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My rogue Dad and the Flying Aces

©Shers Gallagher 2011
[C-54 landing at Templehof, Berlin, Germany]
At the tail-end of WWII, my young father, then unmarried pilot for the Army Air-corps, formed a lifelong bond with Irish-American twins, named George and Charlie Finn. The Berlin Blockade (1948-49) was a major international crisis of the Cold War, where the Soviets blocked the railway and road access of Western Allies to the Berlin areas under allied control. They did this to allow the Soviet zone to supply Berlin with food and fuel that would give them control of the city. However, the Western Allies foiled their plans by organising the Berlin Airlift to carry supplies to the people of West Berlin. The Finn brothers took part in this and became known as some of the 'flying aces' of that post-war period.

Shortly thereafter, these surplus planes were being dumped and sold on the free market; and my father told the twins of one in particular, an abandoned C-46 that had been used as an extra classroom in a school-yard, which had come up for sale. They were delighted with their purchase only to soon be caught in the midst of a government turn around in its decision to seize all surplus war planes in a nationwide recall.

The following is a summary of the Finn’s determination to stand up to the Feds – and what they believed to be their inalienable rights as American citizens – after purchasing their plane through what they called 'a fair and square' open bid on the free market.

My father was instrumental in helping the twins fight their cause: in their cover up, sabotage and escape(s). However, since Dad was a young father at the time, they kept his name out of the press. There was only one article's mentioning of my father's name as the one initially telling them of a C-46 plane for sale. Then the article went on to discuss the Finns, their imprisonment for not cooperating with the government’s demands and hunger strike till their eventual release.

I knew the Finns personally growing up, as they remained close mates of my Dad's. And throughout my life, I remembered them visiting and dining with our family. I was still quite young, but even then found them charming, especially the more gregarious twin named Charlie.

And this is just another colourful story of our family's past, which I thought you'd enjoy reading about....






THE LAW AND THE FINN TWINS
[Identical fliers take a plane to the desert in an effort to convince the world that it belongs to them]

“The two brothers, Finn, 38-years-old identical twins named George and Charles, regarded themselves as rugged individualists being persecuted by fussy federal authorities. The authorities regarded them as illegal possessors of a war surplus C-46 which the Finns insisted they had legitimately bought. When a court order was issued telling them to keep hands off the plane, one Finn went to Bakersfield airport and flew away with the plane. The other, going into court, held up the wheels of justice for three days by refusing to say which Finn he was. Twin No. 1 (claiming to be Charles) was discovered with the plane parked on the Nevada desert. George got out of court long enough to come spell him as he stood guard with a pistol at his side to warn off prowling officers of the law. The law, however, kept grinding on in its bureaucratic way and summoned George back to Los Angeles to stand trial for contempt of court and for transporting a stolen air plane. Whatever happens on those counts, another court has already granted to a Burbank firm a judgement for non-payment of $10,014.43 worth of maintenance and repair bills" (Life Magazine; February 16, 1953).

N.B. What isn’t mentioned here is how my dad took turns with Charlie, flying the plane to the desert, where they at first camouflaged it in an attempt to elude the authorities. At one point, my dad flew to the outskirts of the prison, whereby Charlie scaled the wall unnoticed and replaced George, who made a successful escape with my dad at the helm of the cockpit. Charlie later claimed to prison authorities that they were holding the wrong twin, which was confirmed and prompted his immediate release. Some members of the press believed the twins were involving themselves in dramatic gestures only to gain public notoriety. Yet, those delving further into the case realised that the Finns were more freedom fighters than publicity seekers. It was their staunch belief – and my father’s too – that ‘when the government takes away the liberty and property of one man, it affects the liberty and property of all men’ (as quoted by the Finns in an article by Thaddeus Ashby; Faith and Freedom; vol. vii, nr.5, January 1956).
[George and Charlie at home in their C-46]

Ashby’s summary in Faith and Freedom: “Standing in jail, the red sun-rays lighting up his face, George hadn’t the faintest idea what desperate measures he and Charlie would take to get her [their plane] back. He would have been surprised to learn that he and his brother would make a ‘citizen’s arrest’ of a US Attorney, that they would go to prison, that they would almost die on a 23-day hunger strike, or that famed attorney Joseph Scott would ride to their rescue, or that the United States Senate would appoint a subcommittee to investigate the Finn case.”

* The Finns eventually won their case after making national headlines in the mid- to late 1950s. Oh, and they got their property back too!



Comments

  1. I LOVE this story! (And oh, how my own Irish dad would have loved it. I can hear him laughing now...)

    p.s. Thanks for the plethora of comments over at my place. As for snow, I grew up in the Midwest and still miss the wonder of a first snowfall - but I don't miss the low grey skies or the ice and slush and cold! In a perfect world I would visit my (dream) cottage in the north woods for the Christmas season and the summer months (although not so far north that I would have to battle the mosquitoes and black flies. We have enough mosquitoes here in the summertime!)

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  2. P.S. Where is that plane, now? Is it in a museum somewhere? Or still in the family's possession?

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  3. I'm not sure, Leslie, because my beautiful mother died too young; and my dad, who died in 2002, had been close to the Finn twins and could no doubt tell me exactly what happened to that plane if he were still alive.

    George, the last existing twin (living in Nevada), died, I believe, in 2008. His life-long partner, a once known actress in LA, outlived him. And it was her name, Patricia Lynn, that the brothers had christened the plane.
    Sweet story, eh? Something that unfolds like a film script...but it happened in REAL LIFE!
    N.B. You can probably follow up on the story by Googling it too.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Amazing story, awesomely narrated.

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  5. ThX Steve. Just meandering back this way to read your comment. HUGS

    ReplyDelete
  6. You have such a colourful and interesting family!

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