A little before 8 am, radar informed the Air Warning Service at Nielson Field that at least 30 Japanese aircraft were flying south over Luzon apparently headed for Clark Field. (Gough)
Ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, ‘another Pearl Harbor’ occurred in the Philippines, 4,500-miles to the west. On December 8, 1941, at 12:35 pm, 196 Japanese bombers and fighters crippled the largest force of B-17 four-engine bombers outside the US and also decimated their protective P-40 interceptors. (Bartsch)
Fifty minutes after the first bombs fell on Clark, the Japanese flew back to Formosa, leaving Americans confronting death and wounds, destruction and damage, fire and smoke, and demoralization.
When the Japanese flew away, half the B-17s and one-third of the P-40s were destroyed, and two of the four P-40-equipped pursuit squadrons were eliminated as combat units. (Gough)
One of those killed at Clark Air Base was Lt William Alexander Cocke, Jr, a pilot.
“In May, 1941, 2nd Lt Cocke and the 19th Bombardment Group (H) GHQ AF, left California to ferry B17s first to Hawaiʻi, and then, in October, to Clark Field in the Philippines.”
“Due to his role under the adverse conditions encountered on these historic and dangerous trans-Pacific flights, Cocke was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the San Francisco to Hawaiʻi leg, and the Air Medal for the Hawaiʻi to Clark Field leg.” (Blacksten)
It was these events, as well as an event about 10-years prior that Cocke is remembered. In the Islands in 1931, he didn’t just fly airplanes, he also soared.
Gliding/Soaring is a generic term for the art of flying a heavier than air craft similar to an airplane, but not provided with an engine.
In gliding, the apparatus loses altitude continually throughout its course, never rising above its starting point. In soaring flight, however, the machine is carried aloft by the rising air currents and is capable of completing maneuvers, high above the point of departure. (VinDaj)
Because of prohibitions imposed on military aircraft by the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, Germany embraced gliding and was the first to use them in the subsequent invasions leading to and part of WWII.
But it wasn’t military aviation activity that Cocke is known for in the Islands, it was an “off duty time” flight, December 17-18, 1931, that brought Cocke national, as well as international fame.
Reportedly, an International Glider Meet was held November 22 to December 19, 1931. LT Cocke, with the help of his BOQ roommate, Jack Norton (and others, including Lts Crain and WJ Scott) designed and built a ‘pretty good’ sailplane glider – called ‘Nighthawk.’ (WestPointAOG)
Based in Wheeler, Cocke and his support crew set up on the windward side of Oʻahu, at what was referred to as John Galt Gliderport (some related references also note the ‘Kaneohe experimental grounds.’) Cocke attempted to break the endurance record.
Launching on December 17, 1931 and flying along Oahu’s Nuʻuanu Pali, he flew his homebuilt sailplane glider through the night and set the World and US Duration Record of sustained powerless flight at 21 hours, 34 minutes, 25 seconds and traveled an estimated 600 miles. (hawaii-gov)
This broke the previous record of approximately 14-hours set by Germany in 1927. (WestPointAOG) Although the World mark was subsequently broken, the Nighthawk still holds the official US Duration Record. (Blacksten)
Illuminating the path for Cocke and his Nighthawk along the cliff face during the night was the US Army’s 64th Coast Artillery Battery. (Soaring Museum)
A memorial plaque was placed at the Nuʻuanu Pali lookout, dedicated to the people of Hawaiʻi who helped make this flight possible and to the thousands of glider pilots inspired by this feat. (National Soaring Museum Marker)