Sept. 1, 2007

I greatly enjoyed your article “Comeback in the Pacific” by Executive Editor John Tirpak [July, p. 24], as it shows that we are finally making some moves in the Pacific. I was somewhat surprised by Adm. [William J.] Fallon’s statement that we are “well-postured” to repel any attack by North Korea or any other nation. [‘”Overmatch'” in the Pacific,” box, p. 26.] In fact I would argue quite to the contrary. Having watched the growth of the Sleeping Dragon, communist China, through my tours in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam conflict, flying reconnaissance in the coastal areas of Asia, through the Cold War at a Pacific facility in charge of the intelligence database for the entire Pacific, to the more recent blatant take down of our P-3 Navy aircrew by communist Red Chinese MiGs, and a tour at Air Force Special Operations Command headquarters during the invasion of Afghanistan, I have some other thoughts on the subject.

When you consider the vast military expansion of the Chinese forces, and their economic impact on the entire world, I would politely give an assessment quite the opposite of Admiral Fallon’s. This is my viewpoint of the present situation: Our reduced presence in the Pacific, since the end of the Vietnam conflict, has only in the last few years taken a slight turn for the better, after some 30 years of a spiraling downturn of military assets to that of merely a token presence of air and naval forces in some former key Pacific areas [where] we once were considered unbeatable. At the same time, the Chinese have amazingly positioned themselves in the world in every trade center, not just the US, but especially in their new areas of key operations such as the Panama Canal, South America, and Africa.At the same time that this grand Chinese military buildup and trade monopoly was taking place, the US systematically reduced our forces in the Pacific until very recently.

I would venture to believe that the astonishing takedown of our Navy P-3 by the Chinese Air Force in international airspace and the internment of our military personnel and the stripping of our sensitive electronic equipment by Chinese forces was a turning point, at least for some of us. It helped me to realize that the communist empire of the Cold War is still in place regardless of our multinational corporate interests that we so handily have laid out to the communist regime, while disregarding the human rights interest of [our] forefathers.

I can remember in the late 1980s attending the Pacific Basin Forum, where ambassadors to the key countries of the Pacific Rim came to discuss in Honolulu their desperate cry for increased participation of US forces in the Pacific. Australia was a key country that supported to the hilt year after year and conflict after conflict the US position in the world, but only got lip service when it came to improving defense capabilities bilaterally in their part of the world. We reduced our Air Force capability until most recently down to the bare bones, and our great Pacific Fleet of the past has been stripped to a minimum number of ships and routes as compared to the great US Pacific Fleet of the past. I remember in the late 1980s the CINCPAC assessment that our aircraft numbers were down to the lowest since WWII.

Yes, I do like the few key things we are doing in the Pacific, such as moving the Japanese into a better military posture [and] building up military capabilities on Guam and Hawaii to begin to turn this around, but without a strong cohesive political and military desire to come back in the Pacific, and treat it as our greatest area of interest, I fear that the Chinese momentum will, if it has not already, nullify most of the tactical and strategic advantages we fought for during WWI and II, Korea, and Vietnam.

Finally, Admiral Fallon’s comment of “well-postured” falls just short of apology for the reduction of our national interest in the Pacific. Let’s hope and pray if we are to ensure future peaceful settlement of any scenario in the Pacific, whether it be North Korean, Taiwan, or Spratley Islands dilemmas, it will only be through a heightened awareness of our vulnerability and [continuing] to strengthen and resolve these vulnerabilities. Let us not forget that the North Koreans are the puppet state of the [Chinese] communists and remain so today in my estimation. Just as we are finally starting to get tough with the Chinese on their goods that are produced with questionable labor practices and [that] can be tainted with questionable if not downright dangerous substances, I feel we need to prepare for the worst to be able to ensure the best outcome for peaceful resolution in the Pacific.

Lt. Col. Sid Howard,

USAF (Ret.)

Midwest City, Okla.

Drone War

Rebecca Grant’s article, “The Drone War” (July 2007, p. 36), brings back memories of the “Missile War” of the 1950s when the Army, Navy, and Air Force were vying for supremacy in the ballistic missiles weapons field. [Vice Adm. William F.] Raborn of the Navy’s Special Projects Office, and [Maj. Gen.] John Medaris of the Army’s Redstone Arsenal, and [then-Brig. Gen.] Bernard A. Schriever of the Air Forces’ Western Development Division all made strong, valid points of why their service should either be the dominant agency or why they should have separate programs of their own. Competition is healthy, but sometimes results in expensive duplications and operational chaos. Nonproductive interservice rivalries begin in the separate military academies.

These interservice rivalries for weapons and/or mission dominance did not begin with the missile programs, but are as old as the military services themselves. What makes the current competition of major importance to the Air Force is that the very future of the service is at stake. Over 50 years ago, the Air Force successfully experimented with a fully automatic aircraft (C-54) that could take off, cruise across an ocean, and land without anyone touching the controls. Within the next 50 years, the skies will be filled with aircraft that are fully automated from takeoff to landing with and without “safety pilots.” Today’s UAV combat vehicles are the harbinger of things to come. Current commercial and many military aircraft take a minimum of pilot intervention to operate. It is only a short step to where UAVs dominate the skies. The Air Force has reason to be concerned.

Lt. Col. Bill Getz,

USAF (Ret.)

Hillsborough, Calif.

Terry, Steve, and Friends

Thanks for the wonderful article on the aviation comic strips. Of course, I was a big fan of Steve Canyon as well as Terry and Smilin’ Jack. Canyon seemed to be real, like he was actually in the Air Force with us!

Zack Mosley came to Air Training Command HQ at Scott Field (about 1949) when I was assigned there as an airman first class drawing charts to help the generals manage the command. Zack was running “Downwind” (or another of his characters) through the aviation cadet program and came to the HQ for advice and suggestions, or something. I asked to meet him, and took a small piece of illustration board for his autograph. While signing for me, he commented that he could not draw Smilin’ Jack for me because “those young Air Force officers drank me under the table last night at the O Club.” He did look a little old and tired, but he did his duty by this fan and was cordial and pleasant about it.

Smilin’ Jack had a fat friend who was always popping buttons off his shirt, and there was always a chicken there to catch the button in its beak. All of Zack’s female characters had identical buxom bodies, always in the same pose, just different hair color and style. As you wrote, his airplanes were well-drawn and identifiable, though.

I also cherished Bob Stevens’ “There I Was . . .” cartoons. I wish we still had those and Steve Canyon (Milton Caniff) to champion the USAF cause for the public today. The American people as a whole love airplanes and want the Air Force and the Navy to have the best (I helped design the “Super” F-18 E/F). I just wish the Army and the politicians were as “understanding.”

I always read every word of anything John Correll writes that I see. Please continue.

Garland O. Goodwin

Columbus, N.C.

I was so pleased to read your fine article “A Brush With the Air Force,” in the July issue.

Back in the early 1940s Milton Caniff came to Dayton and announced in the newspaper that he was offering a free public cartooning class in the Dayton art museum, so I enrolled for two weeks. Before he left for New York he gave me his autograph on a “Dragon Lady” illustration which now is hanging on my room wall.

During college I did some cartoons and a few theater backgrounds.

Of course, every day I loved to read his famed “Terry and the Pirates” and “Steve Canyon” and others. Milton’s illustrations looked as if all were photographed—piece by piece and well-proportioned.

Col. Herbert W. Lester,

USAF (Ret.)

Kerrville, Tex.

Your article on “A Brush With the Air Force” brought back fond memories of when I was a gunnery instructor at Luke AFB, Ariz. In 1951, the Air Force sent a group of cartoonists to various bases to be sure they depicted the Air Force accurately. I was assigned to be the host of Milt Caniff’s partner, a Frank Engli. I told Mr. Engli that Terry (of “Terry and the Pirates”) and I got out of flying school about the same time, and we checked out in P-40s about the same time. He thought that was pretty cool and asked if I would like some of Milt Caniff’s work. A few weeks later I got a package from Frank Engli that contained—WOW!—an original pen and ink drawing of Terry flying (this was the black and white strip that was sent to the publisher), a color drawing of Steve Canyon, and a color drawing of Miss Lace—all signed to me by Mr. Caniff himself! These wonderful pictures are hanging in my den, and they represent to me all that is the best in Air Force cartooning.

Col. Bill Landis,

USAF (Ret.)

Escondido, Calif.

I just finished reading John Correll’s article, “A Brush With the Air Force,” in the July 2007 issue. It really opens up a can of “nostalgia” for me, as I’m sure it did for many. I grew up in the 1930s and 1940s and couldn’t wait for the “funnies” so I could follow “Smilin’ Jack” and “Terry and the Pirates.” Their exploits were probably a big factor in my enlisting in the Air Force in 1948.

One of the big things I remember about the strips was the two or three panels Zack Mosley would have at the bottom of the Sunday “Smilin’ Jack” episode. In it he had Jack’s sidekick, “Fat Stuff” (a large fat man who was popping off his shirt buttons that were then swallowed by a chicken who followed him around), narrating the latest product of innovation involving aviation.

In 1950-51, I was working in the headquarters of the 19th Bomb Group at Kadena, Okinawa. The 19th was “experimenting” with a large 12,000-pound semiguided bomb that was developed from the British “Tallboy.” The project was classified “top secret” with its accompanying problems: a canvas wall to be erected whenever an aircraft was being loaded, all weapons under cover at all times, air police guarding access to the area, etc.

One day, I was at my desk, when the lieutenant colonel in charge of “Tarzon” came storming in and went to the bulletin board and posted something, whereupon, he went rushing back out, slamming the door. The group commander, Colonel Jennings, came out of his office to check out the noise, read the article newly posted, uttered an expletive, and went back into his office. When the rest of us read what was posted, we couldn’t believe it. There was this cartoon strip from the “Smilin’ Jack” strip accurately depicting the Tarzon, its dimensions, guidance abilities, and the outfit that was currently using it in the Korean War. The lieutenant colonel’s mother had cut it out of her Sunday paper and sent it to him.

Colonel Jennings was so ticked off, he immediately called and had the canvas fences dismantled, the air police dismissed, and told us all that “Tarzon” was no longer classified.

So much for “top secret.”

Richard Oakley

Youngstown, Ohio

Your article titled “A Brush With the Air Force” in the July issue was a very good read and brought back many memories. I used to read “Terry and the Pirates” as a kid growing up in the Air Force and hated to see it discontinued, but that’s life I suppose.

My question to Mr. Correll concerns a comic character from the 1940s, who was named Big Stupe. I have never seen anything that refers to such a character, but supposedly my father’s World War II B-17 was named after him. Can you tell me if there was such a character and what comics he was in

Dad’s airplane, Big Stupe V (tail # 42-37816), was shot down on 13 April 1944 on a mission to Schweinfurt. Fortunately all 10 crew members survived, although my father (tail gunner), Lieutenant Heffley (pilot), and Lieutenant Carini (nav) were wounded in the last moments of flight as pursuing Me-109s finished the crippled bomber off over France.

I am very interested in the source of the name Big Stupe and if it came from comics from that era, I figured you could at least point me in the right direction.

Col. Frank Alfter,

USAF (Ret.)

Beavercreek, Ohio

John Correll replies: Big Stoop was a big—really big—Chinese partisan soldier fighting the Chinese in “Terry and the Pirates.” Big Stoop never spoke, but his much smaller partner, whose name was Connie, talked enough for both of them.

