Sunday, September 28, 2008

My Buddy Len

Len and me this summer at his home in Columbus, Georgia.

Just got off the phone with my good buddy Leonard Herman. Len just turned 92 years old. Every time I talk to him I am struck by the fact that my best friend is 43 years older than me, and how we limit ourselves when we pick our friends based on age or similar life experiences. How often in life do you find someone with whom you feel comfortable enough to let you guard down and truly just be yourself? How many people can you tell you love, and mean it, and not feel silly, because you really mean it and the hell with what people think?

Len, if everybody had one friend as good as you, this world would be a great place.

Read Leonard's memoirs. Click below to order.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

New Photos of Ireland

Found a few more photos taken in Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland when I was over there in June.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Clifford Puckett--Ball Turret Gunner--We Honor You

Handsome young ball turret gunner Clifford Puckett poses next to his ball turret.

I had an email yesterday from Kathleen Herbert, daughter of Clifford Puckett, ball turret gunner on the James Geary crew of 'Betty Boop/Pistol Packin' Mama. It was with great sadness that I found that Mr. Puckett passed away in 2003, but his daughter told me he got a final flight in a B17. The United States Air Force base at Falcan Field in Mesa, Arizona honored Clifford by letting Kathleen's brother take Clifford's ashes on the B-17 "Sentimental Journey" and spread them across the Superstition Mountains. "That was his last journey on a B-17," writes Kathleeen, "We were so proud of him. He was a great dad! On a clear day, we can see that peak from our homes."

If that doesn't get to you, nothing will. Thanks for the email, Kathleen, and I honor the memory of your dad, Clifford Puckett. I regret I never had a chance to meet him. God bless you.

Clifford is also found on the front cover of my book, as a William Phillips painting of his plane is on the cover.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Wonderful Afternoon with a B-17, B-24 and a couple of the Greatest Generation

Les Poitras here again today. Thank you Rob, as always, for allowing me to post in your blog. I KNOW you'll like this one!

Today was a very, very special day for me. The Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom tour has stopped by the Plymouth Municipal Airport in Plymouth, MA., from Sept. 12th - 15th. My family and I had an opportunity to join Maurice Rockett and his wife Grace to see a B-17 and B-24 up close and personal. This was my first such experience.
Maurice was a B-17 bombardier with the 95th bomb group during WWII, lost one of his eyes during combat, received the Distinquished Flying Cross and Purple Heart, among many other medals for his valor. Maurice is one of the heroes to which Rob's book "Untold Valor" is dedicated. I encourage the reader to search Rob's blog for more info about Maurice. Fortunately, Maurice and his wife Grace live but 45 minutes from my home. Rob brought this to my attention at one point and I have since had the privilege of meeting Maurice and Grace on several occasions. What more can I say, but what wonderful people. I am happy to know them! Thanks for the introduction Rob!

We arrived at Plymouth Municipal Airport at about 11:00 AM. Immediately, I was overhwelmed by the presence of three, well kept WWII aircraft that are of the utmost importance in American aviation history. The aircraft and those who manned them are true pioneers of aviation and freedom as America knows to this day. These planes and the young men who flew them know the meaning of the word "fight" in a way that most will never understand.

Here is Maurice just after meeting my wife and kids. Note the two young gentlemen standing behind my wife Sumio eager to say hello to Maurice and ask questions:

Two young men, having their questions answered by a man who knows and understands the meaning of the B-17:

Of course, one of the first features of the B-17 to grab my attention was the ball-turret, as that is the position in which my grandfather served. I could hardly believe how small that space was! How could anyone stay in there for 6 hrs or more at a time, let alone being separate from the crew and shot at! The ball-turret is even smaller and more cramped in real-life than I imagined by looking at photographs:

Maurice's wife Grace arrives at the scene:

Shortly after Maurice and Grace's arrival, Maurice took my daughter Sarah and I on a tour through the B-17. My first impression: "CLAUSTROPHOBIA!" How did 10 men manage to fit inside and control this complex aircraft? Maneuvering inside of it seemed an impossibility and, as Maurice pointed out, try doing so in sub-zero temperatures in full gear! Stepping inside a B-17 has changed my whole perspective on the challenge of WWII aerial combat. Walking through the plane makes it seem even more difficult than what I had ever imagined. Here is a video of Maurice walking Sarah and I through the B-17 (Nine-O-Nine):

Maurice and pilot Frank Tedesco of the 15th Air Force that flew out of Italy strike up a conversation:

Front view of B-17 "Nine-O-Nine":

After touring the B-17, Maurice takes Sumio, the kids and I for a walk through the B-24 "Witchcraft". There is a bit more elbow room in this plane. I had the opportunity to view the position which Dan Culler (written about in this blog, Rob's book and Dan's own book, "Black Hole of Wauwilermoos") manned. More than just the top-turret, however, Dan was responsible for keeping the aircraft running smoothly. From every angle, there seems to be more responsibility on these aircraft than any young man should be required to handle, for such perilous circumstances. Here is a video of a walk-through of the B-24, led by Maurice:

At the end of our tour, I had the opportunity to pose for a photo with my friend and hero, Maurice. We stood in front of the B-24 (in honor of our friend Dan) and I held my grandfather's A-2 jacket to honor him. For as long as I live, I will never forget his, Maurice, Dan's and the many other young men who fought in the air during WWII to preserver our nation's freedom and I will do my best to help others remember. God bless you men for your courage and sacrifice! You are greatly appreciated!

Maurice (lower right) with the three other officers in his original crew in 1943:

Dan Culler (bottom row, 2nd from left) and crew of B-24 "Hell's Kitten" in 1943:

Friday, September 12, 2008

Thank You

It's been a long week. Teaching at the alternative high school is hard work----and I love it.

I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of those who have bought my book over the past few years. Books are not cheap any more, and with the economy being bad, I appreciate it all the more. Some folks assume that writers make a lot of money. I assure you, this one does not, and I appreciate every person who has ever bought the book.

Is 'Untold Valor' the book I wish it were? No. I've grown a lot as a writer since I wrote it. Still, I'm happy with it, because I took the time to find these great men and write down their stories. Half of these guys are no longer with us. So, though the book is far from perfect, it's the best effort one imperfect human being could do honor those who did so much to keep us free in World War Two. Not a day goes by that I do not mourn the loss of men like Gus Mencow, Lee Kessler, Gene Carson, Herb Alf, Lyle Shafer, and more---men that changed me forever with their love, humanity, and courage.

Thanks, readers, for keeping the faith and honoring these great men. If I never made one cent from my book, I'd be a rich man just from knowing these airmen of WWII.

And tonight, I honor you, the reader, as well---from my friends in India and England to those here in the USA. Thank you.

God bless you all.