8.24.2012

The Planesman


My dad was born too late in life. Or so he said. He was too young to fight in WWII. I'm not sure if that bothered him or if it was just something he acknowledged. His brother, E, was not too young and did, in fact, fight during WWII. I didn't know my Uncle E very well - our family didn't take vacations often and my Uncle lived out east so we only got to see him a time or two while I was growing up.


Thankfully, his son (my cousin) put together a book titled, "The Planesman" about his father's experiences in the war. It's a wonderful treasure and I am grateful that he did so. My Uncle E and my dad were a lot alike. In the book, my cousin describes his dad: "He rarely offered an opinion but when he did it was informed and very much to the point." Regarding his intellect, "Every one of them (his co-workers at GM, after the war) had great respect for his expertise and intellect. More than one has commented that he was the most intelligent man they have ever met in his field." He could be talking about my father. Seems they both came from good stock.


My Uncle E







Come to find out, my Uncle did his cadet training not too far from here, in Garden City, Kansas, where his first 130 or so landings (about 65 hours of stick time) were in the North American AT-6. After that, he was off for to Foster Field, Texas, spending a short time in the P-40 Mustang, which I just think is about the coolest thing EVER.  Following his training in Texas, he moved to Napier Field, Alabama (***currently, Dothan, Alabama and there is a crazy side note to be had there. See below.***) for some more time in the AT-6 and then on to Virginia with the 325th Fighter Wing where he stepped into what was to be 'his' aircraft - the P-47 Thunderbolt








I believe they named this one "Bar-Fly".
There's a story there...


Eventually, he would be assigned to the USAAF - 10th Air Force, 1st Air Commando Group, 6th Fighter Squadron and would deploy to the China-Burma-India theatre of operations. According to his flight records, his first combat flights involved strafing runs in the Rangoon area, escorts of B-25s to Yamathian, and strafing runs on a "Bridge at Leyte". Later on in the month, it lists "D.B. (dive bomb) Mu River Bridge, destroyed bridge" as well as the same for several other bridges in the area. This was in addition to escorts of B-25s and other strafing runs. Subsequent months list much of the same: strafing runs, dive-bombing raids, patrols, and escorts. 


What blew me away in reading this book was the fact that my Uncle was awarded both the Air Medal Award with oak leaf clusters as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross. He never spoke of it. To anyone. His own wife (my aunt) asked him about it and he would not discuss it. To this day, no one knows why he was awarded either medal. His flight records detail the areas in which he flew and I am starting to dig into those but I suspect my cousin has already exhausted those avenues and it's possible that we will never know what he did.


My father is quoted as saying that the man who returned from India was not the brother he knew who left home for flight school. "I don't know who he was but that wasn't the man I knew." The experience changed him fundamentally.


Several months ago, I read the book, "Flyboys" and it was a wonderful read but also an eye-opener as to everything that our men overseas endured. Though my Uncle was never a POW, reading about the conditions under which they operated was enlightening. 


There is more to my Uncle's story but this is what I have for now. I wish he were still around. I wish I had known him better. I wish I had known enough then to even just sit and listen to him. However, I am grateful that I knew him at all, that I was able to visit with him at our family reunion before he died, and that he lived at all. We all should be.




***Small world story: After reading my cousin's book about my Uncle, I find that he spent time in Dothan, Alabama (near Fort Rucker) prior to shipping off to the CBI theatre during WWII. Shortly after WWII ended, I believe my maternal grandfather ALSO spent time at Fort Rucker, as a SeaBee building barracks and housing. It fascinates me that the two sides of my family tree (before they became sides of my family tree...my parents didn't meet until 1969) just about crossed paths and did so in a place where MacGyver and I have also lived. SMALL WORLD.***




Pau.




- hfs


5 comments:

kimalso said...

Thanks to your Uncle E for his service. My great-uncle was a POW and in the Bataan death march. We didn't hear much about that either. Good post.

kimalso said...

Thanks to your Uncle E for his service. My great-uncle was a POW and in the Bataan death march. We didn't hear much about that either. Good post.

Homefront Six said...

I am sure that his experiences on the Bataan Death March were things he never wanted to discuss. I can't imagine how horrific that was for him. Thanks to him for his service and sacrifice as well.

Anonymous said...

http://www.scribd.com/doc/11327726/DFC-List-Distinguished-Flying-Cross-Award-CBI-WWII

Homefront Six said...

Anon ~ thank you! I had seen that one in my digging but that seems to be for Combat Cargo Group as opposed to the Fighter Squadron. I"m still digging but if you happen to find anything else, I'd love to see it!

Kim ~ I"m not sure my comment came out as I intended. It doesn't surprise me that your great-uncle did not want to discuss. Everything that I've read about the Bataan Death March tells me that it was hell on earth and to relive that, even just in words, must have been horrific.

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