Saturday, May 31, 2008

Remembering D-Day: Frank Irgang's Etched in Purple

Omaha Beach, D-Day, June 6, 1944. The 29th goes ashore.
Omaha Beach today. France.

The following is the tentative final draft of a magazine article about my friend Frank Irgang and his experiences in World War Two as a medic and scout in the famed 29th Infantry Division. Story is copyrighted 2008 but please enjoy.

"When 23-year-old Frank Irgang returned from World War Two, he had the bone-tired, old-man look common to GIs who had seen heavy combat. His closest friends had been killed in action or were lying maimed in veterans’ hospitals. “An inventory of myself revealed a battered hulk, confused and restless,” he wrote. A 1945 photo of Frank as an MP in Berlin shows a war-weary man trying to smile.

He relived the war each night in his sleep, his nightmares filled with the ghosts of his comrades, of the maimed and dying he’d tended as a medic, of those he’d killed after becoming an infantry scout, and of the bodies of his comrades floating in the heaving sea off Omaha Beach on D-Day. Ensconced in a basement apartment on one of Idaho Falls’ numbered streets, Frank Irgang discovered that though he’d left the war, the war had not left him. Fortunately, his boss at Idaho Falls’ Daniger’s Furniture Store was a hardened World War One veteran who told of how he’d finally beaten his demons by writing his experiences down. He suggested Frank do the same. Each evening, Frank sat down with a lined tablet and let the words flow. It was, he says, “a catharsis”. The result is perhaps the finest infantryman memoir to come out of World War Two, Etched in Purple (Potomac Books, 2008. Reprint edition. Originally published by Caxton’s, Caldwell, Idaho in 1949).

When Etched in Purple came out in 1949, the Los Angeles Times called it “one of the most brutal war books published” and said that “Frank Irgang has succeeded in doing what at least a million others who served with the infantry during the war wished they could have accomplished.” The Cincinnati Enquirer called it “a taste of the brutal truth”. The small press run of 3,000 quickly sold out, and the book became a rare jewel that few Americans knew existed. In 2008, Etched in Purple was re-released by military publisher Potomac Books, available for the first time to a worldwide audience. This is the story of the man who wrote the book, and of the book itself, one of the greatest books ever to be written in Idaho Falls.

A native of Michigan, Frank Irgang was born in 1922 and raised during the Great Depression, a hardscrabble experience he credits with helping “the American soldier to beat the overwhelming odds he faced from time to time.” Before entering the Army, Irgang worked as a schoolteacher and a blast-furnace operator.

Drafted in 1942, Irgang received training as a medic, surgical technician, clerk-typist, psychologist, pontoon-builder, and finally as a heavy-bomber navigator. While in flight training at Santa Ana, California, he met his future wife, Virginia Daniger, at a USO dance. Virginia was from Idaho Falls, a 1943 graduate of Idaho Falls High School who had moved to California to attend Santa Ana Junior College. They were married before he shipped out. Santa Ana Army Air Base, California, during World War Two.

While in Santa Ana, “the order came through that we were preparing a full-scale invasion of Europe and that anyone with ground force training had to report,” Frank recalls. “They needed medics to support the invasion, so they gave me a seven-day furlough and then shipped me out to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, where we got our shots and then headed for England.”

“We went over in April of ’44 in a convoy of ships as far as the eye could see. We ended up in a tent city at Bournemouth, England, somewhere in southern England, in big tents. All the roads, all the lanes, were loaded with half-tracks and tanks and equipment. You’d think the whole island of England was going to sink.”

“I was a replacement among thousands that had gathered for the invasion. I was assigned to the 175th Regiment of the 29th Division as a medic” The 29th had been rehearsing beach landings in England since fall of 1944. Before long, his new comrades were calling him ‘Doc’. Troops preparing to board ships on D-Day in Weymouth, England.

“On June 5, 1944, we boarded a troop ship at Weymouth, England. There were a couple thousand men on the ship. It took us across the channel until we were maybe 150 yards from the shore, then it lowered the nets. We scrambled down the nets into an LCI-Landing Craft Infantry—and then the landing craft circled until each unit was all on the water. All this time, we were being shot at.” An LSI similar to Frank's lands on a beach on D-Day.

“The 29th Division landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. The 175th landed about noon. The others had come in at around five or six a.m., and many of these men were dead and floating in the water.” Etched in Purple’s opening scenes follow seasick men plunging with full packs and equipment into the water as machine gun fire rakes the beach. When the men hit the beaches on D-Day, tens of thousands of water-logged packs of Chelsea cigarettes bobbed in the angry surf. Each man had been given a carton before boarding the invasion ships.

By the time the 29th had all come ashore on D-Day, casualties ran at 390 men killed, 511 wounded, and 27 missing. Among these were 19 men from the small Virginia town of Bedford.
The French have not forgotten. Omaha Beach in foreground, American Cemetery in background. France.
The following weeks saw the 29th engaged in fierce hedgerow fighting and in street-to-street combat in French towns. Afforded some protection by the red cross on his helmet, Frank struggled to treat the overwhelming number of wounded and dying men, often treating them under fire where they fell. An Army medic administers plasma to a wounded soldier in Sicily.

Shot through the hand in October of 1944, he was evacuated for treatment, but soon found himself thrust back into the front lines at the Battle of the Bulge, this time as an infantry scout, whose average life span could be measured in days or weeks. With a license to kill, and a burning anger at what he had seen, Frank often became one of the first Americans to enter contested towns and cities.
Fighting in sub-zero conditions during the Battle of the Bulge.

As the fierce fighting raged across France, Belgium and Germany, Frank found himself faced with the moral and ethical grayness of warfare. Prisoners on both sides were sometimes shot, as were civilians. A moment of great cruelty could be instantly followed by a moment of kindness, forgiveness and redemption.

Certain sights were etched into Frank’s memory, only to reappear in his book. A German tank drives on top of an American foxhole, locks one tread, and grinds the unfortunate Americans into the ground. A new GI fastens the strap on his helmet, only to have his neck broken by the concussion from an artillery shell. A buzz bomb hits a village, killing everyone in a three-block radius. A German pilot refuses to surrender to anyone of lesser rank. He is shot and a ring cut from his finger. Mere luck determines whether a man lives or dies. Every man feels as if his time is up, or past. Some of the injured manage to hang on despite gaping wounds and missing limbs. Men draw achingly close in battle, depending on each other and bonding in hardship, only to be wrenched apart by sudden and violent death.

In eleven months of fierce fighting, the 29th took heavy losses. 3,720 men were killed, 15,403 were wounded, 462 were missing, and 526 were captured. The total battle casualties ran 20,111 men out of a unit of 15,000. 8,655 non-battle casualties brings the total up to 28,776—a staggering casualty rate of nearly 200%, made possible by the fact that as men died, other fresh faces were thrown in to replace them, many of whom met a similar fate.

Trained as an MP after recovering from his injuries, Irgang spent time in Berlin at the end of the war. A photo of him taken in Berlin shows a man aged beyond his years, his smile belied by sad and haunted eyes.

“I took some notes during combat, but didn’t start to seriously write until I got home to Idaho Falls,” remembers Frank. “Virginia had moved back to Idaho Falls during the war. Housing was at a premium at that time. We lived in a basement apartment on one of the numbered streets. The home was owned by Eugene Pratt, who at the time was the superintendent of schools for Idaho Falls.”

Virginia showed Pratt several pages of Frank’s writing. Pratt was impressed and told Frank to type it up. Frank got a Montgomery Wards typewriter and typed the manuscript. Pratt took it to Caldwell, Idaho, to Caxton’s Printers, and showed it to the publisher, Frank Gibson.

“Gibson wasn’t sure about the book,” says Frank. “But he looked it over and about six weeks later I got a letter that said that with editing, we could get the thing published. One condition Gibson had was there could be no swearing and no sex.”

“The book came out in 1949. It sold 3,000 copies in the first printing. The original price of the book was $3.50. Over time, the book became more and more rare. Eventually, copies would go for two hundred dollars or more.”
Original book and dust jacket, Etched in Purple, Caxton Printers, Idaho, 1949.

