8th Air Force

38th Annual 8th Air Force Reunion

(Posted: October 10, 2012)

I have recently attended my 3rd 8th Air Force Reunion, October 3 – 7, 2012.  As in the past, it is an honor to be among heroes.  My only regret is that there is not time during the busy days to visit with every one of them to learn their story.  Many of them did graciously record their Oral History while in attendance.  There are so many stories that it can be overwhelming and impossible to listen to all.  All I can hope is that they all realize how much that we appreciate their sacrifice.  I’m adding a picture of the approximately 50 Veterans from our group of about 260 attendees.  How grand to be graced with the presence of so many!

Veterans of the 8th AF

My Father belonged to the 92nd Bomb Group; however, I have joined the 96th Bomb Group as well as the 92nd.  Following is a photo of the Veterans attending from the 96th Bomb Group:

96th Bomb Group  Veterans – October 5, 2012

I have to mention my experience in B-17 “Sentimental Journey.”  I didn’t plan to ride as I’ve ridden in the B-17s “Fuddy Duddy” and “Liberty Belle.”  I, however, could not pass up the opportunity.  It seemed that it was “meant to be”, to ride in a bomber named so fittingly.  I remember years ago, when my Dad was still alive and we were listening to music from the WWII era, he mentioned ”when I die, I’d like this song played at my funeral.”  The song that was playing was “Sentimental Journey.”  Dad died so suddenly;  we were all in shock.  In the haze of his passing, I never remembered this wish until I was writing my book and it hit me like a ton of bricks!  How could I forget such an important request!  I’ve always regretted this oversight but in my own defense, planning my Father’s funeral was something I never chose to think about.  I never thought of him not being here.  Consequently, I knew this ride would be something special for me!  It could not have been more meaningful for more reasons than one!  Dad had flown 4 missions but only received credit for 3 because the first was recalled due to bad weather over the target.  This was my 3rd ride so you can see why it was significant to me in more ways than one.

It was also wonderful to fly as a “crew” with people whom I have become acquainted with through the 8th Air Force Reunions.  The only way it could have been better is if I was with Dad.  It is a daughter’s dream!  But the next best thing was to witness the Toombs family riding with their Dad.  I could feel their emotions along with the sentimental feelings that overcame Laura Edge and me as we sat in the waist area of the bomber.  Laura’s Dad had flown missions as Waist Gunner and I was seated very near Dad’s position, the Ball Turret.  I thought of him in that confined space beneath the plane.  I could imagine him climbing into his position, without his parachute due to the cramped quarters.  He depended on the waist gunners to manually crank the turret should they lose power.  It was a most memorable flight with an unforgettable crew!  Following is a photo of Laura and me with our photos of our Dads in our books which rode with us on this memorable flight!  I am certain that our Fathers were with us in spirit on our “Sentimental Journey” as we remembered and revisited their past.

Laura’s excellent book “On The Wings of Dawn” was just recently published in August!

I participated in every tour that was available.  I had never been to San Antonio and didn’t know if I would ever return so I wanted to take in as much of the sightseeing as I could.  Anyone who I told that I was visiting there mentioned the Riverwalk and the Alamo.  They were two of the must sees.  We also visited the Buckhorn Museum.  That is an amazing place and appropriately named.  I never saw so many antlers.  I took a million pictures to try to capture everything but it is impossible.  There are so many different animals on display.  I think my favorite picture is of my friend, Merton Thurston, standing among the “Texas Rangers.”  I love it!  He looks like he fits right in, doesn’t he!!

Merton Thurston with “Texas Rangers”

Another highlight of the reunion was the opportunity to attend a Basic Training Graduation ceremony at Lackland Air Force Base.   What memories this had to stir in our Veterans who began their service in the same way so many years ago.  I thought of how proud the families and friends of these young men and women must be.  I felt a great sense of pride in them, as well as those on whose shoulders they stand!  As always, I think of my Father at that age and how he went through gunnery and technical school training.  I know he would have excelled.  I’m sure during those days that the families didn’t make it to their graduations.  They were prepared so quickly to move on to the positions that they were called to fill.  In those days, I assume that it was impossible for most to travel to attend the graduation ceremonies of their loved ones.  I guess I’m basing that on my Dad’s family, who anxiously awaited word of where their son and brother was and at what stage of training he reached realizing full well that soon he would be sent abroad.  The families could, however, talk proudly of their loved ones when the community read the notice of their graduation in their local newspaper!  I know I’ve mentioned this before but it is a fitting time to interject once again how Dad graduated with the highest average in his flight of 95 per cent!  That was no surprise to me knowing my Father!

