Archive for December, 2010


“Interesting to learn of these “old” traditions of Christmas.  The only thing that I can recall ever coming from the olden times associated with Christmas traditions was the ever-present threat issued to us boys who tended to be less than angelic during any part of the year, let alone during the run-up to the Christmas celebration.  The threat was that we be good or  Santa would leave us a switch and a lump of coal in our shoes instead of any gifts.  On balance, I have received many more bright shiny gifts than switches or lumps of coal over these many wonderous years.  May all of you be equally blessed this Christmas, and may your hopes of the new year be much more than could ever be expected.  Merry Christmas!”

Bill ∧ Ilse Wellman

The above quote was received from Bill and Ilse Wellman in response to and earlier writing about “Old Christmas”  It is also in the response section, however, I thought it merited moving up in the posting section for all to see.  Sometimes we don’t always make it down to the comment section.  I am sure that all join me in wishing Bill and Ilse a very Merry Christmas and many blessings for the upcoming year.

This morning, Christmas morning, the temp here is about 25 degrees with 2 or 3 inches of snow.  It is nice to  have a white Christmas for a change, but at some point, I am going to have to go shovel the stuff away.  I like snow,  just as long as I can sit inside and watch it fall.  

I wonder if everyone noticed this year the numbers of “happy holiday” greetings they got.  I hope that if you did, that you returned it with a “and a Merry Christmas to you” statement.  Have people forgotten that it was Him, Jesus Christ, for whom the 25th of December is named.  His name was not “holiday”.  Is it so hard to say Christ?  Maybe they are celebrating the birth of “Doc Holiday” of wild west fame, or “Doc Holiday” the head football coach at Marshall University. 

I just opened an email this morning from Marshall University Alumni Association and guess what it said; you are right, Happy Holiday!  I noticed that this mornings comic strip “Rex Morgan M.D” had a happy holiday greeting to all readers.  This is a comic strip going back many years.  I suppose the ACLU and their crew of malcontents and far left wingers are happy, but I am not going to let it spoil my day and I hope you will not either.  So, here goes!!!!!!!!!


PS:  Anyone wishing to pass along a Merry Christmas, just send it to the comments section an I will post it at the top of a new blog, as was Bill and Ilse’s at the top of this.


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As December 25 arrives, does anyone  recall ever hearing about Old Christmas?   The practice was brought to this country by settlers arriving along the Carolina coast.  As people moved inland and began settling in the area that we now call Appalachia, some brought the custom with them.  I do recall that when I first moved to Kentucky and was traveling the mountain areas, that there were still a few people who still practiced that tradition.  I expect that there might still be a few people scattered through the hollows and mountains of Appalachia who still follow the practice.  I found the below writing in which the writer talks of how Christmas was celebrated many years ago.  He speaks of the practice of Old Christmas in his writings.


When I was growing up here in Letcher County, there were three holidays at the end of the year – Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Old Christmas. Of those three, New Year’s, sandwiched as it was between Old Christmas on January 6 and Christmas on December 25, sort of got lost. The major things that mark a New Year’s celebration as we know it – parties, liquor, and fireworks – were taken over by Christmas.

The result was that Christmas was not so much a religious holiday as a festivity – a kind of combination of a Christmas and a New Year’s celebration. The Christmas part was trees and presents, the New Year’s part was alcohol and fireworks, and the whole day was a party. On Christmas Day, the men in the house drank moonshine all day long, and expected every visitor to partake (or at least every male visitor). In fact, Christmas in those days was a real boon for moonshiners, because businesses bought moonshine and passed it out to employees.

Fireworks as a Christmas tradition didn’t then necessarily mean cherry bombs and Roman candles as it does today. If people could afford to buy them, they might. But most people improvised. Then and now, everybody shot off guns as a substitute for fireworks. I can remember being at my grandparents’ house at Mill Branch on Christmas when every house shot off guns all day long. One of the big Christmas fireworks traditions was to make carbide cannons, which made wonderful and very loud fireworks. I remember walking past one house on Mill Branch where they had shot off so many carbide cannons that the valley was filled with smoke.

Although people here still celebrate Christmas with fireworks and still shoot off guns, you don’t see carbide cannons anymore, at least to my knowledge. I suspect the fading of that custom has to do with the fading of old mining ways and underground mining. In the old days, miners had carbide lights in their hard hats, so carbide was readily available.

Shooting matches were held all through the holiday season.

The prizes might have been anything, but a common thing was to “shoot off a hog.” People who raised more than one hog often killed one in early November after it got cold enough, and another in December. A lot of people then put up the second hog for the shooting match. People shot for prizes of hams, packages of pork chops, and so on.

We had other Christmas traditions that have faded out. One was to write notes to Santa Claus and send them up the chimney. The scientific explanation may be that the draft carried them up, but the tradition was that it was fairies. Part of the dying of that tradition is probably related to central heat and closed stoves.

Another Christmas tradition was that of “Christmas Gift.” If you encountered somebody on Christmas Day, you tried to call out “Christmas Gift” before they did. If you got it in first, then they had to give you something – nothing very big, but something. Although my wife grew up in Southern Appalachia only about 120 miles away from here, that was new to her. But she learned from me to answer the phone on Christmas with “Christmas Gift” instead of “Hello,” because if you didn’t you would hear “Christmas Gift” barreling down the phone line from my brother or one of my sisters. In the days before caller ID, it led to some embarrassment to find that you’d greeted a total stranger with “Christmas Gift,” but that was better than being caught yourself, especially because you felt so triumphant if you got it in first. My sister Martha is particularly good at “Christmas Gifting” people. Over the years she’s caught me so many times and I am so far in arrears that there’s no hope of ever catching up.

We always got a big peppermint log at Christmas. You took the back of a butcher knife and knocked off pieces to suck on. In fact, between the peppermint log and the traditional hard candy, your mouth would stay sore all through the holidays.

Christmas dinner was different from today. Few kept geese, and most were not that crazy about turkey, so Christmas dinner was always chicken or ham. Everybody had chicken and pigs. In fact, in Appalachia, pork was the staple meat. People might have a milk cow, but very few raised cattle for meat. Steak to us was cubed steak, floured and fried like chicken. A lot of Appalachian children growing up then were adults before they ate what most people think of as steak.

Old Christmas had its own traditions. According to one version (probably correct), Old Christmas arose out of the change from the Gregorian Calendar to the Julian Calendar. Most of Europe adopted the new Julian Calendar at least a couple of hundred years before Great Britain did. The result was that, when the English and Scots and Irish finally adopted the Julian calendar, there was a difference of twelve days between the Gregorian Calendar they had continued to use and the Julian Calendar they were about to adopt.

Sometime in the changeover year, the calendar was jumped forward twelve days, I believe from the 5th to the 17th of September. A lot of people felt they had lost twelve days and wanted to know where they went. A lot more were less than enthusiastic about going to the new calendar. For one thing, it made Christmas come up twelve days earlier than it would have if nobody had been fooling with the calendar. People who believed that Jesus was actually born on the day they had traditionally celebrated were not willing to celebrate Christmas twelve days earlier than that day, so they started celebrating Christmas on the 6th of January, twelve days after the new December 25.

Since Appalachia was settled around the time of the calendar change by Scots-Irish, the latter brought the custom of Old Christmas (often called Epiphany) with them. And since Appalachia stayed relatively isolated over the years, the tradition held on here long after most of the country had forgotten it.

On Old Christmas, you got presents again. But on Old Christmas eve, instead of hanging stockings as you did for Christmas, you put your shoes beside your bed the night before. When you woke up on Old Christmas, they were full of candy and other goodies.

My  grandmother always made a big flat cookie that she baked only on Old Christmas and that everybody shared. And there is of course a legend that animals are gifted with speech on Old Christmas. There’s a song that goes, “On Christmas Eve, The Animals Pray, On Christmas Eve, So They Say.” That Christmas Eve referred to the night before Old Christmas. I’ve always heard that legend, but never been in a barn or manger at midnight to test it for myself. The only time I tried, I fell asleep before midnight so it was a bust.


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 In Honor of A True


Hero Who Touched


The Lives Of Many


FGHS Students






 Please read Joe and Mary Damron’s comments at the end of the obit.  Obviously, Mr. Smith touched many lives while at Fort Gay High School.  To Joe, thanks very much for passing this along.



