Ken Beaton: Desert Eagles
Fish are the staple food in a bald eagle’s diet, then how can an eagle exist in a desert? Allow me to back up for several seconds to answer your intelligent question. FYI, Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. Forty-eight hours later, Sept. 3, England and France declared war on Germany, and World War II began.
The Royal Air Force was seriously outmanned, having fewer pilots and planes to attempt to defend against the Luftwaffe, Germany’s Air Force. The RAF was the only obstacle to “Operation Sea Lion.” Desperate for trained pilots, they recruited Americans. There was a group of American pilots who were not afraid to fight the Luftwaffe in the skies over England. They joined the RAF in 1940 and 1941. The new recruits were placed in squadrons with fellow American pilots, Eagle Squadrons.
One of the Eagles, Barry Mahon, was assigned to Bournemouth on England’s South coast. He was in the front ranks when the King and Queen arrived for a surprise inspection. The Queen asked Barry, “Why did you volunteer?”
Nervously, Mahon blurted out, “Because there must always be an England, Madam!” His remark caused both majesties to smile.
Italy, one of Germany’s two Axis partners, was having difficulty in the African campaign. Hitler assigned Gen. Erwin Rommel to lead Germany’s mechanized forces and troops to assist the Italians in Africa, Deutsches Afrikakorps, DAK, on Feb. 21, 1941. Rommel was a master strategist, similar to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Rommel used his mechanized forces to outmaneuver and surprise the commander of the British Eighth Army to earn the name, “Desert Fox.”
Lt. Gen. Bernard Montgomery was the third commander of the British Eighth Army. He patiently resupplied his men and materials to achieve superior numbers compared to Rommel’s. He defeated Rommel at the second battle of El Alamein.
Part of the Eighth Army’s success was because Montgomery had air superiority. The RAF destroyed Luftwaffe planes on the ground and in the air. They bombed Nazi troops and destroyed their mechanized forces — tanks, trucks and anything with wheels or treads.
British author Humphrey Wynn wove an easy-to-understand story of American Eagles: Michael Miluck, Hal Marting and Wally Tribken battling extreme desert conditions and the Luftwaffe in his book “Desert Eagles,” copyright 1993. Besides their flight records, Marting and Miluck kept detailed diaries while they were members of No. 239 Wing. No. 239 Wing had four squadrons, 64, 112, 250 and 450. Marting and Miluck were pilots in Squadron 250.
In October 1942, as the Eighth Army advanced to the west, Wing 239 had to move its four squadrons closer to the front several times. For every Eagle flying a P-40 Warhawk, there were at least 10 support personnel on the ground. They were the aircraft mechanics, armament staff who loaded belts of 50-caliber rounds or 500-pound bombs, fueling staff, cooks, radio operators and others.
The pilots slept on the ground in pup tents. They experienced the grit of fine sand everywhere in their teeth, their food and their clothing. As if that wasn’t enough, body lice was everywhere, and I mean everywhere! After a while, the Desert Eagles didn’t notice the lice.
Each weekend, the usual trip to Cairo was a welcomed break. The Wellington Hotel in Cairo was their favorite hangout. It was wonderful to order a steak and baked potato with the cooked vegetable of the day. A hot shower to wash away their filthy body odor and their lice. What a treat to sleep in a real bed and to rejoin the human race.
Besides listening to the BBC to learn how the Allies were doing against the Axis, letters from home were the only way to know what was happening with their family and friends. There’s a rule about receiving letters from home. If you want to receive letters, you have to write letters answering questions and sharing your news. So as not to worry the folks back in the States, all the men in the service wrote in vague sentences. They never told their folks details about the bad conditions. Males learn to be vague before they reach their teen years when answering their mother’s questions. “Where were you?” “Out!” if a male couldn’t think of a vague answer. He had certain prepared sentences to tell mom. “Mom, I have to get started on my homework assignments immediately!” “I have to go over to my classmate’s house to complete our project! Don’t you want us to get a good grade?” Let’s face it, Mom can’t say no to that question.
Without spoiling the storyline for you, I recommend you read “Desert Eagles,” only 135 pages. One of the Eagles, Michael Miluck, married Nancy Christian Miluck in 1964. The couple with their oldest daughter, Mary Grace, moved to Genoa, Nev. in 1969. In 1970, their second daughter, Elizbeth Christian Miluck, was born in Genoa, increasing the Genoa’s population to 117.
Sometimes the story behind the story is better than my actual commentary. If you absolutely can’t wait to read “Desert Eagles II,” meet me at a pub and buy me a Jameson Irish Whiskey, “neat.”