The huge and sprawling U.S. Air Force base at Ocanara, Florida, is almost a world in itself. At its head is Major General “Bus” Beal, who was a hero in the Pacific theater in the early days of the war and is still at the age of forty-one an energetic and skillful flyer. To keep the operation of the base running smoothly, the general relies heavily on his Air Inspector, Colonel Norman Ross, who brings to his military duties the same resourcefulness that characterized his career as a judge in peacetime; Judge Ross needs all of his acumen to do the job.
Landing his AT-7 one night at the Ocanara airstrip, the general comes close to colliding with a B-17 piloted by Lieutenant Willis, one of the black fliers recently assigned to Ocanara, who violated the right of way. Lieutenant Colonel Benny Carricker, General Beal’s copilot, strikes Lieutenant Willis, who has to be hospitalized, whereupon General Beal confines Carricker to his quarters. The incident, while small, triggers a series of problems that, in the next two days, threaten to destroy the normal operations of the base. Several of the black fliers, incensed by what happened to Lieutenant Willis and further outraged because a separate service club has been set up for them, attempt to enter the white officers’ recreation building, an action that comes close to starting a riot.
To complicate the situation, tension develops between the Air Force base and some leading citizens of the town. Colonel Ross is the only member of General Beal’s staff who recognizes the hazards of the situation. For the others—in particular Colonel Mowbray and his assistant, Chief Warrant Officer Botwinick—the difficulties seem routine. Even General Beal is of little aid to Colonel Ross, for he is brooding unhappily over the arrest of Carricker and over the recent suicide of an old friend.
Other forces are compounding...
(The entire section is 772 words.)