Lackland Air Force Base Graduation Ceremony

Our featured speaker on Thursday evening  was a person who I greatly admire, George Ciampa.  The role he played during WWII was different than that of any of the Veterans who I’ve been fortunate enough to talk with along the way.   It was an honor for me to finally meet George.  I became acquainted with him when I read an article about his dedication to educating the younger generations concerning critical events in WWII and responded.  The article was in the American Legion magazine.  He has produced 3 enlightening and stirring DVDs that can be found on his web site “Let Freedom Ring For All.  http://www.letfreedomringforall.org/.  George poignantly spoke about the recent documentary, his 4th,  that he has been immersed in which should be completed in January.  His current endeavor addresses another facet of the War that many may not be aware of.  He just recently returned from Belgium where he interviewed individuals who have adopted and care for the graves of the many “liberators” who lost their lives during WWII.  It is amazing the respect and care that is exhibited in the steadfast upkeep of the graves of the lost heroes.  The documentaries that George has relentlessly made his mission to produce are excellent tools in educating our school children about the price of freedom; something that should never be forgotten.

George is an incredibly unselfish veteran having served with the 607th Graves Registration Company.  He has experienced firsthand the high cost of freedom.  He explained that thousands of fallen soldiers who are buried at Omaha Beach were first buried in temporary cemeteries by his company.  It is difficult to imagine this young man and the memories that would linger from the duties that his assignment entailed; all of the faces that he would never forget.  I’m sure this is why George has devoted so much of his life to keeping the memory alive.  As he emotionally stated in his talk, every one of those white crosses in the cemeteries represents a young man’s face; a young man who gave his life for our liberty.

Thank you, George Ciampa, for your service and your caring efforts then and now!

George Ciampa and Donald Casey (Author of “To Fight for my Country, Sir”)

Sgt. Joseph A. Leo

(Posted: July 8, 2012)

I met Joe Leo at my first Air Force Association meeting several years ago.  I was a new member and Joe was giving the program.  I was most interested to meet the former B-17 waist gunner.  He had flown for the 8th Air Force and that, of course, caught my eye.  It was a great first meeting for me and we formed an immediate friendship.  The ”we” I mention is Joe, his wife Betty, and myself.  From that meeting on, I would attend every one that it was possible for me to attend.  It’s a great group of Air Force supporters and, obviously, you don’t have to have served to be a member.  My Dad was in the Army Air Corps so the group is special to me.  The membership is comprised of all ages whether you join as someone who’s served in the Air Force or as a friend or just have the interest.  The magazine that you receive as an Air Force Association member is worth the yearly membership fee alone.  I look forward to the meetings with this special group and new members are always welcome.

Now that I’ve introduced you to and given the background on how I met my friend, Joe Leo, I want to share the following information that he wrote to me on July 19, 2007.  Since I met him, he has graciously provided information that was helpful to me in my journey to learn about my Dad and WWII.  I read this e-mail and the volumes of information that it contains still awes me. . . . . .

Joe entitled the e-mail ”The Soldier’s Lot:”

I remember as a 19-year-old “kid” over Germany, that I did not want to be there and I thought: “I  am sure those below wish I weren’t here also.  Those that will suffer by my presence must fight back for self preservation – in a war they did not start – those who are not in danger, safely resting in a bunker in Berlin started the war and millions were killed by their mistake.”

I have discussed the war from both sides with my German friend and he tells me of the privations of the citizenry and soldiers, lack of clothing – supplies of all kind, and being constantly tired from frequent moves and always hungry.  Clothing was scarce, even for the military and always dirty with it being impossible to wash.

Hitler refused to end the war and insisted the military – and civilians – fight to the death.  My friend tells me that young girls were operating the anti-aircraft guns toward the end of the war, with men doing the loading, girls aiming and firing.  On the ground battlefront soldiers as young as 14 were being captured by the infantry.  Germany was destitute at the end of the war and General Eisenhower’s greatest fear was that starvation would come.  Priority was given to sending food to Germany.  I was on a mission to drop food to the Dutch and this was before the surrender – the Germans were still in occupation of that country and we dropped on an airfield.  We had to have all guns stowed, landing gear down and bomb bay doors full open.  I remember I went in to the bomb bay and pushed the sacks of rations out.  The Dutch wrote in large letters “Thank You Boys” on the field.  This is recorded on a picture in our 490th Group history book.

