The Last Flight of the Daisy Mae: A Story of Heroism and Hope at 17,000 Feet is recommended in the Book Corner Section of the November-December Issue 2017 of VFW Magazine…
“It is an honor and I know my Dad and the other ten crewman that gave everything that had under impossible odds to fight for each other and trade their lives so that their buddies could live, would appreciate the recognition.” Wayne F. Perkins Author/Narrator/Producer
“Never underestimate the power of hope.”–Lt. Benjamin I. Weiss, Navigator, Daisy Mae, on July 24, 1943 in the air battle over Wake Island.
Phil Stillings and Fran Perkins getting ready to give War Bond speeches on Oahu. They are recovering from wounds and put on a detail to help Eleanor Roosevelt, our First Lady, raise money through the sale of War Bonds to civic groups around Oahu, Hawaii.
Tribute to SGT Francis Perkins and the crew of the Daisy Mae…
My friend, Jim Hawkins pays his respects to SGT Francis Perkins and the crew of the Daisy Mae on Veterans Day, 2016. Jim is a Vietnam Veteran and Korea Defense Veteran. Taking a trip to Bushnell National Cemetery in Florida, Jim hoisted a glass of Mogen David Wine.
This tribute means so much to me because during the Last Flight of the Daisy Mae, when Fran Perkins lay blind and wounded aboard the Daisy Mae, and the ship’s odds of returning safely were nil, Navigator Benjamin I Weiss, ordered nineteen year old Fran Perkins to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner 10 years into the future.
Ten years later, on Thanksgiving Day, Fran Perkins carried out the command of his superior officer, Lt. Benjamin I. Weiss. Fran and Ben made it back from the War, alive. Ben brought a bottle of Mogen David wine and had a silent toast to the ship and crew of the Daisy Mae. Every year since, Mogen David Wine and Thanksgiving go hand in hand in the remaining Perkins family.
Jim Hawkins, in October 2016, sent me an email asking if it would be okay to salute my Dad and his shipmates.
What an honor for my Dad and an honor for me. Jim placed my book The Last Flight of the Daisy Mae, and a bottle of Ben Weiss’s favorite wine, Mogen David, beside Fran’s marker at Bushnell Florida National Cemetery.
It took me three years to research and write the book about Fran, Ben and his buddies. Many times I would close my eyes at my keyboard and I could almost see the now deceased 11 heroes of the Daisy Maeas much younger versions of themselves, talking, laughing, and trading “Joe Lewis,” jabs in jest.
Right now I see these young men, standing by a younger version of Daisy Mae, saluting Jim Hawkins and his family. Navigator Ben Weiss is pouring Mogen David wine for the brave, young crew in a return salute to my friend, Jim Hawkins.
Completely surrounded by 15 of the best fighter planes Japan has to offer, bullets and cannon rounds smother the B-24 Bomber called the “ Daisy Mae.” Bloody wounded and dying men are everywhere on board. There is no place to hide. Even if there were, the eleven men on board today, will fight to the death if need be, to save each other and to save their ship. They are desperately trying to pay life forward for their buddies.
Flying and fighting at 17, 000 feet, and at 300 miles per hour, the B-24 Bomber, is struggling to fly with jagged edge metal pushing against the wind, leaking fuel, and the fire power of the enemy. Illuminating tracer rounds are starting fires throughout the doomed ship.
From his ball-turret gunnery position, located beneath the 10 man crew and the largest bomber in the world at the time, Sergeant Fran Perkins, lay wounded after shooting down two Japanese Zeroes and taking two more Zeros, out of the fight. He is totally blind, Fran’s front gun sight from his machine guns, was driven into his forehead by the second exploding warplane directly in front of Fran’s deadly aim. He lay bleeding from massive wounds and is completely blind.
The remaining Japanese fighter planes begin to turn around and head back to their base on Wake Island. Perhaps it is because they lost too many aircraft to the fierce fighters aboard the Daisy Mae or perhaps they are straying too far from their airbase on Wake Island. If they run out of fuel, they will have to crash land in the shark infested waters of the Pacific Ocean. If the severely damaged Daisy Mae, falls apart or her engines dies out, she and all aboard will receive a similar fate.
The valiant ship and crew are still 1200 miles from home, their base on Midway Island, with very few instruments that are operational and nothing but miles and miles of ocean and a severe storm they must fly through as well. This is the worst tropical storm in ten years. The wounded and dying ship will have to give everything she’s got to weather the storm and land safely.
Aboard the Daisy Mae, men are wounded and some are dying. Fran Perkins struggles to move his wounded body and crippled gun turret back into the belly of the ship. He knows his tour of duty is over, since he is blind. Perkins feels he is only dead weight on the ship and is now worthless in saving his crew from the deadly high speed battle raging at 17,000 feet of above the sea.
Lt. Benjamin I. Weiss, the Navigator on board, studies his maps on the Navigator’s table set up in the cabin directly behind Pilot Joe Gall, and his trusty Co-pilot, John Van Horn.
Picture yourself looking over Ben’s shoulder as he studies his maps. Today, if you could study a world map, you will see exactly what Navigator Weiss is looking at on July 24, 1943. You and Ben are looking at the clear blue Pacific Ocean with no land masses between Wake Island, the site of the battle and Midway Island, the airfield where they must land. There are over four hours of open sea, and now possibly five or six because of the damaged aircraft engines. The only ships at sea they may encounter along the way if they ditch the massive bomber in the ocean, are two enemy submarines that are tracking Daisy Mae by radar. The Japanese submarines will not take survivors. They will take no prisoners.
Convinced to stay on his new course adjustment, Weiss leaves his table and runs to the rear of the ship. There, Flight Engineer Arvid B. Ambur, after saving the hydraulics, is now administering first aid to the wounded and dying aboard the struggling ship. Weiss can do nothing more as a Navigator but just maybe he can help as a healer.
“Fran, Do you have a girl back home?…
Fran Perkins lays between wounded Myron Jensen, the Bombardier, and Joe “Pop” Evans, the wounded Aerial Photographer. Since Perkins is the only man conscious, Weiss asks the blind airman;
“Sergeant, Do you have a girl back home?”
Nineteen-year old Perkins, nods, “Yes, her name is Elaine.” He hesitates and looks downcast. “I’m blind now, Elaine won’t want me anymore.”
Lt. Weiss thinks for a moment, and then responds as a much older and wiser man, although Ben Weiss was only a few years older than Fran.
Smiling, yet assuming the role of a superior officer, Ben orders boldly, “Sergeant Perkins, ten years from now, after this War is over, I want to have Thanksgiving Dinner at your home and I want Elaine to cook for us.”
“Yes Sir, “Fran responds loudly, as he is trained to respond when communicating with a superior officer.
Then the Navigator kneels down, his voice softens as he says, “we will make it back safely, I swear to you we will.”
After a long pause, Perkins asks softly, “Sir, can you navigate by the stars?” Perkins is thinking of his life long dream of piloting his own plane from Midway Island at night and navigating by the stars. He is also fully aware that now he will never achieve that dream.
Ben Weiss responds, “ I need to get back to the cabin and keep Daisy Mae on course for Midway. We will talk later, I promise.”
Ben stares at his blind and helpless,comrade who is bleeding and lying on the floor. Ben states boldly, “Never underestimate the power of hope.”
Ten Years Later…
It is Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1953, ten years after Fran’s last mission on his beloved, Daisy Mae. After a few miracles, most of the crew made it back to Midway, and a brilliant Australian eye surgeon working in Hawaii, was able to restore one of Fran’s eyes. Both eyes move together, however blindness in Fran’s left eye remains. Fran is very grateful this Thanksgiving, as he is able to accomplish his goals without a one eye handicap.
Fran’s wife is preparing Thanksgiving dinner. The holiday aroma of Turkey, stuffing and baked pies fills the small apartment in Evergreen Park, Illinois near the tough South-side of Chicago.
There is a knock on the door. My Dad, Francis J. Perkins, former gunner on the B-24, Daisy Mae, springs like a Jack-In-The-Box, from his dining room chair. The door opens and standing there is a man, a few years older than my Dad, with the biggest smile I have ever seen in my life.
“Come in and meet my family,” Fran beams.
“Ben, this is my wife, Elaine, my Lady Elaine. This is my daughter Linda and my son Wayne. Family, this is your Uncle Ben.”
Navigator Weiss smiles as he replies, “I have waited ten years, to meet you, again and I am especially happy to meet Elaine. I had a strong feeling we would all meet someday.”
Ben opens his bottle of Mogen David wine and begins a Thanksgiving tradition in the Perkins home lasting long after our new visitor was gone and even after three more baby girls are born to Fran and Elaine Perkins, years later.
The Thanksgiving dinner is wonderful and the conversation is lively, but conspicuously absent of talk about the War. This is a silent tribute to the friends and family they lost during World War II. Fran and Ben are living their lives because of those friends. Their friends sacrificed and payed life forward to the two young men enjoying a grateful Thanksgiving that only they can fully understand and appreciate. Somewhere, the rest of the silent crew must be smiling.
After dinner, Ben has a surprise for the Perkins family. Weiss commands, “Saddle up everyone, we have a mission to complete. We must complete our mission.”
Within, two minutes, we find ourselves loading into Ben’s rental car. He takes us to an airport in Chicago as he has a surprise for the Fran’s family. During World War II, the airport was called CIT or Chicago International Airport. Today, Chicago International Airport, has had a recent name change. It is now named after the most significant battle of the Pacific Front during World War II. It carries the famous name of the battle that restored hope in every living American in the summer of 1942. It was the same name as the airfield that the Daisy Mae took off from and crash landed during her famous battle at 17,000 feet above Wake Island.
The airport Ben, Fran and the family are traveling to is now called “Midway.”
At Midway, Ben unloads the car and quickly and efficiently loads the family onto a small single engine airplane. Fran in the front passenger seat, Linda and Wayne in the rear seat. As Ben was lifting up Fran’s six year old son, little Wayne asks the World War II hero, “Uncle Ben, do you have a name for your airplane?”
“Yes, I do as he winks at my Dad. I call her the Daisy Mae.”
The Last Flight of the Daisy Mae…
The autumn sun is setting as Ben’s Daisy Mae is taking off from Midway. Soon, they are flying over Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park, Soldier Field, and all of the venues that the Perkins family will enjoy over their lifetimes because of the heroics of the two young men sitting in the front seats and the brave sacrifices of the other nine crew members on one hellish day in the summer of 1943.
Fran and Ben fly as two brothers, flying, talking, laughing and just having fun. This time there is no rank or decorum separating them. In place of bullets and bombs, there are heroes and hope.
Ben turns the plane around and heads out to the darkest regions of Chicago’s Lake Michigan. Soon Ben turns over controls to Fran and is teaching him how to fly for the very first time. Fran cannot believe it. With his young family as witness, Fran Perkins obeys every command Ben gives him and enjoys every moment he is sharing with his family.
“Fran, I remember the last time we were on the bomber together. You asked me if I ever navigated by the stars. Do you want to learn how?
Fran Perkins can barely speak. An emotional lump fills his throat. Fran nods “yes” and Ben points to the star filled November skies.
Fran Perkins is now learning how to fly and navigate by the best damned navigator in the whole damned Army Air Corps. Ben Weiss delivers on a dream and a promise he made ten years earlier in a desperate battle, when the odds were neither Ben nor Fran would survive.
Ben instructs Fran to look out the window into the star filled black skies over Lake Michigan, and says, “Fran the secret to navigating at night involves mastering two tools.”
“What are the tools I need to master. I’m ready,” Fran replies determined.
Fran is feeling the same excitement he felt many years ago , when he was just nineteen climbing aboard his very first B-24 bomber with his buddies.
Ben points to the windshield and then to his right and says, “first you need to find the North Star which is located near that frying pan formation over there and then you need to master the most important tool of all.”
“OK, what tool is that, Ben?”
Ben smiles, “You need hope. Never underestimate the power of hope.”
Three men I am so proud to have served with in the Army include Billy Lewis, Song CK and Jung Muyung.
Upon arriving at our home base at Camp Hovey, Korea on Christmas Eve, in 1966, these three men along with Tony Rangel provided me a family many thousands of miles from home. I never had a brother growing and these three along with so many others became my brothers in the “Land of the Morning Calm,” Korea.
From Left to Right…
Two, KATUSAs, (Korean Augmentation to the United States Army) Sung and Jung, are seated next to Billy Lewis, showing them how to embrace their duty in a foreign land.
Shown on the left was one of the first guys I ever met in the Army. We were stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, located on the Tennessee/Kentucky border. Growing up in a small, rural area of Tennessee, he was my personal Davy Crockett, the King of the Wild Frontier. (For those of you who read my narrative non-fiction book, “The Last Flight of the Daisy Mae, ” I used Billy Lewis as my Dad’s rifle instructor during World War II, but he became my rifle “coach,” when I was at Fort Campbell in Basic Training. He was a trainee just like myself, however on the very first day on the rifle range, he would fire his M14, like no-one the instructors, had ever seen before. No one ever experienced a shot grouping so tightly packed together no matter the target distance.
When I raised my M14 rifle to shoot for the very first time, I was wild and was afraid of the kick. I was flinching badly on every shot. When the instructors stopped the firing to reload, they sent Billy Lewis, to give me some help.
He reacted as the true Country Gentleman he truly was, and with a little advice, coaching, and using Tennessee wind-age and Kentucky elevation, I was soon shooting like a pro.
After Basic Training at Fort Campbell, he, Tony Rangel and I were all sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for Light Vehicle Training School. We were only there for 5 weeks, because we were needed badly in South Korea, as six men on patrol were ambushed on our side of the South Korean border and 50,000 South Korean (ROK) troops were sent to help our American forces in Vietnam.
Billy and the KATUSAs in the picture are sharing stories and culture as they are helpful in translating for us and are sworn to put up with our outrageous behaviors.
Before arriving at Camp Hovey, I spent a few days, waiting for a unit to start up. I, along with the three men shown in the picture, would be the first soldiers in the Weapons Platoon, (3rd Platoon) of B company 3rd Battalion 32nd Infantry, Regiment of the 7th Division.
