Hump Pilots story Circa 1945

During the early 1970s, I fished with my grandfather John J Flentge. He was a World War II pilot having flown in the China Burma Hump. John J had an aluminum V bottom boat with carpet and a 50 horsepower Evinrude motor. He would tell me the stories to pass time waiting for fish to bite. The following are my recollections and his quotes from letters he sent home during his military service.

He entered military service as the Chief Pilot and Naval Air instructor at the Old Consolidated airport in Cape Girardeau MO. He was in active duty from 1942 to 1947 and held the rank of Captain.  He flew “the Hump” in the China Burma India Theater. His honors include: World War II Victory Ribbon, American Theater Ribbon, Asia Pacific Theater Ribbon with distinguished unit badge, Air Medal with one oak leaf cluster, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Quotes from records:

He started training at Romulus MI in January 1944 with the 74th squadron as an operations officer. The first training aircraft was the A-29 which is also called the Hudson Bomber. The next trainer was the B-24. It was the dead of winter, so cold in the cockpit he could see his breath. While there, base command had strict Mission Control and everything was tight-lipped.

He was at the officer’s club and spent his pay voucher ($42.55) playing cards. He had to write a letter to my grandmother and tell her he had no money. She wrote back and said she was down in the dumps and blue after reading the letter.

The military kept him flying around to gain airtime. He flew to Randolph Field in Texas. In his letter home, he wrote. “Me and some other officers drove down to New Orleans. What a trip! When we arrived in New Orleans, the entire Navy must have turned out as on every corner there was a sailor dressed in uniform. It was quite a sight. Me and the boys got to run around the French Village and I had my first fresh oysters.” 

Immediately after this trip, the government stopped all communication, and he couldn’t contact his family for nearly two months. A few pilots got to catch extra hours in the airplanes and flew up to New York City. He spent the night in the Commodore Hotel, “New York’s best located hotel”. He noted: “The hotel bed sure felt good. At the barracks the shower and toilet were 100 feet away”.

This is all right before flying out to the Assam Valley in India, 15,000 miles away.

Since he couldn’t contact family, the first thing he did in India was buy my grandmother some silk.  It was $3 a yard. He sent this home and wrote to her. “Guess what I’ve done? And by this address I’m sure it won’t take you 2 guesses. Here’s some silk. Make yourself some pajamas.”

In a letter to his brother dated December 16th 1944; “we are flying Himalayas between 18,000 and 30,000 feet and boy, that is hard on this old man. The trips are averaging 8 to 12 hours. Winds are 60 to 100 mph and we fly on oxygen. So far I’m at 15 trips with 50 or 60 to go.”

Originally thinking he was in line for the C-47 or C-54. He noted he liked “4 fans”. They assigned him duty on the C-87. Many problems plagued the C-87, making it accident-prone. Among the problems included leaky fuel lines, a tendency to spin or stall when confronted with wind conditions. There were also multiple failures of landing gear, electrical systems, and hydraulic systems. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for a return trip at night. He was the pilot. The aircraft lost electrical power, and the cockpit went dark. He completed the mission with a flashlight to check instruments and sharing light with the navigator. He noted an “uproar” when he landed, returning the crew and the aircraft safely back. The ground crew was more than ecstatic about his accomplishment. In that time period, during the first two months of 1945, fierce winter storms blew across the Himalayas and extended mission times. In a single day, the military recorded the loss and write-off of 14 transports, with 42 crewmen missing. 69 aircraft crashed and caused the death of 95 crewmen in total. He and his crew survived that night. 

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