Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tuffy's War: Part Three of Six.

Tuffy’s War
(Part Three of Six)


Wally Lee Parker

… an opening thought …

“Tuffy’s War” tells the tale of two brothers — Alvin “Tuffy” Luhr and Orland Luhr — who exemplify all the qualities newsman Tom Brokaw intended when he characterized those who carried the burden of America’s struggle during World War II as our greatest generation.  Both brothers once called Clayton — a little town in the northeastern part of Washington State — their home.  One brother has gone on to live a long, productive life.  The other did not survive the war; resting ever since on a small, ancient hill just a few miles from his hometown — a hill overlooking the farm speckled sweep of the Little Spokane River Valley.  This is their story — presented in six parts as an oral history augmented by materials drawn from newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and a slew of private and government documents.

… regarding copyright …

This material was originally published by the Clayton/Deer Park Historical Society.  It is under copyright to that organization and used here by permission.  Alterations of the original material have been made — including the addition of comments by Alan Berg.  Anyone wishing to reprint this blog version of “Tuffy’s War” will need to obtain permission from both the C/DPHS and the author, Wally Lee Parker, to cover the entire content as presented here.

Part Three
… pieces of airplanes falling ...

            Having received notice of his brother’s death in a telegram from his step-father, Tuffy was given immediate leave from basic training to return home.
            As Tuffy recalls, “Orland’s accident occurred on Saturday, August 19th, 1944.  Military personnel had priority over civilians on the airlines, and the Red Cross arranged to have a colonel going on a golfing holiday bumped off a flight so I could get home.
            Orland’s wife, Holly, had been living down in Phoenix, Arizona — not far from Luke Field.  A young lieutenant by the name of Borick escorted her up to Clayton.
            A few months before Orland’s death, Orland had escorted the body of another boy killed in Arizona home to Oregon.  That was something they did.  The Army Air Corps would send someone to help the family make arrangements and such.  Orland had stopped home after he had finished up in Oregon.  I think Orland knew the boy he’d transported — just like Lieutenant Borick had known Orland.
            Lieutenant Borick and Holly stayed with the family out at Clayton.  That’s how we learned what actually happened to Orland.  We asked the Lieutenant, and he told us.  And from what I heard,” Tuffy concluded with an anger still lingering almost seventy years after the event, “it just seemed so damn pointless that my brother died making what amounted to a Hollywood propaganda film!
            During World War II residents of communities everywhere were understandably interested in hearing any news about local boys serving in the military.  The news of Orland’s death had most likely traveled all around Clayton and Deer Park in the few hours before this essentially incorrect story was printed in the Monday, August 21st edition of the Spokesman-Review.
            “Orland Berg, son of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Burg of Clayton, was killed in a plane crash Saturday on an Arizona airfield, according to a telegram received by E. K. Westby.  He was an instructor and was up with a student when the crash occurred, caused when the student became panicky.  Berg began his flying experience in Deer Park.”

This AT-6 ‘Texan’ was the type of aircraft flow by 2nd Lieutenant Orland Luhr.

The letter ‘X’ on the fuselage indicates this aircraft was based at Luke Field, Arizona.

(Photo courtesy of Trey Brandt — www.aircraftarchaeology.com)

