the Wanderling

"In the early years when my dad and stepmother first got married she was quite wealthy. In her new found motherhood role, she noticed my younger brother and myself, along with a bunch of other neighborhood kids, spent an inordinate amount of time 'playing cowboys' --- with cowboy hats, cap-guns, holsters, boots, etc., and in doing so we often ended up in the street. Using her logic, she thought, what could be better than having their own real ranch to play on, especially so, not in the street. So that's what she did, she bought a ranch. A whole section of land in size, that is, one square mile, with twenty acres set aside on one corner for the ranch house, barn, horse corrals, you name it. Then off we went to ride real horses and shoot real guns, but not so much at each other."


Growing up as I did as a young boy in the milieu of World War II, besides playing Cowboys and Indians on a regular basis all the time, the war was big for me as well. So said, I spent an equally amount of time playing army, and in doing so, not long after the war I was just as well equipped, if not more so, than any American infantryman ever was. Not only did Army surplus stores spring up all over almost overnight, comic book after comic book had one full page after the other promoting all kinds of wild offers, almost all for practically nothing. Using one or the other or both sources I bought or got my hands on every imaginable piece of infantry garb and military gear I could get my hands on, including steel helmets, pistol belts, hand held signaling mirrors, and even lace-up leggings like they used to wear in the Pacific back when the war first broke out. Between all those outdoor activities and just searching for ads if nothing else, I read comic books, lots and lots of comic books.[1]

There was one specific comic book that showed up late in the war that carried a series of stories that combined almost all of my fantasies, Cowboys, Indians, the military and P-40 fighters --- all lumped together around one central character, Tommy Tomahawk.

Tommy Tomahawk, as written, was a college educated Native American fighter pilot who led a highly rough and tumble group of other Native American pilots a la Greg Boyington's Black Sheep squadron, who, using Army Air Corps marked P-40 Tomahawks, albeit painted in the colors of the Flying Tigers, battled furiously in the Pacific Theater and/or southeast Asia against the Japanese onslaught during World War II. As an example of their rough and tumbleness, in the panel below, the apparent CO of the squadron is in the U.S. Army Corps general headquarters in Washington D.C. and is being reprimanded because of the outfit's flouting of rules and non-military like behavior. Notice the use of Flying Tiger looking P-40s:

As you can see in the first page of the story below, when the squadron returns from a mission against the Japanese they are wearing warrior-like war paint and feathers not unlike as seen in the above panel. However, without any reference, comments, or cause for change other than what is found in the above, even before they leave for their next mission, while sitting around drinking coffee the squadron members are all dressed in what appears to be more-or-less olive drab Sheep Dipped fatigues. After that, in most of the stories that follow they continued to wear similar garb, with no insignias, markings, or rank.

Although my early life introductions to Native Americans may have been through what I learned in school about the Pilgrims at Thanksgiving or the events surrounding Captain John Smith and Pocahontas at Jamestown, a good portion, if not all of the most impressionable --- for me anyway --- was garnered from comic books, cowboy western movies and radio via such personages as the Lone Ranger and his sidekick Tonto or Red Ryder and Little Beaver. They may have been really distant for being the best of role models relative to Native Americans (you have to remember the time period), but included in the mix were the somewhat more impressive dipictions of Tommy Tomahawk and the stories of Firehair. However, it wasn't very long into my young childhood that things began to change from comic books to real life --- except maybe for one major exception:

There was another red haired female comic book character other than Firehair I liked at lot as well, coming into my life at just about the same time as Firehair came along. She just didn't get the same amount of "screen time" as Firehair because unlike Firehair I didn't relate her someplace in my works with my red haired mother --- which in turn brought in all kinds of Oedipus Complex comments, which I, in sort of overkill, followed up with a superfluous unknown need on my part to reply. Nor was I reading about her at that certain moment in time the woman of the couple I was fostered to threw a fit causing me to run away. None of those things. Her stories were published in the comic book Wings on a regular monthly basis and I simply read them and moved along --- except on one occasion in my works where she got caught up in an adventure that involved the Flying Tigers. That story I made a full site on. Who was the red haired woman I speak of. None other than Jane Martin, War Nurse:

