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.
4 thoughts on “Remembering Dad”
Beautiful & unflinching❤️
He and Mom left an indelible legacy of pride in our country. Both came from such simple roots. Roots we still need to trace. German, Irish, Scots, English, Welsh. All people who farmed or worked with their hands. Looking forward to snooping their footprints with you and Kathy!💕
Susan, I am moved by your story of your father and his military career. His comment to you that he could smell the flesh brings to mind a very different experience told to me by a pilot of a B-52 bomber during the Vietnam war. As a newspaper reporter in Allentown, PA, I interviewed this young pilot when he was home on leave. As I recall, his high-altitude bomber dropped bombs on Vietnamese villages from about 30,000 feet. Toward the end of my interview with him, I asked him if he ever thought of the impact his bombs had on those villages far below. I will never forget his answer: He said his commanders always emphasized that his mission was about stopping communism from spreading around the world, from SE Asia to the rest of the world. He was not to think of the villages and its people but only of his part in the global mission. As I recall, he said, “No, I did not really think of the bombs dropping on people in the villages. I had to stay focused on the mission.”
A year or so later, when I had been called to active duty from the National Guard, at a promotion hearing, I faced questions about my views of the war by a young captain just back from the war. He noted that I was a college graduate but had not pursued a commission, which would have been the most patriotic way of serving my country. Why had I not sought a commission? I told him of my disapproval of the war and the assumption we were making about the domino effect–Vietnam falls and then Laos and Cambodia and on down the line and around the world. I said I thought our global view of a monolithic international communism, of which Vietnam was a part, was wrong. For the North Vietnamese, the war was all about national liberation. If the North Vietnamese received support from the Soviet Union and China, they had little choice when fighting against the military power of the US. The Vietnamese saw the US as a neocolonial power. I thought of the young pilot who had been instructed not to stick with his global mission and not allow himself to get bogged down by thoughts of the life on the ground that he was destroying. (I got the promotion, only because I was more than qualified; but my comments on the war left the captain and the sergeant beside him thoroughly baffled and, no doubt, disgusted.)
Thank you so much for this interesting story. It’s a conundrum, isn’t it? The need to protect the seeds of democratic governance as we understand it (which I believe is still developing). We were a colonial power and an empire if you will for Native Americans, and oppressors of Black Americans and women. But,we have brought forward the idea of freedom for all and are engaged in the work of making that a reality. Oh, that I wish more men and women of conscience would speak their minds as you did. With that, we would advance toward the goal of democratic governance here and abroad much quicker than we have so far. I admire you greatly. Thanks for contributing to the discussion.