            At that time most local residents knew Orland under his stepfather’s last name of Berg.  Any official notice coming from the military would have used the last name appearing on his military papers — Luhr.  Which suggest the above was speculation added by the newspaper’s local contact, and not a verbatim transcription drawn from an official document.
            Tuffy Luhr, when asked why E. K. Westby’s name would have appeared in the Spokesman-Review article, replied, “He owned Westby’s Mercantile in Clayton, and I think he had a Western Union office in his store.  So he would have been the first person to see any telegram about Orland’s death.
            I was in the Army Air Corps back then too,” Alan Berg, the youngest of the brothers added.  I hadn’t started flying yet — and it turned out never did.  At that time I was taking college classes at Montana State over in Bozeman, but was home on leave for the weekend so I know pretty much what happened as far as the folks getting the message.  It was about 10 or 11 o’clock Sunday morning when the guy from Westby’s Mercantile came down to the house and said to my dad, ‘Pete, there’s a telephone call for you’.  The call was from Bob Borick, my brother’s good friend.  He was the one who broke the news to dad. 
            On Thursday, the 24th, the following appeared in the Deer Park Union.
            “Lieutenant Orland Luhr, son of Mrs. Peter Berg of Clayton, was killed in an airplane crash last week at an army training post near Phoenix, Arizona.  He has served some time as a flying instructor there, and was instructing a student when the accident occurred that cost both their lives.
            “He is survived by his wife, Holly, of Phoenix; his mother, Mrs. Peter Berg of Clayton, stepfather, Peter Berg of Clayton; four sisters, Mrs. Mildred Goodwin of Memphis, Tenn., and Betty, Bertha, and Mary Lu Berg of Clayton; and two brothers, Pvt. Alvin Luhr stationed at Camp Blanding, Florida, and A/s Allen Berg, stationed at Merced, California.
            “The body will be received by the Lauer Funeral Home Saturday morning.  Funeral arrangements have not yet been made.”
            The details of the accident itself, as printed in the two newspaper articles above, are almost to the letter wrong.  After all these years the source or sources of the incorrect information can only be guessed.  What is known is that the Army Air Corps protocol was to first contact the wives of the airmen killed in such incidents — or the parents when the airmen were unmarried.  Holly Luhr was living in Phoenix at the time, and the first notification regarding Orland’s accident should have been directed to her — which government documents seem to confirm it was.  As noted above, the family’s notification came from 2nd Lieutenant Bob Borick Orland and Holly’s close friend.  The details appearing in the above newspaper articles were probably speculative embellishments added after the news had reached Clayton — since E. K. Westby of Westby’s Mercantile, and not the family, was cited as the local source.
            Late in 1942, Tuffy Luhr’s younger brother, Orland, volunteered for service in the United States Army Air Corps.  Orland had a high school diploma from Deer Park, the pilot’s license he had earned in the cockpit of the local group’s Piper Cub, plus the advanced flying lessons taken at Spokane’s Calkins Field.  All this added to the government’s frantic need for military pilots tending to negate the usual requirement of a college education for pilots prompted Orland to enlist as an officer candidate.

2nd Lieutenant Orland Lee Luhr

United States Army Air Force
(Photo courtesy of Alan Berg)

            By March of 1943 Orland had completed his military indoctrination at Santa Ana, his primary flight training at the Tex Rankin Academy near Tulare, California, and his basic flight training at Lemoore Army Flying School in southern California.        Flight training consisted of three or four levels — depending on the degree of prior experience.  The first level, ‘Primary’, was often conducted by civilian contractors.  The types of planes these contractors used were designs evolved from World War I bi-planes — two tandem open cockpits, upper and lower wings, single engines.  These aircraft were relatively slow and forgiving — making them suitable for novice pilots — which Orland clear was not.
            ‘Basic’ or ‘Secondary’ flying school consisted of nine weeks and about seventy hours of airtime in craft such as the Vultee BT-13 — a single wing plane similar in appearance to a typical WWII fighter, though without the capability of retracting its landing gear.  Again relatively slow and forgiving, the ‘BT’ in this plane’s designation stood for Basic Trainer.
            An April 18th, 1943, article in the Deer Park Union stated that Orland had just graduated from the basic flying school at Lemoore Army Flying School in California.
            At the end of this training the pilot candidates would be well acquainted with the fundamentals of military flying — night, instrument, formation, and cross-country.  A decision would be made at graduation as to whether the candidate would go on to either a single or twin engine advanced flying school.  Single engine schools were intended to produce fighter pilots, twin engine schools were directed toward bomber and transport pilots.
            War Department records state that on May 20th, 1943, Orland Luhr service number O-745245 — achieved pilot status with the Army Air Force.  (The first character in his serial number is the letter ‘O’, indicating a commissioned officer.)  An article appearing in the Deer Park Union stated that Orland “received his Army Air Force wings” and commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, “at a ceremony at Luke Field, Arizona.”
            Mom and dad went to the ceremony at Luke Field,” Alan Berg noted.  Mom pinned on Orland’s wings.  And that afternoon Orland and Holly were married.  Since cadets couldn’t get married until they were officially officers, there were a lot of weddings just after graduation.  I guess the folks were a bit surprised by that.  None of us knew Orland and his girl were that serious until right then. 

Holly Luhr
(Photo courtesy of Alan Berg)

            Orland received special training as a Formation Flight Instructor and in December of 1943 was assigned to the 3028th Army Air Force Base Unit — again at Luke Field.  The function of the Luke Field training center — located approximately twenty miles northwest of Phoenix — was to teach future fighter pilots the basics of gunnery and combat tactics.
            Orland’s job was to steer pilot’s through nine weeks of training in the single engine, tandem seat AT-6 — the ‘AT’ standing for Advanced Trainer.  Candidates successfully completing this part of the Army Air Force curriculum would receive their wings and continue on to a course of transitional training intended to qualify them in the specific type of fighter they would fly in combat.
            Beginning in late 1940 the majority of North American Aviation’s AT-6’s were built at the company’s new facilities near Dallas — a fact that earned the plane the nickname ‘Texan’.
            Weighing just over two tons, the plane had a wingspan of 42 feet, a length of almost 30 feet, and stood about twelve feet high.  It was powered by a 550 horsepower, air cooled, 9-cylinder radial engine.  This was the first plane with a retractable landing gear that most student pilots would have flown.  A second set of controls inside the tandem cockpit gave the instructor the ability to fly the plane from the rear seat whenever necessary.     
            Although classified as a trainer and never used as a combat aircraft by the military in World War II, military pilots considered this aircraft very much a war-bird.  With a maximum speed barely above 200 mph and a service ceiling of 21,000 feet, it was not as capable as fighters like the P-51 Mustang.  But the general feeling was that in many ways the AT-6 was harder to fly than a P-51 — though much more forgiving to pilot error — and as such, once a pilot had mastered the Texan he was ready for just about anything.
            Most agree the hardest part of flying the Texan was landing.  Once it touched the runway, if not held in a tight, straight line by a pilot quick on brakes and rudder the plane wanted to “ground loop” — wanted to spin to the side and flip over.  Because of this tendency more than a few novice pilots ended up looking at the runway while hanging upside-down in their harness.
            Due to a superficial resemblance, the AT-6 was often used in wartime Hollywood movies as a stand-in for Japan’s famous Zero fighter.  So frequent did this occur that the AT-6 became known among filmmakers as the ‘Hollywood Zero’.
            Despite the accounts given by the Spokesman-Review and the Deer Park Union, it was this superficial resemblance to an enemy aircraft — not a panicking student pilot — that directly contributed to 2nd Lieutenant Orland Luhr’s death that Saturday afternoon in the clear skies over Arizona.
            Tucson’s Arizona Daily Star headlined an article about the incident with “4 Die, 3 Missing In Plane Crash.”  Though still not fully accurate, most of the basics in the paper’s August 22nd edition were correct.
            The Associated Press article stated that the crash was between a “B-25 and an AT-6 trainer.”  The collision reportedly occurred “during an aerial sequence in the filming of the movie, “God is My Co-Pilot.”  The article went on to say that the “AT-6s” being used in the sequence — the only indication of the number of AT-6s actually being used was the word “flight” — were “camouflaged to resemble Jap Zeros.”
            The official Army Air Corps accident report — a document that in wartime arguably strived more for expedience than thoroughness — contains five eyewitness statements gleaned from the 30 plus pilots and at least 26 other airmen in the air at the time of Orland’s accident.
            Perhaps the most inclusive single observation recorded in this document was the testimony of 1st Lieutenant Ralph L. Williams.
            “I … was assigned to the 5th Training Group on 17 Aug 44 for the purpose of flying for the motion picture unit of Warner Brothers assigned to this field for the purpose of making the picture “God Is My Co-Pilot”.  The first mission in which I flew was a formation of P-40’s.  We were briefed clearly and accurately for approximately forty minutes by Major Clark, Major Middleditch, and Captain Peterman.  They used oral expressions, blackboard drawings, and model airplanes.  The model airplanes were arranged on stands in the exact formation we would fly.  This mission was successfully completed.
            “On 19 Aug 44, we were advised by Captain Peterman, our mission would be to make an attack on a formation of B-25’s using AT-6’s to portray Zeros.  The entire formation was set up using model airplanes.  We were briefed again by Major Clark, Major Middleditch, and Captain Peterman.  During this briefing, which lasted approximately forty minutes, the fact was brought out by Major Clark that this was only a picture and that safety of personnel and equipment would be the predominant factor.  We were to meet the B-25’s at the specified predetermined point.  They would be on a heading of north at approximately ten thousand feet indicated altitude.  We would be approximately two thousand feet above them heading south.  We were to dive on them and make a head on attack from below.  The spacing in our formation of Zeros was as follows: from the lead element, element two would be one hundred feet to the left, five hundred feet behind and approximately twenty feet below, and element three would be in the same position to the right, and so on through the formation of 18 ships.  Major Middleditch, our Flight Commander, briefed us for about twenty minutes thoroughly and accurately on each man’s position while making the pass on the bombers.  We were to come no closer than three hundred feet vertically to the bombers at any time.  The lead ship of each element would break forward and down.  Each wing-man would break out and down and reform our elements below.”
            Above, Lieutenant Williams described of a formation of eighteen AT-6s grouped into six elements of three planes each — each element having a lead plane and a left and right wingman.  This collective formation would be approaching the B-26s head-on at a somewhat higher altitude.  The AT-6s were to, upon closing with the oncoming bombers, drop below the bombers altitude and then rise as if attaching the front of the bomber formation from below.
            Lieutenant Williams continued his account by placing Lieutenant Luhr on the left wing of the second AT-6 element at the time of collision.
            “We had completed three successful passes in the morning.  In the afternoon, we were to fly the same mission and were briefed again on same for approximately thirty minutes.  We were coming in for the first pass of the afternoon.  I was flying left wing-man, element four.  As we pulled up to intercept the bombers, I saw an explosion ahead and above me.  The following incidents happened so swiftly I cannot be sure of their accuracy.  It appeared to me that the left wingman in element two had realized that he was too close to the bombers and started to roll his ship to the left and down when his right wing struck the right wing of one of the bombers.  The AT-6 rolled left and down in a slow spiral.  The bomber’s right wing dropped immediately, and he started down towards me.  I realized that if I followed through with the formation I would hit the debris or the bomber.  I half-rolled my ship and went down and out of the way.  As I rolled out of this, I was almost beside the spinning AT-6.  I circled this ship slowly and called “Bail Out!” over the radio.  The canopy of this ship was open approximately four inches and seemingly the pilot made no attempt to open it before he hit the ground.
            “The two ships made contact at an approximate altitude of ninety-five hundred feet indicated.  I circled slowly above the AT-6 until he struck the ground.  As the AT-6 contacted the ground, I was in a turn heading generally north, and I saw another explosion approximately three miles north which I supposed to be the bomber.  The AT-6 started burning.  Realizing that I could offer him no assistance, I flew over to the other explosion.  I determined that it was the bomber.  It was burning furiously.  I saw no indication that any of the personnel had escaped.  I immediately returned to Luke Field to report the accident which occurred at approximately 15:05.”

The general area of impact for both aircraft.
(Photo courtesy of Trey Brandt - www.aircraftarchaeology.com)

            It could have been that Orland’s canopy was open the reported four inches before impact occurred.  On the other hand, and more than likely, the shock of collision jolted it open.
            Cruising speed for the AT-6 was 175 miles per hour.  Cruising speed for the B-25C bomber was just over 225 miles per hour.  It is conceivable that their combined airspeed at impact was above 400 mph.  What effect a jolt of that magnitude might have on the pilot of the smaller aircraft is difficult to say — though unconsciousness is certainly a possibility.  And although pure speculation, we could entertain the possibility that a lethal spray of metal fragments may have entered the AT-6’s cabin as the right wings of the two aircraft tore through each other.  Either the force of impact or other injuries sustained in the collision might explain why 2nd Lieutenant Luhr, an experienced pilot inside an obviously doomed aircraft, didn’t bail out.
            The other type of aircraft involved, the B-25, was already something of a legend.  A twin engine medium bomber, the B-25 is often confused with the four engine B-24 heavy bomber because of the similarity of their tail and rudder configuration.  Both bombers have upright rudders rising from each end of a wide tail-wing.  A quick engine count removes any confusion.
            The B-25 was assured of a place in history in the spring of 1942 when 16 of them, under the command of Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, rose from the deck of the aircraft carrier Hornet to successfully bomb mainland Japan.  Though they did relatively little physical damage, the propaganda value of Doolittle’s raid was immense.
            The B-25C bombers used in the filming of “God Is My Co-Pilot” were Plexiglas nosed variants of the approximately 10,000 B-25s built.  With a length of 53 feet, wingspan of 67½ feet, and operating weight of approximately 13 tons, the craft needed two 14-cylinder Wright radial engines, each with 2,600 cubic inches of supercharged displacement spinning three bladed props into 12 foot diameter tornados, to achieve its maximum speed of 280 mph, and service ceiling of 21,000 feet.  Those twin engines together produced 3,400 horsepower.
            The normal combat crew for a B-25C was five.  The AT-6 could hold two pilot and student.  The fact that the bomber was not flying with the expected compliment, and the AT-6 with only the pilot, may explain the Associated Press accounting in the Arizona Daily Star that 3 aircrew were still missing those being the three unoccupied positions.
            Sources state that 12 B-25’s were used for the movie’s aerial scenes.  The accident report does not clarify how many of those were in the formation of bombers the ‘Zeros’ were supposed to attack.  We do know that the bombers were from Mather Field — a twin-engine flying school located about 10 miles east of Sacramento, California — and part of the 3031st Army Air Force Base Unit located there.
            Another viewpoint was the cabin of a Lockheed A-29 camera ship.  The A-29’s were twin engine aircraft normally used by the U. S. military for submarine patrol, and in this case being used as a flying camera platform.
            “I F. H. Nolta, Captain, AC, First Motion Picture Unit, AAF, Culver City, California was pilot of one of the camera airplanes for the picture “God Is My Co-Pilot”, working in conjunction with Warner Brothers Studio.
            “At approximately 1505 on 19 August 1944 and approximately thirty miles north of Luke Field while flying the photographic airplane, I witnessed the accident involving an AT-6 airplane and B-25 airplane.  I was flying approximately 300 yards behind and about at an angle of 30 degrees above a formation of B-25’s when a flight of AT-6’s approached from a lower angel, heading up toward the B-25’s at which place they were supposed to level off and pass under the B-25’s.  One AT-6 on the left of their formation passed on into the formation of B-25’s, striking the right wing of the B-25 with the right wing of his airplane.  I saw the right wing was gone completely from the AT-6 and it had veered off into a dive, passing out of my sight under my wing.  The B-25 continued straight ahead for a few seconds and then stalled off onto the right wing and passed out of my sight under my right wing.  The cockpit of the B-25 was not touched by the AT-6.
            “I held on to the formation for a few seconds until I realized what had happened and then I pulled up into a chandelle to the left and before I had finished making a turn to where I could see the ground underneath, the B-25 was on the ground and burning.  I circled the place once at a higher altitude and then came directly back to Luke Field”
            The “chandelle” mentioned in the statement above is a steep, 180 degree climbing turn that trades airspeed for altitude.  The probable reason for this maneuver was to quickly place distance between the camera plane and bombers below by climbing and reversing direction in relation to the bomber formation.

The debris field for Orland Luhr’s aircraft.

(Photo courtesy of Trey Brandt – www.aircraftarchaeology.com)
              The “First Motion Picture Unit” — also known as the 18th Air Force Base Unit — was formed in 1942 to produce training, morale, and propaganda films.  It was composed almost entirely of individuals with prior motion picture experience.  Eventually producing 400 films of its own, the unit was also charged with assisting in the filming of Hollywood movies when those movies had an obvious propaganda value.
            The pilot of the above camera ship, Captain Floyd H. Nolta — a World War I Army Air Corps veteran — occasionally worked as a motion picture stunt pilot.  When the Second World War began, he joined the First Motion Picture Unit.  Nolta had been a friend of Jimmy Doolittle since pilot training days.  And Nolta’s most famous stunt may have been piloting a B-25 bomber underneath the Golden Gate Bridge for a wartime movie about Doolittle’s famous raid — a movie called “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo”.
            The following statement was made by Oscar winning aerial cinematographer Charles Marshall, who was operating his camera from Captain Nolta’s plane.
            “I, Charles Marshall, chief camera man for Warner Brothers, was behind my camera in the nose of the A-29 camera airplane when the collision between the B-25 and AT-6 occurred.  I was ‘shooting’ at the time, following the formation described by Captain Nolta in his statement.  All of a sudden I saw the collision slightly on the right hand side of my screen.  I kept ‘shooting’ the scene until Captain Nolta pulled up into a steep left turn and I lost sight of the two airplanes.  I cut my camera and we returned to Luke Field.”
            One would expect that if the collision had actually appeared on film it would be a famous bit of cinema history by now.  Our current assumption is that that particular clip, if it did actually show the collision, has not survived.

The remains of Orland’s Pratt & Whitney engine.

(Photo courtesy of Trey Brandt – www.aircraftarchaeology.com)
            Charles Marshall’s helper, Bert Eason, saw something more of the collision.
            “When the accident occurred, I was behind Charles Marshall, watching the motor speed on the camera.  When I looked up I could see the AT-6 hit the B-25.  I then saw pieces of airplanes falling.  The B-25 seemed to keep on going for a few minutes and then I lost sight of both airplanes.  After Captain Nolta circled I looked down and saw smoke on the ground which appeared to be one of the airplanes.”

Wing remnants from Orland’s aircraft.
(Photo courtesy of Trey Brandt – www.aircraftarchaeology.com)
            It’s interesting to notice the differences in estimations of passing time reflected in each individual’s sense of how long the B-25 remained in level flight — though the experienced aircrews are doubtless closer to being right in this observation.
            And finally, this eyewitness statement from another AT-6 pilot.
            “I Charles S. Husson, 2nd Lieutenant, AC was piloting an AT-6 on the right wing of the second element leader’s airplane.  We were making a scene where the AT-6’s (simulating Zeros) were making an attack from below and head on, on a flight of B-25’s.  After noticing the lead ship push over I did the same and as I did so I looked to my left and saw the left wing man of our element veer off and start to dive toward the ground.  It appeared that part of his left wing had been torn off in some sort of collision.  I did not see any contact between two airplanes.
            “I watched the AT-6 spiral down toward the ground and a few seconds later noticed an explosion followed by a cloud of smoke.  At the time I thought it was the AT-6, not knowing whether the B-25 had actual crashed or not.  The formation of AT-6’s was scattered quite a bit.  I continued on and picked up the lead ship and flew on his wing back to Luke Field.”
            Though the first reading of the above would make one wonder how close to the bomber flight all three planes in flight two were just before the moment of collision, we have to keep in mind how quickly the ‘300 feet vertical’ safety zone between the flight of bombers and ‘Zeros’ would disappear at the speeds involved.
            A summation of the incident, signed by 1st Lieutenant Glendon W. Stark, 1st Lieutenant Benjamin F. Knapp, and 2nd Lieutenant Robert F. Sherod, is as follows.
            “On 19 August 1944 at 15;05 MWT, 2nd Lt. Orland L. Luhr, pilot of AT-6 airplane, number 41-32833, and 1st Lt. George Hunter, pilot of TB-25C airplane, number 42-32383, were flying in two separate formations for the picture “God Is My Co-Pilot”.  The formation of B-25’s was heading north at approximately 10,000 feet indicated.  The formation of AT-6’s was flying at approximately 12,000 feet, heading south.  The AT-6’s which were depicting Zeros in the picture were to dive down ahead of the B-25 formation and pull up, making a pass at the bombers from ahead and below.  The pilots had been thoroughly briefed on the exact positions — both bombers and AT-6’s — and at no time were to come closer than 300 feet vertically.  Lt. Luhr was flying on the left wing of the second element of the AT-6’s.  As this element made its pass on the B-25’s, Lt. Luhr failed to follow his element leader and passed on into the formation of B-25’s, striking the right wing of airplane number 42-32383 with the right wing of his airplane.
            “The collision occurred at approximately 9,500 feet indicated.  The AT-6 rolled on left and down into a slow spiral then headed almost straight into the ground.  The pilot in one of the other AT-6’s followed the airplane down and noticed that the canopy was open approximately four inches but there was no attempt made by Lt. Luhr to bail out.  After the collision, the B-25, number 42-32383, kept going in almost level flight for a few seconds and then stalled off on the right wing, heading straight down and exploding upon contact with the ground.
            “Responsibility for the accident is placed 100 per cent upon pilot error on the part of Lt. Luhr, pilot of AT-6, number 41-32833, in that he failed to follow instructions in the simulated attack on the B-25’s.”
            On Monday, August 21, a message was sent from Luke Field to Headquarters, Army Air Forces Office of Flying Safety, Winston-Salem, North Carolina via Teletypewriter Exchange.  The message contained a summary of the findings in the accident report.  Included were the following phrases that solidified the military’s official view of the incident.

Indicator plates for Orland’s aircraft.

(Photo courtesy of Trey Brandt – www.aircraftarchaeology.com)
            It stated that Orland was alone in his AT-6C when he collided with the second aircraft, and then described the circumstance as “pilot making simulated attack on B-25 for motion picture ‘God is my Co-Pilot’.”  It went on to say that the AT-6C was “demolished”, and that “no material failure survey” was done.  This we assume indicates that no reconstruction of the aircraft was undertaken to see if some kind of mechanical problem could have contributed to the incident.  The terse military phrasing doesn’t make clear whether such a survey was even possible with what remained of the craft.  It did report that Orland’s remains had been identified.
            Also noted was the fact that Orland’s wife, Holly, had been notified at her residence in Phoenix.  As to whether any official notice had been sent to Clayton, nothing is said.
            I remember the last letter I got from Orland,” Alan said.  It was postmarked the same Saturday he died.  Orland and Holly had both written in that letter.  Holly mentioned that Orland would be doing some close formation flying for three or four days and it’s pretty clear now that she was talking about the movie.  I recall she wrote ‘I’ll keep my fingers crossed.’  So she was aware how dangerous this was going to be.”
            Regarding the second aircraft — the bomber — the status of the crewmembers in the military’s initial report was described as “presumed fatal”.  The reason given for the presumed status was “inaccessibility of wreckage in mountainous terrain”.  That may have contributed to the error in the Arizona Daily Star’s account as to the number of aircrew actually involved.
            The aircrew on the bomber were identified as 1st Lieutenant George Hunter, pilot, 2nd lieutenant Patrick D. Holland, copilot, and Sergeant James A. Ramey, flight engineer.
            George Hunter Sr. of Glendale, California, was informed of his son’s ‘missing’ status.  Mrs. June E. Holland was notified of the situation in a personal visit by the Commanding Officer of Mater Field, California.  And notice was sent to Sergeant Ramey’s father, Jack A. Ramey of Pittsburg, Kansas.
            The competence of the pilots involved can be evaluated from the number of flight hours logged by each.  Orland had 1032:55 total Army Air Corps hours, with 874:10 of those hours in AT-6s.  Lieutenant Hunter had 846:35 total hours, with 197:45 of those hours in B-25s.  Neither of these men was inexperienced, and though the available material doesn’t state such, doubtless all the pilots in the air that day — either AT-6 or B-25 — were instructors or other highly qualified flight personnel — and not students.
            Regarding competence, the commander of the Luke Field installation, Lieutenant Colonel Grahame M. Bates, concluded, “This accident does not involve a violation of flying regulations.  Meaning Orland’s death was adjudicated as being within the line of duty.
            As for the movie itself, a screening of the movie suggests that any segments showing any part of the formation of 18 AT-6s as described in the government documents are momentary, and that any attempt to recognize Orland Luhr’s aircraft from its position in those scenes would be speculative in the extreme.  The movie was only recently release on DVD.  And a more revealing study might be possible if it is ever re-released in a high-definition digital format.
            As for the AT-6s in the mass aerial scenes being painted with Japanese insignia, I’ve seen one studio still believed to be from this movie that shows an AT-6 adorned with Japanese ‘gumballs’ and, uniquely enough, with the rear half of the greenhouse canopy painting over to match the body of the aircraft.  This special effect, intended to alter the tandem seat ‘Texan’ into a single seat ‘Zero,’ simply looks too obvious to work.
