WWII pilot still taking to wild blue yonder
After talking with Harold “Bud” Rouse, you wonder if he should just hop in a jet, fly to the Middle East, and help out the American fighting force.
The World War II pilot and Fallon resident’s remarkable story of combat, camaraderie and optimism commands respect and a willing ear.
A sharp, affable guy with a vigor that belies his 82 years, Rouse recalls tales of war with an amazing display of detail. He was known as “Big Boy,” a name referring to his more than 6-foot and 200-hundred-pound frame. Still a broad-shouldered, thick-wristed man, he describes the maneuvers of past campaigns with a mix of excitement, suspense and sorrow for his fallen comrades.
Originally from San Jose, Calif., Rouse ran away from home at age 11 and got a job at a cattle ranch. He later went to work in Oakland at a shipyard at the start of the war. He took a cadet exam at age 17, and later tried to enter the Marines, but was then drafted by the Army.
He decided to enter the Army Air Corps, where he gained a reputation for hot-dogging and cockpit skills that followed him throughout his career.
Rouse was in a training plane with an instructor when another plane lost control on the runway and hit them, killing the instructor, he said. It wouldn’t be his first brush with death.
After months of training, he was assigned to single-engine, advanced flight school, mostly because it fit his style of pushing airplanes to the limit, he said.
“No one wanted to fly with me,” Rouse said. “I was kind of wild back then.”
After stints in North Africa and Italy, he wound up in eastern Asia, where he flew many harrowing missions in P-38s, P-40s and P-47s, recording three kills and flying several bombing and strafing missions.
Rouse was one of 20 fighter pilots who went together as replacements to the India-China-Burma Region to fight the Japanese during World War II. Four returned home.
His last mission, in which he was separated from the formation in the middle of a monsoon, ended when his two engines ran out of gas just as he touched the runway.
He said fighter pilots needed a fearless mentality with little regard for their safety.
“Most of the guys that really went down the tube were married or weren’t fit to be fighter pilots,” he said. “You’ve got to be an eager beaver.”
The story of the 58th Fighter Squadron of the 33rd Fighter Group of the 14th Air Force, which includes Rouse, is chronicled in “No Hurrahs For Me,” a book by Harold C. Rosser, one of the four survivors in the India-China-Burma region campaign.
Their attitude was expressed in the last four lines of the “real” Air Corps’ song, which was sung following the death of a buddy:
“So hold your glasses steady,
This world is a world of lies.
Here’s a toast to the dead already,
And hurrah for the next man who dies.”
After the war, Rouse spent some time in the Reserves before operating an aviation sales business. He was also a charter pilot, flying such celebrities as Ted Kennedy, Bing Crosby, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Ronald Reagan during his campaign for California governor.
He and his wife, Marguerite, moved to Fallon in 1980, and helped run the Ideal Mobile Home Park.
Rouse hasn’t hung up his wings or retired to a life of leisure. He’s the owner of The Fence Doctor, a Fallon fencing business, and still flies B-25s at Eagle Field, near Dos Palos, Calif.
He also speaks to pilots at NAS Fallon. The most common question he’s asked is what it’s like to take a second pass over a target to see the damage, he said. Modern pilots rarely see the damage or even their targets because of sophisticated guidance systems, he said.
Four months ago, he hooked the wire twice on an aircraft carrier while landing in an F-18 simulator at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks, he said. He also wants to buy a small airplane and perhaps a helicopter.
“Your pilot’s license is good forever, as long as you pass your physical,” Rouse said, cracking a bit of a smile.