Mac McGalliard's War Stories, part 2

This writing is in response to Capt. Pete Hardiman’s article about the GROUND CREWS.

Yes Capt. It took a lot of people doing many different things to pull it off. (Win the war effort) I think back to the battle of ATTU. We had about three different radios tuned to different frequencies and about 100 guys all crowded around to listen. We could hear the transmission from the flag ship, from the pilots in the air, and army personnel in the forward positions. The voices were fast, furious, barking, pleading, demanding, and the whole battle was laid out for us to hear and imagine what was taking place. VERY GRIPPING!!!!.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself, that radio thing was one of the last things that happened of note in the ALEUTIAN Island war. But to us ground people, it put us momentarily in the air with our ships (aircraft) and flight friends.

One of the first things that happened in my life as an airman happened at the air base at Everett, Washington. We had three Sqdn’s.of P-43’s. The Sqdn’s. Were 37th, 38th, and 54th, of the 55th Pursuit Group? They did’nt call it “FIGHTER” Group in those days of early 1941. We were changing from P-43’s to P-38’s and operations moved all the 43’s to an off ramp parking spot, ( to get them out of the way ), I had three ships to look after, preflight, fuel, polish, kick tires, etc, etc.

Across the tarmac and taxi strip to my position walks the fanciest looking officer I had ever seen. Riding PINKS ( those pants that flared out at the thigh ), brown polished boots up to the knee, Sam brown belt across his shoulder, riding quirt, regulation flight cap ( as if this guy would have anything else ), an officer to the bone. Let’s remember this was 58 years ago, so you know he impressed my mind.

He strides up to me and says “are these airplanes ready to go sergeant”? All I could muster was a weak “yes sir”. “Good lets take one “. He climbs in, I belt him in, asked if he needed anything else, and dropped to the ground and in front to give him hand signals, pull chocks, and sent him off into the wild blue yonder. That was the first and last time I saw him. I think what made the story stick in my mind was the fact that he was so WIRY, grey headed, polished, and smiled at a buck sgt. I’ll never forget that day.

From the very beginning, our personnel of the 54th pursuit began to click. 1st. Sgt Robert F. Shields did a lot for the lower four grades. He looked after us like a mother and father all rolled into one. He lined us up one day about the first of May 1941, lowers four grades here and tops three over there, and gave us a pep talk. (He read the riot act to us) Ending up with “if any of you people get into any trouble, come and see me, (he got a kid out of a rape charge) but if any of you top three get into any trouble I’ll BREAK you, because you have those stripes to know how to stay out of trouble”.

Some time in late 1941 (don’t remember the month) right after they fished Capt. EDDY RICKENBACKER out of the ocean, he made a surprise visit to Paine Field (Everett). To make a long story short, he popped into a P-43 to have a publicity picture taken. Well guess what, my flight leader was on one side of the cockpit and me on the other, my hero, Capt. EDDY in the middle. Because it was an army photographer, I couldn’t get a copy !@#$%^&*.

Before we got rid of the P-43’s, our C.O., first Lt. Harley S.Talks, took one up for a fun ride. He got up to about 26,000 feet, turned the nose down hill full throttle, started to pull out at 15,000 feet and succeeded into level flight at around 5,000. I don’t know what the airspeed was, but I’ll bet it was close to MOCK ONE.

When he landed we all gathered around to look seeing. The tunnel that goes from the supercharger on the belly, forward to the carburetor blew up, blowing the little windows out behind pilots head. The baggage door, in the same area of the supercharger, popped open, came up and tore about a foot of skin off where the hinges used to be. Baggage door hit vertical fin and rudder and cut off top two feet of vertical stabilizer and rudder. Wings were rippled where skin was depressed from the pressure of pull out. Wheel well doors bent so they wouldn’t close any more. Lt. Talks said “good flight “.

