The scenery was stunning, but the land below was so desolate that their aerial maps were often blank. For the men transporting supplies and troops from India into the heart of China’s high plateau region, the trip was as dangerous as any combat mission of WW II. Even without much Japanese resistance–at least along the northern route–“flying the hump” across the lofty Himalayan peaks presented some of the world’s worst and most dangerous flying conditions, as Ed Wenger learned within days of first arriving in northern India.
For the legendary heavy cargo flyers assigned to the China-Burma-India Theater (CBI), wind shears, wing-ice, and the slimmest rescue margins were just part of the job. “That was the daily grind for two years,” Ed says, almost in disbelief of his own story–and survival.
Prior to the Berlin Air Lift, The Hump was the largest and most important air bridge in aviation history. Between 1943 and 1945, the Army Air Corps flew over 159,000 sorties into China, at the cost of nearly 1,600 souls and 600 aircraft. In some months, the Allies lost over half of their fleet, yet capable pilots, navigators, and flight mechanics such as Ed Wenger kept their ships flying as long and as often as ordered.
During the hot mid-stretch of August 2012, Dennis Wenger brought a box full of memorabilia and his 90 year old father, Ed, to our on-site shooting location in Brentwood, PA. Our mobile recording studio was set up in the social room of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and despite the heat our lengthy conversation went rather well. Soft spoken and rather frail, Ed’s recollection of his days in the CBI was bright and colorful. Of course, at his age we understand how some stories can fade away. What we heard, however, was no less than a remarkable first-hand account of WW II’s most remote, daring–but little known–flying missions. However, we were struck by Ed’s humility.
Factual and sincere, Ed’s stories suggested none of the bravado and heroism that he could understandably claim at this point in his life. Indeed, like so many others of his generation Ed simply did what was asked of him. After the war, he and many others quietly moved on with life, putting away their stories. It sometimes takes a little priming to revive those long forgotten stories, but we are always truly grateful and honored when we get to hear them. Thanks, Ed.