New San Diego Union Tribune Article about Musket and Mark
Saturday, April 29, 2012
Stories about Mark and Musket
San Diego Union-Tribune
July 14, 2009
Dog is this Museum Docent’s co-pilot
Legally blind guide leads tours with Labrador’s aid
By Steve Liewer
BALBOA PARK — Mark Carlson’s knowledge of the planes and rockets at the San Diego Air & Space Museum is encyclopedic.
What really sets him apart from the other volunteer docents, though, is his partner – the one who helps him navigate among the museum’s mazelike collection of warbirds and spacecraft.
That would be Musket, the yellow Labrador retriever who leads Carlson – who is legally blind – from the Apollo 9 capsule to the Fokker triplane, from the Spitfire to the Hornet.
“I call it the blond leading the blind,” joked Carlson, 48, of Carmel Mountain Ranch. “I always bring Musket with me – and, of course, Musket is a hit.
Musket comes from the same breed as Marley, the lovable but ill-mannered pooch from the John Grogan book and movie “Marley and Me.”
But Musket is the anti-Marley. He calmly licks children’s faces and flops on his belly to rest while Carlson tells stories about female barnstormer Lillian Boyer or the flying replica of Charles Lindbergh’s San Diego-built Spirit of St. Louis.
Carlson has been losing his sight since childhood because of the hereditary disease retinitis pigmentosa, which also has impaired his hearing. Today, he can make out dim shapes but no colors or other details.
His father, and later his older brother, suffered from the same disease.
Carlson moved to San Diego from the Bay Area in his mid-20s and later trained in graphic design. He worked a series of jobs until the late 1990s, when his eyesight had deteriorated so much that he could no longer work in the field.
Carlson also had to give up his passion of being a Civil War re-enactor.
“I found myself sometimes marching one way, and the rest of the regiment going another,” he said.
In 2002, Carlson decided to pair up with a guide dog.
“Before he got Musket, his legs looked like a weed whacker hit them,” said Jane Carlson, Mark’s wife of 14 years. “Anything that’s fire-hydrant height, he’d run into.”
Musket had been trained at a guide-dog school in San Rafael when Carlson met him in April 2002. He thought it a good omen that his new guide, then 14 months old, shared the name of the weapon he used to carry as a re-enactor.
“We learned to work as a team. I had to learn how to read his movements,” Carlson said. “It takes awhile for a bond of trust to develop.”
Musket accompanies Carlson by bus to his job every day at Access to Independence, a Mission Valley company that provides support services to people with disabilities.
The two have teamed up at the Air & Space Museum in Balboa Park since 2006. Besides completing the 100 volunteer hours and 20 tours required of docents in the museum’s rigorous training program, Carlson listened to more than 100 audio books on aviation.
“The fact is, he’s got a lot more book knowledge than most of our docents – and they’re all very knowledgeable,” said Ross Davis, the museum’s coordinator of volunteers.
Musket knows his way from one exhibit to the next. The biggest pitfall, Carlson said, is when something gets moved. Sometimes Carlson will start reciting his spiel about a particular aircraft, only to find out it’s no longer there. Luckily, Musket is there to help him.
“With Mark’s smarts and Musket’s smarts, they get along well in the museum,” Jane Carlson said.
Together, Mark and Musket have met a number of military fighter aces and pioneer astronauts, including Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan, John Glenn and Scott Carpenter.
“I get a lot of attention,” Carlson said.
San Diego Union-Tribune November 11, 2007
‘Disabled man not lovin’ it after snubs at McDonald’s’
By Gerry Braun
As he headed to work Thursday morning, something odd happened to Mark Carlson.
He felt an urge to eat an Egg McMuffin.
So Carlson headed into the McDonald’s restaurant across the street from his office.
When he reached the counter, another odd thing happened.
He was refused service.
“I’m sorry, your pet can’t be in here,” Carlson recalls the young lady behind the counter telling him.
She was referring to Musket, the 7-year-old yellow Labrador retriever that is Carlson’s guide dog and wears a guide dog’s distinctive leather harness with a stiff handle.
Carlson explained Musket’s purpose, but the young lady did not believe him. She offered to serve Carlson, but only if he and Musket went out on the patio.
So he showed her Musket’s Guide Dog Identification Card and followed that with a laminated card spelling out his rights.
It begins: “California law guarantees a blind person the legal right to be accompanied by a specially trained guide dog in all public accommodations . . . ”
She wasn’t buying it for a minute. “You’ll have to step outside. I have other customers to serve,” she told him.
Her stubbornness may be explained, in part, by the fact that Carlson doesn’t act like he’s blind. He has retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that allows him to make out shapes but not details. He can recognize a head, for instance, though he won’t see the face.
And when he asked to speak to a manager, his eyes likely darted around the McDonald’s, looking for the shape of another employee.
The manager came and listened, but still, no sale.
Carlson was told to read the sign outside, which, if he could have read it, would only have made him angrier.
It says, “No pets. We welcome assistance dogs.”
So Carlson went to work hungry Thursday.
At this point, I should explain what Carlson does for living. He works for Access to Independence, which is dedicated to helping people with disabilities live independently.
The organization, formerly known as the Access Center, has been located on University Avenue across from the McDonald’s for most of the past 30 years.
And part of Carlson’s job is working with people who use service animals, educating them about their rights and advocating for them.
Would you like fries with that irony?
“They picked the wrong person,” Carlson told me. “This was like mugging a cop.”
Back at his office, Carlson talked with his colleagues, consulted with a lawyer and then tracked down Dana Swanson, the restaurant supervisor for the McDonald’s. Swanson apologized repeatedly and assured him that the problem would be rectified.
That afternoon, Carlson and Musket returned to the McDonald’s to get the names of the manager and the young lady behind the counter. By then, the shifts had changed and an entirely different crew was working.
The new crew told Carlson to take his dog outside.
“It was like a bad movie. Unbelievable,” he told me. “The obvious hostility and outright digging-your-heels-in obstinacy of these people blew my mind. I’ve heard about it before but never encountered it.”
He finally got the names he wanted – the first names only – but not until he had summoned four of his colleagues from across the street and two San Diego police officers.
On Friday morning, Carlson and Musket made a third trip to McDonald’s, with far different results.
They were greeted warmly at the door by the owner, Ernie Sandoval, as well as Swanson and Kevin Kereluik, the director of operations for Sandoval’s 15 restaurants.
I was there, too, and when I introduced myself, Sandoval, Swanson and Kereluik fell silent and looked as if they’d eaten a bad meal.
But soon enough, they got around to the purpose of the meeting: apologizing profusely and assuring Carlson that the employees were all being trained in the legal rights of people with disabilities.
What else can we do? Sandoval asked.
“I’m going to give you guys room to run in, but I want to see results. I don’t ever want this to happen to anyone again,” Carlson told them.
“I’m not one of those people who sue to make money,” he added, which no doubt relieved them greatly. “I detest people who do that. They give people with disabilities a bad name.”
And so Sandoval promised that his restaurants would work closely with longtime neighbor Access to Independence to further its programs. By the end of the day, three officials with McDonald’s had called to inquire how they could be helpful.
“I’m having a very good day,” Carlson said.
I reminded him that in three visits, he hadn’t eaten a thing. That was OK by him. “I think I lost my taste for that McMuffin,” he said.
ARTICLES BY MARK CARLSON
For Bark Magazine
‘Anchors A-Woof! ‘
Hornblower’s Bow-Wow Cruise a Howling Success!
By Mark Carlson
What’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys? 100 dogs on a bay cruise.
The place was San Diego Bay on Sunday, September 20, 2009. On board the M/V Adventure Hornblower Bay Cruise boat, the dogs were the stars of the show at the very first Bow Wow Brunch cruise.
Normally Hornblower’s passenger list consisted of tourists, vacationers, families and people wanting to enjoy the picturesque vistas and warm sunny weather on the bay.
But that Sunday was different. The Bow Wow Brunch hosted 100 dogs of all breeds and their owners on a two-hour tour of the bay from Point Loma to Coronado. When I say ‘all breeds’ I mean it. Everything from Chihuahuas and Terriers, to Beagles and Welsh Corgis to German Shepherds and Great Danes were walking the gently rolling decks and salons of the cruise boat.
My wife and I enjoyed the cruise with our yellow Labrador, Musket. No detail was overlooked. As we stood on the pier waiting to board, volunteers passed down the line, filling water bowls for the thirsty dogs. After boarding we were each directed to our tables in the main salon and served champagne or Mimosas. The dogs were limited to water, but their comfort and appetites were indulged topside.
The buffet, a veritable cornucopia of succulent meats, sweet fruits, mouth-watering appetizers and shrimp, fresh-baked breads and incredible desserts awaited the passengers on the main deck.
The reader may wonder if the dogs, particularly the larger breeds were tempted by the wide display of tantalizing morsels. I’m sure they were. But I didn’t hear of a single incident.
The reason was obvious. The passengers were responsible dog owners, in many cases with show-quality dogs. The four-legged swabbies never caused a fUSS, and only gave the dog lovers on board a lot to talk about.
The staff serving drinks and pouring coffee skipped lightly over the pooches in the aisles and corridors, and I never heard a single yelp of pain from a trodden tail. We watched tiny Yorkshires playing with Retrievers and one amorous Beagle who determinedly tried to sniff the much too-high backside of a Great Dane, who was definitely not interested.
On the top deck under the cobalt-blue skies and cool breezes, a doggy buffet of healthy treats and tidbits awaited the canine seafarers. Musket was allowed to select a few of his most favorite treats, and we carried away a real ‘doggy bag’ for him. I will admit he would have lingered there a great deal longer if we hadn’t pulled him away. He was a bit food-driven.
As the boat cruised leisurely past the Sub Pier on Point Loma and the base at North Island towards the towering span of the Coronado Bridge, the dogs had fun, doing what dogs always did when they met one another. Some scampered about, a few lay down in the warm sun, and others made new friends.
The event was to benefit Helen Woodward Animal Center, and the brainchild of Rebecca Milkey of Hornblower Cruises.
“We’ve had a great relationship with Helen Woodward Center for eight years. The cruise was an offshoot of our annual ‘Pet Rescue Day on the Bay’explained Milkey, Director of Marketing. “Anyone who donated towels or blankets could bring their dogs on board the cruise. But this year we wanted to do something to raise money.” And thus was born the Bow Wow Brunch. “It required a little more forethought,” Milkey admitted with a smile. “We knew a lot of dogs would be on board, and the crew, used to serving passengers in the salon, would have to step over and around them. So we asked for volunteers to work the cruise.”
