Bully Able Leader: The Story of a Fighter-Bomber Pilot in the Korean War

  • Published

Bully Able Leader: The Story of a Fighter-Bomber Pilot in the Korean War by Lt Gen George G. Loving, USAF, Retired. Stackpole Books, 2011, 256 pp., $24.95 (hardcover).

I’ve read and reviewed many accounts of the operational experiences of pilots and units dedicated to the task of supporting ground operations. Most of these stories were set in World War II, but, surprisingly, every author had unique experiences—a fact that indicates the rich tapestry and vastness of the war. Such was the case with George Loving, who wrote about his time in Italy in Woodbine Red Leader (Presidio Press, 2003). He began flying ground-support missions there but eventually transferred to P-51s, spending the rest the war as an escort pilot. Loving flew 151 combat missions and became an ace by shooting down at least five enemy planes. His second venture into combat occurred during the Korean conflict.

Soon after the end of the war in Europe, the Army Air Forces sent him to Japan; his new bride followed him when housing facilities became available. Like any sensitive autobiographer, Loving offers accounts of his life in the Far East, giving readers an idea of that area’s culture and the changing attitudes toward the Japanese and, later, the Russians (the latter quite active in China and the northern reaches of Korea). He also describes his working conditions—those typical of a young officer involved in the grind of necessary support jobs, such as those dealing with personnel issues. In a couple of months, after moving back to the States, Loving was called back to the Far East and Korea—this time almost completely in air ground-support operations. (To my knowledge, Bully Able Leader is the first autobiography that includes fighter-bomber exploits. Consequently, nearly everything in it differs from the World War II narratives familiar to me.)

Loving clearly describes the air-support operations that involved F-51s flying against the North Korean army as it pressed close to the Pusan Perimeter in the lower west coast of Korea. Remaining at his base in Taegu, known as “K-2” by Far East Air Forces, he found himself running a small cadre. Because enemy troops were closing in, the base essentially had been abandoned, retaining only enough personnel to fuel and arm aircraft still flying support against advancing enemy troops—and to respond to emergencies.

The author survived that scare, and circumstances improved after Gen Douglas MacArthur orchestrated the daring amphibious raid at Inchon that promised to cut North Korean forces in half. With the enemy on the run, air leaders began rapid construction of bases as close to the front as possible so that the allied armies could receive air support quickly. Loving describes the military situation and rapid influx of fighter and medium bomber wings to the new bases, demonstrating a good eye for detail about fighting a war in Korea. Employed in base operations—still at K-2 in southeast Korea—he relates the efforts outside actual combat that ensure an effective air force, relating firsthand experiences as well as the views of colleagues at other bases. No one has ever painted such a clear picture of the air-support side of Korean airpower.

Again, Loving masterfully describes the progress of the war and the living conditions on bases, as well as his temporary service as a forward air controller living with ground forces. The heart of the second half of the book, flying in support of the army, superbly chronicles the many close-support and interdiction missions—dangerous business, whether in an F-51 Mustang or the new F-80 Shooting Star. From 25 January to 16 February 1951, the author flew every day but one; twice he flew two missions in a day—some close air support and some interdiction against bridges and road traffic.

He had close calls when the enemy shot holes in his plane, but the repetition of missions brought out a feeling of sameness. Nonetheless, he declared that the “potential hazards precluded a relaxed approach” (p. 138). Action and accidents claimed some of Loving’s friends; he comments that “losses were expected and stoically accepted. No overt mourning of a loss took place, and little discussion . . . beyond superficial comments about how good a guy he was” (p. 143). The author gives readers insight into the controlled emotions necessary to accept losses and the continuing hazards of fighting a tough enemy.

Loving carefully crafts his accounts of months of combat, ending in June 1951 when he had completed 112 missions. Receiving orders to go home, he proclaimed his satisfaction with serving as a successful squadron leader in combat—an opportunity available to only a few—and his delight at having survived.

Bully Able Leader will please Airmen of all ranks and ages. It is an Airman’s story—well told, entertaining, educational, and purposeful.

Dan Mortensen, PhD

Air Force Research Institute

Maxwell AFB, Alabama

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."