Frank Charney

Frank Charney's Sunday Postcard

Old 1938 Nanty Glo Boy Scout Picture

In a 1938 Nanty Glo Journal News picture, Boyd "Buzz" Wagner is named as being a member of Scout Troop 2. Can any viewer recognize him in the picture? I can recognize Esco Long, the scoutmaster, in the second row at the extreme left. (Mr. Esco Long, I understand, was a school teacher who departed Nanty Glo for Princeton, New Jersey, in 1944). Also, Roland Anodide is in the second row, third person from the left. Joe Anodide, his brother, is in the last row, framed by a window panel. I also recognized names like Jack Wilkinson (a relative of Buzz Wagner), Stewart Gailey, Horas Gailey, and Doctors Charles R Porias Sr. and his son, Charles Jr., but can't identify any of these individuals in the picture.

Here is the text of an article about Buzz Wagner in the December 14, 1942, edition of Time Magazine:

Army & Navy
Death of the Nonpareil

December 14, 1942

Army pursuit pilots never spoke of "Buzz" Wagner except in superlatives. He was to them the best, the bravest, the hottest pilot—and the swellest guy—in the Air Forces. They said he could buzz the camouflage off the top of a hangar without touching it. Once, in the Philippines, he shot down a Jap Zero while he was flying upside down. He knew how to get between the Japs and the sun, then pop them off while they were blinded.

Buzz Wagner could lick the Japs: he had seven planes to his credit in aerial combat, and he had probably destroyed 50 more on the ground. But no man can lick fickle luck. Last week, in a solitary routine flight between Eglin Field, Fla. and Maxwell Field, Ala., Lieut. Colonel Boyd D. Wagner, at 26 the youngest officer of his rank, was missing. It was just about a year after the U.S. had first heard of Buzz Wagner.

One-Man Air Force. Among the men on Bataan Wagner attained the proportions of a superman. After the first few hours his P-4O squadron had nearly all its planes shot down or destroyed on the ground. Buzz and a few others carried on, strafing airfields as soon as the Japs landed planes on them, tossing bombs and hand grenades out of their cockpits, even sinking small transports with .50-caliber bullets. One day over Vigan, Buzz and Russ Church saw 30 newly arrived Jap bombers lined up on the field. Two Zeros intercepted. Lieut. Church got one, Lieut. Wagner the other. Church was on fire, but he kept going and laid his bombs in the middle of the field before crashing. "I think a man really gets mad for the first time when he sees his friends killed," said Buzz later. That day he swept back & forth over the Jap planes until he had set them blazing.

Killer. They sent Buzz to Australia to fetch more planes that were not there. By the time some P-40s arrived Java was being invaded. Charles ("Bud") Sprague and Buzz were told to flip a coin to decide who would go to Java, who would remain in Australia to teach some green pilots just arrived from the U.S. Sprague went to Java, where he was killed. "You won the toss?" a newsman asked Buzz. "No, I lost. Bud Sprague was my friend," said Buzz, his blue-green eyes ablaze.

As Buzz saw his teaching job, it was a question of preparing youngsters who had never seen death for the task of killing. With little groups of men younger than himself the 25-year-old lieutenant colonel sat under eucalyptus trees and expounded the kill-or-be-killed philosophy which President Roosevelt and Lieut. General Lesley J. McNair were to adopt in their speeches months later. "You've got to get in there and kill the Jap or he'll kill you," said Buzz. "Don't try to dogfight the Japs. You cannot do it with the planes you've got," said Buzz Wagner. But one day in May, when Wagner himself went along to initiate one of his green squadrons, some stragglers tried to dogfight Zeros with P-39s. Four of them were shot down. Four Japs were also shot down, three of them by Buzz Wagner, who knew better than to dogfight except when he had to. Buzz was bucking orders that day—a Jap bullet had splintered windshield glass into his left eye in the Philippines—”but the chance to kill more Japs was too tempting.

Engineer. The U.S. lost more than an ace pilot in Buzz Wagner. Before he joined the Air Corps in 1937 Buzz studied aeronautical engineering three years at the University of Pittsburgh, where he "failed to flash any scholastic lights." But he learned about airplanes and airplane engines as few pursuit pilots ever do. From what he learned in the acid test of battle, Buzz Wagner had keen ideas about improving U.S. planes. "Engineering is my profession," he used to say proudly.

Three months ago Buzz got his chance. Returned from New Guinea, he was assigned as an engineering expert to the Curtiss-Wright (P-40) plant, was sent around the U.S. several times to talk to the men who draw plans for U.S. planes. One of his stops was Wright Field, No. 1 U.S. airplane laboratory. There a noted engineer put the finest stamp on the fine career of Buzz Wagner. "During the two weeks Colonel Wagner was here," he said, "we learned more about what was needed in the way of certain airplanes than we learned in the previous year."


— Frank Charney



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