Of late I have become intrigued by the number “47”. In some respects it reflects much of the wide expanse of my life.
When I was a little boy, I had a friend who lived up the hill from me. His father was an oilman who had spent a long time in the Philippine Islands. Some of my best stamps from those islands I originally obtained my friend’s father. I rode on the handlebars of Dick’s bike long before I had my own bicycle and we spent a lot of time in his back yard playing army with his plastic soldiers and plastic airplanes. I had none of these of my own; Dick seemed to have an endless supply. One of our favorite activities was to figure out ways to blow up the soldiers and planes in spectacular ways. Dick had several hard plastic bombers and fighters that were meant to take anything that a nine year old could inflict upon them. We tried putting firecrackers inside of the bombers; there was a lot of noise and smoke, but no destruction. They were tough toys for the most part, but they did not respond well to fire; or should I say that they responded well to fire. Only when we actually used a cigarette lighter on one of the wings of a model P-47 did we have any results. Once the wing was in flames, the plastic began to melt and drip away. Richard and I would take turns flying the plane about the yard, leaving drops of burning debris behind until the whole thing was consumed. That was my introduction to World War II.
There were other planes, the names of which were graced by the number 47. The B-47 was the Air Force’s answer to the Soviet nuclear threat against the United States during the 1950’s. It was the precursor to the B-52. What I remember of the B-47’s was etched across the sky of my Southern California home in the ubiquitous vapor trails that appeared everywhere. This was long before commercial travel was based upon jet engines, so every one of us boys knew that those planes were part of the military establishment defending us from the “commies”, as we affectionately referred to the Russians.
My up-front and personal contact with a “47” plane of any kind was the C-47, a transport plane dating from World War II. It was a useful and dependable plane, but was as ugly as a mud fence. While I was stationed in Duluth, Minnesota, during the early 1960’s I had many occasions to fly from one station to another to support our squadron of F-106 interceptors. Most of those flights were on board a C-47, or a Gooney Bird, as we liked to call them. The pilots of those planes were fighter pilot “wannabes’ and did their best to convince their passengers that they could fly their transports just as wild and wooly as our squadron officers. Thus, the takeoffs and landings were always just bearable. It usually took me the better part of an hour to recover from one of the C-47 landings.
When I left the military in 1964, the Vietnam War was just beginning to heat up. The CH-47, a version of the Chinook helicopter, was the mainstay of the US and Vietnamese artillery units trying to establish heavy fire from elevated positions. I think of the countless hours of video reports that I watched during that war, many of them at the same time my brother-in-law was serving there. The CH-47s were in most of the videos that I saw during that time. At one point there were more than 750 CH-47s in operation in combat zones in Vietnam. More than 200 of them were shot down.
These plane numbers began to capture my imagination. Believe it or not, I actually Googled the rest of the entire alphabet followed by the number 47 in order to find some more. There were other combat aircraft from other nations of varying types and serviceability. There were different sorts of submarines and guns, engines of all kinds, and other equally entertaining items. None of them commended themselves to me. At that point, I decided that I would try numbers in combination with "47".
The first attempt was “047”. This was the result at Google:
The ferritin count that Zaphod Beeblebrox is attempting to achieve by having a pint of blood sucked out of him every two months. It will never work because he is absorbing iron from his car every time he drives it.
The second attempt was “147”. This was the result at Google:
The actual ferritin count that Zaphod Beeblebrox had on the 1st of February 2010 as indicated by the letter that he received on the 6th of February 2010 from the University of Utah Medical Center. If he ever hopes to drop the third digit in his results he will either have to spend some time flying one of his favorite “47”s in a war zone or have more phlebotomies than he has currently scheduled.
I think it’s time to visit the Lady in Red again. The surprise will do her good.
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