Ge­or­gia’s Fly­ing Tiger

The Covington News - - OPINION -

Our fam­ily moved from the farm­lands of south Ge­or­gia to Savannah in 1940; my fa­ther had been a share­crop­per and had landed a job in the so-called “de­fense work” es­tab­lished by Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt, an­tic­i­pat­ing Amer­ica’s forced en­try into World War II.

I was eight years old at the time, and the next five years were trau­matic and hec­tic, as I saw the Savannah seg­ment of our so­ci­ety be­ing dragged into the great­est war in world his­tory.

The war ac­tu­ally be­gan in Septem­ber 1939, with Ger­many’s in­va­sion of Poland; it ended Septem­ber 2, 1945. In those in­ter­ven­ing years, all ma­jor pow­ers of the world had joined the war; coun­tries not in­volved di­rectly in the con­flict also felt the war’s vi­o­lent im­pact.

Pri­mary par­tic­i­pants in the war were Ger­many, Italy and Ja­pan, the side which lost, and the United States, Great Bri­tain and the com­mon­wealth, Rus­sia, France, and China, the side which op­posed them and won.

The is­sue of the war was that of ag­gres­sions made by Ger­many and its al­lies, and the war was fought to put down th­ese ag­gres­sions and strip th­ese na­tions of their mil­i­tary power.

The war­fare cov­ered much of the globe from Europe, Asia, North Africa, the is­lands of Ja­pan and the cen­tral Pa­cific.

I saw the war as a child­hood ob­server, see­ing fam­ily mem­bers leave in their hand­some uni­forms to fight, and some to die, in this most dev­as­tat­ing and dis­as­trous of all wars.

Sto­ries of the war came to me in many ways: let­ters from sol­diers and Marines; ra­dio broad­casts, news­reels, comic books and such. Be­lieve me. I was in­volved.

My fa­vorite groups were the para­troops and the fighter pi­lots. I came es­pe­cially cap­ti­vated by the fa­mous Fly­ing Tigers, who found their glory honor in their bat­tles in the wild blue yon­der over en­emy-oc­cu­pied China.

When I wasn’t prac­tic­ing Ju-jitzu, the Ja­panese art of self­de­fense which was made pop­u­lar by the war, I was mak­ing model air­planes. My first at­tempt at con­struc­tion of a plane was the P-40, the kind used by the fly­ing Tigers. I imag­ined that I was fly­ing it.

Years later, af­ter re­turn­ing from my own war ex­pe­ri­ence in the 187th Air­borne in Korea, I landed in Ma­con where I learned about a home­town boy from that city who had been one of the most fa­mous of the Fly­ing Tigers of World War II — Robert L. Scott.

Af­ter jump­ing with the para­troops once in North Korea, near Py­ongyang, and again at Mun­san-ni, which made a to­tal of twenty-seven jumps, I felt that I had seen and ex­pe­ri­enced sim­i­lar ex­ploits to those of Col. Scott, and my in­ter­est in him be­came in­tense.

Scott was in­ti­mately in­volved with op­er­a­tions in the Al­lied Of­fen­sive in South­east Asia dur­ing the early part of World War II.

This im­por­tant cam­paign be­gan when Lord Mount­bat­ten set up the Bri­tish com­mand head­quar­ters at Kandy, Cey­lon, and was in charge of the Al­lied forces in the In­dia-Burma theater; he di­rected the op­er­a­tions of a land com­bat force com­posed of 340,000 In­dian, 100,000 Bri­tish, 65,000 Chi­nese and 10,000 United States troops, sup­ported by 47 U. S. and Bri­tish air squadrons.

One of the main ob­jec­tives of the cam­paign was to fur­nish large quan­ti­ties of sup­plies and war­fare ma­te­ri­als to the em­bat­tled Chi­nese, a project which be­came in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult due to the Ja­panese con­quest of the Burma Road early in the war.

