Off We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder

Like his brothers, my Pop was an Army Air Force man, eager to serve his country from the skies. Even before the Japanese infamously attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, Americans patriotically supported their flying men of arms.

2017-04-06 001 001 (502x800)Brown & Williamson’s (B&W) “Wings” label – the sample here is copyrighted 1940 but was probably sold in 1941 – features the same “flying wings” my grandfather was proud to earn. He sent those wings back home to his family and kept them all his life. In a nod to the boys training on base and to their families on the home front, B&W emblazoned the pack with the patriotic slogan, “Let’s Go! U.S.A. Keep ‘Em Flying!”

Easily the coolest part of this pack is the aircraft card on the back: a U.S. Army Primary Trainer (it looks like a Fairchild PT-19). The cards were probably meant to be traded among boys much in the way cigarette pack baseball cards were traded earlier in the century.

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Unlike airplane “spotter cards,” which would show three separate angles of each plane and were designed to teach people to identify the planes quickly, this card only shows a profile and it’s in color, indicating that it was designed to show off the beautiful aircraft and help sell the cigarettes.

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A pair of 1943 airplane spotter cards (facsimiles)

The reverse gives technical information about the plane. The Fairchild PT-19 wasn’t a large or elaborate plane, just right for training a pilot or navigator. Two seats fit the trainer and trainee, and with an open cockpit neither were shielded from the elements or the pressure. Great for learning maneuvers, practicing navigation, and getting used to how an airplane reacts to the controls.

One of my favorite photographs of Pop shows him posing in front of his airplane, which also appears to be a Fairchild PT-19, probably while he was still a baby-faced recruit training as bombardier and gunner in the southern U.S. He’s so handsome in this picture. No wonder my grandmother fell in love with him!


If you’ve got any pictures of yourself or family members posing with these planes, I’d love to post them here!

WWII Poster – “Rumors Cost Us Lives” – Features Shady Smoker

Rumors Cost Us Lives

Imagine you walk into the general store, as the postman brings Mrs. Smith a letter:

“A letter from your boy, Mrs. Smith. What’s the news from the boys at the front?” A shady fellow in the back of the store perks up his ears, listening into the latest gossip. “Oh, mostly quiet exercises. Thankfully not much action. But he says he’s looking forward to seeing the girls in Versailles once his division breaks through.” Everyone shares a good laugh and raises three cheers for the boys in arms.

One week later, Mrs. Smith receives another letter, this time from the Army, informing her that her boy died in an air attack outside Versailles.

“Rumors Cost Us Lives” was a mantra of the home front during WWII, with the suspicion that American bars and alleyways were filled with enemy agents eager to catch gossip about the soldiers and use it against them.

My grandfather’s letters home were very detailed – talking about his buddies and the ladies – while he was still in Texas training for the war. But once he got to the Pacific, he had to watch his words carefully.

Americans were accustomed to speaking freely and carelessly, and that left our soldiers vulnerable. According to the Library of Congress’ exhibit “Margaret Mead: Human Nature and the Power of Culture,” social scientists worked with the government on a campaign to promote caution in describing anything about the front. The effort produced a number of posters and films disseminated across the country.

Rumors Cost Us Lives
Rumors cost us lives.. UNT Digital Library. Accessed June 6, 2016.

I came across the “Rumors Cost Us Lives” poster while I was creating a new page for WWII-era cigarette packs in my cigarette collector store – check it out here – and I was absolutely blown away by the picture. The smoking man in a bowler hat is a perfect undercover agent. He’s shady inside and out, with the brim of his hat literally casting a shadow over half his face. Hand to his ear, cigarette burning down, he hears all. Who knows what he does with what he learns? A menacing newspaper clipping at the bottom reveals the outcome: the information was passed to a German U-Boat Captain who destroyed the Allied vessel and laughed as he torpedoed the survivors’ life boat!

Nowadays, with WikiLeaks and traitors like Edward Snowden, it’s a miracle our army is able to keep any secrets. Modern spies seem to hang out in chat rooms and hacker dens rather than bars and general stores. In the war against terrorism, watch what you type about our soldiers.

(For more information on this poster, see the Library of Congress Website:

For more fun: