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Spiders at 30,000 Feet: A Louise Bourgeouis sculpture outside the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. (Brian Colson)

Spooky Skies

Just in time for Halloween, a collection of aviation mysteries

Lucky Minnie

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(Courtesy H G Mukhopadhyay)

Is it true that animal mascots bring good luck to their squadrons? Consider this tale. “There was both sorrow and foreboding in the sultry air when Yankee airmen gathered in the cemetery of a big Pacific base,” notes the (apparently) anonymously written book 11th Bomb Group (H): The Grey Geese. “They were saying good-bye to a comrade who had flown with them on many a perilous bombing mission over Japanese territory, but who now would fly no more.”

And who was the object of this purple yet tender prose? Minnie the Mongoose, who the men of the 11th had found near their barracks during a stopover at Hawaii, while en route to Saipan, in July 1944. The men fed her canned milk with an eyedropper, and later flew her to the Marianas with them.

Minnie took to flying, reported the Los Angeles Times on January 7, 1945, resting comfortably on the flight deck during missions. She did lose consciousness when the bomber reached an altitude of 20,000 feet, but “the crew quickly revived her with oxygen.” The crew was so taken with their mascot that they named their B-24 the Flying Mongoose.

The queen of the air survived flak from the enemy, oxygen deprivation, and a misguided makeover (fearful that she would be mistaken for a rat, the crew bleached her fur with peroxide and tied a bright red ribbon around her neck). Perhaps it was inevitable that Minnie would die on the ground: On Christmas Eve, the little mongoose was run over by a jeep.

At Minnie’s funeral, “platoons of soldiers march to the cemetery behind the victim’s body,” says the 11th Bomb Group. “The rifles of a firing squad crashed in tribute. The solemn of taps followed, while bomber crew members stood by, silent and sober-faced.”

The day after Minnie died, reported the Los Angeles Times on March 6, 1945, the Flying Mongoose was scheduled to fly a mission. Its engines stuttered on the runway, and the flight was cancelled. Two days later, the bomber left the base on a mission. “The target was reached, the bombs dropped and the plane headed for home,” notes the Los Angeles Times. But the B-24 had multiple engine failures, and 15 miles from their base, the Flying Mongoose crashed into the sea. The pilot, copilot, and bombardier were killed; the rest of the crew escaped and were rescued. Coincidence? You decide.

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