Saturday, Aug. 30, saw Bob Dorr and I signing copies of Hell Hawks! at the National Air & Space Museum’s Udvar Hazy Center. Museum visitors purchased nearly the entire stock on hand — 63 copies went out the door, along with a dozen copies of Sky Walking.
Sunday evening, Aug. 31, saw me on the air with radio talk show host John Batchelor, interviewing me about Hell Hawks! I was joined by Hell Hawk veteran and pilot David N. Harmon, Col. USAF (ret). Col. Harmon flew a combat mission in his P-47, Elsie, on Sept. 19, 1944. His flight bombed a German panzer concentration with deadly effect. Shortly after, near Bitburg, Harmon took on a Wehrmacht flak battery that had downed several American planes. He dove on the guns at 400 mph in a steep, 40-degree dive, hammering the guns with .50-caliber fire from his eight machine guns. A dead German gunner, slumped over the firing bar, kept spitting shells into the air–one hit Harmon square in his Jug’s belly.
The 20mm round exploded in Harmon’s main fuel tank. He felt a tremendous jolt to the plane, and his armored seat pan leapt several inches higher with the impact. Staying low to avoid flak tracers streaking down from a parallel ridge, Harmon kicked in water injection for extra speed. His Pratt & Whitney R2800 engine roared in response, and after five miles on the tree tops, Harmon was able to climb and streak for home. He landed back at base with his plane perforated by flak hits; the P-47 was condemned to the junk heap. But not before his crew chief retrieved the nose fragment of the 20mm shell that burst in the main tank. Full of aviation gas, the tank didn’t contain enough air to support an explosion, and the fluid helped smother the shock of the explosion.
Harmon won the Distinguished Flying Cross (his second) for that action. He still has the 20mm shell tip. He will be 89 years old this fall. He signs his letters: “The Luckiest Man Alive.”
The radio interview is posted at my website: the first item on the “What’s New” page.
Tim Hagan says
Dave Harmon’s story is one of the best one’s in the book and I’m glad he was able to joing you for the show. I always tried to listen to the John Batchelor show when it was nationally syndicated. I’m looking forward to the link so I can hear the interview.
Anna Dutton says
I know Col.David N.Harmon.
He is now 91 years old and going strong.
Proud to be his friend.
Great to hear Col. Harmon is still flying high. He’s one of my Hell Hawk heroes. Please pass on my Hellos to him. His story has now been read by over 31,000 new readers!
Tom Jones — co-author — Hell Hawks!
Mary Brodland says
Col. David N. Harmon is my grandfather and one of my best friends. Thank you so much for writing this peice, I can’t tell you how much this means. My grandfather is the richest history book you could ever find-he’s been through and seen things we can only try to understand through history books created by 40 year old historians(50 years removed-ha). it’s wonderful to see one of his stories available to the public.