Aircraft—Big Sandy unicom…Centurian…3…7…3…November…6 miles to the north west…inbound for landing…is the cafe’ open…
Unicom—Winds calm…no other traffic…and yes the Cloud 9 is open…
I make my living selling aviation fuel and hangar space, a busy day for me usually means a good day for my business. I enjoy having those good fuel sale days, it makes up for those bad weather days when I do no business at all. I have some really good days with no fuel sales too, sometimes I define a good day by the interesting people I get the opportunity to meet. Meeting my friend Benny Mallory’s Uncle Charlie was one of those days.
Benny Mallory is a flying legend in his own right in West Virginia. If you are a pilot and are from West Virginia you have heard of Benny. He owns his own airport (Mallory Field) just south of Charleston’s municipal airport (CRW). Benny has taught many people how to fly in West Virginia, probably more than any other instructor in the state. Benny was also a designated flight examinator, meaning when other flight instructors train their students they would bring them to Benny before they could get their pilot’s license. That’s just like you do when you pass your drivers test with the state police examiner. Benny would bring some of his students to Big Sandy because they could train and then have lunch at the Cloud 9. I got to know Benny pretty well and always enjoyed talking airplanes with him.
One day Benny introduced me to his Uncle Charlie, Charles M. Mallory a WWII Double Ace from Charleston. Charles Mallory had served on the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid during WWII in the Pacific. Benny, knowing how I liked reading about WWII, brought Charles to the Cloud 9 Cafe’ for lunch and to give me the opportunity to meet him. We sat in the gazebo by my office and talked for about an hour before we walked over to eat. I shamelessly invited myself to eat with them, I just couldn’t get enough of hearing him talk about his life.
Charles was a member of the Fighting 18s photo reconnaissance specialists. His job besides ‘dog fighting’ with the Japanese was taking aerial photographs of future battle sites. He became an ‘Ace’ in one day (5 enemy kills) during one of these missions. Charles had been told by his CO (commanding officer) not to engage the enemy unless fired upon. His mission was extremely important for the planning of the invasion of the Philippines at Luzon. He was told his orders came from Admiral William “Bull” Halsey himself.
During the mission Charles and two other reconnaissance fighters were trying to sneak to the target undetected in a cloud layer about 1,000 feet about the ocean. The clouds were intermittent and the three planes were flying wing tip to wing tip as to stay hidden and not hit each other. When they started passing through partial clearing skies he noticed, only 2 or 3 hundred feet below them, 6 Japanese “Betty” Bombers flying in loose formation directly below. Charles said, “They were ‘sitting ducks’ but I had orders not to engage the enemy unless I was fired upon. I also knew that if we broke out of the clouds and they spotted us, I would be their ‘sitting duck’, I also didn’t know if there were more than 6 because we didn’t know what was behind them or what was in front of them. As the clouds started providing less and less cover I knew I had to do something so I hand signaled the other guys that I was going down to see what we had.”
“I broke out right behind the back two bombers and quickly sent them burning toward the Pacific and them I darted back in the clouds. I didn’t know if the bombers in the lead knew what had happened or not but when I broke back out of the clouds, the lead bomber was just flying along like nothing had happened. I dove back down and got him and the other guys got the other 3, then we searched the sky to see if anything else was around and didn’t see anything. We completed phase one of the mission taking reconnaissance photos and started back to the Intrepid when we were attacked by several “Tony” fighters (Japanese Zeros). In the dog fight I shot down two more. The others guys were successful, too. We returned to the Intrepid. Quickley refueled and returned for more photos. The skies were full of aircraft because the Japanese had scrambled all aircraft on the ground because other sorties had been bombing Clark Field and they were trying to keep their aircraft from being destroyed during the attack.”
“The photos were for the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in the war. When I returned the second time I was expecting a hero’s welcome from the men for the photos and becoming an Ace in a day but I got completely dressed down by my commanding officer for engaging the enemy. I was confined to my room, pending flim review of the encounters. My plane had 67 bullet holes in it from the dog fight.”
“Soon the Battle of Leyte Gulf began, we took several early casualties during the initial attack and the call came for ‘all pilots to the ready room.’ After a quick briefing I was informed that my plane was on the elevator from the hangar deck to the flight deck so I was the first out. Only minutes after I departed the ship a kamikaze pilot crashed into the side of the Intrepid and some of the pilots in the ready room were killed. By pure luck I was airborne to fight and not sitting in the ready room.”
“All and all I was credited with 11 kills during my career and that made me a double ace. During war a lot of your success has to do with luck, being in the right place at the right time or not being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I sometimes thought I had an angel riding with me. If my plane hadn’t been on that elevator that day I might not be sitting here today, who knows?”
I love reading about WWII’s strategies and battles but what I enjoy the most is hearing personal experiences duing the war. Benny’s Uncle Charlie was just an ordinary country boy from Dunbar, West Virginia, at 22 years old with the weight of a nation on his shoulders, in the Philippine Sea in the Pacific risking his life daily fighting the Japanese, for our homeland.
Listening to Charles telling about his life, it was like it was no big deal, he was just doing what had to be done at the time. Like so many of the ‘Greatest Generation’ Charles came back home and started a business, a construction company, and later a real estate company and lived a fulfilling and productive life. He was a founding member of the West Virginia Wildwater Association, and he kayaked most of the rivers in the state. He enjoyed kayaking and flying well into his eighties.
Benny is a well respected aviator in West Virginia, many people look up to him, but it was easy to see the admiration Benny had for his hero, his Uncle Charlie. The Intrepid is now dry docked across from New York City, on the Hudson River, as a Naval Museum. When it was first opened a reunion was held for the crew who served on the ship. Benny escorted his Uncle Charlie to New York for the reunion, he told me he was amazed at the stories he heard.
I can only imagine how enjoyable that was for him.
Whenever planes land here from Mallory Field, I always ask how Benny is doing. From what I hear, he’s not getting along very well these days, his flying days have been over for some time. The last time I talked with him he told me about his Uncle Charlie passing away at the age of 92. Life well lived, Charles M. Mallory!
I took a picture of Benny with his Uncle Charlie the day I met him. I have proudly displayed it on the wall of the airport for several years. There are Uncle Charlie stories all over this country and soon all the ‘Uncle Charlies’ of WWII will be gone. May this country never forget their sacrifices, may God bless each and every one or them!
Aircraft—3…7…3…November departing runway 21 to the north…Unicom—Have a safe trip home…I sure enjoyed meeting you Mr. Mallory…
(Gary Wayne Cox is airport manager of Big Sandy Regional Airport owned by Floyd, Johnson, Magoffin and Martin Counties.)