"Just as I was leaving after a several day period in which I met for the very first time the woman who would become my stepmother, she, after having observed my avid interest in a book about the Flying Tigers that I had removed from the shelves in her library titled 'The Lady and the Tigers,' handed me her personal signed copy to take with me. I read it over-and-over, almost to the point of it becoming a bible or handbook on the Flying Tigers for most of my formative years.
"After the two of us getting to know each other, that is my soon-to-be-stepmother and myself over that same several day period, not only did she give me her copy of Olga Greenlaw's book 'The Lady and the Tigers,' but also, just as I was leaving, she gave me a second book that I had shown a nearly equal interest in that dealt heavily into the World War II fighter plane, the Curtis Wright P-40 as well, only just not so singularly devoted to the Flying Tigers."
The second book my Stepmother handed me in relation to the above two quotes was titled Damned to Glory, by Col. Robert L. Scott. Scott was a double ace flying P-40s in a loose association with the Flying Tigers of the American Volunteer Group, or the A.V.G., then continuing on with them when they morphed over into the Army Air Force. I know I don't mention a lot about the Damned to Glory book much throughout most of my works, always it seems going on and on about The Lady and the Tigers, but that's because most of what I write about when it comes to P-40s has to do with the Flying Tigers. The following quote as found on my premier P-40 page not only cuts to the quick but also pretty much sums up where P-40s and the Flying Tigers stand relative to how I see them:
"As for P-40s specifically I liked them from a very young boy because I liked the Flying Tigers --- or at least the idea of Flying Tigers. I loved the 'all plane plane' sleekness and look of the P-40, especially so when the nose was endowed with the almost comic book like fierce looking red-with-white sharp teeth and eyes of a tiger shark. What could be better? So too, as a young boy I bought into the legend circulating at the time that the Japanese feared the tiger shark and just the sight of the P-40s was so intimidating that the Japanese pilots would lose their edge in battle. Although that aspect of the legend is far from substantiated, the kill ratio has a tendency to support such a belief."
P-40 WARHAWK: PEARL HARBOR SURVIVOR
The thing is, Damned to Glory, or at least one single chapter in it titled "The Ghost Ship," about a phantom pilot flying a ghost P-40 played a huge role in my life. Olga's book, on the other hand, had a tendency to widen out into more of a broad generalization, a kind of history on the Flying Tigers so to speak. Scott's book was more finely focused on a specific given area. Broad generalization or not, The Lady and the Tigers did squeeze into playing a significant role in one of my high school classes one year. It wasn't too long after the war ended that I came across Olga's book for the very first time and read it. Inside was something she wrote that I, as a not yet 10 year old boy, never forgot. Recounting the fate of several pilots she wrote:
"I wonder what happened to him --- probably a prisoner. But the Chinese scouts found a body in the same location or thereabouts where Black Mac bailed out when Jack Newkirk got killed --- in March.
"The body was unrecognizable, as there was nothing left, the ants had eaten all the flesh, but the uniform the bones were covered with was an A.V.G. flying suit with the insignia still on it."
THE LADY AND THE TIGERS
You might imagine what I, as a young boy thought when I first read about the jungle ants gnawing the flesh completely clean right off the pilot's skeleton leaving nothing but bare bones laying inside the flight suit, all the internal organs gone.
Four or five years later when I was no longer ten years old but in high school, except possibly for a little extra effort on my part in Miss Sinsabaugh's journalism class and maybe art, I probably wasn't the best student Redondo Union High School ever had. However, I still remember in one of my English classes, although I don't remember which grade, we were assigned to read Carl Stephenson's short story "Leiningen Versus the Ants." The story revolves around an owner of a plantation of some kind out in the middle of the Brazilian jungle who had to do battle with a mile wide hoard of army ants devouring everything in their path, with the hoard headed straight toward his plantation. After reading the story we were to write then give an oral report. I combined what I read in Leiningen with what I had first read regarding Greenlaw's description of the downed A.V.G. pilot and the ants, and for the first time ever --- and most likely my last for a high school English assignment --- I got an A.
FROM BEING EATEN BY ANTS TO CHASING P-40 GHOST PILOTS
Where The Lady and the Tigers was almost like a bible, easily blanketing a much wider area for me regarding Flying Tigers and P-40s, Damned to Glory fulfilled a much more specific role --- a role that relentlessly kept coming back over-and-over throughout the years to haunt me until one day what happened in the book happened to me. Or at least what happened in the first chapter of the book titled "Ghost Pilot," came to haunt me, the rest of the chapters falling by the wayside, never reaching the same status, even becoming, relative to me, inconsequential in the overall scheme of things.
So said, such was not the case with Chapter One. Although there wasn't an actual straight line replication of events as those found in "Ghost Pilot" there was a straight line path of those events that led directly to me. The following is a modified version of Scott's chapter, modified in the sense that in the following scenario the P-40 is on its way to Pearl Harbor from the direction of Japan rather than going from Mindanao to Formosa to China as Scott has written it. So why do I go along with the discrepancy? For one, the comparison, and two, although Pearl Harbor aligned, the source so cited is loaded with counter-relevant information leaning heavily away and toward the Damned to Glory side. If you go to the link you will see how the author comes around to debunk the Pearl Harbor side of the story by getting into the revelations of an unconcerned third party eyewitness, a PT Boat crew member who, interestingly enough, was in the middle of the South China Sea off the island of Luzon in the direct path of the ill fated P-40 on the exact same date:
On December 8, 1942, one year and a day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaiian radar picked up an unusual reading --- a lone aircraft heading towards the islands from the same direction as Japan.
Two American pilots were sent to intercept the mysterious plane. As they approached the aircraft they radioed back that the plane was a P-40 with the same type insignia and markings that had been used by American planes in the early days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. When they pulled alongside they were shocked to find a bullet-riddled plane with landing gear blown away. Puzzled as to how a plane in such condition could even fly, they noticed the pilot was slumped over in the cockpit, his flight suit stained with blood. As they peered into the window the pilot raised slightly, turned in their direction, and smiled offering a meek wave towards his two allies. Moments later the mysterious craft plummeted from the sky smashing into the ground with a deafening roar.
PEARL HARBOR P-40 GHOST SHIP
What follows below is much closer to Scott's version. However, Scott's original took up the entire first chapter in his book while the version attributed him under his name and put together for the Reader's Digest still covered a full four pages. As you can see the below is only a few paragraphs, but fulfills our needs here. Left unmentioned are the two pilots, Johnny Hampshire and Robert Costello who scrambled to intercept the inbound P-40 and spotted the mystery plane zipping along only two hundred feet above the ground. It should be noted for those readers who may be interested, the sourced link for the paragraphs below has withing its contents access to Scott's full four page Reader's Digest story. To my knowledge the complete four page article doesn't show up anywhere else
It was December 8, 1942 when, after a week of bad weather, pilots of the American famed Flying Tigers of the China Air Force could get off the ground. The operation telephones at an airfield at Kienow began to ring off the hook. Chinese jungle aircraft spotters reported a single plane flying low toward the Kienow airfield. The Americans were puzzled. The Japanese never sent out a single plane for a raid, but the plane was flying from enemy territory.
Taking no chances, the American flight leader ordered six Warhawk P-40s into the air. The unknown plane was now only thirty miles east. About ten miles from the Kienow airfield, two Americans spotted the mystery plane zipping along only two hundred feet above the ground. When the Americans got close enough they were shocked, as one of the P-40 pilot radioed: "That's an American insignia, it's a P-40." The plane had been literally shot to pieces. They could make out the pilot behind the shattered glass of the windshield. His face was a mask of blood. But the P-40 was holding a steady course.
Only later would the American pilots at Kienow learn that the mysterious pilot was "Corn" Sherrill. After the fall of the Philippines, "Corn" Sherrill and eleven mechanics cannibalized a few aircraft to make one plane fly. "Corn" would fly one last mission and hit the enemy where it would do the most good. "Corn" would fly 250 miles, with the extra fuel tanks and hit the Japanese at Formosa. There was no real defense there, for it was too far into enemy ground. The lone American zoomed in and fired burst after burst against the juicy targets. Soon, enemy plane after plane were burning and exploding.
Within minutes, Japanese Zeros, buzzing around him like angry bees poured scores of rounds into "Corn's" already battered plane.
Then the P-40 zipped up into the clouds and set a course for Kienow. Badly wounded, "Corn" was flying by the seat of his pants. When the American Flying Tigers found him, "Corn" was dead. He had died somewhere between Formosa and Kienow. The plane was flying, perhaps, by bracing the stick between his knees, the P-40 continued on course, but flown by a dead man, a phantom pilot.
As the rest of the scrambled Flying Tigers were at the side of the dead pilot and crippled P-40, the plane plunged to the ground and exploded.
The publishers of Scott's book Damned to Glory, even though it was chucked full of a whole bunch of other stories and chapters about P-40 pilots, their crews, and their escapades, were so proud of the first chapter, Ghost Ship, that the hard cover dust jacket, as seen at the top of the page, clearly illustrated the exact moment wherein the pilots of the pursuit planes came across the invading P-40 only to see the pilot slumped over with him and the plane all shot to pieces. While most people and critics seem to give the chapter and story a sort of low level pass, as you can see, the publishers thought otherwise. By clicking the book image back up the page, then clicking it a second time you will see a totally expanded view of that specific incident the publishers gave so much credence to.
SOUTHEAST ASIA AND GHOST P-40s: THE RECENT PAST
"For a vast number of young men growing up around the same time I did, after reaching a certain age, they were uprooted from whatever they were doing by the then in place friendly Selective Service System, otherwise known as the draft, and plunked down into the military. And so it was for me. Following a crowded ruckus-filled overnight 400 mile train ride from the induction center in Los Angeles to Fort Ord I, along with several hundred other potential GIs, at 4:00 AM in the morning, was herded into one of a whole line of cattle trucks and taken to what they called the Reception Company Area. Then, after being issued two pairs of too large boots along with several sets of too large olive drab shirts and pants, and having the good fortune of completing eight weeks of basic without incident I was sent to Fort Gordon, Georgia to attend the U.S. Army Signal Corps School for what they called Advanced Individual Training, or AIT."
THE PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER AND THE ASIAN WARLORD
After Signal Corps School the military discovered they had a very special need for my talents duplicating and sending Morse code totally indistinguishable for virtually anyone to differentiate between messages sent by me and that of any person I was imitating. I am still not at liberty to tell for what use that talent was so needed or any implementation thereof. Without breaking any tenets on my part, the paragraphs that follow were written by Alfred McCoy and found in his book The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia (1972) and are being presented for you to infer what you wish:
"From Nam Yu the teams were flown fifty-five miles due north and dropped off on the Laotian bank of the Mekong River. After inflating their rubber rafts, the teams paddled across the Mekong and hiked three miles through the Burmese jungle until they reached the joint Nationalist Chinese CIA base near Mong Hkan. It was originally established by a KMT intelligence force, the First Independent Unit, to serve as a base for its own cross-border forays into Yunnan, and as a radio post for transmitting information on the availability of opium to KMT military caravans based at Mae Salong in northern Thailand. When the CIA began sending its reconnaissance patrols into Yunnan, the First Independent Unit agreed to share the base.
"From Mong Hkan, the CIA teams hiked north for several days to one of two forward bases only a few miles from the border --- a joint CIA-KMT radio post at Mong He and a CIA station at Mong Mom.
"Using light-weight, four-pound radios with a broadcast radius of four hundred miles, the teams transmitted their top priority data directly to a powerful receiver at Nam Yu or to specially equipped Air America planes that flew back and forth along the Laotian Chinese border. Once these messages were translated at Nam Yu, they were forwarded to Vientiane for analysis and possible transmission to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The radio messages also served to pinpoint every team's position, all carefully recorded on a huge relief map of Yunnan Province mounted in a restricted operations room at Nam Yu."
ALFRED McCOY: The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia
NAM YU: CIA LIMA SITE 118-A
Now we come to the part about the Ghost P-40 or the Phantom P-40 and how such a plane came to involve me --- sort of. The following paragraphs are from my so previously cited as existing notes from many years ago, and by inference, ties back to the CIA KMT radio posts described by McCoy:
"(We) hiked down to a rudimentary mountain road, following it to a river that doubled back on itself flowing south to the Mekong. From the river we headed northeast, all the while climbing in altitude along the side of the mountains. Eventually we crested the ridge following the top along the undefined border between Burma and China. In the mountains near the village of Wan Hsa was a second, but much smaller, CIA-KMT radio site called Mong He. We rested there two or three days, then crossed into Yunnan Province, China. We skirted a dirt road to a small river following it downstream several miles until it met the second of two streams joining it from the north. Going upstream we came across an all weather road that had a telegraph line stretched along it. At that point we were 15 to 20 miles into the People's Republic of China. From where we were we could watch five-truck Chinese Red Army convoys pass by a couple of times a day, otherwise the road was deserted. After we got a good handle on when a convoy might pass before the next one in either direction, we went down to the telegraph line and tapped into it, stretching a double loop back to our camp."
Then we got in trouble. Francis Gary Powers U-2 trouble. Our timing regarding the convoy that day did not turn out to be as reliable as it could have been. A couple of us, me included, were caught in the open, with me actually being atop a pole when a convoy showed up in the distance headed down the road our way. I scrambled down the pole, and duplicating my buddy, crawled through the same creek culvert our wires ran through to our camp. All well and good except for one thing. We left one of our primary tool bags sitting in plain view along side the road. I figured I could scoot back through the culvert and grab the bag hoping not to be seen before the convoy was on top of us. That's when one of the most unusual things to ever happen, happened.
I crawled into the culvert hoping to reach the other side when low and overhead behind me, just above the road I heard the overwhelming roar of an aircraft engine. As I pulled myself up out of the culvert on the other side, the side the bag was on, I could see a wheels up World War II fighter plane, looking all the same as a P-40 skimming along just above the road at full speed heading face on toward the convoy. The next thing I knew the plane began unleashing a whole stream of machine gun fire from her wings, scattering the convoy all over off the road and tearing the shit out of the asphalt for well over a mile. The plane began swinging around in a big loop for a second pass when the convoy reformed, only headed in the other direction, speeding away as fast as it could. The fighter peeled off and disappeared beyond the distant treetops and hills. I grabbed the bag and in the open ran across the road toward our camp.
Reconnaissance photos clearly showed the six-stream bullet trails along the road for a good half mile before it came upon the convoy. Everybody agreed the tracks most closely resembled those of three machine gun per wing configuration of a World War II P-40 and that the pilot strafed the road early for dramatic effect more so than to hit the convoy directly. What couldn't be agreed upon was the specifics of the plane itself. I had only seen it from the rear after it passed over me, then only through in the wavering atmospheric air caused by the heat of it's engine and the smoke of it's exhaust. The Lahu and Wa bearers traveling with us that day, who were close to the side of the road and who did or should of have had good profile views of the craft, were all in agreement it wasn't, especially after seeing photos or drawings, a "Flying Tiger." All saying almost to the man over and over, it was a ghost, a ghost, a ghost.
SOUTHEAST ASIA AND GHOST P-40s: THE RECENT PRESENT
Sometime after reaching my mid-20s and time-wise not long after the above events, I began participating in the 12 week meditation sessions offered by the Mahasi Meditation Center in Rangoon, Burma, open free to foreign and visiting monks. Only a short way into the sessions, for reasons beyond my control, albeit fully explained in The Code Maker, The Zen Maker, I was unable to complete the full 12 weeks let alone even a few.
Many years later, from late August 2005 to late September 2008, after having volunteered with the American Red Cross and being deployed back and forth for weeks-and-weeks-and-weeks between four hurricanes starting with Katrina then Rita, followed by Gustav, then Ike, because of a certain innate thirst for a distinct separation, immersed in total quietude mixed together with a longing for the ragged Terry and the Pirates milieu of the Asian atmosphere --- without concern by or for others within my support system --- I returned to the Mahasi Meditation Center to re-participate in and complete all 12 weeks, which I did.
Deciding to go to Chiang Mai when I was done I went across town taking the bottom of the line 15 hour or so bus ride from Yangon (Rangoon) over the mountains to the Thailand/Myanmar border crossing at Myawaddy/MaeSot. From there I took another bus to Phitsanulok picking up the train to Chiang Mai. Travelling third class the trip to Chiang Mai took seven hours plus. All through the trip a continuing string of vendors went back and forth along the aisles hawking all kinds of local grub and water so food or drink was no problem. Needing to relieve yourself was. Basically third class meant if you left your rock-hard bench seat for any reason there would be a good chance it would be taken, especially if it was a prime on the shade side window located a long distance from the toilet smell, which mine was.
INTO THAILAND-------------------------------------------------------------------------OUT OF THAILAND
No matter how innocent I was being in Chiang Mai, for reasons I am unwilling to coalesce into a single coherent lump sum here, but easily accumulated and put together by going through some of my other offerings, if it were learned I was there and didn't pay my respects and explain why I was there, even though it had been some years since I had been in Chiang Mai, there might have been complications or repercussions that I rather not have wanted to deal with. After going down into some pretty rugged areas of Chaing Mai, at least on the peripheral edges of same I began asking around for a certain person. No sooner had I done so than a couple of punk-ass young toughs riding crotch rocket motorcycles roared up on the sidewalk of a small outside street cafe where I was sitting wanting to know what my business was with the man. The punks were just about to escalate getting answers when a man wearing a suit and dark aviator sunglasses and clearly packing heat stepped out of nowhere and blocked them. A few minutes later a shiny black Mercedes with just as black windows pulled up along the curb right at the street side table. The suit-man opened the passenger side rear door motioning me to get in. Soon we were going into a classy Thai restaurant in a classy part of town escorted the whole way by the two punks on motorcycles.
I had a reason to be in Chiang Mai. The person I went to see in the Thai restaurant was willing to help in exchange for me providing a service for him. He knew I was a longtime Asian travel hand, sometimes under rather scary or unscrupulous circumstances with a once upon a time uncanny ability to slip through places without raising undue concerns. He also knew I was a trusted commodity. After hearing his request, of which I thought was a little much of an overkill, to do his bidding I asked if when done, he would in turn do an additional small favor for me. Agreeing to do so, we shook hands and the deal was done.
To fulfill the man's request I had to travel across country through Chiang Rai then to Tachileik, crossing the bridge into Burma on foot several days later from the Thai city of Mae Sai. In those days the Burmese side took your passport and gave you a temporary travel permit limited to only the Tachileik area and a day or two stay. People running out of visa time in Thailand often made "visa runs," crossing over to Tachileik from Mae Sai, get their passport stamped, then when returning to Thailand, even after a few minutes, could get a new 14 day extension. Me, I had bigger fish to fry.
Of course, when I arrived in Tachileik the man I was looking for wasn't there and I was told I would find him in Mong La about 85 miles north up along the Chinese border. He wasn't in Mong La either. Powers that be told me he was supposedly at a place called Panghsang, 70 miles further northwest. More specifically at his private fortess-like mansion west of the main section of town directly edging up to the Myanamar China river border but still in Myanamar, called Wan Nalawt. I was also told I would be taken there the next day or two and in the meantime just hang out.
In the Star Wars film, when Obi-Wan Kenobi warned Luke Skywalker that he would never find a more "wretched hive of scum and villainy than Mos Eisley Spaceport," there was no clarification. However, it thrived in being so mostly because of being located so far from the galaxy's political epicenter, and rarely if ever policed. So it is with Mong La.
Mong La is crawling with casinos. However, six or seven years before, in 2003, as told by my driver, in nothing less than a sovereign invasion, China sent heavily armed People's Liberation Army troops cross-border into Mong La an effort to shut down the Casinos. Word had it that high-ranking Chinese government officials had lost billions of yuan in the town's casinos. One report said the daughter of a senior Chinese official had lost more than the equivalent of $1.6 million U.S. dollars using nothing but government funds. Sai Leun, the warlord who runs what is officially known as Special Region No. 4 wherein the city of Mong La is located, responded to the Chinese incursion by moving the casinos to a jungle area I estimate to be about 8 miles east and slightly south out of town. By the time I was in Mong La he had built more than two dozen casinos in an area now known in the vernacular as "casino city." After that most of central Mong La became a ghost town, although at the time I was there you could see a recovery was going on albeit never loosing a step as to its disreputable reputation.
While in Mong La I crossed over into China at night without benefit of a passport, riding on the back of a motorbike crossing the river and riding on hidden trails for one reason and one reason only --- to meet a man who I heard, in China, owned his own private plane and did "missions" for he Burmese drug cartels. He was easy enough to find, it was just harder to find someone who could interpret for me. I told him I wanted to visit the Flying Tiger Museum in Kunming. Although there was no plane in evidence he basically told me he could fly me there and back for $200.00 U.S. dollars cash and the cost of fuel, a roughly 600 mile round trip. Then, with a slight sneer and moving closer to me across the table in a one bulb lit room powered from a barely functioning generator, he asked if I had that kind of money or any kind of money on me. I informed him I was where I was because of a job I was doing for a certain man, a certain man I was to meet the next morning in Panghsang. I told the so-called pilot if I wasn't there and his people backtracked to find me and found you responsible for interfering you might not live to see the following day. He threw his head back in a huge roar of laughter and in absolutely prefect English said, "You are a careful little asshole aren't you." He said come back and see him when I was done and he would take care of me.
The pilot had the motorcycle driver throw the bike in the back of a pretty nice looking nearly brand new Toyota pick-up then took us on a shortcut across the border. While travelling at a fairly high speed in the dark with no headlights on he told me after the Flying Tigers disbanded his grandfather, who had been a mechanic for the Flying Tigers, still needed work and heard that a group of P-40s had arrived in Karachi, India, so he and a few former ground crew Tiger stragglers headed over there, eventually working on P-40s of the Burma Banshees. They moved from there to Tingkawk Sakan in Burma, then to Myitkyina, Burma. About that time the Banshees began phasing out P-40s for P-47s and P-38s. Since the P-40s were sitting around falling apart, more idle than not, and with more and more being rendered unflyable because of being cannibalized, with no pressing need for mechanics with P-40 expertise, toward the end of the war he just left, returning to China. He said while with the Banshees his grandfather never received the respect nor recognition he had when he was with the Flying Tigers. So too, without anybody knowing about it, he learned to fly under the auspices of testing planes he worked on telling them that was how they did it in the Tigers. Using that expertise, when he returned to China, with nobody watching, he simply took a P-40 with him. In turn his grandfather taught his father everything he knew about flying and P-40s and his father taught him, at least he said, about flying.(see)
When I was a teenager looking around for a Ford woody wagon to restore I was always hoping that someday I would come across a nearly pristine wagon long forgotten and stashed away in some barn. For some reason, all the time I was with the man I thought he was going to blindfold me and take me across the woods to some abandoned building in the jungle. There he would throw open the doors and inside sitting there all by itself right in front of me would be a fully intact Curtiss-Wright P-40 Tomahawk in all of it's full flying glory. I still have an inside gut feeling such is the case to this day. If you take a look at where the grandfather worked as well as the bottom photo below, you will find after leaving the Flying Tigers he went to Karachi, India, then Tingkawk Sakan in Burma, then to Myitkyina, Burma, all locations of the Burma Banshees. The P-40 he absconded with most likely had Burma Banshee markings on it, making it for all practical purposes, to those who saw it and knew nothing about the Burma Banshees or World War II, a Ghost Ship.
GHOST P-40: LORE, LEGENDS AND HER WHEREABOUTS
TO LEARN THE MOST RECENT ACCOUNT OF THE P-40 GHOST SHIP PLEASE CLICK IMAGE
(for more please click image)
PEARL HARBOR SURVIVOR
P-40 GOOSE SHOOT
GHOST AND HAUNTED B-29
TAKING OUT THE FIRST MEATBALL
KENNETH M. TAYLOR, PEARL HARBOR, AND THE P-40
P-40 FIGHTER PILOT LT. DAN ROWAN
CURTISS P-40: THE OBSOLETE WAR HERO
TANGO SQUADRON AIR MUSEUM, CHIANG MAI
P-40: FIGHTER IS A REBUILT PIECE OF WWII HISTORY
PEARL HARBOR P-40 GHOST SHIP
As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.
"Any mention by me of Terry and the Pirates is typically made to draw an analogy to whatever I am writing about and the exotic-like underbelly-type milieu, real or not, that exemplified the Asian atmosphere Terry and his companions, pirates or otherwise, operated in. I have always carried a certain fondness for that type of milieu and because of that fondness have been drawn to such odd-ball fictional characters and stories like Dan Duryea in China Smith and of course Terry and the Pirates as well as real life places such as Rangoon, Burma; Bangkok, Thailand; and Chiang Mai."
SCENE FROM THE ORIGINAL TERRY AND THE PIRATES AS DRAWN BY MILTON CANIFF DATED JANUARY 27, 1935.
A lot of people who read the paragraph-quote above the graphic referencing Terry and the Pirates say I hold not much more than a standard stereotypical romanticized westerner's view of the Asian atmosphere and the milieu that I imply exists. To them I say they most likely have never been to Mong La or read my account on me going to or being in Mong La as found elsewhere on this page. However, for me, real or not to other people, I started early in my fondness for and becoming accustomed to being in and around what I call a Terry and the Pirates type milieu.
When I was in high school, the cypher I was, I don't think anyone even saw me, but I had another life. The summer between my freshman and sophomore year at Redondo Union High School while staying on my stepmother's ranch I had flown in a private plane with her to a casino called the El Rey Club in Searchlight, Nevada for some business she had with the owner. While there and totally unprovoked, a working girl, otherwise known as a "hostess," who apparently knew my stepmother somehow from the past, threw the contents of a half empty glass of ice water toward her, albeit missing her totally. When it appeared the woman was about to lunge toward my stepmother following the water mishap, Willie Martello, the casino owner, seeing my stepmother was pulling a nickel plated .25 semi-automatic Baby Browning out of her purse and with me ducking for cover, maintained the distance between the two by slightly nudging my stepmother around before she got close enough to use the pistol, saying he would take care of it. When summer was over I was back in school like nothing ever happened.
To me, the high school boy that I was, the El Rey Club was everything a casino should be. Noisy, low ceilings, smoke, friendly atmosphere with a slight need to watch your step, satisfying pay offs, and an ever present bevy of hostesses. It was also hard to squeeze through making it perfect for pickpockets and their like, dark, and owned and operated by a person who was a relatively cool dude. Pickpockets or similar preying types were not tolerated. If caught they could easily find themselves face down in the dirt someplace out of town with a broken leg or worse. Searchlight itself was a weird sort of a burg, a tiny little dump, sort of dead, but once you stepped into the El Rey it was another thing. Less wild west and more Terry and the Pirates.
THE EL REY CLUB: RESORT, CASINO, BROTHEL
At the end of the summer of 1953, roughly the same period of time as the above water-hostess-stepmother confrontation was going down at the El Rey Club and just as I was about to start the 10th grade or so, the August - September #6 issue of the comic book Mad came out. Inside #6 was a story, drawn by my all time favorite non-animator cartoonist Wallace Wood, that spoofed or satired big-time the long running comic strip Terry and the Pirates, with Wood in his spoofing, calling it Teddy and the Pirates.
Although I had followed Terry and the Pirates a good portion of my life, and knew how Milton Caniff, the artist-cartoonist of the strip, presented Terry's world that he and his so-called Pirates lived in, Wood's top-half opening drawing below, showing his version of an underbelly far east like milieu, real or not, that exemplified the Asian atmosphere along with the rest of the story hit me like a hammer, with me, the teenager that I was, sucking up his version as my version and as my version, the real version. Ten years later, thanks to Uncle Sam and his friendly Selective Service, found me in Rangoon, Saigon, and Chiang Mai, as well as other such places, even meeting warlords. Those ten years after high school, especially in and where I traveled, having gone from a teenager to an almost mid-twenties GI, my vision not only didn't wane, but was bolstered and grew. Notice the tommy guns, stabbings, hand grenades and exotic women. So too in the second panel, i.e., lower left hand corner, the two crashed P-40 Flying Tigers.
(please click image)
(again, if you haven't done so please click image)
The biggest draw for me to Terry and the Pirates besides the milieu and perhaps being in love with the Dragon Lady, was that the characters were eventually drawn into the events surrounding the China-Burma-India theater during World War II --- and especially so Milton Caniff's use of U.S. Army Air Force Curtiss-Wright P-40's carrying markings similar to the Flying Tigers, as found, for example, in the following Terry and the Pirates story:
TERRY AND THE PIRATES
GHOST P-40: THE MOST RECENT ACCOUNT
"I had a reason to be in Chiang Mai. The person I went to see in the Thai restaurant was willing to help in exchange for me providing a service for him. He knew I was a longtime Asian travel hand, sometimes under rather scary or unscrupulous circumstances with a once upon a time uncanny ability to slip through places without raising undue concerns. He also knew I was a trusted commodity. After hearing his request, of which I thought was a little much of an overkill, to do his bidding I asked if when done, he would in turn do an additional small favor for me. Agreeing to do so, we shook hands and the deal was done."
AS FOUND IN THE MAIN TEXT ABOVE
That additional small favor had to do with me wanting to meet with the son of a man by the name of Khun Sa.
Khun Sa (1934-2007) was at one time a major Shan-state Burmese drug warlord whose primary physical area of operations was the infamous Southeast Asian Golden Triangle, but whose drug-lord-hand reached around the globe. His decades long illicit opium and heroin jungle empire reportedly supplied half of the heroin that entered the United States and a quarter of the rest of the world. His private army defied both the Thai and Burmese governments and the DEA and even though there was a two million dollar bounty on his head for a good portion of his adult life he was never brought to justice --- nor compromised by those close to him. To sum him up:
"(Khun Sa) set out from the hills of northern Shan state with a large contingent of soldiers and a massive 16-ton opium convoy, destined for Ban Khwan, a small Laotian lumber village across the Mekong River from Chiang Saen in Thailand. More traders joined his convoy, and by the time it reached the city of Kengtung in eastern Shan state, its single-file column of 500 men and 300 mules stretched along the ridge for more than a mile."
In Doing Hard Time In A Zen Monastery I write that my contact with Khun Sa came about in an unusual haphazard way. When I was in my early to mid-twenties, and primarily not of my own making, I ended up in the then wide-open drug infested rail-head city of Chiang Mai, located in the far northern reaches of Thailand. After a totally unplanned and inadvertent meeting between myself and a Buddhist monk in the city from China, the two of us left on foot traveling north high into the mountains through Laos, Burma, and on into the mountainous regions nobody knows who they belong to. After days and days of walking we ended up going our separate ways, he turning toward wherever he was going, me being left outside the gates of a remote, ancient, dilapidated Zen monastery --- a dilapidated monastery perched precariously high up on the side of some steep Chinese mountain situated somewhere along the southern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau.
Months passed. One morning in the fields outside the walls of the monastery, after having been what could be called nothing less than being kidnapped against my will at gunpoint by a group of heavily armed military irregulars, except for a bag I had with me was I allowed to have or get anything, I was lashed hands and feet to a two man over-the-shoulder pole and carried dangling lengthwise between my tied wrists and ankles toward the escarpment, then, once down, transported back to known civilization.
Along the way, before having reached any planned final destination by the group that more-or-less abducted me had in mind --- or at least known to me --- we holed up for the night in the compound of Khun Sa. Later that night a then unknown to me at the time second group interceded right under the eyes of the first group, taking me as far as the Mahasi Meditation Center located in what was once called Rangoon, Burma, now called Yangon, Myanmar in an attempt to hide me. It seems that being in Southeast Asia at this period of time in my life, as I have written as found in Meeting Warlords, Et Al, warlords were big for some reason, although none of them had any direct connection to my abduction that I ever became aware of. It is my belief however, that Khun Sa was instrumental in my successful escape, having taken a liking toward me for certain reasons, thus then allowing me to make it to the meditation center through him, that is Khun Sa, covertly providing vehicles, cover, and diversion.
It was because of my belief that Khun Sa was so strongly instrumental in my successful escape, covertly providing vehicles, cover, and diversion, that I had returned to Thailand seeking audience with his son --- for no other reason than to offer my thanks for his father's assist.
A few days after crossing into Mae Sai from Tachileik I was headed toward Chiang Mai and beyond. I stopped to see the man in the Thai restaurant telling him all was in order, that Wei Hsueh-kang sends his best and now I was on my way to see Khun Sa's son. With that he handed me an envelope and said as far as he knew all was in order with my part of it as well. The only thing in the envelope except a business card, was where I had to go, that being a place called Myawaddy located along the Moei River that delineates the border between Myanmar and Thailand on the western side of the country across from Mae Sot, about 150 miles south and somewhat west from Chiang Mai. On the back of the business card, as a sort of a letter of introduction, was some handwritten Asian script I couldn't read.
Not long after that I was at a huge casino called the Myawaddy Riverside Resort Complex on the Thai-Burma border meeting with Khun Sa's son. I asked if he had ever heard of the pilot I went to see in China a few days before. He said no, clarifying that I must remember he and his dad were never in the same business. Then I asked if either he or his father had ever experienced in any fashion a so-called Ghost Ship. He said neither he nor his dad, as far as he knew about it, had experienced personally such an aircraft. He did say however, in the past his dad's convoys had been attacked and strafed on at least two separate occasions by an unknown suddenly out-of-nowhere plane, leaving several men and mules either dead or wounded in its aftermath. Convoy bearers reported the plane as being a "Ghost Ship." Survivors and convoy members, mostly uneducated onetime backcountry farmers and such, not knowing a whole lot about airplanes on any formal level, when interrogated, to the man reported that the attack plane had NO cowling over the engine, i.e., a type of metal hood that covers reciprocating engines. Royal Lao Air Force (RLAF) planes, at the time, be they AT-6s or T-28s, all had cowling over their engines, the Ghost Ship didn't. Since the plane spewing bullets coming straight at them at such a low level was the last thing some of them thought they were ever going to see, even if they didn't know what cowling was or what it did, the plane being clearly built in another fashion was something permanently etched into their minds after they found they were still alive.
KHUN SA: THE SECOND WARLORD
NAM YU: CIA LIMA SITE 118-A