When asked about some of the other more delicate issues which could occur when a pack of dogs were allowed to walk about on the deck of a 165-foot excursion boat, Milkey laughed. “We contacted a company called Easy Turf, which manufactured a grass substitute. They provided a large square of it for the ‘Poop Deck,’ where the dogs could relieve themselves. Another volunteer was there to pick up. We also had a Vet Tech on board in case any dogs were bitten, but nothing serious happened,” she said, pride in her voice. “Kelly Johnson, the Event Manager was absolutely unflappable, and did a great job. The crew was terrific,” she added.
I asked her if she recalled any amusing incidents.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “A CBS executive had tickets, but as the date approached, he found he also had tickets to the Chargers game. Agonizing over the conflict, he finally gave the tickets to a pair of CBS receptionists and the leash to his dog, Molly. So at least Molly could attend.”
I’m sure the executive felt like kicking himself into the bay after the Chargers lost.
All the proceeds from the cruise were to benefit Helen Woodward Animal Center, an organization in north county which has for 30 years believed people help animals through trust, unconditional love, and respect, and works to create a legacy of caring. The Center inspires and teaches, locally and globally, the importance of the animal-human bond.
Many nursing homes and hospitals hosted Helen Woodward animals to foster love and healing with their animals.
I spoke to Trisha St. George, a Public Relations spokesperson for Helen Woodward Animal Center for her opinion of the event. “I was on board and thought it went wonderfully. Everybody deserves a lot of praise for what they did,’ she said happily. “I hope we can do it again.”
When I asked Milkey if the Bow Wow Brunch Cruise would be repeated next year, she said she hoped it would. “Once the bugs are worked out. It’s such a good way to raise money for a wonderful organization and really brings dogs and animal lovers together.”
Hornblower Cruises deserves a lot of credit for hosting the event and this writer truly hopes it will be held every year.
As a passenger on the Maiden Voyage, so to speak, I could say with confidence there were no bugs.
Just a few fleas.
For more information on Helen Woodward Animal Center, go to their website at: www.animalcenter.org
To contact Hornblower, go to:
‘Guide Dogs for the Mind’
By Mark Carlson
In the chaotic and fast-paced modern world, there are few things we can find true solace and joy in. The warm sun after a long winter, the fragrance of blooming flowers, the laughter of a child.
And of course the unconditional love and devotion of our dogs. For most of us the dogs in our lives are pets who give more than they take, making us laugh, smile and feel loved.
But there is a rapidly growing community of dogs who are in their own special way, making life better for a lot of Americans.
They help people with mental illnesses.
Never an easy subject to discUSS, mental illnesses such as Bipolar Disorder, Major Depression, Schizophrenia and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are affecting the lives of millions of people of all ages.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is fast becoming one of the most diagnosed mental illnesses in the modern world. Victims of childhood abuse, assault, disasters, accidents, and combat live their lives with a bewildering and terrifying constellation of symptoms that limit their ability to function and sustain healthy relationships. Some with PTSD will even resort to suicide.
According to an often-cited RAND report, more than 18% of returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan manifest symptoms of PTSD. The military mental health provider community is ill-prepared to deal with such large numbers of cases. Veterans with PTSD are experiencing an up-spike in domestic violence and divorces. PTSD is making it very difficult for these veterans. Many are so withdrawn and emotionally numb that they are unable to properly engage with their children or spouse. Some manifest explosive tempers and this accounts for the increased rates of domestic violence that we are seeing in the veterans community. Where is the light at the end of this dark tunnel?
There is one. It is a very bright and warm light, in the form of our loving canine companions.
They are part of the growing ranks of Assistance animals, which include Guide, Service, Seizure Alert and Mobility dogs. Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSD) are becoming recognized in the mental health provider community for the remarkable and long-term benefits they provide to their owners with PTSD and other mental illnesses.
Guide Dogs are well known. PSDs, however are new in the Assistance animal community. A groundbreaking researcher, Dr. Joan Esnayra, PhD, of Arlington Virginia is the founder of the pioneering Psychiatric Service Dog Society (PSDS). Esnayra, 45, is Native American and was raised in Washington State. She earned her B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Washington in 1991. Her career goal was to become a biomedical researcher so she attended Grad school at U.C. San Diego for her doctorate in Biology.
She is also a Psychiatric Service Dog handler. Esnayra lives with Bipolar Disorder and suffers from episodes of severe depression or hypomania. Esnayra endured undiagnosed Bipolar symptoms for most of her life with little understanding of what was happening to her. “I became suicidally depressed after some serious emotional crises, and in 1990 I was diagnosed with Major Depression and PTSD.”
Esnayra decided to write a doctoral dissertation focused on behavioral genetics, aggression, and drug development. She chose her subject matter, in part, because of the insights she garnered through the experience of her own mental illness. “Much of human behavior is genetically controlled, more so than people realize.” She began to seek holistic treatment alternatives and by accident, she found one in the form of a Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy named ‘Wasabe.’
“I love Ridgebacks,” Esnayra said. “I grew up with one, and I wanted a puppy so badly. So, in the spring of 1997 I found a Ridgeback show breeder in San Diego. Sitting on the floor with the new litter, some puppies were jumping up and kissing me, others played and scampered around me. But one puppy just climbed into my lap, curled up and went to sleep.”
And that was Wasabe. Asked about the name, Esnayra said it was symbolic. Wasabe, a hot Japanese horseradish is definitely an acquired taste. “It’s about trying something you’re not sure of but you end up loving.”.
Esnayra did not acquire her puppy with the intention that the dog would become her Assistance dog, and certainly not for her mental disorders, since at that time “I didn’t know there was such a thing. I was getting a pet dog.”
She managed to scrape together $400 to hire a respected Del Mar, CA, dog trainer named John Rubin, who gave her twelve individual lessons in basic obedience.
Within a few months of bringing Wasabe home something strange happened. “I was determined to understand and master my bipolar disorder, and I was reading and studying a lot. I have episodes of hypomania,” she explained. “I worked at my computer, hyper-focused. I wouldn’t eat, or pay attention to anything around me, or even go to the bathroom for eight or ten hours straight. Then I began noticing that Wasabe bumped my elbow repeatedly during these sessions, trying to get my attention. His alerting behavior helped me become aware of the subtle changes happening in my own body that I otherwise did not perceive.
And thus was born the genesis of her life’s work. Esnayra, with her background in research, began to make careful notes of her perceptions and reactions, along with that of her dog. “And soon I realized he was doing something that really helped me better manage my disability.”
Esnayra began to search the then-new Internet for information on dogs trained to help persons with mental illness. “I found nothing. No websites or information at all. She joined online forums of Service dog users and wanted to expound on her discovery. “But, I found there was a great deal of hostility towards people with mental illnesses wanting to use a Service dog. The people in the forum felt like it was wrong and that people like me shouldn’t have a dog at all. In the summer of 1997 I coined the term ‘Psychiatric Service Dog.’”
She was told by the forum host that if she talked about mental illness and dogs one more time, she would be unsubscribed. “So being the rebel that I am….” Esnayra said, chuckling, “I started an Internet forum of my own and began actively seeking out others who had discovered the disability-related benefits their dog was providing to them. It started small,” she said, “but soon the forum took on a life of its own. I wasn’t going to shut up about this. I knew it was real, and I knew it was BIG.”
The forum grew at first by word of mouth. She found more and more people who’d been afraid to talk in other forums, and who said their dogs did much the same thing as Wasabe.
She compiled the comments and observations of the members, using them to strengthen her theories about how much dogs could be trained to assist persons living with mental illnesses.
“I first allowed people to join if they had a mental illness and were genuinely interested. But in time I had to screen members by phone.”
When asked about this, she explained that she had also attracted what to the Internet forum community are known as Trolls. “Trolls are people who go out of their way to create chaos in online forums and communities. I had my share of them.” With regard to her detractors, Esnayra said,
“They really did their best to discredit me and the work I was doing,” she said sadly. “Their criticisms were infused with stigma and fear of persons living with mental illness.”
In some cases, through careful and reasoned communications, Esnayra was able to help people who were initially opposed to service dogs for people with mental illnesses to better understand what she was doing and work with, rather than against her.
She founded the Psychiatric Service Dog Society in 2001 after receiving a community service award from her then-employer, the National Academies in Washington DC. The $1,000 prize, given to her for her pioneering work with Psychiatric Service dogs allowed her to incorporate PSDS and to subsequently apply for nonprofit status.
Then, through a chance encounter on an airplane while accompanied by Wasabe, she earned the interest of a wealthy benefactor. “He was big in the television and movie industry, and he donated generously to practitioners and institutions in the field of human-animal bond research. He built the Rainbow Room at U.C. Davis, so that dogs could be euthanized with compassion and dignity. He donated approximately $20,000 a year to PSDS over the course of seven years until his death in 2008.
PSDS is a non-profit information and referral resource for persons interested in learning about Psychiatric Service Dogs, what they do, how to get one and, through the forum, share their needs and experiences.
Her diligence has made her terribly busy. “I get about 1,000 calls per year and I answer every one of them,” she says with pride. As of 2009 the call volume became so unmanageable that she was literally overwhelmed with people who needed information about training Psychiatric Service Dogs. That, in itself, is a tribute to her work and the increasing need for such dogs for people living with mental illnesses.
Esnayra, though she has never in any way claimed to be a psychiatrist or psychologist, has sufficient training in neurobiology to be competent in developing the cohesive framework that she terms ‘the Psychiatric Service Dog Therapeutic Model.’
With her PhD in Biology, she has read and researched hundreds of papers and reports about mental illnesses and their effects. She understood the basic brain chemistry of persons with PTSD or Bipolar Disorder and how medications do their work.
“Medications are not the only answer to symptom management,” she says confidently. It can take months or even years to find the right combination of medications that work in a given individual’s body.”
The issues raised in the earlier forum continued to play out and shape the debate between the physical disability community and the mental health community.
“It mainly centered on the issue of tasks,” Esnayra explained. “The opponents state that since a PSD doesn’t do any physical tasks, such as guiding a blind person, picking up dropped objects or alerting them to a seizure, they’re not really Assistance dogs.”
Esnayra said she and her forum members compiled a list of thirty ways a dog can assist its mentally ill owner. “They break down into two major categories, tasks and work. The latter term ‘work’ incorporates cognitive behavioral skills, mind/body approaches, and clever ways to leverage your dog’s natural responses to its immediate environment in order to better manage mental health symptoms.”
When asked to explain the concept of work, Esnayra used the example of veterans suffering from PTSD. “We teach veterans to read their dog as their dog is reading them in order to obtain new information about subtle changes within their own body that he/she is otherwise unaware of. This is a Mind-Body approach. We show them how to perform a ‘body scan’ of their dog in order to mitigate the symptom of hypervigilence, which may be described as an erroneous but ominous feeling that something terrible is about to happen. This is a cognitive behavioral approach. Work notwithstanding, psychiatric service dogs may also be trained to perform physical tasks that assist their handler. When a veteran returns to his/her darkened home at night. The veteran may not feel safe entering the house, because who knows what is lying in wait behind those doors. So the dog is trained to enter the house and search from room to room, then signal to the handler that all is well. Psychiatric Service Dogs can also be trained to signal their handler that it is time to take their medications. Dogs have a keen sense of time that is reliable and accurate.
Esnayra provided examples of biofeedback these dogs can provide. “When someone is with their service dog for months on end, the dog learns to read the handler’s ‘baseline’ behaviors, attitudes, and dispositions. When these change as a result of encountering a trigger stimulus or because one is entering an episode of mental illness, the dog registers the change even before the handler is aware of it. Cognizance on the part of the dog will be reflected in the dog’s facial expressions, body language, or behaviors. Therefore the handler learns to read their dog as the dog is reading its handler. This is a form of biofeedback that empowers the handler to make smarter choices about how to manage the episode.
This is a cognitive behavioral paradigm and what Wasabe was doing for Esnayra when she was experiencing episodes of Hypomania. “I learned to leverage Wasabe’s alerting behaviors and use them to my advantage.”
Another example. “Let’s say a veteran with PTSD is walking on a busy city street with his service dog. Suddenly he senses danger for some unexplained reason. He looks around and only sees unarmed civilians. He wonders if there are any insurgents in the crowd. He reaches for the place where his weapon used to be, but it isn’t there. He shakes his head for a moment thinking, “Wait, I’m home. I’m not in Baghdad.” He remembers the word, ‘hypervigilence’and knows that it characterizes his combat PTSD. If there is danger in the environment, his dog will sense it before he does. “Does my dog sense danger in this environment?” he wonders. He performs a ‘body scan’ of his dog. There are no hackles raised, no ears folded back, no tail between the dog’s legs, no predatory creeping, and no low decibel growl. In fact, his dog’s body is completely relaxed and its tail is swinging blithely from side to side as he casually takes in his environment. The veteran concludes that since his dog does not perceive danger in its immediate environment, this sensation of danger that he feels is probably his PTSD hypervigilence, so he chooses to trust his dog. This is a cognitive behavioral intervention that allows the veteran to continue on with his day rather than running home and bolting all the doors and windows.
All of these are tasks or work a Service dog can do for their owners. But it is a splendid example of the precious human-canine bond. Trust, mutual need, love and loyalty are indisputable elements of the bond. All dog owners, and particularly those of Assistance dogs learn to trust and depend on this bond.
William O’Hara is a retired Navy veteran with six years of combat in Vietnam. O’Hara, a friendly, easygoing and intelligent man, has a young German Shepherd named Major. It is O’Hara’s third Psychiatric Service Dog.
“I was discharged in 1970,” he explained. “I had periods of great difficulty and mood problems which destroyed my marriage. I really didn’t know what was wrong with me.”
O’Hara, who was never informed he was eligible for V.A. benefits, finally sought help. “I wasn’t diagnosed with PTSD until 1983,” he said with a trace of irony in his voice. “I was on meds and therapy, but it really didn’t do much good. Then President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law in 1991. And I began to learn about Assistance dogs. I went to a seminar at the Delta Society. I realized I might be able to have a dog that could help me with my problem.
O’Hara’s first dog was a Doberman named Albert Einstein, whom he trained.
In time O’Hara began to leverage the dog’s intuitive senses in order to discern whether or not there was danger in the environment. “It worked very well,” he said.
“Also he helped me to create a ‘safe zone’ around me in crowds or on line. When at night I wake up, not sure if I’m safe, I can reach out and there’s my dog. Then I know I’m safe. I was once asked in a social situation what my dog does for me, and I said ‘He keeps me from going up onto a university clock tower with a high-powered scoped rifle.’”
The statement, referring to the August 1966 massacre of 14 and wounding of 32 people by former Marine Charles Whitman from the tower of the University of Texas in Austin, had the effect of making the questioner realize how important Major and his predecessors were to O’Hara’s mental stability. “I said it offhandedly, but I was very serious.”
On the matter of discrimination, O’Hara said “In 2003, I was kicked out of the Palo Alto V.A. Hospital. The Security guard told me I had to leave since I wasn’t blind so I shouldn’t have a dog.”
O’Hara fought the issue, and after several months was allowed into that hospital with his dog.
“I often have to educate people about what my dogs do and how I have the right to have them with me. I prefer to educate rather than litigate.”
O’Hara gladly attests to the benefit of his dogs for his mental health. “I was on a lot of medications in the early years after my diagnosis. It wasn’t easy. And thanks to my dog, I’m glad to be off most of them now.”
The former Navy veteran now takes his dog to the Balboa Naval Hospital to see some of the wounded veterans, a show of support and compassion for his comrades, past and present.
Dr. Carmen Davis is a Portland Oregon psychologist who has dozens of patients with mental illnesses. Many of them suffer from PTSD as a result of childhood abuse, rape, assault or other trauma. She earned her degree at California School of Professional Psychology. Dr. Davis has associated professionally with Joan Esnayra for six years. She gladly expressed her opinions of dogs for persons with PTSD.
“I first heard of Psychiatric Service Dogs in 2000. Several of my clients have dogs, and I absolutely feel they are more beneficial than medications. And the work, the responsibility of having a dog is part of the therapy.”
In an illustration regarding the success of PSDs, Davis said “I had a client who lost her house, broke up a long-term relationship, was transferred from another therapist, and her father died, all in about four months. She really didn’t see that she had any reason to live. I began talking to her about getting a dog. We had to arrange a ‘No Suicide’ contract, before approving her to get a dog. Less than six weeks later she called and said ‘You can tear that up. There’s no way I’m going to leave my dog.’ She had a reason to live and the dog saved her life. She now helps to train dogs for other people.”
In her opinion, Davis says that dogs are much more effective than medications in stopping panic attacks. “I fully endorse self-determination for patients to decide if and when they need a dog.”
On the subject of Joan Esnayra and the PSDS, Davis said “Joan does amazing work, and her service to the whole psychiatric disability community is beyond measure. She has done so much hard work and made it so easy for people, with support to train and use their own dogs.”
Another bone of contention among opponents of PSDs is centered on the mistaken assumption that persons with mental illnesses are incapable of training a dog or even to take care of them. This stems from an ignorance of mental disorders, resulting in discrimination and bias.
“I strongly favor self-determination,” Esnayra says firmly. “A person with a mental illness is the best person to decide if they need the services of a dog and to decide they can train it, with or without assistance from professional trainers. For anyone to say ‘No, you’re mentally ill, you can’t train a dog or take care of it’ is narrow-minded and cruel. It’s discrimination. The mental health community would never tell the blind community how it must use its Guide dogs. But that’s exactly what the physical disability community is trying to do to us.”
On a related subject, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has been involved in an ongoing dispute concerning Psychiatric Service Dogs on airliners. It’s a well-known fact that the more common Assistance animals, such as Guide dogs have full access to all public air transport. But where dogs for individuals with mental illnesses are concerned the old bias rears its ugly head. Esnayra comments, “The DOT requires a person to provide a doctor’s letter that discloses the fact that the passenger has a mental illness. They have to provide the airline 48 hours advance notice before they can fly and they have to arrive an hour prior to any other Assistance dog owners.”
These requirements are a blatant breach of privacy and are highly discriminatory. The DOT, after being petitioned by PSDS, hosted a public comment forum in the Fall of 2009 in order to solicit the opinions of the public. “The responses are greatly in favor of PSDs being provided the same access as other persons with disabilities accompanied by Assistance animals,” she says happily. “I’ve read some of the airlines’ comments,” Esnayra said. “They’re blatantly discriminatory. It comes down to the same problem: People fear and don’t trust anyone with a mental illness. They probably want to put more Air Marshals on a plane simply because a mentally ill person is flying. This is ludicrous.”
Esnayra, in her role as President of the PSDS has over the past twelve years, delivered lectures, hosted workshops and lobbied all over the country, in order to educate organizations, mental health professionals and policymakers on the benefits of service dogs for psychiatric disabilities.
In every instance Wasabe traveled with her, setting his excellent example of a well-trained and loyal Psychiatric Service Dog. “I often had people asking what he did for me,” she said. “Lots of people were surprised at there being such a thing, but most reacted positively.”
Wasabe died in February 2005, an emotional blow to Esnayra. “We had a spiritual bond,” she said, evident sorrow in her voice at the memory. “Three days before he died, I truly felt him telling me he was dying. I know that sounds strange but anyone with a deep and long-lasting bond with a dog will probably understand.”
In May and June of the same year Esnayra adopted two Rhodesian Ridgeback puppies named Kenji and Rainbow. “Kenji, who came from a breeder in Michigan, is Wasabe’s successor dog. Rainbow, a southern belle from Atlanta, is the diva, as Esnayra puts it. They both accompany her in work spreading the word about Psychiatric Service Dogs.
Her efforts have brought wide exposure to a subject many Americans hardly know exists, but little by little the psychiatric community has begun to explore the self-empowerment that comes from training and partnering with a PSD.
The PSDS has been given two noteworthy awards for its work. In 2006, the pharmaceutical company Lilly awarded Esnayra the ‘Welcome Back Award for Primary Care’, usually given to psychologists, for their work. “That was the first public endorsement of PSDs as a concept,” she said. “In 2008, SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration bestowed upon me a ‘Voice Award’ for my advocacy work in the mental health community. This award was significant insofar as it came from a Federal agency, no less.”
In addition, Congress, from Esnayra’s work and several Assistance dog schools has begun to seriously look at promoting the use of dogs for returning veterans with PTSD.
Also in 2008, the U.S. Army awarded a $300,000 research grant to Esnayra’s research team so that it could launch an 18-month pilot study at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The project will enroll twenty soldiers with PTSD in matched pairs. Baseline psychological testing and biological sample collection will commence. Then, the 20 soldiers will be randomized to either the experimental or comparison groups for the remainder of the study. The experimental group will receive a temperament and health-screened rescue dog followed by six months of intensive professional dog training instruction. The comparison group will receive no dog and no training instruction. Both groups will continue to receive the usual standard of care treatments at Walter Reed for their PTSD. Every three months throughout the study, psychological testing and biological sample collections will be carried out with both groups. At the end of the study, compLex statistical analyses will help the research team discern whether or not the PSD partnerships reflect a notable treatment effect relative to those who were not partnered with dogs.
