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The Wartime Journals Of Charles A. Liondbergh
A Peacetime Hero Confronts Armageddon
October 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 6
Sorensen brought up the question of our production schedule and the quality of workmanship at Willow Run—said we were ahead of schedule and that our workmanship was just as good as that of other companies. He tried to get me to agree with him and put me in a corner where I had to say bluntly that we were not making schedule and that the workmanship on the first bombers that went through Willow Run was the worst I had ever seen. Sorensen is not used to having anyone oppose him, and I have seen him bluff his way through a difficult situation time and time again. He tries to get a man to agree with him either out of fear or courtesy, and then constantly reminds him of the fact that he once agreed. The only way to handle Sorensen is to say exactly what you believe when he asks a question, and I did. Henry Ford listened quietly and apparently enjoyed the situation very much! …
… Radio call from Bennett asking me to meet him at the Rouge administration building. Bennett wanted to talk to me about Ford’s desire to improve the armor-plate installation in the 6-24. It is obviously inadequate, and pilots returning from the combat zones report the situation as serious. (General Arnold: “When we send the B-17's out on a mission, they come back. When we send the B-24's out, a lot of them don’t.”) Ford wants to set up an experimental department on the Ford airport at Dearborn, bring an entire 6-24 fuselage there from Willow Run, and turn the problem of armor plate over to me.
I told Bennett that if we were to put adequate armor plate on the 8-24, the first thing we would need would be close Army co-operation, that we would have to have data on where enemy bullets were hitting, what their penetrating power was, how much weight we could devote to armor plate, etc., etc.—data that only the Army could furnish. One of the difficulties in working with the Ford organization is that once they get an idea, they want to start in right now and get action tomorrow, if not today. Their policy is to act first and plan afterward, usually overlooking completely essential details. Result: a tremendous increase of cost and effort unnecessarily. …
“ I had to say bluntly that we were not making schedule and that the workmanship on the first bombers that went through Willow Run was the worst I had ever seen.”
Arranged to go on a reconnaissance and strafing mission this afternoon along the northeast coast of New Ireland. … We fly along the coast at 2,000 or 3,000 feet at first, looking for signs of new Japanese activity. Then down 200 or 300 feet above the jungle. …
We cut inland to avoid a Japanese airstrip where strong anti-aircraft positions have been reported. … More miles over the tree tops, zooming up now and then for a few seconds to get a better look around, and then down again before there is time for someone to train a gun on us. Out to the coastline—four Corsairs abreast, racing over the water—I am the closest one to land. The trees pass, a streak of green; the beach a band of yellow on my left. Is it a post a mile ahead in the water, or a man standing? It moves toward shore. It is a man.
All Japanese or unfriendly natives on New Ireland—everything is a target—no restrictions—shoot whatever you see. I line up my sight. A mile takes ten seconds at our speed. At 1,000 yards my .5O-calibers are deadly. I know just where they strike. I cannot miss.
Now he is out of the water, but he does not run. The beach is wide. He cannot make the cover of trees. He is centered in my sight. My finger tightens on the trigger. A touch, and he will crumple on the coral sand.
But he disdains to run. He strides across the beach. Each step carries dignity and courage in its timing. He is not an ordinary man. The shot is too easy. His bearing, his stride, his dignity—there is something in them that has formed a bond between us. His life is worth more than the pressure of a trigger. I do not want to see him crumple on the beach. I release the trigger.
I ease back on the stick. He reaches the tree line, merges with the streak of green on my left. I am glad I have not killed him. I would never have forgotten him writhing on the beach. I will always remember his figure striding over the sand, the fearless dignity of his steps. I had his life balanced on a muscle’s twitch. I gave it back to him, and thank God that I did so. I shall never know who he was—Jap or native. But I realize that the life of this unknown stranger—probably an enemy—is worth a thousand times more to me than his death. I should never quite have forgiven myself if I had shot him—naked, courageous, defenseless, yet so unmistakably man. …
A beautiful night. I walk out under the stars. They are new here, and those I know are upside down. The Southern Cross is high, and the North Star is below the opposite horizon. I wonder what Anne is doing, and the children. Asleep, of course. It is not yet dawn at home. …
The Japanese stronghold on the cliffs of Biak is to be attacked again in the morning. Several hundred Japs are still holding out in caves and crevices in an area about 300 yards wide and 1,000 yards long. So far, they have thrown back all of our attacks, and inflicted nearly one hundred casualties on our infantrymen. …