Veteran’s Day Respect

Military discipline and appreciation for history bored my peers yet intrigued me. If I had had to learn the sanitized version from a book, perhaps it would have bored me as well. As luck would have it, I learned the good, the bad and the ugly from ones who experienced it firsthand.

My grandfather and his friend swapped stories about World War II in graphic detail. Not just the bravado of the battle, they spoke of the suffering, sacrifice and pain of true war. Their tales were of native peoples and foreign soldiers, danger and fear, but most of all the desperation of war.

Compliments of the USAF, then the USAAF

Mechanically savvy, my grandfather was assigned to an aircraft division whose sole assignment was to fly “The Hump” from India into China. The payload was simple: fuel. The airplanes were full as they flew over the mountains into a small airfield in Kumming, China over the Japanese-controlled Burma.

The fuel planes began as a fleet of six Douglas C-47. Twenty-four hours between flights kept the ground troops in fuel. Each plane had a canvas on which they had sewn appliques of camels. One camel gratefully applied for every trip over the hump. The flights were filled with prayers of pleading and gratitude for safety.

The missions were dangerous. The fuel they carried made the plane into a flying missile. Sparks from the air to ground gunner could ignite the plane. Ground to air fire produced an enormous fireball which destroyed all on the ground beneath it and the forest surrounding the crash sites. One plane landed near the center of a small village, killing everyone on the ground as well as the crew.

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In the barracks that night, they discussed the letters they would pen to the wives of their brothers-in-arms as they packed the belongings of their fallen compatriots. They packed other things as well. Cheaply purchased perfume, clothes, jewelry and shoes found their way into the duffle bags. The sale of these smuggled items had provided extra money to send home each month.

When his tour was finished, the canvas was covered with sixty-four camels. He, the pilots, the gunners and the two corporals were gaunt, but smiling, as they knelt before the canvas for once last picture before they flew home. They had a lot of reasons to be proud. They were the only surviving crew.

One by one, the five other planes had been shot from the sky. Some were full. Others were returning empty. Either way, there were no survivors. Of the original seventy-two men who flew to India only twelve would return to the United States without a flag-draped coffin.

My grandfather and his friend would laugh at the antics they had pulled to amuse themselves in the absence of their friends and families. Fondness for their fellow soldiers was the tenor in their voices. Then, a haze would come over their eyes as heavy silence hung between their stories. It was the combination of bravery, sorrow, survivor’s guilt and an emptiness that a world war won would never fill.


Do not forget the sacrifices all veterans have made on your behalf. Our grandchildren deserve to know what happened, so they can prevent it happening again. Talk to the veterans you know and record their stories. Become a small part of history.

To all the veterans of all the wars:
Gratitude and Honor

Happy Veterans’ Day.

© Red Dwyer 2007-2015
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  1. So very true,
    Alas, many a government official need to be constantly reminded.
    Propaganda, the dumbing of the masses, the search for votes, the need to flex military might or political power, the need for a severe distraction from serious issue closer to home, the greedy need to acquire precious resources which over countries contain, the need to remove a head of state who refuses to play the game, the need to suppress people who are growing to large…None of which should be used as justified reasons for war.
    To paraphrase Bruce’s song…War is good for absolutely nothing.
    Our world history, improved understanding and supposedly increased intelligence should be enough for those elected or self-imposed to sit around the negotiating table and work things out..It ‘should be’ enough but sadly…it’s not always.

    Great post Red.
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    • War’s only purpose is to thin the herd so the power structure remains undisturbed. As to the politics, I do not engage liars and thieves with the sole exception to implore them to turn from crime. Power is as much a draw for avarice as money. How enlightened can we become when those who teach history are compromised by exerting the authority of chronicles which are incomplete, erroneous and, as most history is, tainted by the victor or softened so as not to affront tender sensibilities?

  2. Wonderful memories shared with your Grandfather, and yes, so so many needless lives lost to war..

    Soldiers have always been the pawns, and the casualties far exceed the death tolls..

    Great tribute Red..
    Sue <3
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    • Thank you, Sue. Each year I post at least one memorial to the ones who never come home, MIA – POW- KIA. I have added a new one which I also feel is important- PTSD. So many bodies come home with broken spirits. xxx

  3. Wonderful tale, and a worthy testament to them. My own father spent the war on the ground in the Pacific. He never talked of that time with us, and we didn’t ask, for obvious reasons. He ended his time with a bronze star, and a purple heart, the wound for which being the ONLY tale he would tell. His platoon was advancing up a hill to oversee a cliff where the Japanese had a machine gun set up in a cliff opening below the summit they approached. A young idiot (his strongest curse/epithet when applied to anyone) lobbed a grenade ahead, not far enough to clear where my father was; he received some of it through the palm of his hand, for which he got a three week vacation in Hawaii, then, back to the islands…

    For him, it was a time to forget; my mom lost two babies to the stress, dying soon after they were born, while my father was overseas. I can’t conceive of the pain they both felt, though I still sometimes thing of the brother and sister I never knew…. My older brother was born, premature at 7 months, only 4 lbs, but, survived in 1947; he’s always had a funny look in his eye, but, he’s grown into himself, finally….

    I also feel compelled to mention he would be appalled at the situations our government now places our service men and women in; none since Korea have been either Constitutional, or morally justifiable, and he would NOT approve. But that’s for another time and place. I’m just glad he passed to me the love of country he felt, which gives me the desire to see it put right.

    Remember the sacrifice, and just as importantly, remember the freedom for which they fought to give us.

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    • I have been hearing quite a few lately tell me how they have encountered those who lived with the ones who chose to forget. Whilst I entirely understand the stance, it saddens me. xxx

  4. I remember this post from before, but it is still a compelling story.
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  5. Dear Red,
    Your words make me cry. Thank you for this.

    Gail xoxox

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