Guardian Angel -- A True Story
It was just before dawn when I climbed the ladder through the blister into the aircraft then moved forward through the compartments to the radio station, just behind the col-pilot's seat, and began to prepare for takeoff. As an aviation radioman second class, I was the head radioman on this mission, and I was accompanied by Aviation Radioman Third Class Howard C. Cupps. Cupps was a close shipmate of mine and an excellent back up radio operator. I was followed into the PBY by En sing C. F. Gimber, normally the co-pilot on this crew, but today he was assigned as navigator and relief pilot. He settled in at the navigation table behind the pilot's position and prepared for the day's mission. Gimber, a tall man with a pleasant disposition, enjoyed an excellent reputation as a navigator and co-pilot.
Our plane caption and flight engineer was Aviation Machinist Mate First Class William B. Watson. As flight engineer, Watson was responsible for the aircraft's overall operational readiness. At this time, he was up in the tower preparing the plane for engine start, as Aviation Machinist Mate Second Class C. C Forbes stored gear, tied down loose equipment, and inspected armament. Climbing in behind Gimber was Ensign Fisler. He walked forward to the cockpit, speaking amiably to the crew. Snuffy, the last crewman aboard, followed Fisler. They settled in on the flight deck and began their pre-flight checklist routine.
Ensign Fisler was easily recognized by his red baseball cap. He was of medium height, good looking and popular with the ladies. His charm and abilities as a pilot made him a magnet for the other young pilots in the squadron, and his crew would follow him anywhere. He was daring, feisty, and fearless, much to the chagrin of command. Even though his recognized ability and potential could not be denied, what he required was the wisdom that comes from contending with life's vicissitudes.
Snuffy was a well-known, highly respected and admired enlisted pilot who had a great deal of experience piloting the venerable PBY. In contrast to the red cap of Ensign Fisler, Snuffy was characterized by his blue baseball cap and his dapper "Clark Gable" aviator's mustache. He had been in the regular Navy for 10 years, first as a machinist's mate and later as a pilot. Since Snuffy was older than the rest of the crew, he had the status of "older brother." He was calm, quiet, happy and congenial to be around; he brought to the squadron and to this particular crew his wisdom and experience.
Little did Snuffy, or any of the crew for that matter, know what dangers, challenges, and conflict lay ahead...
(Come back next Saturday for the continuing drama of Guardian Angel - A True Story.)