It was two days before Christmas that I was shot down over Bremerhaven, Germany. We had just been hit by German fighters and engulfed in flames. I remember being covered in blood, and I couldn’t see to bail out.

I died before my bomber crashed.

Send my remains to my agent. If you don’t remember this segment of “Twelve O’Clock High” titled, “The Fighter Pilot,” an ABC-TV series in the ’60s, or have never seen it, you can watch me die again and again on Youtube.

This was a Christmas gift job. And it came just in time.

A little back story. In the run of this great series, my first, I had been cast in three different segments. They were all small parts, such as a navigator with no name, dozens of reaction shots and no lines.

I was a bombardier in another segment with no name and more reaction shots but only one line, “Captain, the lens is fogged. I can’t get a clear picture.”

J.P. Devine is seen in a 1966 episode of the show “Twelve O’Clock High” titled, “The Fighter Pilot.” Devine, a guest cast member who plays Captain Jimmy Storm on the show, dies in midair when his bomber is fired upon over Bremerhaven, Germany. Still image courtesy of J.P. Devine

“Twelve O’Clock High” was then a hot show that was getting a lot of attention. Every name actor wanted to do a lead for them. I wasn’t on any A list; I was still small potatoes. But the casting woman liked my look and kept hiring me. Sooner or later, I was certain to move up the line.

This time looked like it. I had a name, “Captain Jimmy Storm.” It floated in my mouth like honey and rang bells in my brain. “Captain Jimmy Storm.” Wow.

No, I wasn’t the fighter pilot. I was the pilot of a bomber. Big deal. I finally had a name, and it could only lead to bigger parts on the show.

Usually, the studio would send my agent a copy of the script with my name on it. OK, I went to his office.

“The script come over?” I asked.

John seemed unusually nervous. Now, this was not like him. He was on the phone, waiting for a call, and kept looking out the window.

I insisted. “But it shoots tomorrow … right?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“That’s definite, right?”

“Absolutely. It’s in the bag.”

I spotted a script on his desk from the show.

“Hey, isn’t that the script?”

He waved me away. “No, that’s for another segment.”

“But it’s still on, right? I’m still Captain Jimmy Storm, right?”

He waved me away again. “Of course. Go sit down in the coffee shop; I’ll call you when it comes in.”

J.P. Devine, left, is seen in a 1966 episode of the show “Twelve O’Clock High” titled, “The Fighter Pilot.” Devine, a guest cast member who plays Captain Jimmy Storm on the show, dies in midair when his bomber is fired upon over Bremerhaven, Germany. Still image courtesy of J.P. Devine

For one hour I sat in the coffee shop, ate one egg sandwich, drank two coffees and munched on a Milky Way. I called the casting lady who liked my look.

“Jimmy,” she said. “We sent your script over this morning. Your agent has it.”

I ran up the steps to John’s office, pushed past his secretary into the inner sanctum — something I would never do.

“Hey, what’s going on?’

“Sit down,” he said. Then he wiped his hands over his face. “You want the good news or the bad news first?”

The blood left my face first, leaving me as pale as white paper. My left arm began to tingle. My mouth went dry.

“Good news,” I said.

“They’re giving you great billing, you’re gonna be in TV Guide, and you’re gettin’ a full grand, way over scale.”

My color came back, and the tingle stopped. I took a deep breath. “Then how bad can the bad news be?” He looked out the window.

“You die.”

We sat there for a long moment.

“Die?”

“Over Bremerhaven.”

“Where’s Bremerhaven?” I whispered.

“Germany. You were in the Air Force, weren’t you?”

“I was a typist in Japan.”

J.P. Devine, right, is seen in a 1966 episode of the show “Twelve O’Clock High” titled, “The Fighter Pilot.” Devine, a guest cast member who plays Captain Jimmy Storm on the show, dies in midair when his bomber is fired upon over Bremerhaven, Germany. Still image courtesy of J.P. Devine

John leaned across his desk, and actually said this: “Jimmy, you get a death scene. How many times did Jimmy Cagney die in the movies, and he kept coming back?”

J.P. Devine is seen in a 1966 episode of the show “Twelve O’Clock High” titled, “The Fighter Pilot.” Devine, a guest cast member who plays Captain Jimmy Storm on the show, dies in midair when his bomber is fired upon over Bremerhaven, Germany. Still image courtesy of J.P. Devine

We both knew what this meant. Dead people don’t come back on television. I would never be on this show again, not even as a cook.

He shot me that agent smile, the kind friends give the bereaved at funerals.

“You’re young. There will be other shows.”

So three days before an 87-degree Christmas, in a mock-up bomber cockpit on Gower Avenue in Hollywood, Jonathan Lippe, Seymour Cassell and I died over Bremerhaven, Germany.

There were other shows, but none as fraught and exciting as this.

Merry Christmas.

 

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

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