Home Main Category Opinion “Hello Lazy Fox… Controls Are Gone, Ship In Peril – Need Landing...

“Hello Lazy Fox… Controls Are Gone, Ship In Peril – Need Landing Instructions…”


If you’re like us you may be strapped in and watching the stellar Hanks/Spielberg effort “Masters of the Air,” currently streaming on Apple TV.

This isn’t a series review so we’ll just say it’s really good. Watch it if you know anything about the air war in Europe during World War II or want to know more.

As often happens in stories about men and women in combat you learn a lot about types – of aircraft and machines but mostly types of people, who you could count on when things went bad, and how those you least expect sometimes rise to the occasion to lead the way when things are bleakest.

This also isn’t a political column despite the rather obvious go-to metaphor of a battered airship limping across the channel, command and controls shot away, looking for a course and someone to get them home. It’s an election year and we’re getting plenty of maneuvering and manipulation as it is, so we’ll have to wait until November to see what direction the nation decides to take and if we all make it back to our chosen airfield.

Until then all we can do is strap ourselves into the observer’s seat and hold on for dear life, hoping someone with intellect and guts enough to weather the current political flak storm steps up to take the controls.

Someone like an old girlfriend’s flinty-eyed, lantern-jawed Dad – six foot two-inches with Cherokee blood in his veins and the cold glare of a man who would skin you alive if you mistreated his little girl. We won’t mention names to avoid embarrassment – “OMG, wait, you went out with him?” – but suffice to say he flew one of those 13-gun Flying Forts over occupied Europe and Germany 35 times, coming home with five Air Medals and a Distinguished Flying Cross.

He had a “War Room” in his home, loaded with radio gear and pictures of colandered B-17s streaming fuel or hydraulics, struggling to maintain speed and position within his group. His daughter abandoned us in there once, leaving us to poke around dad’s memory museum, and we immediately trespassed and began leafing through a copy of his squadron history, absorbed, until a dark shadow eclipsed its pages and photos of flak-filled skies.

“You know what that is?” he rumbled, having the advantage and suddenly much taller than his reported 6 foot 2-inches.

“Yessir,” we squeaked.

He nodded, took the book from our hands.

“Good. You’re staying for dinner.”

He was a great guy, handy and taciturn and giving. Age and life experience prevented us from ever being “close,” but we respected him – and he accepted us.

We’re going to need someone like him if we’re ever going to find our way.


  1. I’m watching the series. My Dad and his older brother (midwestern farm boys) flew B24s, also heavy bombers, but not fortresses. It’s hard to comprehend the calculus of the command staff. The losses of men and materiel were staggering. How they imagined that they could continue to fight that way and win is beyond me. I like that the series does not equivocate about the horror of it all for both sides.

    35 completed missions is one lucky story to have and likely a story one is reluctant to relive through the retelling of it.

    • Amazing how they turned those Farm Boys into Fly Boys.

      We’re sure they told you of the old joke the B-17 crews used to tell, that “the B-24 was the box the B-17 was delivered in.”

      Of course, there were amazing acts of bravery in all types of aircraft in both theaters and this country lost a lot of its best. We were gratified to see accurate depictions of the air war in the series, remembering pilots telling us how they made their Army Air Corps caps “saltier” by removing the stiffener inside, giving it the “crush” look veteran pilots cultivated. Depicted in last night’s episode.

      As for the strategy behind the bombing campaign it was clearly one of attrition, with both sides putting everyone into the fight until there were no planes, no pilots, no fuel. And we proved that “strategic bombing” was a cruel joke, also depicted in the series – with civilian innocents getting the worst of it.

      Great series about ordinary men called on to do amazing things during a terrible and costly war.

      • “ordinary men called on to do amazing things”
        That may not be the classic definition of heroism, but it is mine. It is not that superman showed up, it is that farm boys and clerks and grocers did.

  2. Great column. I’m proud of Tom Hanks (fellow Skyline HS graduate class of ’74) for carrying on the tradition of honoring those of the “Greatest Generation”. They literally helped save the world from God knows what.

    My Dad was a navigator on a B-24 Liberator. Some years ago, I stumbled on the website below.


    When I first clicked on the link to his crew, a very good quality picture of Dad and his crew came up and I immediately felt the tears coming. I wasn’t prepared for that and it really hit me. My Dad passed away in 1996.

    I calculated he would have been in his early 20s when the picture was taken. How is it possible these young kids did what they did? I wanted to ask him, but I couldn’t.

    He flew 30 missions, all documented on the website with details and dates of each mission. I’m rather surprised there’s so much detailed info. Incredibly, all 30 missions were completed within a 3 month period in the Summer of 1944. His first mission was D-Day.

    Maybe this website, and others, could be helpful for those looking for info about their own relatives. I’m sure there’s many other similar websites for all service branches during WW2.

    • Thanks for writing – and sharing, John – sorry we missed out on a chance to speak with dad. Those guys were living history books.

      We had a few pilots/gunners in our family (PTO) and grilled them pretty relentlessly as kids and beyond so we had a good idea of what happened. Even then we knew it was important.

      Both the Air Corps and individual squadrons, wings were conscious of their effort and went to lengths to maintain a record of their exploits. We’ve come across several such histories in our day and they are fascinating.

      We think we would have done our level best to stay on the ground if given the choice, but our Pop jumped out of airplanes – so there you go.

      • NEWS24-680-

        Thanks for the kind words and sharing your story. It sounds like you did what I wish I had done, which is asking/talking to my Dad much more about his experiences, it’s something I’ll always regret.

        But he didn’t talk much about it, other than making a few light-hearted jokes about being in “The Big One”. I should have known better.

        But one of things I did ask him about was D-Day, that I remember. He said “planes and ships as far as you can see”. From looking at the details of his mission, it appears they hit the German positions early in the day before the troops landed on the beaches.

        Many of those guys, like my Dad, only in their early 20s, some even younger I imagine. They grew up quickly no doubt.

        Please keep up the good work, it’s a pleasure to read what you have to say.

  3. My uncle was the flight engineer on an RAF Sterling (like a US B-17) shot down in 1942 on a night raid of an oil refinery in Turin, Italy. He and two other crew members managed to successfully bail out over France and live. He was smuggled out to the coast by the French and Belgian underground where he was picked up by a Mosquito boat (like a US PT boat) and returned to England. As far as I know the RAF never had him fly over occupied Europe for the remainder of the war.

    • Nice to hear from the RAF!

      Of course, England had been fighting for years prior to the arrival of American forces in England and their bravery and steadfast determination to succeed against prevailing odds gave the U.S. the time it needed to build its planes and train its crews. Nice to see the RAF and the English people portrayed in this series, as well. Their contribution to the fight against Fascism is well known and recognized by anyone who has studied the era.

  4. I didn’t know the RAF had something comparable to the B17. My Dad’s last combat mission was his 17th when he and crew “hit the silk” over the jungles of New Guinea as the hometown Iowa paper would describe it. Fortunately, he wasn’t in the Catch 22 Squadron and was returned to the US as a flight instructor, especially fortunate for me.

    • David, yes, very fortunate for us that our father’s were able to come home safely…I feel for all that didn’t make it. It’s always struck me as something that’s so random and based on pure luck, I wonder if that’s how they felt?

  5. Great stories dropping in here and they are fun to read. The point of the article is well taken. They were good men who did great things and the world benefited from their heroism. Me? I got a flat tire outside of Salinas once and had to walk a couple of miles into town. I thought myself pretty brave …… until I read some of these stories.

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