Dictators must be brutal to maintain their continuation.  It is not human nature to accept complete domination so dictators must exact a complete control and be ruthless in administration.  This was true of the Japanese as the military controlled the government and taught their soldiers and sailors that there could be no surrender.  Defenders of Iwo Jimo were advised by their commanders back in Japan that their plight was hopeless and all that could be accomplished was to take as many Marines as possible before being killed.

There were reports of German civilians killing airmen and we were taught the colors of the different military units and to try to surrender to specific uniform colors, especially the blue uniform of the Luftwaffe.  I thought, “oh yeah, I am going to try and run to find a blue uniform when I would be fully observed floating down from 25,000 feet!!”  We were issued 45 caliber pistols.  That brought on another thought; “the whole Allied Army was struggling to enter Germany and I, with one pistol, was expected to fight my way out!!!”

At the  Air Force Association meeting last month, Joe brought some photos that were taken at his Bomb Group reunion last year.  He had duplicates and kindly shared a few with me.  The reunion was in Georgia and a visit to the 8th Air Force Museum was included in the agenda of events.  I remember Joe telling me that his crew is remembered at the Museum on a plaque in the Memorial Garden.  The plaque was purchased years ago and during his visit he was able to finally see it in person!!

                                                                                               

 

Joe also took a photo of a picture that was hanging in the Museum – a print that was very appropriate and meaningful to him as a participant in the food drops that he described in “The Soldier’s Lot.”  The food drop missions were named “Operation Chowhound” and took place May 1 – 8, 1945 . . . . . . . .

The following is a copy of a page from Joe’s 490th Bomb Group History Book . . . . . .

 

The print in the middle of the page reads “Formation over Schipol airfield, where thousands upon thousands of food boxes and sacks covered the ground.

In a field next to the dropping zone the Dutch spelled out this simple, heart-warming message, ‘THANK YOU BOYS.’”

 

Wife of A WWII Veteran

(Posted: May 29, 2011)

This is a statement that I’ve read written by the wife of a WWII Veteran 50 years after he returned home. I believe that it tells volumes . . . . . .

“I married a kind, affectionate young man. I did not marry a soldier. The next day he got his draft papers. Four weeks later he was gone. Three years later the Air Force sent home a basket case. A bundle of nerves. He has been fighting the war ever since. I am ready for the war to end. I want my kind, caring, affectionate husband back.”

Oscar “Mick” Wagelie – B-24 Ball Turret Gunner

(Posted: May 15, 2011)

I only knew Mick Wagelie through our correspondence but we were great pen pals!!  His WWII experience was very similar to my father’s and thousands of others.  My friend is no longer with us and I will never have the opportunity to meet him in person but I can honor his memory by posting “The Story” that he wrote so many years ago and graciously shared with me.  Perhaps he knew deep down that one day I would tell it for him.  He’s another one of “My Heroes” who I’m proud to have become acquainted with and pleased to be able remember with you in his most detailed writing of his WWII experiences.  Please read “The Story” of ”Mick” Wagelie . . . . . . .

S/Sgt. George Meshko

(Posted: May 8, 2011)

George is an example of how young our boys were when they were flying into enemy territory with skies filled with black bursts of flak and German fighter planes!  I’ve mentioned the gloomy statistics of the Eighth Air Force air crewmen.  Just think about it and if you ever get a chance to walk inside one of the few remaining flyable B-17s, it gives you a sense of the close quarters and with imagination you can visualize what it must have been like manning your position for hours at a time well aware of what your chances were of returning from the mission at hand; or put another way what your chances were of not returning from the mission at hand.

92nd Bomb Group Monument-Podington, England

(Posted: May 2, 2011)

The inscription across the top of the Monument at the former 92nd Bombardment Group reads “We will always remember “Fames Favoured Few”. Also inscribed are these words: “In memory of those brave airmen and support groups who gave their lives and who served during World War II for the liberation of Europe. The group flew 308 missions, 274 from Podington Airfield.” The memorial was dedicated July 3, 1999. My Father served in the 407th Bomb Squadron of the 92nd Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force in Podington, England. I’m certain that he would be proud and honored to know that his group is remembered. I know that I am!