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Pilots union 'getting a taste of its own medicine?'

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Rez O. Lewshun

Save the Profession
Jan 19, 2004
Pilots union 'getting a taste of its own medicine?'

CHICAGO (Reuters) — The world's largest airline pilots union is getting a taste of its own medicine as workers in one in its divisions have filed a complaint of unfair labor practices against their bosses, the workers' union said Monday.

It's an unusual twist in the organized labor movement, pitting a unionized staff against its employer — which itself is a powerful labor union.
The parties in the dispute are the Air Line Pilots Association Professional and Administrative Employees (UALPAPAE) and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which fights for the rights of pilots at UAL's United Airlines and other carriers.

"When it comes to its pilot members, ALPA is a major champion of the pilots' rights to fair labor practices," said Jay Wells, president of United's unit of UALPAPAE. "But when it comes to the well-being and welfare of its own staff, ALPA management seems to adopt a different set of labor union principles."

The in-house professional employees' union, which represents 170 staffers that include lawyers and lobbyists, has complained to the National Labor Relations Board that ALPA management failed to meet its obligation to disclose information requested about ALPA's plan to lay off 10 professional employees of this year.

ALPA, which represents 53,000 pilots at 37 airlines in North America, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the complaint.
ALPA's contract with its professional employees expires on Tuesday, and the two sides are in talks on a new labor deal.
The ironic complaint is not without precedent. In 2006, the union representing professional employees of ALPA's Delta Air Lines unit went on strike over a labor contract. That unit's contract is set to expire April 30.
Copyright 2009 Reuters Limited.
Mr. Wells, if ALPA was half of what it promotes itself to be...you might have a larger membership and a bigger budget to work with. If ALPA really is the pilots....ALPA staffers can endure further paycuts/layoffs.
There was an implied message in 1948 that Naval Aviation was irrelevant. The recently created USAF was the darling of the newly established Defense Department, with the B-36 and the "A" bomb there was no need for Naval Aviation or the USMC. The USAF with its ability to reach any part of the globe would insure U.S. superiority. Nuclear Weapons had made war obsolete. So effective was this message that in the spring of 1949 the new super carrier CV-58, to be named the United States was scrapped shortly after construction had begun. At this time the Navy had but one amphibious group of 5 ships left in the Pacific and one carrier in the Far East.
Then in June of 1950 the North Koreans backed by the Russians and the Chinese invaded South Korea. They pushed the UN forces back toward the Pusan perimeter. An amphibious capability provided by the USMC allowed a landing in July of 1950 in Pohang-Dong area by the USMC and Army forces. Carrier aircraft provided tactical air support. This allowed the US to hold the line in Korea. The lack of joint tactical air doctrine, in addition to the limited range and payload of the tactical jets would not allow the USAF to provide the close air support needed for the amphibious landing. The Navy carrier based prop driven F4-U’s and AD-1’s provided the support. This Landing supported by Navy and USMC tactical air had preserved an allied foothold on the Korean peninsula.
Fortunately for the United States, there was strong cadre of combat experienced carrier pilots
and a number of mothballed Aircraft Carriers that could rapidly be returned to service. The reserves were mobilized and the WWII carriers returned to sea. These carriers played a vital role in the support of the UN forces on the Korean Peninsula. The story of these carriers is told in the movie the Bridges of Toko-Ri. They were the forgotten heroes of the Korean War.
When the Chinese entered the war in early November 1950, the number of UN aircraft shot down increased because they determinedly defended their assets along the main roads and rail lines. Nevertheless, fighter-bombers constantly made rail cuts on the straight stretches, which were not as heavily defended because the lines could be repaired in hours under cover of darkness. But the bridges that spanned the gorges were almost impossible to repair, so they were usually defended with a greater number of antiaircraft weapons. As shown in the movie, these sites took a heavy toll on attacking aircraft. Something had to be done to reduce the losses and destroy more bridges. The slower attack aircraft (F4U Corsairs and AD Skyraiders) sustained heavy damage because they were the most vulnerable.
Attempts to destroy the big bridge complexes at Changnim-ni and Majon’Ni proved to be too costly. Intelligence sources confirmed that the bridges at Majon-ni were almost impregnable. Numerous gun emplacements concentrated in a very small area protected them. Eleven radar sites controlled the guns. something had to be done to put them out of commission-but without killing half of an Air Group.

