Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Third Joe McCarthy

One aspect of my Apserger’s is that when I was younger I sometimes had difficulty grasping that two very different people could have the same name. This came to my staunchly democratic parents’ opinion when I opined I thought Joseph McCarthy had done a great job. After the EMTs revived my mother (OK, a slight exaggeration)…

To put it mildly, my parents were no great admirers of the one-time Republican senator from Wisconsin. I had been referring to the baseball player and manager Joe McCarthy who won a pennant for the Chicago Cubs in 1929, and seven pennants and six World Series titles for the Yankees 1936-1943. His record of managing seven world champions still stands, though he shares it with Casey Stengel.

I recently learned about a third Joseph McCarthy who is in my opinion one of the great unsung heroes of WWII. He enlisted in the royal Canadian Air Force in May of 1941 and became a Lancaster pilot. What made him truly extraordinary is that he was the only Yank serving in the legendary 617 Squadron, better known as the Dambusters. Their most famous mission came 1942 against three hydroelectric dams in the Ruhr Valley. They were carrying specially designed bombs. To hit the dams just right, they had to come in at 60 ft off the water, flying at speeds of upward to 200 miles per hour, in the dead of night with everyone and their second cousin trying to shoot you down. The bombs they carried were designed to spin backwards upon release, 5,000 bombs that would skip across the water until they would hit the dam, sink to the bottom, and then explode.

19 planes made the Ruhr Valley attack. Eleven of them made it home. They blew up three Ruhr dams. Squadron commander Guy Gibson received the Victoria Cross and a training job, though he kept volunteering for duty until he was put back in at the end of the war when he was killed.

McCarthy survived the mission, one of the few Yanks ever invited to tea at Buckingham Palace, where he received the Distinguished Service Order. Such was McCarthy’s skill and bravery that he made it back to Buckingham Palace on two other occasions to receive a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Repeat Bar (there is no truth to the rumor that on his third visit, the domestic staff asked “You again?”)

I was interested that unlike most Americans, McCarthy stuck with the RCAF not only for the duration of the war but until he retired in 1961. I doubt anyone ever questioned whether he’d earned his pension. I understand that pilot McCarthy died in 1997 at the age of 78. Seeing as he was around at the 50th anniversary of the Dambuster’s raid, I’d say he was playing with the House’s money.

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