Jule Lamm wanted to be a fighter pilot, flying P-51s and slamming bullets into enemy planes in the South Pacific.
Ever since he was a kid in the depression, he read bold tales of World War One pilots, including one German ace who mastered a maneuver no one else could do.
Three days after war was declared, he took the papers to his family to sign — he was going to be a pilot, a fighter ace — then he was sent to King City, Calif.
“I was getting near 8 hours, and I still hadn’t soloed yet,” said Lamm, about his flight training, “and I had a terrible instructor.”
He was beginning to think his fighter pilot dream was going to fizzle.
Then something amazing happened, another instructor took him under his wing, and “treated me like a human being,” laughs Lamm.
On the next flight, the instructor told him to spin it three times, and come out of it on prescribed heading — no easy feat in the Ryan PT-22, or any plane, actually.
Things were going well, until Lamm spotted a plane directly in their path. Somehow, he was able to pull the plane out of the spin, and avoid catastrophe. The instructor would later remark, “Jule, if you hadn’t done that, we’d have been done for.”
Finally, it was time. The instructor took Jule to a deserted strip with a big telephone pole on one end of the runway.
“You’re too dangerous to fly with,” he joked, “and I want you to do three touch-and -goes, on your own.”
Not only did Lamm manage the landings without smacking the pole, he did it in a strong crosswind — it did the trick, he was a keeper from then on in.
Before I tell you more about Jule Lamm, there’s one more tale to tell.
On his third flight in the Ryan PT-22, his confidence brimming and all gung-ho, he decided to try the German ace maneuver, he read about as a child — he was going to make it, or not.
He completed the loop — “it was egg-shaped,” says Lamm — and while upside down, he righted his plane, and exited in the other direction.
“It was like going from a sports car to a dump truck,” says Lamm, now 96 and living in Santa Monica, where he grew up.
He would be assigned to fly troop carriers and transport planes – C-46 Commandos, C-47 Skytrains and DC-3s – not fighter planes … and he was headed to the South Pacific, where things were heating up.
“I was shot at many times, and everything missed,” says Lamm, a retired optometrist, “but the mosquitoes never did miss, and I caught everything you could (in the tropics).”
Logging hundreds of hours, he would island hop for months on end, recalling once that he surprised a “Jap patrol, while flying low over the trees at about 150 mph.”
I asked him how he managed to navigate over those large bodies of Pacific water with such precision.
Lamm said there was a clear piece of glass on the floor with lines on it, which showed which way the wind was blowing over the water to measure drift — this helped greatly in determining if they were on course or not.
“If I was flying, I didnt use the radio at all, ” added Lamm, “I didn’t want to end up (being named) on Tokyo Rose’s radio show. Sometimes, she’d be talking about us.
“If I was co-pilot, I’d be watching the engines, or looking for enemy planes.”
Aside from stints in sick bay due to various tropical ailments, Lamm said the food was terrible, just enough to subsist on.
“I used to dream about eating a golden brown baked potato, ” he laughs.
Eventually, a routine set in — a Japanese plane would fly over at dawn, Lamm says.
“At first there was an effort to shoot it down, or send an aircraft up to intercept it, but it was too high, and so the powers that be, ignored it.
“Each morning at dawn the aircraft would fly over. The engine had a distinctive sound, and so we began calling it ‘Washing Machine Charley.’
“Then one day at dawn, Washing Machine Charley appeared at his usual time. I rolled over preparing to go back to sleep, when a terrific explosion occurred.
“We were told that one bomb was dropped, it landed in our ammunition dump, and all of our arms and ammunition were blown up.”
The battle on the other side of the island was heating up, says Lamm.
“Our casualty count was growing at a very high rate … I spent that night thinking about my future of being dead or a prisoner.”
As luck, or bad luck, would have it, Jule was chosen to be in the first wave of US aircraft to land in post-war Japan.
They were ordered to take specific headings, otherwise, they might be fired on. Thankfully, they landed without incident.
The devastation was incredible, he recounted, there was literally nothing left.
He recalls being shocked by the bizarre image of Japanese troops refueling American planes after they had landed — an image that has never left him.
This was a fierce enemy … this had been a terrible, hard fought war.
He and his crew were afraid they’d be knifed on a packed trolley car, so they stood back to back. He admits he kept his hand close to his sidearm, a Colt, the entire time they were there.
Curious children would walk up to them — they had never seen an American before — and say, “B-29! B-29! … Boom, boom, boom!”
But no one ever really messed with them.
In fact, in his spare time he would visit Japanese hospitals, where he made many friends among patients and doctors.
“Everybody in that hospital out-ranked me, so I don’t know why they let me in, ” he says.
A visit to picturesque Nikko, just north of Japan in the mountains, would also leave a lasting impression.
“It was amazing how quickly we became friends,” he says of the locals, “at first, they were a bit nervous around us, but then we hit it off.
“The people were so nice, and we connected in such a short period of time … the war had just ended, only a month before … but on the second night, we began singing songs together.”
He recalls some of the staff at the Inn where he stayed had tears in their eyes on the day they left.
Later, he would see Tokyo from the air and also Hiroshima – the destruction was overwhelming – and it began to change him. Later in life, he would have misgivings about the atomic bomb and the toll it took on human lives.
But it was a day in the Philippines, that would finally push him to leave military life behind and turn down a chance at attending West Point.
He was helping guide the construction of an airstrip, when he noticed many adults carrying small wooden boxes over their shoulders. He asked a Filipina, what gives?
“She said, they’re carrying their dead children. That was when I realized, there were better ways in life, than killing people,” says Lamm, who would rack up 6,000 flight hours in his military and civilian flight career.
A different America
Lamm would go straight to UCLA after the war, become a succesful optometrist and marry Judy, the love of his life.
They would have three children and six grandchildren.
“She was the best thing that ever happened in my life, ” says Lamm, “and when she died, it was the worst day in my life.”
He kept up his flying, too, buying a Cessna which he kept at Santa Monica Airport.
I asked him point-blank, how life for his generation, compared to today’s Covid-19 nightmare.
His perspective was immediate — he was a child of the 1930s. Life had been hard, but somehow they survived.
“My earliest recollection was terrible times,” Lamm said, “it was the depression and there was no government help, no money anywhere.”
He recalls asking his mother for a toy that cost 25 cents, and was told they could not afford it. It was a lesson he would never forget.
He would eventually get a job selling the Saturday Evening Post and selling hairbrushes. It wasn’t a lot of money, but work gave him renewed confidence.
“The way I looked at it, with each rejection I got at the door, I was one step closer to making a sale. This is what kept me going.”
“It was a different America then,” Lamm says.
“One day, a man knocked on our door, saying he had not eaten all day. He was willing to do work for food. My mother set a table for him in the backyard, with a tablecloth, and fed him.
“I said, Mom, that’s our food, what are we going to eat? She said, ‘If he eats well, he’ll do good work.’
“It seemed the United States was much more capable of solving problems then,” he added. “America was the jack of all trades, and the master of none.”
A dream fulfilled
It would be years later, 2015 in fact, but Lamm would realize his P-51 Mustang dream.
A fellow named Richard Pack, a P-51 owner, agreed to take Lamm on the ride of his life. Pack rode up front, while Lamm sat behind him, in command of the stick as he did rolls and loops above 300 knots.
“It has so much power,” says Lamm, “and I could have easily flown that plane (in the war).”
I asked if it was tricky landing it, having to look out the sides of that long nose.
“Not a problem at all” says Lamm, “no problem whatsoever.”