American Hero

In honor of Memorial Day, we give you this Daily Reckoning classique, first written and broadcast May 22, 2000…

"It looks just the same as it did 56 years ago," said Colonel Flamm Dee Harper, USAF (Ret.). "France is a beautiful country…as beautiful now as I remember it. Except you don’t have to worry about running into a German patrol around every bend in the road."

Col. Harper, a small, handsome man of 80 years, stood on the hillside speaking into a microphone to a crowd of about 200 people. At his right was a young lieutenant, the USAF attache from Paris who served as his interpreter. Further down the hill, a group of about a dozen French officers were formed up into a square, starched and grave…with enough gold braid to back a currency.

On his left were two flags, hoisted on recently implanted poles – the Stars and Stripes and the French drapeau – and a marching band of about 40 pieces, resplendent in dark blue suits with white insignia. They were the municipal band of little Montmorillon, the sous-prefecture about 10 minutes away from my house.

Montmorillon: The Return of Col. Harper

Montmorillon was celebrating the return of Col. Harper, an American pilot who crash-landed in this field in 1944. In front of me, a blonde woman had tears in her eyes. She looked as though she was about 55 years old. I did the math twice to make sure – she had to be at least 70.

"I want to thank Jacqueline Thomas, who saved my life," said Col. Harper.

For more than half a century, Jacqueline Thomas, who stood before me, had wondered whatever happened to the young flyer she found in her grandfather’s vineyard in 1944. It was the vineyard, as much as Jacqueline, who saved him. Born in Albion, Idaho, Harper was 21 years old when America entered WWII. Like so many pilots, he was fascinated by machines and speed. And when a group of P-38s flew over Utah in 1943, Harper saw them and knew what he wanted to do. He enlisted in the air force and was sent to flight school. A few months later, he was already flying his 29th mission over France. His target was the German ammunition depot at Sillars, about 20 miles from here.

But something went wrong. A time-delay bomb went off and ignited the powder magazine just as he was passing overhead – at an altitude of only a hundred feet. The debris hit the aircraft, putting one engine out of action and damaging the other. Worse, Harper had been struck in the head by flying glass. So much blood streamed down his face that he could no longer see. Smoke filled the cockpit.

Harper undid his harness and started to bail out. Then he realized that the ground was only about 50 feet below. So he sat back down in his seat and prepared to crash.

Seeing the field again, for the first time since the event, Harper turned to me: "I don’t know how I survived. A P-38 can’t glide at less than, say, 130 miles per hour. I should have been killed."

But the wires that held up the grapevines slowed the plane. Harper jumped out of the cockpit with no further injury. At first, Jacqueline Thomas thought he must be a German. She started to run away. Then by some instinct she decided to go to his aid. His face was covered with blood. And the Germans could arrive at any minute.

She led him to her grandfather’s house. No one was home.

She tended his head wound in the only manner she knew – dousing it with "eau de vie," strong spirits that hurt so much that Col. Harper recalls the pain to this day.

Not long after, Jacqueline’s father arrived. He had seen the plane go down and was concerned for his daughter. Taking command of the situation, he had Harper take off his clothes and dressed him as local farmer.

The two grabbed fishing poles and went down to the river where, pretending to fish, they made their way to a cave where Harper was hidden.

Eventually, Resistance leaders were contacted. Harper was driven to a farm where another woman took charge of him – Denise LaBrousse. She was there yesterday, too. Nothing seemed to have changed. Harper was vigorous – with a sense of humor and a friendly smile. Jacqueline still seemed like the teenaged girl who found him in the field. And Madame LaBrousse looked like she’s probably always looked. She looked like she could make a good omelet – which is just what she did for Harper.

Montmorillon: Taking Their Places By Col. Harper

As the story was told, each of these people made their way up to take their places alongside Col. Harper…Denise LaBrousse walking with difficulty with the aid of a cane. And there they stood. The mayor of Montmorillon had invited me to the ceremony as a representative of the local American community ("I not only represent it," I explained to Col. Harper, "I am it. Apart from my family, there are no other Americans in the area.") and as an interpreter. He now presented Col. Harper with a medal from the town. A representative of the French Air Force gave him another medal – a set of wings. The band struck up the Star Spangled Banner…and then the Marseillaise.

Tears welled up in many eyes. Many of those present had fought in the war. Others had vivid memories of it. My friend, Gilbert Mining, was there. He had made his way to North Africa to join the Free French Forces of de Gaulle. He’d made friends with an American soldier…whom he has never seen again. Another old soldier sat next to me at the dinner following the ceremonies in the field. He had been with the French army at the Maginot Line. They were driven back by the Germans and finally pinned against the Loire River.

"I asked my commander for permission to desert," said the retired schoolteacher. "He told me to go ahead. So I swam across the river. Then I fought in North Africa…and then back to France."

Harper, meanwhile, went on to glory. He joined the local S.A.S. forces, Britain’s underground operation that coordinated resistance activity throughout the war. John Fielding, an Englishman who was part of the local unit, was also at yesterday’s ceremony.

Together with the local French resistance, they blew up train lines to keep the Germans from moving troops from the south of France to the front in Normandy.

But Harper did not remain on the ground, or under it, for long. Scarcely three weeks after the local paper in Utah reported him "missing in action," he was back in England and back in the cockpit on various missions.

Later, in Korea, he was shot down again. His ribs were broken, but he managed to kill two North Korean soldiers with a handgun and was rescued by helicopter. He became the only pilot to get shot down in two wars and keep on flying. But the most remarkable phase of his career was probably during the period following his rescue in North Korea.

While he was recovering from his injuries, Harper directed the activities of his unit of flyers. One of his pilots reported a massive build-up of supply trains in the sector.

Harper was unable to get permission for an attack, but ordered it anyway. The pilots went to work. They discovered that the boxcars were loaded with ammunition. The whole sky lit up, brightened by the explosions. Encouraged, they just kept hitting the train, which just kept blowing up.

Some military historians believe this attack was the key to ending the war. The ammunitions train was meant to supply a massive million-man Chinese army. Without supplies, the offensive was called off, and the North Koreans decided to resort to the bargaining table.

But world politics were a long way away from the thoughts of those assembled here in Montmorillon this weekend. "I’m just glad to be alive," said Harper.

Your correspondent,

Bill Bonner
The Daily Reckoning

May 27, 2005 — Working on his Book

Bill Bonner is the founder and editor of The Daily Reckoning. He is also the author, with Addison Wiggin, of The Wall Street Journal best seller Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of the 21st Century (John Wiley & Sons).

Here, at The Daily Reckoning HQ in Baltimore, the sun is shining, the sky is a perfect blue – and our usually bustling office grows increasingly quiet as the day progresses. There are only a handful of us slumped at our desks, looking longingly out the window, eager to start our holiday weekend.

Across the Atlantic, where the weather is most likely not as accommodating, Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin are hard at work on their soon-to-be released book, so today’s missive will be sans Bill’s usual wit and witticisms…

But, we’ll power on – and turn it over to our team at The Rude Awakening…


Eric Fry, reporting from Wall Street:

"When the Berlin wall came a-tumblin’ down in 1989, the entire Western world celebrated the triumph of capitalism over communism. But very few of us imagined that the world’s leading capitalists would later veer toward a subtle version of communism…"


Back in Baltimore…

*** A note from our friend, Andy Gordon:

"I’ve looked (and looked) at all the different ways of slicing and dicing the stock market.

"I’ve picked the minds of the legendary investors. I learned all about value investing from Benjamin Graham, commodity investing from Jim Rogers, Peter Lynch’s practical advice on how to beat Wall Street, and Warren Buffett’s lessons for corporate America.

"And I incorporated their teachings into my stock market evaluations…with some success…but not with the consistency I should have been achieving. It was frustrating. Who could I turn to if the investing techniques of the greatest investors could not give me outstanding returns?

"There was, however, this one guy…a very wealthy businessman that I know…who buys and sells companies in rapid succession, and doesn’t seem to spend a whole lot of time evaluating these companies. Yet, he seems to make the correct decisions most of the time. I wondered what would happen if I began giving him companies I liked.

"Under the tutelage of this millionaire businessman, I began to realize that a company’s capabilities are constantly adapting to a changing marketplace…competition…supply and demand…technological innovations…user trends. The list goes on and on…focusing on all the factors that affect a company’s ability to acquire customers and develop more and more products for its customers.

"From there, it didn’t take a leap to figure out that earnings can go down even as a company is getting a grip on expanding its customer base cheaply and efficiently. Or, the other way around – that earnings can go up as a company begins to lose its ability to get customers at a reasonable cost.

"I began applying these ideas to the stock market. Their predictive power surprised even me. All kinds of companies were lighting up my computer screen now…companies I never had paid any attention to. Some were lit up because they were ready to take off

"The criteria that my wealthy colleague convinced me to use works so well that I call them my ‘holy grail’ criteria…to predict which companies are poised to do well."

*** An insightful reader comment:

"Bill, yesterday you wrote: ‘Why pressure China to revalue the yuan? Because not only does it create disorder, it puts the Chinese in a worse position commercially. The yuan has been stable for 10 years – pegged to the U.S. imperial dollar at a fixed rate. The United States now insists that the yuan move up. Why impose tariffs and trade barriers? Because they directly interfere with the orderly give and take of commerce…and slow our competitors’ growth.’

"You must delve a bit deeper. China is the Big Dog in the world, economically and militarily. They have more trade deals with more nations than the U.S. does. They have more military bases around the world than the U.S. and the EU combined. They have much more influence in Central and South America than the U.S. does as well.

"Their entire economy has been based upon a ‘wartime’ economy for more than ten years. They have increased their military spending by at least ten percent per year, and according to the CIA, that officially reported figure is at least twice as high. All of their civilian infrastructure is dual/use civilian-military design. ALL of it. Ships, trucking mass-transportation, aircraft, airports, highways and railways. Plus, labor laws, liability, and OSHA rules aside, they get eight times the bang per buck that the US does on their internal spending.

"Our presence in Southwest Asia is a thorn in their side, for they have been busily destabilizing nations in the region in order to ‘rescue’ them from that destabilization. They need the resources, including water, much more than the U.S. does at present. Our presence in Southwest Asia has prevented them from merely taking what they want by force, and it has hindered their espionage activities in the region. It has forced them to the table to deal openly with the CIS, Southwest Asia, and the Middle East for those things that they want and need.

"China’s economic ‘bubble’ may collapse at any time. Internal banking problems are rife, and not all of its citizens have reaped the benefit of the economic ‘bubble’ of their wartime economy.

"As well, if they dump six hundred billion dollars on the market while freeing the yuan… The only reason they bought six hundred plus billion dollars was to ensure the stability of the yuan…

"China controls most of the world’s shipping chokepoints by sea, and most of the geographic chokepoints on the Euro-Asian continent. Militarily, China can take us. In two months time, from a standing start, they have a potential force projection on the Euro-Asian continent of two hundred million combat soldiers, with all of the necessary logistics already in place.

"There is much, much more to be considered here."

The Daily Reckoning