Downing a fortifying swig of Jack, I punch the steel lever to open the cargo door of this airborne Skytrain. I push out against the draft, forcing the door open before securing it with a curved hook against the metal loop welded to the hull of the aircraft.
“Good thing you didn’t drop that bottle!” Perret yells above the roar of two 1200 horsepower engines and whir of propellers catching the humid Hanoi air as I pull my large yet limber frame back into the C-47.
Still holding the bottle of Jack in my left hand, I turn away from the freshly revealed hole in our fuselage toward the stack of Chinese, French, and Russian bombs we’re delivering to the Japs below.
“Help me move’em near the door.” Perret calls out as he tries pushing on the pile to no avail.
Why’s he pushing on’em?
The next moment, Perret kicks the bottom bomb out of the pile, spilling the odd assortment across the floor of the plane.
A 100 pounder rolls toward me, but I deftly hop over it just before it bumps against the aluminum covered framework that separates us from 10,000 feet of nothingness.
One of the 500 pounders slowly rumbles toward me before the plane jerks to the left, altering its heading. I stare for a moment, watching in wonder at this beast of war as it lumbers toward the open cargo door.
“Arm that one before it falls out!” Perret booms to ensure I can hear him.
Without letting go of the bottle, I dive toward the bomb.
I can’t stop it from rolling, but I can arm it!
I scramble to find the arming wires without getting my right hand caught under its body. Reaching up toward the tip, I grasp the wires with fumbly fingers just as the bomb is inches from the door. I yank.
Armed, the 500 pound bomb rolls off the plane.
Turning to look behind me, I see Perret messing with some other bombs, snatching at their arming wires and kicking them out the door.
The 100 pounder that I hopped begins rolling back toward me.
This time you’re going out the door.
I’m bent over already, so I reach out with my right hand, hoping to slow the bomb down, but as my hand hits it I can’t seem to stop it.
The bomb pushes on me, forcing my feet to slide on the spilled liquor lubricated surface of the plane’s cargo hold.
I can’t stop it!
The bomb continues to push against me, moving me ever closer to the open cargo door.
I shove the bottle of Jack against the bomb with my left hand, struggling with both hands now, to try to move the bomb, but I can’t get any traction on this floor.
I’ve gotta get out of the way of this thing!
Perret lunges toward me, tearing away the arming wire of the bomb I’m wrestling.
“It’s gonna push me out!” I scream.
Laughing, Perret grabs the collar of my leather jacket, lifting my whole body with one hand so that I’m dragged across the surface of the bomb as it rolls off the plane.
My body collapses. Perret sits down next to me.
“Japs don’t need you, but we sure as hell do.” He says.
I smile back at him, pushing out my left hand to offer the bottle of Jack.
He takes it with a grin.
On May 15, 1942 American fighter pilot Dick Perret convinced two C-47 transport pilots (2nd Lieutenants Will Gruber and Jack Krofoed) to help him conduct a special mission against the Japanese. Frustrated that the American Volunteer Group (better known as The Flying Tigers) only had fighters and could not take the war to the Japenese, Perret dared Gruber and Krofoed to use their C-47 as a bomber. They talked the armorer, Roy Hoffman into helping them load excess bombs onto the transport plane Fujiyama Foo-Foo before joining them on their unscheduled and highly unorthodox mission to Hanoi. The Japanese were confident that the Chinese did not have any bombers, so Hanoi was well lit, allowing the pilots to easily identify it in the night. The next morning Chinese intelligence congratulated Colonel Chennault (America’s Air Adviser to the Chinese, and head of the AVG) on the first successful night bombing of Hanoi. Intelligence reported that a Japanese general was killed in the raid and that Hanoi would have to black out at night hereafter. A second attempt was made two nights later, but the crew got lost and may have bombed Haiphong instead. Following that unsanctioned raid, Chennault grounded Perret from C-47’s, but let him continue flying his P-40 against the Japanese.