America built history’s longest logistical pipeline in World War II–14, 000 miles across two oceans to India and over the Himalayan Mountains into China. James “Pappy ” Brewer and his comrades formed the last link in the chain by airlifting materiel across the Santsung Range, an extension of the Himalayas known to pilots as “The Hump” or “The Rockpile.” Born in 1916 in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, he enlisted in the National Guard at the age of 19 and was commissioned shortly before Pearl Harbor. His C-46 crew was among the first trained in the US for operations in the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater. There, he transported heavy cargoes on a treacherous route over some of the world’s worst terrain to support Chennault’s “Flying Tigers,” LeMay’s bomber force, and various Allied armies in Southeast Asia. After 14 months in the CBI Theater, Brewer was reassigned to C-54 operations across the North Atlantic.
When the Russians blockaded Berlin in the summer of 1949, he flew one of the first airlift sorties into the besieged city. Following 61 round trips, he returned to the United States and helped train additional C-54 crews for Europe. He later helped establish training schools for new C-97 and C-124 transport crews. These schools eventually became MAC’s training wing now located at Altus AFB. Assigned in 1953 as the operations officer in a weather reconnaissance squadron at Hickam AFB, he flew WB-29s and WB-50s in the perilous business of tracking and penetrating typhoons across the northern Pacific and monitoring American and British nuclear weapons tests. In a later job at the Pentagon, he became a key figure in integrating Air Reserve forces into regular Air Force operations, and helped plan the C-130 and C-141 programs. After retiring in 1965 as a colonel with almost 14,000 flying hours, Brewer moved to Georgia and began a second career with Lockheed in the C-5A program. He has also been an active member of the Hump Pilots Association and recently served as its president.