In December of 1941, Noel Bacon and Robert Neal were part of a small group of Americans with an opportunity that millions of others wanted: the chance to fight back in the days immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Bacon, from Randalia, and Neal, born in Iowa Falls, were already in the Far East with the American Volunteer Group. The pilots and ground crew of that unit would become better known as The Flying Tigers, and they were engaged in combat against Japanese air forces before Christmas, 1941. Their victories in the skies over Southeast Asia into early 1942 provided hope that America could eventually stop the Axis powers which had overrun much of Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific.
During Waterloo Black Hawks games on December 6th and 7th, the Hawks will wear jerseys featuring the iconic, shark-toothed Flying Tiger P-40 fighter planes in honor of Bacon, Neal, and their comrades.
“From the day they landed in Burma, everlasting teamwork, discipline, precision flying, split-second formation attack in twos and threes filled their flying hours. First outthink, then outfight the enemy,” wrote Clare Boothe in a July, 1942, edition of Life Magazine, summing up the efforts and accomplishments of men like Bacon and Neal. “The Flying Tigers were a blazing beacon of ultimate victory. For this happy revelation of theirs in our darkest hour, their story is deathless. And deathless too is our gratitude.”
Appropriately, this year’s military-themed jerseys, presented by American Pattern and CNC Works, will be auctioned to benefit Cedar Valley Honor Flight. Originally organized to salute veterans of World War II, the Honor Flight program now brings former servicemen and women from several 20th century conflicts to Washington D.C. to visit war memorials, Arlington National Cemetery, and other meaningful sites. American Pattern has sponsored the Black Hawks’ military jerseys annually since 2014.
The jersey design includes a flying P-40 over the backdrop of a gray, clouded sky. Below the plane are the words “First Outthink, Then Outfight.” Jersey numbers on the sleeves and back appear in red with a black outline. The Black Hawks’ logo is displayed on one shoulder with an American flag on the other.
The Black Hawks play the Lincoln Stars on December 6th and 7th. Veterans and active duty service personnel are invited to attend with free tickets. The jerseys will be auctioned after Saturday’s game. Additional concession or ticket specials are available each night. To order tickets or for more information, call the Domino’s Black Hawks Box Office at (319) 291-7680 or click here.
More on Noel Bacon
Born in 1917, Bacon graduated from Iowa State Teachers College (today the University of Northern Iowa) before enlisting in the Navy. Bacon piloted a P-40 as a member of the Flying Tigers and was credited with shooting down three enemy planes while part of the unit. He left the AVG and rejoined the Navy to complete his World War II service and also fought in the Korean War. After passing away in 1996, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
More on Robert Neal
Neal was born in Iowa Falls in 1919 and lived much of his life in Marble Rock. While serving with The Flying Tigers, he was an armorer, tasked with helping to maintain the P-40 fighters and keep them flight-worthy. According to Boothe, the unit had only about 100 planes, and keeping them in air required constant effort: “…never more than 50 planes were in commission at once.” Neal also completed his service in the Navy, retiring as an Aviation Ordnanceman Chief Petty Officer. He rests in Greene, Iowa’s St. Mary’s Cemetery after passing away in 1981.