If the pilot study data are supportive then, a larger multi-site study is envisioned. Careful documentation of the positive benefits of PSD partnership will make the lives of veterans and other persons living with severe mental illness more tolerable and productive.
PTSD, through its effects on the person and the family, has intergenerational effects. The children of PTSD sufferers may have their own future diagnoses of PTSD as a result of trauma from a parent or family member. The need for positive action now can only help to change life for the better in those families.
Esnayra had this to say about the future. “The press has really gotten interested in Psychiatric Service dogs because of the returning veterans. And the legislators on Capitol Hill too. Ten years ago they knew nothing about dogs for psychiatric disabilities. Now they have a far greater understanding of what they do. Five to seven years ago very few clinicians had heard of Psychiatric Service Dogs. But now their patients are, through self-determination, training and using them. The clinicians are starting to learn about the dogs from their patients. Think about the power dynamics there. The patients are taking control of their lives. It helps their self-esteem, it equalizes the power differential between the doctor and the patient.”
That in itself is something every patient can relate to. But deep in the roots of the issue are the dogs themselves, blissfully unaware of the controversy around them. They continue as all dogs do, to follow, protect and cherish their owners, to nurture and provide something you just can’t get from a medicine bottle or a therapist’s couch.
So in all the work Joan and her colleagues do, the seeds of the pioneering PSDS will continue to grow and enrich the lives of thousands of people who are only now, beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Esnayra said in closing. “If the great amount of creativity, talent, and brainpower represented by persons living with mental illness can be liberated, then, society will reap huge benefits.”
By Mark Carlson
One of the thrills of being a warbird buff is attending airshows, watching the silver and olive planes slicing through the sky with a roar of unbridled power.
As a boy I went to several airshows and marveled at the magnificent machines which created legends in the skies over Europe and the Pacific so many years ago.
Like many boys, I built models of Mustangs, Warhawks, Fortresses, Dauntlesses and Avengers, feeling pride in recreating the famous planes in accurate miniature. Yet models no longer hold much attraction for me. I prefer spending my time with the real thing. That’s where this story comes in. On weekends I’m a docent tour guide at the San Diego Air and Space Museum in Balboa Park. Over the last three years I’ve become very familiar with the over seventy aircraft and exhibits in the collection ranging from reproductions of pre-Wright Brothers gliders to space-age UAVs. And of course, warbirds.
As a docent I had the run of the museum’s collection, able to step past the barriers while talking to the patrons in a tour group. I ran my hands over the sleek metal skin of the P-51D, pointed out the bomb-release yoke of the SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber, and rapped my knuckles on the wooden propeller of the late-war Spitfire MkXVI.
Sure, most of the docents did this, but in my case it wasn’t only a privilege, it was a necessity.
I’m legally blind. To me the world is little more than light and dark.
When I first considered finding a new hobby for my weekend hours when not at my job, I was eagerly encouraged by my wife. I met with two of the volunteer coordinators at the museum. To my astonishment and gratitude, they expressed no real concerns for accepting a blind docent. Tom Cooke and Ross Davis, both veterans and very open-minded, were impressed by my enthusiasm and background in history. For one thing, I’ve always been an avid reader, and even with the loss of sight due to a hereditary disorder, still read over a hundred books a year on audio tape. In addition I had a very good memory for facts and trivia, dates and anecdotes, which were very important when relating the stories of the history of aviation.
To become a docent, I had to ‘ride along’ on twenty tours conducted by other docents, work one hundred hours at the museum, and study several books and briefing materials.
I was fully able to do the required reading for becoming a docent using screen reading software on my computer.
My other advantage was my guide dog, Musket. A male Yellow Labrador, he was an excellent guide and quickly learned his way around the museum’s myriad displays and exhibits.
I was introduced to some of the other docents, many of them veterans and pilots, who made me feel welcome. Musket, being a very friendly and beautiful dog, also found his way into the hearts of the docents, staff and veterans at SDASM.
My first ‘check ride’ with a dozen people selected at random, went well as I gave them a tour. We started with the Lockheed A-12 Blackbird, and worked our way through Early Flight, World War One, the Golden Age, World War Two, the Jet Age and the Space Gallery. In one hour. But in the end I was awarded the coveted red jacket worn by docents. Musket and I also had our own ID badges.
Over the last three years Musket and I have conducted scores of tours around the museum. Most aircraft were on static floor display but a few, such as the Mitsubishi A6M7 Zero, hung from the ceiling. Even though I couldn’t touch them, I knew where I was, thanks to Musket. He knew just where to stop for each exhibit, and waited patiently while I talked.
With white-gloved hands, I pointed out various details and features of the aircraft. “If you’ll look right here,” I said as I touched the training mechanisms of the Sperry Ball Turret, ‘you can see the controls the gunner used to traverse and elevate the turret in combat.”
My sense of touch never let me down and experience with model airplanes was often an advantage. With little effort, I could recognize the shape of a wing, or cowling, or even a canopy by touch.
I could easily tell the difference between a Wright Cyclone and a Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp, or the Rolls-Royce Merlin and the Alison V-1710.
Occasionally the museum moved or removed an aircraft from the collection for restoration or painting. I wasn’t always told of the change which caused some amusing incidents.
I once described some of the history of the Thomas-Morse S4C Scout biplane hanging from the ceiling, not knowing it had been removed a week before. When I was told by a passing docent, I laughed, saying “Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.” Afterwards I made a point of asking the front desk when I arrived in the morning “Has anything been moved or taken away?” And it got to be a standing joke. “Everything is just as you left it last week, Mark.”
My particular favorites were the Mustang and Spitfire, two aircraft which defined the aegis of World War Two fighters. Feeling my way along the smooth shark like cowling of the P-51D was like caressing a living thing resting in the cool dark environs of the museum awaiting a return to the sun and sky. The sleek Supermarine Spitfire MkXVI had an interesting story. A late-war design, it was actually a MkIX with an American-built Packard Merlin and laminated wooden four bladed constant-speed propeller.
It was flown in an anniversary celebration of the greatest day of the Battle of Britain, September 15, 1945, when the engine cut out.
The pilot, seeing he was nowhere near an airfield, spotted an unused Cricket pitch below, and decided to belly his craft in.
He did so, sliding to a stop at the far end of the pitch only after dinging the starboard wing on the three wickets.
I always told this story while pointing out the dents, still clear in the yellow leading edge of the wing. “I’m sure the pilot didn’t trust American engines after that,” I said.
I have been given the rare opportunity to sit in the cockpit of some aircraft. A fellow docent, Bob Klees, allowed me to sit in a flying replica of Charles Lindbergh’s Ryan NYP, the Spirit of St. Louis. While not a warbird, the silver monoplane was a true icon of aviation history. I entered the small cabin, settling into the wicker seat, marveling at the closeness of the tiny space. Using only my hands, I was given a sense of being in that tiny cabin in the middle of the night over the freezing North Atlantic in May of 1927. At six feet tall the space was cramped to me. Lindbergh was three inches taller and endured it for thirty-three relentless hours.
At an airshow in Chino California I went aboard one of the few Normandy Invasion Douglas C-47s still flying. Invited to sit in the pilot’s seat, I plagued the pilot with questions about the history of the venerable transport.
A few months ago two great planes arrived in San Diego. The Collings Foundation’s pride, Boeing B-17G Nino-O-Nine and Consolidated B-24H Witchcraft flew in for tours and flights.
Although I had been around Fortresses before it was my first experience with the Liberator. Leaving Musket with a friend, I crawled, and I do mean crawled through the interior of the old warbird. I was constantly amazed by the cramped quarters, low overhead and narrow catwalks of the B-24. Having built models and long studied the interior of the plane, I knew my way around. Yet all I could think to myself while worming my bulk through the bomb racks and under the flight deck to the nose compartment was ‘How in hell did they do it?’
My respect for air war veterans was even greater after I’d spent some time seated in the co-pilot’s seat, thinking of John Jerstad, Killer Kane, Walter Stewart, Norman Appold and the thousands of other young men who flew the four-engined bombers to countless targets around Hitler’s Europe.
Like many warbird buffs, I had an affinity for the Flying Fortress, and Nine-O-Nine was a beauty. Lovingly maintained and cared for by dozens of dedicated volunteers, the plane was like home to me as I entered the compartments I had seen in pictures years ago. Everything was familiar to me. My fingers traced the shelves in the radio compartment and I nestled myself between the twin .50 caliber Brownings in the upper turret.
The fee for taking a ride was a bit too steep for me to justify to my wife.
However, last year I did fly in a warbird. A company which toured the country in a pair of North American T-6 Texans arrived at Gillespie Field in El Cajon.
Now, as anyone who knew me would guess, I couldn’t simply ride the plane like everyone else. I had to dress the part. I wore my Hawaiian warbird shirt, a ball cap with the 8th Air Force emblem, and my A2 bomber jacket. The air temperature was hovering around 95 degrees but that didn’t deter me.
I was told my lack of vision wouldn’t be a problem, and was led out to the plane. Needless to say Musket remained behind with my wife.
I could hear and feel the power of the Pratt & Whitney Wasp in idle, and my blood pounded in my ears.
Settling into the front cockpit I realized I was doing what thousands and thousands of young men and women had done from 1936 to the 1960s, getting their first feel of the venerable trainer.
The ground crewman, after getting me into the safety and parachute harnesses, then the headset, told me how to raise the gear upon orders from the pilot.
I wouldn’t be able to see the telltales in the wings or the lights on the panel when the gear locked into place but that was of little concern.
The flight was incredible. We roared down the runway and I was almost singing with the sheer thrill of it, feeling like Chuck Yeager or James Goodson on their first check ride.
High over the wide expanses of East County, the pilot and I talked about the plane, flying and aviation history. I told him of my work at the museum, and although I hadn’t paid for aerobatics, he threw in a few rolls for fun. Call it professional courtesy.
When we landed, my face was shining with joy and exhilaration. “I never really understood what it meant to fly,” I told the pilot, thanking him for the experience. “I truly envy you.” We shook hands and he invited me to come back. But I want my next World War Two warbird flight to be in a B-17.
Last summer, on a business trip to Washington DC I was given a special tour of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. A docent and former Army helicopter pilot named Larry McKinley spent five hours showing me the exhibits and collection. Only being able to discern shapes and forms in the vast spaces of the museum didn’t discourage me in the least. I knew I was among the elite of aviation collections.
