Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Lt. Col. (RET) Bob Brocklehurst

Lt. Col (RET) Robert (Bob) Brocklehurst, is one of the last remaining WWll Aleutian Island pilots at nearly 98 years young.  I met Bob a few years ago when his barber (my client) connected us.  He has not been able to get rid of me since!  What a blessing Bob has been to me and to my daughter.   Most of my life I grew up with people blessed in years and I learned the most valuable lessons from them.  My daughter gets to experience that in Bob.  He is an inspiration and we are so proud to call him our friend.

Robert “Bob” Brocklehurst began his 28 years of military service months before the United States entered World War II. Interested in becoming a pilot, he became a cadet in the Army Air Corps in February 1941 and completed his training in the fall of that year. In the weeks following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Brocklehurst and 23 other pilots and their P-40s were deployed north to Alaska.

Brocklehurst, was attached to the 11th Fighter Squadron and lead by Col. John “Jack” Chennault , son of infamous Claire Chennault, in their P-40’s when they landed in Fairbanks, March of 1942.  He was soon transferred to the 18th Fighter Squadron, which also flew P-36s. The squadron eventually moved west to Kodiak in defense of US Naval Base.

In addition to worrying about a Japanese attack, the pilots also had to contend with Williwaws; blizzards with hurricane force winds,  zero visibility, sketchy navigational aids and poor communication. 

Brocklehurst flew out to Umnak to reinforce the island in June of 1942, just before the Japanese struck Dutch Harbor, Alaska from the air  on two consecutive days.  Within a week the Japanese then landed and occupied the American island of Attu, killing one and taking over 40 civilian prisoners, and Kiska, where they captured the 12 man crew of a small US weather reporting station. 

After the attack Brocklehurst was ordered back to Anchorage to form a new unit, the 344th Fighter Squadron, flying P-40’s and was appointed squadron commander after successfully leading a formation of 12 Warhawks through horrendous weather to land safely on Adak. He took his new squadron all  600 miles west along the Aleutian chain where he earned the distinction of being the first fighter pilot to land on the island of Attu just days after it was liberated in June of 1943.

This May, Bob returned to Anchorage with several of his fellow veterans of the Aleutian Campaign to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Attu and the end of the war in Alaska.  And this July, Bob will join us in a 2018 EAA Oshkosh Warbird in Review segment featuring the fliers of WWll's Aleutian Campaign.

Bob’s Air Force career had him flying eighteen different aircraft including: P-36, P-38, P-39, P-40, P-47, P-51, F-86 and a T-33 with stints in Alaska- twice, Okinawa, Camp Springs Army Airfield (Andrews) twice, Steward Air Force Base and lastly the Pentagon 

In 2016 Bob got the chance to fly one of his old Warbirds again, thanks to the Collings Foundation and Brian Norris.  The flight ended up making national news but more importantly ignited a ripple of memories he is still riding.   As the newscaster says, this may be the best thing you watch all day.   Thank you Bob for your service then and for your friendship now. 

For Bob's full flight- visit Once A Pilot, Always A Pilot.

Monday, June 4, 2018

WWII Japanese Guns (120cm) on Kiska Island, Alaska

And just like that another year has zipped along right before my eyes only proving once again the old cliche 'Where does the time go?' is actually still a valid question.   It seems like it was only a few months ago that I was aboard the Puk Uk rubbing my tired throbbing feet after having just returned from one of our long tundra hikes through some of the most forgotten about battle sites in all of WWll; the Aleutian Islands. 

This year has been busy with different Aleutian related projects: WWll Visitor Center remodel in Dutch Harbor, Canada wide RCAF in the Aleutians museum exhibit, EAA Oshkosh Airshow Warbirds In Review Aleutian Campaign segment, RCAF commemorative hike in Unalaska, CAF- Alaska Wing and their RCAF Goldilocks revival, and the big event of the year- 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Attu held just two weeks ago in Anchorage (more on that, on a later day...)  No wonder I have not had time to write!!

Nine Aleutian Island Veterans made the trip to Anchorage to Commemorate Attu75.

In preparation for this year's trip beginning THIS Saturday, yikes, I thought I would post this teaser.  It is just a minuscule fraction of what we see while hiking on Kiska Island where the Japanese Imperial Navy had their largest garrison during WWll's Aleutian Campaign at roughly 5000 soldiers, all of which, under a veil of the oh so common- Aleutian fog, quietly boarded a Japanese troop carrier that had secretly made it's way into the Harbor right under the noses of US Navy.  The ship safely made it's way back to Japan leaving the island with nothing but bad memories.  This evacuation was not officially discovered until a combined Canadian/US force of 35,000 troops, code named Operation Cottage,  landed on the Island on August 15th, 1943 and found nothing but empty gun positions and well build Japanese bunkers.  Even then, on a now unoccupied island, over 300 Allied soldiers died either by confused in the fog friendly fire or booby traps left by the Japanese.

In the video, we were walking around the North Head of the island where the Japanese big guns are located, four 120cm dual purpose guns all guarding the west side of Kiska Harbor which really is the perfect vantage point for any one trying defend Kiska Harbor against a land invasion. 

It is such a privilege and honor to be able to co-lead this expedition and share with people the uniqueness of this campaign and the stories of those who served.  Our next trip is scheduled for 2020!  Make sure you are on it! 

Monday, November 13, 2017

For The Love Of Flying!

One of the areas I worked diligently on during the planning of the Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Bombing of Dutch Harbor and Aleut Evacuation in Unalaska (Dutch Harbor) this past June, was making sure we had some period planes attend the event.   For the first eleven months, the Aleutian campaign took place primarily by air in some of the most dangerous flying conditions in the world.  It was important for the airmen and the planes that they flew, to be represented.   I may be stating the obvious by saying that I could possibly be slightly biased but that really is a fact, these planes serve to be an important living history item at any event and people truly love seeing these old birds!  Just take a look at Richard... he just got off the Harvard! 