Republic Aircraft purchased the plane back from the Govt. to study the stress on the aircraft. The P-43 was the fore runner of the mighty JUG P-47. JANES ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AVIATION Supplies us with the information about the two different aircraft. P-43 had an R-1830 engine. With TURBO in tail and TUNNEL going forward between the pilots legs to CARB. 2 Machine guns in each wing of 30 CALIBUR. P-47 had an R-2800 engine with Turbo in same position and tunnel to crab. 4 50 caliber rifles in each wing. With AMMO boxes and belts reaching out to the WING TIP. Jane’s says the P-47 was the largest Fighter aircraft of WW11 (it was big)

When we got to Alaska, Lt. Talks said “if I run out of ammo and have a Jap in sight, I’ll run him over with my props”. It was reported that the last they saw of Talks, he was flying WEST in pursuit of a Jap fighter. Lt Talks never came home. (PS I just received CONFORMATION that Harley tawlks died in the states Jan. 29, 1961) so much for HEARSAY.

These stories are of airplanes and pilots and ground crews------------our very own airplanes---------that we talked to, that we patted (like a girl friend), that we felt proud of-------protected, and BABIED.

The first one and one-half years in Alaska we had no hangers and no engine stands. (To crawl up on to be right close to the engine or see what you were working on). We did change engines-------in a tent. Many times we changed plugs, radiator, oil cooler, or generator in a snow storm. We had gloves, but you couldn’t feel the nut with gloves on , so we took them of and felt for the nut or bolt for five minutes and went to warm up for ten.

A funny story came out of that one time. We had a crew chief on one of the 38s by the name of BUCK BURNETT. Buck always wore a sheep skin lined parka coat; it hung down to his ankles. The main reason it hung so low was because he carried a full, LARGE tool box of tools in the two pockets of the parka. What ever he needed he would dip down into the pocket and pull out the wrench or socket he needed. Buck was a good ole boy, part Indian.

When we were based in Portland Or. Buck wrote a song, (he played a guitar). I can only remember the first verse.

We’ll meet our babies in Portland,
on the corner of fifth and stark.
We’ll take em down to the river,
as soon as it gets dark.

It got better from that point on !!!!!!!!! I missed most of the time spent in Portland; I was in Chanute Field Illinois, going to airplane and engine school

Well back to the story on Buck Burnett. General Buckner, Alaskan Defense Commander, always walked around with no aides, a long GI over coat, with no INSIGNIA or RANK. (He said that way he could mingle with his troops and find out how they really felt). We had been having some trouble with foot soldiers who were wandering in to look seeing. We had put an emergency cable from the cockpit to the bomb rack, just in case the bomb rack DID NOT RELEASE the bomb or belly tank. The cable was right out in plain sight about head high. A couple of times strangers would come along and say what’s this , give it a yank and down would come 350 gals of 100 octane gasoline , with a thump. You can imagine what the crew chief said”!@#$%^&*()

Back to Gen. Buckner. Buck was changing plugs and had gone to supply for plugs and antisize. When he got back, here is this long tall soldier in a GI overcoat standing at the foot of Bucks ladder. Buck strolls up to the soldier and kicks him on the heel and says” move it soldier, carry your ass “The tall guy smiles and moves on. Before long the engineering officer comes running out to Buck and asks what went on. Buck told him and the engineering officer said “you know who that was? Buck made some unprintable statement and says “who cares “So he was told --- it did’nt move Buck much.

We made our own entertainment. There was no town to go to and no girls. (We said there was a girl behind every tree, NO TREES)

The first female I saw in about 18 months, was Olivia Dehaviland. I was at the dentist and she walked up the hall and I went by her, OH DID SHE SMELL GOOD. I turned and watched as she disappeared thru a door. Boy, did she smell good.

So much for memories. We had a good time together------just like kids----19, 20, 21,---- thrown together from all sides of the US of A-----different sizes, personalities, color, religions,-----but we came to be “ ONE “. We made lasting friendships. Until I die, I will be unable to for get my brothers who served with me for a short time from one end of the ALEUTIAN chain to the other. (I made every stop and every island up there).

There are a lot more stories from our two and one-half years spent together overseas.

Until next time

Harry R. McGalliard
54th Interceptor Sqdn.
343rd Fighter Group
Alaskan Defense Command

Last updated: April 11, 2018