Noval A. Smith of St. Petersburg

Noval A. Smith, 96, of St. Petersburg, Florida, passed away at his home Monday, December 6, 2010 from complications of surgery. Noval was born in 1914 in Wayne, West Virginia. He earned his Masters in Education from Marshall University and served in the Army Air Corps and the Civilian Conservation Corp before marrying and beginning a long and successful career in public education. He was principal of Crum and Fort Gay High Schools and also taught high school English and economic geography at Wayne High School. In 1957, he and his family moved to Pinellas County, where he taught political science at St. Petersburg Junior College (now St. Pete College) for 25 years, before retiring in 1982. Noval was a voracious reader and continued to learn throughout his life. In addition to his family, he loved nature and trains, and he and his wife traveled extensively throughout the U.S. while maintaining a summer residence in the mountains of southern Colorado. He is survived by his devoted wife of 62 years, Palmaneda B. Smith, St. Petersburg; son, Noval A. Smith, Jr., and daughter-in-law, Sheryl Smith, of Richmond, Virginia; daughter, Elaine Gibson, of St. Petersburg, Florida; grandson James Noval Smith, and his wife, Kari, of Boston, MA; granddaughter Joy Patton and son-in-law James Patton, of Richmond, and their three children, Nicolas, Thomas and Ginger. A celebration of Noval’s life will be held in Wayne, WV at Morris Funeral Home on May 21, 2011, followed by interment at Elmwood Cemetery, Wayne. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Suncoast Hospice, 727-467-7423 or www.thehospice.org



  Here is the Obituary of former principal of FGHS in 1955, 1956 1957.   Two of 7 Damrons that graduated, was one in 1955(Johnny Damron), in 1956 (Joe Damron) and Mary Jo (Perry) Damron in 1957             

  NOVAL A. SMITH   Played a part in each of these lives, and we remember him very well.  A good principal and a good man.

   Joe and Mary Jo Perry was called into his office for holding hands!!!!  Mr. Smith wanted to paddle my brother Johnny and he wouldn’t let him, so he graduated, butwas not allowed to walk across stage and get his diploma.

 Joe and Mary Jo Damron






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John Plymale sent me the below web addresses.  There are some great pictures and stories in both of them.  Two plane crashes occurring in West Virginia are discussed.  One involved two US Air Force jets taking off from the airport at Charleston in 1950.  I had never heard of the accident, perhaps, many of you have.  Take a look at the two sites.  I think you will find them interesting.  In that they are copyrighted, I could not reproduce them on this site, but I can pass along the web addresses.



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ATTENTION TO ALL; global warming is over  and the next ice age is here.  If anyone doesn’t believe it, check with your friends about the country.  Ask the Minnesota Vikings, their house fell down last weekend.  Check with the fruit and vegetable growers in Florida.  Temps in the low 20’s.  How about people walking the beaches in Miami wearing down jackets, or patrons at Disney World all bundled up.  I talked with someone down in the Florida Keys last week and they were wearing a turtleneck sweater.  Took it off of a sea turtle, he said.  I think all would agree that this is not global warming. 

Here in Kentucky there is 3 or 4 inches of snow and freezing rain on top of it.  It makes for crusty walking.  We have already had more snow this December than all of last winter.  If you have looked at the long-range forecast for Christmas, it appears to be snow in this area for Friday the 24th and Saturday the 25th.  Probably all of the retirees will go to Florida, the moms and dads will complain, and the kids will all be happy; and why not?  it’s Christmas.

Can you remember when you were a child and you would awaken on Christmas morning and, surprise of all surprises, there would be a big snow on the ground.  I can recall running outside and looking for Santa and reindeer tracks.  I never saw them and when I would ask my parents they would tell me that the snow had covered them or that Santa came before the snow.  Of course, wanting to believe, you just accepted that as a logical answer. 

Do you remember when you stopped believing in Santa?  I don’t but I think it was probably at the age of 6 or 7, maybe  a little longer.  I think we all kept the belief alive as long as we could and perhaps longer, because it was and is such a wonderful fantasy.  Can’t you remember lying awake on Christmas eve and waiting to hear the sound of Santa on the roof or rumbling about the house.  And, you would hear those noises.  Of course it was your parents getting out the gifts from a secret hiding place but in the recesses of your mind you wanted so hard to believe it really was the jolly old man.

It being the days of the Great Depression, we did not get a pile of presents as our children did or as our grandchildren do but we always were happy to descend the stairs and see what had been left under the Christmas tree. The tree would have been decorated a few days before with decorations our mother had saved from year to year.  They usually consisted of some red and green paper “roping” , foil icicles that were saved from year to year, and perhaps some “home crafted” things made from colored construction paper.  Do you remember the pictures of trees from that era.  They were always covered with burning candles.  I always thought that how wonderful it would be to have a Christmas tree with burning candles.   Little did I realize that you would burn the house down in short order.  There would be perhaps a toy and an item of clothing for each.  There would also be candy and  fruit for each. 

After opening presents, we would have breakfast consisting of wonderful home-grown or raised food.  In preparing for Christmas dinner, my mother would have slain a turkey that we had raised for just such a holiday.  I didn’t and still don’t like turkey (that also goes for chicken or any other fowl)  so, when it came time for him to make the supreme sacrifice, I was not at all bothered.  When it came to Christmas dinner, whether at my house or at my grandparents house, everything would have been raised on the farm.  Exclusions would have been cranberries, macaroni and cheese, and oysters, if they were served.  My Grandmother Rains would get this wonderful sharp cheddar cheese and place great slabs of it on the macaroni.  She would bake it in a wood fired cookstove until the cheese was bubbly brown.  I can taste it now.  I have not had mac and cheese like it since those days.  My mother would make mince meat each fall and can it.  She would make wonderful two crust pies that coul be picked up and eaten by hand.  I have bought commercial mince-pie filling over the years, but it just isn’t the same, as a matter of fact, we finally gave up on it.  There would have also been the traditional fruit cake that had been baked several months previously and soaked in brandy during its “curing” time.  That is also the only time I recall there being liquor in our house, when my mother would use it for fruit cake.

It seems that our mother would start cooking sometime around 4am on Christmas day in preparation for Christmas dinner.  How moms did it, I really don’t know.  Remember, the stove was fired with wood as was also  the oven.  How she ever managed stove top and oven temps will remain a mystery.  Nothing was ever under or overdone and it all seemed to come together right at meal time.  Heck, Cracker Barrel can’t even get it all to you at one time.

Following Christmas dinner, we would play with whatever toy we had received, or play at things that we would have done on a regular day.  There were always outdoor chores that had to be done, Christmas or not.  That night we would go to bed remembering what a wonderful day it had been and filing the memory away in a special place in our minds, to bring forth at another time in our lives and enjoy all over again. 

As we enter Christmas week, let all dwell on their blessings an pray for those less fortunate.  We have many alumni, I am sure, that are in need of prayer due to health issues.  I had a message from Bill Wellman and he has had some health issues.  He is fine and  recovering, however, keep Bill’s continuing progress in your prayers.  Also, remember  those who are serving our country and laying their lives on the line daily so that we might celebrate holidays such as Christmas. 

May God Bless All

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It is with sadness that we note the passing of a classmate, Jack Wellman, class of 1947, FGHS.  Services will be held for Jack at Louisa, KY on Wednesday, December 15, 2010.  All alumni of FGHS join together in expressing, to all of the family and loved ones of Jack, their deepest sympathies.

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  The following story comes courtesy of Fred Reid.  I know there are many    WW II buffs out there and the purpose of the site is to have things of interest to all.   There is so much  yet to learn about  WW II and of the “greatest generation”, those who chose to fight for the freedom of our country.  The story is rather lengthy but I do think you will enjoy and appreciate the efforts of our military.  Again, Fred, thanks much for passing this along.

On 4 June 1942, Japanese aircraft attacked the American military base at Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians. One Zero fighter was hit during the raid, severing its oil line.

>             The pilot of the damaged Zero, 19-year-old Flight Petty Officer Tadayoshi Koga, knew he couldn’t make it back to his carrier, the RYUJO, and decided to land his aircraft on the island of Akutan, 40 kilometers (25 miles) away. Akutan had been designated for emergency landings, with a Japanese submarine standing off the island to assist pilots who were forced down.

>             Koga attempted to land on what he thought was a grassy meadow while two of his wingmates watched on. The grassy meadow turned out to be a marsh, and when Koga touched down, the Zero’s main gear dug into the mud and the aircraft flipped over on its back. Koga’s two wingmates had orders to prevent a Zero from being captured, but as they were not certain Koga was dead, they were reluctant to shoot up the overturned Zero and destroy it. Koga did not emerge, and his wingmates finally had to depart in order to make it back to the RYUJO.

>             In fact, Koga was dead. His neck had been broken when the aircraft flipped over. On 10 July 1942, a US Navy PBY Catalina flying boat on patrol spotted the Zero, and set down on the waves so the crew could go ashore and examine the downed fighter. They excitedly reported their find to their superiors and an expedition was sent to recover the downed aircraft. Navy workers laboriously dragged the Zero onto a skid and pulled out of the bog with a tractor, put the aircraft on a barge, and brought it to Dutch Harbor. Koga’s body was buried on Akutan, to be repatriated back to Japan after the war.


