the Wanderling

A friend of mine was a couple of years into working his way through graduate school, basically supporting himself with a part-time job for a private mail delivery service. The job, following company guidelines, entailed picking up mail from the main postal annex near Los Angeles International Airport five days a week very, very early in the morning for contracted customers and delivering that mail long before it would ever get to its destination if done in the normal fashion.

Most of my friend's mail delivery route, which ran in a large general sawth from Century City on the south to Sunset Boulevard on the north and from the I-405 Freeway on the west to UCLA on the east, was comprised of large corporations, but some were smaller companies or even individuals. During the normal functioning of his job and who he delivered to, he continually ran into such people as then U.S. Representative Bob Dornan on a regular basis or, while delivering to the Bel-Air Country Club, celebrities like Dick Martin and Dan Rowan of the Laugh In comedy team Rowan and Martin, as well as to the private home of cowboy western author Louis L'Amour, seeing him almost daily.

He told me that one of the stops along his route, located on the eastern side of the northbound 405 Freeway not far from LAX, stuck in amongst a bunch of junky non-descript dirty industrial block buildings, was this huge porno studio he delivered to. Nobody really knew it was there and anybody that went in or out had to be buzzed through from the inside.

When he first started his job and they didn't know him they would barely let him through the front door, even though after entering, the "office" wasn't even really a real office, being not much more than a sham Motel 6 lobby or stage set. Now, he said, after a couple of years, most people pretty much know who he is, at least visually, giving him a much better run of the place, dragging mail sacks clear to the mailroom and back without question. They even offer him doughnuts in the morning. He told me he's seen things on the sets and in the little studio alcoves you would never believe, and since I've always had a penchant toward underbelly stuff he thought, if I was so interested, he would see how far he could get me into the place. He asked the woman at the front desk if I could come with him one day and she said she would have to check with her boss. The next day she said her boss cleared it if he, my mail route friend, could vouch for me. Just don't in come looking for work or bring any cameras. Oh yeah, and no drooling or pounding your pud. The day I was there, just as we were leaving, after the head man nodded an approval, the woman at the desk pulled two specially printed invitations in envelopes out of a drawer to some gig they were throwing in a couple of weeks and handed them to us, asking not to give them to anybody else or bring anybody else. Two weeks later, travelling together, my buddy and I dutifully showed up. Caligula would have cringed.

While travelling with my buddy on his job that day, some distance into the route from the porno place, we pulled into a loop-around road off the primary road that led to the main entrance of the Bel-Air Country Club. Getting out of the van I noticed, parked facing the wrong way on the other side of the loop, with the drivers side along the curb, and the only car along the loop, a rather sleek looking low-slung car known as an Excalibur. When we returned to leave there were several people standing around in front of the Excalibur looking at the right front fender, which was visibly damaged. As we were getting into the van a man standing with the group, a Bel-Air security type in a sports jacket and a name tag identifying him as such, waved us over asking if we had noticed the car when we arrived. My buddy and I both acknowledged noticing the vehicle, but neither of us recalled seeing any damage.

As we were walking toward the security guy the police arrived. Two amongst the group already there were Dan Rowan and Dick Martin of the Rowan and Martin comedy team. Seems the Excalibur was connected to Dick Martin in some fashion either owning it or having been driving it. The cops, after finding out who was who out of everybody there, divided us into several sub-groups. I ended up with Dan Rowan. As we were standing together, using a little known at the time bit of information I picked up around someplace, that he flew a P-40 Warhawk in the South Pacific, I asked, "I heard you flew P-40s during the war?" He answered with a very polite, quite surprised and friendly, "Why yes, as a matter of fact I did." No sooner had I opened my mouth than a Bel-Air security guy stepped between us asking, "Is this (ugh) MAN bothering you Mr. Rowan?" Looking at me over the security guy's shoulder by leaning slightly to the side, Rowan asked, the riff-raff looking guy that I was, "You aren't one of those crazy P-40 nut-jobs are you?" I told him I liked P-40s, but loved Flying Tigers. He responded by saying, "Me too!" With that, in the short time we had, stepping around the security guard, Rowan shared a great deal of his P-40 adventures.

First, at the very beginning of our conversation Rowan prefaced what he told me by saying that most of what has been said or written about him, although it might sound like a big deal to some, if he wasn't Dan Rowan, what he had done was not unlike thousands of other lesser known and otherwise unsung heroes had done, and most likely maybe even better.

Secondly, while Rowan and I were talking, it really wasn't much more than a casual BS session. I wasn't taking notes, interviewing or interrogating him, or filing anything away at the time meant for posterity. Again, like I say, we were just BSing. So too, with a couple of possible exceptions that included one major one, up to that point in time I hadn't specifically met or talked to anyone who had flown P-40s in the war. In high school I had a woodshop teacher that had been a fighter pilot during the war and he used to regale us with war stories on occasion. In that he had been in the war from the very inception and flew a variety of fighters, most likely P-40s had been among his inventory. For the record, rather than being an officer, the woodshop teacher was one of those rare non-commissioned officer sergeant pilots.

A couple of years after high school I went to Nassau Speed Week in the Bahamas riding in the cab on the shotgun side of John Edgar's race car transporter driven by the master Ferrari and Maserati mechanic Joe Landaker, whose number one team driver was Carroll Shelby. Before we left Florida for the Bahamas I met Smokey Yunick, also a master mechanic and one time pilot said to have flown with the Tigers, albeit for the 14th Air Force Flying Tigers that replaced the A.V.G. --- so most likely he flew P-51s and not P-40s. A couple years later I met Col. Harvey Greenlaw, the second in command of the Flying Tigers, at his place in Baja Mexico, staying a couple of nights. Although he was long on stories, he had not flown P-40s while second in command. Matter of fact, he wasn't even a pilot. His wife, by the way, during his time with the A.V.G., was the infamous Olga Greenlaw who wrote the definitive book on the Flying Tigers, The Lady and The Tigers. As for the one major exception to the couple of possible exceptions I mentioned above, that exception was, by the way, an actual real life Flying Tiger pilot by the name of William McGarry.[1]

There are two aspects to the Dan Rowan P-40 fighter pilot story. One, what he told me, and two, what I have researched to substantiate, back up or challenge what I was told. Research reveals his military decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Medal, and a Purple Heart. On September 21, 1943 he was credited with shooting down two Ki-43 Oscars near Madang over the Cromwell Mountains, Ki-43s being a sort of Imperial Japanese Army land-based version of the Japanese Navy's Zero.(see)

Rowan told me depending on where you were flying out of it was either a lot of rain or none at all, slogging through the mud or days of high heat, sun, dust, and humidity. Up in the morning, taking off strafing barges, installations, mortar and troop implacements, engaging enemy aircraft and flying back home. The next day, weather permitting, the same thing. On one of those routine runs he got into a confrontation with several enemy planes and of which he was credited with two kills, although he was sure he took out three that day. One month later, actually on October 24, 1943, Rowan left Tsili Tsili Airfield, again more-or-less on a routine strafing mission of barges south of Madang. Coming in low over the target on a second or third pass in the same general area his plane was hit by ground fire, the engine began losing oil pressure. Noticeably disabled he quickly picked up at least three Japanese fighters on his tail. Not being able to engage them on any kind of an equal basis let alone three to one, he decided to evade them by flying through a narrow gap along a mountain ridge causing the pursuing planes to pull up after one of their group slammed into the the mountains. Attempting to reduce the possibility of attracting any more fighters, staying low Rowan arced around hoping to reach Tsili-Tsilli in order to keep both himself and his aircraft intact. Without oil pressure or the oil needed the engine seized basically loosing most operational control of the aircraft. He decided to set down best he could wheels up on a sandbar that turned out to be part of the Waffa River, a subsidiary of the much larger Markham River about 50 miles northwest of Lae, albeit still in enemy territory.

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Several weeks before, a buddy in the same squadron, 1st Lt. Joel D. Thorvaldson, on an interception mission against Japanese fighters was shot up in a dogfight. The engine of his P-40 began to malfunction eventually catching fire. He nursed his plane to a point he had to make a forced landing somewhere on a sandbar along the Waffa River after which he was able to leave the plane basically unhurt. Rowan figured he could do the same thing. Picking out a river and sandbar he began touching down wheels up. Part way along the sandbar his plane hit something partially obscured by the sand, possibly a croc or a log, but too late to do anything about it. The next thing he knew his plane, known as Miss Kathleen II, or more officially Curtiss Wright P-40N 42-104949, was cartwheeling, ending up upside down partly along the sandbar's edge and the heavy brush along the offside of the river. A couple of days later a rescue crew spotted him and took him back to base.

Reports vary about the extent of Rowan's injuries, from just a sprained back to other reports saying it was so severely sprained he couldn't move, with others stating his back was actually broken. Whatever it was Rowan said they taped him up with splints and stuff and took him down to the flight line. However, he told me "his back was so fucked up could barely move let alone climb into a cockpit" --- although he tried. They decided to wait a few days, then a few more days. Eventually he was sent back to the states and he never flew a P-40 again. As far as he knew Miss Kathleen II was still upside down along the river bank. He said back in the states and out of the service, when he was done with the war he was done with the war. He never really discussed any of it much or associate with or look up old buddies. Nor did he join or belong to any groups or clubs or attend any reunions or that type thing. He said he may have been a hero to close friends and family, but being a fighter pilot with at least two kills didn't quite fit the comedian image.

The above notwithstanding, regarding any flying abilities, military records, what his family thought, or awards he may or may not of had, with no instigation on his part, Rowan did have a huge verbal confrontation or run-in one day with Col. Greg Boyington, the flamboyant former Flying Tiger and ex-Marine fighter pilot come flying Ace. Somewhere along the edges of the Hollywood celebrity environs, however big or little, Boyington had heard inferences that Rowan claimed to have been a fighter pilot for the Black Sheep Squadron during World War II. If Rowan claimed it, mentioned it in passing, or if he was asked didn't matter to Boyington because Rowan having been with the Black Sheep Squadron had become enough of the popular lexicon that he, Boyington, not thinking Rowen was good enough, the comedian that he was, wanted to straighten it out --- with fists if necessary.

It was never resolved to Boyington's satisfaction even though Rowan had right on his side. Rowan DID fly for the Black Sheep Squadron. Rowan was a pilot with the 5th Air Force, 49th Fighter Group, 8th Fighter Squadron. The 8th Fighter Squadron was known as the Black Sheep Squadron and known as such well before Boyington's VMF-214 squadron adopted the nickname around mid-August 1943. If Boyington had known his history he may not have been so touchy.

Starting in 1942 through 1944 the 7th Fighter Squadron began receiving P-47s, in turn bumping some of the P-40s. In 1943 through 1944, P-38s started showing up. On January, 15 1943, the 9th Fighter Squadron began being equipped with P-38s, again bumping the P-40s. The 8th continued to be overlooked for any of the new, updated aircraft during the whole period. Matter of fact they were on the receiving end of most of the bumped P-40s. Because of that, being overlooked, they began calling themselves the Black Sheep of the 49th. Eventually the name stuck, again months before the mid-August 1943 date Boyington's VMF-214 squadron adopted the nickname. Matter of fact as late as January 5, 1943 Boyington was still in San Diego with 19 other pilots waiting for "duty beyond the seas." When he did finally make it as far as Guadalcanal in April of 1943 he still hadn't seen any combat action. By then, the 7th, 8th, and 9th Fighter Squadrons had been fighting the Japanese all over the Papua New Guinea area for a long time --- with Rowan right along with them.[2]

Although I never met Boyington myself, for me it was almost like I had. My Stepmother knew him fairly well and what she told me about their interactions and conversations, it was as though I had sat in on all the conversations with her.

