Men who flew 'the Hump’ during World War II prove resilient, but this may be their la

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by syscom3, May 6, 2009.

  1. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    Men who flew 'the Hump’ during World War II prove resilient, but this may be their last reunion

    By CHRIS VAUGHN
    cvaughn@star- telegram. com
    FORT WORTH — This is the last reunion of the "Hump" pilots of the China-Burma- India theater of World War II.
    That’s their story right now, anyway.

    "2006, 2007 and 2008 were all our last reunions too," said Bill Gilmore, 86, a Texan who now lives in Cincinnati.

    At their age, they don’t plan a year ahead. Once spring rolls around, they start reconnecting to see who can make it. One of these years, they know no one will.

    "I’m not one for those last-man-standing traditions, but I’m going to come as long as I can and at least one or two of the guys," Gilmore said.

    Ten years ago, 100 pilots would show up for the Air Transport Command Hump Pilots’ reunion, a group of U.S. military pilots who flew hair-raising routes over the southern Himalayas to keep China in the fight against Japan.

    This weekend, 13 made it.

    They’re asked why they still do it.

    "We haven’t told all our stories yet," said Jay Vinyard, 85, who lives in Amarillo.

    A little-known fight

    The China-Burma- India theater was one of the reasons it was called a world war, a little-known place on the globe where combat raged unknown to most Americans.

    The U.S. established air bases in northeastern India to shuttle supplies, parts, ammunition, weapons and fuel into China, both to supply Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist forces and the "Flying Tigers" of the 14th Air Force, which flew combat operations out of China.

    "The Flying Tigers got the glory. We were just the truck drivers," Vinyard said. "They got the white scarves. But the only way they could fly was because we took them everything they needed."

    The men flew over 18,000-foot peaks in unpressurized, deafening, bone-chilling metal boxes with wings for eight hours a day, all for the celebrity that comes with being a "noncombat" pilot in a lumbering transport.

    The military started the flights in mid-1942 after Burma fell to the Japanese, but it didn’t begin with vigor until early 1943. It lasted until August ’45, when the Japanese surrendered.

    The early pilots got to return stateside after 300 hours of flying time. The later pilots had to serve 650 hours. And even that was extended later in ’45. Serve a full tour, and the Army would hand a man a Distinguished Flying Cross.

    Harsh conditions

    W.F. "Tex" Rankin, who graduated from Texas Christian University in 1940, earned his wings a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He pulled two tours as a Hump pilot, returned to the U.S. for other assignments and stayed in the Air Force for 30 years.

    "In November of ’43, I flew 136 hours on the Hump," the 89-year-old Fort Worth man said. "That was my biggest month."

    Mechanical problems and bad weather took an enormous toll. Wings iced up. Winds howled at more than 100 mph. Clouds obscured mountain peaks. Thunderstorms from colliding air masses were enormous and powerful.

    "We used to ride 5,000-foot currents up and down," Rankin said.

    The pilots had no radar, no navigators and no airfields with guidance or landing systems. Inexperienced pilots, particularly late in the war when men would arrive in India with only a couple hundred hours of flying time, and Japanese fighters operating out of Burma took out more crews.

    By the end of the war, almost 600 airplanes had gone down, and more than 1,300 men had been killed.

    "We were completely defenseless, " Rankin said. "Your only defense was that if you saw him soon enough, you could dive into a cloud bank."

    It was a miracle when men bailed out of crippled planes and made it back alive. Many of the crews were never recovered.

    Their names can still be found on the Defense Department’s list of missing in action.

    "They didn’t make an announcement about casualties, so you usually didn’t know who was gone," Vinyard said. "If guys showed up in your tent and started to take out your roommate’s possessions, that was about the only way you knew."

    Sometimes it was a miracle anyone survived, given the malaria, dysentery and meager food rations at the bases in India. Skill, these men would be the first to admit, would get a pilot only so far.

    "Luck had a hell of a lot to do with it," Vinyard said.
     
  2. Wildcat

    Wildcat Well-Known Member

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  3. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor
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  4. Soundbreaker Welch?

    Soundbreaker Welch? Active Member

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  5. Airbone Bunny

    Airbone Bunny New Member

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  6. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    I knew two guys in Dallas who flew the Hump, one flew C46s and the other a cargo version of the B24. The one who flew the B24 crashlanded in Burma and before being rescued a few days later, he said the whole crew was anemic from leech bites.
     
  7. HumpPilotGrandson

    HumpPilotGrandson New Member

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    Hey syscom3, don't know if you will get this message but if you do I was wondering what other info you might have the hump or hump pilots, if any. Jay Vinyard, the gentleman you quoted above is my grandfather. I am a film maker in LA and I am going to do a doc on the Hump and I am just starting my research, so I am reaching out to people such as yourself. If you do get this please contact me if you don't mind. Thanks!

    Damon Vinyard
    [email protected]
     
  8. evangilder

    evangilder "Shooter"
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    Damon, you may want to swing by the SoCal Wing of the CAF in Camarillo. They have a C-46 Commando there and there is at least one hump pilot that is there.
     
  9. DerAdlerIstGelandet

    DerAdlerIstGelandet Der Crew Chief
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  10. A4K

    A4K Well-Known Member

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    Hell of a story...and typical that only the combat crews got noticed. :salute:
     
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