Having introduced CNAC stalwarts William Langhorne Bond, Moon Fun Chin, and Ernie Allison over the last year, I’d like to introduce a few more in the coming days — Hugh Leslie Woods, Charles “Chuck” Sharp, and Harold M. Bixby — and pepper in a few of my favorite out-takes (one of which is included below).
First, Hugh Leslie Woods, known to most as “Woody.” A reserved and handsome man with thick, bushy eyebrows and the square jaw of a ship’s captain, Woods hailed from Winfield, Kansas. He came to China with the Pan Am Expedition of 1933, and he would spend the next thirteen years of his life in Asia. In 1938, he gained the unwanted distinction of being the pilot of the first commercial airliner in history ever to be shot down by hostile air action. (He was piloting a CNAC DC-2 leaving of Hong Kong, and it’s a major scene in China’s Wings.)
Woods had many other adventures along the way, one of which occurred in the early days of his service in China, when Woods did a clandestine favor for the U.S. Navy’s Yangtze River Patrol that turned him into an unsung navy hero.
One day, Woody landed his Loening on the Yangtze at Chungking at the end of a routine flight up through the Yangtze Gorges from Hankow (modern day Wuhan). He was supervising a gang of coolies tying his seaplane to the company pontoon when a motorboat from U.S.S. Monocacy, one of the Navy’s shallow-draft Yangtze gunboats, roared up to the dock, crewed by two sour-faced enlisted men. A harried officer leapt to the dock and took Woody aside. He asked if Woody would do the Navy a favor. A man in Hankow would deliver a small package to Woody’s quarters. Could Woods please bring it to Chungking on his next flight? Two other delivery attempts had failed.
Woody swallowed his irritation and agreed. Back in Hankow, an errand boy delivered a wrapped package to Woody’s apartment, and, as promised, it was only six or eight inches square, and it weighed about a pound. Woody flew the package to Chungking as “pidgin cargo” without disturbing the wrapping.
The young officer met him at the CNAC pontoon. “Do you have it?” he demanded.
Woody handed over the package.
“Thank God,” said the Navy man. “You have our unofficial thanks.”
“What the heck is it?” Woody asked, imagining serums or vaccines, some critical medicine.
“Condoms. We had to bar the men from going ashore. Damn near had a mutiny.”