Posts tagged with: air force

bud daySenator John McCain called Colonel George “Bud” Day, “The bravest man I ever knew.” Day (1925 -2013) was a veteran of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. A Medal of Honor recipient, Day was shot down in his F-100 Super Sabre over North Vietnam in August of 1967. Ejected from his jet and severely injured, he continued to be a thorn in the side of the North Vietnamese for the remainder of the war. Tortured ruthlessly for information, he was a leader of the organized American resistance in the Hanoi Hilton Prison.

His heroic exploits are chronicled in American Patriot: The Life and Wars of Colonel Bud Day. For an in-depth look at the kind of dangerous missions Day flew for the Air Force in Vietnam, check out Bury Us Upside Down: The Misty Pilots and the Secret Battle for the Ho Chi Minh Trail by Rick Newman and Don Shepperd. (more…)

For our air superiority, which by the end of 1944 was to become air supremacy, full tribute must be paid to the United States Eighth Air Force. – Winston S. Churchill

The young pilots and crews that took to the skies to defend democracy and liberate a continent are among the most committed and courageous to ever serve this country. When the United States entered the war, it was the greatest Air Armada to ever be assembled. However, most pilots and crews before their training had never flown before. Many of them came from small towns and farms. They were extremely bright and well educated. Most importantly deep courage was needed for early missions that resulted in an 80 percent casualty rate for the crews of the Mighty Eighth in the early stages of the war. Their commitment to a free Europe was tested by horrific experiences and mental and physical anguish. There were no foxholes in the skies, nowhere to hide, only the duty to carry out the mission and deliver the bombs amid a sky littered with enemy fighters and flak. “Perhaps at no other time in the history of warfare has there been been such a relationship among fighting men as existed with the combat crews of heavy bombardment aircraft,” says Starr Smith, former Eighth Air Force intelligence officer.

The British, who abandoned daytime bombing in World War II because of the extremely high casualties, saw their American ally step in so that Germany and its war machine would be bombed virtually around the clock. Donald L. Miller sums up just how dangerous the air war over Europe was in his book Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany,

In October 1943, fewer than one out of four Eighth Air Force crew members could expect to complete his tour of duty: twenty-five combat missions. The statistics were discomforting. Two-thirds of the men could expect to die in combat or be captured by the enemy. And 17 percent would either be wounded seriously, suffer a disabling mental breakdown, or die in a violent air accident over English soil. Only 14 percent of fliers assigned to Major Egan’s Bomb Group when it arrived in England in May 1943 made it to their twenty-fifth mission. By the end of the war, the Eighth Air Force would have more fatal casulaties -26,000- than the entire United States Marine Corps. Seventy-seven percent of the Americans who flew against the Reich before D-Day would wind up as casualties.

Below is a tribute video of The Mighty Eighth and links to past Veterans Day posts:

Veterans Day Review: As You Were

Veterans Day: E.B. Sledge and The Old Breed

Veterans Day: Remember Bataan & Corregidor

When I first went to work for former Mississippi Congressmen Gene Taylor, I was going through a file cabinet and spotted a thick folder with the name “J.C. Wheat.” I sat down and read through it. J.C. was the father of Marine Lance Corporal Roy Mitchell Wheat. The folder contained all the things Congressman Taylor had done in helping to pay tribute to J.C.’s son. A Naval ship was christened in Roy Wheat’s name in 2003.

I felt a little guilty for not knowing much about Roy Wheat after I found out what he did. He was killed in Vietnam in August of 1967. A portion of his Medal of Honor citation reads:

Shouting a warning to his comrades, L/Cpl. Wheat in a valiant act of heroism hurled himself upon the mine, absorbing the tremendous impact of the explosion with his body. The inspirational personal heroism and extraordinary valor of his unselfish action saved his fellow Marines from certain injury and possible death, reflected great credit upon himself, and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Wheat and his family have a story. I remember seeing an old haunting photo of his parents at his Medal of Honor ceremony from 1968, stoically posed, but obviously wracked by grief. I remember reading an article that talked about how his mother, a devout Christian, prayed for his safe return from Vietnam. Wheat, who was from the small community of Moselle, Miss., was like a lot of country boys across America. He was God-fearing, loved to hunt, and dreamed of one day owning his own cattle farm.

The Virtual Wall helps to tell the stories of the men and women who died in Vietnam. Many daughters and sons write heart breaking notes wrapped in tribute and grief to fathers they never knew or barely remember. Often, they plead for men who served with their father to reach out to them so they can learn something new about their dad. Like the monument in Washington it supplements, the Virtual Wall testifies to the cost of war.

There are more than 58,000 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington. Other names include John Geoghegan, a great representative of the courage of the men who fought in the Ia Drang Valley in 1965. Geoghegan was killed trying to rush to the aid of one of his men, Willie Godbolt. Godbolt’s name is next to Goeghegan’s. Casualties on the wall are listed chronologically. The story of the men of the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Ia Drang is superbly depicted in the book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young. A popular movie based on the book was released in 2002.

This Memorial Day we might also remember the courageous but tragic stories of the men who took to the dangerous skies over Vietnam. Men like Harley Hall, Earl Hopper, Jr., Michael Blassie, and Lance Sijan. They all have stories that are made visible by the Virtual Wall. Sijan, who was brutally tortured by his captors as a prisoner of war, died still plotting his escape while in an emaciated condition. Defiant to the end, Sijan is a symbol of the very best of American values, resistance, and courage. His life and sacrifice is immortalized in the excellent book Into The Mouth Of The Cat: The Story Of Lance Sijan, Hero Of Vietnam.

John Wheat, who is Roy’s youngest brother, was quoted in a news story a few years back saying how important it was to recognize Roy as a hero. But he wanted people to remember the cost. Holding back tears, his brother declared:

When you see a man there that’s 19 years old, and you can look in the casket and his shoes are at the end of it. And his pants legs is neatly rolled up. It’s, that’s when you realize what war is.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr. is remembered fondly by American aviators who defended and sacrificed for this nation in World War II to the present day. He is remembered for his touching poem High Flight, which he penned in 1941.

Magee was born to an American father and British mother in Shanghai, China in 1922. His parents were Christian missionaries in the country. Well educated in China, England, and the United States, Magee received a scholarship to Yale University, where his father was then serving as a chaplain. With the outbreak of World War II, and the British Isles under German threat, Magee postponed college and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. The United States had not yet entered the war, and hundreds of Americans served as combat aviators with the Canadian Air Force.

Magee received his pilot wings in June of 1941. He served in the defense of the British homeland against the Luftwaffe. In August of 1941, Magee was test flying the new Spitfire MK I at high altitude. The inspiration of the flight led him to write High Flight, which came to him in the sky, and he completed the poem on paper soon after landing.

He sent a copy to his parents, and his father reprinted it in church publications. Sadly, Magee died just a few months later in a mid-air collision with another airplane in December of 1941. An English farmer said he saw Magee struggle to open the canopy, and was finally able to bail out, but by then he was too low to the ground for his parachute to open. Magee was only 19 years old.

The poem would however continue to gain praise as the war continued. The Library of Congress featured the work in an exhibit titled ‘Faith and Freedom’ in 1942, and it was published in the New York Times. Also, several biographies were written about Magee as the popularity of the poem skyrocketed.

It is a poem that is loved and cherished by many aviators everywhere, especially those who have defended this nation in the sky. Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy memorize the poem. American pilots shot down and tortured in North Vietnamese prison camps during that war drew inspiration from Magee’s words. Lines from the poem are quoted on the headstones of many military pilots buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

It gained still further fame when President Ronald Reagan quoted the first and last lines of the poem in his moving words of tribute to the American astronauts who perished in the Challenger Space Shuttle tragedy in 1986. “The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God,” Reagan said.

Dedicated to those who have given their life in defense of the nation, High Flight is printed in its entirety below:

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Colonel Robinson Risner 1973 – Retired as Brigadier General in 1976

“I want to show that the smartest and the bravest rely on their faith in God and our way of life,” was Robinson Risner’s answer to why he wrote The Passing of the Night: My Seven Years as a Prisoner of the North Vietnamese. 2008 marks the 35th anniversary of the release of American prisoners of war from North Vietnam and the publication of Risner’s often horrific but ultimately triumphant account.

Many books written by and about American military prisoners during the Vietnam War focus on the deep Christian faith of many of these captives. Their prayers and cries to God depict desperate circumstances, but also a sustaining and unwavering faith in the face of horrendous torture and cruelty. Risner’s account expresses a beautifully simple faith. By simple I mean he absolutely believed in the power of prayer and for God to give him strength to endure his dark trial. He notes in his book:

To make it, I prayed by the hour. It was automatic, almost subconscious. I did not ask God to take me out of it. I prayed he would give me strength to endure it. When it would get so bad that I did not think I could stand it, I would ask God to ease it and somehow I would make it. He kept me.

Finally, though, the pain and aching increased to where I did not think I could stand it any longer. One day I prayed, ‘Lord, I have to some relief from this pain.’ I quoted the Biblical verse that He would hear us and that we would never be called upon to take more than we could bear.

Risner was shot down twice over North Vietnam. He was captured the second time in September of 1965 and taken to the Hanoi Hilton. As a senior ranking officer Risner was marked for additional torture and solitary confinement while in prison. Eventually he would spend a number of years in solitary confinement.

Risner was also featured on a Time Magazine Cover in April of 1965 as an American pilot serving in Vietnam. Risner’s picture on the cover of Time undoubtedly contributed to his abuse and the resolve of the North Vietnamese to break his spirit and beliefs. The North Vietnamese felt he was a celebrity figure in America, and breaking him would lessen the resolve of others who looked to him for leadership. Senator John McCain, the most well known prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton, credited Robinson Risner as one of the leaders who helped sustain him and that Risner would always be a hero to him.

Risner and other senior officers orchestrated a campaign of resistance to limit and sabotage the use of military prisoners for propaganda purposes and to maintain a military posture and morale all despite continued torture. Risner showed his resolve after spending 32 days in stocks attached to his bed, and forced to lie in his own waste. When he was brought to his first torture session his arms were bound and his shoulders were pulled out of his sockets. Then his feet were hoisted up behind him, and his ribs were separated. Risner tried to slam his head against the cement in order to knock himself out because the pain was so unbearable. Risner describes the pain as incredibly horrific and the screams were so deep and vicious he did not think they were his own.

He discusses a time when he was in stocks for so long he had to get out and by prayer he says he was able to unlock them. Another time he prayed for the annoying prison speaker to stop its incessant noise and it ceased. Risner’s book is full of fascinating stories and the will of so many American fighters to always resist in whatever way they could. He talks about the importance of communication, the tap code, and how it saved lives.

Risner was especially adroit at showing little emotion when the North Vietnamese tried a carrot and stick approach. In fact, when American prisoners finally felt like they were going to leave for real after being informed, they showed no emotion. They would not give their captors the satisfaction. (more…)