barney Dobbs slowly taxied his heavily laden Douglas B-26 Invader toward the end of the runway at K-8, a desolate airstrip near Kunsan. Barney was assigned to the 8th Squadron of the 3rd Bomb Wing. It was the early-morning hours of February 19, 1952. Only four weeks earlier he had turned thirty-two. Barney applied the left brake to his swaying aircraft. Slowly the Invader turned to face down the runway. There were no lights. He didn’t need any. He would steer down the center of the strip and when he reached 120 knots pull back on the yoke and lift...

    • Chapter 6 The B-29 Bomber War
      (pp. 119-125)

      In 1951, Second Lieutenant Joseph Gyulavics, fresh out of pilot training, found himself in the cockpit of a B-29 flying out of Okinawa, carrying his bomb load up the Yalu River to strike a North Korean airfield. It was soon after an RB-45C had been shot down by Russian MiG-15s in the same area. B-29 bombers, based at Yokota Air Base, Japan, and at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, were the principal users of the important pictorial intelligence gathered by the high-flying RB-45C reconnaissance jets also based at Yokota. “Suddenly, my aircraft was at the center of several Chinese communist...

    • Chapter 7 B-Flight out of Kimpo: Special Operations
      (pp. 126-144)

      Dave Taylor was born in 1921 and grew up in the small Mississippi town of Grenada. He occasionally played with his younger cousin, Trent Lott, who would one day become majority leader of the U.S. Senate. Young Dave’s horizons were not limited by the surrounding cotton fields. He soon became enamored with flying while helping fuel Ford trimotors at the nearby airfield in exchange for an occasional ride. Flying soon got into his blood, although there appeared to be little chance he would be able to follow his dream. When World War II started, Dave volunteered and in 1942 was...

  7. Part 3: Strategic Reconnaissance

    • [Part 3 Introduction]
      (pp. 145-151)

      Strategic aerial reconnaissance during the Cold War years, including the overflight of Soviet territory, was a necessary act of desperation and reflected an inability to obtain information by other means. The information gained from such operations was vital to American policy makers and to the defense community at large. Without this information, often obtained at great risk to the air crews, it was impossible to develop the proper force size and mix of weapons to contain the Soviet military juggernaut or, if need be, to confront it and prevail. Reconnaissance flights were largely conducted by long-range aircraft of the Strategic...

    • Chapter 8 Taming the RB-45C Tornado
      (pp. 152-159)

      The B-45 was a 1943-vintage design, America’s first all-jet bomber, with a rigid, straight wing and a B-17 style gunner’s station in the tail. The XB-45 flew for the first time on March 17, 1947, piloted by North American test pilot George Krebs, who died flying the XB-45 on September 20, 1948. With his untimely death, no further significant flight testing was conducted, and the B-45 went into production. Many of its flaws were later discovered by some unlucky air crews. Ninety-six bomber versions of the North American B-45A were built. The aircraft were assigned to the Tactical Air Command...

    • Chapter 9 Recon to the Yalu and Beyond
      (pp. 160-174)

      The Korean War was in its third year in November 1952 when Sam Myers’s crew and another air crew relieved two RB-45C crews at Yokota Air Base in Japan. The RB-45 arrived at Yokota in September 1950 and flew its first combat mission in November. Sam’s navigator on the deployment was Lieutenant Frank Martin, who, like Sam, was assigned to the 322d Reconnaissance Squadron of the 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at their home base of Lockbourne. Sam had been appointed commander of the two-plane Yokota RB-45C detachment, which was part of the Yokota-based 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron. His primary mission...

    • Chapter 10 More Secret Than the Manhattan Project
      (pp. 175-195)

      “I was born in Charleston, South Carolina, March 20, 1918. My first encounter with airplanes and flying was in 1929. I was eleven. I got a ride in a Ford trimotor. That was like going to heaven. If an airplane flew over Charleston, I’d run outside to take a look. There weren’t that many airplanes then. Once a German Dornier seaplane landed in Charleston Harbor. It was a monstrous thing, exciting. Aviation was spread pretty thin in those days, but I always knew I wanted to fly. I believe it was my nanny who first called me Hack, and the...

    • Chapter 11 Challenging the Russian Bear
      (pp. 196-214)

      The Strategic Air Command was the creation of World War II bomber General Curtis E. LeMay. Men such as Harold Austin populated the cockpits of SAC bombers and tankers during the 1950s and ’60s. It was a tightly knit, war-seasoned group of flyers who believed that no other flying command, sister service, or foreign air force could hold a candle to them. They were mostly survivors of epic World War II air battles over Europe, of B-29 raids against Japan, of the assembly-line flying of the Berlin Airlift, and, of course, of Korea. These combathardened survivors of adversity constituted the...

    • Chapter 12 Flying the Top of the World
      (pp. 215-229)

      The Cold War had some truly cold aspects to it, speaking from a climatological perspective. Waged from air bases near or above the Arctic Circle, the U.S. long-range reconnaissance war against the Soviet Union was essential to ensure national security. The two principal air bases from which the polar-region reconnaissance missions were flown were Eielson AFB near Fairbanks, Alaska, just below the Arctic Circle, and Thule Air Base, on Danish Greenland, at approximately seventy-eight degrees north latitude, on Baffin Bay. Both man and machine were put to severe tests in winter. Flyers and maintenance men who served in these inhospitable...

    • Chapter 13 The Last Flight of 3-4290
      (pp. 230-256)

      On a warm and softly pleasant January afternoon in 1961, at the age of twenty, Joel Lutkenhouse passed through the main gate of Harlingen Air Force Base and became an aviation cadet. Harlingen, a small, dusty agricultural community in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, was home to a navigator training base, one of many flying training bases scattered along the Texas-Mexico border. There, in a land of ever blue and empty skies, potential air force navigators spent the better part of a year learning the intricacies of aerial navigation in twin-engined Convair T-29 aircraft, the military version of...

  8. Part 4: Vietnam, 1965

    • [Part 4 Introduction]
      (pp. 257-266)

      In contrast to the Soviet-initiated Berlin blockade of 1948 and the North Korean attack on South Korea in 1950, North Vietnam did not present an immediate military threat to U.S. interests, thereby forcing prompt military action. It is beyond the scope of this brief introduction to deal with the political complexities that led to a national crisis over Vietnam and a political and military quagmire. However, it should be understood that the politicians and military leaders of the time made decisions based on their own backgrounds and experiences—to these decision makers the termsMunichandappeasementwere still meaningful....

    • Chapter 14 Hambone 02
      (pp. 267-299)

      In 1931 the Kuster family was struggling like many others, watching its pennies. It was not the best of years for the United States or for much of the rest of the world. Ralph was born on August 19 of that year. Fortunately, his father had a steady job as a draftsman at the McDonnell plant in St. Louis, Missouri. When Ralph was old enough to read, his interest was captured by a comic-strip character, Smiling Jack, a daring pilot and a U.S. marshal. Jack flew mostly in the West and landed his biplane in canyons and on top of...

    • Chapter 15 Lincoln Flight
      (pp. 300-322)

      “I was born on June 4, 1936, in Menlo Park, California, about fifty miles north of the small town of Gilroy. Gilroy is named after my great-great-grandfather. He was a Scottish sailor on a Hudson Bay Company ship, theIsaac Todd. He came from Liverpool and landed here in 1814. He was the first non-Spanish settler in California. He was put off in Monterey with scurvy, which was a fairly common disease among sailors at that time. The ship went on up north to trade with the Russians for furs and was supposed to come back and pick him up....

    • Chapter 16 Yellowbird
      (pp. 323-340)

      Ed was born in 1937 in a farmhouse somewhere in the rural Alabama countryside. There were mules and cotton and not much else for him to remember, except for the airplanes he occasionally saw flying overhead. “I was fascinated every time one came over my house,” Ed said, his eyes shining brightly. “I used to draw airplanes when I was a kid. I thought at times, ‘Maybe someday I can fly an airplane.’ But then I had no idea how I would learn to fly. I remember reading stories about zeppelins dropping bombs on England in World War I. I...

  9. The Magic of Flying: Concluding Thoughts
    (pp. 341-344)

    Many airmen who fought the Cold War succumbed in their youth to the lure of flying, drawn by its promise of freedom and adventure. They may have been next-door neighbors—average kids—but their imaginations were far from average, captured by passing barnstormers, by five-dollar rides in open-cockpit airplanes, by the sight of Ford trimotors on the tarmac, by planes passing overhead, or by Lindbergh’s epic Atlantic crossing. Some watched in fascination as airliners took off from airports near their homes; others built their dreams into the balsa-wood models they fashioned at the kitchen table. But all spoke of being...

  10. Glossary
    (pp. 345-348)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 349-352)
  12. Interviews, Letters, and Tapes
    (pp. 353-354)
  13. Index
    (pp. 355-363)