All he wanted was to learn to fly. He was a teenager in rural Tennessee, inspired by the heroic flights of the Wright Brothers and then Lindbergh, Dad worked in a little village of Watauga and saved to take flying lessons in near by Johnson City. Soaring over the green hills, he then was seized with a huge desire to leave the poverty and inward directed community of his youth to see the world, to break free.
He had a wonderful mind for math and science, eventually graduating with a degree in physics from East Tennessee State College (his mother walked the graduation stage for him as the US colleges awarded a full degree to all the men and women serving in the military in WWII in their last year of college but not able to finish due to the war).
Dad joined the Army Air Corps when Pearl Harbor was bombed. All the country kids who had not made entry into the military were now able to join up as the USA took everyone willing. Most of the rural kids did not have the best of health, having suffered as children through the Depression, a time my Dad recalled as being hungry all the time. America’s poor citizens comprised a good half of the country back then. Farmers all.
He became a bomber pilot, Captain of a B-29 crew, which he ably led through terrible, death defying excursions in the Pacific, flying over Saipan and Tokyo on bombing raids. His crew included men as young as 19. Dad told many stories from this period of his life, naturally, as it remained the most dramatic of the remaining 75 years (he lived to 95 in reasonably good health to the end).
I think of him every Memorial Day since he passed in 2012 on Pearl Harbor Day ironically. To the end, he worried he’d not be forgiven for killing people on those low level bombing raids. “We could smell flesh burning, Susan!” he recalled often.
The men and women who serve in the nation’s military carry the burden of killing, of maiming in the name of us. We must always remember that what we ask them to do in defense of our way of life is very serious and has life long consequences for them. Honor your war heroes, and let us never forget them and their devotion to the cause of America.