Stalag Luft 6 and 4 Notebook – “A Good Pilot”

(Posted: July 6, 2011)

 

 

Who would have ever thought after all these years that I would be able to find my father’s pilot, 2nd Lt. Lawrence Cook?  As it ended up, I was so fortunate and it was just by chance that I found his daughter, Laurel, and called her and found that her father was alive and well.  She told him about me and asked if he would mind speaking with me.  He was more than happy to share his memories of my father and their missions together. 

I could not believe that finally I found someone who knew my father in his role as a ball turret gunner – someone who knew him during the lifetime that I was seeking.  Lawrence was so forthcoming with information.  I was drawing memories from him that had been stored away for decades.  It couldn’t have been more special when I asked him what he remembered about my dad.  They trained together briefly but he remembered him as a “prince of a fellow”.  They were together for training in Nebraska where their crew picture was taken and in Ephrata, Washington.  Their flight to England, the home of the “Mighty Eighth” was not as a crew.  They, however, were reunited in England.  Lawrence flew his first flight with another crew as Co-pilot.  This was a common practice to break the pilots in before soloing.  He explained some of the unsettling events that transpired during his flights that as ball turret gunner my father more than likely witnessed from his position on the aircraft. 

I found out that Lawrence didn’t talk about his experience as a B-17 pilot to his family.  He had put it behind him until I came into the picture.  He opened up and explained that he had harbored guilt all these years because he found out after liberation when he met one of the crew members that he had not been the last to bail out of the plane.  He was the last in the front and thought he was the last of the entire crew.  He had called my father out of the ball turret to make sure he could get his parachute on.  The interphones had been shot out and he was afraid dad wouldn’t get the word.  He couldn’t say positively whether the bail out bell was sounded or not.  He said he had tested it earlier to make sure it worked but in the confusion due to the lack of oxygen he could not say positively exactly what transpired.  Things happened so quickly. 

I was saddened to think that this man who was a hero to me – this person who most certainly saved my father’s life – was ashamed for 60 years to talk about his role as a pilot.  He did all that he could looking out for the welfare of his crew and the proof of that is in the fact that they all made it out of the aircraft.  There was one fatality.  The navigator, Donald Caylor, had been hit in the plane, parachuted out, but sadly died a few days later in a German Hospital.  Donald was the first to jump, then I believe Emmett Bell, bombardier; John Booth, Top Turret Gunner; Robert Bangs, Co-Pilot; and Lawrence.  I can’t be sure about the order in the back of the plane but Thomas Mikulka, Tail Gunner; Milo Blakely, right waist gunner; John Alexander, Left Waist Gunner; Jay Joyce, Radio Operator; and my dad, John Kyler, Ball Turret Gunner, all landed around the same area. 

If nothing else, I am in hopes that I have released Lawrence from his needless guilt and I believe that I have because he began to freely talk about his missions.  He is so humble.  He didn’t look at himself as a hero and I enjoyed every opportunity to reiterate my feelings about his heroism.  If it wasn’t for his action in calling my father to don his parachute things may have been very different.  I would not be writing this. If they had lost electricity, as Lawrence was afraid may happen, my father wouldn’t have been able to get out of the ball turret and he would have gone down with the plane.  Lawrence had to make the snap decision and judge whether he thought the plane would make it back to England or not.  It would involve quick thinking under extreme duress and had he not given the word to bail out they may all have gone down with the plane.

I sent this poem that my father wrote to his “Good Pilot” Cook.  I wanted him to see that he was obviously admired by my father, his ball turret gunner.  When dad wrote this poem he would have been basing it on his experience and the only pilot that he flew missions with was Pilot Cook.  This is one of the poems that is definitely written by my father as it is also in Jay Joyce’s notebook as “by John R. Kyler”.  The line “to him his crew’s welfare is foremost in his mind” says something about my dad’s respect for his pilot.  This I would think would release any doubts that Lawrence had about himself in his role on the crew.  He was the cream of the crop and remains so today.  He has led a remarkable life and has been a major contributor to society.  As he ages, of course, his capacity becomes more limited but he continues to be a positive influence to those around him in the way that he has lived his life. 

 I found him to be one of the kindest and most giving people that you could ever meet.  I called him my father # 2 and I was his daughter # 3.  He has 2 daughters.   I treasure the special relationship that we developed and if my father could only have been here, how grand that it would have been to listen to the two fellow crew mates talk about their time together.  Over 60 years later I hold Lawrence Cook in the highest regard just as my father did then.  I appreciate my relationship with him just knowing that he knew my father during the lifetime that I am pursuing.  My dear friend, Lawrence, may well be the only person that I will find after all these years that knew my dad and can remember him.  I’ve thanked him many times for the concern that he showed for my father during an unimaginable emergency situation that no one could have been prepared for.  How brave and talented he was in assuming the responsibilities of the pilot position after witnessing many tragic events and knowing full well the tragedies that could and did happen.

I haven’t talked to my wonderful friend in quite some time.  I’ve learned from his daughter that his health is failing which includes confusion.  I am so happy that I found him when I did.  I treasure the conversations that we shared and I will never forget them.  The last time that we talked, I sensed that it would be the last time.  He told me that he was slipping and he told me how glad that he was that we met and I expressed the same sentiments.  I think that we both realized that it wasn’t likely that we would be having the conversations that we had so enjoyed.  I am grateful for the times that we talked and especially for our meeting.

 My father very adequately expressed his views of “A Good Pilot” bearing witness to the deportment of his own pilot, 2nd Lt. Lawrence Cook.

4 responses to “Stalag Luft 6 and 4 Notebook – “A Good Pilot””

  1. Freja says:

    @ admin – great job!

  2. Marnie Neale says:

    Love it. Thanks for the great post.

  3. I love it, i can’t wait for some more, I hope you can post again soon!

  4. What a magnificent post. Thnx for discussing this opinions.

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