WHISTLING JACK LOOKS BACK

November 10, 2001 12:00 am
Once Jack Jarman found himself closing head-on at 400 mph with these fabric-covered British bombers pictured behind him. (The Observer/GARY FLETCHER).
Once Jack Jarman found himself closing head-on at 400 mph with these fabric-covered British bombers pictured behind him. (The Observer/GARY FLETCHER).

They said it would be a milk run nothing to worry about no flak, no planes, just drop your bombs and come home, Jack Jarman recalled.

In the Italian Alps they were bombing a railroad that supplied the German army.

Jarman, the bombardier, peered through his bomb sight for the target. The bridge was small, about 50 by 100 feet, so we had to fly a close pattern 30 feet apart.

Suddenly Boom! the plane flying off his left wing went down in flames. Then Boom! off his right wing he could see only the tips of the tail and wings of his friend Moose Fowlers plane, engulfed in a fireball.

Distraught and enraged, Jarman appealed to the pilot to dive down and strafe those bastards.

See those orange flashes down there? said the big Iowa corn husker of a pilot. Thats rapid fire Pom-Pom. Wed never come out of the dive, and thered be just one less ship.

Today Jarman in his apartment 105 in the Alpine House for assisted living knows that his farmer friend was right.

Although it is nearly 60 years later, Jarman knows them all by name and by heart. He remembers friends who failed to return, like Lloyd Johnson who flew a P-38 against the Japanese over the Philippines.

Jarman survived 55 missions. He was lead bombardier of 57 bombers. There were times when his machine gun barrels were burned up and the plane was flying floppy, side to side from being shot up limping toward the Rhine River separating Germany and France. He credits his survival to the Good Lord and four white-haired angles hovering over me that are now bald.

On the ground, Jarman had also traveled through the other side of the World War II air war dead bodies in buildings razed by allied bombers, and starving children in the street.

HUMOR - LIFE IN A HALF TRACK

Jarman, though, focuses on the humor that goes with it for nearly every soldier.

Before becoming an officer, he was a rear-rank private living in a half-track in the Mojave Desert. It must have been 120 degrees the day they saw a distant staff car rising over one dune to disappear behind another.

By the time he was in visual range, Gen. George S. Patton saw Jarmans outfit sweating profusely, shadow-boxing in the sun.

Whos in command? the general asked. Then he said, Fine spirit.

Like the flamboyant general, Pvt. Jarman was a rebel inside. I didnt care for the infantry. I hated walking. Off duty, he rode motorcycles, including a liberated German BMW.

Jarman applied to be a pilot. After becoming an officer, he was told not to fraternize with the

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enlisted, like his buddy the turret gunner. He protects my rear in the air. Hes welcome to walk alongside my rear into town, responded

Jarman.

ARMY AIR CORPS TO AIR FORCE

Jarmans U.S. Army Air Corps air cadet training took place from California to Louisiana and Georgia, where they picked up their new B-26 Marauders.

Jarman graduated with skills from primary flight school.

In the advanced school, he flew a plane in which the rivets popped out in a spin. More irritating was the harangue of a know-it-all instructor who had just graduated two classes before Jarman.

Jarman floorboarded the rudder pedal, slide-slipped the plane, dipping a wing tip precariously close to the ground, completely stalled and dropped into a perfect landing.

At least I washed out in style, Jarman said.

He was disappointed to be among the 75 percent the instructor threatened to eliminate.

Later Jarman heard that his pilot class 43-J was virtually wiped out, flying low-level A-20 attack bombers in the invasion of France from Italy.

In his first flight of B-26 crew school, the pilot tore the wing plates loose in a 500-mph dive during which Jarman found himself free-floating.

They were losing a plane a day in Tampa Bay, he said until General Jimmy Doolittle showed up.

From Florida, it took two weeks to fly to Italy via Brazil and Africa, and island-hopping through

the Caribbean, Atlantic and Mediterranean.

WILL WE MAKE IT TO COMBAT?

Along the trip, one of the times they ran out of fuel, they landed on a beach after having been led on a wrong turn out over the Amazon jungle.

In mid-Atlantic, they dropped onto tiny Ascension Island as both engines (each burning 75 gallons of gas per hour) quit out of fuel.

In Africa, Jarman awoke in his officers quarters to see a boa constrictor stretched along a ceiling pole from one side of the thatched hut to the other.

In the Sahara Desert, they raced along the sand at 150 mph for five miles trying to get aloft in the hot, light, thin air.

You would need a terrible strong wind to keep a kite in the air, Jarman said. They hit a bump, retracted the wheels and were at last aloft.

They had to clear Marrakesh Pass of the Atlas Mountains. It was 13,000 feet, the altitude limit of their craft. A shocked shepherd was laid out flat in the pass. Ill bet we blew the hair off his goats, Jarman said.

They passed over into the cooler, fat Mediterranean air and easier flying, but one engine quit. With a full fuel load they had to dive. The sudden increase in air pressure ruptured Jarmans eardrum. Still bothers me some.

By then he had survived the mumps, food poisoning, flying through a typhoon, searching in fog for a Belgian Congo airdrome.

They looked like the terrorists we see on TV today, Jarman said about the drug lords thugs that chased them in Tunis. There was a bin Laden then too, named Hitler, he said.

I dont know how we made it to combat, Jarman chuckled.

HEROES - THEN AND NOW

On the Isle of Capri, Jarman saluted the surviving half of the heroes of the Poleski Raid. Flying 50 feet off the ground, their bomb blasts took out many of their planes.

Were going to have some heroes out of this (Afghanistan) war, too, Jarman said.

After five years of active duty, Jarman flew reserves. During the Korean conflict, he became a U.S. Air Force B-29 navigator/instructor.

In Alpine House, his phone rings.

That was my friend Ed Papac. He was in a submarine in Tokyo Bay, Jarman said. At chow time, a Navy veteran stops by in a

wheelchair.

From Wallowa Lake to Enterprise, Jarman and his dog have been a familiar sight in his pickup. Jarmans rich, melodic whistling can lift ones spirits blocks away.

Now his big white poodle Pretty Boy waits in the room while Whistling Jack, as he is known to his friends, rides to the mess hall in his electric cart proudly displaying an American flag.

Editors note: Veterans like Jack Jarman are all around, but they wont be around forever. Sunday is Veterans Day a good day to ask a vet about his or her experiences. The ensuing story will most certainly perk up the teller and the listener alike.