During or just after WWII
my uncle came from Utah to view properties he had bought some years
earlier. We all piled in his car and he drove from South Central Los
Angeles, where we lived, to various suburbs of L.A., principally in
the San Fernando Valley (popular song of the time: "Sentimental Journey").
There were one or two pieces of land in the Palmdale area. As we went
past an airfield next to the highway on the way to - maybe - Rosamond,
I spotted a parking lot full of Mosquitos. I was very excited, having
learned the profiles and designations of every aircraft in the pack
of rehearsal cards my Navy-officer father brought home to study. Everyone
was amazed that an eight-or-nine-year-ld could identify the more-than-a-hundred
olive-drab airplanes. (I have been advised the airplanes I saw could
not possibly have been "Mosquitos", since they were never
present in Southern California in any numbers, or some such. O.K. I
like my story, anyway.) They were somewhere in the neighborhood of today's
Edwards Air Force Base. No idea what it was called in those days.
A few years later we were living in Torrance, California, just south
of Hawthorne, home of Northrop and site of "flying wing' manufacture
and development. The weird 'planes were seen in the air from time to
time. One time we were traveling north on Hawthorne Boulevard when there
was a big dust-up a few blocks ahead, and traffic stopped. One of the
wings had failed to stop at the end of the runway, and skidded across
the street, trailing cyclone fence and blast-diverter debris. As I remember
it, no one was hurt, but the wings stopped flying from that field.
Back to WWII: Dad was in the Navy, we lived in South Central L.A. (two
blocks from ground zero of the King riots, many years later). Hot summer
days Mom would pick a beach and drive us there for some sea breeze and
beach play. One time it was Santa Monica beach, under the LAX flight
take-off path, very near the P-38 manufactory. So, the eight-or-nine-year-old
was happily burying his three-or-four-year-old brother when he looked
south down the beach and saw an airplane headed his way. Excitement!
Heard the scream of the P-38's engines. Fear! Recognized that the damn'
thing was fifteen or forty feet above the beach! Action: Began digging
a foxhole for himself, frantically and sincerely wanting to be way down
when the shrieking winged monster arrived. It did, and went on up the
coast, flattening beach-goers like wind on wheat fields. It was followed
very closely by another. I loved it. Woo hoo!
1956, now. I'm in the USAF, learning to live in a barracks upstairs
from the Reconnaissance Technical Squadron's business site. One evening
the First Sergeant (did anyone else call the First Sergeant "First Shirt"?)
dropped by to chat with the new guys. He said he had spent some of his
military time in Southern California. He'd been a "Flying Sergeant"
during WWII. One of his assignments was to pick up P-38s at Los Angeles
and ferry them to the east coast where they were passed off to real
pilots who took them to Europe. Hm, says I. I had experience with a
P-38 during WWII, and explained what had happened at the beach. He was
delighted. Guffaw followed guffaw. Yes, he said, we used to enjoy doing
that. The pilots would trade places in line, since the first one didn't
get to see much of an effect, but the second and subsequents would take
great pleasure in watching the vertical beach-goers suddenly become
Not really: The First Shirt was known to look into unlocked wall lockers
during his frequent inspections while airment were at work. I had a
small rug made of a mountain lion skin, with a realistic wax head with
snarling mouth and slitted angry eyes. I put it in a locker with its
face at First Shirt head height, where it would be ready to leap out
at any unsuspecting usurper. The First Shirt took the bait and nearly
had a heart attack. Vengeance was mine.