Friendship 7, the original Spirit of St. Louis, the Bell X-1, Apollo 11, Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega, the Wright Flyer and a hundred other rare and unique examples of the history of flying were all around me and Musket.
Back in San Diego I was honored to be a VIP escort for the astronauts at the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 8. Musket and I met Apollo 12’s Alan Bean, Apollo 7’s Walt Cunningham, and the three men who’d taken the historic first circumlunar flight in 1968, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders. They reprised their famous ‘Genesis’ speech, which raised goose pimples on my arms when I heard it. We escorted the venerable NASA notables, along with Gerry Griffin and Glynn Lonny, two of Mission Control’s Flight Directors around the Star Trek Exhibition. While the astronauts sat in Captain Kirk’s chair on a recreation of the Starship Enterprise’s bridge, I talked with Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon in 1972. We’d met before, at Mercury astronaut Wally Shire’s memorial service in 2007. He liked Labradors and was petting Musket, when I bumped into another man next to me. “I’m sorry,” I said, stepping aside. “Who is this?”
Cernan chuckled. “Neil Armstrong.” So Musket and I met the first and last men to walk on the Moon on board the Starship Enterprise. What a great day.
For those and other reasons I never lamented the loss of my sight. I’ve been able to travel around the country, work and experience things many sighted people haven’t done.
Being among the last examples of America and the world’s legendary aircraft, caring for and teaching about them is a true labor of love. And I’m part of a great team of people who feel the same way. Keep ‘me flying.
‘A Date with a Doll: Café’s Veteran C-53 Skytrooper Carries on the Tradition’
By Mark Carlson
Just after midnight in the dark skies over the Cretan Peninsula of Northern France, the thrumming of hundreds of aircraft engines breaks the silence. In minutes the sound becomes a steady roar like a relentless aerial avalanche.
The date is June 6, 1944. The moment we’ve all come to know as D-Day, the invasion of Europe has begun with hundreds of unarmed transports dropping thousands of paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions over occupied France.
The Germans are waiting, and soon the once-cool and clear night skies are alive with the yellow and red strobes of 88mm and 37mm flak bursts.
Although the approach and run to the Drop Zones are on target, the heavy German anti—aircraft fire quickly overwhelm the pilots and aircrews of the defenseless transports, causing them to veer away, increase speed or worse, careen uncontrollably to the ground in a long meteor shower of flaming wreckage.
Among the hundreds of C-47s and C-53s, gliders and deadly patterns of bursting shells is Douglas C-53D Skytrooper Serial #42-68830, a new plane carrying 24 troopers of the ‘All-American’ 82nd Airborne Division to their Drop Zone to start the Allied invasion.
What General Dwight D. Eisenhower called ‘the Great Crusade’ began from that plane and hundreds of others.
The Skytrooper is alive and well today. She did not crash with her human cargo in the skies over France that night. In fact she flew two more missions on D-Day and many more during the last year of the Second World War.
‘D-Day Doll’ as she is now known, is operated by Inland Empire Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, the famous organization dedicated to restoring, preserving and flying the priceless relics of America’s military aviation heritage.
One of 159 C-53D’s built at Douglas’ Santa Monica California plant, she rolled off the assembly line on July 6, 1943. Painted the standard U.S. Air Forces olive drab, her destination was England. None of her builders knew what would happen to the plane as the finishing touches were applied. But even had they known she would one day participate in the greatest aerial invasion in history, they could never imagine she would still be flying paratroopers over the United States more than sixty years later. Re-enactor paratroops, that is.
Bud Ukes, Public Information Officer of Inland Empire Wing, related this history of the venerable plane. “The creed of the Commemorative Air Force is the restoration of World War II airplanes, and a few years ago we updated to Korea and Vietnam aircraft as well. We are the seventh largest air force in the world and more than seventy percent of our aircraft are over sixty years old. About twenty years ago our C-53D, which after the war had been converted to a commercial airliner and owned by Pennsylvania Central and Shawnee Airlines in Florida was purchased by an individual for skydiving and it flew all over the country.”
The wartime C-53s were fitted with two Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 1,200 hp. engines, but after the war Wright Cyclone 1820-56 1,200 hp. radials were installed for her commercial service.
“About twelve years ago on a cross-country flight he blew an engine near Richmond Indiana. He left the plane sitting there for four years. He donated it to the CAF and it was assigned to the Inland Empire Wing.”
Ukes, whose voice shows evident pride in the wing’s crown jewel, related the efforts to bring the veteran transport to Riverside California. “We brought a new engine and prop out to Indiana and flew it here. It took four years and a large sum of money to restore it to exactly the condition and appearance it had on D-Day.”
Ukes grinned. “Then she was given the nose art and name, ‘D-Day Doll. She is a doll. I guess you can tell I’m a bit prejudiced,” he chuckled.
The veteran C-53D currently flies at airshows around the southwest. “We have a parachute drop program which has been very popular. We give tours of the plane with re-enactors who tell the story of the plane and the airborne operations over France and Holland in 1944. We made one minor alteration in the scheme,” he admitted. “The big ‘M2’ on the nose and the ‘R’ on the tail are the markings of the airplane that carried Bob Hope’s USO tours. We did that because the Bob Hope tours originated at March Field in Riverside, and we’re based in Riverside.”
Asked what specifically makes the C-53 different from her more famous twin, the C-47, Ukes explained “The C-47 was able to carry either troops or cargo. It had a large double cargo door and reinforce floor. The 53 had a small doorway, and was also fitted with a towing lug to tow up to two gliders. It was fitted with 28 aluminum seats for the troopers. ‘Doll’ is set up in exactly that configuration, right down to the broad black-and-white invasion stripes and green light by the door.”
Prior to the Normandy Invasion there were so many more C-47s than 53s, Eisenhower ordered that in order to avoid confusion they would all be called C-47s. “The C-53 kind of lost its identity by that time of the war,” Ukes commented. “The 47 is much better known. And many of the pilots, crews, and paratroopers simply said they had flown in C-47s.”
“To the best of my research, this aircraft trained with the 101st Airborne but on the night of June 5-6, 1944 it carried men of the 82nd.”
The 82nd Airborne Living History Association is an organization dedicated to recreating the world of the elite paratroops of the war. Jim Palmer is an eight-year veteran of the organization. He has a genuine passion for the life of the paratroops. “The kids who had to ride those planes that night were the bravest I can imagine. They were loaded with equal their own body weight of gear, weapons, ammo and rations. Many had to be lifted into the planes. Once they were airborne the cold wind coming in made conversation impossible. They could look down as they crossed the Channel in the dark and see the phosphorescent wakes of the 5,000 Allied ships heading for the beaches. And these kids were going to be the first to set foot on the soil of German-occupied France.”
Palmer detailed the experiences of the paratroopers who rode in the C-53s. “When the Jumpmaster gave them the signal, they stood, went through the process of checking their gear and hooking the static lines to the anchor line. The green light went on and off they stepped into the cold night.”
A veteran of the famous 101st Airborne, the ‘Screaming Eagles,’ Ed Pepping related his experiences riding and jumping from a C-53 on D-Day. “I was a medic in Easy Company in the 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Our objective was to take one of the causeways to Utah Beach.”
Pepping, an 88-year old resident of Whittier California, remembered what it was like. “I weighed 178 pounds, but that night my total weight was 305. It took four guys to get me in the plane. But at the other end all I had to do was fall out,” he chuckled.
“I was originally put in plane 66,” Pepping recalls. “But then the guy at the door said I was in the wrong airplane. So they put me in another one. Number 66 was shot down. I had someone upstairs looking out for me that night.”
The seating arrangements for the troopers on a C-53 might appear to be adequate, but Pepping laughed at the memory. “Because of the muster bag and chute pack, we could only sit on the very edge of those little aluminum seats. Most of the time we were kneeling. For the entire flight.”
The intense German flak destroyed the neat formations already broken apart by dense fog over the French coast. The transport pilots, desperate to do their duty and survive, sheered off, increased speed or changed altitude. “We were supposed to jump at 700 feet at 95 miles per hour,” Pepping said. “but because the pilots were trying to get away from that flak, I mean you could walk on that stuff, they dropped us at 300 feet at 160 miles an hour.”
Because none of the Americans had been properly trained in the use of the British ‘Leg Bag’ holding their weapons and extra gear, they were almost all lost as soon as they jumped. “A lot of those kids landed scattered far and wide with no more than a trench knife for protection,” Palmer said.
Pepping remembers few details of his first hours in France, “When I landed my helmet hit the back of my neck, cracked three vertebrae, gave me a concUSSion, but I stayed awake. I met up with some guys who had some German prisoners.”
When the thousands of young men began to search for one another on that dark and frightening night the sound of exploding shell and sporadic rifle fire was drowned out by the heavy drone of hundreds of Pratt & Whitney engines from the departing transports. Among them was #42-68830, having left behind her ‘stick’ of paratroopers while she returned to England.
Her service in Europe included missions over Holland for ‘Operation Market Garden’ and an aborted attempt to drop troops into besieged Bastogne during the 1944-45 German counteroffensive called the ‘Battle of the Bulge.’ Her last European combat operation was to carry paratroopers for ‘Operation Varsity,’ the March 1945 Allied drive to cross the Rhine.
The C-53’s history after that point has become a little murky.
Ukes frowned. “The rumor that circulates around this airplane is that it was transferred to the Pacific with Army crews, Navy maintenance and Marine troopers. And that’s probably why it came back to the U.S. via NAS Jacksonville Florida. I’m always looking for some proof that our plane carried Marines on what appears to be a clandestine operation in the Pacific. I’d really like to know the truth.”
Mysteries are common among military historians and this one bears some looking into.
According to Ukes’ research, he was able to ascertain that #42-68830 did go to the Pacific after her service with the Army in Europe. “But then the records are incomplete. I have a letter from the Air Force Historical Society which gives me a lot of information about the aircraft and its history but that period is missing. Only by examining the records of the aircraft with the serial numbers before and after #42-68830 could I piece together more of its service. It’s very puzzling. But one clue fits,” Ukes observes. “When we were restoring the plane, we discovered the data plate on the horizontal stabilizer, was from an R-4D, which is a Navy designation for that airplane. So we think the entire tail was replaced from battle damage with an R-4D tail.”