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When my uncle was still in his very early 20s --- and long before I was ever born --- after attending a few art schools in the east, he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was at the time, if not more so, still a struggling artist and to stretch his limited funds and maintain his health he began fishing, hunting rabbits, and looking into the potential possibility of edible and medicinal plants indigenous to the desert. In doing so he was soon coming in contact with Native Americans. At first they found the white man foraging in the wilderness one day and painting pictures the next day a bit strange and kept their distance, but after awhile they discovered he was neither there to destroy the environment nor to exploit them. A few Indians, and then soon more and more, began to assist him, and in return he helped them with marketing their wares and making their art more commercially viable. He began looking into local plants, soils and rocks to enhance pigments and dyes. Overcoming many deep rooted apprehensions and suspicions he soon became accepted as one with the Earth and eventually many secrets and rituals that would otherwise not have been revealed were shared with him without concern.

One day he was traveling with, as my uncle put it, a "bunch of off the reservation rowdy Indians" in the rough desert terrain somewhere well east of Santa Fe toward the Oklahoma-Texas border. He had gone off on his own foraging for edible plants or possibly an animal or two to throw his share into the community pot when he noticed a man, actually a young boy come-teenager, walking alone and from all appearances, unprepared for the desert environment. After my uncle hailed the boy down and he found out my uncle was gathering indigenous plants seemingly out of nowhere to eat or cook, the boy was besides himself. He was basically starving, or for the most part hadn't really eaten anything substantial in days, and here was this guy out in the middle of the desert finding things that were edible. True, it wasn't like pulling carrots out of a garden, but he was still finding things. My uncle invited the boy to join his friends and share their evening meal, albeit at the time never having said anything at all that his friends were Native Americans --- and a rowdy bunch at that. The boy was not only surprised that they were Native Americans, but what they were having for diner was native fare cooked and made in the wilderness in centuries old traditions --- a meal that after its completion and into the dark turned into a night of revelry, talk, and eventually sleep around the campfire. It was quite clear my uncle was a white-man, but to the boy it was even more clear that he was totally and fully accepted into the group without any inhibitions. That boy, when he grew up, turned out to be Louis L'Amour, the author of over a 100 western novels. The meeting between he and my uncle was at the very early beginning of L'Amour's wandering ways, so many of which found their way into his novels.

In a similar foray into the desert many years later, more specifically 1943 and with World War II not even a year old, my uncle, a civilian and non-combatant, was, as he often did, field searching indigenous plants for potential medicinal, spiritual, and nutritional value, only this time in the then largely uninhabited mountainous and desert-like region of central New Mexico between the New Mexico and Arizona border on the west and the north-to-south flowing Rio Grande on the east.

During his field searching he came across two Asian men, both of which turned out to be Japanese, who were in the process of doing some field research themselves, and had been for weeks --- researching all across Arizona and New Mexico for something my uncle never heard of --- testing the soil for excessive levels radioactivity. As it turned out, both of the men were spies for the Japanese Imperial government nuclear weapons program. They had been left off along the coast of Sonora, Mexico in the Sea of Cortez by a German U-boat. They shot my uncle at a point blank range, took his truck, and left him to die in the desert. However, Native Americans came across the scene with the following results from the source so linked at the bottom of the paragraph:

"Two days later my uncle woke up weak and dazed laying on his back in some sort of makeshift shelter. Rather than being moved the Native Americans had built a shelter around him right where he lay and brought in higher up indigenous help, i.e., spiritual elders, et al, caring for him around the clock. Why he didn't die on the spot is not known. The bullet apparently passed through fairly clean without hitting any vital organs and except for a substantial loss of blood and extreme fatigue mostly because of it, he was, thanks to the Indians interceding immediately both physically and spiritually, OK within reason. So here was my uncle, basically a conscientious objector but still a staunch patriot primarily through his positive experiences as an artist with the WPA, out in the middle of New Mexico thousands of miles away from any World War II hostilities, taking a bullet, shot by a Japanese spy."


Even though I was originally from a small Southern California beach community with probably a zero number of American Indians in the population, by the time I was reading Tommy Tomahawk comic books I was an old hand knowing and being around Native Americans on a mutual interactive level.

With World War II still in progress I was on my way to my grandmother on the west coast from my grandmother on the east coast when, in the middle of the desert in the middle of the night west of Flagstaff, Arizona the train I was on, the No. 3774 Santa Fe Chief derailed killing the fireman and three passengers and injuring 113 passengers along with 13 train employees, including the severely injured engineer. I wasn't hurt, but the people I was traveling with were hospitalized and I was left without any direct adult supervision. My uncle, who lived in Santa Fe, arranged for me to stay with a nearby tribal spiritual elder until I could be picked up and returned to California, re the following from the source so cited:

"Mid-evening on the night of the-unknown-to-anybody at the time up-coming crash I had gone to bed in the bunk in my compartment and as far as I knew had fallen fast asleep. Sometime during that period, between the time I fell asleep and the crash occurred, I found myself neither asleep nor in my bunk but outside of the train standing barefoot on the desert floor in the middle of the night in my PJs some distance off from a set of railroad tracks, my hand being held by an elderly Native American man.

"No sooner had I been standing there than in the distance to the east I could see the headlight of a locomotive heading in our same direction. Within seconds the train was parallel to where I was standing and then, almost as though in slow motion the train began coming off the tracks with the engine barely moving on it's side pushing huge mounds of dirt in front of itself and cars slowly going everywhere. Then silence and the passage of time returning to normal. The Native American, holding my hand, walked me over close to the now stillness of the crumpled cars, which by then people were either being helped out of by other passengers or scrambling on their own away from the wreckage. He left me standing a safe distance from the milieu with a small gathering of others accessing their status and searching for loved ones. Turning away from me and the wreckage, he disappeared into the full moon darkness of the desert. The next time I saw him was several hours later in the hospital waiting area after my uncle contacted him."


Not long after that, as found in Alex Apostolides I had spent time in a sweat lodge after being found wandering in the desert all alone. World War II had hardly been over by a year, with me still well under ten years old, that I started traveling around the desert southwest with my uncle and began interacting with Native Americans on a more regular basis. It was during those same early travels, after having visited several of the seven pueblos that made up the Seven Cities of Cibola, that I learned of first hand and actually met Navajo Code Talkers. See also:

Their Life and Times Together


In the chronological order of things, by the time Tommy Tomahawk and his squadron of P-40 Flying Tiger adorned look-alike Tomahawks showed up in the Pacific Theater and/or southeast Asia as the case may be, the AVG, the American Volunteer Group, otherwise known as the Flying Tigers had long since been disbanded and replaced by the 14th Army Air Corps. Just about the same time, that is, the chronological order of things with the Flying Tigers being disbanded and all, another P-40 Flying Tiger type hero showed up, the Lone Tiger. Before Tommy Tomahawk there was another Tomahawk who flew for right and justice. See:

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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]

Of course, while the war with the U.S. was still raging in high gear all around the world, everything was being directed toward the use by the troops. It was only after the war that all of that military equipment, much of it brand new and still wrapped or in boxes in the pipeline on its way overseas, was suddenly stopped in transshipment and became surplus, being dumped on the market for pennies on the dollar. It was sometime after that Army Navy surplus stores began popping up all over and soon as well full page Army surplus ads started showing up in comic books issue after issue.

