Hogan's heroes and Black Sheep Squadron belong to others. I just like to hang around with them!
Greg Boyington and Robert Hogan are both portrayed as creative and unconventional leaders. Although the chances of them serving together would have been slim in reality as they were in different services and theaters of war, I've been wondering what an encounter between the two of them would have been like. This is one possible story . . .
OPERATION BLACK SHEEP
Vella la Cava Island, somewhere in the South Pacific
Major Greg "Pappy" Boyington USMC looked up from the radio with an expression of disbelief. "I've been transferred," he muttered angrily as he slammed his fist on the table. His volume increased. "I'm to report to Espritos Marcos by 1600 today for new orders! I'm to take the transport plane at 1400." The radioman shook his head, "Greg, there's got to be something wrong here. The Black Sheep Squad has the best record in the South Pacific thanks to you!" Boyington held up his hand for silence. "Get everyone together at 1300. I'll talk to them then. And someone take care of my dog!"
Boyington stormed off to his tent and threw the contents of his locker into a duffle bag. Colonel Lard, his CO on Espritos Marcos, had to be behind this move. The major could only hope that headquarters wouldn't appoint some hard-ass by-the-book officer to lead his squadron. Meanwhile, he'd leave Captain Larry Casey, his exec, in charge—at least until HQ messed things up. Marines know a large number of highly appropriate cuss words, and Boyington used them all as he packed.
Word of Pappy's transfer spread through the small base like a grasslands wildfire. At 1300, an angry Black Sheep Squadron assembled at the airfield. Questions flew like bullets, but there were no real answers, just guesses. Casey promised to keep the squad intact and flying "until you get back here," he snarled to his CO and the best pilot he'd ever known, the man who'd taken a bunch of misfits and wild kids and made them into the fightingest squad in the South Pacific. The Major's sardonic grin revealed his inner thoughts—he didn't expect to get back here, but he'd certainly try his damndest or if not, he'd at least get a good explanation as to why not. The transport landed, hands were shook, salutes were given, and Pappy was gone.
The meeting with his superior officers at Espritos Marcos was short. No explanations given; no arguments accepted. He'd leave that night—for England! He'd be taking a series of planes, no real time on the ground; it was imperative that he be in London ASAP. He'd receive final orders at that time. All of it top secret. He was to report to someone named "Goldilocks."
"Unbelievable!" he thought. "What's next—the Three Bears?" As he would soon discover, a bear did factor into his orders—a Papa Bear.
Colonel Robert E. Hogan couldn't believe London's latest request. "More like impossible orders," he grumbled to his second-in-command, Sergeant James Kinchloe. The radioman shrugged his shoulders as the colonel went on, "We already got headquarters the plans for that new Messerschmitt jet engine. Now they want the whole plane? How do they expect us to steal one? Especially an experimental jet?"
"Good question, sir," Kinch replied. "And they want you to come to a meeting in London?"
"Yeah. They're even sending a plane for me. Contact the Underground and ask them to find out anything they can on that new plane, especially where it's being tested. Then, get the rest of the team together so I can brief them on what I know, even if it's damn little.
"Got some info for you, Colonel," Kinch reported as he climbed the ladder into the common room. Underground reports that the new jet is being moved to an airstrip somewhere between Hammelburg and Dusseldorf in preparation for test flights—don't have an exact location yet, but they're working on it. Oh, and more news from London. You'll be meeting with a top fighter pilot while you're there. I guess he'll be helping us steal that plane."
"Thanks, Kinch," Hogan replied a bit absent-mindedly. "Get the team together in 30 minutes. Looks like we'll need to come up with an excuse to explain my absence for a day or two while I meet with that pilot. I'll need a copy of those schematics we sent to London. Ask Carter to bring the photos to the briefing. You know, I wouldn't mind flying that plane myself!"
The radioman laughed. "You and every other allied pilot in the area! Wonder who they picked?"
"We've got to do what? And we don't know for sure where it is? Blimey, Guv'nor, that's the oddest assignment London's ever given us!" an exasperated Newkirk growled. "Do you even know how to fly one of those things?"
"I was a bomber pilot," Hogan reminded the volatile Britisher. "This new jet is a fighter. Maybe that's why London wants me to meet with this special pilot in person. Now, how do we explain my absence to the Iron Colonel?"
Ideas were knocked around—everything from chicken pox to a Gestapo arrest. Hogan rejected the chicken pox scenario outright, but the possibility of arrest gave him another idea. "Major Schmitt," he stated, referring to a deep cover agent he had worked with once or twice. Contact him and see if he can arrange a 'pick up for questioning' later today. That will hold Klink for a while."
"Anything you want us to do?" Carter asked. "LeBeau and I are scheduled to clean the Kommandant's office today."
"Hmmmm . . ." Hogan thought out loud. "Check his mail and any paperwork you can safely get your hands on. Maybe you'll be able to pick up some info we can use. Kinch, contact Schmitt—ask him to be here around 4 pm today. And see if he's heard anything about where this jet is located.
Sergeant Schultz barged into Barracks 2. "Colonel Hogan! Kommandant Klink wants you in his office now—there is an intelligence officer here to question you. Schnell!"
Hogan stood, put down his coffee cup, and followed the rotund guard to the Kommandantur. He wore an appropriate expression of concern as he walked into the office and faced Klink and Major Schmitt. So far, so good.
Klink began to speak, but was immediately cut off by the major. "Colonel Hogan," his voice dripped with menace and sarcasm, "you will come with me for intense questioning. The amount of sabotage in this area has increased dramatically. I will find out what you know about it and investigate your involvement." He produced a pair of handcuffs and secured them around the colonel's wrists.
Klink watched open-mouthed. "Impossible!" he stuttered. "Hogan is a prisoner in the most secure prison camp in all of Germany. There has never been a successful escape from Stalag 13." Schmitt's laugh was chilling. "Perhaps you will need to find a new senior POW officer, Kommandant." With that, he marched Hogan out of the office at gunpoint and drove away.
Once safely out of the camp, both men relaxed. "It's just too easy with Colonel Klink," Hogan snickered. "Thanks—I'll have Kinch notify you when I get back from London. I think by that time our Iron Colonel will be glad to get his senior POW officer back!"
Over two days in the air did nothing for Pappy Boyington's temper. Neither did a diet of cold sandwiches and even colder coffee. Right now, all he wanted was a hot shower, a hot meal, a good night's sleep, and a plane back to Vella la Cava! None of which seemed to be available. "War is hell!" he reminded himself. He'd expected to be briefed on his new assignment immediately but was told he'd need to wait until that night for his contact—code name Papa Bear—to arrive. He hit the cot in his quarters and did what any good fighter pilot would do under the circumstances. He went to sleep.
A series of loud knocks woke him up as a voice called, "Major—your contact has arrived. I'll take you to the briefing room in 15." Greg groaned and sat up. He'd crossed so many time zones that he wasn't sure what time it actually was. Just time for a quick shower and some clean clothes. He hoped there'd be something to eat at the briefing—and that he'd have some definite orders.
A young Army Air Corps sergeant served as his guide. Boyington was surprised at this; he was a Marine pilot and wondered what the Army had to do with his new assignment. Working with the Navy occasionally brought out enough rivalry, but the Army? What could this have to do with the mysterious Papa Bear he was supposed to meet? There'd better be some answers and soon!
The smell of coffee—fresh, hot coffee!—filled his nostrils as the sergeant opened a door and motioned for him to enter. As the door closed behind him, Boyington noted several officers standing around a table, most in dress uniform, one in a battered leather jacket, colonel's eagles on the tabs. None of them Marines or even Navy. Coffee and sandwiches were offered and accepted. One of the senior officers, a general, began, "Good of you to join us on such short notice, Major." Then, pointing to the dark-haired officer standing next to him, "This is your contact, Colonel Robert Hogan—Papa Bear."
Greg carefully kept his expression neutral. "Greg Boyington, USMC." He stressed the USMC. "My squad calls me Pappy. Now, would someone mind telling me why I've been yanked out of the South Pacific and brought 10,000 or so miles to England?" His tone of voice, if not the look on his face, made his annoyance evident.
"That's simple," Hogan replied with a lopsided grin. "You're here to help me steal a plane." Seeing the Marine's surprised look, he added. "From the Nazis. 'Course, we'll have to go back to Germany to do it."
This was too much! "What do you mean, 'go back to Germany?' And why pick me? I'm a Marine fighter pilot, not Army Air Force—I patrol, patrolled, the Solomons—I tangle with the Japanese, not the Nazis." Boyington's temper was now very much on edge.
Hogan motioned the angry Marine over to the map table. "Let me fill you in on our operation. I'm a POW, actually senior POW officer at a Luftstalag near Hammelburg in Germany. My team and I run a rescue, sabotage, and intelligence operation out of that camp, very risky and very, very top secret. We recently stole a copy of the plans for a new experimental jet engine produced by Messerschmitt. So far, only a couple of prototype planes have been built, but if they ever got into full production . . . well, you can guess the problems that would cause for our fighters here and in the Pacific if they share them with the Japanese. High Command wants more than the engine plans—they want the whole plane."
"And that's where I come in." Greg said.
"Right. Because you're a top ace fighter pilot and have had some experience testing our new jets. The Nazi pilots don't know you or your flying skills. They wouldn't be able to predict how you might act in the air. I was a bomber pilot, commanded the 504th, and I can't leave Stalag 13 for any length of time without the Krauts getting more suspicious of me than they already are."
Boyington felt like he was beginning to run on overload. A POW who headed an underground unit, a Nazi jet, a heist to end all heists. This definitely began to sound like something that needed a Black Sheep to pull it off. "OK," he said, "I'll do it." He and Hogan shook on it. "Now, how do we get this jet?"
Hogan grinned. "Got a plan in the works. We'll fly back tonight and parachute down near Stalag 13. I'll fill you in some of the details of who's who at Stalag 13 on the flight back. Got a shopping list of supplies for the team, so they'll meet us just outside the camp and take you in by our emergency tunnel. I'll return later—I'm supposed to be held for questioning by German intelligence so I'll be back after morning role call." Greg raised an eyebrow in surprise. Hogan even controlled German intelligence? "Not what you're thinking," the colonel continued. "An Underground agent is posing as an intelligence officer. He got me out of camp and he'll bring me back, in handcuffs and properly subdued, of course. The guys know you're coming, so they'll take good care of you. We've got a chef on the team, so you can count on a good breakfast! We'll go over logistics then and fly the jet out tomorrow or the next day at the latest."
One of the other officers noted, "Complete this mission, Major, and you can write your ticket home. A nice long leave, maybe a bond tour. You'll be a real hero."
Boyington shrugged, then looked at Hogan. No mention of the colonel going home—he was committed to his mission and his men. "So am I," Greg thought. "I'd rather write a ticket back to Vella la Cava and my squadron," he retorted. "I have a mission to finish there, too. One that's more important than a long leave and a bond tour."
The flight back was high altitude and cold. Even with a borrowed jacket and watch cap, Greg was shivering. He'd definitely take the South Pacific anytime! He was glad of Hogan's company as the colonel described his team—Kinchloe, the radio operator; Newkirk, semi-reformed Cockney pickpocket and forger whose skills were vital to the operation; Carter, the somewhat accident-prone explosives expert (a contradiction in terms if Greg had ever heard one!); and LeBeau, expert chef, saboteur, and loyal Frenchman who would do anything for his friends and his country. Boyington, in turn, told some stories about the exploits of the Black Sheep, leaving Hogan in awe of the courage of these men who daily risked their lives on patrol in the Solomons, helping to safeguard the ships and men re-taking island after island from the Japanese. The colonel recognized a kindred spirit, a man who, like him, would give his life to protect his team. No wonder Pappy wanted to get back to Vella la Cava!
Hogan's descriptions of Klink, Schultz, Burkhalter, and Hochstetter had Boyington laughing. In a way, the Marine was sorry he wouldn't get to meet the Kommandant of "the most secure prison camp in all of Germany." Never a successful escape—sure! Only a couple of hundred from what Hogan described.
The parachute drop went off without a hitch. As Hogan and Boyington stowed their chutes, they were greeted by a cheerful "Hi, Colonel. Did you bring the detonators I asked for?" Hogan grinned. That could only be Carter! Turning in the young sergeant's direction, he answered, "Yeah—and our fighter pilot, too. Now let's get everything back into the tunnels and I'll fill you all in before Schmitt comes back to collect me."
Greg was amazed at the extent of the tunnel system. Just about everywhere in the camp, including Kommandant Klink's private quarters, could be reached by tunnel. He shook his head as he muttered, "And I thought the Black Sheep were devious!" Hogan's team laughed in appreciation as they were introduced to the ace pilot. Obviously, tales of at least some of Pappy Boyington's legendary exploits with the Flying Tigers and the Black Sheep had penetrated even Stalag 13.
Knowing he needed to meet with Major Schmitt in a short while, Hogan wasted no time asking for the latest news. Kinch filled him in. "The Underground has pinpointed the location of that jet. Carter and Newkirk went with them to get photos of the control panel and cockpit. We'll get them developed and printed by the time you get back. Carter thinks he got some of the plane, too.
"What about guards on the plane?" This from Boyington. "If I'm gonna steal it, I've got to know what to look out for."
It's being guarded by some of Klink's troops," Kinch told the two officers. Hogan smirked. "I'll bet Schultz is in charge of the patrol. A little distraction and that plane is ours. Meanwhile, I've gotta meet Schmitt. See you guys later. Major, you'll need to stay down here until after roll call. We don't want to raise any suspicions among the guards. Schultz may claim he sees nothing, but I don't want to push our luck!"
Hogan climbed out the escape tunnel, leaving the Marine in the radio room. Greg yawned—he still wasn't sure of the time zone—and gratefully accepted a cup of coffee from the man monitoring an incoming message. Looking up from the microphone, Kinch smiled, "Glad to have you here, Major. There's a cot down a ways if you'd like to catch up on sleep. I'll come get you after roll call." The over-tired officer nodded and headed for some needed shut-eye. "Thanks, sergeant," he responded. "By the way, could somebody tell me what time it is?" Kinch laughed, "About 4 AM. See you later." Greg was asleep almost before he hit the cot.
A properly subdued Hogan sat in the back seat of a black car, a gun pointed at him. Schmitt laughed, "Time to get this show on the road! I'll have you back in Stalag 13 in an hour. To borrow a line from our friend Schultz, 'You know N-O-T-H-I-N-G' about the latest sabotage attempts in the area. How could you? You're a prisoner in the toughest POW camp in all of Germany, always under the eagle eye of the Iron Colonel!"
Hogan snickered, "Laying it on pretty thick, aren't you? 'Course, flattery will get you everywhere with our Colonel Klink. Makes him think that promotion to general is just around the corner." The men smiled, knowing that this new operation was well underway and, with a little luck and Pappy Boyington's flying skills, should reach a successful conclusion in the next 24 hours. One more thing that might bring this war to an end sooner!
A short time later, a handcuffed Hogan was roughly pushed into Klink's office. Schmitt removed the handcuffs and shoved Hogan to the front of the desk. "You can have your prisoner back, Kommandant," the black-clad major sneered, just the right amount of menace in his voice. "Like all POW's, he is useless to us, not even of high enough rank for a prisoner exchange. Hopefully, you can continue to keep him properly cowed. You do have a cooler, do you not? I suggest you use it if necessary." The intelligence officer stormed out of the office, leaving Klink alone with his senior POW officer. "Back to the barracks, Hogan," Klink commanded. "Dis-s-smissed!" Hogan threw the Kommandant a sloppy salute and returned to Barracks 2. "Back to work!"
Once back in the "comfort" of his quarters, Hogan reached for a cup of coffee before asking, "Where's Boyington?" Newkirk grinned, "Asleep in the tunnels, Guv'nor. Looks like he hasn't had any sleep for a few days. Didn't even know what time it is!"
Hogan laughed, "He probably doesn't even know what day it is. I think his base is on the other side of the International Date Line. Let him get a couple hours shut-eye." Then, to Carter, "Got those films developed? I'd like to get a look at that control panel. Might be the closest I'll get to flying one of those jets for the duration. Now, what do we know about security at that airfield?"
"Three-man patrol. Schultzie is in charge, mon Colonel." LeBeau supplied the required information. Just what Hogan had assumed! Typical Klink security—that man could lose the war single-handedly.
