Guardian Angel -- A True Story
The tension was increasing for everyone on board, especially Fisler and Snuffy. The gutsy and venturesome young ensign was now subdued, calling on every ounce of energy and focus he could muster. Snuffy's calm demeanor did not deviate, but the stress was beginning to show on his face. We had to take off now!
The clock was like a garrote, slowly strangling the success of this mission. Both pilots were soaking wet from perspiration, but I knew they were well trained and highly motivated to deal with adversity. And deep within me, I felt certain we were going to make it.
The pilots set up for another try. We caught the next wave, and Snuffy quickly shoved the throttles wide open. "Ole Number 6" shuddered
and shook like a downtown 'Frisco earthquake. We gradually gained speed as we raced down the face of our "ticket home.” The plane vibrated violently as we smashed through the water. I took a quick glance toward the rear of the compartment and observed faces pallid with fear and the expectation that, once again, we might not break free from the sea's grasp.
As the swell moved under the aircraft, a noticeable change engulfed us. Snuffy had firewalled the throttles, and we were at maximum torque.
The engines continued to roar, but the vibrations
became smooth and familiar. We all suddenly realized that we were hanging in the air, free from the stormy sea. Cheers from the two crews filled the cabins. First Lieutenant Cooper raised up from the navigation floor plate and yelled, "Thank God, we're saved!" Fisler turned around with his cigar chewed to bits and his clothing drenched with sweat and said, "Saved, my butt. We've got five hundred hard miles to go!" and then grinned reassuringly.
It was now about 1740, and after letting out the trailing wire antenna, I radioed Pearl Harbor and reported our situation and transferred information about our guests. Our nine passengers were a B-17C crew, part of the U.S. Army Air Corps, 18th Bombardment Wing, from Hickam Field,
who were lost 26 December. They ditched their aircraft at sea after running out of fuel when given incorrect navigational instructions. The plane commander was First Lieutenant Earl J. Cooper.
He and his crew had arrived at Pearl Harbor the morning of 7 December during the Japanese attack. They were part of the 28th Reconnaissance Squadron, 19th Bombardment Wing, on its way to the Philippines. For being at war less than a month,
First Lieutenant Cooper and his crew had really been through a combat maelstrom.
The PBY leaking like a sieve, running on fuel vapors, and no time for anything but a hard landing at the seaplane ramp, this ordeal is far from over...
(Come back next Saturday for the continuing drama of Guardian Angel - A True Story.)