May 26, 2009 Steve McMahon Uncategorized
It’s hard to believe that World War II ended nearly 65 years ago. So much time has passed that we sometimes forget the sacrifices made by the men and women of our armed forces. Our community sent its share of young folks into harm’s way, but there are fewer of them around today to remind us of that fact. Harley Loveless is one of the few.
I first met Harley last November, while researching a story for this column. At that time I wrote, “He’s a bit modest, so I had to coax him to talk about his war record. I’m saving that story for another time.” Well, that time is now. After all, Memorial Day is May 30.
The few WWII veterans I’ve met are all too modest to call attention to themselves, and Harley is no exception. His first response to my request was, “I don’t want people to think that I’m some kind of local hero.” But, I’ll leave that up to the reader.
Like his father before him, Harley worked as a butcher in his dad’s slaughterhouse for years. After the war, he opened the Baldwinsville Billiard Parlors on West Genesee Street. A 1954 Messenger ad for the place announced that, “If we don’t have what you want, we’ll try to get it for you.” Like Harley himself, the slogan’s simplicity and straightforwardness are refreshing.
Harley served in the army twice, but longest with the 443rd Troop Carrier Group in the 315th Carrier Group Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF). They fought in the Asiatic-Pacific theatre of operations from March 1944 through December 1945.
Harley’s two tours of duty led his hometown to proclaim Nov. 18, 1999, “Harley Loveless Day.” A Messenger article from the previous day stated that “Loveless was the first Baldwinsville resident to volunteer with the armed forces in World War II.”
He originally enlisted on Nov. 29, 1940, and served one year in the 44th Infantry Division. He was discharged in November 1941 and came home for good, he thought. But, that all changed on Dec. 7, 1941. Harley remembers that “Two weeks later Pearl Harbor was bombed. I was already working long hours on the railroad, and wasn’t getting enough sleep. It happened on a Sunday, but I didn’t even know about it until Monday morning.”
Harley was called back to active duty in November 1942. He said, “I’ll never forget my examination in Syracuse. I passed my written exam hands-down. But, my physical exam concerned the doctor. He said, ‘You can’t go into the service. You’ve got a heart murmur.’ I said right back to him, ‘I haven’t got a heart murmur. I’m just excited, that’s all!’ The doctor responded, ‘You go calm down for awhile and then we’ll see how it goes.’ I passed.”
Harley’s second tour of duty was anything but calm. First, at Fort Niagara he took a cadet exam. He remembers that “Seven of us went down to take it. It was all about mechanical stuff, and I can barely change my own oil or fix a flat tire. But, it was a multiple-choice test, and I was the only one who passed!”
“We shipped out from Mitchell Field on Long Island. They were short of all positions, but they were so short of pilots that it was pitiful. So, I went to pilot training in San Antonio (TX). I wanted to be a pilot, but I wanted to fly a twin-engine plane. I figured if they knocked out one engine, I still had one left and another chance to land the thing.”
“We went to primary pilot training in Corsicana (TX). We flew PT-19’s. The very least you could solo before earning your wings was six hours, which is what I did. I knew that we were running out of time one day, so I just landed the plane. Boy, I bounced all over the place! Next, I flew BT-13’s in Enid (OK). It was a lousy airplane. Every once in awhile the wings would fall off!”
“Then I went to twin-engine training in Frederick (OK). When we finished, I received a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant. My wife and mother were both there for my graduation. From there, they sent me to C-47 training at Bergstrom Field in Austin (TX). Finally, I went to mission training in Sedalia (MO), but there was a crash call for pilots overseas. We picked up our planes in Ft. Wayne (IN), and headed overseas.”
After stopping in Puerto Rico, Brazil, and Ascension Island, they crossed the Atlantic and Indian oceans before landing first in Karachi and then Sylhet, India. He wasn’t there very long. “That outfit was flying night missions over the Japanese lines. The only reason we even had room to bed was that one of the crews went out one night and never came back. We were short officers, so I became Captain in only 16 months.”
“Then, we got orders to move to Ledo, India. We lived in tents during the monsoons, and it rained every day. We flew supplies from Ledo to Myitkyina, Burma, a little place that the Americans had just captured from the Japanese. That was the take-off point for China.”
China had been at war with Japan for eight years before becoming an ally when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Japan later bombed the Burma Road, too, the 700-mile road the Chinese built by hand so that the Allies could supply Chiang Kai-Shek’s Chinese army. The loss of the Burma Road sparked the need for an air route into China.
“We’d fly over the Himalayas, or ‘over the hump’ from Burma to Kunming, China. First, we’d bring in a load of supplies from India and unload it in Burma. And, then they’d load us back up with supplies or troops to take to China. We’d meet Chinese troops when we landed in Kunming. Very few spoke English.” Harley was awarded the China War Memorial Medal from the Republic of China in 1985, albeit 40 years after the fact.
Back stateside, a DC3-C47 Douglas, the “Miss Nightingale II was dedicated on January 28, 1945, to Lieutenant Ruth Gardiner, the first nurse to die in World War II. On its first flight from a base in India to central Burma, Miss Nightingale II carried 5,000 pounds of urgently needed medical supplies. On its return trip it carried 30 wounded or sick soldiers from the front-line evacuation stations to general hospitals in rear areas,” according to the Women’s International Bowling Congress (WIBC).
The plane’s pilot was Harley Loveless, and it was one of three hospital planes presented to the USAAF by the WIBC, whose 225,000 members raised nearly $350,000 for its “Wings of Mercy” program. “The women in my family bowled to raise money to buy two hospital planes for Burma and China. I ended up flying one called the Nightingale II.”
According to a May 31, 1945 article in the Baldwinsville Gazette & Farmers’ Journal, “His mother, Mrs. Edward (Lillian) Loveless, his wife, Mrs. Evelyn (Kerwood) Loveless, and his sister, Miss Florence Loveless (Williamson), all members of the same team at Ten Eyck’s alleys in the Seneca Ladies’ League, helped to purchase the plane.” It included this letter from Harley to his mother.
“Dear Mom: Did you help to buy the airplane that the Women’s International Bowling Congress donated to the Army Air Forces? If you did, your son has been flying an airplane that you helped to buy, as we have it in our squadron. It is called ‘Miss Nightingale II’ and it is really a ‘honey’ of an airplane, and I enjoy flying it a lot. Love, Harley.”
“We had a crew chief, radio operator, pilot and co-pilot. By then, I had become a ‘Hump Pilot.’ I don’t know exactly, but I flew ‘over the hump’ practically every week for almost a year. I shouldn’t say ‘over,’ but ‘around.’ They were too tall to fly over. The winds going over the hump were treacherous.” The Himalayas are the world’s tallest mountain range, rising up 25,000 feet. But, Harley said that, “the highest we could fly at was 13,500 feet.” Some pilots’ ear drums would burst, and a lot of planes went down.”
While Harley refers to his missions as “pretty routine,” he also admits that he “had a lot of close calls.” The first was flying into Myitkyina. “The runway was about 5,000 feet long, but it was all mud. I was co-pilot. My pilot should have landed at the near end, but he touched down about halfway instead. The enemy was at the far end of runway. I said ‘we’ve only been here one day and we’re going to get captured!’ I reached over and unlocked the tail wheel, and turned the plane around. ‘Gee, Harley’ he said, ‘I never would have thought of that!'”
The second close call occurred when he flew a load of American-trained Chinese to China. “A fighter plane landed while I was waiting to take off. He had been out on a bombing mission, and had a bomb hung up on his plane. You could clearly see it in the rack under his belly. When he landed, it dropped and exploded. We didn’t take off for awhile, because there was a big hole in the runway.”
Harley recalls that the third close call happened when he flew from to Dinjan from Ledo. “We were flying along at 160 mph, and the mountains suddenly appeared out of nowhere. I pulled back on the stick and we just barely cleared them. It didn’t seem to bother me right then. But, later I was shaking so hard that I spilled coffee all over myself.”
After his war experience, Harley joined the China-Burma-India (CBI) Hump Pilots Association. After 60 years the group dissolved in 2005 due to the advancing age of its members. Like I said, there are fewer World War II vets around today, but Harley is one.
His last words to me were “They say that a cat has nine lives, and I think that I’ve used them all.” God willing, Harley’s two cats, Trinket and Tippy, will help him celebrate his 93rd birthday this fall. In the meantime, let’s remember veterans like Harley Loveless this Memorial Day. After all, life would be different today if Harley and crew hadn’t flown over the hump.
Next week read the 13th article in the series, “Lysander Goes to School.” Looking Backward will appear in the Messenger every other week or so, as long as there are stories to tell. If you have questions about this story or suggestions for future ones, including any local historical images or information, please contact me via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Harley Loveless and his son, Bob, taken at mission training in Sedalia, MO, where Harley was briefly reunited with his wife and son in March 1944 before leaving with his squadron for the Pacific Theatre.
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