Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Air Force One in Harry Truman's Day - A "Sacred Cow"

Yesterday's "photo op" over New York City had unintended results, to say the least.  It seems there was a half-hour photo shoot of "backup" Air Force One and an F-16 fighter, circling Manhattan at low altitude. Only problem was hardly anybody was expecting it, and those who did were instructed not to tell anyone else. Hundreds of office workers streamed out of skyscrapers fearing a repeat of 9/11.

Aside from this being the stereotypical S.N.A.F.U. ("Situation normal - all fouled up"), it brought to mind some folklore involving Sacred Cow, code name  for the first airplane assigned to a president, a Douglas C-54 used by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and later, Harry Truman.   The C-54 was modified for civilian transport after World War II and renamed Douglas DC-4, a ride which I describe with little delicacy in the chapter titled "A Month on the Vomit Comet," in my book Fujiyama Trays & Oshibori Towels
I recently read  the following Sacred Cow anecdote in a delightful new book, Harry Truman and his Excellent Adventure, by Matthew Algeo. 
'Truman asked his pilot, Col. Henry Myers, to notify him whenever the Sacred Cow flew over Ohio, the home state of Truman's nemesis in the Senate, Robert Taft. In The Flying White House, J. F. terHorst and Ralph Albertazzie explained why:
"Duly alerted by Myers that the Sacred Cow was flying over Ohio, Truman would walk aft to his lavatory. Moments later, after the president has returned to his seat, Myers would get a presidential command over the intercom to activate the waste disposal system . . . . The discharged liquids, of course, evaporated quickly in the cold, dry air outside.  But it was Truman's way of having a private joke at Taft's expense."