WWII 'Hump' pilot flew in China
By Tom Gillispie
Special to the Journal
Bill Minish of Winston-Salem flew about 50 missions during World War II, but his biggest adventure didn't happen in his usual haunts - China, Burma and India.
It happened as Minish and another pilot were flying on a mission to photograph parts of the southern Arabian peninsula. Suddenly, Minish lost visual contact with the other plane.
Minish, who died Dec. 16 after an 11-year bout with Parkinson's disease, told his story to his grandson, Jordan Patterson, on Feb. 27, 2000, and the interview was taped and transcribed.
"He went under my plane and came up and hit me in the side and took one engine off," Minish said in the interview. "The radio was all gone, and it tore off part of the fuselage. Luckily, it was about 150 miles to the nearest air base, and I turned around and came back and landed safely."
Minish's wife, Ernestine, said that her husband didn't mention in that interview that one of his crewmen panicked when the plane caught fire.
"That was the biggest scare I had the whole time I was in the service," Minish told his grandson.
Minish was one of the "Hump" pilots who flew the C-26 cargo planes between India and China. It wasn't a glamorous job, but the Chinese, then an American ally, desperately needed the food, gasoline, ammunition, canned goods, tents, chickens and other goods.
Why were they called Hump pilots? The Hump was the Himalayas, the tallest mountain range in the world.
"It was the forgotten theater," Ernestine Minish said yesterday. "People forget that people served in India, China and Burma, too."
Minish and Ernestine, his second wife, were married 29 years. They often attended reunions of the Hump Pilot Association, and the couple went to Taipai, Taiwan, in 1985 to attend the 40th reunion. Many of the mementos of Minish's service are collected in a frame that includes a war-time picture of Minish, his medals and the Chinese flag that Hump pilots wore on the back of their flight jackets.
Among the medals are the Distinguished Flying Cross and two wings that the Chinese presented Minish at the 40th reunion.
Minish joined the Army in March 1942 at age 23, and he was assigned to the 6th Armored Division in the California desert. He had ridden in a plane only once, flying over Winston-Salem, but he decided to become a pilot. He applied for flight training and went to Santa Ana, Calif., as a student officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Minish received training in California, New Mexico and Missouri, and he and his crew left Baer Field in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 1943.
He had said he cherished the memories of the rain forests of Brazil, the river at Belem in Brazil, Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, the confluence of the blue and white Nile at Khartoum, the Taj Mahal in the moonlight, the snow-capped Himalayas at sunrise and Kipling's road to Mandalay.
Minish told his wife that the happiest day of his life was Aug. 6, 1945, the day that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. He knew, she said, that the war was nearing an end in the Pacific.
He traveled home on an aircraft carrier, Kadoshan Bay, and landed in Wilmington, Calif., on Dec. 23, 1945.
Minish worked for the U.S. Postal Service for many years, but his three years of service stuck with him for more than 60 years. He often quoted John Gillespie Magee Jr.'s poem, High Flight, which begins with "Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings."
Minish obviously rode those silvered wings over and over in his mind.
"He always said that this was the most exciting time of his life," Ernestine Minish said, "and he'd do it again if asked."
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