Congo Bill was a 1940s comic book hero pretty much in the same mold as Jungle Jim. How is it he came to be a pilot with the Flying Tigers? The plot line for his story and how it all came about, like several 1940s comic book heroes, especially aviator types, goes back to World War I.
Congo Bill, Captain Midnight, Buck Rogers, and as well my Mentor, were all pilots during World War I. The first three of course, were fictional, being either comic book/comic strip, movie-serial, and/or radio personalities --- or a combination of such. All four were born in that 1898-1899 bracket, making them just about at the lower level in age to have been able to serve in the military during the 1914-1918 period of the war, but still viable enough to have been a credible particpant in the Second World War, especially action hero aviator types. All four, besides being about the same age, were also all Americans and loved flying. They went to Europe as not much more than kids to fight way before the U.S. got around to entering the war. However, the differences between the first three and my mentor were, one, he was real, not fictional; and two, at age 40 or so he didn't go off doing all kinds of major heroic deeds during World War II --- or, as in Buck Roger's case, the far future. Also, where the exploits of the first three were presented on a regular weekly or monthly basis in comic books and films, any adventures my mentor may have had were pretty much reserved to the pages of a best selling book written by the highly acclaimed British playwright and author W. Somerset Maugham.
It is acknowledged that Buck Rogers was in the air service during World War I. Although they didn't go on-and-on about it, the artist that drew the original strip, Richard Calkins, under the direction of the strip's creator Philip Francis Nowlan, depicted Rogers early on as wearing an aviators helmet and goggles and clearly shown with a World War I bi-plane painted with the markings of a combat fighter.
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Captain Midnight as written, was a pilot in World War I flying for the French under the branching umbrella of the Lafayette Flying Corps, typically flying a French built Nieuport 17. Midnight's time in the air was spent basically flying unescorted, often unarmed and alone, participating in dangerous low and high level observations, scouting, and photo reconnaissance. Cumulatively his abilities eventually morphed, because of his extraordinary flying skills and knowledge of the lay of the land, especially behind the lines, into solo secret missions.
Where the flying background of Midnight and Rogers is built into the ongoing theme of who they were so they could participate in and do what they did in their escapades, much less is known about Congo Bill's World War I flying background. Other than what is found in the September 1940 issue of More Fun Comics Volume 1, #59, in a story published 15 months before the outbreak of World War II titled "Gloria Desmond's Quest," where Congo Bill says --- in one single panel out of the whole story with no additional back-up by the way --- "I flew in the World War...of course those crates were kites compared to this," the World War meaning of course WWI, not much else is known.
In a sense my Mentor was much like the other three. He had crossed into Canada at age 16, fudged about his age, and joined the Royal Flying Corps flying for the British long before the U.S. entered the war. He was a front line fighter pilot, nearly always flew in multiple plane squadron-like groups, usually in a Sopwith Camel, and was wounded twice. However, parallels notwithstanding, unlike my mentor who remained within the ranks of the Royal Flying Corps when the U.S. entered the war, Midnight and Rogers like a large portion of American flyers, shifted to the American forces, being commissioned officers in the U.S. Army and receiving, at least in Midnight's case, the rank of Captain.
Interestingly enough, although Congo Bill is almost a direct duplicate of Jungle Jim, Congo Bill operated out of Africa, hence "Congo" in his name, while Jungle Jim's jungle was Southeast Asia. The thing is, the Flying Tigers operated exclusively in the China-Burma sphere, more-or-less Jungle Jim territory. It should be noted in the Jungle Jim Johnny Weissmuller movies, Weissmuller was so well established in the African jungle because of his multi-year Tarzan role, the producers of the films set the series in Africa, in turn blurring the whole issue for many.
CONGO BILL IS A CRACK SHOT. EVEN IN THE DARK HE THINKS HE MAY HAVE WINGED HIM
THE NEXT MORNING BILL RUNS INTO SHORTY ON THE FLIGHT LINE
Probably as most of you have figured out by now Congo Bill is a work of fiction. The Flying Tigers, on the other hand, were real. It wouldn't have been easy for a person, even of Congo Bill's presumed reputation, to just walk up and "join" the Flying Tigers. A certain set of criteria had to be met, criteria that most likely would have blocked Congo Bill if not totally eliminated him from consideration.
The original aircraft-based military unit that was formed and eventually became known as the Flying Tigers stemmed from an organization called the American Volunteer Group, or the A.V.G., given the name "Flying Tigers" basically by and through the press somewhat after the fact. The A.V.G. wasn't an American military machine at all, but actually part of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Chinese Air Force, put into place to counteract the Japanese invasion of China after the Japanese had all but decimated the Chinese Air Force. American air-veteran Gen. Claire L. Chennault was hand-picked by Chiang Kai-shek to reconstitute what was left of his air force. To do so Chennault needed pilots and planes to intercept and stop the Japanese heavy bombers that were devastating the whole of the country as well as eliminate their fighter escorts. Chennault was able to put his hands on nearly 100 brand new Curtiss Wright P-40s said to still be in crates redirected to China that had been designated for use by some other country and some other purpose. The thing is, once he had the planes he didn't have anybody capable or able to fly them.
A program was designed and put into place to hire experienced and trained American pilots, preferably on current active military duty, ensuring a certain already established set of standards in quality as well as falling within a certain age-group bracket and being physically fit. It was arranged so Army Air Force, Navy and Marine pilots could resign their commissions and after being hired by their employer of record, the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO), a company that was initially established to teach the Chinese how to build airplanes, become members of the A.V.G. So too, when their contract was over they could return to their previous military positions without any adverse affect on their rank or stature.
For the record, or off the record as the case may be, there was a full-bird U.S. Army Air Force Colonel, Robert L. Scott, Jr. that flew C-47 transports over the hump that had befriended Chennault by flying him in cartons of Camel cigarettes on his flights. Scott had convinced Chennault to loan him a P-40 so he could, after arrival in his C-47, turn around and use the P-40 to provide cover escort for other incoming C-47s. According the legend surrounding Scott the following transpired:
"When he wasn't escorting the transports, the P-40 was his to do with as he pleased. On his own, Scott began a one-man war against the Japanese on the Burma Road. He even had the propeller spinner on his Tomahawk, which he named "Old Exterminator," painted a different color each day so the Japanese would think that a whole squadron of planes was strafing them. On some days he flew as many as five missions. When he could, Bob Scott also flew combat missions as a wingman with the Flying Tigers."
CLAIRE CHENNAULT AND HIS FLYING TIGERS
On July 4, 1942, the A.V.G. contract with the Chinese government was over and most of the original Flying Tigers contingent departed for less blood red and more greener pastures. Chennault returned to the USAAF and requested Scott to take command of the 23rd Fighter Group, which in a slight slight of hand, in effect replaced the original Flying Tigers. Scott, who had grow fond of the specific P-40 Chennault had loaned him, was determined to keep it. Technically it was owned by the Chinese government. Scott solved the problem by taking a newly arrived P-40 and swapping out the tail numbers with his, continuing to fly his original until it got so shot up during a mission it was beyond repair, eventually ending up being used for spare parts.(see)
On July 31, 1942 on a sortie over Leiyang flying with the newly constituted 23rd Fighter Group Scott got his first air-to-air combat kills by taking out both a Japanese bomber and a Ki-43 Oscar army fighter. Less than two months later he realized his childhood dream of becoming an ace when he downed his fifth plane, a Ki-45 Nick at Gia Lam Airport in the air over Hanoi on September 25, 1942. It wasn't long after that he was sent back to the states, albeit by then with over 13 accredited kills in his pockets.
GHOST P-40: LORE, LEGENDS AND HER WHEREABOUTS
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While people like Chennault and his men were waging real life battles against the Japanese in their far-flung air war over China and Burma, facing nothing but superior odds with their P-40 Flying Tigers, and Gen. Joseph Stilwell was doing the best he could in the malaria ridden jungles of Southeast Asia with his outnumbered and ill-equipped ground troops against the more powerfully equipped Japanese forces, others back at home in the United States in a groundswell of patriotism, were urging them ever onward with what little they had. Meanwhile America's war machine was ever increasingly gearing-up, expanding with bottom-line assurances of being delivered expediently and in full strength.
Part of that groundswell of patriotism was being driven at the bottom by other than battlefield combatants, regular people, as well as movie, radio, and comic book heroes all trying to shine a light of hope during an otherwise dismal time. I've cited many examples in my works of the era, and although totally minor in the overall scheme of things, added together they breathed hope with small drip-by-drips into the hearts and minds and souls of many of those at home and abroad. The illustrated contents of this page done in comic book style you are reading right now is just one example of those attempts by people on the home front trying to buoy the spirits of an America caught in tough times. There were of course, many hundreds that could be cited, but two of which I've chosen to exemplify find the heroes, both females, switched from their usual habitat in Europe fighting Germans to fighting Japanese in Asia, more specifically connecting up with the Flying Tigers in the air war over Burma and China. They would be the red haired firebrand and spy Jane Martin, War Nurse and the more demure, albeit female airborne commando, Pat Parker, War Nurse.
JANE MARTIN: WAR NURSE
MEETS THE FLYING TIGERS
PAT PARKER: WAR NURSE
IN BURMA WITH THE A.V.G.
TAKING OUT THE FIRST MEATBALL
KENNETH M. TAYLOR, PEARL HARBOR, AND THE P-40
FEI WEING: BIRTH OF THE FLYING TIGERS
THE FLYING TIGERS
THE BOY IN THE MAN REMEMBERS THE LEGEND
THE WANDERLING: OF OLGA GREENLAW, FIREHAIR, AND
A BUNCH OF OTHER EARLY INFATUATION EXPERIENCES!
THE BATMAN AND LEONARDO DA VINCI, BATMAN COMICS, APRIL-MAY 1948 ISSUE #46
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SO, DID THE WANDERLING FLY?
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.
In high school I worked part time in a small mom and pop restaurant called Fred and Liz's. Fred had been a cook in the Navy during World War II. Somewhere along the way he met and married a woman from India that he and everybody called Liz. One day a movie and television actor by the name of Norman (sometimes Dean) Fredericks stopped by the restaurant. Fredericks played the role of the Hindu manservant Kaseem in the then running TV series Jungle Jim. Even though Fredericks was not of Indian descent, Liz fawned all over him.
THE HINDU MANSERVANT KASEEM
Later, although I couldn't remember one thing about being in India, but thinking it might help me score points with the boss's wife, I told Liz, unlike the actor, I had been there. When she questioned me as to where, dredging up the only thing I could think of, told to me by a man who had remembered seeing me traveling by train in India, I told her about trains. I only recalled the train punch-line because as a kid, not only did I own a huge table top Lionel electric train set, but I also rode in the cab of a 6000 horsepower 4-8-8-2 Cab Forward. I was also caught up in and survived without a scratch the derailment of the Santa Fe Chief #3774 which killed four and injured 126, all of which sparked a general interest in learning about trains --- was "meter gauge railroad." When I told her about meter gauge railroads I got nothing but a blank stare as it meant nothing to Liz, India-wise, or me either at the time, only becoming a viable matter of discourse years later. See:
THE LAST AMERICAN DARSHAN
SOPWITH CAMEL AS FLOWN BY MY MENTOR IN WORLD WAR I
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Any adventures my mentor may have had were pretty much reserved to the pages of a best selling book written by the highly acclaimed British playwright and author William Somerset Maugham. That best selling book was:
THE RAZOR'S EDGE
THE BEST OF THE MAUGHAM BIOGRAPHIES:
SPIRITUAL GUIDES, GURUS, AND TEACHERS INFLUENTIAL IN THE RAZOR'S EDGE:
CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT RADIO PREMIUMS: 1938 - 1949
Although my mentor was a pilot in World War I he never rose to the level and fame either during or after the war as such figures as Captain Midnight, Buck Rogers, or Congo Bill. He was a pilot nonetheless, fought bravely and wounded twice. Below is what Maugham wrote about him:
"The man I am writing about is not famous. It may be that he never will be. It may be that when his life at last comes to an end he will leave no more trace of his sojourn on earth than a stone thrown into a river leaves on the surface of the water. But it may be that the way of life that he has chosen for himself and the peculiar strength and sweetness of his character may have an ever-growing influence over his fellow men so that, long after his death perhaps, it may be realized that there lived in this age a very remarkable creature."
W. Somerset Maugham, THE RAZOR'S EDGE
The type plane he flew is not mentioned in the book by Maugham, but it was known to be a Sopwith Camel.(source). Maugham himself had seen the war and the war's carnage not from the air but at field level because, like Ernest Hemingway and other writers and authors of the time, he was a former volunteer ambulance driver, one of the so-called Literary Ambulance Drivers of the day. The following is how Maugham presents what happened as he listens to my mentor tell his story:
"The day we were to go on leave (to Paris) we were sent up to fly over the enemy lines and bring back reports of what we saw. Suddenly we came bang up against some German planes, and before we knew where we were we were in the middle of a dogfight. One of them came after me, but I got in first. I took a look to see if he was going to crash and then out of the corner of my eye I saw another plane on my tail. I dived to get away from him, but he was on to me like a flash and I thought I was done for; then I saw Patsy come down on him like a streak of lightning and give him all he'd got. They'd had enough and sheered off and we made for home. My machine had got pretty well knocked about and I only just made it. Patsy got in before me. When I got out of my plane they'd just got him out of his. He was lying on the ground and they were waiting for the ambulance to come up. When he saw me he grinned."
"I got the blighter who was on your tail," he said.
"What's the matter, Patsy?" I asked.
"Oh, it's nothing. He winged me."
"He was looking deathly white. Suddenly a strange look came over his face. It had just come to him that he was dying, and the possibility of death had never so much as crossed his mind. Before they could stop him he sat up and gave a laugh."
"Well I'm jiggered," he said.
"He fell back dead. He was twenty-two. He was going to marry a girl in Ireland after the war.