Early in the year 1946 a Los Angeles police officer had been shot and killed on the streets of Chinatown during a gambling raid. When the news of the officer's death eventually filtered down to my stepmother, for reasons not known to me even to this day, she somehow felt responsible for ensuring his widow or the woman he was closely associated with and her young son were properly cared for.

Sometime in early 1947, after hearing through the grapevine of my stepmother's concerns and actions relative to her assisting those of the slain officer gunned down in the back alley streets of Chinatown the year before, another L.A. police officer who prior to the war had been a sergeant, but upon his return following the war had been promoted to the rank of lieutenant, outside the chain of command, contacted her.

The lieutenant was Frank Walton. Walton, as a LAPD sergeant before the war, either had contact with or knew my stepmother in some fashion or knew the slain police officer or both. He had served with Boyington in the Pacific during World War II. The two of them were collaborating on a book regarding their wartime ventures and in the process, Boyington, experiencing hard times, had, along with his new wife, moved into a spare bedroom in Walton's house. Boyington, said to be on a bond tour, was basically an outpatient on medical leave for injuries incurred while facing a soon to be given discharge (August 1, 1947). According to Walton, night after night at all hours Boyington returned home with his wife drunk, yelling, arguing, and raising a ruckus, antics that were more than beginning to take a toll on everybody and everything, including getting any work done on the book.

Not knowing if my stepmother's motives in helping those of the slain LAPD officer was altruistic or not and not wanting to know, BUT knowing she had connections all over the city at all levels, including the ownership of a number of houses for a number of reasons, he approached her on an unofficial level to see if, on the sly, she might have something she could put a down-on-his-luck war hero into. Intuitively, thinking the young police lieutenant seemed to have what it took to be on his way up in the force and could possibly use his services one day, she said she would see what she could do. A few days later a courier handed two envelopes to Walton, each containing a key, each envelope clearly marked with an address in the San Fernando Valley, Burbank area, with a note telling Walton the rest was up to him.

Several days later my stepmother, who really didn't know one way or the other what she had or didn't have, others taking care of such things, went by both addresses to see what, if anything was going on, finding each of the houses empty. She had only just gone into the second house to look around when, unbeknownst to her, Boyington parked outside. My stepmother's bodyguard (also her driver), seeing Boyington coming toward the house after suspiciously looking around and not knowing who he was or why he was there, stepped behind him as soon as he entered the door sticking the barrel of his fully loaded .45 automatic in the small of Boyington's back. When Boyington explained who he was and why he was there everything was soon resolved. My stepmother sent her bodyguard to get a few cold beers, of which then she and Boyington spent a good part of the rest of the afternoon sitting around on a couple of empty boxes in an otherwise vacant house talking and drinking until it got dark.(see)

Because of the nature of my stepmother's business, whatever that may have been, she traveled in a number of exotic circles, both up and down the scales of society. When I was less that ten years old, one day I was with her I met a friend of hers who in later years I would learn was a very influential member of the mob. A little more than ten years after that meeting, just as I turned 21 and going to Las Vegas on my own for the first time, she asked me to look up the same man, of which I did. In turn, because of a request by my stepmother, who had over the years fallen on hard times, was helped by the man. On a second trip to Vegas a short time later I sought out the same man to thank him for his most gracious help afforded my stepmother --- actually she long since having become my ex-stepmother by then. Seeking the man out, arrangements were made through a mutual party for me to meet him in a back room behind the gift shop in the New Frontier Hotel.

When our meeting was over, just as I was leaving a very good looking well dressed clean shaven man was entering, with the two of us having to circle out of each others way as he was going in, neither of us realizing the other was there at first. As we passed in the narrow space of the doorway we made very strong close eye contact and even though I felt I should know him I didn't ... nor did I recognize him. Ten years later I was to meet the same man again under much different circumstances and although I didn't recognize him, after some time together he remembered me. The man was Dan Rowan. While the two of us were at the Bel-Air Country Club talking about his P-40 piloting days it dawned on him we had met before, both how, when and where. When he did, that was the end of it, our conversation was over.

It seems those ten years before or so Rowan had developed what was said to have become a mutual infatuation between himself and Phyllis McGuire of the McGuire Sisters, headliners in Vegas at the same time Rowan and Martin were headliners there. It also seems at the very same time a major heavyweight mover in the mob, Chicago boss Sam Giancana, had also developed an interest in McGuire. Rowan was told in so many words to put a lot of distance between himself and her, otherwise there would be consequences. If Rowan going into the room behind the gift shop was related to any of that I don't know, but the man both he and I saw that night was Johnny Roselli, the mob's main contact and leading figure in Vegas as well as Giancana's right hand man.


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The graphic below depicts four aircraft flown or crewed by celebrities. The first by actor Jimmy Stewart, the second by actor as crew member Clark Gable, the third by comedian Dan Rowan, and the fourth by the baseball great Ted Williams. Of interest to us here is the P-40 "Miss Kathleen II" flown by Rowan. Notice that all of the airmen listed as "celebrities," except for Rowan, were famous prior to their induction or joining the military. Rowan did not gain any level of fame until well AFTER his discharge. Basically what that means is Rowan was not afforded any special treatment going through basic or flight training like a high profile or famous celebrity might. That is to say, in the Army, although he was an officer and pilot, his whole time in the service was done as nothing more than a typical common run-in-the-mill faceless cypher just like everybody else.


B-24H-1 "Nine Yanks and a Jerk" - 703rd BS, 445th BG, Eighth AF - Flown by Jimmy Stewart.

B-17F-30 "Delta Rebel No. 2" - 323rd BS, 91st BG, Eighth AF. Clark Gable flew in this aircraft as a waist gunner.

P-40N "Miss Kathleen II" - 8th FS, 49th FG, New Guinea, September 1943 - flown by Dan Rowan. He was shot down in this aircraft.

F9F-5 Panther - VMF-311, Korea February 1953 - flown by Ted Williams. He was flying this airplane when hit by ground fire.

For the record I never learned who Miss Kathleen was, if anybody, in real life to Rowan, nor for that fact, what happened to or if there ever was a Miss Kathleen I. To my knowledge, or at least as far as I can remember, when Rowan and I were talking I don't recall the name of his plane coming up.

Last but not necessarily least, there is a continuing string of rumors to the effect that Dan Rowan was a major participant, if not THE major participant, in a little event that has come to be known as "The Battle of the Zamboogie Theater." It seems a USO contingent showed up in Papua New Guinea to entertain members of the 7th, 8th, and 9th fighter squadrons. In the process members of the 9th were said to have gotten a female USO entertainer excessively over inebriated, having done so to such a point that when she started her act she began taking off more and more pieces of her clothes. When she got down to the very last two remaining pieces it is said Rowan jumped up on stage with all intents it is supposed, to assist in a quicker removal or even more. A near riot broke out with GIs jumping all over the place and the female USO entertainer "barely escaping in one piece --- on."

The Battle of the Zamboogie Theater may have transpired in real life, but Rowan's participation in it is something else. For one thing research shows the dates are all wrong. So said, any of you who may be interested in learning more, a clarification of Rowan's participation or non-participation can be found at the Zamboogie link below.










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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.

Footnote [1]

I don't want to get a whole lot into the story of the Flying Tiger pilot William McGarry (1916-1990) right now for wont of deflecting away from my main thesis here on Dan Rowan. Briefly though, and without trying to create a comparison between the two as pilots, I met McGarry during a sand storm one day at a gas station outside a quickie mart in Coachella Valley sometime in the early 1980s while returning from a trip exploring around the Anza-Borrego Desert near Agua Caliente Springs in California. I had become privy to what I thought was some possibly relevant information regarding the so-called Lost Viking Ship that at the time I felt was information well worth pursuing. Although the information turned out to be a false lead and quite bogus, the fact that I went to the Anza-Borrego in the first place ended up being quite a little goldmine for me personally in that I happened across McGarry. I mean what could be better, lost Viking ships in the desert and P-40s.

The two of us arranged to meet the next day and did so starting early in the afternoon, talking way into the evening and night at the La Quinta Resort located sort of half way between the Anza-Borrego Desert and where he lived. It was there he went over with me much of his life as a Flying Tiger, like being shot down over Chiang Mai and after being captured, being held prisoner for nearly three years, escaping in a coffin, that sort of thing --- most of which can be found by going to my Phyllis Davis page.

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Footnote [2]

American soldiers and natives unloading one of the infamous Black Cat flying boats, a PBY-5 Catalina of the 11th Squadron patrol (VP-11) US Navy, on the River Sepik, Papua New Guinea, circa 1943, the same time Rowan was there.

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A few years after graduating from high school but before being drafted, a buddy and I went on road trip throughout Mexico. We bought a 1951 Chevy panel truck we fixed up like a camper and drove down the Baja peninsula crossing by ferry to the mainland from Santa Rosalia, eventually going as far as the Yucatan before turning back toward the states. During the trip, which is fully outlined at the link cited after the quote below, I sought out Colonel Greenlaw who was living in Baja Mexico at the time. Even though where he lived was a rather remote area, it was fairly convenient because our route took us almost right past his place. A little detour and we were there. To wit:

"After leaving Ensenada we continued south on some pretty crummy roads eventually turning eastward across the peninsula to the little town of Santa Rosalia, taking a ferry across the Sea of Cortez to Guaymas. On the road south just before it turns more eastward across the peninsula to Santa Rosalia we turned on Highway 18 not far from Guerrero Negro as I wanted to catch up with a man I hoped to meet who was said to live at a place called El Arco. The man was Colonel Harvey Greenlaw, the onetime second in command of the infamous Flying Tigers of World War II fame. I had read his wife's book Lady and the Tigers (1943) and heard somewhere along the way that Greenlaw lived there. Since I was close by and most likely would never be back I made it a point to look him up, spending a couple of days."


The same paragraph as the one above shows up as a footnote in Of Cobras, Scarabs, Maseratis, and Zen except I make reference to some of the conversation between Greenlaw and myself.(see)

Two years later I was working as crew on the marlin boat come yacht of the multi-millionaire heir to the Halliburton oil fortune, David J. Halliburton Sr. On the way back from Cabo San Lucas I talked the skipper into pulling into Scammon's Lagoon not far from Guerrero Negro for a quick dirt bike trip over to Greenlaw's place in El Arco. However, except for a housekeeper who didn't know where he was and didn't know when he would be back, the place was empty, my trip to see him too no avail.

Greenlaw, who was born November 14, 1897 in Wisconsin, died January 10, 1982 in Baja California, Mexico after residing in Baja for almost all of his post Flying Tigers life. See:


Regarding the police officer who was slain, the following, in my own words, is an extrapolation of events recalled to the best of my ability some years after the fact after having been initially researched from official sources:

The policeman killed in the line of duty during the 1946 Chinatown gambling raid was assisting members of the Los Angeles Police Department's Vice Squad. As the primary contingent of the Vice Squad rushed the front of the building, the policeman, as assigned, had positioned himself along with several other officers toward the rear of the building in order to assist in stopping or apprehending any fleeing suspects. A gun battle erupted between those on the inside and those on the outside when one or more of the men providing security for the illicit gambling discovered any potential escape route through the back had been blocked. The gunmen on the inside fired a significant number of rounds through the rear entrance just as officers entered. A random slug from the volley unleashed by the assailants struck the policeman in the abdomen puncturing his kidney, the officer dying in the hospital from his wound the following day.

Witnesses as well as ballistics connected a specific gun to one of the shooters, the gunman being convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to one to 10 years.

All these years later, for whatever reason, every time I see or think of the 1962 movie Walk On The Wild Side with the immaculately dressed actor Richard Rust playing the role of the velvet gloved enforcer Oliver I can't help but being reminded of my stepmother's bodyguard. Clicking the graphic below will take you to a short film segment of a Turner Classic Movie video from Walk On The Wild Side that at the one minute and thirty second mark shows what and how Oliver subsequently fulfills his expected duties:

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