July 26, 2007 -- La Cañada Valley Sun

"Around Town:"Thirty Seconds Over La Cañada Flintridge"

By Anita Susan Brenner

I love La Cañada on Saturday nights. The hot July evenings. Dashing into town. Watching the sun go down. Catching up on the news.

It was a hot July night. My husband Len and I were relaxing on the patio. Copies of the Valley Sun and Wall Street Journal were strewn around, along with a file folder.

"I didn't understand last week's column," he said.

"Well, it was about 'Harry Potter' sort of," I grumbled.

"It drifted too much. Your historical columns are better."

I paused a moment before speaking. "Here's a story from 1943. A tracer bullet hit a house in La Cañada."

"A tracer bullet!" Len leaned forward in his chair. "That's not funny. Tracer bullets can hurt people."

I showed him my folder. It was full of yellowed clippings from the Los Angeles Times. Some of the clippings had been given to me by an anonymous source, an attractive lady in her 40s. This article, however, was from my personal research. The headline screamed, "Bomber Guided by Tracer Shots."

One Saturday night, on May 22, 1943, a B-24 bomber lost radio contact with the ground. I had seen the B-24 bomber in old movies. A four-engine, propeller-driven aircraft, which could carry up to 8,000 pounds of bombs, the B-24 was used extensively in the World War II. According to the article, a squadron of P-38s came to the rescue. The P-38 was a propeller-driven fighter aircraft, designed by Kelly Johnson from the Lockheed Skunkworks. The P-38s loaded their machine guns with tracer bullets. Lots of them. By firing their machine guns the P-38s were able to guide the B-24 to a safe landing.

I continued to read.

The aerial display — a sort of pseudo dogfight — held hundreds of residents of La Cañada, Montrose and La Crescenta spellbound as they watched a school of P-38s cavort around the bomber. One of the machine-gun slugs tore through the roof of the home of John Sturgess ripped a hole in the kitchen ceiling just two minutes after Mrs. Sturgess had finished preparing dinner, ricocheted off a serving board and plopped to the floor.

"That's awful," said my husband. "A tracer bullet!"

"It sounded like an explosion in the kitchen," Sturgess was quoted as saying. "We were eating dinner and we thought something cooking on the stove had burst."

I wondered what Mrs. Sturgess would have said, had she been quoted.

Sturgess, an engineer, said the bullet entered the room at an angle of 42 1/2 degrees from horizontal and from a direction 22 1/2 degrees north of due east. The hole measured 2 by 1 inches.

The 4th Fighter Command issued a statement that the matter was "under investigation."

Bombers. Engineers. Military investigations.

A Harry Potter-free zone. Right here in La Cañada.

Anita Susan Brenner is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident. She is an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner.