THE DAY I BECAME A MILLIONAIRE
How well I remember that day in 1948 when I was given $75,000,000. (yes that’s 75 million dollars) in good old American greenbacks. For about eight hours, it was mine, all mine. I had signed for it and the only restrictions imposed was to keep it safe and in good condition. When accepting it, I knew my newly achieved status was to be short lived. It would only be mine, until I was required to turn it over to another, making him an instant multi-millionaire. This was in 1948, when a dollar was worth about 3 or 4 of today’s dollars.
When Mao Tse-tung’s forces overran mainland China in the mid to late 1940’s, they forced the armies under Chiang Kai-shek to abandon their homeland and go to Formosa (now Taiwan). China was in a state of upheaval, nothing was stable. The government of the various provinces changed rapidly and the officials of today could easily become the outlaws of tomorrow.
With this in mind, the powers that be thought it best to protect American interests in that part of the world by taking all American currency out of the country. Why it wasn’t just collected, shredded or burned, I never knew. I do not know who collected it, nor how. Did it come from the banks, or elsewhere? I never knew.
During this time of my life, I as assigned as a cargo pilot assigned to the 317th Troop Carrier Group, stationed at Tachikawa, Japan. We flew passenger, mail and freight service to all the main Japanese Islands as well at to others including Okinawa, Guam, Korea, the Philippines and elsewhere. On the 11th of Sep.1948, I was assigned as first pilot on an additional flight to Kadena, Okinawa. Other crew members were Lt. Chuck Low, Co-pilot and Lt. Jim Berry, Navigator. As was the custom, I arrived at the aircraft well before take-off time to “check and accept” the freight loaded into the C-46 twin engine aircraft we were using. Our procedure was to check the load, see that it was secured for flight and to “sign” for it. Signing was the method the Air Force used to keep track of where the freight items went, when they got there and to establish responsibility for their safe-keeping.
I knew immediately that something was different when I arrived at the aircraft. Military Police with two jeeps each with mounted machine guns and several armed foot sentries were surrounding and guarding the aircraft. With my name on the access list, I went aboard and checked the load. It was a load about 12-15 feet long, some 6 ft wide and about 4-5 ft high. It consisted on many wooden boxes, all marked “Toy Dogs.” There must have been 250-275 boxes in the load, all marked with weight and a cargo box number.
While this was going on, Lt. Low and Lt. Berry had reported to the passenger terminal and conducted the emergency briefing required for our passengers. We then would go to the weather briefing and then to the aircraft for departure. When I first saw Lt. Low, he told me, “There’s something funny about this flight, we have only one passenger.” He also said the passenger was a military police officer from the General Headquarters outfit in Tokyo. These were the elite of the police and used mainly around Gen. MacArthur’s headquarters and other main offices in Tokyo. This young 1st Lt. MP was to go with us today.
Take off was normal and soon we settled into the six hour over-water flight to Okinawa. We invited the Lt. to come to the flight area which was a bit more comfortable than the large cargo compartment. Our talk soon got around to “what’s in the boxes?” He took from his briefcase a document listing the cargo, each by its serial number, and showed it to us. He explained it was American greenbacks, and told what he knew about it. He also showed us the tally of the cargo, listed as being worth $75,000,000.00
Imagine my and the crew’s surprise to learn of this. Whoopie and all that! We’re all multi-millionaires, not a worry in the world and we’ll never have to work again! We joked about where we could go and what we could do with all that unmarked cash. It almost made us flap our wings. (In case the IRS is reading this, I’m just kidding, really, we didn’t keep any of it!!) We soon concluded that the FBI, IRS nor the MPs would take kindly to us keeping any of it, so the only sensible thing to do was to continue on to Okinawa.
As we landed at Kadena and the aircraft slowed, a jeep with a mounted machine gun and several Military Police come onto the runway and followed us. Soon another such vehicle was in front, leading us to a somewhat isolated parking spot. Here awaited several more machine-gun-armed military police.
We parked the aircraft, the air-freight officer met us at the aircraft door, looked over the freight invoice and signed his John-Henry. I was no longer a multi-millionaire. Just another Air Force pilot, who’d had an interesting day.
I never found out what happened to the money, nor have I ever read of any such operation. I know it continued for at least one more trip, because soon a C-54 of our unit repeated the same deal. But they, with more load capacity, carried a reported $150,000,000.00
Oh well, easy come, easy go. I still could win the lottery and again achieve that status.
Francis H. Potter
Col. USAF, Ret