On the Wing and On the Ground

Ernie Pyle’s aviation and war dispatches.

By 1944, Ernest Taylor Pyle (in Normandy, France) had won millions of loyal readers and a Pulitzer. (The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana)

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Last summer Bates was flying with Lieut. Bernard Thompson in a Fleet. Near Charleston, W. Va., a cylinder head gasket blew out, and they went down in the tree-covered mountains, and escaped unhurt.

Then he went down to Nokesville, Va., one day with Roger Scott, Hoover Field operations manager. Landing at Nokesville they ground-looped and tore off a wheel.

Last fall he was flying over Virginia with Hank Pritchard in a Travel Air. Pritchard became lost and they decided to land in a school yard. They did, but hit a ditch, the plane went over and was wrecked. One wheel came up thru the cockpit.

Hoover Field got a telegram from the sheriff there. It said: “Sending Bates back by train. Plane washed out.” That meant, they thought, that he was dead. Poor old Bates.

A little while later Bates walked into the hangar, covered with mud and grease and carrying a bent propeller over his shoulder. They thought it was a ghost, but it wasn’t. It was Bates.

But that didn’t sour Bates on Pritchard, or Pritchard on Bates. They flew together again at Atlanta the other day. When they landed the ship went up on its nose with a big smash. Nobody hurt.

You can see now why some pilots won’t carry Bates. Scott, of Hoover Field, isn’t afraid of him and carries him around here and there. But Jack Parker, formerly of Hoover and now flying in Baltimore, won’t even let him sit in his plane on the ground. If Bates so much as touches the ship, Parker wipes it off before going up.

There are other superstitions about Bates. He was a friend of Tom Gurley, Pitcairn mail pilot. He stood in front of the hangar one day and waved to Gurley as he took off for New York. Gurley was killed before he got there. Some of the fliers forbid Bates to wave goodbye to them.

Today Bates flew to Richmond in a Robin of the Standard Oil Co. Robert Oertel doesn’t know about Bates’ history, and the flight will be over before he can read this.

—Ernie Pyle

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