SHAKO: Pearl Harbor, Plus 78; Tuskegee Airman, Plus 100 UPDATE

December 8, 2019 at 1:03 am Leave a comment

Double-Barreled Day of Note.

December 7, is remembered by many Americans (after 78 years it may no longer be accurate to say most Americans) as the Date of Infamy, the day of the devastating Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor and other U.S. military installations in the Hawaiian Islands.

And we’ll get to that in just a moment, but we found out from local radio station WTOP that today, December 7, 2019, one of the famous Tuskegee Airmen — retired Air Force Colonel Charles E. McGee — turned 100. We thought it would be good idea to link the two commemorations in our December 7 Blog.

P-51B (serial unknown) KITTEN of 2Lt. Leon ‘Woodie’ Spears, 302nd FS, Ramitelli, Italy, March 1945

Illustration of Charles McGee’s World War II P-51 Mustang, named “Kitten.” (U.S. Air Force art via Wikipedia)

The Survivor.

World War II Veterans visit MCBH

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Marine Corps Corporal Matthew Kirk)

Seventy-eight years ago aircraft carrier-borne planes attacked Pearl Harbor Naval Base and Hickham Army Air Forces Field and what was then Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay. More than 2,400 military personnel and civilians were killed that day, 1,178 more were wounded. The attack by Imperial Japanese Navy fighters, bombers and torpedo planes also sank or damaged eighteen Navy vessels and  destroyed more than 180 Army, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft.

For decades, the survivors of that attack have returned to Hawaii to commemorate the tragedy and honor the dead. And every year the number of survivors still with us shrinks. The Best Defense Foundation returned six Pearl Harbor and Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay survivors to Hawaii for the 78th commemoration this December.

One of those tough old members of the Greatest Generation, Donald Long — a retired Navy radio operator — is in the photo above, hugging a Mokapu Elementary School student during his visit to Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

Long was a new sailor standing watch on a seaplane moored in a bay on the other side of the island of Oahu when the Japanese struck that Sunday morning. He saw the smoke and fire and heard the explosions coming from afar, but soon Japanese planes attacked Kaneohe Bay, too. They strafed his plane, setting it afire. He had to swim for his life through flames on the oil and gasoline covered waters.

The First.

One of the legendary heroes of Pearl Harbor that day was Doris “Dorrie” Miller a sailor who was doing laundry below deck on the battleship USS West Virginia, when the attack began.

Pearl Harbor 2019 Doris-Miller-1942

Dorrie Miller wearing his Navy Cross

He was awarded the Navy Cross, the Navy’s second highest decoration for bravery, for his actions on December 7. He was also the first African American to receive the award. The Army and Navy were largely segregated all-white organizations in 1941 and the few blacks in the services were assigned menial jobs, like Miller, a messman — essentialy a waiter, busboy and dishwasher — on the West Virginia. Nevertheless, when a torpedo struck the ship, Miller began carrying the wounded to safety. Among them was the ship’s commander, Captain Mervyn Bennion, who was mortally wounded. Miller then manned a .50-calibre anti-aircraft gun, for which he had no training, and continued firing on the enemy planes until he ran out of ammunition and was ordered to abandon ship.

There’s more to the story, some of it is sad,  click here to read more.

The Aviator.

Charles E. McGee wasn’t at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, but it was his 22nd birthday. Within two years he would be flying fighter planes — they were called pursuit planes back then (P-40, P-47, P-51) — against the German Luftwaffe over Central Europe and the Balkans.

PEARL HARBOR 78th Anniv the-Colonel-and-his-cheif-mechanic

Then Captain Charles McGee and his crew chief Nathaniel Wilson in 1944, stand beside McGee’s P-51C Mustang, named “Kitten” for McGee’s wife, Frances, but also because Wilson kept the plane purring like one.

He was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, an all black training unit of fighter pilots in the segregated Army Air Forces. By February 1944, McGee was stationed in Italy with the 302nd Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group. He flew the Bell P-39Q Airacobra, then the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt and finally the North American P-51 Mustang, escorting B-24 Liberator and -17 Flying Fortress bombers over Germany, Austria and the Balkans. He also engaged in low level attacks over enemy airfields and rail yards.

After the war, McGee stayed in what later became the U.S. Air Force, flying a total of 405 combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam — an Air Force record. He retired as a colonel in 1973.

Former Tuskegee Airman celebrates 100th birthday

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Quail)

The retired colonel high-fived airmen in the photo above during a visit to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on December 6, 2019 — the day before his 100th birthday. McGee served a total of 30 years in the Air Force, beginning with the Army Air Corps, and flew a total of 409 combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Click here to see an interview he did with Washington radio station WTOP.

*** *** ***

SHAKO-West Point cadets

SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.


Entry filed under: Air Force, Army, National Security and Defense, Navy, Photos, SHAKO, Traditions, U.S. Navy. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

FRIDAY FOTO (December 6, 2019) Droids, Drones & ‘bots: Lost U.S. Drone; French Drone-Equipped Patrol Boats; Russian Armed Robots

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December 2019


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