John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: September, 2016

We Never Stop Learning

Mostly, I read non-fiction; history and biographies being my go-to subjects. My challenge to the author when I select a new book: “Tell me things I don’t know.”


Since high school, I have been a student of World War II, particularly the war in the Pacific. I have read more books about both the war in general and the Pacific theater in particular than I can count. The first book I ever read cover to cover was, U-Boats at War, then a Ballantine paperback that retailed for 35 cents. While in college, I began collecting Samuel Eliot Morrison’s definitive sixteen volume set: History of Naval Operations During World War II. I devoured each volume multiple times.


Bill O’Reilly and his co-author, Martin Dugard, released their most recent “Killing…” book; Killing the Rising Sun, earlier this month. I grabbed a “first edition” copy at Barnes and Noble (30% off) a week ago. I set aside the book I was reading about Sully Sullenberger to take on their direct, no-nonsense style. I had previously read their Kennedy, Patton and Reagan books and I find these authors’ approach to be an easy and delightful read.


“Tell me things I don’t know.” As readable as the book was, by Page 274 of 294 pages of the written word, I had yet to learn something new from their enterprise. Ah, but then I reached Chapter 29 that chronicles a meeting in the Oval Office during the winter of 1948, almost three years after the war ended.


President Truman invited four senior Army Air Force officers to meet with him. General Carl Spatz, the man who commanded all of our air forces in Europe during the war and who was to become the first commander of the newly separated branch of service, the United States Air Force. General James (Jimmy) Doolittle, who led the 1942 raid on Tokyo flying twin-engine, B-25 bombers off the deck of aircraft carrier, USS Hornet, an act thought impossible. The third guest was a relatively unknown Air Force officer, Colonel Dave Shillen. Shillen’s claim to fame was solving the concept of aerial refueling thereby extending the range of our bombers well beyond previous limits.


The last invitee was Colonel Paul Tibbets, the former commander of the 509th Composite Group, the top secret unit designated to drop the atomic bomb in anger. More importantly, Tibbets, flew and commanded, Enola Gay, the B-29 named after his mother, to drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.


As O’Reilly and Dugard tell it, these four officers were ushered into the Oval Office where they stood awaiting the president. Three chairs were arranged in front of Truman’s desk. When the White House porter arrived, he directed General Spatz to sit in the right-hand chair to honor his rank. General Doolittle sat in the middle chair and Shillen was directed to the left chair. The usher led Colonel Tibbets to an unseen chair next to the president’s desk.


When Truman arrived, he congratulated General Spatz on his new command, General Doolittle, for his service and bravery for that 1942 raid and he told Colonel Shillen this  about his breakthrough: “We’re gonna need it bad someday.”


Quoting from the book:


Finally, Harry Truman turns to face Colonel Paul Tibbets. The president says nothing at first, letting their shared moments form a connection.


For ten long seconds, the president does not speak.


“What do you think?” Truman finally asks.


“Mr. President,” Tibbets replies, knowing full well what Harry Truman is talking about, “I think I did what I was told.”


Truman slaps his hand down on the desk, rattling the legendary “The Buck Stops Here” placard placed there after the war.


You’re damn right you did. And I’m the guy who sent you.”


That revelation alone was worth the price of admission.



US Air Flight 1549

How does Tom Hanks hit one home run after another without ever striking out? He currently stars in, Sully, a brilliant movie that tells the story of Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger who landed his crippled US Air A-320 on the Hudson River after a bird strike shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport.


This is the actor who brilliantly portrayed a marooned businessman in, Castaway; James Lovell, the astronaut in command of ill-fated, Apollo 13; Captain Philips, who was taken hostage by Somali pirates, and James Donovan who defended the Soviet spy, Rudolph Able, and negotiated his exchange for Francis Gray Powers in, A Bridge of Spies.  Brilliant performances all.


This film is a credit to Mr. Hanks, his fellow actors and the director, Clint Eastwood. They interpreted a flight that lasted only 208 seconds and turned it into a riveting film covering an event we all know in advance has a happy ending.


The time frame of the actual flight is incredibly brief. Every decision Sully Sullenberger made had to be the right. Even then he had to do something never done before; ditch a commercial jet without any loss of life.


Here is an abbreviated record of the actual dialogue from the cockpit. (Please note: the code for this US Airways flight was Cactus 1549)


15:24:56: (Tower) Cactus 1549 clear for takeoff.


15:25:33: (Cockpit) V one, Rotate. (Take off)


15:25:45: (Tower) Cactus 1549 contact New York departure, good day.


15:26:00:  (New York departure radar:)

Contact and maintain 1,500. (Feet)


15:26.37 (Pilot to co-pilot) Uh, what a view of the Hudson today.


15:27:11: (Cockpit) Birds. (Numerous geese strike the airplane.)


15:27:15: (Cockpit:) We got rol-back of ‘em rolling back. (Both engines are disabled.)


15:27:23: (Cockpit) My aircraft. (Sully takes control of the airplane from his co-pilot..)


15:27:32: (Sully) Mayday, mayday, mayday. Uh, this is Cactus 1549, hit birds, we’ve lost thrust in both engines, we’re turning back toward LaGuardia.


15:28:05: (LaGuardia tower) Cactus 1549, if we can get it for you, do you want to try to land on runway one three?


15:28:10: (Sully to tower) We’re unable. We may end up in the Hudson.


15:29:11: (Over the intercom) This is the captain: brace for impact.


15:29:33: (Sully to tower) We’re gonna be in the Hudson.


15:30:16 to 15:30:23: (Cockpit exchange)

Hundred and fifty knots.

Got flaps two, you want more?

No, let’s stay at two.

Got any ideas?

Actually not.


15:30:24: (Sully to his co-pilot) We’re gonna brace.


15:30:43: End of recording


Two hundred and eight seconds, 194 from the bird strike to ditching in the Hudson, or in plain English, 3 minutes and 14 seconds. How many prayers can you say in 3 minutes and 14 seconds?


US Air 1549 carried a crew of five and 150 passengers. One hundred and fifty-five souls went into the Hudson River on January 15, 2009 and 155 souls lived to tell about it. The miracle on the Hudson.


The story is real but it is Clint Eastwood’s clever use of time and Tom Hanks’ faithful portrayal Sully Sullenberger that makes this movie soar.

My Father Plays Piano in a Whorehouse

I recently thought about this classic, silly and yet satisfyingly funny yarn:


Ms. Jones called on her third grade students individually to stand and tell what their mothers or fathers did for a living. Invariably, she came to little Johnny who stood and proudly proclaimed, “My father plays piano in a whorehouse!”


“What did you say!” gasped Ms. Jones.


Encouraged by what he took to be profound interests, Johnny repeated: “My father plays piano in a whorehouse!”


This led to a trip the office where Johnny repeated his bold statement to Ms Doyle, the principal. A suspension followed together with a letter to his parents requiring they provide an explanation in person before the suspension could be lifted.


Mr. and Mrs. Ford duly complied meeting with Ms. Jones and Ms Doyle. Mr. Ford apologized explaining that it wasn’t Johnny’s fault. “You see, he was only repeating what I told him each time he asked me where I worked.”


“Oh dear,” replied Principal Doyle. “Do you really play piano in a house of ill repute?”


“No, no, of course not, I only told Johnny that so he wouldn’t know I’m a lawyer.”


As Kurt Vonnegut once explained it: “We are who we pretend to be and that’s why we should be very careful who we pretend to be.”


Sometimes we don’t even realize who we are pretending to be especially when we ignore children’s presence when conversing with other adults. When my son, Michael was about to start first grade in a new school, Mary Ann told him that his big sister, Beth would show him the ropes. After his first day Mary Ann asked, “How was it?’


Michael replied, “All right, but I never saw the ropes.”


But the classic response happened when Michael was old enough to be part of our Port Washington version of little league, Diane, another boy’s mother picked up her son, Mark and Michael from baseball practice one afternoon. As Diane drove with the two boys in the back seat she witnessed the following exchange:


Mark: “Your father travels a lot, what does he do?”


Michael: “I don’t really know, but he goes to lots of places, tells people what to do and, when they do it, he comes home.”


If only it had been that simple!

Boeing’s 747

Boeing has announced that building new 747s may be in doubt. Reading the piece in the Wall Street Journal, I gathered that part of this is a ploy to force Congress to put up or shut up about authorizing the funds to build the two needed replacement aircraft specialty designed to serve and protect the President of the United States, the ones commonly referred to as Air Force One when our national leader is on board.


Boeing will most likely prevail; two much planning has gone into the requirements for these new birds for the government to begin again with 777s or 787s as replacements.  Recently, I saw a piece where former living presidents were asked what they miss most about being our national leader and to a man they replied: “The plane.”


The Journal reported that Boeing has delivered more than 1,500 747s since 1970. I first flew in one belonging to Pan American in 1974 on a flight to San Juan, P.R. from John F. Kennedy (JFK) and my last was in 2010, a British Airway jet from London Heathrow (LHR) to JFK. I have travelled a total of 133 flights on board those jumbos, 125 of them business related. More than half those flights were to and from London but 747s also carried me to and from places like Paris, Stockholm, Oslo, Zurich, Rome, Tokyo, Manila, Singapore, Kula Lumpur, Hong Kong and Beijing.


My number one provider of 747s was TWA by choice as I was both a valued frequent flyer and a member of their Ambassador’s Club. This combination gave me almost automatic upgrades from coach to business class. Before Carl Ichan ruined TWA, they had terrific on board service and even, post-Ichan, when many good flight attendants quit; TWA still retained an edge due to their seating setup.


TWA made the upper cabin of the 747 all business class seating. This meant the space was exclusive to 18 passengers who sat two and two with an aisle in the center (ten seats on the left side, eight on the right to allow for the spiral staircase.) We had access to two rest rooms that we shared with the flight crew and a happy flight attendant exclusively assigned to this section. Happy because the attendant only had 18 clients all of who were in business meaning no first class drama and no jerks from coach.


On one particular occasion, Mary Ann, joined me for a business / vacation trip to London. TWA was desperate so we both wound up in this cabin with upgrades after I bought heavily discounted coach tickets. At best, there were only four or five business travelers accompanying us up in our perch. As we approached the start of the descent into LHR, a baby Ichan bred stewdess presented us with a bottle of champagne explaining, we were the best passengers on the plane. We thanked her and when she left, I shook my head and said to my wife, “She’s sweet and trying, but in an emergency; worthless, damn, I miss those TWA women who mattered when you needed them.”



I flew with Alexander, the deposed heir to the Yugoslavian throne who enjoyed my father’s heritage and sent me Christmas cards for two or three years, two former presidents, Jimmy Carter and Dick Nixon. Dan Rather was the most interesting. This happened because  TWA cancelled their evening flight and re-booked my mate and me on an Air India 747. That was January of 1981. I was flying in first class with Leo Whalen; (need I say more) as was Rather. Rather hustled off the plane to make a BA connection at Heathrow. Only later did we realize he had been tipped off that Iran was about to release of our hostages the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated. Rather was on his way to Algeria where they would be released.


When TWA was forced to sell their lucrative London service to United, I switched to British Air and soon achieved gold card status. This came with a sensational bonus; whenever I flew business class or, as BA referred to it, Club Class, there was always the chance when I checked in for Flight 178, (the 10 AM morning flight to LHR,) that the clerk would ask, “Mr. Delach, would you be interested in changing over to 004?” (You have to love British subtlety; BA 004 was the 1:30 PM Concorde.)  Leave three and one half hours later and arrive two hours earlier. It did happen more than a ½ dozen times! Loved the 747 but, the SST: the only way to fly when it’s on someone else’s dime!


The 747 was the greatest venue for international travel back then before the world and airline travel went into the crapper after the horror of September 11, 2001.


My favorite flights were those Friday afternoon return trips out of Heathrow bound for JFK; all of the victories and horrors of negotiations with Lloyds over; win, lose or draw. Back then the last flights left at about 3 PM meaning we were out of London by 11 am at the latest. It meant going home. The best were those homebound flights when we found other New York insurance guys on the same flight. No matter that we worked for rival firms; school was out; time to play…One time six of us took over the large empty space in the tail of a half-empty 747 to drink and smoke our way across the Atlantic. We tipped the flight attendants, none of us hit on them, they enjoyed us and we’d spin our fingers to let them know it was time to “sprinkle the infield.”


What a flight! I still remember the price I paid due to my condition when I arrived home.


Oh hell, it was worth it.