Heroes Flight: On assignment in Washington D.C.

Heroes Flight: On assignment in Washington D.C.
PFC Ernest Bernhoft flew "The Hump", a back and forth military cargo operation during WWII.
PFC Ernest Bernhoft flew "The Hump", a back and forth military cargo operation during WWII.

Ernest Bernhoft is one of 23 veterans of World War II from the ArkLaTex who are traveling this week to Washington DC to visit war memorials and monuments. The trip is sponsored by Brookshires.

No shirt, splattered in oil, PFC Ernest Bernhoft remembers the hot and humid days of World War II working on a cargo plane on the other side of the world.

"One of the guys in Europe said man you sure wouldn't have been dressed like that if you had been in (General Georne S.) Patton's Army," said Bernhoft.

Maybe not, but Bernhoft was far enough away from General Patton in the big war to get away with it.

He was so far away, he described it this way to his mother back in Tennessee.

"I tried to tell her one time all you do is punch through Memphis and end up in India come totally where we were," said Bernhoft.

Bernhoft and countless others were supporting operations in the India-China part of the war.

He was part of the Air Force's Air Transport Command which was responsible for flying cargo and supplies from India to China to fight the Japanese from trying to occupy China.

It was an 8 hour back and forth continuous test of courage called "the Hump."

An eager Ernest Bernhoft couldn't wait to fly at first.

But it far from a fun trip. It was a dangerous flight over the Himalayas. Some of the planes crashed and airmen died. There were no reliable charts or radio navigation, and the extreme weather caused some terrifying moments.

"Monsoons because boy we got up there and those planes the waves were. you looked like you were in an elevator, recalled Bernhoft. "The altimeter going up and down on that thing. There was no place to land when you're up there 12 to 13 thousand feet all you can see is rugged mountains."

At the air strip in India where he was stationed, Bernhoft may not have been a trained ground soldier, but there were times when the Japanese infiltrated and lives were at stake.

"We did have some guys that were caught over there when the Japs (Japanese) were bombing had shrapnel holes in the bottom of the planes."

At the end of the war, the mission succeeded, and the Japanese were unable to take China.

"I just feel like we were doing our job," said Bernhoft. "That's what we were over there to do and the sooner we'd get finished and done we'd get home again; that's what we were looking forward to."

For their valiant efforts flying "The Hump", President Franklin Roosevelt awarded the Air Traffic Command a Presidential Unit Citation. It's the first such award made to a non-combat organization ... for sacrifices made.

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