Before then, while we were over our heads fighting for our lives on two or more major war fronts spread all over the globe, although there were comic books with full page ads, what they championed was much different --- albeit, a lot of them war related in some fashion. That's how me being a Junior Air Raid Warden came into the picture. I responded to an ad. My dad was an Air Raid Warden and I wanted to be one too.

The Junior Air Raid Warden Kit I sent for, although not a box top offer like I usually responded to, did fall into a similar or like category, that is, getting it in the first place through a comic book ad. What was different with the Junior Air Raid Warden Kit was that it's application of use was raised to a higher level. Fictional characters like Captain Midnight, while great role models in the fight against the Axis and had all kinds of adventures combating our enemies, some of them based on actual facts, in the end they were still make believe.

While it is true one could argue that the air raid kit I sent for was a "toy," air raids themselves were REAL. The chance of attacks were not fictional, but an actuality. Living on the coast we were constant hostage to the possibility of attack. Christmas day, December 25, 1941, practically within eyesight of my home in the California beach community where I lived, a Japanese submarine, the I-19, took up a position in the narrow channel between Santa Catalina Island and the mainland just off Point Fermin near San Pedro where my dad worked in the shipyards. Laying in wait at periscope depth in sight of the fully operational military installation of Fort MacArthur, without warning, the I-19 torpedoed the unarmed U.S. freighter SS Absaroka followed then by a nearly clean escape. A clean escape that encompassed going right past by my place just off the coast before turning west to dive into the deep marine channel not far off the Redondo Beach pier. All those Japanese submarines that plied their way up and down the California coast, and there were a bunch of them, were aircraft equipped, capable of launching airplanes on a moments notice, so we had to remain vigilant, not just play.


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Even before I reached ten years of age my Stepmother, much to my dad's chagrin, bought a ranch in the Mojave Desert. The property was a whole section of land in size, that is, one square mile, with ten or twenty acres set aside on one corner for the ranch house, barn, and horse corrals. No sooner had she bought the ranch than my brothers and I moved there, doing all kinds of ranch stuff like ride horses and shoot guns, of which the ranch house had a number of them --- some on the wall and above the doors such as a lever action 30-30 Winchester, a shotgun or two, a couple of .22 rifles, and a very rare antique 1847 black powder percussion revolver called a Colt Walker which was usually kept in a case. Every once in a while I would take the 4.5 pound Colt out of the case and run around playing cowboys with it, sometimes even mixing genres by wielding the colt in one hand and a Buck Rogers Disintegrator in the other. In that the Colt was a black powder revolver and since nobody knew how to load it and everybody was afraid to, it was never loaded. In my later teenage years the Colt was sent to a gunsmith for some reason or the other and while there the gunsmith let me fire three rounds through it.

Almost as quick as we moved onto the ranch than my dad, who along with my stepmother remained living in the city, started to look around at tractors and all kinds of other big time ranch-like stuff. Instead he decided on a four wheel drive World War II jeep to tool around in. Even though none of us kids were old enough to drive legitimately on any of the paved roads around or near the ranch, on the dirt roads and the scrub brush desert lands surrounding the ranch, as well as on the ranch itself, we drove all over the place.

My dad actually bought the Jeep after answering an ad similar to the ones below. The ad offered surplus Jeeps for $278.00. After looking into it he discovered he could actually purchase a brand new, or at least never used, World War II Jeep for $225.00 cash right off the docks in San Francisco, which in reality turned out to be not docks in San Francisco, but across the bay in the naval ship yards at Vallejo or Alameda.

I still remember as a boy showing up with my dad and brothers. The whole place turned out to be a huge labyrinth of buildings, cranes, railroad tracks, and narrow between the structures roadways. On the docks were literally hundreds and hundreds of jeeps lined up row after row along with all kinds of other military hardware and equipment. The jeeps themselves had been taken right off the factory assembly line to the docks months before for transshipment to the South Pacific just as the war ended and when I was there with my dad as a kid, all of them were still just sitting there gathering dust and getting flat tires.


Other than learning a new word and having it added to my vocabulary, i.e., cosmoline, except for one thing, I don't recall anything specifically about the logistics of how or what my dad had to do to get the jeep, how long it took, how much paperwork he had to shuffle, or how the jeep was prepared so we could drive it home, only that it was and we did --- drive it home, that is. The one thing I remember is that the man who sold my dad the jeep told him he couldn't pick it up until the next day because of some longshoreman rule. The thing is, my dad brought two longshoremen with him and the man who sold my dad the jeep gave it to him. The two longshoremen were provided by a longtime old friend of my stepmother named Johnny Roselli.

During the heat of the summer my dad didn't want to drive down California's central valley on Highway 99 or cross over the Sierras to use the 395, although once to either highway it would have been the most direct to the ranch. Instead he chose to drive down the California coastline on Highway 1 --- and what a trip it was no matter what highway we would have used. A jeep, no top, my dad and three kids, no real back seats and all before seat belt days. At first the jeep wouldn't go over 45 miles an hour. When we stopped for gas for the first time and with my dad complaining, the attendant, who had been in the Army and knew about jeeps said it was because of a "governor," a device or some such thing the Army put on vehicles to ensure they weren't driven too fast. The attendant took a screwdriver, fiddled with a few things, and the next thing we knew the jeep could do over 60! A couple of days later after camping along the way we were back at the ranch.

Living on the ranch in the high desert of the Mojave in those days were heady times. With the war finally over almost everything was doing nothing but going upward. All kinds of things were happening, especially in the aircraft and automotive fields and happening in the desert besides. The ranch was located not far from Muroc Dry Lake the same place Edwards Air Force Base was located. So too, the ranch wasn't far from Mirage Dry Lake either. On the ground at Mirage were nothing but numberless hot rods and belly tank lakesters. My uncle would take us out there to watch some of the hopped-up Ford flatheads hitting 150 mph. In the air, flying right over the ranch, were B-36s and flying wings. Higher up they were testing the Bell X-1 and breaking the sound barrier.

For us, we went from a bunch of kids tooling around the ranch to chasing locomotives out across the raw desert land at 90 miles per hour all the while watching B-36s and flying wings and hearing and sometimes feeling the sonic booms from the X-1.


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"Prior to heading back to North American to brief the engineers, George telephoned Millie Palmer. Excitedly, Millie related that a terribly loud ba-boom had nearly blown her out of bed. The time was noted and it corresponded to George's dive."

In the late 1940s, and especially so following the end of the war, the U.S. Army Air Force, with no real competition other than themselves, began putting a tremendous amount of extra time, money, and effort into breaking the sound barrier. To accomplish that end they focused all of their time and expenditure on one single pilot, Chuck Yeager, and one single aircraft, the Bell X-1, a rocket-powered supersonic research airplane built by the Bell Aircraft Corporation. At the same time, although the Bell X-1 was a noble craft as was the attempt to break the barrier, there were those who felt that planes that were actually more akin to the fighters being developed, i.e., jets, was where the strength of the efforts should placed. Dropping a plane that couldn't take off on it's own from the belly of a high altitude B-29 and carrying only enough fuel for a three minute flight didn't quite fit the picture for some. Thus entered North American Aviation's jet-powered XP-86, a prototype of the F-86 Sabre and their pilot George S. Welch. Although not officially sanctioned by the powers that be like the Bell X-1, for North American and Welch it didn't matter.

By the time Welch was a test pilot attempting to break the sound barrier he had become a civilian. In the spring of 1944 while still in the service, North American Aviation approached him to be a company test pilot. Welch, a three-times over fighter pilot ace, increasingly concerned with the lingering effects from the malaria he contacted in the South Pacific during the war and how it might adversely impact upward mobility in the military, especially as a pilot, plus with potential peacetime on the horizon, he resigned his commission in the U.S. Army Air Forces and accepted the job.

As a civilian Welch wasn't able to avail himself of the officer's quarters on the base. Instead he stayed at Pancho Barnes' Fly Inn. The Fly Inn, built and owned by Barnes, eventually came to known throughout the latter part of World War II and for several years afterwards as the Happy Bottom Riding Club, a dude ranch built near Muroc Dry Lake right on the edge of Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of the Mojave.

Her place featured a motel with quite a number of rooms and several suites, an abundance of riding horses and thoroughbreds, a restaurant that served up fabulous western-style meals and breakfasts to die for, three landing strips, a dance hall, gambling den, an ever present bevy of hostesses, and a world-famous bar which catered to military personnel from the nearby air base along with all of her Hollywood friends. The ranch became famous for it's all night parties and high-flying lifestyle of her guests.

Welch and the North American team knew that the official National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) equipment was being used to officially track Yeager and the X-1 and them only. There wasn't a chance of getting use of the equipment before Yeager and their crew did their thing and held the official record. Welch was on his own.

Welch had become quite close to, some say even excessively over enamored with, one of Pancho's hostesses who went by the name of Millie Palmer, taking her into his confidence. He told her that on a certain day at a certain time he was going to break the sound barrier and wanted her to go outside and listen for the sound, documenting where she was, what she saw, heard, felt and time, telling her not to mention a word to anybody. Sure enough, just as Welch said would happen and what time it would happen, did. Re the following:

"Prior to heading back to North American to brief the engineers, George telephoned Millie Palmer. Excitedly, Millie related that a terribly loud ba-boom had nearly blown her out of bed. The time was noted and it corresponded to George's dive. 'Pancho,' Millie related, 'is really pissed. You know how she feels about Yeager.' Apparently, Pancho claimed the boom was a result of mining operations going on 30 miles away to the north. Of course, no one had previously heard any mining explosions, nor could that account for rattling windows only on the east facing side of the Fly Inn. Welch chuckled and swore Millie to secrecy."

The following is how Al Blackburn, a test pilot himself, writes about the same scenario in his book ACES HIGH: The Race For Mach 1 (1999). Although a test pilot with North American Aviation like Welch, he wasn't there during the attempts to break the sound barrier not joining the company until 1954, around the same time Welch died. Blackburn writes:

"Such was the aphrodisiacal lore told with a shrug at Pancho's and Patmars' and other watering holes from Hollywood to the beach communities of Los Angeles. So it was with George Welch, frequently constrained to overnight in the the desert to meet an early-morning flight schedule, whiled away the evening at Pancho's. Not given to garrulity, more often than not he sought out the solo company of Millie Palmer, one of the lovelier specimens who found temporary refuge at the Happy Bottom Riding Club. It was Millie that George confided on an early autumn evening that she should be listening for his historic boom, and returned for for a subsequent tete-a-tete to learn that she had indeed been nearly blasted out of her bed by the ba-boom of the sonic shock wave emanating from his supersonic Sabrejet."

As for running off to engage in tete-a-tete's with more lovelier specimens after just breaking the sound barrier for the first time, a few paragraphs later, as found at the same source as the first quote above as sourced for both below, the following shows up:

"(As soon as Welch landed) he was informed that his wife Jan had gone into labor with their first child. Welch flew the company plane up to Los Angeles, but arrived after his son had been born. That evening, Jan phoned her family to announce the birth of Giles, and of course, tell them about George breaking the sound barrier. Years later, Jan's brother Jimmy would recall that he could not determine if Jan was more excited about her new baby, or her husband's supersonic adventure."(source)

Seven years after his attempt to break the sound barrier, on Columbus Day, October 12, 1954, Welch's F-100A-1-NA Super Sabre disintegrated during a 7g pullout at Mach 1.55 over Muroc Dry Lake. He was still in the ejection seat when found. Critically injured, he was evacuated by helicopter to the Air Base hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Welch left a wife and two children. Millie Palmer would be well into her 90's if still alive. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.