(Editor’s note: In reviewing my father’s columns from fifty-plus years ago, this has often struck me as one of the more enduring. So little has changed when it comes to making war, and concerning ourselves with impact on the young veterans.)
From The Argus-Observer issue of July 23, 1953
Lt. Charles Wheeler of Midvale, Idaho, found favor with the speech-hardened members of the Ontario Kiwanis club Wednesday.
The lieutenant is a good example of America’s 1953 soldier: Not as cocky as the doughboys of World War I. Kind of fresh and modest like the GI flyboys of World War II, but somehow quieter, a little surer and more mature in manner.
It’s as if war had become such a steady business than now Americans wear the military mantle with more grace than in past campaigns.
Lt. Wheeler is the commanding officer of a C-97 flying for the Military Air Transport Service. He flies from Honolulu to and from San Francisco and to Tokyo and back.
It’s a big plane, tail 38 feet high, 147-foot wingspread, 145 feet long.
Wheeler has hauled three 6x6 GI trucks with trailers in one load and two H5 helicopters to Korea in another load.
On the return flight from Tokyo, the load is generally litter patients wounded in Korea. The plane will carry 73 in addition to nurses and crew members.
The pilot made a hit talking to Kiwanis members partly because he is obviously no public speaker. He just talked, but with good language, sincerity, personal charm and intelligence.
The club members like that kind of a talk better than a forensic show.
Lt. Wheeler said that at first he liked to visit with the wounded men from Korea. Then as he settled down to the steady routine of carrying wounded the monotony of the misery he saw began to wear on him.
He said he has gotten so he walks right through the plane without stopping to visit with the men, just to avoid the cumulative feeling of misery that comes from hearing their troubles.
Sometimes walking through the plane the chief pilot is grabbed by a patient who wants something done for him. “Generally a psycho. We haul lots of psychos,” he said.
“But sometimes you have a funny experience that makes you think,” he said. “One night, I walked through the aisle by the litter patients and a man grabbed me, and asked me to light his cigarette. When I stooped over I noticed he was a Negro boy with his hand amputated. So I lit a lighter for him and the other hand was amputated, too.
“I put a cigarette in his mouth and lit it; and then I noticed his feet were amputated too.
“But he was one of the happiest men I’ve seen. Real happy to be going back to the States.
“When you see something like that it makes you kind of wonder. You see so many things that don’t seem right. I don’t know whether it’s my fault. I’m trying to do what I can. I don’t know whether it’s your fault, maybe not.
“But here at home it seems like . . . well, it just seems like so many people are just sort of nonchalant.” -- By Don Lynch