Milton Caniff was called “The Rembrandt of Comics”. He was born in Ohio in 1907 and became famous for his comic strips Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon. Starting in 1932, Milt drew the comic strips Dickie Dare, The Gay Thirties, and Mister Gilfeather for the Associated Press. Then in 1934, he was hired by the New York Daily News and started producing Terry and the Pirates, the strip which made him famous.
Terry and the Pirates told the story of the adventures of a teenager, Terry Lee, as he grew to manhood seeking a lost gold mine in China. During World War II, Terry matures and joins the U.S. Army Air Force to become a pilot, and this is where the strips connection with a true war hero begins. Terry’s Air Force flight instructor was Major Flip Corkin who Americans came to know as a dashing but modest hero. Milt Caniff based his Flip Corkin character on the real life Army Air Force pilot Colonel Phil Cochran.
Colonel Cochran was born in Pennsylvania and had an interest in aviation at an early age. He attended Ohio State University where he met Milt Caniff and joined the ROTC. When war broke out he joined the Army Air Force and trained as a fighter pilot. Because of his leadership and organizational abilities, Cochran became the leader of a P-40 squadron that became legendary in the fighting in North Africa. Colonel Cochran went on to become the commander of the 1st Air Commando Group in India and Burma. As described in one of my previous blogs, Jackie Coogan was a glider pilot with this group. Under Colonel Cochran’s command, 1st Air Commando aircraft towed the gliders of Operation Broadway during the invasion of Burma by General Wingate’s Chindit forces. Colonel Cochran’s men also perfected the tactic of extracting gliders from small jungle clearings by snatching them from the ground using nylon ropes attached to the gliders and stretched between two poles. News of the evacuation of wounded men using this technique greatly increased the morale of the soldiers fighting in the jungles of Burma.
After an illustrious military career, Colonel Cochran retired from the Air Force and returned home to Erie, Pennsylvania where he joined his brother’s company, Lyons Transportation Lines where he eventually became Chairman of the Board. Another interesting note about the Colonel was that he dated Betty White during the early 1960s and proposed to her. Betty declined his marriage proposal and eventually married Allen Ludden.
Phil Cochran died August 26, 1979, but he will not be forgotten by those of us who remember the comic strip Terry and the Pirates.
More information about the men and women who fought in Burma and India during World War II can be found in my book Kicker which can be found at the links below.
Orde Charles Wingate was born in India to a military family on 26 February 1903. He spent his childhood in England where he received a very religious upbringing and was subjected, by his father, to intensive days of reading and memorizing the Old Testament. Later in his military career his quotes from the Bible earned him the nickname “Old Sword and Bible”.
One of seven children, Wingate’s strict parents raised him in a manner that encouraged independence, initiative and self-reliance. These were qualities that served him well in an incident where he got in trouble at the Royal Military Academy and was subjected to a punishment called “running”. The punishment consisted of the offender being stripped and forced to run a gauntlet of senior students wielding knotted towels and then being thrown into the cold waters of a cistern. When it was Wingate’s time to be punished for reportedly returning a horse late to the stables, he stood before the senior at the head of the gauntlet and dared him to strike. When the senior refused, he walked to the next senior in line and repeated his dare. When that senior also refused to strike, he repeated his dare before the remaining seniors in the line, and all refused to deliver a blow. At the end of the gauntlet, Wingate calmly walked to the cistern and dived into the cold water.
Throughout his military career, General Wingate was known for his eccentricities. He often wore an alarm clock around his wrist and ate raw onions for snacks. To the consternation of his superiors and the surprise of his subordinates, he often walked about and conducted meetings in the nude. Below medium height, Wingate was sturdily built and had deep set eyes that most men described as having a hard expression, and by the power of his scorn, he was able to make people feel smaller than he was.
