Saturday, January 07, 2006

1948—Red Cross

My dad was a Navy pilot during World War II. He spent a year in the Philippines, flying mail, cargo, and people back and forth between islands. He was shot at a few times, he said.

My brother Jim and I used to try to get him to tell us some gory war stories. But he would only shake his head and say, “Oh, you don’t want to hear that kind of stuff.” No amount of prodding would shake a story loose. But he could be persuaded to tell positive, nonviolent war stories—no blood.

Part of my dad’s column on Tuesday, May 4, 1948, was about some experiences he had with the Red Cross during the war. He always used the editorial “we,” rather than “I,” as people do today, so it’s often hard to tell whether he meant he and others, or just he himself. Here’s his 1948 nonviolent story:

We visited in Boston once . . . . It was during the war and we were flying for Uncle Sam’s Navy. Our plane was endeavoring to take a load of patients to a hospital near New York City. We were to land at Floyd Bennett Field.

But the fog rolled in and the Navy sent us to Boston, the nearest airport open. We pulled in at 9 p.m. Looking over the weather, we figured that New York would be open by 4 a.m. So we contacted the good Red Cross ladies, and they sent out six women to serve soup to the patients and comfort them until take-off time.

As it happened the weather broke, and we got out by midnight. But we’ll never quite forget the Red Cross for this and other incidents that occurred while flying patients.

Once in the good town of Manila, P. I., we started flying south to Samar, P. I. And a pleasant looking civilian sent word forward that he’d like to visit the pilot’s compartment. Sure, we said. And he flew co-pilot for an hour. He was a fascinating talker. Landing at Samar, we started out of the transport. A group of attractive Red Cross girls was there to greet him.

“You’d think a big shot was aboard from the turnout of Red Cross girls,” we told him. Then he introduced himself. He was Mr. Basil O’Connor, national president of the American Red Cross.

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