A couple of nights ago, I walked under the wing of CF-CPY on my way back to the Black Street staircase and downtown.
A steady wind angled the nose of the 65-year-old DC-3 over towards the Whitehorse airport terminal.
I had just seen my daughter Ilona off after her all too brief visit back to the territory.
I have always felt a connection to that plane.
Our distinctive weathervane began its many years in the air as a camouflaged C-47, the military version of the DC-3.
The United States Army Air Force assigned it to the China-Burma-India (CBI) theatre.
Its primary task during the Second World War was flying the “the Hump.”
The Allies needed to get supplies to the Chinese in order to bolster their active resistance to the Japanese.
When, in March 1942, the Imperial Japanese forces cut the Burma Road, the only practical Allied land link to China, air supply became essential.
From sweltering bases in India and Burma at near sea level our CF-CPY and scores of other C-47s began their heavily laden resupply missions.
“Flying eastward out of the valley, the pilot first topped the Patkai Range, then passed over the upper Chindwin River valley, bounded on the east by a 14,000-foot ridge, the Kumon Mountains,” as recorded in the official US Air Force history.
“He then crossed a series of 14,000-16,000-foot ridges separated by the valleys of the West Irrawaddy, East Irrawaddy, Salween, and Mekong Rivers. The main ‘Hump,’ which gave its name to the whole awesome mountainous mass and to the air route which crossed it, was the Santsung Range, often 15,000 feet high, between the Salween and Mekong Rivers.”
The demands on short-staffed aircrews were great.
My father, a pilot with the 2nd Air Commandos, flew second seat on some of those C-47’s missions over the Hump when ordered out of his normal role of flying into forward Burmese jungle strips in his small Stinson L-5.
He and the other aircrews faced rapidly changing conditions from heat of more than 40 Celsius to icing, and monsoon conditions to extreme mountain turbulence, as they struggled to get their loaded planes up to the altitude needed for the Himalayan crossing from Burma.
Eventually some 650,000 tonnes of supplies were flown into China.
At the war’s end my father came home, and CF-CPY found a new life in the Yukon carrying passengers and freight.
I don’t imagine I will ever know for sure if he held the controls of it, but the possibility is there.
For sure, though, both left Burma never to return. Post-war independence in 1948 for the Burma did not bring a lasting peace.
The military eventually seized control in 1962. The generals in charge have changed but the repression we are witnessing again, continued.
Burmese Buddhist priests and nuns have taken the lead in non-violently challenging military rule there.
No longer willing to tolerate oppression they seek to use their moral force to bring about change.
Can we add our voices to theirs with the same determination that our CF-CPY’s aircrews exhibited two generations ago?
The Canadian Friends of Burma works to support democracy in this strife-torn land. The Parliamentary Friends of Burma, a cross-party group of senators and MPs — and which our MP, Larry Bagnell, chairs — is part of their network.
For more on how to support the people of Burma consult their website (www.cfob.org).
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse.