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The ‘china Clipper’ Arrives

December 2023
1min read

The day was November 22, 1935. The place was San Francisco. A revolutionary Glenn L. Martin-designed four-engine flying boat recently christened China Clipper strained at her moorings. Before a host of national dignitaries, the Pan American Airways president, Juan T. Trippe, turned to Capt. Edwin C. Musick, the China ’s first skipper. “Captain Musick, proceed to Manila,” he ordered.

And a historic order it was, especially for the several thousand United States citizens living in the Philippine Islands. A few thousand miles of Pacific Ocean separated them from home, and their one contact with the mainland was mail carried by ship, a voyage that could take three weeks or more. At that time the arrival of an ocean liner in Manila’s harbor was a major event. Bands played, crowds cheered, and families were reunited with their loved ones. Letters from home were always welcome, as was the cargo of goods essential to comfortable living in a tropical and sometimes hostile environment. No wonder, then, that the news of the Clipper ’s pending arrival caused so much excitement.

The day was perfect for the occasion. A few puffy white clouds dotted the bright blue tropical sky. Thousands of spectators crowded onto Manila’s docks, piers, and breakwaters, and the harbor was filled with vessels of all shapes, sizes, and descriptions.

As the fifteen-year-old son of an Army officer stationed in the Philippines, I, together with a young Filipino lad, was in a native dugout canoe, searching for a place in the crowd of assorted vessels struggling to get as close to the landing area as possible.

After an hour or so of waiting, we finally heard the sound of airplane engines, and, straining our eyes to the east, we saw her, at first only a tiny silver dot on the horizon but, at long last, clearly the China Clipper .

After circling the harbor, Captain Musick brought the Clipper in for a perfect landing, and at that moment pandemonium broke loose. The sound of thousands of cheering spectators was drowned out by the cacophony of hundreds of boat whistles and horns.

Armed with a wooden paddle and my Kodak box camera, I strained mightily to get close enough to this beautiful airplane to take a few meaningful photographs. But in my enthusiasm 1 used up an entire roll of film that, when developed, revealed little more than a silver speck in the harbor.

Two lessons were learned on that historic afternoon in Manila Bay, when travel to the Far East was changed forever. Lesson number one: History—real history—can happen anytime, anyplace, to anybody. And while few are actually privileged to be present at a truly historic event, fewer still are alert enough to recognize such a happening for what it really is. In my case I was just plain lucky. Lesson number two: Always carry an extra roll of film!

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