>             At Dutch Harbor, the Zero, which was still on its back, was righted, cleaned up, and put in a crate for shipment to San Diego. The Zero’s wings could not be detached in any convenient way and so the crate was very big and clumsy. The inability to remove the wings was a nuisance for the Japanese as well, but adding such a feature would have increased the aircraft’s weight.

>             After arrival in San Diego, the Zero, which turned out to be an A6M2 Model 21 with a manufacturing date stamp of 19 February 1942, was repaired. One problem was that the propeller was damaged beyond repair, but that was easy to fix, since the Sumitomo design was a straight copy of a readily available Hamilton Standard propeller. Flight evaluations of the captured aircraft began in late September 1942, and demonstrated the performance capabilities and limitations of the type.                                                                  

>                       The information it yielded was vital to the U.S. war effort because in 1941 and most of 1942, the Zero outflew virtually every enemy fighter it encountered, primarily because of its agility. During the previous several years many Zero pilots had seen aerial combat in China, so unblooded Allied pilots in less maneuverable planes usually regretted any attempt to fight Zeros flown by the experienced Japanese—if they lived long enough.

>                       For example, in April 1942 thirty-six Zeros attacking a British naval base at Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), were met by about sixty Royal Air Force aircraft of mixed types, many of them obsolete. Twenty-seven of the RAF planes went down: fifteen Hawker Hurricanes (of Battle of Britain fame), eight Fairey Swordfish, and four Fairey Fulmars. The Japanese lost one Zero.

>                       Five months after America’s entry into the war, the Zero was still a mystery to U.S. Navy pilots. On May 7, 1942, in the Battle of the Coral Sea, fighter pilots from our aircraft carriers Lexingtonand Yorktown fought the Zero and didn’t know what to call it. Some misidentified it as the German Messerschmitt 109.

>                       A few weeks later, on June 3 and 4, warplanes flew from the Japanese carriers Ryujo andJunyo to attack the American military base at Dutch Harbor in Alaska’s Aleutian archipelago. Japan’s attack on Alaska was intended to draw remnants of the U.S. fleet north from Pearl Harbor, away from Midway Island, where the Japanese were setting a trap. (The scheme ultimately backfired when our Navy pilots sank four of Japan’s first-line aircraft carriers at Midway, giving the United States a major turning-point victory.)

>                             KOGA’S WING MEN were supposed to fire incendiary bullets into his plane to keep it from falling into enemy hands. But Koga was a friend, and they couldn’t bring themselves to shoot.

>                       IN THE RAID OF JUNE 4, TWENTY BOMBERS blasted oil storage tanks, a warehouse, a hospital, a hangar, and a beached freighter, while eleven Zeros strafed at will. Chief Petty Officer Makoto Endo led a three-plane Zero section from the Ryujo, whose other pilots were Flight Petty Officers Tsuguo Shikada and Tadayoshi Koga. Koga, a small nineteen-yearold, was the son of a rural carpenter. His Zero, serial number 4593, was light gray, with the imperial rising-sun insignia on its wings and fuselage. It had left the Mitsubishi Nagoya aircraft factory on February 19, only three and a half months earlier, so it   was the latest design.

>                       Shortly before the bombs fell on Dutch Harbor that day, soldiers at an adjacent Army outpost had seen three Zeros shoot down a lumbering Catalina amphibian. As the plane began to sink, most of the seven-member crew climbed into a rubber raft and began paddling toward shore. The soldiers watched in horror as the Zeros strafed the crew until all were killed. The Zeros are believed to have been those of Endo, Shikada, and Koga.

>                       After massacring the Catalina crew, Endo led his section to Dutch Harbor, where it joined the other eight Zeros in strafing. It was then (according to Shikada, interviewed in 1984) that Koga’s Zero was hit by ground fire. An Army intelligence team later reported, “Bullet holes entered the plane from both upper and lower sides.”

>                       One of the bullets severed the return oil line between the oil cooler and the engine. As the engine continued to run, it pumped oil from the broken line. A Navy photo taken during the raid shows a Zero trailing what appears to be smoke. It is probably oil, and there is little doubt that this is Zero 4593.

>                       After the raid, as the enemy planes flew back toward their carriers, eight American Curtiss Warhawk P-40s shot down four VaI (Aichi D3A) dive bombers thirty miles west of Dutch Harbor. In the swirling, minutes-long dogfight, Lt. John J. Cape shot down a plane identified as a Zero.

>                       Another Zero was almost instantly on his tail. He climbed and rolled, trying to evade, but those were the wrong maneuvers to escape a Zero. The enemy fighter easily stayed with him, firing its two deadly 20-mm cannon and two 7.7-mm machine guns. Cape and his plane plunged into the sea. Another Zero shot up the P-40 of Lt. Winfield McIntyre, who survived a crash landing with a dead engine.

>                       Endo and Shikada accompanied Koga as he flew his oil-spewing airplane to Akutan Island, twenty-five miles away, which had been designated for emergency landings. A Japanese submarine stood nearby to pick up downed pilots. The three Zeros circled low over the green, treeless island. At a level, grassy valley floor half a mile inland, Koga lowered his wheels and flaps and eased toward a three-point landing. As his main wheels touched, they dug in, and the Zero flipped onto its back, tossing water, grass, and gobs of mud. The valley floor was a bog, and the knee-high grass concealed water.

>                       Endo and Shikada circled. There was no sign of life. If Koga was dead, their duty was to destroy the downed fighter. Incendiary bullets from their machine guns would have done the job. But Koga was a friend, and they couldn’t bring themselves to shoot. Perhaps he would recover, destroy the plane himself, and walk to the waiting submarine. Endo and Shikada abandoned the downed fighter and returned to the Ryujo, two hundred miles to the south. (TheRyujo was sunk two months later in the eastern Solomons by planes from the aircraft carrierSaratoga. Endo was killed in action at Rabaul on October 12, 1943, while Shikada survived the war and eventually became a banker.)

>                             FORTY-SIX YEARS later, Sanders remembered how his very first test flight exposed weaknesses of the Zero that American pilots could exploit.

>                       The wrecked Zero lay in the bog for more than a month, unseen by U.S. patrol planes and offshore ships. Akutan is often foggy, and constant Aleutian winds create unpleasant turbulence over the rugged island. Most pilots preferred to remain over water, so planes rarely flew over Akutan. However, on July 10 a U.S. Navy Catalina (PBY) amphibian returning from overnight patrol crossed the island. A gunner named Wall called, “Hey, there’s an airplane on the ground down there. It has meatballs on the wings.” That meant the rising-sun insignia.

>                       The patrol plane’s commander, Lt. William Thies, descended for a closer look. What he saw excited him. Back at Dutch Harbor, Thies persuaded his squadron commander to let him take a party to the downed plane. No one then knew that it was a Zero.

>                       Ens. Robert Larson was Thies’s copilot when the plane was discovered. He remembers reaching the Zero. “We approached cautiously, walking in about a foot of water covered with grass. Koga’s body, thoroughly strapped in, was upside down in the plane, his head barely submerged in the water.

>                       “We were surprised at the details of the airplane,” Larson continues. “It was well built, with simple, unique features. Inspection plates could be opened by pushing on a black dot with a finger. A latch would open, and one could pull the plate out. Wingtips folded by unlatching them and pushing them up by hand. The pilot had a parachute and a life raft.”

>                       Koga’s body was buried nearby. In 1947 it was shifted to a cemetery on nearby Adak Island, and later, it is believed, his remains were returned to Japan.

>                       Thies had determined that the wrecked plane was a nearly new Zero, which suddenly gave it special meaning, for it was repairable. However, unlike U.S. warplanes, which had detachable wings, the Zero’s wings were integral with the fuselage. This complicated salvage and shipping.

>                       Navy crews fought the plane out of the bog. The tripod that was used to lift the engine, and later the fuselage, sank three to four feet into the mud. The Zero was too heavy to turn over with the equipment on hand, so it was left upside down while a tractor dragged it on a skid to the beach and a barge. At Dutch Harbor it was turned over with a crane, cleaned, and crated, wings and all.

>                       WHEN THE AWKWARD CRATE CONtaining Zero 4593 arrived at North Island Naval Air Station, San Diego, a twelve-foot-high stockade was erected around it inside a hangar. Marines guarded the priceless plane while Navy crews worked around the clock to make it airworthy. (There is no evidence the Japanese ever knew we had salvaged Koga’s plane.)