At the beginning of World War II Wingate repeatedly proposed the creation of a Jewish army in Palestine to rule over the area on behalf of the British government. Eventually he was sent to the Sudan to begin operations against Italian forces in Ethiopia. In the Sudan, he created the Gideon Force, a small guerrilla force made up of British, Sudanese and Ethiopian soldiers. The force began operations in February 1941 and harassed Italian forts and supply lines. The Gideon Force, with around 1,700 men, accounted for 40,000 Italian troops killed or captured. For his exploits in Ethiopia, Wingate was awarded his second Distinguished Service Order (DSO).
WINGATE’S FIRST LONG-RANGE JUNGLE PENETRATION MISSION
Wingate arrived in India in 1942, and despite his prior successes, was not highly regarded by many of his superiors in India. They thought of him as a crackpot and called him “Tarzan”. He was appointed by General Wavell to organize guerrilla units to fight behind Japanese lines. However, the rout of Allied forces in Burma in early 1942 stopped further planning. In April of 1942, Wingate began to promote his idea for long-range jungle penetration units. Interested by Wingate’s theories, General Wavell gave him a brigade of troops from which he created a long-range jungle penetration unit. The unit became known as the Chindits, a corrupted version of the name of a mythical Burmese lion, the chinthe.
On the 12th of February 1943, Operation Longcloth began with Wingate leading his Chindit units across the Chindwin River into Burma. The force was initially successful in putting one of the main railways in Burma out of action, but when they crossed the Irrawaddy River, the terrain changed along with their fortunes. The Japanese were able to disrupt the Wingate’s supply drops and the Chindits began to suffer from exhaustion and shortages of food and water. On 22 March, Wingate was ordered to withdraw his units back to India. Continuous harassment by the Japanese forced the Chindits to return to India by various routes during the spring of 1943. Their casualties were high and the force lost approximately one-third of its men during their 1,000 mile trek into and out of Burma.
Even with disastrous losses, the Chindit’s exploits were viewed as a success by the folks back home. They had proven that British troops could successfully operate in the jungle against experienced Japanese forces. Wingate was subsequently able to persuade Allied leaders to approve larger scale deep-penetration attacks into Burma. However, Operation Longcloth turned out to be a double edged sword because the Japanese also learned that it was possible for large ground forces to penetrate the jungle between India and Burma, a fete they previously thought impossible.
SECOND LONG-RANGE JUNGLE PENETRATION MISSION
A new long-range jungle penetration operation was planned using six brigades of troops assigned to General Wingate. The new operation was to be a coordinated effort with a regular army offensive against northern Burma. However, the army offensive was cancelled leaving Wingate with no means of transporting his Chindits into Burma.
General Wingate was bitter with the cancellation and voiced his disappointment to anyone who would listen. One of the Allied commanders who listened was Colonel Phil Cochran of the 1st Air Commando Group. This is the same Phil Cochran that was mentioned in my previous blog as being the inspiration for Milt Caniff’s character Flip Corkin in the popular Terry and the Pirates comic strip. Colonel Cochran told Wingate that his long-range mission need not be cancelled and explained that the 1st Air Commando had 150 gliders capable of hauling supplies and moving a sizable force of troops. With this new glider landing option, Wingate decided to proceed into Burma and Operation Broadway was born.
On 6 March 1944, Operation Broadway began. The Chindits under General Wingate arrived in Burma by parachute and glider and established base areas and drop zones behind Japanese lines. Jackie Coogan, famous child star and actor who starred as Uncle Fester in the TV show the Addams Family, was one of the glider pilots for this mission. Wingate’s timing was perfect. The Japanese launched an invasion of India around the same time and the Chindits were able to disrupt the Japanese offensive, diverting troops from the battles in India.
GENERAL WINGATE’S DEATH
On 24 March 1944, Wingate flew to Burma to assess the situation of three Chindit bases. On his return to India, the U.S. Army Air Force B-25 in which he was flying crashed into the jungle in northeast India. All ten men aboard perished. Wingate and the nine other victims were buried in a common grave close to the crash site. Their bodies were charred beyond recognition. Since seven of the ten crash victims, including both pilots, were Americans, all ten bodies were eventually exhumed and reburied in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The reburial was possible courtesy of an amicable three-way agreement between the governments of India, Britain and the US, and in accordance with the families’ wishes.
