The Corner

Dinner with Dolfo

The last two days, I have written about Germany and Japan (here and here). Is it time for their militaries to resurge? They are going to regardless, almost certainly. I have a letter from a longtime reader, Robert Arnold, in California. (When I say letter, I really mean e-mail. Is there a true difference these days?) He is the grandson of General “Hap” Arnold, which relates to the letter I will share with you.

General Arnold led our Air Force in World War II, and is one of the outstanding military officers in U.S. history. To brush up, consult Wikipedia (as I did).

Now, a word from Robert Arnold:

I have known German Luftwaffe officers from WWII and also post war. It is unsettling to see one in a black dress uniform at an official function in our modern era. I first saw this probably about 1999 (perhaps this is now retired garb, I don’t know). Right out of the movies and newsreels, I have to tell you! Makes your blood run cold.

My conversations with the old guard (WWII fighter aces and some of the most deadly men ever to fly) years ago always got around to “we have been your close ally for decades.”

Same with the modern, post-war Japanese military aviators I have met. They all feel they have earned and proven their commitment to a new day and specifically to us.

I think it is time to treat them as responsible allies from major nation-states who have a serious, proactive role to play rather than just local protectors of bases, warehouses, tank parks, and landing strips for the U.S. military.

However, it is also prudent to keep a close eye on things.

I will never forget being at a small, private dinner party in California (maybe about 1984) with perhaps six German aces (and several British and American ones). I had a fascinating evening with living history. One of the guests was General Adolf Galland, who had been the leader of all German fighter forces for most of the war and a top ace. At the end of the evening, it was announced that it was his birthday.

His comrades (all were in the famous Squadron of Experts at the end of the war and flew the first jets) asked “Dolfo” to stand. They joined him and then performed a Luftwaffe chant of some sort (I have extremely limited German) that went on for several minutes. Loud, serious, and right out of an old Warner Brothers black-and-white film.

I gotta tell you. I was looking around for the SS to come through the doors with submachine guns. Ice ran up and down my spine. All these guys had met Hitler personally, on several occasions, and had told me their stories.

Then the moment was over and all was good cheer in the best German sort of way.

The late British ace Peter Townsend told me a similar story, once, about a post-war gathering in Germany with a lot of these guys. Out shooting (the whole bird-bagging thing you see in movies) one morning, he lost sight of them and for an instant wondered if this was the moment they were finally going to get him. Then the feeling passed and they all had drinks and a wonderful time.

By the way, if you have seen the Netflix series The Crown, the actor playing Townsend does not do him justice. The real Townsend was a witty raconteur with great personality and Brit charm of the best sort. Not the dour fellow in the show.

I interrupt Mr. Arnold’s letter to remind you that Captain Townsend was the beau of Princess Margaret, in that tense situation near the beginning of Elizabeth II’s reign.

Anyway, the letter concludes,

As I stated earlier, to keep one eye open would only be prudent. And JFK once said, “Forgive your enemies but always remember their names.”