It was purely by chance that I came across this book. It has a story that everyone should know, for it is about a most remarkable man whose many and vIt was purely by chance that I came across this book. It has a story that everyone should know, for it is about a most remarkable man whose many and varied accomplishments have enriched our lives. And yet, this man, Frank C. Mann (1908-1992), an African American, is largely unknown.
Mann, the only child of an unwed mother, was born and grew up in Texas. He showed an early interest in mechanical devices and became highly skilled as an automotive mechanic. His parents (by this time, Mann's mother had married a schoolteacher and had qualified as a schoolteacher herself) wanted him to pursue a profession, preferably education which conferred high status and respectability. Mann, on the other hand, felt differently. "When I was nine years old, I looked at my mother and father and I said that when I grew up, I wasn't going to be like them. They were uppity; they had no time for the average person on the street. Unless that person had something important to say to them, they figured that the average Joe had no business talking to them. Because they were educated and school teachers, they thought that they were better than the man on the street. I made up my mind that I was going to accomplish great things in my life, and no matter how big I got, I would always treat the other guy the way I would like to be treated."
It was also when he was 9 that Mann saw his first airplane, which had landed at a field near where he lived. The plane had run out of gas. Mann was fascinated and built his own model airplane, which his stepfather later showed off to his students.
From working odd jobs as a mechanic, Mann saved enough money so that he could be taken up for a ride in an airplane from an airport in Houston. Flying became his great love, and Mann pestered the mechanics there so much, that they allowed him to repair torn fabric on the airplanes and perform mechanical work on the engines. He learned a lot and one day, he met a young man while working at that airport who would be one of the greatest influences in his life: Howard Hughes. Both Mann and Hughes were kindred spirits and hit it off almost immediately. Mann went on to finish high school and later studied aeronautical engineering at both the University of Minnesota and Ohio State University. In 1934, Mann contacted Hughes and went to work for him at his company, Hughes Aircraft Co., in California. There Mann also did some contract work with a number of other aircraft companies, and established friendships with several of Hollywood's major stars, including Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, and John Barrymore.
Mann also served for a time, on behalf of the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, as a reconnaissance pilot during the Ethiopian War of 1935-36, using an airplane (one of the fastest monoplanes of the time) he had shipped over from Canada. He went on to Europe and joined a flying circus there, serving as a stunt pilot, wingwalker, and parachutist. Mann returned to the U.S. shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Mann also served as a flight instructor at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where the government had set up a Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) program in 1940 for African American men who wanted to learn to fly. All this was part of America's effort to create a corps of flyers who would likely be needed in the U.S. Army Air Corps and other aviation units in the U.S. military should the country go to war.
Mann, after war was declared, became an officer in the U.S. Army Air Force (the Air Corps was renamed the USAAF in July 1941). He continued his work at Tuskegee. Unfortunately, the aircraft Tuskegee had received from the government were largely obsolete and unairworthy. Mann got in touch with Howard Hughes, who made arrangements for an advanced trainer to be sent to Tuskegee. But by that time Mann had "gotten into a lot of trouble for partying with the Black officers' wives and White officers' wives around Tuskegee. So Howard [Hughes] pulled some strings and got me out of there before I became the first-ever Black man to be lynched by a bi-racial mob." Mann returned to Hughes Aircraft and continued to work for Hughes for the next 30 years. He also developed an interest in auto design and manufacture, producing for a time his own sports cars, whose buying clientele included Mickey Rooney and several other celebrity friends. (Mann also performed some work for NASA, which included the space shuttle program.)
This is a book for anyone who wants to learn about the life of a man born in a world largely hostile to him because of the color of his skin, who, nevertheless, devoted himself to being the best in his chosen career and won the respect of his peers. He was also a decent and fair man who lived life to the full. ...more
Earlier in the year, I attended a book reading by Anne Jacobsen about this subject, which was complete with a rather impressive slide presentation. WhEarlier in the year, I attended a book reading by Anne Jacobsen about this subject, which was complete with a rather impressive slide presentation. What she said about Operation Paperclip that day not only induced me to buy this book later that week. But more importantly, it forever altered my previous view of Operation Paperclip, which, from the time I first became aware of it sometime in the 1980s, I had regarded as a wholly noble effort on the part of the U.S. government to locate, retrieve, and resettle in the U.S. in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War a remarkable group of talented German scientists, whose managerial and technical expertise played no small part in helping the U.S. forge ahead of the Soviet Union in the space race. In this regard, Wernher von Braun came to mind. As someone with memories of the Apollo space program, I admired him greatly.
Now, having read this rather weighty book, I will never see von Braun in the same light again. Not only had he been a member of the Nazi Party, he had also joined the SS sometime before the Second World War and had risen to the rank of Sturmbannführer (Major), heading the Mittelbau-Dora Planning Office (which was instrumental in the development and building --- with the use of slave labor from the concentration camps --- of the V2 rockets that Hitler unleashed against the Allies in 1944 and 1945). These facts were not only known by the U.S. government, but had either been downplayed by it or classified so that they would never come to light during von Braun's lifetime.
What's more: Operation Paperclip also had its extensions in Germany itself through "feeder programs" such as Artichoke in places like Camp King, where captured Soviet spies were interrogated. A significant number of the scientists, engineers, doctors, and technicians who figured prominently in Operation Paperclip had engaged in wartime activities that, by the standards set at Nuremberg, were war crimes. For example, live medical experiments (whose grisly details I won't go into here) carried out at Auschwitz, Dachau, and the women's concentration camp at Ravensbrück. Whenever possible, the U.S. government availed themselves of the services of these Germans, provided it (i.e. the U.S. government) could help them elude or survive any adverse publicity about their pasts that sometimes surfaced after the war. Cold War pressures and imperatives made these scientists, engineers, doctors, and technicians indispensable to U.S. security interests.
"For Operation Paperclip, moving a scientist from military custody to immigrant status required elaborate and devious preparation, but in the end the procedure proved to be infallible. Scientists in the southwestern or western United States, accompanied by military escort, were driven in an unmarked army jeep out of the country into Mexico either at Nuevo Laredo, Ciudad Juárez, or Tijuana. With him, each scientist carried two forms from the State Department, I-55 and I-255, each bearing a signature from the chief of the visa division and a proviso from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Section 42.323 of Title 22, signifying that the visa holder was 'a person whose admission is highly desirable in the national interest.' The scientist also had with him a photograph of himself and a blood test warranting that the did not have any infectious diseases. After consulate approval, the scientist was then let back into the United States, no longer under military guard but as a legal U.S. immigrant in possession of a legal visa. The pathway toward citizenship had begun. If the scientist lived closer to the East Coast than the West Coast, he went through the same protocols, except that he would exit the United States into Canada instead of Mexico and reeenter through the consulate at Niagara Falls."
Reading this book wasn't easy because it demands that the reader make him/herself fully attentive to its contents. Nevertheless, it's well-worth the effort. ...more