View Full Version : Last of the Green Ink

12-09-05, 03:10 AM
The Last of the Green Ink

by M.J. Lawrence

The briefing room, this is where it all comes together. According to my logbook, all combat missions recorded in green ink per tradition, this is where it has all come together sixty-seven times all told. This will be number sixty eight. Of course it hasn’t been in this exact briefing room every time. I’ve been on five different airfields over the course of two different tours of duty in the past two years. For the past four months we’ve been working out of a makeshift airfield here in Burma that was captured by advancing allied forces. The Japanese never finished it but our engineers did a pretty good job of making it inhabitable and serviceable for our aircraft. Our squadron shares it with two British squadrons of mosquitoes and spitfires. They do good work but our P-47s and pilots don’t slack off either. The Japanese are in a near full retreat now out of the Burma Theater and we’ve sustained a maximum effort over the past couple of weeks flying close air support making sure the Japs stay on the run.

The date is August 9th, 1945. News has just reached us on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and that the Soviets have declared war on Japan as well, streaming across the border of Manchuria to aide in Japan’s defeat. The war seems all but over but until we hear the word surrender we’ll continue to fly. There are eight of us in the room today, an average effort for a morning mission. My wingman Capt. Max Zimmerman comes in with sleep in his eyes and a cigarette dangling from his lips.

“Sleep well last night?” I ask him.

“Oh hell no, damn bugs and the Brits with their night fighter kept me from sleeping much at all,” he yawned.

“Me neither, I never sleep here,” I state.

It’s funny. One would think that after sixty-seven combat missions from the South Pacific to the China-Burma-India Theater of war flying P-40s, P-38s, and finally P-47s I would be able to sleep at night but no, there’s always the threat of the next mission looming over your head at night. You try not to think about it but no matter how hard you try not to the more it gets to you. It’s just another one of the small inconveniences a fighter pilot has to deal with every day and night. The worst part is the jungle, the rotten low down nasty jungle that you can never get away from. It’s too hot, too wet, too muddy, too insect infested or all of the above mostly. You can’t get away from it except when you’re in the air then you’re looking down on it having to deal with the Nips!

“Watcha’ thinking we get to do today? The same old stuff probably,” I speculate.

“That’d be my guess. Keep down low, empty our fifties, drop a bomb or two if we’re lucky and we’ll be back before noon,” Max cynically replies.

“Sounds ‘bout right.”

“Maybe we’ll get lucky and the whole Jap air force will come up for a last show. Wouldn’t that be great?”

“Sure would be. Don’t count on it though. Give me one of those butts would yah?” I reach over for a cigarette as the intelligence officer enters the Quonset hut.

I prop my legs up on the chair in front of me and spark a match to light my cigarette and keep my eyes on the intell officer waiting to receive our dose of bull**** for the morning. It’s been the same thing over and over again for more than a week. We take off, find Jap troop columns, maybe some light armor if we’re lucky, expend our ammunition and get the hell out. On one hand our asses don’t get shot at as much but on the other it’s a whole lot of sweating for nothing. We still have to keep our heads on a swivel looking out for Nip fighters and there’s always the worry that the round meant for you will somehow find its target.

“Good morning gentleman,” the intel officer greets us.

“Morning Major,” we unanimously reply.

The Major pulls down the map of our operations area and reaches for his pointer. There is a small circle on the map to the northeast of our airfield. He doesn’t need to say anything more we already know what we have to do. The same drill as yesterday.

“It’s going to be a simple hop today. Free ranging close air support over this area here,” the major slaps his pointer on the circled location. Everyone nods there heads to let him know they understand.

“There’ll be two flights. One will fly high cover while the other does the mud movin’. Chester will lead the close air support flight and Williams will take top cover. Any questions?” he asks.

There aren’t any questions off course. We’ve flown this exact mission at least half of a dozen times, some of us more. I can hardly even believe the Air Corps wastes the intell officers time an energy to brief us for the mission. All of us pilots get up to walk out behind the intel officer who is already on his way back to doing whatever he does for the day. I put my aviator glasses on before I exit to shield my eyes from the blazing tropical sun. There are two Jeeps waiting to take the eight of us to the flight line where our Jugs are waiting for us. I flick my cigarette and Max and I jump on the front Jeep. The driver starts it up, puts it in gear, and with a jerk we’re off for the flight line.

“My great leader what fun we’ll have,” Max says slapping me on the shoulder.

“Great times!” I exclaim sarcastically.

On the ride to the flight line I give a short brief to the other two members of my flight explaining to my element lead that he and his wingman can split over the target area and roam off on their own as long as they stay in visual range. We’ll be more effective in our weapons dispersal if we do that. We’ll be able to find more targets too. Not that they don’t know all of this already, they’re not spring chickens by any stretch of the imagination. Top cover is going to have the worst of it really. Without any aerial opposition they’ll have to loiter above fighting boredom while we at least get to expend ordinance.

The P-47s come into view, the sun glinting off their shiny metal surface. They’re worn, rugged, but beautiful all the same. Especially mine, Elizabeth Lynn, named after the girl I have back home in Arkansas. The Jeep stops beside her and I jump out and greet my crew chief, Moe, who has always done an excellent job, almost obsessive in his work, at keeping my plane airworthy. The Jeep continues down the line and drops off the other seven pilots.

“How goes it Moe?”

“Just fine sir, just fine. I’ve got her already to go for you. Even shined her up a bit. Full compliment of fifties and two five hundred pounders,” Moe informs me.

“I see that, she looks good bud. She’ll fly too?” I laugh.

“Yes sir.”

“Don’t call me sir Moe; you know I hate that ****.”

“Ah, yes sir.”

I walk over and run my hand down the leading edge of the wing of Lizzy, as I like to call her. She looks good, she’s been polished but the grime and wear and tear is still there. All of that makes her the plane I know and love though and I wouldn’t fly another plane even if it was fresh out of the factory, call me superstitious. I reach down and arm the bombs myself to ensure they’ll explode on contact. My Mae West and parachute are draped over the wing of my Thunderbolt and I put my Mae West on while Moe helps me wiggle into my seat pack parachute. The parachute is the cushioning for the metal bucket seat of the P-47. There’s one last thing to do before I crawl into the cockpit; I walk around the wingtip, my hand on the edge line the whole way, and stick my chewed up piece of Beeman’s gum to the wing root. It’s tradition and part of my ritual before every combat flight. Moe gives me his approving grin and we climb up on the wing.

One leg after the other I work my way into my “office”, the cockpit of Lynn. I don’t even bother wearing a helmet today and just put a radio set over my crusher cap and strap an oxygen mask on so I have access to a microphone. Moe straps me in as I look over the cockpit to make sure nothing is out of the ordinary – it isn’t. The pinup picture is even still there. I can’t fly without her, no sir! I look down the flight line to see if everyone else is all set to go. Max nods his head letting me know he too is all set. Moe hops down off the wing and runs to the front of the aircraft and twirls his finger above his head letting me know it’s time to crank the big radial engine to life.

Master switch on, mixture rich, throttle in, on the brakes and I hit the ignition. The propeller spins a few times and with a cough the radial with all of its powerful cylinders roars to life like a lion coming out of its den. I do a check of all the engine instruments and the fuel gauge – every thing is in the green and Lynnwill fly just as Moe has promised me. Of course if Lynnhad any problems Moe would be just as upset as I considering the plane is really his on loan to me. That’s how it works, you know? All of the crew chiefs own the plans and loan them out for the pilots to fly. Moe and his assistant jump on my wingtips to help me taxi since I can’t see over the nose of my Jug. I flip on my radios and announce to everyone that I’m starting to taxi as I let of the toe brakes and give ‘er just enough throttle to bump over the rough ground of our aerodrome.

“Red flight lead to red flight, we all in line?” I ask over the radio.




I look over at Moe and point my thumb back to have him confirm that all of us were taxing in line to the makeshift grass runway that really isn’t a runway at all but more of just a smooth portion of the airfield. Moe gives me the thumbs up. Under his watchful eye and following his visual instructions me and my Jug make our way to the runway and line me up down the centerline the two mechanics hop off my wing. Max has taxied up behind and to the right of me, we’ll takeoff together. The ball is my hand now and it’s my game. I pour on the coal and stomp on the right rudder to counteract the effects of torque. If you fail to do this a Jug will roll right over on its back from the raw power of the R-2800 Wasp engine. The runway isn’t smooth at all as I bounce up and down in my seat while my speed increases slower than normal with the bomb load slung beneath my wings. The tail wheel lifts off the ground first and I can see over the nose. Plenty of runway left ahead of me and I gain enough speed to become airborne as I gently pull back on the stick my main gear leaves the ground. I reach down and put the gear up and increase my vertical ascent rate putting the plane into a gentle right turn so my other element can join up with me. I look over my shoulder and Max is right with me. The second element is airborne too and catching up fast. Blue flight is on the runway and I continue to gain altitude while circling the airfield to await their departure.

“Red flight element lead to red flight leader, we’re in position,” the radio comes alive.

“Roger I got yah,” I reply.

I look to my left and there they are. We’re flying a near perfect echelon or finger-four formation, some of us bouncing up and down with the rough air from the hot day. Hold your finger out flat in front of you and fold your thumb under, that’s what our formation looks like. In just two minutes we’re at six thousand feet and the jungle is spread out before us with a hazy blue sky above. Blue flight is airborne now and continues it’s ascent to twelve thousand feet above ground level where they’ll watch over us. I can safely begin the journey to our target are now and coordinate a sharp right hand turn to the northeast on a rough heading. I don’t need to be to precise since I know the area like the back of my hands from all of the previous missions flown. I was in the exact target area of today just a few days hence and I know exactly how to get there without too much effort on my part. I love the fresh air and I keep my canopy open; it’ll stay that way until I come near the enemy.

“You with me Max?”

“Always, we’re on our way now. I just know there’s going to be some Zeroes waiting for us today!”

“Sure thing Max, lots of them,” I laugh.

I know the chances of there being any aerial opposition are slim to literally none. The Japs are in full retreat and no one has reported enemy aircraft for weeks. Either we’ve destroyed all of their planes and killed and demoralized their pilots or they’ve just given up. Probably a combination therein I assume. It doesn’t bother me, one less thing to worry about though you still have to keep your guard up. The Japs are sneaky and it would be like them to sneak some fighters up when we’re not suspecting it. Anyways, I’ve done my part and shot down two enemy aircraft. I’m not an ace with the five requisite kills but I’ve drawn blood. I shot down an Oscar fighter on my first tour flying P-40s and flamed a Nip Zero a few months back over an airfield in China. I’ve had my fun in those respects. It’s a forty-five minute flight to the target area and the scenery doesn’t change much below me – jungle, jungle, hills with jungle, and more jungle. I get a little sleepy actually which isn’t good going into a combat zone. I remember the ‘go-pills’ that doc gave me though and dig into my pocket pulling out a Benzedrine tablet and pop it in my mouth. I can’t reach down and access my canteen so I build some saliva and swallow the bitter pill. I glance above my own flight and there sits, six thousand feet higher, Blue flight watching over us like hawks. They’re all good boys up there and even if the Japs try to jump us they’ll get to ‘em well before we have to worry about it.

The Burma Road comes into view as we get closer. Below us there is all sorts of activity as allied troops and material make their advance towards the fleeing Japanese army. There is littered and burning tanks, trucks, and other vehicles here and there further on the horizon showing signs of a recent fight. Air activity is evident too as we approach the target area. A flight of P-51s come at us from the other direction and I can almost wave at the pilots they are so close. Below us a formation of RAF hurricanes are heading in the same direction as us probably tasked with the same mission too. Search and destroy is the correct terminology for this type of mission. It won’t take much searching but we’ll destroy aplenty!

The smoke becomes thicker and the allied lines thinner along the road. This is it, we’re crossing the forward line of own troops. All allied troops are in the trees advancing and anything on the road from here on out can be considered hostile. Another flight of allied aircraft in the distance is making a bomb run and there is some slight anti-aircraft artillery coming up at them. One of the planes throws dark black smoke and rolls into the jungle floor in a fiery ball of red angry flame. It reminds me of where we’re at and the dangers of the job. I snap into combat mode and shove the canopy forward and adjust my sunglasses. I don’t even have to give the order but I do anyways, my other element has already peeled off to scour the jungle for enemies.

“Go ahead element and seek ‘em out, just don’t get lost!” I exclaim.

“Roger wilco!”

I decide to take my flight to the area where I saw the plane go down. It might be hot there but where there’s smoke there’s fire – the enemy is most certainly present there. I drop down about four thousand feet, maybe some more, and wait in anticipation for what await Max and I. My head is constantly on a swivel looking for a bandit trying to jump us and then I continue to search the ground for targets. All of the sudden, two miles to my front, I see what the other fighter-bombers were attacking. It’s a formation of enemy trucks and light tanks, even from this distance I can make it out with my sharp eyesight.

“Max, stay tight and drop your load when I do, I’ve got some Nip hardware in sight!”

“Roger Mac, stickin’ with yah!”

I hammer down on the throttle and the targets come closer and closer in my windshield. I put them in my sights, which I’d learned how to use as a level bombing aide as well. Some light fire comes up from below mostly light machine gun rounds with tracers but nothing of significance. It gets thicker as I come over the target and light white puffs of smoke fill the air around me. The target disappears out of my sights under my aircraft and I hit the pickle button and my plane rears up from the loss of one thousand pounds of dead weight. I look back and Max had dropped his eggs too. We peel off hard to the right to avoid the concussion and debris from our exploding bombs. I can almost feel the concussion from the explosions and upon looking back secondary explosions began to litter the jungle floor with flying debris from what were once trucks and tanks. Japanese soldiers were scattering. Paying attention to the land in front of me a rich target presents itself once again – a whole line of infantry marching along a jungle trail. With Max still in tow I put my sights on them and hammer down on the trigger as all eight fifties come alive, the Jug shuddering from their recoil. Tracers fly into the ground sending up massive dust plumes from our combined firepower of eight fifty caliber machineguns. Half of the troop column disperses as the rest hit the dirt injured, dead, or paralyzed with fright. I pull up hard before my wings are clipped by the jungle thick with trees.

“Red lead this is element lead bandits at nine o’clock level!”

I think that my element leader has lost my mind. I look for the two aircraft of my other element and find them just off my right wing. Looking to my left I see the small gaggle of perhaps five or six aircraft and I too have to question my sanity. Are they Zeroes? They can’t be! Not now, why would they come up now? They don’t look like ours, in fact they’re not, they’re flying like Japs and I can even make out small red meatballs on their fuselage. Bandits!

“I’ve got the bandits in sight! Element lead cover Max and I. Blue flight maintain high cover,” I order.

I get an affirmative from everyone – they all know what to do now. I push the Thunderbolt into a climb pushing the throttle to war emergency setting. I roll the plane over on its back as the Nips pass below us. I roll into a very hard right turn to get on their tales and find one right in my gun sight. I squeeze the trigger and a wing flies off the Nip, its angry red meatball flies off with it. The plane twirls into the ground splattering allover the jungle floor. Max slides ahead of me and engages a second bandit while I latch on to the tail of the flight’s apparent leader. The other two bandits are taken on by my second element and the radio comes alive.

“Scratch one bandit, he’s going in! ******* tried to bail out above the trees!”

“Got ‘em smoking! There he goes, he’s done!”

Max’s excitement is all too evident, “Hot damn Chester did you see that? He just blew up!”

I didn’t see it but I know how he feels. I have my own hands full with the leader who seems to know his business more than the other guys. The other pilots flew like they had just been thrown into the cockpit and given an instruction manual. This guy knows some tricks. I began to perspire from the stress and hard turning. I don’t dare get locked into a strict turning fight with the more maneuverable Zero and let him twist away a few times but roll over and split-s each time getting back on his tail. His skill is no match for my training and instinct though and after getting locked into a scissors roll I get a bead on him and let loose with all my guns turning him into a fireball banking hard to miss his debris. We were vertical when I took the shot and I roll out level and gain airspeed on the brink of stalling. I rubber neck around and see nobody, not even friendlies in the area.

“Max, where are you?”

“Over the jungle.”

“No kidding jack, do you have me in sight?”

“Yeah I’ve got you Mac, right behind you.”

He was behind and well below so I couldn’t see him. Like a good wingman he was with me through the whole maneuver covering my six. The second element joined up too and I changed course for home. We passed back over the site of our bombing and it was billowing dark black clouds of smoke.

“Let’s get the hell out of here!” I mouthed the famous words.

We climb back to six thousand feet and blue flight remains at their assigned cover altitude. They come on the radio to heckle us quite heavily over the action they’d been left out on. They did they’re job though and made sure no one came from above to ruffle our tail feathers. It seems like we must have spent half an hour over the target area but, looking at the clock, it had only been five minutes from bomb release to the downing of the lead Zero. It always went like that when you were engaged in aerial combat. Quick actions seemed to last for hours. They stick in your memory so vividly because of the feeling. What really seems like an eternity, however, is the flight back to the airfield. After such a burst of energy and emotion the monotony of level flight become unnerving. I pry open the canopy and the fresh air is a relief. My flight suit is drenched in sweat. I keep looking over at Max on the flight home and he keeps a silly grin like a giddy school kid on his face.

I’m shaky on my landing from all the tension of the mission. I bounce a bit on touchdown but settle down just fine and taxi over to my spot where Moe awaits patiently. I hold up two fingers and point at the fifty cals. on the wing. He smiles the most incredulous of smiles and shakes his head while scratching it not sure to believe me. Post haste I shut Lynndown and unbuckle jumping onto the wing.

“Get out the paint Moe we’ve got to more to add!” I exclaim referring to the kill flags on the side of the fuselage.

“Are you joking, you downed two?”

“Yup. Two Zeroes and my whole flight got into it. I think we all got one.”

“Well I’ll be gosh darned!”

I jump off the wing and walk over to Max who is already running towards me and we meet in a bear hug slapping each other on the back giving one another congrats. The other two pilots come over to us and are already flying the dogfight all over again with their hands. We start walking across the airfield to the Quonset hut to debrief after our flight. All of us are excited and can’t wait to get to the makeshift officer’s club to buy each other a drink and calm the adrenaline rush.

Max and I go into debriefing first and recount the experience from the bomb drop, to strafing the troop column, spending most of my time recounting the dogfight and confirming the kills I had seen. Max confirms to the intel officer my two kills and, though I didn’t exactly see it, I confirm Max’s. The intel officer is as amazed as we are but confirms it all since allied forces radioed in accounts of the dogfight almost immediately after it took place. What the Major tells us next shocks us even more than the dogfight with the Japs.

“You guys got lucky, real lucky. It’s not official yet but the Japanese government has announced unconditional surrender. Looks like the war is over,” he informed us.

“You’ve got to be kidding me, right?” I ask.

“Nope, just came over the wire thirty minutes ago.”

“How about that,” I say walking back out of the building.

We burst into a mix of laughter and shouts of joy almost teetering on crying from time to time. All eight pilots from the flight are gathered around now and we throw our covers up in the air in excitement. Amid the slaps and hugs I couldn’t help but feel a little depressed in an odd way. This has been the life I’ve known for two years now and it’s all over – all in the past. What now? Max recommends that we head to the officers club without delay. I tell him I’ll meet him there.

I walk over to my pyramid tent and sit down on my cot. I reach for my bottle of scotch under my cot and take a long chug of it. The burn feels good. A good end to a good mission at the end of a horrible war. I grab my logbook out of my footlocker and my green pen and log the time for the mission, exactly one and a half hours. In the remarks I try to cram in everything that happened and I add one more remark – Japanese surrender. My pen was running out of ink. It was my last combat mission and the last of the green ink.