To thwart the en­emy con­trol of this vi­tal route to China, the United States Air Trans­port Com­mand es­tab­lished an air route over the Burma Road known as The Hump, so-called be­cause it was ac­tu­ally over the Hi­malayas from In­dia to the in­te­rior of China.

Un­til the Ja­panese were de­feated in Burma by Bri­tish and Chi­nese forces in 1945 and the Burma Road was fi­nally opened, the air route over The Hump was the most im­por­tant op­er­a­tion in Asia.

Col. Robert L. Scott was one Amer­i­can sol­dier who was there. The ex­pe­ri­ence brought him fame. Noted for his book, “God Is My Copi­lot,” he was Group Com­man­der of Gen­eral Chen­nault’s Fly­ing Tigers.

Scott made his first flight in 1920, in Ma­con; he was 12 at the time. He was try­ing to earn a Boy Scout avi­a­tion merit badge, so he built a crude model of the Wright brothers’ plane barely big enough for one small pas­sen­ger. With the help of some of his ad­ven­tur­ous friends, he hoisted the air­plane to the top of one of Ma­con’s old colo­nial homes and pre­pared to take-off.

He ran down the slop­ing roof with the homemade con­trap­tion and flew into space. Sud­denly, he heard a crack, like the clos­ing of a jail door, and the wing buck­led in the cen­ter. The plane crashed. He said in his book, “the Chero­kee rose bush — prob­a­bly saved my life, but the thorns stayed with me for a long time.”

He never lost the de­sire to fly. So he kept try­ing. World War II came, and Scott found him­self in the U. S. Army at Pearl Har­bor; this was his in­tro­duc­tion to com­bat, bloody and fear­ful. Again he turned his eyes to­ward the sky, and vol­un­teered for the U. S. Army Air Force. He was thir­ty­four at the time and deemed too old for com­bat fly­ing.

But he was fa­vored with Air Force as­sign­ment and went on to be­come a hero to all Ge­or­gians and all Amer­i­cans.

In the Asian cam­paign in Burma as Group Com­man­der he sched­uled him­self as a pilot on all pos­si­ble mis­sions and led all types of com­bat tac­tics, spe­cial­iz­ing in the most dan­ger­ous. He led long-range flights to strafe Ja­panese air­dromes, mo­tor ve­hi­cles and ships deep in en­emy ter­ri­tory.

He wanted more to be in­volved in the ac­tion than to di­rect the ac­tion as com­man­der. He set the high­est record in com­bat as a “One Man Air Force” shortly be­fore he was named Com­man­der of all the Amer­i­can Fight­ers in China.

Of­ten with odds as much as five to one, in planes that were bat­tered, Col. Scott led the Tigers in fierce, coura­geous bat­tles which had never been seen be­fore or even imag­ined.

Un­til Jan­uary 1943, Col. Scott held the Army record for en­emy planes shot down and be­came one of the na­tion’s high­est dec­o­rated air­men. Af­ter com­mand­ing the famed Fly­ing Tigers, he be­came Wing Com­man­der of the Jet Fighter School at Wil­liams Air Force Base and later led a Thun­der­jet Wing in Ger­many. He was pro­moted to Bri­gadier Gen­eral, and served as Di­rec­tor of In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices for the Air Force in Wash­ing­ton.

His life was marked by ad­ven­ture; he proved his will­ing­ness to try the un­think­able, by walk­ing the en­tire length of the Great Wall of China, an am­bi­tion he achieved at age seventy-two.

“The Day I Owned the Sky,” Scott’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, pub­lished in 1988, is a splen­did tale of one of the most charis­matic men of his­tory. He wrote it af­ter he re­turned to Ma­con in 1987, to head a fund-rais­ing drive and pro­mote the Mu­seum of Avi­a­tion at Warner Robins Air Force Base. He fin­ished this feat in his usual, dra­matic style.

The mu­seum stands as one of the most com­pre­hen­sive col­lec­tions of avi­a­tion his­tory in the world.

When Gen­eral Scott came home, he de­cided to stay. Ge­or­gians can be proud.

Clifford Brew­ton


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