Sometime in the nineties, the author of this article was shopping at the Idaho Falls Deseret Industries, and came across a worn purple hardback book. I noted it was a war memoir and that it had been signed by the author, Frank Irgang. I paid my forty-nine cents and took the book home and began reading. With the turning of each page I was more and more certain that I was reading a masterpiece. I tracked down Frank Irgang, who now lived in San Diego. A more recent photo of Frank.

We began a correspondence. Many years later, after my own book had been published, I suggested to Potomac Books that they look into re-publishing Etched in Purple. I sent one of my prized copies to Don Jacobs at Potomac. He read it and was awe-stricken by it as I had been, immediately negotiating with Frank for publishing rights. The book was re-released by Potomac Books in May of 2008. The Re-discovered classic infantry memoir, Etched in Purple (Potomac, 2008)

“I wrote… of my experiences and the experiences of my comrades with the hope that our witness of war’s senselessness might be known and recognized,” Frank explained to his publisher nearly sixty years ago. In the book’s final paragraph, he writes: “I looked at the lights (of New York Harbor) and…tears came to my eyes. ‘Welcome home; thanks for a job well done’. Yes, we had helped do the job, but many were not here who had given more. To them we should all be forever grateful. As long as I lived, I would never forget my brothers-in-arms, who fell like leaves from the trees among which they fought. They memory of them would stay with me forever and a day—it had been etched in purple.”

Friday, May 30, 2008

Passing the Torch, Keeping the Flame

My friend Gerald Grove sent me some excellent pictures today. I met Gerald for the first time in April when he was my gracious host at the 95th Bomb Group Reunion down in Tucson, Arizona. Gerald, like many of the children of the men of the Greatest Generation, is dedicated to keeping the memories of the World War Two airmen alive. His father, Ronald Grove, was a tail gunner on the Max Wilson crew of the 95th Bomb Group. This B-17 crew was shot down on April 24, 1944. In addition, Gerald's son (and Ronald's grandson) also expressed an interest in Ronald's exploits as a B-17 tail gunner, and both Gerald and Jeremy have been back to England to see the 95th Bomb Group's base in Horham.

The first picture, taken in 1994, shows Gerald's son , then 8, in the middle of the remnants of the Max Wilson crew in Tucson, AZ -- celebrating the 50th anniversary of the day they were shot down, April 24, 1944 [left to right: Frank (Cherry) Ceraso - radio operator; Dave Oates - left waist gunner; Felix (Kowalczyk) Cole - copilot; Jeremy Grove- Gerald Grove in the back; Ronald Grove - tail gunner; and Max Wilson - pilot.

The second shows the three Grove generations, all of which have now flown in a B-17, left to right: Jeremy, Ronald, Gerald in Kansas City in 2007 when Jeremy was 21 years of age, after he'd just landed in Don Brooks' "Liberty Belle".

In a letter he wrote to his grandpa after returning from a trip to England with Gerald, Jeremy wrote this poignant letter, which must have become one of Ronald Grove's greatest treasures:

June 2005
Dear Grandpa,

Well, we’re back! It was the trip of a lifetime, Grandpa! Spending a week in Horham, seeing where you were stationed. It was so humbling to realize that some 60 years ago you were standing on the same ground as me at the same age getting ready to take off in a plane not knowing whether or not you would make it back.
I may never know all the feelings you had or realize all the sacrifices that you and your buddies made for people like me, for the future, but it really struck home when I stood on the ground where your plane crashed. You see, I feel like I know you better now. Your experiences there were made very real to me. Now the guy that I remember growing up with, the hero who had fought in the war, the best friend who would let me drive the tractor with him is my hero now, even more so than before; because I’ve been where you’ve been. I feel like I’ve leapt across time and distance and bonded with you in ways that words cannot describe.
Going to the 95th BG reunions have been good because I’ve been able to know more about your friends and understand what happened and heard amazing stories of heroics from all kinds of guys. Going to those places in Europe has done so much for me too, though.
I just thought I would let you know how thankful I am for you and all that you did, and the 95th too, for all that they do. Thank you for letting me be a part of your fantastic world. With all the love from your biggest fan,

Your Grandson.

Thanks for sharing this with me, Gerald and Jeremy. With sons and grandsons like you--the flame will always stay lit and we will never forget...

A Tribute to a Teacher

This is a great album. Get it on Bo's website or from Amazon.

Back in 1976-77, as a senior at suburban Washington D.C.'s Herndon High School, I had the good fortune to have Michael Boran as my Government teacher. Mr. Boran was funny, kind, and an excellent teacher. What's more, he occasionally gave us tiny glimpses at another side of him. On several occasions, he'd pull out his guitar and play us a song as a reward. What was this? A teacher who could also do OTHER things? Unheard of in my brief lifespan. And intriguing. In his younger days, Mr. Boran had been one of the founding members of a folk rock group that evolved into the Mamas and the Papas--one of the seminal folk groups of the early and mid-1960s. Why had he given it up to become a teacher?
Flash forward to 2008. I'm sitting in my night school Government class talking with my students about how, many years ago, my government teacher had also been a musician. This inspires me to track my old teacher down and see what he's up to.

Using Google, this is easier than expected. Mr. Boran is back in the music business and even has his own website: Contact is made through the website, and the end result is I'm back in touch with my old high school teacher, Mr. Boran (who goes by Michael Rand professionally). We traded our creations--my book for his CD. And we each think we got the best of the bargain. On his CD, Bo plays all the instruments and does main and backing vocals. It's an amazing CD by an amazing man. Ironic that Bo quit the group that would go on to make millions so that he could get a more 'stable' job as a high school teacher. As we all know, high school teachers are not in the same pay category as rock stars.
I'm sure glad he did. Thanks, Bo, you were a great teacher and you influenced many kids--including me.

Following is Bo's biography:

George Washington High School, Alexandria, Virginia, Spring 1956 - Recent graduate Willard Scott is launching a career in television that will lead to his becoming America's most beloved weatherman; alumnus John Phillips is dabbling in jazz group-singing, a la The Four Freshman, which will lead to his becoming the founder and leader of The Mamas and The Papas; and sophomore Michael Rand is forming Alexandria's first professional Rock & Roll band, The Spotlighters (At the height of their career, The Spotlighters were knocking down between sixty and eighty bucks per gig!). Michael Rand soon joined forces with John Phillips, Scott McKenzie, and Bill Cleary in a vocal group called The Smoothies. They had released two singles on the Decca label, appeared on Dick Clark's American Bandstand, and were working on an album when they disbanded at the end of 1960. It was the height of "the folk scare". Phillips and McKenzie, along with a startlingly talented five-string banjo picker named Dick Weissman, were enjoying modest success as The Journeymen, recording on Capitol Records. Michael Rand and Tim Rose were struggling along the coffeehouse circuit as Michael and Timothy. Late in 1962, Rand married his high school sweetheart and began to realize that the insecurity of show business was not the best atmosphere in which to raise a family. So he embarked on a career in education, working his way through college and graduate school as an almost successful stand-up comedian. During these years, he opened for Bob Dylan, Josh White, Ian & Sylvia, and many other top folk and folk/rock performers, and emceed concerts by Count Basie and Woody Herman. He performed regularly at Washington's Cellar Door, Showboat Lounge, and The Bayou, and at Baltimore's popular Patches' Fifteen Below.Shortly after the collapse of his marriage in 1973, he received an offer to join The Neons, a band whose roots were in a legendary D.C. honky tonk called Chick Hall's Surf Club. He spent the next decade juggling his career as a teacher of government and political science with weekends spent playing weddings, bar mitzvahs, Moose lodges, and Elks clubs-all the while building, almost single-handedly, MOUNT HOPE, his log-and-stone home deep in the woods of Virginia's Hunt Country.The death of John Phillips in 2001 and of Tim Rose in 2002 gave Michael Rand a now-or-never feeling toward his music. With his colleague and wife, Christine, he installed a recording studio in his home and began to create the collection of unique interpretations of vintage rock and soul songs that make up his debut CD, OLD DOGS.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

New Orleans Continues to Struggle

80% of the homes in New Orleans were flood-damaged when the levees broke.
Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 25, 2005--almost three years ago. I was surfing around on the interesting real estate website, a site that gives aerial view and housing appraisals on most homes in the United States, and decided to take a trip down to New Orleans to see how the housing market was doing. The answer--terrible. 80% of homes in New Orleans suffered flood damage, and the result has been drastically cut home prices in all markets. Here are a few homes that caught my eye.

This 2,000- square-foot home in a once-nice neighborhood will set you back $1,000.

The United States was unprepared for a disaster of this magnitude. Response was slow. The recovery effort was bungled by political appointees with little background in dealing with the situation. Sadly, in 2008, New Orleans still has a long way to go.

Have a little more to spend? This small brick home is selling for $1,100. Sad.

Monday, May 26, 2008

M3 Flak Helmet: Newest Acquisition

I recently purchased an M3 flak helmet used by Army Air Corps flight crews in the skies over Europe in World War Two. This is an early-generation helmet, basically just a standard infantry helmet that has been modified with hinged ear flaps to allow for the fit of headphones underneath. There is also a slight lip to allow the headphones to fit under the helmet. These helmets were used in 1944 primarily. This particular one is in fairly good shape. I put it on a standard Air Corps leather flight helmet, with standard headphones and goggles, and though the helmet is a little tight for this set-up, you get the idea.

This helmet saved the lives of flyers during the war, though it was by no means perfect. It did help against flak and shrapnel, and was usually worn in conjunction with a flak vest. Many men also put flak vests on or under their stations to protect themselves from below.

Honoring those Who Have Fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan

As the Iraq War drags on, it is important to remember the sacrifices of America's men and women who have given their lives in service to their country. Though the war may be unpopular in many circles, the young men and women who fight it are serving honorably and with great courage against an often unseen enemy. I am proud of my many friends who have served two, three, four, and even five tours in Iraq or Afghanistan. Each one has told me that they see progress over there on each successive deployment, something you rarely catch on the news. May our efforts in Iraq bring peace and stability to the region and its people.

God bless those who have paid the ultimate price this Memorial Day.

Thank you Vietnam Veterans on Memorial Day

Vietnam Veterans were not given the kind of welcome they deserved when they returned from the war. Many Americans confused the policies of the US government with the courageous and honorable service of the young men and women who ended up fighting the war.

The Wall at the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial attests to the high price paid by young Americans to preserve freedom in Southeast Asia. On Memorial Day, it is fitting to remember all those who died serving their country in Vietnam.

Thank you. You are appreciated. You are not forgotten. And you are missed.

Thank you Korean War Vets

A lone bugler pays tribute to newly-buried American soldiers killed in Korea.
An American soldier trudges through the cold and snow.
The Korean War Memorial is a fitting tribute to the sacrifices of Americans in Korea.

You are the men and women of the forgotten war, but we will never forget you or your sacrifices. This American salutes you on Memorial Day, and prays for those left behind who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

In Heartfelt Thanks on Memorial Day

The original flag-raising on Iwo Jima, often overlooked by history.
A B-17 Flying Fortress goes down over Europe.
Airborne Rangers get ready to jump into Normandy the day before D-Day.
German POWs assemble graves near the beaches shortly after D-Day.
The British lovingly tend the American cemeteries in England. Truly, they have not forgotten.
Heartfelt thank you to all veterans of the Allied powers who fought in World War Two. Your sacrifices gave us our freedom and saved the world from tyranny. In a day and age when the word 'hero' is used for grown men who hit balls with sticks or throw pigskin in children's games, it is fitting that the word be returned to those who truly deserve the moniker.

I am honored to know so many of our Greatest Generation, many of them veterans. A better group of men rarely walked the earth. They answered the call of duty, served with courage and honor, and returned to build a better world for us all.

Thank you.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

School Year Ends, Writing Projects Begin

Near Malad Pass, not far from the Idaho/Utah border. All the rain has made the land green--for now.

A polygamist compound on the way down to Lagoon, near Tremonton, Utah.Kids on the bus, heading down to Lagoon for the 9th grade trip. We took about 300 kids down for the day on Wednesday.
Yours truly with some of my students, messing around.
My daughter Brianna graduates from high school this week. We're throwing her a party. With her is her boyfriend Patrick.

The school year ended yesterday, my 23rd in the public school system, four years in rural Wyoming and the other 19 here in Idaho Falls. The last week, our 9th grade class took the yearly trip to Lagoon, an amusement park near Salt Lake City. As you can see, it was a cold trip, but fun none the less.

On June 4, I'm flying to England to do research for a book on the 95th Bomb Group. Looking forward to this trip very much, and to seeing my British friends again. I'll spend time in East Anglia, near Horham, where the 95th was stationed during the war, as well as visit the American Cemetery and retrace the steps of the 95th men in London on their rare 24-hour passes. It is a humbling duty, to tell the story of these great men, many of whom I had the opportunity to meet at the 2008 95th Reunion in Tucson, Arizona in April.

Plans also to visit a friend in Scotland for a day or two, and then since I'm already over there, I'll travel over to Ireland for a week or so and travel the country on public transport.

My youngest daughter Brianna graduates from high school this week, and we are surprising her with a party. My wife's family is coming down from Missoula, Montana for the occasion.
Shortly after I return from England, I'll be going to California. It will be a busy and productive summer, and I'll keep readers posted.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Diana Barnato Walker, Acclaimed Pilot, Dies at 90

Diana Barnato Walker set a speed record as a pilot in 1963.

By John F. Burns
Monday, May 12, 2008

LONDON: Diana Barnato Walker, an heiress to a South African diamond mining fortune who took up flying in the 1930s and became a celebrated aviator as one of a group of women who delivered new fighters and bombers to combat squadrons in World War II, died on April 28. She was 90.

Her son, Barney Walker, said that Walker died in a hospital near her sheep farm in Surrey, and that the cause was pneumonia.

Walker, a granddaughter of Barney Barnato, a co-founder of the De Beers mining company in Johannesburg, was 18 years old when she discovered her calling in 1936. Seeking a break from the social whirl of a young debutante in London, she paid £3 for a flying lesson in a Tiger Moth biplane at the Brooklands Motor Racing Circuit and never turned back.

In 1941, after serving as a nursing auxiliary with the British expeditionary force, which had been driven from France by the German invasion the year before, she passed rigorous tests and became a member of what The Times of London described in 2005 as "the pluckiest sisterhood in military history," the women's arm of the Air Transport Auxiliary. Only a little over five feet tall, Walker often needed a special cushion to allow her to reach the controls of the aircraft she flew.

Known as the "Atagirls," the transport auxiliary pilots--108 by the war's end in 1945 -joined more than 500 male pilots in delivering many of the most renowned aircraft of the war to squadrons across Britain. Walker, like the other women in the group, flew Spitfire, Hurricane and Mustang fighters, as well as Wellington and Hampden bombers, though not heavy bombers; only male pilots were judged to have the physical strength to handle those.

Walker alone delivered 260 Spitfires during her four years in uniform, according to wartime records. In one month, September 1944, she delivered 33 aircraft of 14 types. Pilots were often asked to fly in poor weather, without instruments, without combat weaponry and frequently without radios.

A total of 16 women piloting the ferry runs were killed in the war, nearly one in six, a ratio that aviation historians say was worse than that suffered by the Royal Air Force's wartime fighter pilots.

Walker, who survived many brushes with death, wrote in her 1994 autobiography, "Spreading My Wings," that she owed her survival to a "guardian angel." Twice the unarmed planes she was flying came were attacked by German aircraft, and she emerged uninjured.

There were light moments. The incident that amused her most occurred when she tried aerobatic maneuvers in a Spitfire and found herself flying upside down, unable to right the aircraft. "While I was wondering what to do next, from out of my top overall pocket fell my beautifully engraved silver powder compact," she wrote. "It wheeled round and round the bubble canopy like a drunken sailor on a wall of death, then sent all the face powder over everything."

After she managed to right the plane and land, a "very tall and handsome" RAF pilot hopped onto the wing and told her that he and his fellow pilots had been told to expect "a very, very pretty girl" at the controls, but that "all I can see is some ghastly clown."
Born on Jan. 15, 1918, Diana Barnato Walker was the daughter of Woolf Barnato, a London-based financier who, as chairman of the Bentley car company, won the Le Mans 24-hour race in France three times in succession from 1928.

In 1942 she became engaged to a Battle of Britain fighter ace who later died in a Spitfire crash. In 1944, she married another decorated Spitfire pilot, Derek Walker, and flew alongside him, each in a Spitfire, to a honeymoon in Brussels. He was killed in a flying accident six months after the war ended in 1945. She subsequently began a 30-year relationship with Whitney Straight, an American-born graduate of Cambridge University who was a grand prix racing driver in the 1930s and a Battle of Britain fighter ace. Barney Walker, her survivor, is their son.

Diana Walker continued to fly after the war, when she flew her own light aircraft around Britain encouraging young women to take up careers in aviation through an organization known as the Women's Junior Air Corp. She bought the sheep farm in Surrey and became master of the local fox hunt.

In 1963, at the age of 45, she became the first British woman to fly faster than sound when she piloted a two-seat RAF Lightning fighter at a speed of 1,262 miles an hour over the North Sea. That made her, briefly, holder of the world air speed record for women; it was broken in 1964 by Jacqueline Cochran Odlum, one of more than a dozen American women who had flown with the Air Transport Auxiliary during the war.
In 1964, Odlum, flying an F-104G Starfighter, raised the record to 1,429 miles an hour.

Copyright © 2008 The International Herald Tribune

Monday, May 19, 2008

Frank Irgang's Etched in Purple Released

My prized original copy of Etched in Purple, signed by Frank and with one of the original dust jackets he sent me many years ago.
The Potomac edition of Etched in Purple. Before its release, a copy of Etched in Purple ran over $200. There were only 3,000 copies in existence.
Men of the 29th Infantry wade ashore on D-Day. Frank remembers stepping into chest-deep water, surrounded by shells and bullets and the bodies of his comrades.
This drawing from the front cover of the original 1949 edition of Etched in Purple shows a war-weary Frank Irgang pondering the things he's seen since landing on D-Day.

It is with great pleasure that I inform readers that Frank Irgang's classic Etched in Purple has been re-released by Potomac Books. First published in 1949, the book tells of Frank's experiences as a young infantry medic and later rifleman with the 29th Infantry Division as he landed on D-Day on Omaha Beach and fought his way across France and into Germany. This is the most powerful infantry memoir to come out of WWII.

I talked with Frank this evening, and gathered information for a magazine article for a July 4th issue of a magazine honoring veterans here in Idaho. Frank lived for a time in Idaho Falls, and his wife Virginia is from Idaho Falls. The Irgangs now live in San Diego, where Frank is a retired professor at San Diego State.

I am currently reading Etched in Purple for the fifth or sixth time. It is moving. I'm an unemotional person, at least on the surface, but Frank's book moves me to tears in almost every chapter. The story is so horrific, it is amazing that any man could have lived it and gone on to lead such a productive and honorable life. Almost literally Frank's whole unit was killed off several times over from D-Day to the end of the war. Only 22 men from his unit made it to shore on D-Day. The intense bond forged by these young men as they fought for their very lives in the terrifying hedgerows of Normandy so many years ago is one that the rest of us will never be able to understand.

Frank told me this evening that he returned from the war troubled by what he'd seen, and that he suffered from nightmares. Fortunately, his boss at the Idaho Falls furniture store was a World War One veteran who had also suffered from nightmares until he'd written his experiences down. Frank took pen to paper and began writing. The rest is history. The result is the most compelling piece of writing to come out of the US infantryman's experience in Europe in World War Two.

I am more proud of having a small role in getting this powerful memoir republished that I am of any book I could ever write myself. Frank, you are my hero, and I can never express enough my gratefullness for your service and the service of your colleagues, living and dead, to our country and to free Europe from oppression.
To order, and for more literary reviews, go to Potomac's website at :