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Encounters of the Unknown—Alternate Perceptions Magazine, April 2018

Did God Help My Dad to Cheat Death:
True Stories of a humble World War II Hero

by: Sandy Nichols

The above image says B-24, when in fact he piloted a B-25

Daddy was a Captain and a pilot of a B-25 Bomber, stationed in China with the Flying Tigers during WW 2. He won the second highest medal, not just once, but in fact twice, for which a member of the Army Air Corp Pilot could earn in WW 2. The only other medal higher was the Medal of Honor. This Medal is called The Distinguish Flying Cross, DFC. A military person, if they won a second one or more of the same medal, they would be presented with an Oak Leaf Cluster, to attach to the first medal. So daddy wore on his formal military jacket the original medal with an attached Oak Leaf Cluster. Daddy also won two Air Medals. There was a medal that was presented to those on fighter aircrafts for flying 25 combat missions. After flying 25, they could rotate back home, but my dad refused to go back home, and continued flying more combat missions. When he flew another 25 combat missions, they awarded him with the Oak Leaf Cluster to attach to the original Air Medal. Dad still refused to return home, and flew 8 more combat missions before the war ended. Flying that many combat missions was almost unheard of, because the average number of combat missions for a bomber flight crew before being shot down was around 15. Dad gave God credit for his success. A good bit of combat mission footage from WW 2 shown on Documentaries on TV, came from dad's gun camera footage. Dad also earned the Purple Heart for being wounded during a combat mission. The DFC was equal in importance to the Naval Silver Cross award. 

I only heard daddy talk about his war experiences one time, and though I do not know how he won his second DFC, I know how he won his first DFC. I only learned about this experience, because he was asked and agreed to give a talk to us students at Father Ryan High School when I was 16 years of age. It was during this mission that he also earned his Purple Heart for being wounded during this one combat mission.

The objective of this mission was the bombing of Hong Kong harbor controlled by the Japanese. Daddy's B-25, besides being a bomber was also a gunship, which meant low altitude strafing runs. On this mission his plane took numerous hits from Japanese anti-aircraft guns. When all their bombs were dropped, and their cannon and machine gun ammo spent, dad turned the plane and began heading back to his base several hundred miles away. But there were problems. Dad had a large piece of shrapnel embedded in his left leg. Every member of his crew, 8 or 9, were either dead or wounded, and everybody was unconscious except for dad. To make matters worse, his navigation and radio equipment were all shot up and disabled. He was, in pilot terms, flying blind.

Without navigation and radio, dad had to fly by gut instinct, and he was praying that he was flying in the right direction. After flying for several hours, and his fuel running low, there was another problem. During most of the flight back there was a thick cloud cover at lower altitude from a line of thunderstorms, so he had to fly above the clouds, the thunder, and the lightning. A short time passed and he had 20 minutes worth of fuel left. The cloud cover was scattered as far as he could see, too wide spread to fly past it and ditch his plane somewhere. Then dad saw a small opening in the cloud cover, just large enough for his plane to pass through, but flight training had taught him not to fly through openings in the clouds, because you could run into something and crash. Dad's base was located in a valley surrounded by tall mountains. So dad kept flying. Then dad heard a voice in his head saying “Turn around. Fly through the opening.” Dad ignored the voice, then a minute or so later heard the voice again, and this time he obeyed the voice because when he looked at his fuel gauges, he had 10 minutes worth of fuel left. This amount of fuel would be barely enough to turn his plane around and fly through the opening, and by this time he had nothing to lose. He made it back to the opening with 2 minutes of fuel left and flew through it. Once through and he leveled out, he saw the lights of his base and it's runways. Since his was the last plane that had not been accounted for, and knowing the cloud cover overhead, and calculating when he was just about out of fuel, the base was getting ready to turn off the runway lights when they heard the two engines of his plane. His engines stopped a few hundred yards from the runway, so dad had to keep his plane flying in a glide and make a dead-stick landing. He was taken off the plane as well as the other survivors, but two of his crew had died from being shot up so bad, probably already dead before they left Hong Kong. So Dad saved himself and those surviving crew members during this mission. The only thing I know about his second DFC, was that he saved a bunch of other lives as well. How many I do not know.

Now daddy never spoke about his religious beliefs, and it was very rare that we missed going to Catholic church for mass, and all required Holy Days. I do know that dad was not superstitious in anyway, but during his High School talk, he did say that when he heard the voice in his head, he felt like it was God's voice helping him.

As mama and daddy got older, they began taking more vacation times and relaxing more. These trips were more like tour trips with some of their dearest friends. One trip they took was to Little Cayman Island in the Caribbean, located South of Cuba and West of Jamaica. While there, they decided to take a day trip to Puerto Rico, about 1,000 miles away. They boarded the plane that early morning, what I call a puddle jumper that seats around 25 people, including one flight attendant and the pilot. At some point during the flight, something happened to most of the flight instruments on the plane, navigation, radio, compass, etc., and at the same time the pilot became very, very disoriented, and could not fly the plane anymore. So since dad was the only other person on the plane who had ever been a pilot and flown a plane, he took over.  He was a bit rusty at first for not having flown a plane in years, but shortly everything began coming back to him. Once again like in WW 2, dad was flying blind. With much of the flight path over water, once again he had to fly by instinct alone. The main problem was the very real possibility of not finding land to land on in an emergency if it came to this. Flying at a certain altitude without radio communication over water, he had three main worries: other airline traffic, navigation to know where they were, and flying at the altitude he was flying over water, islands could not be seen, or looking like little dots at best. He decided to keep flying toward Puerto Rico, instead of turning back, because Little Cayman Island was only 10 miles long, and only about a mile wide, and the highest elevation is only 40 feet above sea level, and it would be near impossible finding the island, and the island was mostly forested anyway. So he continued flying toward the direction of Puerto Rico, hoping to find some island with a decent length runway, using instinct, his best judgment, and navigating the best he could using the sun. I don't remember exactly how long he had to fly the plane, but it was close to 2 hours.

Then something amazing happened. Without any warning at all, the instruments began working again, and the pilot came back to his full senses, and was able to take back flying the plane. With the instruments now working, the pilot was able to fix their exact location, and communicate with the Puerto Rican control tower. They were less than 100 miles away, and only about 1/10th of a degree off course, and the pilot was simply amazed at how dad was able to do this, because being one degree off course puts a person 69.4  miles away from their destination. This is a huge distance for planes flying over water, because you could miss a whole island or some other solid land mass just like that.

When they told me this story, I thought “Shit, they were so near the Bermuda Triangle, which in fact is a much larger area than just the three points of the triangle, and the pilot becoming disoriented at the exact same time the instruments failed, has been a common theme in some accounts of the strange happenings in the Triangle” and I have to believe that even though there was never anything said this time around about hearing God help dad and the rest, I have to believe God was in their thoughts and prayers, because while in Puerto Rico, mama and daddy bought me a St. Christopher Medal, with a Cross, on a necklace chain. And St. Christoper to Catholics, is the patron saint of travel.

Sunday, June 16, 2024