“If separated, we will rendezvous above the clouds.” Now, ain’t that romantic. I can imagine two young lovers, together in secret, lying on top of their car watching airplanes in the sky. Embracing each other, they scream then laugh as the planes rumble pass. Then, after much time, the rising sun reminds them that this moment can’t last forever. They must go back to the world where no one knows of their love. The boy leans over and whispers in his girl’s ear, “Just remember, when we are apart from each other, we can always rendezvous above the clouds.” The words spark an emerging smile on her face as she will hold on to that line forever. They will always be together. Him and her. Above the clouds.
This, while a typical script for a modern day rom com, is not the case. The origin of this phrase is not a pop song nor is it a romantic comedy. It was an order given 9000 feet about the sea in the Solomon Islands. An order that, should they lose formation, the squadron was to meet in a safe place above the clouds. Johnny Liska of VS-10 was flying at a cruising altitude when he noticed black smoke below him. He recognized the bombed Japanese carriers as the ones punched out in the contact report from another pilot. Honoring the radio silence established prior to take off, he pulls up next to his wing man and taps a message on his helmet. He knew Japanese aircraft were probably in the area looking for them. If the Americans could dodge these Japanese aircraft, called Zeros, they could drop their heavyweight bombs on the crippled carriers to finish them off. As both sides stayed the course, a clash in the clouds was inevitable. Carmody, Liska’s wing man, spotted Zeros first and pulled right as his gunner unloaded 3000 rounds into one of the Japanese planes. This Zero bursts into flames and continues to fly straight as Carmody maneuvers to safety.
As the Zeros converge, Carmody does his best to shake the enemy forces. His other wing man, Ward, bent right as his gunner shot down one of the Zeros. The Japanese air attack slowly dwindled as the American rear gunners picked them off one by one. Carmody had a chance to catch his breath and look around for his fellow pilots. He and Ward both dropped their bombs into the sea in order to boost their rpms. These bombs were effective in knocking out carriers but severely slowed down the planes during combat. Lighter now, Carmody was able to evade some of the striking Zeros. Now alone, he paused at the break in action and remembered what Liska tapped out on his helmet. “If separated, we will rendezvous about the clouds.” Carmody pulled up his nose and headed for the sky.
In conclusion, the point of this post is to relay how awesome it is to tap out that message on your helmet. Furthermore, to tap out a French word to your fellow American pilot and then that pilot understands your orders. Just in case, this wasn’t emphasized enough above, I wanted to clarify this in the final paragraph. I re read the passage many times contemplating the romance in that statement while understanding the circumstances in which it was created. It was a surprise to come across that line while consuming all these examples of greatness in Stephen Moore’s book. I thought about it all week. A beautiful, eloquent saying that displays some of the poetry created in violence, or to steal from Sun Tzu’s famous work, some of the art of war.
Note: This photo was taken from jacksonhole.com. It has nothing to do with World War II, but everything to do with a rendezvous above the clouds.