Sunday, February 24, 2008

F6F Hellcat Carrier Story and Video

Fellow historian Marilyn Walton sent this interesting story and video today. You will like it, too. I quote Marilyn from here on:

"Point of interest...about 3 minutes 20 seconds into the clip, you will
see an F6F Hellcat, it's hydraulics shot away during a strafing run,
pancake on the carrier deck and slew into the island. A deckhand was
crushed between the aircraft and the superstructure and killed. The
number on the plane is 30.

The lanky pilot sitting dazed in the cockpit is a gentleman named Andy
, a friend of mine. He is hale and hearty at 87 and lives just
north of Salinas, Ca. To this day he cannot recall this accident
without a tear coming to his eye. The swabby who was killed was his
crew chief.

Andy is a marvel. He has absolute total recall of those bygone days.
He is regularly invited back to the Naval War College to give a power
point demonstration to the young fighter jocks of today's Navy. They
hang on his every word. A living link to the past, to the days when
you got up close and personal to kill the enemy. No over-the-horizon
missile kills..

Andy was the longest serving Navy fighter pilot in WWII. He was on his
shakedown cruise off Gitmo on December 7th, 1941. The carrier Ranger
made flank speed to Norfolk and the pilots were transshipped to San
Francisco by train, then sped to Hawaii by ship. He saw Pearl not long
after the sneak attack, and again is unable to speak of it...a
horrible disaster. He immediately went aboard the Lexington and in the
course of the war had 4 carriers shot out from under him as he fought
in every major Pacific battle. Coral Sea, Midway, Battle of Santa
Cruz, Guadalcanal, Iwo name it. Credited with 4.5 kills.
Flew with Butch O'Hare, Cmdr Thatch (inventor of the "Thatch Weave"),
flew with high scoring ace David McCampbell...served under Admirals
Nimitiz, Bull Halsey...

He has studied the Japanese side of the Pacific War and is a
recognized expert on their side of it. He can reel off the names of
all their capital ships and admirals and battles from memory.
Remarkable man...and still alive to tell the tale."

Lately, links on blogger are not working well. Just cut-and-paste this link for video:

Saturday, February 23, 2008

'Before You Go' a Touching Tribute to WWII Veterans

Click on this link for a song and story honoring WWII veterans. It takes about a minute to load, but it's worth it.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Ask a World War Two Airman: Some of Your Questions Answered Today

A few weeks back, I initiated a feature called 'Ask a WWII Airman'. I invited readers to send in questions, and promised to get answers from my panel of WWII Air Corps veterans. Today, we have two questions, along with answers.

Question Number One: "Did the training you receive adequately prepare you for the experience of aerial combat, or, after your first experience with enemy fighters did you feel like you had been thrown into something that was impossible to prepare for?"

Maurice Rockett, who flew his tour with the 95th Bomb Group as a B-17 bombardier, responds:

Training did not prepare us for the realities of combat. There was no way, as I see it now, to put trainees into positions of death-defying situations. We did not even dream them up nor would instructors have any notion of what it would be all about either. It might have been helpful to spend longer flight periods at altitude with the poor equipment we had--speaking for my time, of course--and to fly with little rest.

As for fighters and flack, these elements had to be experienced personally for evaluation. Even then, many crewmen did not endure the hammering blows of the two mentioned perils. Regarding bailing out and the ensuing result of imprisonment would also be impossible to duplicate training experiences. Although, it would not have been impossible to give us jumping practice, but with the time constraints it was probably never even considered.

We just got shoved into impossible situations. as cannon fodder, without any guarantee of survival. Each person had to deal with death, or the possibility thereof, their own way with the hope luck would be on their side."

Dan Culler, who flew his tour with the 44th Bomb Group as a B-24 flight engineer/gunner, and ended up a POW in Switzerland, writes:

"We were always told you will get more training in your next assignment which ended up over Germany. I can't blame the military, they needed crews very bad and not that much time to train. As far as myself, the actual combat didn't bother me as much as my older crew. After all I was the youngest in our squadron. I guess that is why they want the very young to do the fighting. It doesn't bother you until later in life. I was kept busy jumping in and out of the top turret, trying to keep the dam plane flying, plus hand cranking the faulty turret. Poor Maurice in the nose saw everything coming at him. You know Maurice, I read later the people who made the top turret for B-24s admitted they had a failure problem on some turrets over 18,000 ft."

Question Number Two: "As you got further into your missions, did it get tougher to go on them or easier? Easier because you'd already been through the experience or tougher because you had fewer to go and had thus far been lucky?"

Maurice Rockett responds: "I really did not relate to missions like you do. I thought of a mission being tougher, not in anticipation, but as the result of what I encountered. While I did not fly a 'last' mission, one to finish my tour, the feeling or hope of survival would be paramount after so many hair-raising events in the skies over Europe."

Thanks for the questions, and thanks to Maurice and Dan for answering.

Anybody else have anything they'd like to know from these two living legends?

Friday, February 15, 2008

US's Third Largest Air Force Never Leaves the Ground

My pilot friend Jay sent me these photos of the aircraft Boneyard at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. It is, according to him, the US's third-largest Air Force, and the only one that makes a profit, as it is a major tourist attraction. HE also writes that the planes are capable of being restored to service if necessary.
I hope to see this when I am in Arizona in April.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

New Information on Hitler and American POWs

My friend and fellow historian John Havers of England sent me an email today that sheds more light on the story from a few days ago about the American POW camp near Berlin and the possiblity that Hitler visited the camp and announced FDR's death. The information sheds some doubt on the account, but I imagine we'll never know until Dan Culler hears from his historian friend in Germany about the exact location of the Berlin POW camps.

Thanks, John, for this valuable information.

John writes:

By coincidence I read your piece on the blog about Hitler and POWs just as I had found in our local library Until the Final Hour - Hitler's last Secretary by Traudl Junge. Pub 2002 ISBN 0 297 84720 1. This, as she was then, very young lady was in the Berlin bunker close to Hitler right to the very end.

It is not a day-to-day record of events but does tell a lot of what was happening. Given that FDR died on 12Apr45, and based on what is said in the book, I find it a little difficult to believe that Hitler was outside the bunker around this time; obviously I am unable to prove anything but it does make me wonder about the story.

Best regards

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Remembering the Bataan Death March--Honoring those Dead and Living

Looks like my friend Les Poitras and I will be going to New Mexico in March to participate in the Bataan Death March Memorial Hike, a 26-plus mile hike across the desert to honor the memory of the original Bataan Death March participants.

More details as they develop. Suffice it to say, Les and I have some serious training to do.

The Death March Memorial Hike website is

Men on the Bataan Death March, one of the most infamous mass war crimes against American soldiers in the Pacific in World War Two. Survivors will be at the march this March, and my plan is to conduct some interviews for my book Untold Valor: The Pacific

Saturday, February 9, 2008

POW Remembers Hitler Visiting Camp and Honoring FDR

An aged Adolph Hitler, shown here in the years before his death, visited a small camp of American POWs in Berlin and informed them of the death of FDR, then stood at attention while the camp honored FDR, in a story related by POW Dan Culler.

Here is an amazing story I'd never heard about before, related by good friend Dan Culler, who was himself a POW. I quote Dan's story in its entirety.

"Roosevelt and Hitler

Here is a story you all might find interesting. I learned of it at our weekly POW
meeting at the VA which ended sometime in 2001 because not many of us were left,
and Sam Atterbury our councilor retired. It was told by Harold, one of our POWs who was shot down over Berlin in Jan. 1945 and was placed in a small POW
camp in the Berlin area, with Americans and British.

He mentioned the camp was close to Hitler's last bunker, and they let the allies
know of the camp hoping the allies wouldn’t drop bombs in that area.

Harold said several times Hitler with several guards would come to
the POW camp and would just stand next to the wire and look at the

Then when Roosevelt passed away on April 12, 1945 Hitler
came to the camp and had the guards inform the Americans of
Roosevelt's death and had them assemble in the yard and stand at
attention for a short time in honor of Roosevelt. Hitler and his
guards outside the wire, also stood at attention, and as you know
Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945.

How about that gentlemen, here was Hitler a maniac dictator who was responsible for
million of death paying homage to a ruler who help being him down.
Harold said the Russians freed them."

Friday, February 8, 2008

Irish Diver Finds Lee Kessler's B-17 'Meltin' Pot'

This writing job never ceases to surprise and fascinate me. A few months ago, I got an email from a fellow writer in Northern Ireland named Jack Scoltock. Jack is a well-known author of children's books in the UK and also a diver. He emailed me to let me know he was finishing up a book about his dives to a sunken B-17 bomber named 'The Meltin' Pot', which sank in the Lough Foyle on the way to England in 1942.

Seamus Carey researched and found the plane.

I was friends with one of the crewmen, a gentleman named Lee Kessler, whom I wrote about in my book Untold Valor. Lee had the dubious distinction of having survived four plane crashes in his Air Corps career. One was stateside during his training as an aerial gunner and it killed the pilot. The second was the dangerous ocean ditching of 'The Meltin' Pot' off the Irish Coast. All aboard survived but spent hours in the frigid waters. The third crash totaled the crew's replacement B-17 after a mission, and the fourth resulted in Lee becoming a POW in Germany. It was during his time as a POW that Lee survived the infamous forced winter march and witnessed a war crime that he turned into an internationally acclaimed piece of Holocaust art.

Jack is putting the finishing touches on a book about the underwater discovery of the Meltin' Pot. I for one am excited to read it. The book is due out in June.

When I visited Lee Kessler at this home in Canton, Ohio some years back, he told me that the plane had been discovered, and he was hoping to fly over to Ireland to meet with the divers who'd found it. Sadly, Lee passed away only a few months after we talked, and never got a chance to see the plane that had carried him and the rest of the crew safely across the Atlantic, only to ditch in the sea.

Jack wrote me: "Did you know that Charles Pappy Grimes, who was on Lee's original crew of Meltin' Pot, played saxophone or relief saxophone for Tommy Dorsey before he was called up. That's why there are 120 Tommy Dorsey records and a record player on board the Meltin' Pot. Yet to be salvaged."

The tentative cover of the book is shown here, and I'm also giving Jack's personal website in case anyone wants to order a book or has a question about the recovery of the aircraft.

Here is the weblink for Jack's writing website:

The photo above, which I took in Lee's home, shows Lee holding the cover of his wartime scrapbook. If you look closely, you can see a painting of the ditching of the Meltin' Pot near the middle. The book's cover is decorated by paintings depicting Lee's many experiences in the war. It was held shut by a captured German belt and buckle. The belt is blue and white and runs across the bottom of the book, and the buckle is circular and silver at the right of the book.

Monday, February 4, 2008

One Friend's Lesson Keeps me Going

My wife, Geri, Herb Alf, and me in Roseburg, Oregon, 2003. Herb is one of my heroes and the man whose philosophy guides my work.

Another day in the life of a Working Class Dog. Today, I signed a contract to teach three hours a night, in addition to my day job. Why? The renumeration of five thousand dollars over twelve weeks. I'll be teaching US Government to seniors at night school till the end of the school year. Why? To help finance my second career as a writer. I have yet to see the glamour associated with the field of professional writing. However, I'm not giving up. As my mentor and good friend, Herb Alf, told me a few years back: "Success is more about PERSERVERANCE than it is about intelligence". Herb should know. He was a child of the great Depression, a man who rode the rails as a hobo and then became a B-17 pilot. Shot down, he began a new journey as a prisoner of war. All I have to do is think of Herb, and it gives me the strength to press on.

Herb, you taught me a lesson that has sustained me ever since. I miss you, my friend. And in your honor, I will never tire and never give up.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Superb Super Bowl Game

Stephen Tyree makes an impossible catch in the fourth quarter to keep the trailing Giants' drive alive. It was made possible by incredible scrambling by Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

Not expecting much of a game for the Super Bowl this year, I made plans to attend Sunday evening Mass as always. I figured the 17-0 New England Patriots would run away with the game early. At Mass, there were about fifty people there--that's what happens on Super Bowl Sunday. Even our American priest, Father Joe McDonald, was most likely watching and our priest was a Columbian-born father who probably didn't care who won.

On the way home, I stopped by my daughter and son-in-law's house to watch the end.

Was I ever wrong.

This was a super Super Bowl, and though I only caught the last quarter, that's when a lot of the action took place.

The Giants, a blue-collar team from Jersey, upended the white-bread Patriots. It was a memorable performance by this team. My favorite play was receiver Stephen Tyree going up for a desperation catch and managing to catch it against his helmet with a defender hanging all over him. How he caught it I'll never know.

Okay, maybe next year my Redskins will go farther...after all, they're set to interview the mastermind assistant coach behind the success of...the New York Giants.

Remembering Ernie Pyle: Greatest WWII War Correspondent

In this never-before-released photo, the great war correspondent Ernie Pyle is shown shortly after his death with American forces in the Pacific.

