Ret. Journalist & Friend recalls: The Yellow Oboe

In the email from the phony Marine with the phony email address, I hardly got through the words “jew tribe” when I found myself thinking about the Yellow Oboe. As the French would have it:”plus ça change.”

The Yellow Oboe was a B-24 flying missions deep behind enemy lines in Europe in World War II. The tail gunner told me the Oboe’s story back in 1992. The story centered on the Oboe crew’s mission to right a wrong and get a much-deserved Purple Heart for the Oboe’s bombardier. Back in World War II, he was not put in for a Purple Heart because — wait for it — he was a member of the aforementioned “jew tribe.”

And that’s only the half of it.

Limping home from a mission, the Oboe was shot up, crippled and all alone in the sky because it couldn’t keep up with the formation on the run for home. It was flying (barely) over Italy. The crew knew the aircraft wouldn’t stay aloft for long, but before they could make a decision on that, they had another more immediate problem.

Three armed bombs were hung up on the rack down in the bomb bay. They dangled half-in and half-out through the bomb bay doors. The bombardier went down to see if he could kick them free. He succeeded, but in the effort, he lost a boot and at that altitude his foot quickly succumbed to frostbite.

By the time he got back up to the cockpit, a second decision faced the crew. Do they bail out or do they look for a place to land, a prospect that meant they would very quickly be taken prisoner because they knew there were no American airfields down below in the Italian countryside.

Then someone saw a landing strip below. Nobody wanted to bail out. They agreed they would try to land, not knowing what fate awaited them below. They made it safely, but as the wheels touched down, they were stunned at what they saw.

Lined up along the runway in the parking areas were P-51 Mustangs, each one with a distinctive red tail. The Oboe crew recognized them immediately. These red-tailed P-51s had saved them from German fighters too many times to count .

Then they saw all these guys in jeeps and trucks coming out to meet them. Those guys had a distinctive color, too — black. The Oboe had touched down smack in the middle of the Tuskegee Airmen.

I interviewed the bombardier.

“So we get out of the airplane and we see all these black guys,” he said. “And we see those P-51s with the red tails, the ones we were always talking about because they gave us such great escort. Then we come to find out this was one of the best-kept secrets in the war, that they’d trained these black aviators in the P-51s and nobody knew about it. These guys were the Tuskegee Airmen. We didn’t know anything about them. We never knew they were black. We just knew they were good.”

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more succinct exposure of every lie underlying every poisonous racial myth than those last two sentences: “We never knew they were black. We just knew they were good.”

But the sentiment fell on deaf ears with the Oboe pilot. He was a product of his time in Alabama and by God he would have no truck with these n-words racing alongside his bomber. Once everything had been settled down, the Tuskegee guys told the Oboe crew that they had been hoarding steaks and good booze for a special occasion. They broke it all out for the bomber crew. They insisted that the crew, enlisted men included, bunk in the BOQ.

The pilot refused to sleep in a bed that had been use by an n-word. So they gave him a blanket and pillow and he slept on the ground outside. (He changed his mind the next night.)

Laughing at the memory of it, the bombardier said: “I’m surprised he didn’t have a heart attack. I mean, all these black guys.”

Then there was the matter of the bombardier’s severely frostbitten foot. After they made it back to their home base, the crew asked the pilot about writing up the paperwork for a Purple Heart. The pilot refused, telling them there was no way he would get a medal for “a Jew.”

A lot of years later at a reunion, the Oboe crew was astonished to find out that the bombardier had never received a Purple Heart. (They assumed someone would overrule the pilot.) The crew resolved to rectify the injustice. After many phone calls, a letter writing campaign and an appeal to Colin Powell, they got the Pentagon to award that Purple Heart.

To demonstrate that Karma has a sense of humor, the Air Force general who awarded the Purple Heart at the ceremony was black. To further demonstrate Karma’s sense of humor, the black general’s father was an Air Force general, too.

The Jewish bombardier got his medal from the black general in 1996, and now, so many years after that happy day, Mikey sends an email from a phony Marine with a phony email address who condemns the “jew tribe.”

As the French would have it — plus ça change.

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