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I Always Wanted to Fly

America's Cold War Airmen

Publication Year: 2001

Until now, no book has covered all of Cold War air combat in the words of the men who waged it. In I Always Wanted to Fly, retired United States Air Force Colonel Wolfgang W. E. Samuel has gathered first-person memories from heroes of the cockpits and airstrips. Battling in dogfights when jets were novelties, saving lives in grueling airlifts, or flying dangerous reconnaissance missions deep into Soviet and Chinese airspace, these flyers waged America's longest and most secretively conducted air war. Many of the pilots Samuel interviewed invoke the same sentiment when asked why they risked their lives in the air--"I always wanted to fly." While young, they were inspired by barnstormers, by World War I fighter legends, by the legendary Charles Lindbergh, and often just by seeing airplanes flying overhead. With the advent of World War II, many of these dreamers found themselves in cockpits soon after high school. Of those who survived World War II, many chose to continue following their dream, flying the Berlin Airlift, stopping the North Korean army during the "forgotten war" in Korea, and fighting in the Vietnam War. Told in personal narratives and reminiscences, I Always Wanted to Fly renders views from pilots' seats and flight decks during every air combat flashpoint from 1945--1968. Drawn from long exposure to the immense stress of warfare, the stories these warriors share are both heroic and historic. The author, a veteran of many secret reconnaissance missions, evokes individuals and scenes with authority and grace. He provides clear, concise historical context for each airman's memories. In I Always Wanted to Fly he has produced both a thrilling and inspirational acknowledgment of personal heroism and a valuable addition to our documentation of the Cold War. Wolfgang W. E. Samuel, the author of German Boy: A Refugee's Story (University Press of Mississippi) and a distinguished graduate of the Air Force ROTC in 1960, served in the U.S. Air Force until his retirement as a colonel in 1985. Ken Hechler is the author of The Bridge at Remagen.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

front matter

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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xiii

I Always Wanted to Fly is a comprehensive collection of first-person narratives depicting the heroism of young men who grew up with a compelling desire to fly airplanes as well as of the changing nature of the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War. The author is a veteran of many reconnaissance missions against the Soviet Union and of air ...

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xv-xix

I became aware of my first airplane on a sunny spring morning in 1940. I was five years old, a German child playing in my sandbox. The quiet of my world was suddenly shattered by a strange-looking machine flying noisily toward me. It had three engines and was flying very low and coming directly at me. I watched not in fear but in fascination. The ...

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Part 1: The Berlin Airlift, 1948

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pp. 1-11

On July 16, 1945, President Harry S. Truman decided to take a look around Berlin when Stalin did not show as scheduled for the Potsdam Conference because of his slight heart attack, a carefully kept secret at the time. ‘‘I took advantage of this unscheduled delay,’’ wrote President Truman in his memoir. ‘‘About halfway to the city we found the entire ...

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1. Men of the Airlift

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pp. 12-55

Sam became interested in flying early in life. His father was a World War I navy aviator who flew a twin-engine Curtis NC-4 seaplane on antisubmarine patrol out of Queenstown, Ireland. ‘‘They would see the submarine out there, pick up a bomb from the cockpit, and lean over the side,’’ said Sam, with pride in his voice as he spoke of his father’s ...

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2. The Bomber Boys

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pp. 56-71

Although the Berlin Airlift was fought by air crews flying unarmed C-47 and C-54 transports, behind them towered a big stick, the B-29s of the newly created Strategic Air Command, better known as SAC. Little has been said about the men who manned these bombers and their contribution to the airlift’s success, but without their presence, no ...

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3. ‘‘Ramp Rats’’: The Men Who Kept Them Flying

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pp. 72-86

The first things that come to mind when speaking of the Berlin Airlift are the airplanes and their pilots. In the final analysis, they made the airlift happen. Thoughts then turn to the vast tonnages of food and coal delivered and to the number of missions flown. Finally, one recalls the men who died to save Berlin. Often forgotten are the men who ...

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Part 2: Korea, 1950

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pp. 87-94

In early 1950, Americans were concerned with making a living and achieving their dreams of owning their own homes and cars. There was plenty of work, and the lean years before World War II were a fast-fading memory. The U.S. military was still downsizing, and the defense budget for the year was a mere $13.5 billion. Although the McCarthy ...

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4. The F-51 Mustangs from Dogpatch

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pp. 95-103

In the sunshine of southern California, where Charlie Schreffler settled after an eventful air force career, he recalled one particular June afternoon in 1950. ‘‘While sitting on the porch of my quarters at Clark Air Base in the Philippines, I saw innocent-looking puffs of smoke seeping out of the jungle foliage. It was an artillery duel between the communist ...

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5. Night Interdiction in the B-26 Invader

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pp. 104-118

Barney Dobbs slowly taxied his heavily laden Douglas B-26 Invader toward the end of the runway at K-8, a desolate airstrip near Kunsan. Barney was assigned to the 8th Squadron of the 3rd Bomb Wing. It was the early-morning hours of February 19, 1952. Only four weeks earlier he had turned thirty-two. Barney applied the left brake to his swaying ...

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6. The B-29 Bomber War

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pp. 119-125

In 1951, Second Lieutenant Joseph Gyulavics, fresh out of pilot training, found himself in the cockpit of a B-29 flying out of Okinawa, carrying his bomb load up the Yalu River to strike a North Korean airfield. It was soon after an RB-45C had been shot down by Russian MiG-15s in the same area. B-29 bombers, based at Yokota Air Base, ...

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7. B-Flight out of Kimpo: Special Operations

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pp. 126-144

Dave Taylor was born in 1921 and grew up in the small Mississippi town of Grenada. He occasionally played with his younger cousin, Trent Lott, who would one day become majority leader of the U.S. Senate. Young Dave’s horizons were not limited by the surrounding cotton fields. He soon became enamored with flying while helping fuel ...

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Part 3: Strategic Reconnaissance

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pp. 145-151

Strategic aerial reconnaissance during the Cold War years, including the overflight of Soviet territory, was a necessary act of desperation and reflected an inability to obtain information by other means. The information gained from such operations was vital to American policy ...

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8. Taming the RB-45C Tornado

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pp. 152-159

The B-45 was a 1943-vintage design, America’s first all-jet bomber, with a rigid, straight wing and a B-17–style gunner’s station in the tail. The XB-45 flew for the first time on March 17, 1947, piloted by North American test pilot George Krebs, who died flying the XB-45 on September 20, 1948. With his untimely death, no further significant flight ...

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9. Recon to the Yalu and Beyond

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pp. 160-174

The Korean War was in its third year in November 1952 when Sam Myers’s crew and another air crew relieved two RB-45C crews at Yokota Air Base in Japan. The RB-45 arrived at Yokota in September 1950 and flew its first combat mission in November. Sam’s navigator on the deployment was Lieutenant Frank Martin, who, like Sam, was assigned ...

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10. More Secret Than the Manhattan Project

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pp. 175-195

... flew over Charleston, I’d run outside to take a look. There weren’t that many airplanes then. Once a German Dornier seaplane landed in Charleston Harbor. It was a monstrous thing, exciting. Aviation was spread pretty thin in those days, but I always knew I wanted to fly. I believe it was my nanny who first called me Hack, and the name stuck ...

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11. Challenging the Russian Bear

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pp. 196-214

It was a tightly knit, war-seasoned group of flyers who believed that no other flying command, sister service, or foreign air force could hold a candle to them. They were mostly survivors of epic World War II air battles over Europe, of B-29 raids against Japan, of the assembly-line flying of the Berlin Airlift, and, of course, of Korea. These combat-hardened ...

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12. Flying the Top of the World

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pp. 215-229

The two principal air bases from which the polar-region reconnaissance missions were flown were Eielson AFB near Fairbanks, Alaska, just below the Arctic Circle, and Thule Air Base, on Danish Greenland, at approximately seventy-eight degrees north latitude, on Baffin Bay. Both man and machine were put to severe tests in winter. Flyers and maintenance men who ...

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13. The Last Flight of 3-4290

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pp. 230-256

On a warm and softly pleasant January afternoon in 1961, at the age of twenty, Joel Lutkenhouse passed through the main gate of Harlingen Air Force Base and became an aviation cadet. Harlingen, a small, dusty agricultural community in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, was home to a navigator training base, one of many flying training bases ...

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Part 4: Vietnam, 1965

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pp. 257-266

In contrast to the Soviet-initiated Berlin blockade of 1948 and the North Korean attack on South Korea in 1950, North Vietnam did not present an immediate military threat to U.S. interests, thereby forcing prompt military action. It is beyond the scope of this brief introduction to deal with the political complexities that led to a national crisis over ...

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14. Hambone 02

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pp. 267-299

In 1931 the Kuster family was struggling like many others, watching its pennies. It was not the best of years for the United States or for much of the rest of the world. Ralph was born on August 19 of that year. Fortunately, his father had a steady job as a draftsman at the McDonnell plant in St. Louis, Missouri. When Ralph was old enough to read, ...

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15. Lincoln Flight

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pp. 300-322

He was a Scottish sailor on a Hudson Bay Company ship, the Isaac Todd. He came from Liverpool and landed here in 1814. He was the first non-Spanish settler in California. He was put off in Monterey with scurvy, which was a fairly common disease among sailors at that time. The ship went on up north to trade with the Russians ...

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16. Yellowbird

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pp. 323-340

I remember reading stories about zeppelins dropping bombs on England in World War I. I dreamed about them at night. In 1953 I read about dogfights between F-86 Sabre Jets and Chinese MiGs in Korea. I was having trouble staying in college because I didn’t have any money, so I joined the air force. It took six years before I made it to pilot training. I worked on B-57 bombers as ...

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The Magic of Flying Concluding Thoughts

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pp. 341-344

The bitterness many Cold War airmen took away from the Vietnam War was precisely over the absence of both. Finally, once objectives have been articulated, they then need to be implemented by a military leadership that understands airpower history and its attendant principles of employment, which were hammered ...


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pp. 345-348


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pp. 349-352

Interviews, Letters, and Tapes

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pp. 353-354


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pp. 355-363

E-ISBN-13: 9781604731354
E-ISBN-10: 1604731354
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578063994
Print-ISBN-10: 157806399X

Publication Year: 2001