All those Wonderful Stories

Cheers & Tears

By Joseph Stachon, Captain

The recent release of the movie Schindler's List and the attendant publicity reminded me of some flights that Transocean Air Lines had out of Munich hauling Holocaust survivors from Germany to the USA in 1949. 

 

One of these flights, my crew and I were flying a load of these refugees on the leg Gander- Newfoundland - Idlewild, New York. (Since that time Idlewild has been renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport). While we were at cruising altitude I thought these people might have interesting stories to  tell so I decided to go into the passenger cabin and talk to them. These people were all Polish Jews who had been rescued by the Allied armies from a death camp in Eastern Europe. Since I am of Polish decent and able to speak Polish, I approached the first passenger and said to him in Polish, "I am an American of Polish decent." He leaped to his feet and shouted to the other passengers, "KAPITAN YEST AMERICKANSKI POLAK!" All the passengers cheered and applauded as I went down the aisle and talked to each of them. They all had heart-rendering stories to tell about brutal treatment, starvation and loss of loved ones.

As we approached New York, I decided I would make their first view of America very dramatic. In those days air traffic control was not as particular about your flight path nor altitude as they are now - you could just cancel IFR and go VFR almost anywhere until you entered the traffic pattern. I selected a heading that would bring us in at right angles over the coast line. In this way the passengers were not able to see much out of the side windows until we were almost over New York. By then we were down to 1500 feet and, at just the right moment, I had the stewardess open the cockpit door so all the passengers could lean over toward the center aisle and have a view straight ahead through the cockpit windshield.

 

As the stewardess opened the door, a tidal wave of cheers and tears exploded in the cabin because directly ahead there was a Lady with her torch aglow in the setting sun – yes, it was the Statue of Liberty.