In the late fall of 1951, the leader of Air Group Five on the Essex and several squadron commanders changed the bridge-destruction strategy. Until this time, many of the strikes used only one aircraft type on a mission-usually either Corsairs or Skyraiders-loaded with bombs to attack specific targets. The Navy F9F Panthers were also available in large numbers, and as they didn't have the range and endurance of the propeller types, they were usually assigned closer targets.
The strike planners on the Essex began to look at the idea of simultaneously using all four aircraft types against the most heavily defended targets. Working out the details of these new, coordinated, integrated attacks would not be easy; such attacks had to be precisely planned and timed.
The initial attacks against the bridges were very successful. It was the first time that they executed a major attack using all four of our strike aircraft against the same targets. It had not been done previously because jets operate under a totally different time schedule from the propeller types. All four squadrons had to arrive over the target at the same time, and because of the difference in speed between the jets and the prop types, it was a planner's nightmare!

James Michener was present at these debriefings after these missions, and for 50 years, it has always thought that he used these particular missions as the nucleus for his novel.
The success of these new tactics was quickly used by other carriers operating off North Korea's East Coast. Starting in the late spring of 1952, with rail traffic severely hindered; the enemy had to put thousands of trucks on the roads every night because that was the only way they could sustain their positions.
If the unlimited manpower of the Chinese military had been allowed to move supplies and equipment at will, the UN forces would have been pushed off the peninsula. Airpower gave the friendly ground forces the help that they needed to keep South Korea free. U.S. Naval aviators played a major role in that war, and James Michener helped the public glimpse what it was like for them.
In the words of CDR Paul N. Gray, the Commanding Officer of VA-54, an AD-1 Skyraider Squadron aboard the USS Essex will ad more insight and understanding of the historic ties to this movie.
I hope Mr. Michener will forgive the actual version of the raid. His fictionalized account certainly makes more exciting reading.

On 12 December 1951 when the raid took place, Air Group 5 was attached to Essex, the flagship for Task Force 77. We were flying daily strikes against the North Koreans and Chinese. God! It was cold. The main job was to interdict the flow of supplies coming south from Russia and China. The rules of engagement imposed by political forces in Washington would not allow us to bomb the bridges across the Yalu River where the supplies could easily have been stopped. We had to wait until they were dispersed and hidden in North Korea and then try to stop them. (sound familiar)

The Air Group consisted of two jet fighter squadrons flying Banshees and Grumman Panthers plus two prop attack squadrons flying Corsairs and Skyraiders. To provide a base for the squadrons, Essex was stationed 100 miles off the East Coast of Korea during that bitter Winter of 1951 and 1952.

I was CO of VF-54, the Skyraider squadron. VF-54 started with 24 pilots. Seven were killed during the cruise. The reason 30 percent of our pilots were shot down and lost was due to our mission. The targets were usually heavily defended railroad bridges. In addition, we were frequently called in to make low-level runs with rockets and napalm to provide close support for the troops.

Due to the nature of the targets assigned, the attack squadrons seldom flew above 2000 or 3000 feet; and it was a rare flight when a plane did not come back without some damage from AA or ground fire.

The single-engine plane we flew could carry the same bomb load that a B-17 carried in WWII; and after flying the 100 miles from the carrier, we could stay on station for 4 hours and strafe, drop napalm, fire rockets or drop bombs. The Skyraider was the right plane for this war.

On a gray December morning, I was called to the flag bridge. Admiral "Black Jack" Perry, the Carrier Division Commander, told me they had a classified request from UN headquarter to bomb some critical bridges in the central area of the North Korean peninsula. The bridges were a dispersion point for many of the supplies coming down from the North and were vital to the flow of most of the essential supplies. The Admiral asked me to take a look at the targets and see what we could do about taking them out. As I left, the staff intelligence officer handed me the pre-strike photos, the coordinates of the target and said to get on with it. He didn't mention that 56 radar-controlled anti-aircraft guns defended the bridges.

That same evening, the Admiral invited the four-squadron commanders to his cabin for dinner. James Michener was there. After dinner, the Admiral asked each squadron commander to describe his experiences in flying over North Korea. By this time, all of us were hardened veterans of the war and had some hairy stories to tell about life in the fast lane over North Korea.

When it came my time, I described how we bombed the railways and strafed anything else that moved. I described how we had planned for the next day's strike against some vital railway bridges near a village named Toko-ri (The actual village was named Majonne). That the preparations had been done with extra care because the pre-strike pictures showed 56 anti-aircraft guns surrounded the bridges and we knew this strike was not going to be a walk in the park.

All of the pilots scheduled for the raid participated in the planning. A close study of the aerial photos confirmed the 56 guns. Eleven radar sites controlled the guns. They were mainly 37 MM with some five-inch heavies. All were positioned to concentrate on the path we would have to fly to hit the bridges. This was a World War II air defense system but still very dangerous.

How were we going to silence those batteries long enough to destroy the bridges? The bridges supported railway tracks about three feet wide. To achieve the needed accuracy, we would have to use glide-bombing runs. A glide-bombing run is longer and slower than a dive-bombing run, and we would be sitting ducks for the AA batteries. We had to get the guns before we bombed the bridges.

There were four strategies discussed to take out the radar sites. One was to fly in on the deck and strafe the guns and radars. This was discarded because the area was too mountainous. The second was to fly in on the deck and fire rockets into the gun sites. Discarded because the rockets didn't have enough killing power. The third was to come in at a high altitude and drop conventional bombs on the targets. This is what we would normally do, but it was discarded in favor of an insidious modification. The one we thought would work the best was to come in high and drop bombs fused to explode over the gun and radar sites. To do this, we decided to take 12 planes; 8 Skyraiders and 4 Corsairs. Each plane would carry a 2000-pound bomb with a proximity fuse set to detonate about 50 to 100 feet in the air. We hoped the shrapnel from these huge, ugly bombs going off in mid air would be devastating to the exposed gunners and radar operators.

The flight plan was to fly in at 15,000 feet until over the target area and make a vertical dive-bombing run dropping the proximity-fused bombs on the guns and radars. Each pilot had a specific complex to hit. As we approached the target we started to pick up some flak, but it was high and behind us. At the initial point, we separated and rolled into the dive. Now the flak really became heavy. I rolled in first; and after I released my bomb, I pulled out south of the target area and waited for the rest to join up. One of the Corsairs reported that he had been hit on the way down and had to pull out before dropping his bomb. Three other planes suffered minor flak damage but nothing serious.

After the join up, I detached from the group and flew over the area to see if there was anything still firing. Sure enough there was heavy 37 MM fire from one site, I got out of there in a hurry and called in the reserve Skyraider still circling at 15,000 to hit the remaining gun site. His 2000-pound bomb exploded right over the target and suddenly things became very quiet. The shrapnel from those 2000 lbs. bombs must have been deadly for the crews serving the guns and radars. We never saw another 37 MM burst from any of the 56 guns.

>From that moment on, it was just another day at the office. Only sporadic machine gun and small arms fire was encountered. We made repeated glide bombing runs and completely destroyed all the bridges. We even brought gun camera pictures back to prove the bridges were destroyed.

After a final check of the target area, we joined up, inspected our wingmen for damage and headed home. Mr. Michener plus most of the ship's crew watched from Vulture's Row as Dog Fannin, the landing signal officer, brought us back aboard. With all the pilots returning to the ship safe and on time, the Admiral was seen to be dancing with joy on the Flag Bridge.

>From that moment on, the Admiral had a soft spot in his heart for the attack pilots. I think his fatherly regard for us had a bearing on what happened in port after the raid on Toko-ri. The raid on Toko-ri was exciting; but in our minds, it was dwarfed by the incident that occurred at the end of this tour on the line. The operation was officially named OPERATION PINWHEEL. The pilots called it OPERATION PINHEAD.

The third tour had been particularly savage for VF-54. Five of our pilots had been shot down. Three not recovered. I had been shot down for the third time. The mechanics and ordnancemen had worked back-breaking hours under medieval conditions to keep the planes flying, and finally we were headed for Yokosuka for ten days of desperately needed R & R.

As we steamed up the coast of Japan, the Air Group Commander, CDR Marsh Beebe, called CDR Trum, the CO of the Corsair squadron, and me to his office. He told us that the prop squadrons would participate in an exercise dreamed up by the commanding officer of the ship. It had been named OPERATION PINWHEEL.

The Corsairs and Skyraiders were to be tied down on the port side of the flight deck; and upon signal from the bridge, all engines were to be turned up to full power to assist the tugs in pulling the ship along side the dock.

CDR Trum and I both said to Beebe, "You realize that those engines are vital to the survival of all the attack pilots. We fly those single engine planes 300 to 400 miles from the ship over freezing water and over very hostile land. Overstressing these engines is not going to make any of us very happy." Marsh knew the danger; but he said, "The captain of the ship, CAPT. Wheelock, wants this done, so do it!"

As soon as the news of this brilliant scheme hit the ready rooms, the operation was quickly named OPERATION PIN HEAD; and CAPT. Wheelock became known as CAPT. Wheelchock.

On the evening before arriving in port, I talked with CDR Trum and told him, "I don't know what you are going to do, but I am telling my pilots that our lives depend on those engines and do not give them more than half power; and if that engine temperature even begins to rise, cut back to idle." That is what they did.

About an hour after the ship had been secured to the dock, the Air Group Commander screamed over the ships intercom for Gray and Trum to report to his office. When we walked in and saw the pale look on Beebe's face, it was apparent that CAPT. Wheelock, in conjunction with the ship's proctologist, had cut a new aperture in poor old Marsh. The ship's CO had gone ballistic when he didn't get the full power from the lashed down Corsairs and Skyraiders, and he informed CDR Beebe that his fitness report would reflect this miserable performance of duty.

The Air Group Commander had flown his share of strikes, and it was a shame that he became the focus of the wrath of CAPT. Wheelock for something he had not done. However, tensions were high; and in the heat of the moment, he informed CDR Trum and me that he was placing both of us and all our pilots in hack until further notice. A very severe sentence after 30 days on the line.
Hack is an unofficial disciplinary action taken against officers. The officer is confined to quarters except for work and meals. If the officer agrees to say nothing there would be no official record of the disciplinary confinements. However if you elect to take it to higher authority it is pretty much the end of career.

The Carrier Division Commander, Rear Admiral "Black Jack" Perry a personally soft and considerate man, but his official character would strike terror into the heart of the most hardened criminal. He loved to talk to the pilots; and in deference to his drinking days, Admiral Perry would reserve a table in the bar of the Fujia Hotel and would sit there drinking Coca cola while buying drinks for any pilot enjoying R & R in the hotel.

Even though we were not comfortable with this gruff older man, he was a good listener and everyone enjoyed telling the Admiral about his latest escape from death. I realize now he was keeping his finger on the morale of the pilots and how they were standing up to the terror of daily flights over a very hostile land.

The Admiral had been in the hotel about three days; and one night, he said to some of the fighter pilots sitting at his table, "Where are the attack pilots? I have not seen any of them since we arrived." One of them said, "Admiral, I thought you knew. They were all put in hack by the Air Group Commander and restricted to the ship." In a voice that could be heard all over the hotel, the Admiral bellowed to his aide, "Get that idiot Beebe on the phone in 5 minutes; and I don't care if you have to use the Shore Patrol, the Army Military Police or the Japanese Police to find him. I want him on the telephone NOW!"

The next morning, after three days in hack, the attack pilots had just finished marching lockstep into the wardroom for breakfast, singing the prisoners song when the word came over the loud speaker for Gray and Trum to report to the Air Group Commander's stateroom immediately, When we walked in, there sat Marsh looking like he had had a near death experience. He was obviously in far worse condition than when the ships CO got through with him. It was apparent that he had been worked over by a real pro.

In a trembling voice, his only words were, "The hack is lifted. All of you are free to go ashore. There will not be any note of this in your fitness reports. Now get out of here and leave me alone."

Posters saying, "Thank you Black Jack" went up in the ready rooms. The long delayed liberty was at hand.

When writing about this cruise, I must pay homage to the talent we had in the squadrons. LTJG Tom Hayward was a fighter pilot who went on to become the CNO. LTJG Neil Armstrong another fighter pilot became the astronaut whom took the first step on the moon. My wingman, Ken Shugart, was an all-American basketball player and later an admiral. Al Masson, another wingman, became the owner of one of New Orleans' most famous French restaurants. All of the squadrons were manned with the best and brightest young men the U.S. could produce. The mechanics and ordnance crews who kept the planes armed and flying deserve as much praise as the pilots for without the effort they expended, working day and night under cold and brutal conditions, no flight would have been flown.

It was a dangerous cruise. I will always consider it an honor to have associated with those young men who served with such bravery and dignity. The officers and men of this air group once again demonstrated what makes America the most outstanding country in the world today. To those whose spirits were taken from them during those grim days and didn't come back, I will always remember you."

James A. Michener, a Naval Reserve Officer, wrote the novel The Bridges at Toko-Ri from his experiences as a war correspondent-with the Seventh Fleet in Korea, dispatching stories on life aboard the carriers Essex (CV 9) and Valley Forge (CV 45). The novel tells the story of a civilian attorney recalled to active duty as a reserve Naval Aviator who is shot down over hostile North Korea. The enlisted helicopter pilot and crewman who try to rescue him are also shot down, and all three end up in a ditch fighting for their lives.
James Michener news-dispatched the death scene of the three airmen from his post aboard Valley Forge, believing that Chinese soldiers had killed them during the night (in reality, all three survived their ordeal and were repatriated as POWs after the war). His United Press article "An Epic in Failure" and International News Service story titled "Heroes Fail to Save Pal" hit the national news a week after the incident. A more detailed dialog of the episode titled "All for One" appeared in Readers Digest in July 1952, and became the inspiration for a magazine novel called "The Bridges at Toko-Ri," which appeared in Life magazine on 6 July 1953. Its popularity blossomed into the best-selling 1954 book and movie.

For many years, Cdr. Paul N. Gray, CO of Attack Squadron 54 aboard Essex, was rumored to be the basis for The Bridges at Toko-RI’s central character, "Brubaker." However, the author's notes reveal that the character was patterned after Lieutenant Donald S. Brubaker of VF-194 aboard Valley Forge, whom Michener interviewed on 5 December 1951 and, like his literary counterpart, was recalled to active duty as a Naval Reserve pilot. The final death scene, however, was taken from the above-mentioned incident of Brubaker's squadron mate, Ens. Broomhead.
The enthusiastic response to this article laid the groundwork for a cast of other characters that Michener would later use in The Bridges at Toko-ri, including "RAdm. George Tarrant" (based on RAdm. Perry); "CAG Wayne Lee" (Cdr. Marshall U. Beebe, Commander Air Group 5); and "Nestor Gamidge" (Chief (AP) Thorin).
True wartime events such as these colored Michener's perception of the war, and provided him with a depth of experience that translated into the characters in his renowned book. Michener wrote The Bridges at Toko-ri as a tragedy based on true wartime events of Naval Aviation personnel he knew. It would become the seminal novel on Naval Aviation in the Korean War.
The movie was very successful and still generates interest. Although his story was fictional, the foundation for it was not because Michener was allowed to spend time on the USS Essex and USS Valley Forge off the coast of North Korea during several critical planning sessions. He sat in on these and was also present during the after-strike debriefings that followed certain missions to destroy some of the most heavily defended bridges. The knowledge he gained by talking to the Navy pilots gave him the idea for his great novel. Although the movie gave these events a Hollywood spin, it still gave us all an idea of how dangerous the air war over Korea was.
The real story begins sometime around Thanksgiving 1951 when Michener arrived on the Essex. He stayed approximately six weeks and then moved to the Valley Forge. He was able to extract the data he needed to write an award-winning novel.
In reality, the bridges he wrote about were situated across the neck of the Korean Peninsula-the route of the Trans Peninsula Railroad-and if enemy forces were to have any chance of building enough supplies to maintain their ground troops or even to accumulate enough to sustain a major offensive, they had to keep these bridges intact-at any cost!

In Korea, the WW II F4U Corsair was considered to be a jack-of-all-trades. The planes could carry a respectable amount of ordnance, their four 20mm cannon were very effective in close air support and they had plenty of staying power. Faced by enemy air activity (Yak9, MiG-IS, etc.), the Corsair could stay low and effectively fight hostile aircraft, including the MiG-15. They were occasionally used to take out enemy gun emplacements, and on some of these missions, they were used as bombers and carried SOO-pound general purpose [GP] bombs. According to Navy records, the F4Us were in just about every strike package launched from the carriers, whether against enemy troop concentrations or bridges. Both propeller types were great at covering rescue operations for downed airmen; VF-53 operated from the Essex and VF-653 from the Valley Forge.

Of the four attack aircraft types that operated from the Essex, the Douglas AD Skyraider was considered, without a doubt, to be the heavy hauler. Its only weakness was its relative slowness, which made it vulnerable to the AAA that always surrounded high-value targets. Lt. j.g. Bill Burgess, ordnance officer for VF-54, flew the Skyraider against the bridges: "We carried different loads for different types of bridges. On the first strikes against the large spans that crossed the deep ravines, we carried three 1,000-pound GP bombs with instantaneous nose fuses and 0.3-second delayed tail fuses on the center three stations for the main bridge target. Then we usually had two 500-pound GPs and two 250-pound GPs on the wing stations for rail interdiction at a different area after the main strike.
"On some of the deeper missions during which we had to provide some of our own flak suppression, we carried one 2,000-pound GP on the center station with a VT [proximity] fuse for flak suppression. Our jets that provided the suppression had a limited range. On these missions, each AD pilot had a specific gun emplacement to hit on the first run. This bomb usually exploded 40 to 60 feet above the gun emplacements, depending on the dive angle. They made a rapidly expanding white donut of condensation followed by a huge column of smoke and dust; it resembled a small nuclear explosion.
For our second run, which was the first run on the bridges, on the port and starboard inboard racks, we carried one 1,000-pound GP; they were fused to explode instantaneously for the main span. If we did our job the first time, these runs were usually made with very little observable flak! Some of our Skyraiders had a 500-pound SAP [semi-armor piercing] bomb on the port and starboard inboard racks with only a 0.5-second-delay tail fuse. These were intended to penetrate the bridge structure and explode under it-hopefully, in one of the concrete supports."
During the early phases of working with this new strategy, several combinations of aircraft were used to test the feasibility of each against all heavily defended targets. On many missions, the two attack-jet types were used in several configurations and in different numbers. Many jet pilots said that they were primarily used for flak suppression or as bridge busters. The latter task was probably given to the F2H Banshees, which carried two 500-pound bombs. With their four 260-pound fragmentation bombs, the F9F Panthers were very effective in taking out gun emplacements.
Right before the Essex weighed anchor for its first combat cruise in the Korean War, it was assigned the usual two squadrons of F9F Panthers. At the last minute, orders came from the Pentagon that one squadron should be pulled off and replaced by a squadron of F2H-2 Banshees (VF-172). This was to be the first foray into combat for the relatively new jet fighter an agile aircraft outfitted with eight bomb racks. Just like the Panther, it was limited with regard to how much weight it could carry when flying off the carrier deck. It could carry four 250-pound bombs and four 5-inch rockets along with 600 rounds of ammunition for its 20mm cannon. With its two engines, it had a safety factor built in.
In 1951 congress approved the building the first four modern aircraft carriers of the Forrestal Class CVA-59 through CVA-62. In a world that would face conflict below the level of nuclear exchange the need for Naval Aviation had been firmly established.
James Michener's Korean War novel is about Navy fighter pilot Harry Brubaker, the finest flier aboard the carrier USS Savo. He is unhappy to be in this unpublicized and unwanted war as a civilian pilot. His superior officer is Admiral Tarrant, who although a gruff tyrant to many has taken to treating Brubaker like a surrogate son; his own two boys were killed in WWII. After ditching his plane in the ocean Mike Forney, a diminutive Irishman from Chicago and a simple minded Kentuckian named Nestor Gamidge go to rescue him. They are a part of the Navy's heroic helicopter search and rescue patrol. Gamidge flies while Forney jumps in to save the drowning pilots. Everyone is concerned for Brubaker's return as his wife and daughters are awaiting him in Japan. He is reunited but the shore leave is brief and bittersweet. Forney is involved in a melee over his Japanese girlfriend leaving him for another sailor and Brubaker comes to his aid.

All the men are in awe of Beer Barrel, an immense 250 lb. Texan who routinely smuggles cases of beer aboard inside two massive golf bags. He is the one who lands the planes onto the flight deck. Brubaker is chosen for an important mission to bomb the heavily guarded bridges of Toko-ri, but worries that he won't return and temporarily loses his nerve. He is relieved to find the mission scrubbed and instead they fire upon Communist ground forces in a support role. His landing on the carrier is dicey but Beer Barrel brings him in. Next morning they bomb Toko-ri successfully but his joy is short lived when his jet is shot down in North Korea. Forney and Gamidge are summoned to retrieve him. The helicopter is blown up; Gamidge is shot and killed. Forney crawls into the sewage pile Brubaker is shielding himself behind as the two fight off the advancing North Korean troops. As Forney is killed by a grenade Brubaker is alone to fight for his life. The bitter realities of war are driven home in one of Michener's most poignant and concise works of fiction
U.S. Navy reservist Lt. Harry Brubaker (William Holden) is summoned to active duty for a key mission during the Korean War in THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI. Harry struggles with the reality of being pulled from his job, home, and family, but he soldiers on with the knowledge that he has the rare skills necessary to complete a tactical air strike.

Harry’s mission has two equally dangerous components. First he and another pilot must make a reconnaissance flight over the targeted bridges and area. Then they will lead others in a risky attempt to destroy these strategically vital passageways.

Harry’s harrowing return to military duty begins when he must abandon his plane while flying over the ocean. Coming to his rescue are the hotheaded helicopter pilot Mike Forney (Mickey Rooney) and his assistant Nestor Gamidge (Earl Holliman). Rear Admiral George Tarrant (Frederic March) fears for Harry’s safety, especially since he reminds him of a son he lost during the war.

Harry receives a bit of good fortune when his politically connected wife Nancy (Grace Kelly) finagles her way to Japan. She brings their two daughters, and Harry gets to spend some time with his family before the mission commences. While this break raises his spirit, it also weighs heavily upon him as the flights loom.

Based on James A. Michener’s novel, the film tells a story modest in scale but large in impact. THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI effectively depicts the sacrifices and courage of those who went to war. An air of doom lingers over the film, and two of the most powerful scenes acknowledge the coiled despair felt by those involved. Admiral Tarrant speaks to Nancy of his losses in war and what her husband and she will be facing. This sets the stage for a melodramatic bedroom conversation she has with Harry. Kelly, luminous as always, displays the barely concealed fear that any spouse would feel in such a situation.

Holden has a silent, tragic quality that suits him well for the part. Harry recognizes the importance of his task and the inherent danger. He has difficulty reconciling the two, but ultimately he is dedicated to fulfilling what is asked of him.

Harry’s actions are brave and noble, but THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI doesn’t bludgeon us with blustery displays of patriotism or swelling string sections on the soundtrack. Instead it captures the loneliness and fear these courageous men experience. Fairly long stretches are silent except for radio transmissions. A lot of actual footage was obtained with the help of the Naval Air and Surface Forces of the Pacific fleet, and it dramatically underscores the plight of the men. Whether it’s a special mission or a comparatively routine accomplishment, such as landing a plane on an aircraft carrier whose deck may be bucking like a bronco, they must have nerves of steel to succeed and keep themselves alive. The real footage is more impressive than any CGI-created effects could have been. Recently, some friends saw the movie "The Bridges at Toko-ri" on late night TV. After seeing it, they said, "You planned and led the raid. Why don't you tell us what really happened?" Here goes.

Pilots union 'getting a taste of its own medicine?'
Ah, a well served dose of A.T.M. (reference the movie Clerks 2)
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