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.
The First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt surprise Ball Turret Gunner Fran Perkins shown in dark glasses and Radio Man Robert Patterson, by congratulating them on their heroism during the Last Flight of the Daisy Mae. The First Lady is autographing dollar bills along with the remarks, “Congratulations Sergeant Francis Perkins for shooting down four Jap Zeros, two confirmed and two probable, on July 24, 1943. Sincerely, Eleanor Roosevelt”
This is just a few days after Fran Perkins received miraculous eye surgery from an Australian eye surgeon stationed at Hawaiian General Hospital. Fran’s buddy, Robert Patterson is also helping Fran walk, getting use to walking and moving about with only one good eye.
Robert Patterson, in spite of of being wounded with “hunks of metal sticking out of his legs,” was able to restore the damaged radio and transmit Morse Code to Midway Island, to alert the airfield that the Daisy Mae was still flying out there somewhere and preparing to land on Midway or ditch at sea. Patterson’s message said “Big Girl Coming Home. Big Girl Coming Home.” All personnel working in the control tower at Midway knew exactly what that message meant.
Midway Island prepared for the worst and had every able bodied soldier sailor and marine alert and ready to stand by the airfield to help extracting the wounded and dying aboard the severely damaged Daisy Mae
The Daisy Mae, herself had tricks up her sleeve to assist Pilot Joe Gall, and Co-pilot John Van Horn in a bizarre but safe landing. Over 800 bullet and cannon holes would be counted by the surviving crew and sailors the following day.
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.”
The US Census of 1938 referred to Arvid Ambur as a “Farm Boy.” Arvid was so much more. As a flight engineer serving under Lt. Joseph Gall, he helped save the ship and crew of the Daisy Maeon a bombing mission over Wake Island, and then the dangerous return trip to Midway on July 24, 1943.
On November 19, 1943, Arvid flew with Pilot Joe Gall again on a B-24 Bomber called Hit Parade. Three men were wounded and Arvid, ignoring his own shrapnel wound, sewed the Navigator, Lt. Ben Weiss’s hand back on his wrist, and attended to Top Turret Thomas Wyckoff’s wounds, before attending to his own. This bombing mission took place over Betio Island to kick off the Marine landing on Tarawa the following day.
Fran Perkins’ birthday is December 17, 1923. He never saw the Life Magazine cover that showed the rest of his surviving crew after the Last Flight of the Daisy Mae. Fran Perkins, would have loved to have been here to stand beside his shipmates, but he was recovering from wounds stateside along with Robert Patterson, the Waist Gunner and Radioman.
The image shown is from the cover of Life Magazine. It shows the 42nd Squadron of the 11th Bomb Group and the B-24 Bomber “Hit Parade.” The remaining heroes of the Daisy Mae, went into battle on the night of November 19, 1943 on “Hit Parade,” to help soften up the Japanese defenses at Tarawa. They were hit with flak over Betio Island, in the Tarawa Group, and Navigator Benjamin I Weiss, Flight Engineer Arvid B. Ambur, and Top Turret Gunner Thomas Wyckoff, were all wounded when shrapnel exploded from under the Navigator’s desk almost tearing Ben’s wrist off. Even though Arvid B. Ambur was wounded in the arm at the same moment, he took care of Ben’s wrist sewing it back into place.
After World War II, Ben Weiss visited Arvid at his home in Presho, South Dakota. Ben felt he needed to thank Arvid, for tending to his wounds during battle. Ben went on to meet up with Fran Perkins ten years after the Last Flight of the Daisy Mae, which fulfilled a ten year promise, and gave Fran one of the best memories of his life.
Even though it is my Dad’s birthday, Ball Turret Gunner, Staff Sergeant Francis J. Perkins Jr. , he would want to share his story about these exceptional men that he served with who are shown in this Life Magazine cover along with other members of the 42nd Squadron, 11th Bomb Group, of the 7th Army Air Force.
Other men who flew the bombing mission on “Hit Parade,” shown in the picture are, Snuffy Storts, Nose Gunner, Earl Conley, Tail Gunner, and Joe Gall, Pilot.
All of these men along with Fran Perkins and Robert Patterson who were wounded during the Last Flight of the Daisy Mae, assembled together at 11th Bomb Group Reunions, five or six times during there lives, sharing an appreciation of life with those who could understand their strong Brotherhood.
So Dad, I hope you are with your marvelous Band of Brothers shown on the cover of Life Magazine right now along with your other Brothers who didn’t make it to the picture shown above.
Salute the wind and moon the camera when the Life Photographer says “cheese.”
Today you get a view of Flexible Gunnery School in 1943 during World War II. The twenty minute video shows you many of the classes the gunners took during World War II in order to qualify to fight in the Pacific Front on B-24 Liberator Bombers. Earl Conley was the Rear Gunner (Rear Turret Gunner) on the Daisy Mae. This video depicts what Earl Conley, Arvid Ambur, Fran Perkins, Robert Patterson, Thomas Wyckoff and Robert Storts, went through during their training before being assigned their first ship, Thumper during the War. ..
The Bombardier, Lt. Myron Jensen also had to go to school and qualify as a gunner on the B-24, as the Bombardiers were actually the official Armament Officer on board the ship. Lt. Myron Jensen fought beside his non-commissioned brothers during the Last Flight of the Daisy Mae.