The Great White Father of The Caribbean
by George Chevalier

For those of you who lived on the Zone during the WWII era, I'd like to give you a peek at the great father who ruled us from his throne high on Ancon Hill. It begin in 1937 when Brigadier General George H. Brett was the Army Air Corp Commander in the Canal Zone. He was a good administrator and had the vision to implement and develop the vast system of dispersal airfields in Panama that we used during the war.

But alas we humans sometimes change and we find the Gen. in the far Pacific to deal with those tragic opening months. With the evacuation to Australia he came under MacArthur and things between them went to hell in a hurry. Two supreme egotists can never get along so Mac. had our man bounced back to the states. He then came to us in Panama for his prior work was well known.

And so as supreme chief of the Caribbean Area he looked down on us from Quarry Heights. Understand that this man as one of the Army's Early Birdmen had a get out of jail free card. His standing in the club rendered him virtually untouchable.

He brought with him to Panama the last remaining B-17D that had arrived in the Philippines at the start of hostilities. It had been patched up with many parts from other wrecked B-17s and while still flying was badly in need of MAJOR overhaul and by the time I snuck on to the scene it was in PAD getting it's rebirth. I was assigned to design a galley that would be installed while all the other work was in progress.

The original cost of this aircraft was around $50,000 and Army regulations clearly said that if repairs cost more than a certain fraction of the original costs you must scrap the plane. From the local boy network that worked in PAD I soon learned that over $150,000 had been spent to keep the general's pride and joy in the air.

Other lower illuminarys taking cue from this were having PAD workmen spend time,material and money producing flower pots and other non-essential doodads. The General had at his private use a large fishing boat and a famous case is told of his telling Balboa Shops to have it fixed for use right away. It seems at first he was told no it would not be ready at the day wanted because the workforce was all engaged in getting a war damaged cargo ship repaired and back to sea with it's needed cargo.

Down from on high came the word to fix my boat now!! And so men were pulled from vital work to fix his boat. The story goes that they fixed what had been wrong but sabotaged a few other things so he didn't get his way.

When he felt chipper he would take the B-17 off from Albrook with himself in the cat bird seat. I stood behind him once on takeoff and made sure it never happened again. Picture if you will our elderly birdman holding the yoke in his left hand and a magnifying glass in his right to be able to read the instruments. When he finally got us airborne we were about to gauge a furrow in the hills at the end of the runway . We banked hard right and shook the clothes lines as we went over Curundu.

As supreme ruler of the realm he would make frequent inspection trips to the nicer spots in Central and South America. We observed his many pretty evening companions since we were also seeing the night life and finally realized that the frequency of these inspections seemed to be dictated by the cyclical characteristics of male hormones.

He carried a swagger stick and used it as a saluting tool with the priority of action on his part as follows: If you were another General the stick came up to the bill of his cap. If a Col. it rose only to shoulder height and Jr. Officers barely rated a flick of the wrist and those of us in the ranks got nothing for our snappy highballs.

When the war ended and gas rationing was being abolished in most places we in the Canal Zone were held on it for some extra months and the hot scoop was that the Great White Father was allowing Panama sources to exhaust their expensive inventories before he abolished the program. Now with a congressional inquirer poised to descend on the Zone to look in to all these allegations of questionable activity the great one flew out to Texas and put in his retirement papers. His airplane the B-17D "Swooze" in now in the Smithsonian awaiting restoration for display purposes.

George C.