Table of Contents
- Chapter One: “Where Do I Begin…?”
- Chapter Two: “What Makes Me Tick?”
- Chapter Three: “Who Do You Think You Are?”
- Chapter Four: “The Hidden Persuaders”
- Chapter Five: “My Mother Made Me Do It”
- Chapter Six: “5—4—3—2—1—Destruct”
- Chapter Seven: “A Time Machine Named Desire”
- Chapter Eight: “If They Only Knew”
- Chapter Nine: “Act Your Way to a New Feeling”
- Chapter Ten: “Please Hear What I’m NOT Saying”
- Chapter Eleven: “Problems, Pathwatchers and a Razor”
- Chapter Twelve: “What Are We NOW Gonna Do?”
- Chapter Thirteen:“The Shortest Distance Between Two Points
- Chapter Fourteen: “Take Me Along”
- Chapter Fifteen: “Thoughts on Paying the Price”
The wind came gently from the north, its fingers picking fitfully at the comers of the flags draped over the bodies of five airmen. The wind had been their only companion for nearly 17 years; it was offering its last, reluctant farewell before these men finally began their journey home to the United States.
Those preparing to load the sun-bleached bones aboard the waiting transport spoke in hushed tones. Some of them wept. They were the first to begin piecing together the 17 -year mystery of the lost B-24 bomber, Lady Be Good. They were standing in the midst of evidence of extraordinary courage and achievement…and of enormous error and tragic futility. Eighty miles away, across the sand-dunes and the sun blasted plateau, deep in the Libyan Sahara, the Lady Be Good patiently waited for her crewmen to return. She is still there, in that trackless hell where men never venture and even birds unfortunate enough to visit cannot leave…The 125° temperature bakes even the atmosphere; it is so thin no bird would have the strength to become airborne. The desert nomads believe the plateau is cursed by Allah; they won’t go there.
It belongs to the Lady Be Good, and she’ll be there forever.
The Lady made only one combat mission; and her bombs were never dropped in anger. With twelve other B-24s making up Section B of Mission number 109, the Lady took off at about 2 p.m., April 4, 1943, with orders to participate in high-altitude bombing at Naples. The target was some 750 miles distant from the Lady’s airfield at Soluch, Libya; and owing to a howling sandstorm at takeoff half of the bombers developed engine trouble and aborted. None of the planes in Section B made it to Naples.
Only one of them didn’t make it back to Soluch. In the years since the Lady’s ill-fated mission, records and discoveries have finally solved her mystery.
The story reveals much about human greatness and human error; about the effect of bad communications and about the sometimes tragic result of making assumptions unnecessarily when facts could be obtained in their place.
By 7:30 p.m. on the night of her mission, only four aircraft had come within 30 miles of Naples. Lieutenant W. J. Hatton, piloting the Lady Be Good, assumed command and ordered everyone to turn back for Soluch. It was the last time the other three pilots ever heard his voice. The Lady had flown some 700 miles riding a strong tailwind, and so both Hatton and Navigator, Lieutenant DP Hays made their first critical assumption: they would be bucking a headwind on the return flight.
Circumstances began, a chain of events which would ultimately destroy them: the wind had shifted. It was not slowing them down; it was pushing them.
There were enemy aircraft in the April skies in 1943, and so the Lady and her sisters observed radio silence. It was something they were familiar with, something that had become a habit. Habits can be, sometimes, as deadly as assumptions; we may presume that because they were not using the other radio gear, the same habit impelled them to ignore their radio/automatic direction finder. The ADF was never turned on; even though this particular instrument is a receiver, not a transmitter, and could not have jeopardized radio silence. Lieutenant L.A. Worley, the last B-24 from Section Two to return, touched down at Soluch at about 11:10 p.m. that night. At his debriefing, he mentioned that he had been following Lady Be Good. This piece of information might have saved most of the Lady’s crew, but it went unnoticed for a dozen years amid the stacks of reports in the flight operations office at Soluch. A lack of communications joined the sequence of events, welding another link into the chain of circumstances that was being wrapped around the crew of the Lady Be Good.
Sixty-two minutes later, at 12:12 a.m., the tower adjacent to Soluch field received the last transmission from the Lady. Breaking silence because they were now close to base, the crew asked for an inbound radio direction finder fix on their course. The tower reported they were right on heading 330 degrees magnetic—precisely on course. Nobody was aware until years afterward that the Lady was more than an hour behind the B-24 which had been following. Hatton’s crew couldn’t still be approaching Soluch; and they weren’t. They had already passed the base, missing it completely because of their altitude and the obscured visibility. They thought they were still over the Mediterranean, because they were allowing for a headwind that wasn’t there.