Richard,  Unalaska resident.

With the help of PenAir, Alaska Airlines, APIA (Aleutian Pribilof Island Association), Alaska Humanities Forum and numerous other community sponsors, we were able to bring the CAF (Commemorative Air Force) Alaska Wing’s Harvard Mk lV (AT-6) and a privately owned 1942 Grumman Goose to Unalaska for the community to enjoy.  And enjoy they did!  Those planes had line ups the entire weekend flying gleeful community members well into each night and far exceeding anyone’s expectations of their participation.    

Happy Goose fliers on the left and on the far right
Goose owner, John Pletcher & pilot Burke Mees beside him. 
They touched down at the Tom Madsen airport around 10:30pm completing their long nine hour flight from Anchorage.   We, along with around 20 other community members who had heard the undeniable sound of their radial engines flying overhead, came out to the airfield to welcome them.  This was a big deal for the community.  It was the first time that the Commemorative Air Force had ever traveled to Dutch Harbor. That alone is a big feat.  The trip from Anchorage is no ordinary journey, even now with all the modern technologies, and it involved some serious risks. The flight path which was drawn out by local Goose legend and Alaska Airlines pilot Burke Mees, was similar to that which my grandfather and his squadron followed on their way to Umnak, July of 1942.   The breathtaking route is over remote unforgiving mountainous terrain with the last leg mostly over the equally unforgiving water.  Couple that with rapidly changing weather, very few emergency landing strips, old aircraft and... enough said, you get the picture- it's risky.  And even though the CAF pilots are all experienced commercial airline pilots familiar with Alaskan skies, this was still some uncharted territory for them in these 75 year aircaft.  To say it was a beautiful sight to see those war birds flying in formation over the Unalaska skies is an large understatement… Sigh.   Oh the memories…

From that point on, those guys did not stop flying with wait times reaching three hours at one point! You know, there is something quite special about seeing the wonderment on the faces of those witnessing the magic of aviation, eyes as big as gumballs, or maybe those were mine….  anyways, I see it time and time again at airshows.  There is something so special about a warbird.  It has a story to tell. I guess that is why I enjoy them so much.   I want to hear their story. 

Headed home.  
Photo credit: Toby Harriman & the CAF Alaska Wing

The eagles have landed in Dutch Harbor. 

Aleutian terrain.

Just another road sign in an aviation community.

The Harvard, the Canadian or British name for an AT-6, was a two seat trainer aircraft used by all branches of military to prepare their pilots for flying the more advanced fighters like a P-51 Mustang or P-40 Warhawk.  The Canadian squadron had them in Alaska and used them to check out new pilots who had come up to join the squadron and also according their squadron diary, used them for transport of squadron members to different bases.  111 (F) veteran, LAC Harold Cross,  told me a great story about how they used them for a target training exercise.  While stationed in Pat Bay (Victoria Airport)just before deployment to the Aleutians, the LAC's (Leading Aircraftmen) would take the back seat loaded with barrels filled with aluminum dust stacked six high on their laps. One by one, they would throw them over the side of the plane into the water. The pilots and their P-40's would then use the floating barrels as target practice.  A cloud of dust indicated a direct hitWe actually found Harold's name as the second pilot (back seat) in my grandfather's flight log book during one of these exercises!  

Date        Aircraft  No.   1st Pilot   2nd Pilot     Duty      Time
42-Apr 29   Harvard  3332    Self      LAC Cross  Drop Target   :35  

My grandfather P/O R.W. Lynch, RCAF and his Harvard, 1941.

Me and the CAF Alaska Wing Harvard in Dutch Harbor, June 2017

The Grumman Goose is a twin engine amphibious plane that started out as a luxurious eight seat flying commuter plane.  Come war time, it morphed into the ideal U.S. military transport plane and ended up serving with many other air forces including the RAF and RCAF. It was ideally suited for commuting around Alaska and continues to be well known around the Dutch Harbor area. In fact, Burke used to fly the Goose in Unalaska right up until 2012.   

Credit Jack Lindsay, City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 1184-1561T  
RCAF 440 (T) Sqd- Maj. Muckosky & David Shears with 
Goose owner John Pletcher & pilot Burke Mees, Dutch Harbor 2017

Aside from warbird rides for the community, the aircraft also teamed up for some formation flying during our fly overs with WWll Aleutian veteran pilot Lt. Col (RET) Bob Brocklehurst in the right seat!  To some of you, this name may sound familiar, this is the same young man who just flew the TF-51 Mustang in Florida this past February!  Talk about an inspiration.  Bob turned 97 in July. 

Our Co-pilot, WWll Aleutian Island veteran pilot,  Lt. Col (RET) Bob Brocklehurst.

Formation flying is the bomb! 
 View from the Goose during the fly over.

If you want to see some video of footage of all things aviation, including the water landing in the Goose (oh baby, was that awesome..) during the 75th, you can check out the eight minute montage I created.    


And most importantly, if you enjoy warbirds then joining the CAF (Commemorative Air Force) is a great way to keep the legacies of these airmen and the planes they flew alive!  They are the ultimate living museum and they endeavor to keep at least one of every type of warbird flying so that the lessons of what these planes represent will always be remembered. They have local chapters (Wings) all over the country with dedicated and passionate volunteers who could use your support.  Being part of the CAF is one of the best things I have done in the last few years!    Click on the link to find the wing nearest to you, tell them I sent you!