Monday, May 30, 2005

Return Of The Team

We went camping in Capitol Reef National Park this weekend. Most of Utah, give or take, took the opportunity to get out and welcome summer via bike, fourwheeler, and hiking boot, too.

The three day weekend made it possible for me to spend a few hours with the patriarch of an extended family we have known since our first years in Utah. Jack is the father of one of our neighbors, and he has been a regular guest at our Fourth of July driveway Dutch Oven Epics and Pioneer Day Potluckapaloozas.

Jack lost his wife of more than fifty years a few months ago. The family is strong in faith - and spirit - and though they miss mom, they honor her memory by carrying her with them when they go the places she loved. Places like Capitol Reef. This was our third trip down with them.

Camping and a holiday. It's nice we've ordered our calendar so well, isn't it?

The holiday we celebrate this particular weekend is Memorial Day. Jack's a vet - a former Liberator driver who finished his last mission days before VE day. Surrounded by his kids, inlaws, grandkids, and friends he shared a few stories about his war.

He was proud of the fact that his aircraft never aborted a mission. He was even prouder that they always came back with the most fuel of any of their group - they did their flying "by the numbers" and it worked. And he was most grateful that on his thirty-plus missions, neither he nor anyone else on their aircraft got so much as a scratch from flak or fighters. That's not to say they didn't bring back the bird shot all to hell, or that they didn't make some trips back with one engine feathered and the others running in the red - but they always came back whole.

War takes people at random. Jack did his job when called, and has lived a full and happy life since. He did his duty as best he could, as have millions of other Americans who put on uniforms when the call came.

Go read this story about the 491st Bomb Group's experience over a German synthetic oil refinery in November, 1944.

I'll be back later. And yes, I'll tell you what Jack had to say about that mission, too.

I am humbled, and grateful, for the people that God has chosen to include in my life.

Thanks, vets, and those who went out but never came home.

We remember.

UPDATE: 31 May 2300 -

Jack told me about that mission as an afterthought. He didn't fly it.

Jack's crew had been granted a three day pass. The R&R was supposed to soften the blow of completeing "X" missions only to be informed upon return that the combat tour had been extended to "X plus fifteen more"...

They'd spent the days down around Cambridge, where the fighter types hung out. He recalled those three days as the most enjoyable liberty he spent in England.

When they returned to their base they found the Nissen hut that they shared with their other squadron mates swept clean. There were no pinups on the walls, the mattresses had been folded, and the footlockers at the foot of each set of bunks was bare.

Jack's crew was from the top squadron - the 853rd. They flew to Misburg on just another mission, and nobody came back. If you read the story, you saw that some aircrew that survived being shot down were subsequently killed by German civilians.

Jack said he could understand that. He'd be pretty angry if people had bombed Palo Alto, see?

He's going on a road trip this summer. There are two other remaining crew members, and they aren't getting any younger. He's going to see them both before the fall comes. They may even pile into his motor home and take a few weeks on the road together.

They'll be three old guys in an aluminum box chugging over the asphalt to anybody that might see them - but I bet that the flight engineer will be hounding Jack to coast the hills to save fuel, and the tail gunner napping in back will keep one eye open for cops.

Thank you, Jack. And the 853d. And all the rest.

No comments: