Pistol Head, Cocker Spaniel, Combat Veteran
Lt. Colonel Willis Doesn’t Return from His 51st Combat Mission
Pistol Head, a 2 1/2 year old red cocker spaniel, had been best buddies with his master Lieutenant Colonel Solomon Theodore Willis, Jr. since he was a puppy. He didn’t reckon time in human terms, but he recognized that time made many changes in his dog years. His master had married Eileen in October 1940. On July 27, 1943, Michael Lee Willis had joined the family in their Brooklyn apartment. By October 1943, Lt. Colonel Willis and Pistol Head were on their way to the South Pacific to fight in the Seventh Bomber Command.
The Seventh Bomber Command
Pearl Harbor had decimated the Seventh Bomber Command, formerly the Hawaiian Air Force, but it recovered enough to fight in the turning point battle of Midway in June 1942. After Midway, the Seventh spent exhausting months of patrol and search missions in the South Pacific. After bases were established on tiny Pacific Islands, the Seventh began a program of long range bombing of the Gilberts and Marshalls. After the Gilberts and Marshalls were taken, the Seventh targeted the Carolinas, the Marianas, Iowa Jima and the Bonins. Eventually, parts of the Seventh bombed Japan.
The perils of these missions included small targets, uncertain weather, and engine failure guaranteeing certain death. The Seventh used fighters and medium bombers to bomb day and night, sink enemy shipping and mine enemy waters. The Seventh was the first air force to take on Japan and the first to suffer casualties from Japan. It fought Japan longer than any other air force.
Lt. Colonel Willis and Pistol Head Fly B-25s
The B-25s first went into action over the Marshalls, flying almost entirely at lower level. They were dangerous missions with intense enemy opposition and many planes returned heavily damaged. To add to the problems, propeller control brackets on the B-25s had a bad habit of breaking. To fix this, the mechanics added stronger metal plates, and fastened the broken parts to them. Many of these makeshift parts held for the rest of their combat missions and were not replaced until the planes arrived in Oahu.
The plane called 891, “Lofty’s Wolf Pack,” or “Hello Moe,” was a classic example of the tough B-25s. With 84 missions, it was the veteran of the group. Originally the plane belonged to Major William K. Pfingst, a squadron commander, who flew the first missions in the “Wolf Pack.” Then Lt. Colonel Solomon Theodore (Ted) Willis took over the squadron and renamed 891 “Hello Mo.”
Lt. Colonel Willis flew some of the most extraordinary B-25 missions a B-25 ever endured in “Hello Mo.” His maneuvers and tactics over Japanese harbors and air strips made Lt. Colonel Willis the most talked about pilot in the Bomber Command. After one busy afternoon over Ponape, Colonel Willis flew “Hello Mo” home and learned that Tokyo Rose had emphatically called him “a suicidal maniac.”
Lt. Willis Doesn't Return From His 51st Mission
Lt. Colonel Willis and Pistol Head chalked up forty-eight combat missions against the Japanese before Pistol Head was grounded. On June 22, 1944, Colonel Solomon Theodore Willis failed to return from his 51st bombing mission.
Pistol Head mourned deeply. He refused to eat and he no longer wagged his tail. The members of the Seventh Bomber Command tried in vain to give him new reason for living, but they couldn’t.
The best the Seventh could do for Pistol Head was give him an honorable discharge and send him home. The airmen of the Seventh put Pistol Head aboard a United Airlines plane.
"Any Consideration Shown to Pistol Head Will Be Greatly Appreciated"
Air Force Sgt. Arthur Braunston of Oyster Bay, New York, brought Pistol Head to San Francisco. He said Pistol Head had seen action on so many flights that he could recognize the difference between enemy and friendly planes and he could distinguished the
difference in the sound of a Japanese or American plane.
“He had a different bark for the enemy planes and ours and he was so good that his spotting was a legend out there,” Sgt. Braunston said.
A small cardboard tag on Pistol Head’s collar said: “This little fellow was a pal of the late Lieutenant Colonel Willis, killed in action. He has flown 48 combat missions and is being returned to Mrs. Willis. Any consideration shown to Pistol Head will be greatly appreciated by all of us.” The tag was signed, “The Seventh Bomber Command.”
There were six stops before he reached La Guardia Field. Stewardess Betty Bittner reported that Pistol Head became alert and lively while the plane was in flight. ‘He seemed to be happy at flying,” she said.
Pistol Head Comes Home
The airplane landed at La Guardia Field and Miss Ann Schultz, a friend of Mrs. Eileen Willis, took the leash from the stewardess. Pistol Head pulled her toward the exit. He seemed to know that he was getting closer to home. Miss Schulz hailed a taxicab and gave the driver the Brooklyn address. Pistol Head sat on the edge of the taxi’s backseat.
Pistol Head pulled Miss Schultz up the walk and Mrs. Eileen B. Willis, looking thin and pale, stood in the doorway to greet him.
Mrs. Eileen B. Willis hugged Pistol Head and he barked and wagged his tail. The barking woke up one year old Michael Lee Willis who just celebrated his birthday the day before. He looked at Pistol Head and laughed.
Mrs. Willis smiled. “I guess he is just an average cocker spaniel, but he always loved to fly, and since he was a puppy he always went up on flights with my husband.”
It was July 28, 1944, and Pistol Head had finally come home.
"North American B-25 Mitchell Warbird Tech Volume 12," Frederick A. Johnsen,
Specialty Press, 1997
Critical Past, July 31, 1944