This Veteran's Day, Thank an Airman
The last doughboy is but a memory and it's estimated that we're losing our World War II veterans at the rate of 1,000 a day. For those of us who grew up sitting at the knee of fathers, grandfathers, or uncles who fought "The Big One," it's inconceivable that we'll someday live in a world where the voices of these noble men and women are forever stilled. If you know a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Corps, or a Marine or Naval Aviator, and they flew to fight in World War II, you can thank them in the comments box below. Let's also thank the Seabees, the trainers and the maintainers who kept America flying. Let's not limit our thanks to these shores. If you want to thank any Allied airman, please drop off your appreciation in our comments box.
I am kicking off this small Veteran's Day initiative by thanking William L. Bacheler of Penn Valley California, who was a decorated F-4U pilot in the Marine Corps, then went on to complete a superlative career as a navigator, instructor and pilot-in-command for Pan American World Airways.
"Batch," as he was known to all his friends, grew up in Seattle, Washington during the depression, and recalled as a boy straining to catch a glimpse of Charles Lindbergh, who was being paraded through town. Encouraged by Lindbergh's exploits, Batch later earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Washington, then joined the Marine Corps before Pearl Harbor. Batch was later surprised to meet Lindbergh himself when his squadron was being assembled at the outbreak of the war. Their relationship continued when Batch led his squadron on a strafing run over a Japanese weapons depot, only to discover that an additional aircraft had formed up at the rear. He cautiously dropped back to identify the unknown aircraft, fearing it might be an enemy plant. Batch was elated to recognize that it was, in fact, Charles Lindbergh, who had joined the attack as an unannounced witness to history.
After the war, Batch secured a job with Pan Am, where he rose through the ranks for the next 33 years. He was a skilled navigator back in the day when airliners crossed the vast Pacific guided only by the stars. And he pioneered the polar routes from the west coast to Europe. He closed out his career as a 747 captain, and never touched the controls of an airplane again—an eloquent statement by a man of dignity and discipline.
I knew Batch when I was a teenager, wondering if I would ever have the right combination of skills to become a pilot, an ambition I realized in 1989. The captain had already been retired for ten years. He used his time profitably by penning a remarkable memoir — Brave, Splendid Fools — which I discovered on a visit to California last March. Batch is in a nursing home, cared for lovingly by his wife Ione and their kids Dan, Nancy and Janet. Ione brought out the only copy of Batch's book and I was utterly captivated. For more than 700 manuscript pages he interweaves the story of his last flight for Pan Am with a detailed description of 1930s flight training, the development of Marine aerial gunnery, and acting as XO for Medal of Honor - winner Joe Foss, who had tied Eddie Rickenbacker with 26 confirmed kills. Batch described the air side of McArthur's island-hopping strategy — with a stick and rudder perspective that pilots will appreciate and enjoy. I learned, for instance, that Marine Corps pilots in the South Pacific chilled their beer by loading it into a new drop tank, then flying it to 25,000 feet for an hour to chill down. Then they threw out the gear and flaps and dove for the deck to get the brew into the hands of thirsty comrades.
After the war Batch found employment with Pan Am and flew the complete line of Douglas and Boeing products. He discusses airmanship, cockpit resource management, accident prevention and tricky approaches in precise, easy-to-understand language that pilots will find enlightening and entertaining.
After reading Brave, Splendid Fools (impeccably typed by the devoted Ione) I decided the book had to live. I scanned the manuscript pages and emailed them as .PDFs to India, where the book was re-keyed. It is now available as a downloadable E-book through AVweb partner Aero Technical Books. It's also being prepared for Kindle. Brave, Splendid Fools offers an expansive sweep of early to mid-20th century aviation — from its rag-wing infancy to the globe-girdling people haulers we know today. It took tough, smart pilots like Bill Bacheler to master these nascent technologies so that, today, we can fly direct on GPS with nary a care. Publishing Batch's book has been a labor of love at AVweb, and all proceeds will be directed to the author. I know that Batch is pleased to be published, and he would be delighted to know that his experiences — and his collected wisdom — are now being handed down to future generations for whom the sky is no limit. If you're interested in reading Brave, Splendid Fools, you can find it at this link:
So, thanks Batch! And don't forget to thank an airman, wherever they are, in the comments box below.
Tim Cole is publisher of AVweb and editorial director and vice-president of Belvoir Media Group.