"If Boyington's ready, we'll get that plane out of here tonight," Hogan said. "Carter, go finish with those films. And put a couple of small charges together-we'll need something to distract the guards-something that will explode on impact." The blond-haired sergeant practically bounced with excitement. Nothing like a good explosion in his mind, and those new detonators would be just the thing. "New explosives coming up!" he laughed. "I'll make a dozen! Maybe even a small bomb or two!" Hogan ran his hand through his hair, "Don't overdo it," he reminded the over-excited sergeant. "Now-get those photos done ASAP."
About an hour later, a somewhat rested Pappy, accompanied by Carter, made his way to the barracks common room. LeBeau put a plate of stew and a dish of strudel in front of him-a hot meal at last and one that was actually very edible-made him realize just how hungry he was! If this was a sample of the little chef's cooking, these POW's ate better than the Black Sheep. He wondered if he could "borrow" LeBeau for a while. His squad deserved a good meal now and then, too. As Boyington ate, Hogan filled him in on the latest developments.
"Looks like we can go for that plane tonight," the Colonel began. We'll have good cloud cover with limited moonlight." He was just about to spread out the cockpit photos when Kinch called, "Schultz is coming!" In a practiced move, the men sat around the table, Newkirk dealt his cards, and a game of poker was suddenly in progress.
Thee rotund sergeant looked around the barracks, then, rubbing his stomach, said, "Do I smell strudel? Did you save me some, cockroach?" LeBeau, happy to oblige, handed Schultz a very large helping. Schultz began to eat, then looked around. There was an extra man sitting at the table. "Who is this?" he demanded. "What is he doing here? There better not be any monkey business going on!"
Hogan gave one of his lop-sided smiles. "He's a Marine fighter pilot; name's Greg. He's just visiting." Schultz shook his head. "Jolly jokers!" Then , to the French chef, "Wonderful strudel. Could you give me the recipe for my wife?"
"Schultz," Hogan reminded the sergeant, "remember that if you tell Klink we've got a visitor, we'll have to tell him about all the strudel." Schultz closed his eyes. "I see nothing, N-O-T-H-I-N-G!" and headed for the door.
"Blimey," Newkirk let out the breath he'd been holding. "That was a close one!" Greg could only agree.
"OK guys, back to work! We've got a lot of planning to do between now and tonight." Hogan's command was instantly obeyed as photos, maps, and plans were spread out on the table. Boyington had a lot to absorb and only a few hours to do it in. But he was a Marine and that was standard operating procedure!
More coffee—much more coffee—later, Pappy felt ready to fly anything to England, maybe all the way to Vella la Cava. He'd memorized controls, worked up a flight plan, and learned the recognition signals that would allow him to safely land in England. Hogan and Kinch had translated the German names for the various indicators. Only one thing left, to actually steal that plane right from under the Krauts' noses. Hogan assured him that his team would help take care of that. After all, Schultz was in charge of the guard—and in the end, he always knew nothing . . .
Greg and Kinch returned to the tunnels to handle some last-minute business: Greg, to be sure his equipment was ready; Kinch, to radio their plans to England. Roll call was imminent, so the team's second-in-command headed back to the barracks. Boyington headed back to his cot. No telling when he'd get time for any more shut-eye.
Carter's puttering in his lab woke Boyington up. The young demolitions expert was loading several charges and at least two or three bombs into a pack. He'd changed from his uniform to a dark turtleneck and trousers and pulled a black cap over his blond hair; Hogan and the rest of the team had done likewise. Newkirk handed Greg a similar outfit, and the ace pilot quickly changed as well. A thumbs up from Hogan, and the men exited through the emergency tunnel and headed for the airfield.
As they approached the field, Hogan motioned for silence, then gave an owl-hoot signal. Two Underground agents approached with info on the positions of the guards. Hogan acknowledged their help as Carter and Newkirk moved off to plant the charges. Soon, several explosions startled the guards; Schultz's "Raus! Raus!" got them moving in away from the jet, the rotund sergeant waddling after them. Hogan and Pappy shook hands, Boyington raced for the plane, and after a somewhat rocky start, took off. Carter quickly planted his not-so-small bombs in the plane's former position. Hogan's team ran, barely making it to safety as the bombs exploded. With luck, the Krauts would believe the Underground had sabotaged the jet. If not, well, the sharp-witted Colonel had a story ready that the gullible Schultz would swallow hook, line, and sinker!
Boyington felt free—he'd actually stolen the jet. Faster than most fighters, perhaps even his souped-up corsairs, he headed for the Channel and England, certain he's make it back before the Krauts could scramble. If not, well, a Nazi flag or two would be a nice addition to the collection of Rising Suns painted on his cockpit! Maybe bringing this jet back could count as a kill. And wouldn't Andy Micklin, his chief mechanic, love to get his hands on this bird! The crusty sergeant'd probably never let go of it.
There it was, England on the horizon. Greg transmitted the recognition signal and waited for a fighter escort. He circled the field a couple of times, just to slow down and show off a bit in true Black Sheep fashion, and came in for a landing. Mission accomplished. A de-briefing and maybe, just maybe, back to the South Pacific. "Just try and stop me!" he muttered.
Once back in the tunnels, Hogan's team began talking all at once. "Did you see that take-off? Blimey, never saw anything like it!" laughed Newkirk. "He flies like a madman," countered LeBeau. "My bombs must have blown a jet-sized crater," a gleeful Carter exclaimed. Kinch grinned at his CO. "Mission accomplished!"
Hogan had a far-away look in his eyes. He'd have really loved to be at the controls of that new jet. Well, maybe someday . . . Meanwhile, they'd better finish changing and get upstairs before anyone thought to do a barracks check. There'd be time enough tomorrow to contact London for their report. And there would be more downed flight crews to rescue and bridges and factories to bomb. All in a day's work for the boys from Barracks 2.
Roll call next morning was subdued, at least on Klink's part. Hogan made a sarcastic comment about being awakened by an explosion. All this got was a clenched fist and a "D-i-s-s-missed" from the obviously chagrined Kommandant, followed by the command, "Hogan, I'd like to see you in my office now."
"Something wrong, Kommandant?" the Senior POW Officer questioned. Klink ran his hand over his balding head. "I shouldn't be telling you this, but an experimental plane was blown up last night." From the look on Klink's face, Hogan recognized a plea for help—or for at least a good excuse he could give his superiors. After all, his guards were supposed to be watching that plane!
"Was that the noise we heard?" Hogan replied, the picture of innocence. You know, we heard something that sounded like gunshots first, then that explosion. Bet it was the Underground—maybe they used the shots to lure the guards away and then planted the bombs. If that plane was fully fueled, it would have been vaporized. Those guards were lucky they escaped with their lives. I'm sure they'll verify your theory." From the relieved look on Klink's face, Hogan knew he wouldn't even need to mention the Russian front.
Klink nodded. "That's exactly what must have happened. Burkhalter won't be happy about the loss, but the Underground has been particularly active around here recently. Dismissed, Colonel Hogan."
Hogan sauntered across the compound and walked into the barracks. He grinned at the guys, "Klink bought it." To Kinch: "Any news from London?"
"Major Boyington made it OK—said it was a great flight. Oh, and one more thing," Kinch smirked. "Semper Fi!"
"Marines!" Hogan snickered.
Vella la Cava Island
Lt. Bobby Boyle ran from the radio shack "Pappy's on his way back!" Once again, the news spread like a grassfire; good news this time! The entire squad was lined up to greet the transport plane. Micklin had even given Greg's corsair an extra polish. The plane landed; a grinning Major Boyington stood in the hatch, taking in the sight of his men, his Black Sheep. Did he ever have stories to tell . . . too bad the whole episode had to remain top secret. Who would ever believe it anyway?
"Semper Fi, Colonel Hogan," he thought, "and good luck." Now, on with the celebration!
Historical note: The Messerschmitt Company had developed an experimental jet engine late in the war, but it didn't go into full production. The Black Sheep Squadron, now VMA 214, is still flying. It is currently based at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma AZ.
Greg "Pappy" Boyington was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his exploits in WWII. He is credited with downing 28 enemy planes, more than any other Marine ace.
While "Semper Fi" belongs to the Marines, I can see Boyington using it in tribute to Hogan's fidelity to his unique mission and to his team.