Pilot recalls flying the 'Hump'

Posted: Sunday, September 21, 2003

AMARILLO, Texas Can anyone fly through a monsoon rainstorm over the Himalaya mountains in a heavily-loaded, unpressurized, two-propeller airplane?

Amarillo resident Jay Vinyard, 80, did about 60 years ago as one of the China-Burma-India Hump pilots of World War II.

"It was like you were flying through a bucket of water," Vinyard said.

Vinyard, who wore an oxygen mask, completed 87 round-trip missions, back and forth over the eastern Himalayas aka the Hump during seven months in World War II.

U.S. military efforts in China, Burma and India are some of the lesser known episodes of World War II, despite the heroics and the colorful combat units and personalities involved, said Helen McDonald of the Admiral Nimitz State Historic Site National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredricksburg, Texas.

Vinyard said he started flying the Hump between Sookerating, India, and Kunming, China, in July 1944, carrying military supplies to U.S. and Chinese-ally troops fighting the Japanese.

The monsoon season eased up a few months later, but icy weather and the threat of enemy aircraft were present until Vinyard's stint ended in February 1945.

"They send you over there to see what you are made of," Vinyard said.

Along with the Hump pilots stationed in India, other U.S. fighters in the Asian theater of war included the Flying Tigers in China, Merrill's Marauders, who went behind enemy lines in Burma, the bridge busters, who developed techniques for bombing bridges in remote valley gorges, and others, McDonald said.

Today, China is taking an interest in the U.S. fighters who helped it during World War II..

In June, China honored Dalhart, Texas, native and pilot James R. Fox Jr., who died flying the Hump, Vinyard said. A bust of Fox was placed on a black granite base at the Dallam County Courthouse. The inscription on the base is a reproduction of a handwritten tribute from Jaing Zemin, president of China.

Also, work has already started in China on raising Amarillo native John Ed Blackburn's fighter plane out of a lake, where it crashed in 1942. Blackburn, a Flying Tiger, was 24 when the fatal crash occurred.

"We need about 30 to 45 days to clean mud from around the plane," Yan Jiangzheng, president of the China Expedition Association, said in a recent Associated Press report. out of Beijing.

Yan said the Flying Tiger plane is buried in mud and silt under about 16 feet of water, but, after 61 years, his group still hopes to restore it to flying condition.

John Blackburn of Amarillo, a nephew of the late John Ed Blackburn, said he and other families members will go to China in November for the raising of the plane. Ben Blackburn, another member of the Amarillo family, said he's already been to the crash site and to the Flying Tiger bar in the nearby city of Kunming, where there is an interest in the often forgotten U.S. fighters.

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