The Suit: For 2016, Spades is my suit for “Indiana related short non-fiction stories”
The Selection: “The B-29s” from “Last Chapter” a collection of “dispatches” from late World War II, particularly from the Pacific.
The Author: Ernie Pyle should need no introduction. An incredibly popular reporter of the war from Dana, Indiana, it’s sad to think, while reading these reports, that he would be dead within a year of writing them. He was killed by a Japanese bullet on Iwo Jima in April , 1945.
What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card, and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/storyroster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is also now officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.
(Above: a B-29 hard at work)
“I’ve always felt the great 500-mile auto race at Indianapolis was the most exciting event – in terms of human suspense – that I’ve ever known. The start of a B-29 mission to Tokyo, from the spectator’s standpoint, was almost the same as the Indianapolis race.” – Ernie Pyle
(above pictures from: https://www.dc3dakotahunter.com/blog/marianas-the-b-29s-fixed-aircraft-carrier/ and indystar.com)
I didn’t really know anything about B-29s before reading this piece. All of my “experience” from movies and television dealt with the B-17 “flying fortress” and not the B-29, whose nickname, by the way, was “Superfortress.” Pyle writes of it that it was “unquestionably a wonderful airplane. Outside of the famous old Douglas DC-3 workhorse, I’ve never heard of an airplane so unanimously praised by pilots.” His descriptions of the missions and especially his first-hand accounts of their Indy 500-like – and literal -“flying start” were thrilling and gave me a new appreciation for the crews and ground support of those planes.
The missions that he witnessed started at Marianas (also where the photo above was taken), where the writer happened to have a nephew stationed. Their primary target on the missions was Tokyo itself, which was about a 14-hour round trip. I found it particularly interesting when he related that this time during the mission when they were en route or returning was almost as challenging as the, relatively speaking, brief time over the target and when they were fighting off the enemy’s defending fighters and anti-aircraft. Often, planes were damaged and effectively “limping” home. How stressful must that long flight home have been, wondering if you could indeed make it back without having to “ditch” in the open Pacific.
Speaking of ditching, Pyle points out that it was a much more hazardous process there in the Pacific rather than in the English Channel, where it was more likely for rescue operations to be successful due to the relatively small size of that body of water. On the missions Pyle describes, a damaged plane, especially one whose damage caused it to lag behind the rest, would usually have a “buddy” plane assigned to help pinpoint the location if indeed they did end up having to ditch. The pilots and crew told Pyle that one of the hardest parts of flying missions was the helplessness they felt when one of the planes in their group was damaged. There wasn’t much they could do to assist, even though they were “right there” in the air next to them. It’s not like they could loan another plane one of their four perfectly functioning engines. As Pyle reminds us: “There is indeed a fraternalism in war that is hard for people at home to realize.”
One of my favorite passages dealt with the food the airmen ate and those who prepared it for them at their base. But Pyle also relates that “most of the boys got packages from home. One kid wrote and told his folks to slow up a little, that he was snowed under with packages. Jack (Pyle’s nephew) had two jars of Indiana fried chicken from my Aunt Mary. She cans it and seals it in Mason jars,and it’s wonderful. She sent me some in France, but I’d left before it got there. Jack took some of his fried chicken in his lunch over Tokyo one day. We Hoosiers sure do get around, even the chickens.”
I’m kind of sad that this is the final Ernie Pyle piece that I’ll read for Deal Me “IN” but, like I’ve said previously, I’ve now fortified my library with additional writing by Pyle, and a biography of him that I’m also looking forward to reading.
♫Personal Notes: One of my all-time favorite movies is the classic “Twelve O’clock High” starring a young Gregory Peck. It’s definitely worth a watch if you’ve never seen it, and I was reminded of it while reading this week’s story. I think it did a good job of capturing the “anticipation” of those on the ground waiting for their comrades to return, and counting the planes as they got back, praying the same number returned that took off. Sadly, there were usually fewer planes landing than had originally taken off.
(above: At the end of the film, Gregory Peck sits “catatonic” the entire time the mission was in the air…)