Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

November 9, 2012

Ellis glided into WWII

Missed D-Day but saw plenty of action in China

CROSSVILLE — When Lake Tansi resident Harry Ellis was a 12-year-old, he saw his first airplane and then wrote in his journal that he would be flying one by the time he was 20-years-old. Harry did become a pilot — but he never dreamed at such a young age he would be piloting wings without an engine.

The 90-year-old veteran of the China-Burma-India Theater of WWII will receive his long overdue medals relating to his service.

“Well, you know, they are attendance medals,” Ellis laughs. “They are presented because I was there, I didn’t get into trouble and I did what I was supposed to do.”

The Arkansas native graduated from Arkansas Tech in 1942 with a degree in engineering, and immediately enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Less than perfect eyesight knocked him out of being a traditional pilot, but when Ellis volunteered for glider training, he was quickly accepted.

“They couldn’t get enough volunteers,” Ellis remembers, but he found it to be a way to serve his country in the air. What followed was months of training in “dead stick” flying as well as training flying light planes.

The early glider training consisted of being towed off a runaway by a BT-13, rising to between 3-4,000 feet up and then cutting off the cable and landing the motorless craft. That was followed by glider mechanic school where Ellis learned to assemble the craft and to repair them.

He finally graduated on his 21st birthday with the rank of Staff Sgt. with flight officer privileges. His first post-training assignment was ferrying gliders from his station in Louisville to the East coast in preparation for the D-Day invasion. None of the pilots knew about the D-Day plans.

Then it was back to weapons training on a host of weapons, ranging from side arms and machine guns to light artillery.

As his unit waited for orders to go to England, the American Red Cross sent word that his wife had delivered a premature and very sick baby in Texas and that both were hospitalized. He got a rare war time pass to return home to be with his family and while he was gone, his unit received their orders to go to England.

“I would have preferred to have gone to England with my buddies,” Ellis said this week. “It just wasn’t meant to be, I guess, and while they went to England, I went to China.”

The British troops charged with protecting England’s interest in India were having a hard time turning back the threat of Japanese forces that were in Burma and China. The British were losing troops on long marches into the jungle to confront the Japanese troops, so a plan was devised to use gliders to deliver troops (up to 15 men per glider) and equipment (Case caterpillars, small artillery), ammunition and medical supplies.

In Burma, mules were flown into the jungle to assist with moving supplies to where the fighting was taking place.

The glider pilots in the outfit Ellis was assigned to flew under Maj. Gen. Claire L. Chennault.

Ellis flew about a dozen glider missions. He also flew a light plane (an L-5 liaison aircraft with modified design to allow for cargo or air ambulance work) into remote and rugged make-shift landing strips, delivering oil and other supplies, and taking out wounded on the return trip to Inphal, India.

During his time in the CBI Theater, Ellis also went out as a spotter to identify air strike targets.

Ellis says he had trouble for years with nightmares of crashing with his cargo of a drum of oil and burning alive. There was also the fear of crashing and being captured.

“We all knew if the Japanese captured you, you would not come out alive and you wouldn’t die fast.”

When word came that the Japanese had surrendered, Ellis was told to double the guard at the landing site where he was at in China. The Chinese warlords immediately returned to fighting each other and the allies knew they had to get out quick.

As his service came to an end, Ellis came home by sea in what ended up being a month-long trip. When he arrived home, he felt a sick feeling that he still recalls.

“I remember thinking for three and a half years ... all I wanted to do was get out. I arrived back in Texas and I stood there staring at me in-law’s home, scared to go to the house. I just stood there and thought, what do I do now?”

Ellis eventually went back to school, got his law degree, opened up a private practice, went to work for the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency and as a treasury agent. He also worked in the Criminal Investigative Division of the Internal Revenue Service  (after going back to school to get a required accounting degree) and ended up as regional counsel for the IRS.

In retirement, he and his wife, Anne, traveled for four years in a travel trailer before discovering Lake Tansi and finally calling it home.

While history is full of the tales of the role glider pilots played in the Normandy invasion, not many know of the role glider pilots played in places like Burma and China. But Harry knows because a quirk in fate sent him there.

Text Only
Area News
  • trail 1.jpg Working on the trail

    Volunteers were out Saturday morning constructing a trail at Meadow Park Lake. This was phase one of trail building, explained John Conrad, Crossville Trails organizer, with volunteers clipping twigs and branches and raking a path. Bruce Whitehead, George Schlenker, Lee Skinner and Pat Schudiske rake a path about three feet wide. Later, larger obstacles, such as fallen trees, will be removed, and topsoil removed on the trail to aid in trail maintenance. The trail will be about 1.5 miles in length.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Panel waives ticket charge for boosters

    The building and grounds committee approved a request to waive a portion of the ticket fees for a school sports booster group planning a truck and tractor pull at the Cumberland County Community Complex, but the committee cautioned the group it would take action by the full Cumberland County Commission to relieve them of the obligation to return 10 percent of the gate charge to the county.

    April 23, 2014

  • Jury seated in Batty slaying case

    A jury plus alternates has been seated and began hearing evidence in the trial of John Russell Giles of Hampshire Lane, Fairfield Glade, charged in connection with the Nov. 7 death of Kimberly Ann Batty, 58, of Dovenshire Dr., also Fairfield Glade.

    April 23, 2014

  • New site sought for convenience center

    An expansion at Colinx and the improvement of a city street will require Cumberland County to move a convenience center. The city of Crossville has proposed a site in the same general area, but commissioners on the county's building and grounds committee were concerned about the cost to make the site suitable for a convenience center and the proximity of the Little Obed River.

    April 23, 2014

  • Hwy. 70 crash.jpg CCHS student dies in car crash

    Crossville Police have identified the victim of a two-vehicle collision that occurred Tuesday morning on Hwy. 70 W at the intersection of Dillon St. as a sophomore at Cumberland County High School.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • IMG_0783.JPG Visitors center now open to the public

    A ten-year effort to establish a gateway to the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, as well as to point tourists and visitors to the many other area parks, historical sites and points of interest, concluded Thursday as the community gathered with officials from the city of Crossville, Cumberland County, the Crossville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce and the National Park Service to dedicate the Crossville-Cumberland County: Gateway to the Big South Fork Visitors Center on River Otter Dr.

    April 22, 2014 2 Photos

  • Shots fired during standoff over domestic situation

    Chickens were killed, threats of bodily harm made and at least three shots fired in the presence of a Cumberland County sheriff's deputy during a domestic dispute between an uncle and nephew.

    April 22, 2014

  • Jury selection set in Batty slaying

    Jury selections were scheduled to begin today in the trial of John Russell Giles of Hampshire Lane, Fairfield Glade, charged in connection with the Nov. 7 death of Kimberly Ann Batty, 58, of Dovenshire Dr., also Fairfield Glade.

    April 22, 2014

  • Thoughts for this holy time of Easter

    The first performance of George Friderick Handel's masterpiece, "Messiah," was given in Dublin, Ireland, on April 13, 1742, where it was well received. When it was performed in England there were criticisms of the music, performers and location of the performance. It was held that the subject matter was too exalted to perform in an opera house, but rather it should be performed in church. Wouldn't it be interesting if we knew how many times this magnificent music has been performed in the past 272 years?

    April 22, 2014

  • Joe Goodwin.JPG Warden Joe Goodwin remains a true original

    The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency celebrates its 65th anniversary this year, and Crossville's Joe Goodwin is part of that living history.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

Marketplace Marquee
Must Read
Section Teases
Seasonal Content
AP Video
SKorea Ferry Toll Hits 156, Search Gets Tougher Video Shows Possible Syrian Gas Attack Cubs Superfans Celebrate Wrigley's 100th Raw: Cattle Truck Overturns in Texas Admirers Flock to Dole During Kansas Homecoming Raw: Erupting Volcanoes in Guatemala and Peru Alibaba IPO Could Be Largest Ever for Tech Firm FBI Joining Probe of Suburban NY 'Swatting' Call U.S. Paratroopers in Poland, Amid Ukraine Crisis US Reviews Clemency for Certain Inmates Raw: Violence Erupts in Rio Near Olympic Venue Raw: Deadly Bombing in Egypt Raw: What's Inside a Commercial Jet Wheel Well Raw: Obama Arrives in Japan for State Visit Raw: Anti-Obama Activists Fight Manila Police Motels Near Disney Fighting Homeless Problem Michigan Man Sees Thanks to 'bionic Eye' S.C. Man Apologizes for Naked Walk in Wal-Mart Chief Mate: Crew Told to Escape After Passengers
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Weather Radar
2014 Readers' Choice