Lucky and Beatty let off the brakes, and King Bee raced down the runway. The bomber drifted to the left, forcing Beatty to make a slight correction to keep the aircraft on the center line as it picked up speed. Lucky felt the tail wheel lift. Then he felt the weight come off the main landing gears under the wings and the once heavy and menacing Fortress lifted off the ground.
King Bee was airborne.
Lucky and Beatty climbed toward the wisps of white clouds high in the sky and then banked to get into the pattern. Each aircraft flew a rectangular pattern around the airfield as it climbed. With hundreds of planes overhead, getting into the pattern and then forming up was like merging into moving traffic. A slight mistake and two planes might collide. Thankfully, there was no fog, which turned takeoff into a white-knuckle, sphincter-clinching affair.
In an hour, the sky over northeastern England was filled with American bombers in arrowhead-shaped formations thundering onward into harm's way.
CHAPTER TWO ANSWERING THE CALL
It was December 7, 1941, and Lucky—a nineteen-year-old freshman at the University of Chattanooga—was behind the wheel of his neighbor's big black Buick, joyriding around the streets listening to the radio, this time with an occasional Christmas standard thrown into the mix.
Since it was the holiday season, the houses were dressed in Christmas red. Trees were trimmed and lit in the windows, and big green wreaths with flashy red bows hung on the doors.
Most of the houses in the upper-class subdivision of Shepherd Hills in Chattanooga, where Lucky's family moved after the stock market crash in the 1920s, still had two cars. Lucky's father wouldn't let him drive the family car, but their neighbors—who had two cars—used to let him borrow one of theirs, and he used it any chance he could get to drive downtown to meet friends, go to the movies, or attend socials at his fraternity.
But on Sundays, Lucky played chauffeur for the neighborhood kids, who climbed into the car as he circled the neighborhood. The car was like a moving clubhouse. Big band music on the radio poured out of the windows. Younger kids were in the backseat roughhousing and laughing as Lucky wound his way past the houses with immaculate green lawns.
While growing up, Lucky's family lived in a two-story colonial house on a ridge overlooking the small subdivision east of downtown Chattanooga. The house had a massive porch across the front with a swing. Lucky's sister and older brother had their own rooms. He shared a room on the second floor with his brother Bob. At the end of their street was their garage and a small pasture for his father's horses.
Everyone was talking about the holidays and a new year when the music was interrupted by breaking news. A grave voice came over the airwaves. Lucky hushed the kids in the back seat and turned up the radio.
President Roosevelt said in a statement today that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, from the air.
* * *
Details were sketchy, but it was clear America was under attack. President Franklin Roosevelt confirmed the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor just before eight o'clock in the morning with hundreds of planes, catching the U.S. Navy by surprise and sinking several ships. Lucky stopped the car and just stared at the radio in disbelief. The holiday spirit was gone. When the report ended, he put the car back in gear and drove in silence, waiting for the next update. The boys in the back stopped wrestling, and everyone hung on the words of the newscaster each time he came on with new details.
Twenty ships—including eight battleships—destroyed.
Three hundred airplanes.
Almost twenty-five hundred dead—including civilians—and more than a thousand wounded.
A pit grew in Lucky's stomach. He'd had no idea there was a Pearl Harbor, let alone where it was. The Japanese threat was something of a surprise to him too. He'd spent months following the Nazi advance across Europe and thinking about Leroy "Sully" Sullivan, his best friend, who had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force almost a year before. They both dreamed of being fighter pilots. His plan to follow Sully to Canada was dashed, but now with America in the war, his dream of being a fighter pilot was again in play. He didn't have to wait to follow Sully—who was in North Africa fighting the Germans—any longer.
It was America's war now, and he was ready to answer the call to defend his country.