Air beer run made hero of local World War II pilot
By Brian Stanley firstname.lastname@example.org November 24, 2012 7:10PM
World War II veteran Clancy Hess pictured at Christmastime in 1944. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 15, 2013 4:21PM
In addition to enemy fighter planes, Clancy Hess was battling fatigue and illness in December 1944.
Hess, 91, had been in the Pacific Theater more than two years and was about to be transferred back to Hawaii. For recuperation, the veteran flier’s expertise found him assigned to literally write the book on what pilots should do while taking off and landing on aircraft carriers in different sea conditions.
But shortly before heading stateside, Hess was ordered to take off from Manus Island and blow up a bridge being used by the Japanese.
“I went out on a strike and the bomb bay doors got stuck when I tried to release (the bombs). I came back and they dropped on the doors,” Hess recalled.
Because the weapons were still on “safety,” the pilot survived to tell the tale and inspect the damage to his bomb bay.
“There wasn’t a dent on them so we concluded you could put some heavy weight on them,” Hess said.
As that information spread around the base, so did the news that the fighting forces would spend the holiday without beer.
Hess didn’t fight the war by himself. He doesn’t know who realized a solution had been discovered at the same time as the problem and he doesn’t know how far up the ranks his next flight was determined.
“But the mechanics on the base stripped every single thing they could out of two planes for me and (wingman) Pat Patton. The guns. The radio. Anything for extra space,” Hess said.
And in the midst of war, the two pilots were sent on the Greatest Beer Run in History.
Hess and Patton flew nearly 600 miles to Townsville, Australia, where they loaded up with beer, a few cases of rum and cigars.
“And those planes were loaded. The Townsville runaway ended on a clifftop just over the ocean, so for the first couple hundred miles I was just above the tops of the waves,” Hess said.
But the planes stayed in the sky until Hess landed and “blew out the tail wheels” from the extra weight. Another blowout followed.
“Word got out what we’d done and there was quite a celebration,” Hess said. “When we sobered up and did a little math, Patton and I had each brought about 6,000 pounds of beer.”
During the celebration, Hess ran out of tobacco for his pipe. Another resourceful, though likely intoxicated, Marine solved that problem by putting a cigar in the bowl.
Everyone was sufficiently amused and the hero of the day posed for a photograph that he has kept for 68 years.
“There’s crazy stories,” Hess said with a smile matching that of the young aviator in the picture he was holding. “All kinds of crazy stories.”