The following article was on today. I quote it in its near-entirety:

"NEW YORK - The figure in the photograph is clad in Army fatigues, boots and helmet, lying on his back in peaceful repose, folded hands holding a military cap. Except for a thin trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth, he could be asleep.

But he is not asleep; he is dead. And this is not just another fallen GI; it is Ernie Pyle, the most celebrated war correspondent of World War II.

As far as can be determined, the photograph has never been published. Sixty-three years after Pyle was killed by the Japanese, it has surfaced — surprising historians, reminding a forgetful world of a humble correspondent who artfully and ardently told the story of a war from the foxholes.

"It's a striking and painful image, but Ernie Pyle wanted people to see and understand the sacrifices that soldiers had to make, so it's fitting, in a way, that this photo of his own death ... drives home the reality and the finality of that sacrifice," said James E. Tobin, a professor at Miami University of Ohio.

Tobin, author of a 1997 biography, "Ernie Pyle's War," and Owen V. Johnson, an Indiana University professor who collects Pyle-related correspondence, said they had never seen the photo. The negative is long lost, and only a few prints are known to exist.

"When I think about the real treasures of American history that we have," says Mark Foynes, director of the Wright Museum of World War II in Wolfeboro, N.H., "this picture is definitely in the ballpark."

Killed near Okinawa
"COMMAND POST, IE SHIMA, April 18 (AP) _ Ernie Pyle, war correspondent beloved by his co-workers, GIs and generals alike, was killed by a Japanese machine-gun bullet through his left temple this morning ..."

The news stunned a nation still mourning the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt six days earlier. Callers besieged newspaper switchboards. "Ernie is mourned by the Army," said soldier-artist Bill Mauldin, whose droll, irreverent GI cartoons had made him nearly as famous as Pyle.

He was right; even amid heavy fighting, Pyle's death was a prime topic among the troops.

"If I had not been there to see it, I would have taken with a grain of salt any report that the GI was taking Ernie Pyle's death 'hard,' but that is the only word that best describes the universal reaction out here," Army photographer Alexander Roberts wrote to Lee Miller, a friend of Ernie and his first biographer.

But Ernie Pyle was not just any reporter. He was a household name during World War II and for years afterward. From 1941 until his death, Pyle riveted the nation with personal, straight-from-the-heart tales about hometown soldiers in history's greatest conflict.

AP file
War correspondent Ernie Pyle, center, talks with Marines below decks on a U.S. Navy transport while en route to the invasion of Okinawa in March 1945.

In 1944, his columns for Scripps-Howard Newspapers earned a Pulitzer Prize and Hollywood made a movie, "Ernie Pyle's Story of G.I. Joe," starring Burgess Meredith as the slender, balding 44-year-old reporter.

Typically self-effacing, Pyle insisted the film include fellow war correspondents playing themselves. But he was killed before it was released.

In April 1945, the one-time Indiana farm boy had just arrived in the Pacific after four years of covering combat in North Africa, Italy and France. With Germany on the verge of surrender, he wanted to see the war to its end, but confided to colleagues that he didn't expect to survive.

At Okinawa he found U.S. forces battling entrenched Japanese defenders while "kamikaze" suicide pilots wreaked carnage on the Allied fleet offshore.

On April 16, the Army's 77th Infantry Division landed on Ie Shima, a small island off Okinawa, to capture an airfield. Although a sideshow to the main battle, it was "warfare in its worst form," photographer Roberts wrote later. "Not one Japanese soldier surrendered, he killed until he was killed."

'It was so peaceful a death'
On the third morning, a jeep carrying Pyle and three officers came under fire from a hidden machine gun. All scrambled for cover in roadside ditches, but when Pyle raised his head, a .30 caliber bullet caught him in the left temple, killing him instantly.

Roberts and two other photographers, including AP's Grant MacDonald, were at a command post 300 yards away when Col. Joseph Coolidge, who had been with Pyle in the jeep, reported what happened.

Roberts went to the scene, and despite continuing enemy fire, crept forward — a "laborious, dirt-eating crawl," he later called it — to record the scene with his Speed Graphic camera. His risky act earned Roberts a Bronze Star medal for valor.

Pyle was first buried among soldiers on Ie Shima. In 1949 his body was moved to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl Crater, near Honolulu.

Roberts' photograph, however, was never seen by the public. He told Miller the War Department had withheld it "out of deference" to Ernie's ailing widow, Jerry.

"It was so peaceful a death ... that I felt its reproduction would not be in bad taste," he said, "but there probably would be another school of thought on this."