After General Wingate’s death, the strongholds and landing fields of Operation Broadway were abandoned and the Chindits were assigned to other fighting forces in Burma.
General Orde Charles Wingate was a man for his time. He was a tough, self-reliant, eccentric soldier, and he personified the indomitable will of the English people as they fought successfully to defend their homeland and preserve their freedom.
More information about the men and women who fought in Burma and India during World War II can be read in my book Kicker which can be found at the links below.
You may not recognize the name John Henry Bradley, but you have most likely seen his picture. He is the highly decorated navy corpsman pictured in the center of the World War II photo of American servicemen raising the flag atop Mount Suribachi during the battle for Iwo Jima. It is probably the most recognized photo in history and is featured on the cover of author James Bradley’s bestselling book “Flags of Our Fathers”
James Bradley is the son of John Bradley, and I recently had the pleasure of attending a series of lectures given by him on the subjects of his four books dealing with World War II and the history leading up to it.
Mr. Bradley’s first lecture dealt with his experiences writing his first book “Flags of Our Fathers”. As he spoke, I was immediately struck by the similarities of his experiences with his father and my experiences with mine. Neither of our fathers was willing to speak of their war experiences and it wasn’t until after their deaths that personal documents were found that led James and I to write books about their experiences. James knew he had a bestseller in “Flags of Our Fathers”, but it appeared he was the only one who felt that way. Over a period of twenty-five months he submitted his book to twenty-seven publishers and was turned down by all of them. As a lesson to all authors, James had faith in his book during his quest to find a publisher and eventually Bantam Books agreed to publish it. His faith was rewarded when the book became a bestseller and was made into a movie produced by Stephen Spielberg, Clint Eastwood and Robert Lorenz. “Flags of Our Fathers” chronicles the stories of James’ father John and the five other Marines who raised the flag over Iwo Jima and is well worth the read.
Bradley’s second lecture dealt with his second bestselling book “Flyboys”. The idea for this book came when a veteran of World War II who fought in the Pacific told James that the U.S. government never revealed the beheadings of eight American airmen on the Japanese island of Chichi Jima which is located very close to Iwo Jima. After researching the facts, Mr. Bradley wrote “Flyboys” where he revealed the fate of the eight airmen when they were shot down attacking enemy emplacements on Chichi Jima. A ninth airman participating in the attacks was also shot down, but was rescued. That airman was George Herbert Walker Bush the 41st president of the United States. Upon meeting President Bush, Mr. Bradley was told the president had been unaware of the fate of his fellow airmen. I highly recommend “Flyboys” as an interesting and provocative insight into the air war in the Pacific.
After writing his first two books, Mr. Bradley began to wonder why his father and many other Americans had to spend part of their youth fighting the war in the Pacific. What were the origins of their involvement in World War II. His curiosity led him to research history and resulted in the writing of “The Imperial Cruise”. This book deals with the efforts of President Theodore Roosevelt to extend America’s influence into the Pacific and provides a challenging argument on how this turned out to be one of the causes of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Mr. Bradley’s fourth lecture dealt with his latest book “The China Mirage” which has recently been released. In this book, he continues his analysis of America’s influence in Asia, most particularly in China. He explains how clever the Chinese were in managing American perceptions and how American businessmen profited from the opium trade in China. He points out how the powerful Chinese lobby made the embargo of Japanese oil and the freezing of their assets possible which led to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In this book, Bradley summarizes his points on why his father and millions of others became embroiled in fighting wars in Asia.
After his lectures, I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Bradley. In discussing his writing career, he stressed the importance to him of having an agent as well as access to good editing and proofreading people. His main advice for writers is to determine your most productive period of the day and stick to a strict writing schedule during that period. I found Mr. Bradley to be congenial and helpful, and his lectures were interesting and informative. I look forward to his future books and wish him the best of luck.
For further reading about the war in Asia in World War II, check out “Kicker”
Julia Child was a TV chef and author who is recognized for bringing French cuisine to America with her cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and her television program The French Chef, but did you know she also she served her country during World War II.
Julia was born Julia McWilliams in Pasadena, California in 1912. She was the eldest of three children and had a brother John and a sister Dorothy. Her father was a prominent land manager and her mother was a paper-company heiress. Julia grew up in California and graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1934. At six feet, two inches tall, she enjoyed sports and played while she attended college.
At the onset of World War II, Julia found she was too tall to enlist in the Army or Navy, so she moved to Washington D.C. In Washington she joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a newly formed government intelligence agency. The OSS was formed to coordinate armed forces espionage activities behind enemy lines and became the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Julia began her career with the OSS as a typist, but was soon given a position as a top secret researcher working directly for the head of OSS. In 1944 she was sent to the CBI Theater and stationed at Kandy, Ceylon. Her duties included cataloging and channeling great volumes of highly classified communications for the OSS’s clandestine stations in Asia. She later served in China and received the Emblem of Meritorious Civilian Service as head of the Registry of the OSS Secretariat. In 1945, while serving in Ceylon, she fell in love with fellow OSS employee Paul Child. They were married in 1946 after the end of World War II. Paul had once lived in Paris as an artist and poet and was known for his sophisticated palate. He introduced Julia to fine cuisine and the rest is history.
Here is one of my favorite quotes from Julia Child: “The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit. ”
You may remember Julia Child for the French cuisine she served, but now you can also remember her for her exemplary service to her country.
If you would like to read more about the brave people who served in the CBI Theater, you can find their stories in my book “Kicker” which can be found at the following sites:
Most people remember Gene Autry as the singing cowboy who became famous for his work on the radio, television and in the movies. However, few people know he piloted C47 cargo planes during World War II and flew over the hump in the CBI Theater.
Gene Autry was born Orvon Grover Autry near Tioga, Texas in 1907. It’s hard to believe the outlaws in his western movies would have taken anyone with the name Orvon seriously, so it’s understandable that he changed his name. Gene started his entertainment career in 1928 and became known as the Singing Cowboy. He attained superstar status in a career that included records, radio, television, live stage and the movies. By the time he retired from show business 1964, he had starred in almost 100 films and made over 640 records. His records sold more than 100 million copies, including the first record ever certified gold. Gene Autry is the only person to have five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one in each of the five categories maintained by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. He was also a Freemason and became a 33rd degree Master Mason.
In response to the many young people aspiring to emulate him, Mr. Autry created the Cowboy Code, or Ten Cowboy Commandments. The code consisted of the following tenets:
1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
3. He must always tell the truth.
4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
6. He must help people in distress.
7. He must be a good worker.
8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.
10. The Cowboy is a patriot.
The code reflected his personal philosophies and he proved his patriotism during WWII. He interrupted his flourishing career in 1942 and joined the Army Air Corps. He was sworn into the Army on the air during a broadcast of “Melody Ranch”. Gene entered the army as a tech sergeant and was accepted for flight training. On completion of his training, he was promoted to Flight Officer and was assigned to the Air Transport Command. He was on flight status from June, 1944 until June 1945 and flew C47s carrying fuel, ammunition and arms over the hump in the China-Burma-India theater of war. The hump was a hazardous air route over the Himalayan mountains that became known as the Aluminum Trail due to the scattered wreckage of the numerous planes that went down due to extreme weather and enemy action. Gene Autry served his country as a beloved superstar and a brave pilot during WWII.
If you would like to read more about the brave men who fought in the CBI Theater, you can find their stories in my book “Kicker” which can be found at the following site: