Bor­row­ing a fa­mous line from Fredric March in The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), I found that this is­sue has an un­in­ten­tional theme. When I leaned back and looked at the lineup af­ter we had cast it in con­crete, I could see where every ar­ti­cle speaks to in­di­vid­ual war­riors putting it all on the line and per­se­ver­ing—this, even though the odds looked as if they were very much against them.

Cer­tainly, the big­gest “hero tale” in this is­sue is that of Col. Jim Howard, USAAF, and it is won­der­fully told by mas­ter word­smith Bar­rett Till­man. If you have any gray around the edges of your hair­line (or if your hair­line is nonex­is­tent), you al­ready know the name of Jim Howard. Some young’uns prob­a­bly don’t. The only fighter pilot in the ETO to be awarded the Medal of Honor, Howard’s aerial der­ring-do, when faced with up­ward of 30 Ger­man fighters, is one of the leg­endary com­bat tales of World War II. With no other Al­lied fighter within strik­ing range of a large force of 109s, 190s, and 110s pounc­ing on a bomber for­ma­tion, Howard, a 30-year-old Mus­tang pilot who had gained valu­able com­bat ex­pe­ri­ence with the Fly­ing Tigers, did what fighter pi­lots do: It wasn’t an over­whelm­ing force; it was a tar­get-rich en­vi­ron­ment.

Af­ter the fight, the AAF author­i­ties, who didn’t be­lieve in award­ing MoHs to fighter pi­lots, were forced into it by the ku­dos stream­ing in from the many bomber pi­lots who wit­nessed the 25-minute duel. If you don’t know the saga of Jim Howard and his P-51B, “Ding Hao,” you’re go­ing to love this. It’s a three­d­i­men­sional Dwayne John­son/Tom Mix/John Wayne saga at 20,000 feet.

On the other side of the war, Flight Jour­nal reg­u­lar Jim Busha tells the tale of En­sign Robert Tur­nell on­board the USS Wasp, part of the aerial force that was tasked with soft­en­ing up the Ja­panese home is­lands in prepa­ra­tion for an in­va­sion. Fly­ing an over­loaded F6F Hell­cat, Tur­nell and his ship­mates stag­gered off the decks, day af­ter day, for weeks, bomb­ing one en­emy em­place­ment af­ter an­other. Pre­dictably, the Ja­panese fought hard to de­fend their home­land. It was in­con­ceiv­able to any in the Ja­panese armed forces that for­eign­ers could land on their sa­cred soil, so they were de­ter­mined to fight to the last man stand­ing.

In the fi­nal in­stall­ment of his se­ries WW II Diary, Bar­rett Till­man goes through the war, be­gin­ning to end, and picks what he thinks were piv­otal bat­tles and cam­paigns. Some, like D-Day, were de­cided in a day, while oth­ers, like Guadal­canal, dragged on for months. The out­come of each, how­ever, be­came build­ing blocks in the even­tual vic­tory. Bar­rett an­a­lyzes them, point­ing out each side’s moves and what those moves con­trib­uted to the even­tual vic­tory or loss. In only a few pages, he is able to tell the story of five years of world­wide agony in a way that is log­i­cal and un­der­stand­able. It’s a fit­ting fin­ish to a well-done se­ries.

And then there were Ma­rine Majors Ray Latall and John Van Es, car­ry­ing the des­ig­na­tion for the South Viet­nam mis­sion of Hel­borne 513. They were roar­ing around un­der ceil­ings as low as 200 to 400 feet at 350 knots in their A-4 Sky­hawks, as they made re­peated runs to lay down their bombs and na­palm. A Ma­rine unit was fac­ing an over­whelm­ing wall of NVA troops backed up against the stony ed­i­face of the Ci­tadel at Hue that were de­ter­mined to wipe them out.

Only Hel­borne 513 stood be­tween them and dis­as­ter. Guid­ing them was a Cessna 0-1 that, at 100 knots and 100-foot al­ti­tudes, even­tu­ally ran out of luck while mark­ing tar­gets with hand-dropped smoke grenades. Fly­ing jets in very low ceil­ings with highly lim­ited vis­i­bil­ity is well be­yond be­ing sim­ply white-knuckle fly­ing. The re­sults are usu­ally cat­a­strophic. Read Eric Ham­mel’s telling of the mis­sion to find out the re­sults.

As for “Where do we get such men?” there is no solid an­swer. They just ap­pear, when the need is great­est. Let’s hope the trend con­tin­ues.

Left: Lt. Col. Jim Howard, a one-man air force (photo cour­tesy of Jack Cook). Above: En­sign Robert Tur­nell, Hell­cat pilot over Ja­pan (photo cour­tesy of Jim Busha). Back­ground: A-4 “Scooter,” hero of the Ci­tadel at Hue (photo by Paul Bowen).

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