The Air Force knows it’s tough to be the littlest brother in the service. The Marines, Army and Navy all get to trace their roots back 238 years and some-odd days, and regularly lord it over their youngest sibling, 66 year and one month-old Air Force. To put things in perspective, if the Marines, Army, and Navy were 18-year-olds, the Air Force would be 5. Anyway, the point is that 238 years is a hell of a lot of history, and tradition is born of history. 66 years is…well, it’s enough to change uniforms a couple of times and come up with a forgettable creed that only reinforces the idea that the Air Force is intent on mandating tradition as opposed to finding it.
All the more important, then, it becomes to embrace proud history where it exists. Allow me to introduce you to Don Flickinger, Richard Passey, and Howard MacKenzie.
It is 1943, and the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater is in full swing. Under the command of General “Vinegar” Joe Stillwell, one of the CBI missions is the aerial resupply of China from air bases in India. Known as “The Hump,” this early feat of airpower involved an endless train of C-46s and C-54s, over- and inexpertly-loaded, crewed by occasionally instrument-unqualified pilots, and flown over that little hump of hills between India and China known as The Himalayas. Despite the high rate of loss, there is no officially-established rescue posture. Instead, a young Army Air Forces Captain, John L. “Blackie” Porter, borrows two C-47s and crews them with barnstormers and meat-eaters. Blackie’s Gang will go on to account for every save in 1943.
On the morning of Aug 2, a C-46 crashed after engine problems and its crew of twenty bailed out. Among the passengers was Eric Sevareid, famed war correspondent. There are several accounts of what happened next, to include Sevareid’s piece in the St Petersburg times, but this much is clear: Lt Col Don Flickinger, Wing Flight Surgeon, parachuted alongside Sgt Richard Passey and Corporal William MacKenzie to the survivors. Following this, he triaged and treated the survivors.