W.Va. 'Hot Rock' shares flying tales

September 18, 2005|By JULIE E. GREENE


Shepherds-town, W.Va., resident Charles H. Freeland didn't have a flight plan for his desire to become a pilot.

But history had a hand in his achieving his dream.

Sure to be drafted into service during World War II, Freeland got his mother to sign off on him joining the Army Air Corps at age 19 so he could pursue his dream of flying.

Freeland's fascination with flight ranges from witnessing a U.S. Navy Zeppelin pass over his Cumberland, Md., home when he was 4 years old to flying cargo planes through combat zones during World War II.


Often, friends, family and students asked Freeland about his experiences, telling him he should write them down, said Freeland, who taught education and media at Shepherd College.

Around 1990 Freeland decided to sit down for a couple of hours to write about his life, to share it with his grandchildren.

"I began to realize how things were changing and how simple life had been back while I was in the service. I just wanted them to know how things had changed from the '40s up to 2004," he said.

After a month, he had 150 pages of yellow legal paper, with the backs and edges filled too.

With further encouragement, his writings were published by RoseDog Books in Pittsburgh this summer as "Hot Rock Over the Himalayas." The book, with a suggested retail price of $19, is available for sale at and through Dorrance Publishing at


"Hot Rock" is a term given to fighter pilots because "we were so hot that nobody could touch us," said Freeland, 82, who was awarded the distinguished flying cross.

While Freeland was trained as a fighter pilot, he was designated to transport assignments such as flying over the hump or Himalayas from India to China.

The C-46 and C-47 cargo planes he flew carried gasoline, bombs and whatever the 14th Air Force or Flying Tigers needed to assist the Chinese against the invading Japanese, Freeland said.

In between missions in India, Freeland hauled B-29 engines to India on the Red Ball Express, a route from Casablanca to Calcutta, he said.

Then he returned to India, where he ran into some trouble.

"I was shot down over Burma. It wasn't a flameout. The Japanese attacked us and they were strafing an air base and we wandered in over it. They were practically out of ammunition and out of gas," said Freeland, recalling the Battle of Burma in 1944.

Two planes made passes at his plane before leaving because they were low on gas and ammo, Freeland theorized.

"So we had some smoke coming out of the engines," he said. "I took it in to land - to the British base in the jungles of India, on the border with Burma. They patched it up and I went on."

"Hot Rock Over the Himalayas" is full of stories stretching from Freeland's childhood memories about learning of world events that revolved around flight to enlisting in the Army Air Corps during World War II to exiting the Armed Forces after the war.

The book ends with reference to the end of his military duty.

"My last duty in the service is getting my wife pregnant in the lower berth of a B&O between Detroit and Cumberland, Md.," he said.

Technically, his military discharge took effect several weeks later, said Freeland, whose wife, Clara Lorean, died four years ago.

Freeland plans to write another book about his experiences after his military service, mostly focusing on life on the farm.

Not that he was a good farmer.

"I spent 10 years farming and almost starved to death. I wasn't a farmer, period," Freeland said.

Then he started teaching, making $1,200 a year. "Teaching was a slower way to starve to death."

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