Gliders and Uncle Fester

Roamy here.  Some years ago, I attended an AIAA conference in Tucson.  One of the social activities for the conference was a cocktail party at the Pima Air Museum.  I enjoyed looking at all the exhibits, though I missed my chance for a bus tour of the Boneyard at next-door Davis-Monthan AFB.  Why?  There was an elderly gentleman who was a docent, answering questions about the planes.  (I have his name written down somewhere, but I can’t find it.)  I struck up a conversation with him, and he was just fascinating.   He was wearing a badge I hadn’t seen before, so I asked him what it was.

They say the “G” stood for guts – with a glider, it was a one-way flight, and there were no second chances at landing.  It’s been long enough since that conversation with that WW2 vet that I don’t remember what type of glider he said he flew, but it was more than likely the Waco CG-4, also called the Hadrian. 

These were usually towed by a C-47, occasionally a C-46.  These mostly wood and cloth planes were used to deliver either 13 troops and equipment or cargo such as a Jeep or a 75 mm howitzer.  It was first used in the Allied assault on Sicily in July 1943 and was flown not only in Europe but also the China-Burma-India theater.  Over 14,000 troops were brought in by glider in Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands and Germany.

It wasn’t the memory of Pima that begat this post, it was actually looking up an actor from an old TV show.  I’ve been watching “The Addams Family” with my kids, and I remembered that Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester) had been a child star, appearing in “The Kid” with Charlie Chaplin.  What I didn’t know is that Jackie Coogan had served as a glider pilot, flying a Waco CG-4A on a combat mission to Burma in March 1944.

And what goes around, comes around.  Coogan donated his flight jacket to the Palm Springs Air Museum.

4 thoughts on “Gliders and Uncle Fester”

  1. A good friend of mine was in the AAF and was training for C-47 service when suddenly his entire class was taken out of C-47s and put into gliders for the D-day invasion. He told me that our idea that they landed and then immediately unloaded the gear was wrong. When the Ac came to a stop, they ran for the woods. After they waited a while (I can’t remember how long he said) then they unloaded the equipment they carried.

    He told me the story of having swapped his shoulder holster for a pistol belt holster because he liked the look of it better. After he landed he said he thought his desire for the “Cowboy look” might have gotten him killed as the thigh thong hung up on his seat and he almost fell in a way he would not have been able get himself loose and he was the last one out of the glider.

    He later finished flight training and got our of the AF reserve as a Major. He had been grounded by then and was cordially invited to retire.

  2. My dad had an uncle who was a Glider pilot in WWII. All the stories I heard about Uncle Charley was about how he’d laugh that his job was to crash the glider in France, and then he’d take his time getting back to England to do it again. Didn’t hurt that Uncle Charley spoke French fluently and yet was American. Apparently ‘le madmoiselles’ liked that combo.

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