December 2, 1941
“As war clouds
gathered over the Pacific and the intensity of alerts, exercises, and other training activities increased, Hawaii’s
military community as a whole still maintained a peacetime mentality and continued to operate with a business-as-usual attitude.”
--“7 DECEMBER 1941 THE AIR FORCE STORY,” p. 47
By Tuesday morning the red tape had been sorted out at Wheeler and the 47th was ready with
aircraft armed with .30 caliber ammo and pilots eager to start pushing the buttons on their sticks sending real bullets through
the flag target.
The ground crews had painted the front, bullet part of the rounds in different colors so the accuracy of each
pilot’s color could later be examined.
Capt. Austin and Lt. Rogers had decided that while the aircraft of one flight took turns
firing at the flag target out over the water, the other flight would be practicing more aerial combat over the island in the
general vicinity of Haleiwa.
The 47th squadron had been formed in December of 1940 by Capt. Austin when Taylor and Welch
were still Air Corps flying cadets in training.
Austin started with no planes and no personnel. But as a West Pointer he knew something about
how the Army system worked and soon had put together an organization that at least resembled a squadron.
After joining the 47th
in January, 1941, it did not take long for Welch to impress Austin and Rogers with his extraordinary flying and aerial combat
same was true for Taylor when he arrived at the 47th in May fresh from advanced flight training at Brooks Field, San Antonio.
Austin was intrigued
with both the young pilots. Their general flying abilities and fearlessness in practicing aerial combat offset the somewhat
less than proper officer behavior on the ground. Their goofing off did not particularly bother him, but it drove Rogers with
his own West Point background to endless frustration.
When the squadron was practicing aerial combat tactics with no nonsense,
Austin particularly found Taylor and Welch adept at nailing their opponents and usually left Rogers trying to get into position
to down Welch’s P-40. Austin often chose Taylor as his aerial opponent and sometimes would have been the loser had it
been real warfare.
Not that he didn’t have some of the same attitude reflected by Taylor and Welch as a young officer just
out of the Point. Austin felt the major challenge he and Rogers faced was keeping the squadron’s pilots focused and
not being so West Point rigid on the ground.
Many men new to the military chafed at the endless routines of marching, target practice
with various weapons and keeping living quarters clean and orderly.
It was natural for newcomers to view these routines
as somewhat of a way for senior officers to amuse themselves with their power. The longer they served the more they understood
the routines were time-tested disciplinary measures keeping troops, whether on the ground or in the air, prepared to give
their best in destroying an enemy with minimum harm to themselves.
On the second day at Haleiwa, Rogers was flying above
the flag target practice while Austin cruised around at 10,000 feet watching the simulated aerial combat below him.
Two of the P-40s were
chasing each other all over the sky. Disgusted, he got on his radio.
“Leader calling No. 161,” Austin yelled.
“Get into a split ‘S’ for God’s sake before we have to send your parents a telegram that some Jap
has nailed your ass.”
The pilot in the sights of the P-40 on his tail took Austin’s advice and moved into the maneuver he had
been ordered to use, escaping to get into a position to be shooting at the other plane.
The truth was, in Austin’s
opinion, this squadron as a group was not ready for aerial combat anywhere, regardless of almost a year of intense training.
Off the radio, he pushed the throttle of his own plane and moved the stick to the left, turning to watch different planes
chasing each other.
Rogers, circling above the flag target practice just off the beach, was no happier about what was happening below
the path of tracers used by the attacking P-40s it was easy to see some of the pilots were not even close to hitting the target
but fortunately not endangering the old plane and its crew pulling the target. Shaking his head, he got on his radio.
idea in this exercise is to hit the target. You are never going to do that until you learn to lead your target so you quit
wasting your ammo way behind the flag. Lead your target, lead your target and I want to see some hits down there –-
preferably on the flag!”
Late that afternoon in the headquarters tent, Austin and Rogers both were pacing around shaking
their heads trying to diagnose the action of both flights that day and the apparent lack of readiness.
Austin was a pleasant
man, older and wiser than his young charges in the 47th squadron and reluctant to beat up on them for their performances.
Unlike Rogers, he believed leadership by example was better than using the club so often a part of military training not just
for Americans but in military services all over the world.
Finally he looked over at the noncom sitting at the desk with the
I want to talk to the pilots so get on the PA and tell all of them to get here on the double. Check the showers and latrines.
I want everybody here on the double!”
Some fifteen minutes later Austin and Rogers counted heads of the pilots in front of the
headquarters tent and decided all were present.
