THE WARBIRD'S FORUM
Frank Losonsky, 1920-2020
Frank Losonsky was the last of the roughly 300 American Volunteer Group ground crew and pilots who went to Burma in 1941 to serve as part of the Chinese Air Force in the defense of Nationalist China. He closed out the legend on February 6 in his 100th year.
Frank joined the US Army Air Corps in 1939 after graduating from high school and attending Chicago Aeronautical University (probably briefly, for he was only 19). When CAMCO recruiters visited Selfridge Field in May 1941, he signed up and went to Burma aboard Bloemfontein.
He served as a crew chief in the 3rd Squadron Hell's Angels at Rangoon, Kunming, and elsewhere. After the group was disbanded in July 1942, he paused to get married, then returned to China as a mechanic for CNAC, the paramilitary airline that flew cargo and passengers "over the Hump" between India and China. Postwar, he worked for TransAsiatic Airlines, which flew between Manila and Rangoon, and in the process himself became a commercial pilot. He later became a jet engineer for Allison Division of General Motors, which had built the engines for the Flying Tigers' P-40 fighter planes.
Four years ago, Frank flew backseat in a TP-40 Warhawk at an air show in Atlanta. "What a great experience!" he exulted after the pilot treated him to two barrel rolls in the two-seater variant of the fighters he had serviced in 1941-42.
It's possible but unlikely that another AVG veteran is still alive somewhere, but if so, he has never surfaced. (A few men left China early and weren't eligible to join the veterans' group.) So as far as we know, Frank Losonsky was the last of that gallant breed. Blue skies to him and to all the others who answered the call when they were needed! -- Dan Ford (with the tip of the virtual hat to Moreno Aguiari, who organized the 2016 air show at Atlanta)
Remembering the last ace from the Battle of Britain
As Britain exits the European Union, it also mourns -- or ought to be mourning --
the splendidly named Paul Caswell Powe
Farnes, a Hurricane pilot credited with shooting down six German bombers
and a Messerschmitt fighter over France and Britain in 1940, plus two
shared victories and many planes damaged or "probable," incuding in the
1942 combat over Malta. A sergeant-pilot, he was commissioned and served
throughout the war and later flew jets in the postwar Royal Air Force, from
which he retired in 1958 with the rank of wing commander. In civilian life,
he ran a hotel in West Sussex. He died in his sleep on Tuesday morning,
January 28, at the age of 101.
"It was just part of my life," Farnes said of the BOB. "I've got no
particular feelings about it. I quite enjoyed it really." Let's hope that
his understated heroism sees Britain through its new Battle, as it reclaims
its independence from the European bureaucracy at Brussels. And let's hope
that the United States is as good an ally in 2020 as it was in the 1940s.
Stories from the Gulag
Out of the millions whom Stalin condemned to the Gulag, Varlam Shalamov was one of the few who
not only survived but made a work of genius out of his slavery. Frostbitten, louse-ridden,
beaten, and starved, he hacked at the face of a gold mine in Kolyma, in the frozen northeast
of Siberia, so remote it could only be reached by sea. He was a "political," arrested for
the crime of publicizing Lenin's last testament, which had urged the Communist Central
to remove Stalin as its general secretary. In 1937 the young man was rearrested and sent to
Kolyma, not to leave it until Stalin died and Lenin's testament could at last be published
in the Soviet Union. There was no thermometer in Shalamov's camp, but
none was needed, because the prisoners knew how to measure the vital temperature: when a gob of
their spit froze solid before hitting the ground, it was 40 degrees below zero. He endured
for 17 years altogether, in part because he was fell sick with typhus and a doctor allowed
him to train as a medic, so he could and remain in the comparative safety of the hospital
where he'd been sent to die.
As translated anew by Donald Rayfield, his
Kolyma Stories have been published by the admirable New York Review Classics in two volumes.
Most are very short, reminding me of the Paris edition of Hemingway's In Our Time, in
which life is pared to the bone, like the body of a Gulag slave. I found the book hypnotic, and
at times had to force myself to put it down. Freed in 1953, Shalamov began to write poetry,
and he tells us that what kept him alive in the camps was remembering the poems he'd read:
"This was the only thing that had not yet been crushed by fatigue, sub-zero temperatures,
starvation, and endless humiliations."
Other good stuff for February
Also reviewed this month, The Winter Army: The World War II Odyssey of the 10th Mountain
Division, America's Elite Alpine Warriors
, a superlative history of Tenth Mountain's
confused mission, long training, and final deployment to the Appenines of Italy; and The
Jungle is Neutral: A Soldier's Two-Year Escape from the Japanese Army
, by and about
Freddie Chapman, who survived not two but more than three years behind enemy lines in Malaya.
See the Warbird's Book Club
for more about these books.
See the Annals of Poland for Vladimir Putin's campaign to
reverse the 1989 dissolution of the Soviet Union and to blame Poland for starting the
Second World War. On a lighter note, see the Annals of the Flying Tigers
for your chance to check out in a Curtiss P-40 like the Tomahawks flown by the American
Volunteer Group in Burma and China.
Goodbye and good riddance to the EU!
I am writing this at 7 p.m. New Hampshire time, January 31, when it's already midnight in
Brussels, the heart of the European Union. So it is at this very moment that Brexit takes place
and the United Kingdom leaves the EU, for good or ill, but presumably forever. Though I am the
son of two Irish veterans of the "Troubles" of 1916-1923, and was twelve years old before I
understood that "bloody damn English" wasn't a single word, I've always had a fondness for the
England, and I headed off to the University of Manchester for graduate school. So my heart is
with the "English," as I still think of them, as they go off on this new national adventure.
I hope and trust it will turn out well for them, and also for what used to be thought of as
the English-Speaking Union. (I was invited to speak at the Union in Manchester, to explain
the mysteries of the American electoral system.) We could do worse than revive that quaint
notion, and join in a free-trade zone with Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Blue skies! -- Dan Ford
Welcome to the forum!
Here are a thousand or so files on airplanes, pilots, and the wars
of the past hundred years, grouped under these headings: