Flights & Fancy: The Light Brigade
- By Walter S. Terry
- Air & Space magazine, January 2001
(Page 2 of 2)
Captain Allison lavished praise on his “boys”—the 17th Pursuit Squadron—for their ability to fly so skillfully under such pressure. “Thank God for Huntsville,” he told our mayor. “I don’t know how we could’ve survived without you people.” Later, I overheard one of the pilots say: “I’m just thankful we all came down right side up.”
The pilots were escorted to the Russel Erskine hotel, whose sign had served as a beacon to guide them in the darkness, and the hotel staff offered them libations in the locally famous Blue Room. My friend Jimmie Taylor, who was a bellhop there, told me that one of the pilots, an “obvious Yankee,” recalled worrying that the squadron would have to land in one of those stubbly “grits fields.”
After the Blue Room fête, the pilots were treated to a sumptuous meal in the banquet hall and were given the best hotel rooms. Arrangements were made for a delivery of aviation fuel.
Early the next morning a tanker from Birmingham arrived. By 2:00 p.m., the refueling was completed. The squadron took off.
In the days to follow, many of us relived those daring landings over and over in our minds. They had been a dramatic event for our quiet little town. We heard that some of our citizens, without benefit of radio, had taken the noise of the aircraft to be an approaching cyclone and had rushed to their cellars. But a number of citizens had witnessed—indeed, been a vital part of—the most exciting event in Huntsville, some said, since 1863, when Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalry had run off a Yankee general and his soldiers.
—Walter S. Terry