Saturday, May 30, 2009

Photos of a Special Event: Two WWII Medal of Honor Winners

My friend Michael Joyce sent me a great post today. Here it is:

"I had the Honor of attending the Chief Petty Officers Association of the Capital District, and the USS Slater DE 766 event here in Albany, New York. Congratulations to Chief Aviation Ordinanceman John William Finn 100 Years Young and welcome Fellow Medal of Honor Recipient Francis S. Currey. I have attached photos of this Historic event. It made me feel proud that day to be in their presence! Your Friend - Michael Joyce

Welcome Aboard to John William Finn
Francis Currey & John William Finn Cut his Birthday Cake

Chief Aviation Ordinanceman 1944 – John William Finn John William Finn 2009
Sergeant Francis S. Currey Dec. 1944 Francis S. Currey 2009

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Memorial Day I'll Never Forget

Memorial Day, 1969, is one holiday I'll never forget, but not because it was good.I was a fourth grader, as was my best friend David. We were walking to school the day before the Memorial Day holiday when we got the idea to play hookie from school. One of our little sidekicks who was in kindergarten was walking with us and he got sucked into the vortex as well.It was a typical northern Virginia day, hot, humid and filled with insects.
My dad commuted to Washington, DC each day on the Metrobus for his job at the Navy Building in DC, where the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is now. My mom was a stay-at-home mom and was busy taking care of my new baby brother, who was barely one year old. Would anyone ever notice if I took the day off from school? I doubted it. I didn't particularly care for school by this time, and the prospect of doing something kind of naughty really appealed to me.In an instant, the three of us decided to head for the woods rather than go to school. We'd spend the day playing, hiding out, telling stories and having a generally good time for a few hours, then go home with no one any the wiser.
The woods in Virginia is much the same as a jungle in Vietnam, full of deciduous trees,vines, creepers, bushes, prickers, ferns, poison ivy, copperheads, stinging insects, ticks, quicksand, ants, termites, horseflies, poison sumac, gnats and other forms of life both uncomfortable and unpleasant, and it took a while to find a suitable spot for our camp. We finally found a small clearing surrounded by brambles within earshot of the highway, and settled down to enjoy a day of freedom. But once we got settled, we discovered that we didn't have many good stories or jokes, and that the gnats, snakes and ticks seemed to be sensing our presence and joining our party by the thousands. If you've never lived in Virginia, you cannot appreciate the utter misery of having several hundred gnats buzzing around your eyes trying to drink out of your tear ducts. Ticks in the trees, equipped with heat sensors, were jumping down into our hair from above, and burrowing into our scalps.
After what seemed like three or four hours, we sent the kindergardener home, as he only had a half day of school. We found out later that he arrived home, dirty and with sticks in his hair, about ten-thirty in the morning, the first of many critical errors involving the passage of time we were to make that day. David and I had one brown paper bag lunch to share between the two of us. When it felt like lunch time, we ate it, but it didn't fill our bellies and we decided we needed to find more food. In those days, you could buy a lot for a buck, and we had about thirty-five cents, so we decided to sneak into town and get some food. Though I insisted on taking a wooded route for stealth, David simply walked along the shoulder of the highway.
About this time, my mom was driving down the highway with my little brother, and she remarked to herself that it was strange that David was walking down the side of the highway, filthy dirty, in the middle of school day. About this time I fell in the creek. Not only did I get soaked, but I got covered with good ol' Virginia mud that has a smell very much like cow manure. Both of us were covered with bloody scratches from the pricker bushes we had to push through in our bushwhacking. We had leaves and sticks in our hair and even down inside our clothing.
We knew of a couple of high school boys in our neighborhood who never went to school. They were generally wild and out-of-control juvenile delinquents, so we decided to go visit them, since we knew they would not rat us out. They opened the door, laughed at us, and stuck us in the basement of their house. They gave each of us a carton of the parents' cigarettes and told us we couldn't come out till we'd smoked 'em all. David and I quickly turned green and then a lighter shade of pale as our small bodies succumbed to nicotine poisoning. How we kept from throwing up I'll never know. Finally, we smoked the cartons and bid our wonderful new friends the sadists goodbye.
When I walked into the house, I tried to act as nonchalant as possible. My mom took one look at me and somehow instantly knew I had been up to no good. "Why do you have sticks in your hair? Why are you covered with mud? Why do you smell like cigarette smoke? Why are your clothes ripped?" I told her I'd tripped and fallen on the playground. She didn't buy it. She called the school and talked to my teacher. When she came back, my stomach was in knots and my bowels had turned to jelly. "She says David was also absent today," said my mom. "And I remember seeing David walking down the side of the highway in the middle of the day." I stuck to my story for a few more minutes until I could tell it was hopeless. Also, my dad would be home soon and he was the guy who administered the spankings. My dad's spankings could be quite painful, and they were usually followed by what he called "constructive training", which was his way of saying lots of chores. I cracked and told her everything.
Needless to say, I was whipped, tongue-lashed, and given some work to do. But nothing my family could do was half as bad as playing hookie. And to this day, I have never done it again.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

More Information on the Cover Art of my Book

Clifford Puckett poses next to his ball turret in this U.S. Army Air Corps photo. Clifford was Kathy Puckett Herbert's father, and Kathy emailed me today with more information about the William Phillips painting on the cover of my book Untold Valor.

I received an email today from Kathy Puckett Herbert, whose late father, Clifford Puckett, was a gunner on the B-17 'Betty Boop/The Pistol Packin' Mama', the 390th Bomb Group B-17 that graces the cover of my book 'Untold Valor'. Kathy and I have been in touch for some time, but she gave me information about the painting that I never knew before, so I'm sharing it with blog readers. Her message follows:

"This was taken from an actual photo. My dad is on the plane during this mission. He is the Turret gunner. All of us (his children) were given a print (signed by four remaining crew members) to hang in our homes. The picture is absolutely gorgeous! My brother, I believe has this original photo. Thank you Rob for using this for the cover of your book!. William Phillips is a great Artist! Best wishes to you all, Kathy"

I had no idea that the painting by Bill Phillips was from a photo. I am very sad that I never got to meet Clifford Puckett the way I was able to meet Gus Mencow the navigator. And I had only brief conversations with pilot James Geary and gunner Shirl Hoffman. Gus and James are no longer with us, but as far as I know Shirl is.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Story of a Painting

I was instantly mesmerized by this beautiful painting by Bill Phillips. Not only are the P-47s and the B-17 Pistol Packin' Mama presented in realistic detail, but the ethereal background, with the sun's rays reaching from behing the clouds to reflect off the English Channel, shows the work of a man who loves not only planes, but all the elements of the earth as well. Note the White Cliffs of Dover in the distance, and how one of the plane's engines has been feathered. Bill's painting as it appears on my book. The painting has been turned into a wrap-around, with the left-hand side extending across the spine and onto the back of the book.

Anyone who has read my book knows that William Phillips' amazing painting 'When Prayers are Answered" is the cover art of the book. The story behind how this painting became the cover art is really pretty interesting.

In 2002, I flew to Boston to visit several men who flew B-17 bombers over Europe in World War Two. I was completely unknown in the field, had zero books to my credit, but the two vets, Gus Mencow and Maurice Rockett, graciously accepted me into their homes and shared their stories with me. While I was staying at the home of Gus Mencow in Worcester, Massachusetts, Gus showed me a print he'd framed and hung in a place of honor in his home. It was William Phillips' 'When Prayers are Answered' and it showed Gus's B-17 "Betty Boop/The Pistol Packin' Mama" coming home to the white cliffs of Dover after a mission. I immediately thought that the painting would be the ideal cover for my book.

Back in Idaho, I contacted the artist, William Phillips. Bill is one of the world's top aviation artists. His paintings sell for thousands, and his prints sell in the high hundreds. Coincidentally, Bill lived in the same town as my parents in Oregon. I told Bill I would love to use his painting, but that I would not be able to pay him very much. Bill graciously wrote back that as long as I sent him a signed copy of the book, he would let me use the painting for free. Remember, this was at a time when I had never published a book. It was strictly out of the goodness of his heart.

Well, the book has gone on to have four pressings to date, selling around 8,000 copies, and Bill's art has been on every one of the books. I think the art on the cover of a book is a big part of getting someone to pick up and consider buying the book, so I give lots of credit to Bill Phillips for his kindness many years ago. Bill, by the way, was the artist on a series of stamps released by the United States Postal Service a few years back--a series that was so successful that it sold out in a few months and is now highly collectible.

One of the best-selling postal releases in recent years, this series by William Phillips celebrated advances in American aviation.

The print of "When Prayers are Answered", signed by the crew, including Gus Mencow, sells these days for at least $600, but someday, I will have one hanging in a place of honor in my home, just like Gus Mencow did back so many years ago.

Gus is no longer on this earth, but his memory will never die as long as I'm around.

Knee Not Blown, Training Progessing

Starting point. Summit is top left.Ending point.

Thanks to those who have already donated to my run up Teton Pass on D-Day to raise funds for my late friend Leonard Herman's headstone. I went to the doctor Thursday and found there was no serious damage. Training continues. All I may need is a shot of cortisone the day before the run.

If you would like to donate, please email me.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Possible Blown Knee will NOT prevent Teton Pass Run on D-Day

Lyle Shafer, 390th BG B-17 pilot and former POW at Stalag Luft I, Barth, and I finish the run together, with the WWII Memorial Banner. June 6, 2002. I am confident that a painful knee injury today will not prevent me doing the Pass this year on June 6. Lyle passed away in early 2005, and was one of the greatest men I ever knew. This year, I honor another WWII hero--Leonard Herman.

I took a long run back during Spring Break in early April--a run that included some serious hill-climbing. When I got home, I noticed that my tendon/muscle/ligament on the outside of my left knee was sore and stiff. It almost felt like the outside of my knee was going into full cramp mode, but with just a hint of something more serious going on. The next time I ran, it was worse, but I have a high pain threshhold and worked through it. I use the Galloway running method, which means that every eight minutes, I walk for one and a half to let me muscles and joints recover. This has extended my running career, which by all accounts should be over. Now 50, I have had three knee surgeries since 1991, two on my right knee and one on my left knee. The main culprit behind most of the knee problems is a car wreck in '91, but considering I've been running since age 18, it is also likely that the body just ain't what it used to be.

I have kept running in the ensuing month, most of it in pain, but I've noticed that the pain never gets above a certain level, and that the knee seems to recover overnight to the point where I can run the next day with no more pain than the day before. If I was not training for the Teton Pass, I'd take some time off, but it all hangs on making that Pass on June 6--just a little over a month from today.

Today, I ran out to Iona, a round-trip of roughly 8.5 miles. There was more pain than usual, but I finished up, stretched, and went inside. An hour later, when I attempted to walk, I found I could not lift the leg off the floor. Pain was nearly unbearable. I'm writing this propped up on some pillows with ice, and more certain than ever to make that run on June 6, no matter what.

I do ask for your prayers as I try to keep in condition for the run. Remember, the funds will go to pay for my late friend's tombstone on his grave. This World War Two hero passed away in October and there is no money to honor him with a stone. Please consider contacting me and donating to honor Leonard Herman. Even a dollar or two would help, if enough people did so.
God bless and pray that my old bones don't rebel too much.

By the way, this will be the fourth time I've run the Pass, so I know I can do it. Be part of the dream, friends. Please consider donating to the fund. Email me through this site for information. Every penny earned goes towards the stone. Visit this link for more information: