Veteran’s Day Respect

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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.

Join.

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.


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30 Comments

  1. beautiful tribute to the men (and women) who wore and wear the uniform.
    Bearman recently posted..Retro Cartoon: Recycled Campaign PromisesMy Profile

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    • As I look back, I wish there were more I could recall. I only remember a handful. By the time I was about seven (end of Viet’nam), they stopped talking about it altogether.

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  2. Those were horrible odds, but it’s good that your grandfather survived.

    The best tribute we could pay the veterans is to never be stupid enough to fight another war.
    Binky recently posted..Identity TheftMy Profile

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  3. Thank you Red. That was wonderful.
    C. Brown recently posted..A Simple ThingMy Profile

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    • Thank you for stopping by, Colleen. I hate war for reasons many will never understand. I just want everyone to appreciate what these men and women go through for our freedoms. xxx

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  4. Thank you Red.

    These stories must never be forgotten…

    Love and hugs always!

    Prenin.
    prenin recently posted..Sunday – A trip to the Co-Op.My Profile

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  5. Your grandfather would be humbled by your tribute, Red, and proud of your sentiments toward all veterans. On his deathbed, my father told the grandchildren all the details of his covert missions in the Korean War, all of which he had kept private during his entire lifetime. It was the most honored parting gift.
    Gail Thornton recently posted..Poem – Anaphoric RideMy Profile

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    • My grandfather was a very humble man in the first place. He would have been righteously proud; yet, he was not prideful. It is a legacy I wish children could get when they are young to appreciate. Daddy served in Korea. It is not something about which he speaks much.

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  6. Beautifully written, Red…
    I can’t even imagine…
    and I hope we never forget.

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    • The silence between them was always palpable. It is very difficult to imagine. Thank you, Robert.

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  7. For all the horrors of the wars we continually fight there are heroes. We honor them, but not enough. Were we to truly honor their great and devastating sacrifice for our freedom, we would stop fighting wars, each more horrible than the last.

    Thanks for this one Red.
    Valentine Logar recently posted..Alligator TailsMy Profile

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    • I want the only heroes to be parents. Ever. With a twisted sense of normalcy, you are welcome. Why do I hate this so? Why does this feel like I told you so?

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  8. Vivid and compelling. Captures the human stuggle and the private nightmares. The camels and antics were a necessary part of keeping soldiers’ sanity. God bless our miliary men, current as well as past. I detest war and what it bestows on its people, but credit must be given to those brave enough to fight for the freedoms of their nations.
    Tess Kann recently posted..Flash in the Pan – WakeMy Profile

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    • I was just thinking about you. I hope your meter is filling up nicely. I, too, detest what war does to all of us. I am so very glad to see you tonight, Tess. xxx

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  9. Red, this is wonderful. Really well written.
    Noeleen recently posted..An education in Australian slang : Fighting shit with shitMy Profile

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