After the bugle for reveille, “Aejukga,” the National Anthem of Korea and then the Star Spangled Banner, would play. We would hold our salutes through both. Aejukga is a beautiful song and immediately gave me a sense of purpose in being in such a unique foreign land.
When I arrived in my hooch, a Quonset Hut that could hold 40 soldiers, immediately Song and Chung came over to help me unpack my duffel bag and help me arrange things in my wall locker and foot locker.
I never met a native of any country before and now I was meeting Song and Jung for the first time, just like Billy Lewis shown in the picture at the beginning of this story.
Telling Private Song in English that I love the sound of his Korean National Anthem, “Aegukga,” he was beaming his approval to that statement and asked, “Perkiso, do you want to learn how to sing it?”
What an honor, I thought, “Yes I would.”
In teaching me the song, he was very patient with my pronunciation of the words, laughing at times, and then he sang it with such a beautiful voice, it almost brought me to tears. Even though I was nineteen years old, I was so appreciative of my new friends and was willing to give my life for Billy and my new buddies shown here.
Song, whose name fit, because he was always happy and singing, appreciated our compliments, always had a smile on his face. He struggled to learn English but he taught me all of the words to the Korean National Anthem, which I still remember today. After teaching me the Anthem he began to sing a song called “Arirang.”
Arirang, in English sounds like “ah-di-dahng.” You can hear it played in every shop and restaurant. It is a story about a man leaving his home to go to work and hiking up through a pass in the mountains called “Arirang.”
The strange thing about it is Arirang means different things to different people. To Privates Song and Jung, (pronounced Chung) it meant “friendship between Americans and Koreans.” It means whatever the listener wants it to mean. Walking down the street in Seoul or in the village, a stranger may be humming the song, from the other direction another Korean may hear it and start singing it. The country of South Korea was a Broadway Musical. Arirang is the featured theme song of the country. Played as a marching tune, “Arirang” was the official marching song of my 7th Division. It was designated the official marching song after the cease fire agreement in 1953. Even though the 7th Division is stateside now, they still play “Arirang” as a march to salute their Korean comrades.
Here is Arirang followed by the South Korean National Anthem, “Aeguka” played a Flash Mob of University students. Listen and enjoy the YouTube video.
AKA “Jerry Lewis,” because of his smile and sense of humor. Jung was the first KATUSA, I met after arriving at our new “hooch, ” Quonset Hut barracks at Camp Hovey.
Shown on the far right is Private Jung Muyung. Jung, and Song sat with me my first night in Korea, showing were to put my clothes and gear to make sure I was ready for inspections that happened all of the time.
Jerry and I Get in a Fight?…
One Sunday, we were off duty in our hooch, and I began telling Jung about American hand-to-hand combat. When the 7th Division practiced hand to hand, we either used the bogus stuff we learned in Basic Training, or we had to use our rifles with bayonets attached because we were know as the “Bayonet Division.”
All of our KATUSA’s, there were three assigned to each platoon, went to another area down the road and practiced taekwondo.
I challenged Jung, to a match, and within a few seconds I got him locked up. We were in a standing position, and all of a sudden, Jung gave me a head butt, and I started falling backwards. Jung began yelling, “Perkiso, Perkiso,” as I was seeing stars and falling backwards. Even as I was dazed and falling backwards, I tried to signal him that it was okay and not to worry about me.
He hovered over my limp body until I came to. We were just goofing off and Jung felt badly and so did I. The head wound didn’t hurt as much as knowing my new friend, reacted just as he was trained to do in combat by his KATUSA leader, SGT Han.
All of us went up to the DMZ together on Labor Day, September 4, 1967. That was the last time I got to talk with Song and Jung, but when I listen to the Korean student flash mob, I think I still am communicating with my good friends…
The crew of Cabin in the Sky shown here died when their ship was shot down during the Wake Island Raid on July 24th, 1943. They were the ship directly behind the Daisy Mae. One of the gunners shot an attacking Zero, and the Zero veered off course into one of the B24’s twin rudders sending both planes to the sea.
Daisy Mae tail gunner, Earl Conley watched as Cabin in the Sky spiraled down toward the Pacific 17,000 fee below. No one bailed out of the aircraft as each man knew that if he reached the ocean alive, the Japanese would capture and torture each man before killing him.
Conley watched all of their guns firing toward the swarming Zeros firing at the Daisy Maeand the remaining four bombers, even as each man knew he was spiraling down to his death. The heroes on Cabin in the Sky went above and beyond their call of duty.
It was only a month earlier, when Conley, Ambur, Perkins, Storts and the rest of the crew of the Daisy Maewere flying Cabin in the Sky on a submarine patrol off the shore of Hawaii.