During World War II the 91st Photo Squadron Wing operated throughout Central and South America. Our principal base was at Talara, Peru — just south of the equator and located on a good harbor. Talara is the westernmost point on the South American continent — in a desert devoid of any living thing, save for monster scorpions. Our primary mission was to photograph and map many uncharted areas of South America.
Our base was an isolated and barren place. It had a good landing field but hardly anything to help us pass the time when we weren’t on duty. So we had a number of pets.
We were certainly not the only Army Air Corps unit to adopt animals as pets, but we did have some unusual ones. My favorite was Loop — a miniature dachshund. Loop was born in a hangar at our base at Talara. Loop flew with me occasionally on low altitude flights, such as tests or supply trips to the depot in Panama. His favorite “seat” was in the nose. He never saw a tree or fire hydrant he didn’t visit; his urinal of choice — the nose wheel of my plane.
Taxi was one of the dozens of wild burros who adopted us. The burros spent their days wandering around looking for the scant weeds in the rocky arroyos that surrounded us. As night approached they would bed down on our runway, warmed by the constant sunshine which protected them from the cold of the desert. Taxi had a definite preference for the concrete volleyball court, which happened to be beside the mess hall. Taxi was the best fed animal of the bunch. He helped us chase the sleepy heads off the runway at dawn so we could take off. He seemed to enjoy the sirens and shotgun blasts that served as alarms.
We tried, without much luck, to organize burro races. The squadron prankster somehow managed to get one of the smaller creatures into the “old man’s” plane late one night. The perpetrator was promoted to “sanitation engineer” and grounded for a week — beginning after the cleanup.
Kitty — a cuddly little Calico kitten — belonged to Gus, my navigator. When we were ordered to move from Talara to Santiago, Chile, it looked as though Kitty would be left behind. But Gus talked me into adding her to the manifest. She hopped onto my shoulder and then up onto the top of the instrument panel, where she soon drifted off to dreamland. I pulled out my trusty little camera and “shot” her.
Several years later, this picture was lifted and published in a magazine and a couple of books. The caption “outed” me for violating Army regulations that prohibited carrying animals on aircraft. Nothing came of it; it was one of the few times that my age and the statute of limitations came to my rescue!