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.
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:
Those of you who are old enough will remember Jackie Coogan as the character Uncle Fester in the 1960s sitcom The Addams Family. Those of you even older will remember Jackie as a Hollywood child star who played with Charlie Chaplin in the movie Sidekick. Few of you will remember Jackie as a pilot who flew gliders in the CBI Theater of World War II.
John Leslie Coogan was born in 1914 in Los Angeles, California and was the first major Hollywood child star. He began performing as an infant in both Vaudeville and film and continued his illustrious career until the 1970s.
Jackie enlisted in the U.S. Army in March 1941. Because of his experience as a civilian pilot, he requested a transfer to the Army Air Force after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He was made a flight officer after graduating from glider school and volunteered for hazardous duty with the 1st Air Commando Group. His unit was sent to India in the CBI Theater in December 1943 where he was to participate in a very dangerous mission.
During World War II, a specially trained group of commandos known as Chindits were ordered to infiltrate behind Japanese lines in Burma. They were to be flown into Burma aboard gliders and land at a site named Broadway, 150 miles behind Japanese lines. The operation became known as Operation Broadway and Jackie Coogan was one of the glider pilots.
Operation Broadway took place on the night of March 5, 1944 and was by no means an easy mission. C47 Dakota transport planes, each towing two gliders, took off into the night. A total of 67 gliders were lifted from airfields in India and began their journey into Burma. Soon after the operation began some C47s began reporting the loss of their towed gliders. For one reason or another, the tow lines had snapped and around 18 gliders crashed before reaching Broadway. Some of the soldiers from the crashed gliders were killed, others were captured, and the remainder harassed the Japanese and escaped. The remaining gliders carrying more than 500 men and 33 tons of equipment arrived at Broadway where they began to land in the darkness. Almost all the gliders were damaged or destroyed as they hit obstacles or crashed into each other. The glider pilots were mystified because their landing speed was a third faster than normal. It wasn’t until the next day that they learned the commandos had overloaded the aircraft by bringing along unauthorized supplies.
In the end, glider pilot Jackie Coogan and the other men of Operation Broadway were successful in establishing a foothold behind enemy lines. They were a thorn in the enemy’s side and harassed the Japanese for months, so the next time you watch a rerun of The Addams Family, remember Uncle Fester wasn’t just a pretty face. He was also a certified war hero.
If you would like to learn more about how the troops at Broadway were supplied, you can find the answers in my book “Kicker” available at the sites listed below.
Tom Harmon was born in Rensselaer, Indiana on September 28, 1919. His family later moved to Gary Indiana where he graduated from Horace Mann High School in 1937. During high school, he was an outstanding athlete winning 14 varsity letters and was named All-State quarterback two times. Harmon played college football for the University of Michigan Wolverines from 1938 to 1940 where he won the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell Award in his senior season. He excelled as a tailback and as a kicker. During his college career he rushed for 2,134 yards, completed 100 passes for 1,304 yards and 16 touchdowns, and scored 237 points. In his final game against Ohio State, he led Michigan to a 40-0 win over the Buckeyes. During that game, he scored 3 rushing touchdowns, 2 passing touchdowns, four extra points, intercepted 3 passes and punted 3 times for an average of 50 yards.
During World War II, Harmon enlisted in the Army Air Corps and received his wings in October 1942. He trained in B-25 bombers and took off for North Africa in a B-25 in April 1943. During that flight, his plane went down in the jungles of Dutch Guiana. Harmon was the only survivor and walked through the jungle until he was rescued by natives. He was then shipped to North Africa where he trained in P-38 fighter aircraft. In the summer of 1943 he flew his P-38 named “Little Butch II” to the CBI theatre where he shot down his first Japanese airplane on August 28, 1943. In October 1943, he was shot down and bailed out over Japanese occupied China during an air fight. When he reached the ground, he discovered bullet holes in his parachute and played dead to discourage further attacks by the enemy pilots. During this ordeal, he was smuggled through Japanese-held territory to an American base by friendly Chinese groups. Harmon saved the silk from his parachute and it was later used to make his wife’s wedding dress when he married actress Elyse Knox in 1944. He received the Purple Heart and the Silver Star for his actions in the CBI.
After the war Tom Harmon played professional football for the Los Angeles Rams, but injuries to his legs during the war limited his success. He then became a sports broadcaster and was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954. Harmon’s children also became successful in the fields of sports and entertainment. His son Mark Harmon, played quarterback for UCLA and later became a top TV star. His daughter Kristin Harmon became an actress and married Ricky Nelson. Among her credits are TV roles on Green Acres and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
Additional stories of men who survived the jungles of Burma can be read in my book Kicker which can be found at the links below.
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: