Guest blogger: Robert Jackson of the 379th FS, 362nd FS

Robert Jackson’s widow Joan shared this story with me a few years ago. The military is a big thing, and also a small place! Here’s Jackson’s story, which he dictated many years ago:

 

During WWII we had an old UC-78 in the 362ndFG that we used for little things. If we ran out of bomb fuses we would have to go someplace and borrow some fuses from another outfit and we could do that in a UC-78, which could carry 100 bomb fuses. We couldn’t carry those a P-47, so it was a good little utility aircraft. I learned to fly it because it was a good Cessna product from home.

 

One morning, about 4 a.m., two guys, including Jim Ashford, whose home was Honolulu, Hawaii, came in and woke me up and said, “Come on, we got the UC-78 all loaded up with our stuff. We’re going home. But we have to have someone to fly it back from Paris.” They couldn’t fly it – they weren’t checked out in it. I had just my underwear on, so I pulled on my flying suit and went out and got in the airplane.

 

“Hey, we can’t fly this thing,” I said. “You’ve got it too loaded down with your stuff.”

 

“Dammit, new man, don’t worry about the load on it, just get in and fly it” was the response. So we flew it to Paris, landed at Villacoublay – a good landing – taxied in, and had to get it turned around to park it. We broke the tail wheel while turning around.

 

What did these guys do? Unload all their stuff. “Well, so long Jackson, have a good tour.  See you.” And they took off.

 

I waited around about till 8 o’clock and went into operations. The ops officer in there was a major navigator. I had never heard of a navigator ops officer before. So, I asked him if they had any parts for a UC-78 and he said no, since they did not have any assigned there.

 

“Do you know where they might have any parts?” I asked. He said that the UC-78 depot was at Cambrai, up in Belgium.

 

“Have you got any P-47s here?”

 

“Yeah, we have some war-weary ones.”

 

“What’s my chance of flying one up to Cambrai to get a tail wheel assembly for the UC-78, fly back here and fix the plane?” Well, he didn’t know about that. This navigator didn’t know anything about flying and didn’t know if he could loan me a P-47 or not. I was getting irritated at him. It was getting late and I had not had anything to eat. I didn’t have any identification, didn’t have any money – I was just supposed to fly Ashford and the other pilot there and fly right back. I went to the billeting office and they said they would fix me up with a razor, bar of soap etc. and allow me to spend the night at the billet.

 

There was an Officers’ Mess down at the billet.  “Do you have any clothes?” the clerk asked.

 

“No.”

 

“Oh, General Lee runs the place and he is a real stickler, and you have to have on a green blouse and pinks to get in the place.” Hell, I was hungry so I went anyway. I went into the mess and they wanted ID etc. There was a whole line of people behind me. The maître d’ asked if there was anyone who could identify me. No one from our group was there. The 362nd never got to places like this. The lt. colonel behind me said, “I’ll take care of this. You from the 362nd?”

 

“Yes sir.”

 

“I’m from the 9th. Who is your CO?”

 

“It’s Col. – uh – uh…” Hell! I couldn’t remember his name to save my neck. “Oh yeah-it’s Col. Laughlin.”

 

“What, Laughlin? Well, this young man is a member of the 362nd, let this man in.” The maître d’ said “Oh yes sir. Take that table way back there in the corner, lieutenant.” Which I did. The lt. colonel said he would pay for my dinner and see me when I got home.

 

The first course was soup and I had just started eating when I noticed a girl way over on the other side of the room sitting with about five other officers. She looked just like my cousin Maxine Patterson from Wisconsin in a nurses uniform. It couldn’t be! Well, I thought, I’ll finish the soup first before I go over there in case it isn’t Maxine and I get thrown out of this place. Well, it was Maxine and she was there with her boyfriend Bob Rouse, whom she later married. They took me back to St. Clue, 99th General Hospital and fixed me up with a uniform and found some lieutenant’s bars. Then I went back out to Villacoublay to try and get the airplane thing straightened out.

 

Finally the major navigator said, “you be sure and bring that airplane back here.” Hell, I had to get my airplane fixed in order to go home. This dumb navigator didn’t think I would come back. I checked the forms and it was okay except it was on a Red X – one time flight to the depot. The aircraft was to be dismantled. What the heck – I signed it off, jumped in and flew up to Cambrai.

 

Upon arrival, I asked the operations officer, “Hey, I’m looking for some parts to a UC-78.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“One of your airplanes.”

 

“Don’t have any, all we have are P-51s and a few other planes. UC-78? Let me look this thing up in the log. Yeah, they have those things up in Holland at this place.”  I’ve forgotten now where in Holland this place was, but I went out to get in my P-47 and the crew chief said “Lieutenant, you’re not going to fly this airplane are you? This is on Red X for one-time flight to the depot in Burtonwood in England where they are going to tear it up. This is one of those war-weary ones that is about to fall apart.”

 

“Well, if I just take it this far…”

 

“Can’t let you do that, lieutenant!”

 

“Well, son of a gun, what type of airplanes do you have here?”

 

“Mostly P-51s.”

 

I go back in and talk to the operations officer in Cambrai and ask him if I can borrow one of his P-51s, go up to Holland and get a part for my airplane. “Sure!”

 

I took the P-51, flew up to Holland and they said “What’s a UC-78?” This is about 3 days now that have gone by. I asked them for their field phone so I could call Etain and the 362nd Fighter Group. I got Col. Laughlin on the line: “It’s a long story sir, I’ll explain when I get back.”

 

“You get back now.”

 

“But sir, I have this P-51 that I have to get back to Cambrai.”

 

“ Don’t worry about that Jackson, just fly it back here. You have missed about 2 missions!” I fly back to Etain, land and park the P-51 where they tell me to and about three days later the thing disappears. I don’t know where it went.

 

Now fast-forward 23 years to 1969. I get out to Hickham (Honolulu) and I run all the time out there. For some reason, this brigadier general named Favor saw me running one time and came up to me one day and said, “Jackson, you run about as slow as I do, do you mind if I run along with you?”

 

“Oh no sir, general. Go ahead.”

 

Everyday for about three months we ran together. Nothing was planned – if he wasn’t there I would go ahead and vice versa. He would never say a word except, “Ready to go, Jackson?’  “Yes sir!” and we would run, go to the scan room and take a steam bath and the general would say “Well, see you tomorrow Jackson.” That’s all the contact we ever had.

 

We were out there one day –the general and I – and I look up in front of me and I see this guy running. It’s Jim Ashford – the guy I took to Paris in the UC-78! I caught up with him, stuck out my foot and tripped him a little. Ashford looks around to say a few words and I asked him if he was Jim Ashford. He answered “Yes.”

 

“You son of a gun you left me at Villacoublay 25 years ago.”

 

“You’re Jackson, aren’t you?” Ashford was now the head of the Air National Guard in Hawaii, and he would come out there about once a week to run.  So, we all ran together and I introduced him to Gen. Favor, and then go back to the scan room for our steam bath. We were still talking when Jim says, “what in the hell ever happened anyway?”

 

“Well,” I said, “I was there at Villacoublay to get an airplane and this operations officer was a dumb navigator. Can you imagine a navigator being an ops officer?  He loaned me a P-47 to take up to Cambrai and this thing was on a one-time flight, so I borrowed a P-51 and went on up to Antwrep. Then I called Uncle Joe on the telephone and he said ‘get your ass home. Forget about your damned airplanes, we’ll take care of that later.’ So, I went on home.”

 

Jim said “Son of a gun, isn’t that something. I’ve got to get back to the office. I’ll see you later, Jackson.”  The general is still sitting there in the Scan room. And you know, everyone sat with a little distance between them. Finally, he comes over and sits right next to me. “What’s this?” I think. And he says “Jackson, that’s one of the funniest stories I have ever heard. Can you imagine meeting that guy 25 years later, 8000 miles from where he left you. By the way, do you remember me in the story?”

 

“Do you mean, about me and Ashford?”

 

“Yes, do you remember the dumb navigator Jackson?  WHERE IS MY P-47?”

 

 

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