I thoroughly enjoyed John T. Correll’s article in the July issue. It brought back childhood memories of reading the Sunday funnies, especially George Wunder’s version of “Terry and the Pirates.” Even at age 11, I could appreciate his unique, heavily detailed style, and I certainly agree that he never received the credit he was due. Even Mad Magazine parodied Terry in a wonderfully drawn strip in its early comic book format of the 1950s. Called “Teddy and the Pirates,” the story opens with a great picture of two crashed caricatures of Caniff’s pudgy P-40s, its pilots, Teddy and Halfshot, staggering off to find adventure.

On the way, they encounter a former CO, who looks like Edmond O’Brien, and the “Dragging Lady,” which echoes the early strip. (By the way, talking about detail, look at the example of Caniff’s work that opens your article, with Terry talking to an F-15 pilot. Caniff even drew the respirator valves on the inside of his 1944 oxygen mask. Beautiful work!)

Zack Mosley’s “Smilin’ Jack,” on the other hand, offered a rather amateurish style reminiscent of Chet Gould’s “Dick Tracy,” often with perspectives that hadn’t been discovered yet. Even allowing for artistic license, his people were grossly drawn, and, although the aircraft were better, they were usually displayed flying through the final panel for no apparent reason in absolutely garish, often nauseating colors such as magenta fuselages and jade green or banana yellow wings. I wonder if that transgression came from Mosley, himself, or perhaps from the editor who probably didn’t know or care about showing the aircraft in correct colors.

The answer to the question of just what was the aerodynamically grotesque aircraft of the “Blackhawk” strip was, indeed, the Grumman Skyrocket, which, fortunately, didn’t go beyond the prototype stage. Today, it looks stodgy and ill-conceived, certainly not the appropriate mount for such a righteous, futuristic organization, which oddly seemed to favor uniforms similar to those worn by Hitler’s SS.

Bob Stevens was a wonderful cartoonist, a gifted humorist, and someone who knew his subject from the inside. I can’t tell you how often I doubled over in laughter reading his page, which I always turned to first with every new issue.

One of my favorites is the wheel watch junior officer, who fires his flare gun into the cockpit of the offending aircraft. After ejecting from his mortally wounded fighter, the singed pilot rips into the quivering youngster with, “Into the air, clod! Into the air!” Classic stuff! I still miss Bob’s work, although I admire its current replacement, “Airpower Classics.” Perhaps you could do a feature on Bob and show some of his strips.

One last note: Correll mentions the wartime strip “Male Call,” by Milton Caniff. During the war, my father worked on The Pointer, the base newspaper for the Armed Guard section of the Navy. He returned with two bound volumes of the newspaper and as a kid, I memorized them. The issues usually contained one “Male Call,” featuring Miss Lace, a combination of chorus girl and USO rep, there only to serve the homesick or lonely US soldier, usually, but not always, an enlisted man.

Once again, thanks for a great article.

Cmdr. Peter B. Mersky,

USNR (Ret.)

Alexandria, Va.

Strafing—World War II and Vietnam

As a veteran 30-mission B-24 pilot of World War II, General Lewis’ article, “The Art of Strafing,” interested me [July, p. 54]. Although the only example of B-24 strafing I’ve heard about took place during the first Ploesti raid, and anything as big, slow, and vulnerable as a B-24 at .50 caliber strafing altitude would be hard for the enemy to miss in daylight, I often felt an urge to shoot back (from 25,000 feet, yet!) toward those ground-sparkle AA muzzle flashes. Needless to say, I never gave that order.

Instead, I fantasized [about] strafing them in a P-38 with four .50s and a nose cannon making life short and difficult for AA gun crews and their equipment. But I also wondered about sighting in fixed nose guns stationary on the ground vs. flying nearly 300 mph in thick, turbulent strafing-altitude air trying to bring guns to bear in the few available seconds. It seemed to me centering the needle-ball would be required to keep the gun-strike pattern hitting aim point. Perhaps small trim-tab adjustments might be needed to be sure the longitudinal axis of the airplane’s motion coincided with the weapon bores—am I right? Or just an old, frustrated bomber pilot

N.O. Klaner

Hendersonville, N.C.

Just reread General Lewis’ article on strafing in the July issue and am still processing his input. I’m sure you folks will receive thousands of letters from fighter pilots chomping at the bit to “straighten you guys out.”

Few subjects stir the average fighter-pilot’s blood as does his belief that he was the best gun shooter to ever wedge his way into a USAF fighter cockpit.

During the war in SEA I flew three tours in the venerable old Hun. Arguably, the F-100 was the best jet-powered ground attack fighter in that fracas. (See, there I go.) I’ve had many, many forward air controllers from that era tell me that the old Hun was the bird they asked for when the chips were down and they faced a tight troops-in-contact (TIC) situation. Just last year I got a call from an old comrade, one of the brave David FACs operating deep in IV Corps, who went further and stated he asked for our squadron, the 90th TFS, Bien Hoa AB, SVN, in particular when it came to TICs.

On my 20th mission we were tasked to bail out an ARVN company pinned down by the VC deep in IV Corps. The bad guys were within 50 meters and the FAC asked if we could “strafe first.”

Although the regulations prohibited strafe until the snake and nape were expended, these were our troops down there, so we did. Quite effectively, I might add. We broke the attack with guns, then bombed and naped them as they retreated—initially, inside of 50 meters.

This was in the old F-100, with no aiming aids other than an iron gunsight in the front window, plus the skill and determination of the airplane driver. That will never change.

The A-7 was quite an improvement, when it hit the field.

The idea that “those are our guys down there” will never change. When the FAC describes a tense TIC to you, as a fighter pilot it’s the Super Bowl. That won’t change when the F-35, or the F-22, are involved.

And, by the way, napalm was another great weapon when the TIC situation became tense. A good Hun driver could put a nape through the front door of a hootch.

Later in SEA I flew with the now-famous Misty group, where we routinely saved our guns for SAR situations since we were usually first on the scene, and accurate 20 mm fire could be the difference between getting the guy out or not.

Trust me: In Misty we did not track a target for 10 seconds. You would be killed on the first pass. In that heavy AAA environment a fast, tight, curvilinear strafing run was your only hope of survival and of saving the downed airman.

And, just for the record, no one strafed more accurately than the Sandies, the A-1 Spad guys. It took ’em awhile to get there, but they were brave dudes once on scene. (And, please, let’s not hear from the A-37 community on this issue—small gun and combat range that amounted to airfield perimeter defense.)

When it comes to strafing, the pilot makes all the difference—and he must be well-trained!

Jack Doub

Valdosta, Ga.

How the West Would Have Won

Congratulations to Christopher Bowie for his insightful analysis, “How the West Would Have Won” in a war against the Warsaw Pact, July 2007, p. 60. While working as a historian at headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) from 1978 to 1984, I documented the command’s past and ongoing efforts to improve its wartime readiness and survivability (material later used in Dr. Bowie’s RAND studies). I think his scenario is as realistic as any such speculation can be if a war had broken out in the late 1980s. By then, however, the emergence of perestroika under Mikhail Gorbachev, the unraveling of the Warsaw Pact, and greatly improved American and NATO capabilities made such an event less likely than ever.

But what if the Soviets had launched an offensive in the late 1970s or early 1980s, when their military capabilities were peaking and Cold War tensions were at a more dangerous level? The endgame might have been more in doubt. NATO forces (including USAFE) were still in the process of upgrading weapon systems, improving training and interoperability, and strengthening vulnerable infrastructure. In 1982, the USAFE commander, Gen. Charles Gabriel, publicly expressed his concern about “the rapid pace of [Soviet] modernization,” which he considered “phenomenal when compared with the US rate of improvements.”

Perhaps the pact’s greatest advantage over NATO would have been its vastly superior ability to wage chemical warfare (barely mentioned in Bowie’s article). This could have seriously degraded allied forces, which were just starting to implement defensive measures and had only limited means to retaliate in kind. (And I shudder to think about the effects of lethal chemicals on nearby civilians, including American military dependents.)

There are many other questions that, fortunately, need never be answered. For example, what would have been the impact of communist sabotage and espionage, such as the Stasi’s penetration of the West German government, or the betrayal of secure US military communication techniques by the John Walker spy ring? How much warning would NATO have had of a surprise attack? How promptly would the alliance’s unwieldy 16-member decision-making process been able to respond? Would the war have been confined to Europe? Could the two sides have agreed on a cease-fire before resorting to nuclear weapons

Regardless of its outcome, such a war would have been a catastrophe on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Despite the concerns listed above, I believe that the single most important military factor deterring Soviet aggression in Europe during the Cold War—with the exception of an attack’s possible escalation into an unlimited nuclear war—was United States Air Forces in Europe. As noted in 1980 by another of its commanders, Gen. John Pauly, USAFE embodied “the strongest fighting entity within NATO.” (The statement by General Pauly is from notes I took during his farewell address at the USAFE Officers’ Call on July 16, 1980.)

Lawrence R. Benson

Albuquerque, N.M.

Red Erwin

John T. Correll is to be commended for his excellent article [“A Brave Man at the Right Time,” June, p. 62] on Henry “Red” Erwin, a hero among heroes. Mr. Correll mentioned that the B-29s on the Koriyama mission took off from Guam’s North Field. That former Army Air Force facility was renamed Andersen Air Force Base in October 1949 and is still an important bomber base today.

On April 19, 1997—52 years to the day when Erwin received his Medal of Honor—Andersen’s Mission Support Squadron facility was renamed the Henry E. “Red” Erwin Administration Complex. While Erwin could not attend because of health reasons, his son and daughter-in-law flew to Guam and attended the memorial ceremony. It was a fitting tribute to a man whose supererogatory actions exemplified service before self.

John Treiber

36th Wing Historian

Andersen AFB, Guam

Tricare: Paying More for Less

I was glad to read that Congress once again will not be raising the Tricare Prime costs for retirees and family members [“Action in Congress: Higher Tricare Fees Backed,” July, p. 23]. I do not think that Tricare prime is worth an increase in the proposed fees. If the fees are eventually increased, then I would like to see retirees and family members be given a choice as to where he/she receives primary care: military facility or the civilian network. My spouse and I pay our yearly Tricare Prime fee. My spouse and I are mandated to be seen at the military facility in town. My spouse does receive her health care at the military facility, but has rarely seen the same provider twice in a row. She has not seen her primary care provider in over five years. When she calls for an appointment she is told that no appointments are available with her PCP for over a month, but that she can see a member of the team. To me this is not the continuity of care that Tricare has always spouted as being its trademark. I receive my primary care next door to the military facility at the Veterans Affairs clinic. I see the same physician every time. I can get an appointment within seven days at the VA. There may be military treatment facilities out there where the beneficiary sees the same medical provider each time, unless it is an emergency. I can only go by what is available in my area. If fees are increased, then service needs to be upgraded. Choice needs to be given to beneficiaries, especially the retirees and their family members who will be paying more. When I was on active duty I was told to “do more with less.” Now it seems that as a retiree I am being told to “pay more for less.”

Leo F. Voepel

El Paso, Tex.

Do you have a comment about a current article in the magazine? Write to “Letters,” Air Force Magazine, 1501 Lee Highway, Arlington, VA 22209-1198. (E-mail: letters@afa.org.) Letters should be concise and timely. We cannot acknowledge receipt of letters. We reserve the right to condense letters. Letters without name and city/base and state are not acceptable. Photographs can­­not be used or returned.—the editors