Blake LaMar is one of ‘Dolls’ co-pilots. In an interview he was asked about his experiences with the veteran transport. “It’s noisy. Sort of like having a metal bucket over your head while someone bangs on it with a hammer,” he said, laughing. “But it’s really fun.” LaMar says the 16,000-lb. transport “Is the lightest on the controls of any of the type I’ve ever flown. We’re pretty cautious with her. After all she’s 67 years old. She has some of the original instrumentation since the original radium-painted dials were replaced with safer ones from the 1960s and the radios are modern for current communication requirements.”
The former Air Force pilot, who flew several of the most famous fighters from the F-86 Sabre to the F-4 Phantom, concurrently flying with Continental Airlines to fly the DC-3 to the 747 enjoys his experiences with ‘D-Day Doll.’ “We’ve had lots of folks on board for tours. Sometimes we have Airborne veterans. One of them pointed to the door to the flight deck and said, ‘I remember a bulkhead there.’ I told him ‘Well when we have the money we’ll put one in.’”
One of the things LaMar tries to do is imbue children who visit the plane with a sense of awe and amazement. “I tell them to look into the cabin and see those young men, about 28 of them, no more than 19 or 20 years old at most, they took off in the middle of the night, it took them two or three hours to get huge swarms of transports joined up and organized before heading south to Normandy. The doors were off, bitterly cold wind blowing in, the Germans are shooting at them, and then the guys stand at the door and jump out as fast as they can at low altitude. They lost a lot of planes and men that night,” said LaMar, “I just can’t believe how brave they were. I really want these kids today to realize what an incredible sacrifice their grandfathers made back then. It’s just amazing. I flew troops into Desert Storm in 747s and I saw the same determined look on their faces. It’s something we should be proud of. All of us.”
As a dedicated troop transport, ‘D-Day Doll’ is a truly rare example of a relic of that ‘Day of Days.’
The Flying Fortresses, Mustangs, Warhawks, Bearcats and Hellcats may garner more public interest at airshows, but this rare Skytrooper holds a distinction unique among warbirds. Where most restored aircraft were often sent to the war zones too late to see combat, or never even left the U.S., ‘D-Day Doll’ has been there and done that.
Many times over.
Follow up to ‘Date with a Doll’
‘Spirits in the Sky’
My ride in ‘D-Day Doll’
By Mark Carlson
As a writer and supporter of the CAF and warbird preservation I was always happy to be welcomed around these cherished relics of a bygone era.
Standing under the broad wing of a B-17 or running my fingers along the sleek cowling of a P-51 is my way of touching the past.
A few months ago I wrote a story for a national magazine entitled ‘Date with a Doll,’ the history of Inland Empire CAF’s veteran C-53D Skytrooper.
Bud Ukes, Wing historian, and others were of immense help in my research for the article.
I learned how special and even unique the old warbird really was.
Douglas C-53D #42-68830 Skytrooper actually carried troopers of the famous 82nd Airborne Division into the pre-dawn skies over Carentan Peninsula on a historic June 6 morning sixty-seven years ago.
Yet even with all my research into books, interviews, documentaries and archives, I never really understood what it was like to be inside a Skytrooper in flight.
I’ve always been envious of the people who boasted ‘Sure I’ve ridden in her lots of times.’
Then it was finally my turn. Bud Ukes, happy with my story arranged for me to have a ride in ‘Doll’ over the Riverside Veteran’s parade on April 16, 2011.
To say I was stunned and moved was like calling a hurricane a ‘windy day.’
On that day I and six other passengers were led out to the plane. Her broad wing eclipsed the hot springtime sun. The pilot and ground crew were doing their walk-around while the loadmaster told us about the seat belts and safety regulations.
But I only had eyes for the graceful olive-drab hull, wide black-and-white Invasions stripes and the white star in a blue circle. Her rudder stood like a huge sentinel over us. Far forward on the wings were the massive radial engines like twin steel hearts.
I couldn’t wait to take off.
Stepping inside ‘Doll’s’ cabin, I worked my way forward past the fourteen small windows and twenty-eight aluminum seats until I sat down on the first seat on the starboard side, just aft of the flight deck.
After buckling myself in, I looked around at my surroundings. The first thing I realized was how Spartan and simple it was.
The ribs and longirons were painted metal, riveted skin smoothly curving overhead.
The interior smelled of metal, oil and age. It was hot but I didn’t mind a bit.
When the pilots started the starboard engine I closed my eyes to absorb as much of the feeling as possible.
I wanted to experience it with all my senses.
The sound of two Wright Cyclone R-1820 1,200 hp radial engines is like nothing even a seasoned commercial air traveler has ever experienced.
Starting with a deep whine, then a series of ‘chuffs’ the three-bladed propellers began turning. And then the engines roared to mighty life.
It came right through the skin of the plane and entered my bones, even into my soul.
With my eyes closed I was not on the tarmac at Riverside Airport.
I was on an airbase in England in the late evening of June 5, 1944.
The plane was full of young men cruelly burdened with parachute, gear and weapons.
Only a rosy glow from the setting sun to the west illuminated their unlined and tense faces as the plane began rolling to the runway.
The Cyclones were a steady thrumming cadence of pistons and valves, dual mechanical heartbeats eager to drive the huge warbird into the skies. I knew I was smiling, and that others were talking but beyond the roar of the engines I heard nothing.
Nothing but the murmured prayers and grunts of the twenty-eight troopers around me. I knew they were there still, no longer flesh and blood but spirit and memory.
After a short run-up, which surpassed even what I thought was power, ‘Doll’ reached the runway.
The pilots applied full throttle. The roar and thrust increased, pushing me aft along the slick aluminum seat and my belt. And still it grew and magnified.
I was grinning even wider now, almost giddy with excitement. In my eyes were tears. ‘Doll’ rose smoothly and climbed. Outside I knew the landing gear was retracting into the nacelles, and the mighty Wrights were thundering with the hoofbeats of 2,400 unbroken horses.
Again all I saw were the paratroops as squares of the red sun swept over their faces and helmets as the plane banked southward.
We reached cruising altitude. For several minutes while approaching our destination the plane leaned into steep turns one never feels on a 737. The plane was alive, a metal beast with a soul glad to be in the blue skies again.
When we were permitted to release our belts, the first place I went, while holding the overhead ribs and piping was the flight deck.
There were the pilots, two of the luckiest men on Earth, coaxing the veteran transport on course.
The broad windows showed blue sky and wide pale horizons, and I could only imagine those long-ago pilots in Army khaki following the miles-long stream of C-47s and C-53s southwest towards Carentan.
Unlike those unknown pilots I knew what was coming.
In the dark night the sky would become a roaring multicolored hell of bursting 37mm and 88mm anti-aircraft bursts, of careening planes and burning fuel.
Flak bursts were like flashbulbs outside the windows, the sound of sharp booms and shrapnel spattering the aluminum like hail on a tin roof.
The wings were flapping with stress amid the rattling of the shaking fuselage.
And in the back were the young men who would soon step out of the shuddering cocoon of aluminum into destiny.
I went back along the deck, past the windows and other passengers until I was at the aft door. Then I turned forward. While the C-53 made slow banks and turned, I let my thoughts return to June 6.
The red light came on by the door. The freezing night air blasted inside with the roar of the engines and 100-mph wind.
Beyond was a strobe-lighted chaos of death and noise.
The officer shouted over the din, “Stand up!”
The troopers stood and took their places in twin lines. “Hook up!”
They clipped their ripcord clips to the static running along the cabin ceiling.
Each man checked the gear of the man in front of him and signaled ‘okay.’
“Stand at the door!”
The green light came on and each man, some praying, some gritting their teeth in fear, stepped outside and took his place in history.
It had all happened inside ‘D-Day Doll’ and hundreds of other planes just like her. Inside her shaking cabin voices once echoed in a world at war.
We eventfully settled down on Riverside soil again, sixty-seven years later. I was back in my own time.
As I shook hands with the pilots and thanked them I knew I had experienced something few people ever have. I had traveled to another world, another continent and another time.
If you ever ride in ‘D-Day Doll’ or any warbird, I suggest doing what I did. Don’t just look around and marvel at the wings and engines and bare metal walls.
Close your eyes and feel it in your bones, in your soul.
If you’re lucky, as I was, the spirits in the sky will reveal themselves to you.
I am happy to offer my gratitude and heartfelt best regards to the Inland Empire CAF for their work and dedication to keeping ‘D-Day Doll’ and her kin flying.
Flight Journal Magazine
‘Griff and the Angel’
By Mark Carlson
Guam. Saipan. The Marianas Campaign, the Philippine Sea. Names which have long stirred memories, emotions and visions of endless ranks of advancing gray warships, blue-painted aircraft screaming from the sky raining death, and the terrifying new enemy called Kamikaze.
One account of the legendary battles during the summer and fall of 1944 are related by a Navy Dive Bomber pilot, CAPT. Wallace S. ‘Griff’ Griffin. The story of his early experiences in flying, training and combat with Bombing 19 on board the USS Lexington (CV-16) are the stuff of aviation lore.
“Well, let’s get the basics out of the way,” said Griff as he prefers to be called, from his Chula Vista California home. “I was born in Oakland in 1921 of Irish-American parents. Growing up, I was interested in ships and the Navy. Every year my Mom took me to Fleet Week. By the time I was twelve I knew the name of every single ship in the fleet. It was in my blood. I couldn’t wait to join the Navy. In fact, my mom used to discipline me by threatening not to sign my enlistment papers,” Griff said, laughing.
After graduating high school he joined the Navy in 1940. “I just wanted to be a sailor, that’s all. I didn’t have any aspirations to be an officer or anything.”
Recalling his thoughts regarding the war in Europe, Griff said, “I knew we were going to get into the war. Despite Roosevelt’s promises that ‘I won’t send your boys to fight in Europe’ I knew it was moving too fast. FDR wouldn’t let England be occupied.”
“It was Lindbergh who made me interested in flying as a boy. In the Navy I thought I might be able to work on airplanes. I was trained and assigned as an Aviation Machinist’s Mate to a Dive Bomber squadron which flew the old Curtiss-Wright SBC Helldiver biplanes. That’s how I got my first airplane ride and did my first dive. It was wonderful,” Griff said happily. “I loved it.”
Griff was a Second Class Petty Officer when he received new orders. “In the spring of 1941 I was transferred to NAS Dallas. It was just a big open field. We had to rent rooms in town and hitchhike to the base. They had just one officer, two chiefs and forty-seven enlisted men. It took a long time for the place to grow up. That’s where I was when Pearl Harbor was attacked.” NAS Dallas trained cadets in primary flight while Griff and his comrades maintained the planes.
In 1942 Griff, still wanting to fly, decided to try to be a pilot. “The Army Air Corps, in order to fill their manpower shortage offered flight training and a commission if you transferred from your service. Some of us signed up for it. I loved the Navy but I wanted to be a pilot. I was accepted and told to await orders. But the Navy, wanting to stop this exodus, instituted the NAVCAD, Naval Aviation Cadet Program. “NAVCAD accepted me for Pre-flight training at the University of Georgia.”
The new cadet was sent on to St. Louis for primary flight training. “We flew the N2S, a biplane trainer we called the ‘Yellow Peril. I soloed on Veteran’s Day 1942,” he said. “It was one of the biggest thrills of my life. It felt so great being in total control of the plane. 24 of us took off from that grass field like a bunch of mosquitoes from a pond,” Griff said recalling the moment.
Pensacola was the next stop for Griff, where he flew the SNJ Texan.
“About a month before I was to receive my wings I was called up to the Yeoman’s office and told I would be made an instructor. That wasn’t my idea of being an aviator. I wanted to go to war and fight Japs,” he said adamantly. “So I asked him how I could appeal it. He told me the man who made the decisions was a civilian who also moonlighted selling uniforms in town. ‘Order your uniforms from him. Tell him you don’t want to be an instructor. Also if you can get some whiskey from an officer, that might grease the wheels a bit.’”
Griff was willing to try.
His extra effort worked. At Jacksonville, Griff trained in dive bombers, flying in the Navy’s last SB2U Vindicator squadron. “Those were the worst damn bombers we had. No dive brakes, you had to drop the landing gear to control the dive.” The aircraft had been brought back from Wake and Midway Islands, survivors of the squadrons which had been decimated in the early months of 1942. “My plane had cloth patches over the bullet holes,” he said with a wry smile.
USS Wolverine was a converted paddlewheel training carrier operating out of Chicago. There Griff gained carrier landing and takeoff skills, still flying the Vindicator.
On a memorable day, 25 May 1943, the young aviator was awarded his gold wings. “We had to buy our own wings,” Griff said with still-evident disbelief. “I got my certificate from Admiral Murray, head of the air training command.”
Then the new Ensign was transferred to California to join a new air group.
“I joined Bombing Squadron 19 at Los Alamitos near Long Beach. We flew the SBD Dauntless. Our squadron emblem was a griffon carrying a bomb,” he laughed. Ironically, the new Ensign didn’t know a Griffon was on his family coat-of-arms.
“Our C.O. was Lt. Commander Richard McGowan, a great guy. My gunner was an Aviation Radioman 3c named Eno Leaf, a real good solid kid. We stayed together for my entire combat tour. He never talked much.”
In San Diego the dive bombers learned to coordinate with the Hellcats and Avengers. “We even had lectures from Navy legends Jimmy Thatch and James Flatley. They came and told us about fighting the Japanese.”
The originator of the ‘Thatch Weave’ was an inspiration to the new air group.
Later, Commander ‘Jumping Joe’ Clifton, another Pacific war veteran told the new pilots some of the tricks of the trade. “Clifton told us the carriers put up a lot of AA fire and the planes joined after a mission inside the flak to get clear of the pursuing Jap planes.”
After flying north to NAS Alameda, the squadron shipped out to Hawaii aboard USS Lexington. The carrier was returning to combat after being repaired at Bremerton from a torpedo hit. “That’s when I met Admiral Marc Mitscher,” Griff said of the legendary admiral, a pioneer of naval aviation. “We were going out under the Golden Gate and I was wandering all over the island superstructure. I’d never been on a big carrier. I went up to what I thought was the bridge and there was this little guy sitting in a chair wearing a long-billed ball cap. No stars, no nothing. The cool breeze and smell of the sea was great. He saw me and said ‘Good morning young man.’ I said ‘Hi! Good morning!’ Boy what a great view from up here.’ He smiled at me and said ‘Yeah, it is pretty good.’ I thought he was a reporter.”
Griff chuckled at the memory. “That evening in the ready room our intelligence officer made an announcement. ‘If any of you guys have any trouble on this ship you just go to Griff here, because I understand he’s on a one-on-one basis with Admiral Mitscher.’ Apparently I’d wandered onto the Admiral’s bridge!”
After leaving Air Group 19 in Hawaii, Lexington went off with her usual Air Group 16 for the first Battle of the Philippine Sea and the Marianas Turkey Shoot.
“At NAS Kanului on Maui we learned the Navy no longer wanted to use the SBD. We were given two weeks to qualify on the new Curtiss SB2C Helldivers. McGowan told is ‘If any one of you screws this up for us, I’ll personally hang him.’ We all made it,” Griff said with pride. “That plane was all electric. It was a push-button plane and we had a lot of electrical problems with them. When I dropped a bomb, I always pushed the button and pulled the toggle. That way I knew the damn bomb was gone. Some guys returned to the ship with a live bomb in the plane,” he said, chuckling. “But I had my own close call too. The lever to actuate the folding wings was a rod with a ‘T’ handle on it sticking out of the panel just forward of the stick,” he explained. “It had to be turned to lock it in place. One night during training I came in for a landing. My plane captain signaled me to fold my wings. I reached for the lever and realized it wasn’t locked.” Griff grimaced at the memory. “If I’d hit that thing in a turn or something, the wings would have folded in flight. That would have been it. Scared the hell out of me.”
In July 1944 the new air group was transported on board the USS Intrepid to join the Lex at Eniwetok.
The Marianas Campaign was in full swing by the summer of 1944 and the Lex, as MItscher’s flagship of the Fifth Fleet’s Task Group 58.1 was in the thick of it. The U.S. force was pacifying the Japanese-held Bonin Islands, Guam, Tinian and Saipan in preparation for Marine and Army landings. They’d be made into forward B-29 bases for the bombing of Japan. Over 580 ships including eleven fast carriers of the Essex and Independence class carried nearly 900 aircraft to bomb and strafe the enemy positions.
Griff related his first combat experiences from a carrier.
“We were covering the landings on Guam, bombing the airfields, ammunition dumps, oil storage and anti-aircraft positions. We did the advance softening up. We weren’t worried about Jap fighters because our Hellcats had wiped them out in the last few days.”
“There wasn’t any hero stuff. We were shown recon photos and each plane was given a specific target. We dropped thousand-pound general-purpose bombs, and went back to the ship. But I remember the stink of burning oil and flying through columns of black smoke. We really hammered that island. I never worried about my bomb; I just got my ass out of there. Eno was always at his twin .30 machine guns. But he never said anything to me, so I only heard how we did when the Intelligence Officer debriefed us.”
After the Marianas Campaign was finished, USS Lexington and the other warships of the renamed U.S. Third Fleet moved into the Philippine Sea. More bombings on Luzon and Manila prepared the islands for assault by the Army and Marines. “The second time I met Admiral Mitscher was during bombings on Luzon,” he said. “That was in late October. We were hitting Japanese positions near Manila. After bombing on the second day we left the target and settled in at about 500 feet over solid jungle. Our Hellcats had shot down some Zeros so I thought we were safe. Then all of a sudden I saw tracers coming straight up. The Japs had moved a bunch of guns right under where we rendezvoused. I flew right into it and they had me bracketed perfectly. I could see the upper wings being shredded by bullets coming through and the hydraulic fluid was vaporizing in pink puffs. It sounded like the plane was being hit by hundreds of hammers. I just kept praying ‘Oh god don’t let them hit the engine, don’t hit the engine.’ I knew if they did, I’d have no place to land. I’d never make the water. The wings were torn up with shreds of aluminum sticking out and my canopy PLexiglas was shattered. I could hear the airstream whistling through the holes. Leaf in the back never said a word. I didn’t know if he was dead. But it was just his headset cord had come out. I called in to the ship. ‘Mohawk this is 22. Mohawk, this is 22.’ I reported I had no hydraulic pressure for flaps so they had me circle until the rest of the planes had landed. Then I came straight in. The Landing Signal Officer cut me way out because I was coming in pretty fast. That was one hairy landing.”
“My plane captain came up to me and said ‘Oh my god, Mr. Griffin, take off your harness.’”
Griff, still shaking from the near disaster, took off the harness straps.
“Our intelligence officer saw it and said ‘I have to show this to the Admiral. Come with me.’ He led me up to Flag Country and said to Mitscher, ‘Sir, look at the close call Ensign Griffin had today.’”
Mitscher examined the harness. “What is it?”
The harness strap padding had a deep horizontal groove from one side to the other.
“That’s where a bullet went across his back,” the officer told the admiral.
“When Mitscher saw that he said ‘Well son I guess you had a pretty close call today.’”
Griff said of Mitscher, “That man really cared about his boys.”
The Helldiver wasn’t so lucky. “It had eighty-three holes. The big hydraulic cylinder that folded the starboard wing was completely blown out of the plane. The only thing holding that wing on was two pins locked into the slots. My wheels had no rubber on them. They salvaged the engine, prop, guns and radio and shoved the wreck overboard. My flight leader later told me ‘Griff, when I saw you flying right into that mess, they had you perfectly bracketed. I was sure you were a goner.’
“Anyway,” Griff recalled, ‘I thought a guardian angel was sitting on my shoulder. I figured nothing could hurt me.”
In fact, Ensign Griffin flew another strike later that same afternoon.
Griff’s feelings were reinforced by subsequent events.
During bombing attacks on Formosa in October, Griff’s plane was attacked by a Japanese fighter. “We were flying over a long white beach on the western coast. I was about a hundred yards from George Peck, and we were headed for the rendezvous point a few miles ahead. The Avengers were already there. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw movement on the beach below. I thought ‘Sonofabitch! That’s a fighter!’ And there it was, a Jap fighter coming up at us. It looked like a P-51 Mustang and I realized it was a Tony.”
The Kawasaki KI-61 Hein, known as the Tony was a deadly fighter based on the German ME-109 design with an inline engine.
“He climbed steeply and tried to get a deflection on George from underneath. George couldn’t see him since the Jap was right under his wing. But I did, and I turned towards him and fired my two 20mm wing guns which I always kept charged. BamBamBamBamBam! The tracers speared right at him. The Jap twisted and came at me instead. All I did was attract him! I yelled to Leaf to get him. ‘We got a Tony comin’ up from 3 O’clock!’ Leaf said ‘Okay, I got him!’ I didn’t hear his guns. Orange tracers were zipping past me and I hunkered down under the armor plate behind my seat. I called on the radio for fighters. ‘I got a Tony on my tail, we need fighters!’
Still Leaf didn’t fire. I yelled into the intercom, ‘Leaf! Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!’ Nothing! I thought he’d been hit. Then all of a sudden Brrrrrrrrrraaaamm! He’s firing like crazy and the Jap peels off.”
Griff shook his head. “I asked Leaf why he’d taken so long to shoot. You know what he said? ‘I wanted him to get real close so I could really clobber him.’ I couldn’t believe it. Leaf had two .30 caliber machine guns and the Jap had 20mm cannon! And he wanted the Jap to get close!”
The Battle for Leyte Gulf was the largest naval engagement ever recorded, involving over 600 warships. On 25 October at Cape Enga?o, Lexington, along with other Third Fleet carriers joined in the sinking of HIJMS Zuikaku, the last of the six carriers from the Pearl Harbor attack. “I dropped a thousand-pounder on Zuikaku. I don’t know if I hit her but Admiral Mitscher recommended that every man who dropped a bomb or torpedo on a Jap warship that day be written up for a Navy Cross. The pilots of our Task Force sank four Jap carriers in that campaign,” Griff affirmed.
Lexington’s air group had done well, but her own luck was soon to be tested.
“Tokyo Rose reported us sunk three or four times,” Griff said, laughing at the memory. “That’s how we got the name ‘the Blue Ghost.’ Lex was solid blue-gray,” Griff said. “Sometimes when we came back from a strike the weather wasn’t so good and there were four or five carriers out there, but we could always tell which was ours because it didn’t have the camouflage paint scheme.”
The air threat eventually to be known as the Kamikaze, for ‘Divine Wind’ made itself known during the fighting around the Philippines.
“We didn’t know anything about Kamikazes,” Griff said. “We couldn’t believe anyone could deliberately dive their plane into a ship. But on 5 November 1944 we were hit.”
Griff explained the air group assigned to a carrier was not part of the regular crew. “When we weren’t on a mission we were spectators. We could run around anywhere. That day the P.A. Announced an attack was underway. ‘Battle stations! Bogies coming in!’ We’d just returned from a raid on Manila and were relaxing in the ready room. Ours was on the port side just under the Flight Deck. Each ready room had a little pantry and our steward, a nice black guy named Buck, whom I always gave my ration of mission rye whiskey to, asked me if I’d like a ham sandwich. Then we heard the big 5” guns going off. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! It shook the whole ship. That meant the plane was still pretty far out. A bunch of my squadron mates said ‘Come on! Let’s go see the show!’ They went up to Secondary Control on the after end of the island to watch. Here’s Buck taking his time, toasting the bread, adding tomatoes he’d gotten just for me. Then I heard the 40mm quads going and I said, ‘God, come on, Buck! Hurry up!’”
“When Buck finally handed me the sandwich I ran out of the ready room. At a port-starboard corridor I had to decide if I would go across to starboard and run up five or six levels to the island, or turn to port and go out to the catwalk along the Flight Deck just opposite the 5” turrets. By then the 20mm guns were hammering away and I chose the shorter route.”
The 5 November attack on Lex was made by two A6M Zeros carrying 250kg bombs coming in from the stern. They aimed to do the maximum damage on the carrier.
“Some sailors and I watched them shoot down the first Jap plane. He was coming in from the stern and splashed into our wake. We all cheered. Then the second one came through the same broken clouds and everything was shooting at him. I mean everything! Battleships, cruisers, destroyers, there must have been ten million shells flying at that Jap. ‘God, they gotta get him.’ I mean you just couldn’t believe what they fired at that plane. I could feel them tearing up the sky.”
“The Jap was carrying a bomb, and I saw orange flashes from his wing roots. I yelled at the sailors ‘He’s strafing! Get below!’ One kid froze in the hatchway and I pushed him but he didn’t move. Then I bashed the heel of my hand on the back of his neck. He fell in and the rest of us piled in after him.”
Griff’s voice became emotional as he related what came next. “A couple of seconds later, the ship rocked in a tremendous roaring explosion. Then the collision alarm went off and didn’t stop. It sounded like a wounded cow. I climbed out and looked over at the Island and it was orange flames and thick black smoke and bodies lying all over the Flight Deck. One guy was holding his neck and blood was spurting all over. It was just awful. The heat was incredible and it reeked of everything burning.”
“Eight of our pilots were up on Secondary Control right behind the stack. The Jap’s engine and bomb had hit right where they’d been. Five were totally disintegrated, three were wounded. All the 40mm quad guns on the outboard side were melted and the Marines and gunners were just gone. It was a horrible, horrible mess. There wasn’t enough left of our guys to bury. And I was saved by a guy who took a long time to make me a ham sandwich.”
The badly damaged Lexington was sent to the huge anchorage at Ulithi Atoll for repairs.
“We tied up by a repair ship, USS Ajax, and she worked day and night on us.”
The carrier was back in action less than a week later. Griff and his surviving squadron mates participated in more raids until Air Group 19 was relieved by Air Group 20 in December “Our combat tour was over. We made it back to San Diego by Christmas.”
But Griff knew the war in the Pacific was far from over. The bloodbath of the landings on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and the increasing Kamikaze attacks only proved the resolve of the Japanese to fight to the death. The invasion of Japan was imminent. “I’d decided to transfer to fighter-bombers and began training on the Vought F4U Corsair at NAS Santa Rosa,” he said. “That was one hot fighter. My squadron trained at Twenty-nine Palms Marine Air Base to use the ‘Tiny Tim’ air-to-ground solid-fuel rockets on Japanese bunkers. We were going to be cave busters. The rocket was a huge thing, about ten feet in length.
“It had a long lanyard on it so it wouldn’t fire until it had cleared the plane. The Corsair carried it on centerline between the gull wings. I aimed the plane at the target and let the rocket go. My plane shot up about fifty feet and this huge thing just roared away in front of me. It was louder than the plane’s engine. God I didn’t know what had happened. The standing joke among the other squadrons was that we were the first American Kamikazes. None of us thought it was funny.”
Griff recounted his feelings about the end of the war. “When the Atom Bomb was dropped and the war ended, I knew that angel was still looking out for me,” he said. “I owe Harry Truman my life.”
Wallace ‘Griff’ Griffin served 25 years of active duty in the Navy and reached the rank of Captain. Today Griff, a sharp and active 89, spends his Wednesdays on board the USS Midway, San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum, sitting in front of a restored SBD Dauntless and F4U Corsair, telling his war stories. “I get such a kick out of telling kids about the things we did in the war,” the venerable pilot said.
AT Network News
‘AT: The Secret of My Success’
By Mark Carlson
A lot has changed since I was first interviewed for the old AT Journal about how I successfully used AT in my life. And a lot more has happened.
In the years since that 2003 article I’ve accomplished a great deal, reaching personal and business goals I would never have imagined. To what to I owe this? Some of it was good hard work; some pure luck. A lot was the support and encouragement of family, friends and associates. But none of that would have mattered if it weren’t for Assistive Technology. Legally blind and hearing impaired I used video magnifiers, software, augmented telephones, audio books and a host of other devices on a regular basis. I am dependent on them to do my job, travel, read, and do the hundreds of other things most people take for granted.
As an AT Advocate working for the Access Center in San Diego I learned a lot and worked with some wonderful staff and consumers. I helped others obtain some great devices that really had an impact on their daily lives, work, school and other goals. I derived much satisfaction from that.
When I was laid off I immediately sought to get back on the horse, looking at other vocations. I decided to move beyond being an advocate at an ILC, I wanted to make a greater difference and reach more people.
The Department of Rehabilitation (DOR), always my heroes, helped by providing me with up-to-date technology and software to reach my goals. I use an excellent new handheld CCTV called the Sense View by G.W. Micro. It’s a wonderful little tool I take everywhere to read menus, mail and do research in the library. My CTAP Panasonic cordless phone has verbal Caller ID, keypad, menus and other features that make it a wonder. DOR also provided new versions of Zoom Text and Open Book.
These tools made it possible to write my first book ‘Confessions of a Guide Dog,’ as if I had no visual impairment. All I had to do was be a good writer. No AT would help me there.
The book, a memoir about life with my yellow Labrador, Musket took less than six months thanks to Zoom Text and the Windows XP accessibility options.
But that wasn’t enough for me. My agent suggested I write some articles. With a little more luck and phone calls on my CTAP phone, I had stories published in Dog Fancy, San Diego Pets, Warbirds, and Flight Journal Magazine.
I’m sure the reader wonders what I had to do with airplanes. Well, again AT played a significant role. In 2007 I wanted to do something with my weekends, so I went to the San Diego Air & Space Museum in Balboa Park. I began working as a volunteer and tour guide. Why not? I loved vintage aircraft, and Musket was a very good Guide Dog. He did the walking and I did the talking. To prepare, I read all the museum’s study materials either on the museum’s website using Zoom Text screen reader, or by scanning printed materials with Open Book by Freedom Scientific. I also read over three dozen aviation books from the Braille Library. In fact because I could access the information so easily, I completed the six-month training program in four months.
Musket and I met several pilots, veterans and astronauts. This led to more articles in the local paper and television news coverage in San Diego. We were almost famous. I began writing full-time and actually made a living at it.
When an opportunity came along to do a series of history lectures for adult education programs in San Diego, I created several Power Point presentations on topics such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Palomar Telescope and the Apollo Program.
I did all of them using Zoom Text with speech and my Enhanced Vision Acrobat video magnifier. While doing the presentations, I used a Bluetooth connected to my laptop to ‘read’ the text into my ear. My audiences often wonder in amazement at how a blind man can not only create compLex slide shows but know what each one contained.
As President of my local chapter of Toastmasters International I frequently speak about disabilities, universal design, independent living and assistive technology. I bring my handheld magnifier to read the agendas and other documents. It helps a lot.
Recently I began my next book project. An article for ‘Classic Images’ a classic film magazine led to a good contact with the Motion Picture Academy. ‘Silver Wings on the Silver Screen’, a book on flying in the movies, is scheduled for publication next year. Again the assistive devices and software I use played a pivotal role. I scanned several books with Open Book, my APH Handi-Cassette II to record phone interviews with old-time TV and movie actors like Efrem Zimbalist and Cliff Robertson.
My latest venture is a radio talk show. I co-host ‘On Air Aviation Radio’ at KCBQ AM 1170. On the show I interview pilots and veterans. During a broadcast I can quickly do research using my laptop with Zoom Text. In a few moments I’m able to find data and ask important questions, or answer a caller.
Has AT been a key factor in my rising success? Yes. Each and every day I use it, grateful for the opportunities it has made come true. As I said, luck, hard work and the support of others contributed but without AT I’d never have come so far in seven years