Had their ADF been turned on, the needle would have revolved through a complete circle as they flew over the tower. Everyone on board would have understood what that meant. Had the tower operator known about Lieutenant Worley’s remark that he was following the Lady, he would have known something was very, very wrong. Not knowing, he responded as he should have when asked for an approach bearing radio fix.
In 1943, radio direction finding equipment used a loop-shaped antenna which gave the strongest “reading” when an incoming signal was perpendicular to the loop. By rotating the antenna, the operator was able to determine that the Lady was on an inbound course, relative to the tower, of 330 degrees magnetic.
However, this RDF equipment had one flaw: it was equally as sensitive from either the “front” or the “back” side of the loop. The Lady had passed over the tower, the RDF was picking up her transmissions on the back side of the loop, and the tower operator had no way of knowing. Asked for an inbound heading fix, he gave it; he would have given a fix of 150°, with the same reading, had Hatton asked for an outbound position check. The difference—180°—was a matter of life or death.
The tower operator was already talking to dead men on a doomed aircraft…it was then only a question of time and steadily draining fuel tanks.
As the fuel ran out, Hatton shut down the Lady’s engines one at a time, feathering the props to reduce drag. They were still trying to reach Soluch…still fighting for distance against the headwind…when Hatton knew they were finished. Trimming the Lady’s controls for level flight, with only one engine still running, he ordered the crew to get ready to bail out…into the water. They were, in reality, fast approaching the Egyptian/Lybian border, deep in the Sahara Desert.
One man’s parachute didn’t open. The others, landing in desert sand, finally realized what had happened. They began hiking toward Soluch, to the north, apparently believing the base was not far away.
Desert experts said no human being could walk more than 25 miles in this hellish place of 125° heat and merciless sun by day, freezing temperatures at night. Nor would a person live for more than two days; whether he walked or not, whether he had all the water he could carry…
The Lady’s remaining crewmen had less than half a canteen of water among them. They walked, stopping to make arrow shaped markers with rocks and parachute remnants; to try to rest during the nights of agonizing cold. Five of them went on for eight days and nights, covering almost 70 miles, before they stopped for the last time. Three others—unbelievably—kept going. They have never been found. They didn’t do it with food and water and shelter…they did it with guts and faith and hope.
But it was futile. Even enduring more than twice the time and distance a human could be expected to survive, these poignantly courageous men had no chance. They had obviously made one last assumption: The Lady Be Good, they apparently reasoned, had run out of fuel and plummeted into the Sahara, disintegrating.
They began walking toward Soluch. On a heading 180° from the direction they took, and less than a dozen miles away, the Lady was waiting for them. She’s still there, today. She would probably have saved their lives.
The B-24 had continued after the crew bailed out. Slowly she lost altitude; her weight steadily overpowering the single remaining engine. When she finally ran out of fuel, the Lady Be Good gently pancaked into the sand, an almost flawless belly-landing, and skidded to a stop.
Seventeen years later when the search team finally reached her, after the Lady was accidentally spotted by an oil-company geologist on a flight in search of oil, she was still almost unharmed. There was drinkable coffee in a thermos on board. There were rations in abundance; virtually un-aged in the timeless heat and dryness of the Sahara. Nothing was rusted. The radio equipment was still in operating condition.
Ultimately, six crewmen went home to rest in peace. Three will remain, perhaps, keeping silent company with the desert wind, forever. The Lady will wait for them, probably forever: There is no way to get her off that plateau, and no reason to. People will not bother her: to go there is suicide. Nothing ever rusts or rots in that weather. She remains, a touching monument to human courage; and to the sometimes-tragic results of circumstances, assumption, habit, emotion and 180° errors in the lives of ordinary people.
How many times, in your life, have you struggled against opposition which didn’t really exist, bucking an imaginary headwind?
How many times, in your life, have you been operating with your intuition “switched off;” the emotional equivalent of your Automatic Direction Finding system ignored?
How many times, in your life, has a minor miscommunication resulted in major problem? “…my B-24 was following Hatton’s….”
How many times, in your life, have you taken readings “off the back side of the loop,” making 180° errors in judgement? (“I should have done just the opposite.”)
How many times, in your life, have you assumed that help was much closer, more readily obtainable, than it turned out to be?
How many times, in your life, have you shown extraordinary courage and endurance; only to be defeated by circumstances simply overwhelming? ( … nobody could walk more than 25 miles in that inferno—those guys went 70 miles—my gosh, how magnificent…)
How many times, in your life, have you turned your back on the one thing that could help you, resolutely marching exactly the opposite direction; perhaps never knowing that help was 180° away … ?
The little-known, tragic and almost eerie story of the Lady Be Good is true. Her crew’s awesome courage and faith can make us proud to share in their humanity. And the Lady’s story lends a chilling illustration of the effect, in our lives, of the very common human condition we often share: “Sometimes, I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.”
For the ten crewmen of the Lady Be Good the 180 degrees between coming and going—reading off the back side of the loop—was fatal.
In our lives, such mistakes aren’t necessarily fatal; but they can be damaging, painful, heartbreaking. We can’t avoid all such mistakes, but to avoid them more often than not is the only course…the only heading…leading to mental self-sufficiency.
May the crew of B-24 No. 124301—the Lady Be Good—rest forever in peace. And, if their story has helped some of us to a deeper insight to the concepts about to unfold before us…if any of us find emotional maturity and peace of mind in part because of those men….Then Mission 109, the Lady’s only assignment, was not in vain.
Success. Everybody wants it; very few ever learn to define it, and incredibly few ever achieve it. Efforts range from a vague, gut-level longing to hyperactive lifestyles filled with ulcers, battered ego and demolished personality. Those in search of some hidden wisdom have a library filled with books on self improvement; books begun in excitement and forgotten almost before they were completed.
These books will tell you how to put the screws to your neighbor—or how to live with him in peace, love and joy. You can discover how to get rich in real estate; how to make the opposite sex go bananas when you walk into the room. You can learn the secrets of nonverbal communication or else find out how to improve your verbal communication.
Money, sex, love and power—it’s all “out there,” say these authors. If you’re not getting your fair share, there’s something wrong with you; something you lack that the latest book can help you with.
First, however, according to such books, you have to be someone different from who and what you are now. You have to shed your poor, unattractive, pitiful self for a brand-new, glittering somebody. Wrong!
Who and what you are—your personality—is more than just difficult to change. It’s virtually impossible to make you over into someone else without risking grave psychological damage. In later chapters you’ll learn how to “peg” yourself into one of four “arch-types” and one of four sub-types within your major category. Everybody fits into one of these convenient compartments, unless the individual is in an institution, or headed for one.
Think of your basic personality as if it were the home you live in; because in many very real ways, it is. You can remodel it, landscape it differently, increase or decrease its value. You can change it in highly visible and often lasting cosmetic “remodeling;” sometimes you can even make some fairly extensive “structural” changes. But you can’t change the foundation, or rip out the structural framework, without great effort and risk.
With a building it’s often easier to simply get rid of the old one and build a new one. With a human being, of course, that’s impossible. Still, far too many people become so convinced the old “structure” is no good that they take the first step: they tear it down, get rid of it. We call that suicide; and while it’s the most spectacular way to destroy a self-structure, it may not be the most painful. Other destructive behavior abounds in our society. You may recognize yourself in some of these.
Continuing the analogy to a house: How many instances can you recall in which someone rented a basically sound house to people who treated it carelessly? The renter (in this case, the “user”) had nothing to lose; so he constantly took away from the value without putting anything back. In many such cases, he finally simply decamped—not bothering even to pay the back rent or attempting to clean up his mess and repair some of the damage he’d done.
Nobody can even guess how many of us today think of our self-structure as “basically sound” but of no significant value—so we “rent ourselves out” to users. People get away with doing things to us, taking things from us, without any concern for the mess or damage they’re creating. In most such relationships, we place a ridiculously low value upon ourselves. Frequently, when the user is finished with us, we don’t even complain that he didn’t keep his end of the bargain.
How many men or women are there, today, who are locked into a relationship—whether married, going steady, or simply paired off—in which the other partner constantly says or implies he or she is dissatisfied with sexual performance? Of such mismatches the vital question is almost never asked: “Who is really the victim?”
Many sexually-healthy, even sensual people have been almost ruined by a partner’s sex problems. Psych-doctors call this cute little trick “transference,” or “projection.” What it means is that the person with the problem alleviates it by smearing it all over someone who didn’t have a problem, at first.
Is your nose ugly? Don’t laugh! One of the coauthor’s dearest friends is an intelligent, truly-beautiful, dynamic divorcee in her early 40s. She has so much going for her that she has problems, sometimes, with envy and jealousy from her female acquaintances. For years now she has looked forward to the day when her youngest child graduates, so she can sell her house and move to a new location—after spending a big chunk of the real estate income for a nose job. The truth is that nobody ever “sees” her nose until she mentions it; and yet no single day in her life goes by that she doesn’t personally suffer from her own self-concept.
How many of us can’t live up to the reputation of our mother or father or brother or sister? How many of us can’t live down the reputation of another family member? How many of us have failed miserably in life because we weren’t “rich” at 30 … or 40 … or 50?
How many truly gifted musicians earn a living playing in a piano bar evenings and weekends? How many superb writers gave up because their work never got published?
The list, of course, is endless. What it all boils down to is this: How many lives are unrewarding…