Both men pushed the tent flaps aside. Rogers called the squadron to attention, then ordered
the pilots to be at ease.
They were a fine looking group of young men, Austin felt as he looked them over carefully, all dressed in their
In his heart he knew in a few weeks they would be in combat somewhere, somehow. Some would be exceptional pilots
and, if lucky, live longer than the others who, through either sloppy flying or bad luck, would be dead or missing in action.
Whatever the circumstances,
it would be his obligation to sit down and write a letter to the pilot’s survivors, most likely parents, to console
them in their loss. But he was the one with the captain’s bars, soon to be the gold oak leaves of a major, on his uniform
and that was just part of a squadron commander’s job.
“Gentlemen, Lt. Rogers and I agree from watching the simulated
aerial combat and shooting at the flag target that today was not our finest hour.”
Several men, all smokers, cleared
their throats not knowing what was coming next.
“Some of you have played sports and I’m sure everybody has at least watched a
basketball or football game somewhere in high school or college.
“So let’s take basketball as an example
because it is more widely played than football since it takes fewer players. You have two teams under the basket at one end
of the court and a player gets the ball and makes the fast break toward the other end of the court. In seconds, just mere
seconds, he has made a lay-up and put two points on the board for his team.
“Or football,” said the captain,
who knew the game well. “You have a play by the offensive team, a fast back breaks through the line or a receiver catches
a pass and within seconds those listening on the radio hear the announcer say, ‘He’s at the forty, the thirty,
the twenty, the ten and now he’s in the end zone for a touchdown,’ and his team has six points.
happen in just seconds.
“When we get into combat, as I’m sure we will in the next few weeks, I want you to remember that
downing the other plane as opposed to you being shot down is mainly a matter of focus.”
Taylor and Welch were standing together
and exchanged a glance indicating they were wondering where Austin was going.
“What I’m talking about here,”
Austin continued, “is focus. F-o-c-u-s. Up there today, Lt. Rogers and I observed, it looked like you men were worrying
about your dates Saturday night, your car payments, if your girlfriend back home is playing around with some other guy or
God knows how many thoughts other than about trying to be the best pilots in the Army Air Corps.
“So, what is my point? When
we get into combat, you lose your focus for a few seconds it’s not going to be a nice lay-up with your opponents scoring
two points or a touchdown with six.
“In a few seconds in aerial combat, if you are not focused then your parents get a
yellow Western Union telegram, I write a letter saying nice things about you, the Army gives you a white cross in some cemetery
and life goes on.
“Just remember this. The odds are life will go on a lot longer for you if you stay focused every second
in combat. Every second. And tomorrow, Lt. Rogers and I had better see some focus because we frankly like having you around.
We’re proud of the 47th squadron. We’re proud of you. Let’s get up in the morning feeling we are the best
and then go out and demonstrate it.”
Austin turned to leave then reversed himself and held up a hand to stop Rogers from dismissing
“I also want to mention something going around out here that is more than just another rumor. The story
is Gen. Short thinks we Air Corps people are just a bunch of flyboys up watching the scenery every day, and some of us should
be out marching with the ground troops, digging latrines and trenches for water pipelines to those new tents at Wheeler and
that kind of work.
“It’s not at the level of my rank to try to convince him we are working hard at what we are supposed
to be doing in the Army, and that is flying planes that can do a lot of damage to any enemy. Let’s not give him any
reason to be inspired to expand on what he already has started which I personally think is a grave error. Whether or not Gen.
Martin, commander of the Hawaiian Air Force or Gen. Davidson, the 14th Pursuit Wing commander, can convince him otherwise
I don’t know. But I damn sure hope they will be falling on the sword trying to keep us doing what the Army Air Force
is supposed to do.”
With that, Austin turned and went back into the headquarters tent while Rogers dismissed the men so they could
head for the evening meal.
Taylor and Welch walked away together. Regardless of their cocky bravado appearance, both had their doubts about
what would happen when up in the sky against veteran enemy pilots trying to shoot them down.
“Woo,” mused Welch.
“Somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”
“George, for Christ’s said,” said
Taylor, mild anger in his voice. “The captain isn’t out here just to give us a lot of crap. You know how sloppy
some of those guys were today. Shit, they looked like little bear cubs playing with their dicks.”
said George. “I know he’s right. But I bet your old man just like mine told you a hundred times to stop doing
something that would be a screwup and you didn’t listen.
“With some of these pilots, they are not going to get the idea
until we are in combat and they see one of our P-40s heading for the ground with smoke and flames coming out and it will be,
‘Aloha, old buddy.’”
After the evening meal as some of the pilots were sitting in the club drinking beer, Taylor
in his sly, casual way suggested maybe they could play a little poker.
Most 47th squadron pilots knew of Taylor’s skill
at the card game. But, at the same time the daring-do egos that led them into the Army Air Corps and through the tough training
to get their wings also made most feel they should not be intimidated by the guy from Oklahoma, especially those from California
who considered Okies to be no more than a rag-tag lot even if they had been to college.
A pilot produced a new deck of cards,
the version of the game was decided on and cards dealt.
One Californian was especially disdainful of Taylor to his back. With
his buddies he made jokes about Ken being a “cotton picker” with his relatives heading west with a mattress on
the roof of an old car and six ragamuffin kids hanging out the window.
So it was he and two of his buddies who had been at
Stanford before they joined the Air Corps sat down for the game. Welch, nursing a beer, had decided to let Taylor do the playing.
If he won some money, maybe for once he would pick up a check or two if they were not on duty and out partying come the weekend.
In the first half hour
Taylor had losing hands and Welch was beginning to worry he would end up losing everything he had won on Saturday night at
the Wheeler club.
Emboldened by Taylor’s misfortunes, the Californians ordered more beer and began to up the ante. With every
hand, the Oklahoman painfully reached into his pocket and slowly peeled off the bills he needed to stay in the game.
said one of the pilots. “Let’s sing our school song and let the Okie hear something from a real school!”
His two companions,
who also were amassing a little money in front of them, yelled “Yea, let’s sing him a good school song.”
So the three joined
in loudly, reflecting the influence of their beer.
“Oh, it’s beer, beer, beer that gives us all a cheer on the farm, on the farm.
beer, beer that gives us all a cheer on the Leland Stanford Junior Farm!”
No emotion showed on Taylor’s face as
he studied the cards that had just been dealt to him before the singing began.
“Oh, it’s wine, wine, wine that
makes us feel so fine on the farm, on the farm.
“Yes it’s wine, wine, wine that makes us feel so fine on the Leland Stanford
The singers paused a minute to take big swigs from the beer bottles and play a few cards. Then the leader started
“Oh, it’s whiskey…”
“What do you say we hold that a minute,” said Taylor softly.
“It’s getting late, so why don’t we just all bet that famous farm on the next hand?”
“You got it,
Okie,” said one of the Californians. And all four players shoved their money into a pile in the center of the table.
One dealt the draw cards requested by the players, took another swig of beer, and was ready for the next verse of their song
with each pausing long enough to pass or draw more cards.
it’s whiskey, whiskey, whiskey that makes us all so frisky on the farm, on the farm.
“Yes it’s whiskey, whiskey, whiskey that makes us all so frisky on the Leland Stanford
The hand had played out and it was time
now to show cards. One by one the Californians laid them down, completely assured they had nailed the hayseed Okie.
The others had good cards but they were yet to see what Taylor was holding. Slowly,
as he looked at each man at the table he laid down a card. An ace of diamonds, an ace of clubs and an ace of hearts. He
hesitated for a moment then placed the final card on the table. It was the ace of spades.
The Californians could not believe it but there were the cards on the table and Taylor raked in
the pot, carefully pocketing the money.
“Nice to play
with you boys,” he said, getting up from his chair. “And I especially enjoyed that song about your farm. What
do they grow on it besides poor crops of card players?”
three Stanford alums stomped out of the tent. Welch waited until they were out of earshot and literally bent over double laughing,
slapping Taylor hard on the back.
“Man, that was the
funniest thing I’ve seen since I’ve been in Hawaii.”
“Well, George,” drawled Taylor, “we have a saying back in Oklahoma. When our morons go out to California,
it raises the IQ level of both states.”
Current events of that day: United Press reported 75,000 Japanese troops in position
to strike at Thailand. Americans left Shanghai on “Last Chance” vessel. Soviet Tanks Repulse Nazis at Moscow.
U.S. House of Representatives passed drastic restrictions on defense industry strikes. Judge Brooks granted 17 divorce decrees
in Honolulu. Maxim Litvinov, new Soviet ambassador to the U.S. would be arriving Thursday from Singapore on the China Clipper.
Edith Peters, 8, of Mission Lane in Kakaako personally delivered her letter to Santa to him in the lobby of the Honolulu Advertiser.
The Philippines Declared in Great Peril (headline).