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Who Flew the Workhorse? Inquiring Minds Want to Know!

The C-47, Flying Workhorse of WWII

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A book by Richard D. Harvey

Book Review by Karen St. John

Most books about WW II are about the “grunts” –  the troops on the ground who face the enemy and fight for all of us, and Lt. Richard D. Harvey would be the first to say that’s the way it should be.  But when Lt. Harvey noticed that no books were about the WW II troop carrier pilots, he saw an opportunity in the void. So Harvey, WW II pilot of the C-47 aircraft known as the “workhorse of the aviation world,” sat down and wrote his story for the pilots of the Air Force’s 60th Troop Carrier Group, 12th Squadron.  He told of how he and his fellow pilots transported the grunts…air lifted out the wounded….parachuted in the ammunition, supplies and food…and sometimes, flew out refugees and partisans.

The C-47 was a military version of the Douglas DC-3 passenger airplane.  With little or no navigation aids or accurate maps, the C-47s still flew steadily over water and held up in every environment from the African heat to the Alaskan cold, flying in all types of weather.  The U. S. Centennial Flight Commission reports that Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight Eisenhower credited the C-47s with being the single most important airplane contributing to the Allied victory.

Lt. Richard D. Harvey did not set out to become a pilot.  “I graduated on my eighteenth birthday with not a clue what life had in store for me,”  he remarks.  Hind sight offers Harvey a new perspective:  “Without realizing it then, I think God had a hand in directing me to the Air Corps.  As I look back now, I am satisfied that is where I belonged.”

Harvey was trained on the PT-19 and the BT–13 (Vultee Vibrator).   He bonded with the fellows in his squadron and established good friendships, some of which have lasted through all these decades following the war.  “As anyone who has been in the service can attest to, you become better acquainted with those who were close to you alphabetically,” Harvey noted.

Photo from the U.S. Centennial Flight Commission

Photo from the U.S. Centennial Flight Commission

For a young Iowa boy afraid of heights and so short he had to place two pillows behind his back so he could reach everything in the cockpit, he was a dang good pilot.   He loved his plane and he knows his stuff.   Besides the C-47, he can talk about take-off weight, maximum ranges, top speeds, and fuel capacities of the C-5A Galaxy and the C-17 Globemaster.  His commitment to excel was for the troops on the ground, whom he praises in unabashed admiration throughout the book.   He describes how squadrons would make a serious effort to improve every campsite they stayed at, so when the grunts came in, they found the place in good shape.   The squadron took pride in their efforts, feeling it gave honor to some well-deserved men.  Harvey’s book also consists of excerpts from the actual memoirs of  the 60th Troop Carrier group, which is a fascinating read.

Although Harvey’s The C-47, Flying Workhorse of WWII succeeds in paying tribute to a yet unacknowledged group of heroes, the value of the story ultimately lies in Lt. Harvey himself.  His sense of humor is often deliciously unexpected, and Harvey’s observations, surprising in their simplicity, pack a wallop of wisdom.  He spins his tales like a professional storyteller, whipping up visions of Iowa and his homespun upbringing, like a propeller lifts up dust from the ground and fills all the air around you.  He takes you for a ride as his co-pilot, tipping his wing to miss a mountain or searching for the bonfires that light a field.  He brings you along as he walks upon foreign ground, sightseeing at famous sites he had only read about back in the day, in Iowa.  His description of the maneuvers he went through is a must read for fellow pilots.

After a near miss one night with some strange lights in the air, Harvey and his comrades read in The Stars and Stripes about the possibility of it being a Russian plane flying re-supply missions to Marshal Tito.  But there was no mention in the long article about the 60th Troop Carrier Group or any of the flights it was making.  In spite of the lack of attention, at the end of the Balkan Campaign, a well-deserved unit citation was given to the 60th Troop Carrier Group.

Lt. Richard D. Harvey set out to honor a unique group of service men whose commitment to duty and to the ground troops never wavered.  I share his desire to honor these silent heroes, and express my gratitude to them for their service to our country, and the families they left behind.

Especially you, Lt. Harvey, who put your story — and theirs — on paper.  Thank you for your service.  I am glad you made it back.

To purchase The C-47, Flying Workhorse of WW II by Richard D. Harvey, go to


View the original article at Veterans Today

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