An Old Joke

March 29, 2011

This is an old joke that my father told me when I was a kid. It’s from World War II. My dad died 18 months ago, and I don’t want this joke to die with him -- although I suspect that there are thousands of old WWII vets who remember it. I’m using some of the words that my dad used, even though they aren’t polite these days.

Joe was the worst fighter pilot who ever flew in the US Navy. Once he muffed the landing on the carrier and his plane dropped straight into the Pacific. He couldn’t navigate his way out of a paper bag, his flying skills were such that other pilots didn’t want to be anywhere near him, and of course he hadn’t hit anything Japanese in 18 months of war.

One day the admiral called Joe into his office and gave him a warning: one more screwup and Joe was out. He was sending Joe out on a CAP mission (combat air patrol -- flying high above the carrier to protect it from attackers). “Get it right this time, Lieutenant, or you’ll be ferrying planes over Greenland” the Admiral warned.

Joe took off with two other guys and climbed up to altitude, ready to bounce any Japanese plane that came near. One of the guys saw some Jap Zeros pretty far away, and they decided to go after them. Screaming down from above, they’d have a big advantage. They managed to get pretty close before the Japs saw them. These guys were pretty cocky, too; instead of turning tail and running, they quickly re-formed to face the American attackers.

It was one helluva dogfight, but Joe managed to get on the tail of one of the Zeros. That Jap was good, and managed to stay just outside of Joe’s gunsight for a long time, but Joe was inspired and somehow managed to nail the guy. As the Zero spun down towards the water, Joe yelled excitedly into his mike that he had gotten a kill. There was no response. Joe hailed the other guys, but they never answered. It looked like Joe’s radio had been shot out, so he decided to head back towards the carrier.

He hadn’t gotten far before another Zero jumped him. It looked pretty bad for a while, and Joe’s plane took some hits, but once again Joe seemed to summon up flying skills he never knew he had. After a fifteen-minute dogfight, Joe squeezed a burst that went straight into the Zero’s cockpit. The Zero flipped over and dove into the ocean.

Now Joe was in serious trouble. He was low on fuel and he had no idea where the carrier was. He climbed to get a better view, but the air was full of clouds, and he couldn’t see much. Just as the needle on his fuel gauge hit “E”, Joe saw the carrier. He couldn’t radio the tower for landing clearance, so he’d just have to barge in unannounced. If he had the fuel, he would have circled the carrier once to alert them to his presence, but he didn’t dare risk that now. It was getting dark, but the lights on the carrier were good enough for him to line up with. This was going to be tough landing; he didn’t know what other parts of the plane were damaged, or even if he had working landing gear. As he came in, the engine started to run out of fuel and sputtered on and off. Joe desperately fought the controls, trying to keep the nose up without stalling. Somehow, he pulled off a landing that would have made the best pilots in the fleet green with envy. Shoving the canopy back, Joe leapt out the cockpit and dashed past the startled deck hands straight to the Admiral’s office. The door was open and he burst in, beside himself with excitement. The Admiral was staring out a porthole, his back to Joe. “Admiral! Admiral! I just shot down two Jap Zeros!” Joe cried.

“Ah, so.” the Admiral replied.