            Two articles appeared in the August 31st, 1944, issue of the Deer Park Union.  The first was the obituary.
            “Military funeral services for Lieutenant Orland Luhr, who was killed in an airplane accident in Arizona, were held Sunday, August 27, from the Open Door Congregational church in Deer Park.  The services were conducted by Captain Victor E. Walter of Geiger Field.  An army (honor) squad and bugler participated in the ceremonies at the graveside.”
            Orland was buried at Clayton’s Zion Hill Cemetery.  His stone states that he was born December 3, 1921, and died August 19, 1944.  As with most such stones, there is so much more to a person’s life.
            A second article in that same issue of the Union stated the following.
            “Lt. Borick, Mrs. Orland Luhr, Mrs. Pete Berg and Allen Berg spent Tuesday afternoon in Spokane.
            “Lt. Borick and Mrs. Orland Luhr of Phoenix, Ariz., are spending a few days at the Peter Berg home, coming here for the funeral of Lt. Orland Luhr, who was killed recently in an airplane crash near that Arizona city.”
            Alan tied up some of the loose ends when he said, “Later on, while I was going to school in California, Bob Borick and I got together.  The wife and I were at Davis about twenty miles west of where Bob lived in Sacramento so I called him and he invited us over for dinner.  We stayed in touch for a number of years after until he passed away.
            As for Orland’s wife, we lost track of her.  Then one night maybe twenty five or thirty years after Orland died our phone rang and it was Holly.  She’d found me in the telephone directory and asked if she could come by for a visit.  The wife and I picked her up at the airport and took her out to the lake cabin.  We had a nice talk.
            “We reminisced about the big garden her and Orland had down in Phoenix.  About how much Orland loved his Lincoln Zephyr.  Things like that.

Orland beside his Lincoln Zephyr.

(Photo courtesy of Alan Berg)
            Her new last name was Kennedy.  She was different than I remembered from before.  Nothing bad just different.  I guess that just shows time does move on – though I think the memory of Orland was still pretty much a part of her.
            As a final thought, Alan added, “Tuffy and I agree that the risk of making a movie like that and then saying the lives lost were all Orland’s fault — that’s just silly.  And you know, Warner Brothers never sent a note of any kind to the folks or Holly.  The studio didn’t say a thing to the family — though the army did finally send a letter to our mother.”              
            Within a few weeks of the funeral Tuffy had returned to Camp Blanding to start a new basic training rotation.  And then, at the beginning of 1945, he found himself knee deep in European snow as part of an allied army preparing to invade the German Fatherland.

Orland’s Stone — Zion Hill Cemetery, Clayton, Washington.

(Photo by author)

Orland’s gravesite — looking southeast toward Mount Spokane in the distance.

(Photo by author)

… to be continued …

Special thanks to Arizona’s Trey Brandt — www.aircraftarchaeology.com. Several years ago Trey located and identified the remains of Orland’s AT-6 and has graciously provided photos of that site for this article. Trey has several books in publication on the subject of aircraft crash sites in the southwestern states and the stories behind those crashes.

Links to the other chapters in Tuffy's War.

Link to Part One

Link to Part Two

Link to Part Four

Link to Part Five

Link to Part Six

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