On the Wing and On the Ground
Ernie Pyle's aviation and war dispatches.
- By Rebecca Maksel
- AirSpaceMag.com, September 16, 2011
The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
(Page 2 of 5)
“Sunset’s” excuse for reviving the story was that the seaplane tender Jason, from which Lieut. Ballentine flew, happened to be in Shanghai the other day, and that dog was still aboard, as mascot.
The story goes like this. Every year for four or five months a little fleet of American seaplane tenders stationed in the Far East, goes down to the Sulu Sea for aerial training maneuvers. The Sulu Sea is out of the typhoon belt and has more sunny days a year than Hollywood.
The Jason, one lazy morning, was lying off Zamboanga. Lieut. J.J. Ballentine was “lazying” around a thousand feet or so up in the sky. Then suddenly someone shouted that “Bally” must be in trouble, he was going down.
That wouldn’t have caused much excitement except for what was beneath him. He was headed for the water of the Basilan Straits, bad water, the “graveyard of anchors,” with a six-knot current swirling through it and full of sharks.
The sailors on the Jason watched him land. They saw him and his mechanic crawl down on the pontoon, then crawl back again. In a few seconds he was off the water and roaring back toward the Jason, only a hundred feet above the sea. The sailors couldn’t imagine what was up.
Ballentine landed and taxied up to the gangway and ran aboard with a bedraggled dog in his arms.
When Ballentine and his mechanic had first seen the object in the water, they thought it was a man swimming. But as they got lower, they could see it was a dog. He had undoubtedly been in the water for hours and was swimming his last strokes when they pulled him out. He was seven miles from the nearest land. He wore a collar with the letter “H” engraved on it. He was part Airedale and part just “dog.”
The mystery was how the dog got out there. No ships were known to have gone thru the Straits during the night.
So the Jason sent out a radio message to one of its sister tenders, 150 miles away. Soon a message returned. It was from the German cruiser Hamburg. It said:
“Hamburg passed thru Basilan Straits dawn this morning. Ship’s dog ‘Hans’ overboard unnoticed. Please thank Lieut. Ballentine and mechanic. We request that Jason adopt Hans as Hamburg bound Europeward.”
The Jason did adopt Hans. He is the ship’s mascot now and “Sunset” saw him again just a few weeks ago in Shanghai.
The magazine with that story came to me in the mail one morning. That same afternoon I was down at the Anacostia Naval Air Station. There was a flier in the station whom I had never seen before, and Lieut. J.J. Clark, the executive officer, introduced him to me as “Lieut. Ballentine.”
“Are you the man that rescued the dog off Zamboanga?” I asked, pretty much amazed. He smiled and said that he was. Lieut. Ballentine is now in charge of the air detail at the Naval Ordinance Proving Grounds at Dahlgren, Va., just below Quantico.
Ballentine recounted to me the story of the dog-rescuing. But the best part of it is this—that they never did learn where the dog came from and that “Sunset” just made that up about the German cruiser in order to make it a better story! Lieut. Ballentine thinks that was pretty clever of him.
January 25, 1936
Death writes the by-laws of this close corporation, the grief-linked coterie of wives of the men who fly.
They are a strange corporation of loneliness and close kinship—the women of aviation who sit at home and hear that their husbands are dead.
Death comes to other women’s husbands too. But nothing in this world is so closely clasped together as the people of aviation, and it is the long and very real shadow of death that clasps them.
When one woman’s husband dies violently, the wives of the living shudder a little for themselves, but not much; and the wives of the already dead come quickly with their sympathy and their memories.
I have tried to analyze the psychology toward death among aviators. I have even tried to analyze my own, for it became in time the same as theirs. Vaguely I feel it is something like this—the pilot knows something might happen, but oh well, he’s escaped so far, so probably he will this time too.
But the wives have a greater faith; a conviction of their husbands’ superiority. I have never known an aviation wife who didn’t consider her husband the greatest pilot in the world. It’s too bad when other pilots are killed, she thinks, but that won’t happen to my man; he can handle any emergency.
Those who have picked up the receiver and heard the awful news, know better than that. For among them have been women whose husbands actually were the greatest pilots in the world.