>                       In mid-September Lt. Cmdr. Eddie R. Sanders studied it for a week as repairs were completed. Forty-six years later he clearly remembered his flights in Koga’s Zero. “My log shows that I made twenty-four flights in Zero 4593 from 20 September to 15 October 1942,” Sanders told me. “These flights covered performance tests such as we do on planes undergoing Navy tests. The very first flight exposed weaknesses of the Zero that our pilots could exploit with proper tactics.

>                       “The Zero had superior maneuverability only at the lower speeds used in dogfighting, with short turning radius and excellent aileron control at very low speeds. However, immediately apparent was the fact that the ailerons froze up at speeds above two hundred knots, so that rolling maneuvers at those speeds were slow and required much force on the control stick. It rolled to the left much easier than to the right. Also, its engine cut out under negative acceleration [as when nosing into a dive] due to its float-type carburetor.

>                       “We now had an answer for our pilots who were unable to escape a pursuing Zero. We told them to go into a vertical power dive, using negative acceleration, if possible, to open the range quickly and gain advantageous speed while the Zero’s engine was stopped. At about two hundred knots, we instructed them to roll hard right before the Zero pilot could get his sights lined up.



>                       “This recommended tactic was radioed to the fleet after my first flight of Koga’s plane, and soon the welcome answer came back: ‘It works!’” Sanders said, satisfaction sounding in his voice even after nearly half a century. Thus by late September 1942 Allied pilots in the Pacific theater knew how to escape a pursuing Zero.

>                       “Was Zero 4593 a good representative of the Model 21 Zero?” I asked Sanders. In other words, was the repaired airplane 100 percent?

>                       “About 98 percent,” he replied.

>                       THE ZERO WAS ADDED TO THE U.S. Navy inventory and assigned its Mitsubishi serial number. The Japanese colors and insignia were replaced with those of the U.S. Navy and later the U.S. Army, which also test-flew it. The Navy pitted it against the best American fighters of the time—the P-38 Lockheed Lightning, the P-39 Bell Airacobra, the P-51 North American Mustang, the F4F-4 Grumman Wildcat, and the F4U ChanceVought Corsair—and for each type developed the most effective tactics and altitudes for engaging the Zero.

>                       In February 1945 Cmdr. Richard G. Crommelin was taxiing Zero 4593 at San Diego Naval Air Station, where it was being used to train pilots bound for the Pacific war zone. An SB2C Curtiss Helldiver overran it and chopped it up from tail to cockpit. Crommelin survived, but the Zero didn’t. Only a few pieces of Zero 4593 remain today. The manifold pressure gauge, the air-speed indicator, and the folding panel of the port wingtip were donated to the Navy   Museum at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard by Rear Adm. William N. Leonard, who salvaged them at San Diego in 1945. In addition, two of its manufacturer’s plates are in the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum in Anchorage, donated by Arthur Bauman, the photographer.

>                       Leonard recently told me, “The captured Zero was a treasure. To my knowledge no other captured machine has ever unlocked so many secrets at a time when the need was so great.” A somewhat comparable event took place off North Africa in 1944—coincidentally on the same date, June 4, that Koga crashed his Zero. A squadron commanded by Capt. Daniel V. Gallery, aboard the escort carrier Guadalcanal, captured the German submarine U-505, boarding and securing the disabled vessel before the fleeing crew could scuttle it. Code books, charts, and operating instructions rescued from U-505 proved quite valuable to the Allies. Captain Gallery later wrote, “Reception committees which we were able to arrange as a result … may have had something to do with the sinking of nearly three hundred U-boats in the next eleven months.” By the time of U-505’s capture, however, the German war effort was already starting to crumble (D-day came only two days later), while Japan still dominated the Pacific when Koga’s plane was recovered.

>                       A classic example of the Koga plane’s value occurred on April 1, 1943, when Ken Walsh, a Marine flying an F4U Chance-Vought Corsair over the Russell Islands southeast of Bougainville, encountered a lone Zero. “I turned toward him, planning a deflection shot, but before I could get on him, he rolled, putting his plane right under my tail and within range. I had been told the Zero was extremely maneuverable, but if I hadn’t seen how swiftly his plane flipped onto my tail, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Walsh recently recalled.

>                       “I remembered briefings that resulted from test flights of Koga’s Zero on how to escape from a following Zero. With that lone Zero on my tail I did a split S, and with its nose down and full throttle my Corsair picked up speed fast. I wanted at least 240 knots, preferably 260. Then, as prescribed, I rolled hard right. As I did this and continued my dive, tracers from the Zero zinged past my plane’s belly.

>                       “From information that came from Koga’s Zero, I knew the Zero rolled more slowly to the right than to the left. If I hadn’t known which way to turn or roll, I’d have probably rolled to my left. If I had done that, the Zero would likely have turned with me, locked on, and had me. I used that maneuver a number of times to get away from Zeros.”

>                       BY WAR’S END CAPT. (LATER Lt. Col.) Kenneth Walsh had twenty-one aerial victories (seventeen Zeros, three Vais, one Pete), making him the war’s fourth-ranking Marine Corps ace. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for two extremely courageous air battles he fought over the Solomon Islands in his Corsair during August 1943. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1962 after more than twenty-eight years of service. Walsh holds the Distinguished Flying Cross with six Gold Stars, the Air Medal with fourteen Gold Stars, and more than a dozen other medals and honors.

>                       How important was our acquisition of Koga’s Zero? Masatake Okumiya, who survived more air-sea battles than any other Japanese naval officer, was aboard the Ryujo when Koga made his last flight. He later co-authored two classic books, Zero and Midway. Okumiya has written that the Allies’ acquisition of Koga’s Zero was “no less serious” than the Japanese defeat at Midway and “did much to hasten our final defeat.” If that doesn’t convince you, ask Ken Walsh.

>                       Jim Rearden, a forty-seven-year resident of Alaska, is the author of fourteen books and more than five hundred magazine articles, mostly about Alaska. Among his books is Koga’s Zero: The Fighter That Changed World War II, which can be purchased for $12.95 plus $4.00 for postage and handling from Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 713 South Third Street West, Missoula, MT 59801.

>                             INSIDE THE ZERO


>                             THE ZERO WAS JAPAN’S MAIN FIGHTER PLANE THROUGHOUT WORLD War II. By war’s end about 11,500 Zeros had been produced in five main variants. In March 1939, when the prototype Zero was rolled out, Japan was in some ways still so backward that the plane had to be hauled by oxcart from the Mitsubishi factory twenty-nine miles to the airfield where it flew. It represented a great leap in technology.

>                             At the start of World War II, some countries’ fighters were opencockpit, fabric-covered biplanes. A low-wing all-metal monoplane carrier fighter, predecessor to the Zero, had been adopted by the Japanese in the mid-1930s, while the U.S. Navy’s standard fighter was still a biplane. But the world took little notice of Japan’s advanced military aircraft, so the Zero came as a great shock to Americans at Pearl Harbor and afterward.

>                                 A COMBINATION OF nimbleness and simplicity gave it righting qualities that no Allied plane could match

>                             Lightness, simplicity, ease of maintenance, sensitivity to controls, and extreme maneuverability were the main elements that the designer Jiro Horikoshi built into the Zero. The Model 21 flown by Koga weighed 5,500 pounds, including fuel, ammunition, and pilot, while U.S. fighters weighed 7,500 pounds and up. Early models had no protective armor or self-sealing fuel tanks, although these were standard features on U.S. fighters.

>                             Despite its large-diameter 940-hp radial engine, the Zero had one of the slimmest silhouettes of any World War II fighter. The maximum speed of Koga’s Zero was 326 mph at 16,000 feet, not especially fast for a 1942 fighter. But high speed wasn’t the reason for the Zero’s great combat record. Agility was. Its large ailerons gave it great maneuverability at low speeds. It could even outmaneuver the famed British Spitfire. Advanced U.S. fighters produced toward the war’s end still couldn’t turn with the Zero, but they were faster and could outclimb and outdive it.

>                             Without self-sealing fuel tanks, the Zero was easily flamed when hit in any of its three wing and fuselage tanks or its droppable belly tank. And without protective armor, its pilot was vulnerable.

>                             In 1941 the Zero’s range of 1,675 nautical miles (1,930 statute miles) was one of the wonders of the aviation world. No other fighter plane had ever routinely flown such a distance. Saburo Sakai, Japan’s highest-scoring surviving World War II ace, with sixty-four kills, believes that if the Zero had not been developed, Japan “would not have decided to start the war.” Other Japanese authorities echo this opinion, and the confidence it reflects was not, in the beginning at least, misplaced.

>                             Today the Zero is one of the rarest of all major fighter planes of World War II. Only sixteen complete and assembled examples are known to exist. Of these, only two are flyable: one owned by Planes of Fame, in Chino, California, and the other by the Confederate Air Force, in Midland, Texas.

>                             —J.R. 









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