Monday, May 27, 2019

Freedom Isn't Free.

Memorial Day is for remembering those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms- their lives.   As I am preparing for another trip to Alaska in honor of those who served there, I am remembering those pilots in my grandfather's squadron, RCAF 111 (F) and some in No. 14 (F), who did not make it back to their families when the war was over.  
So as you are sleeping in, jumping in that pool or firing up that grill, stop and take a moment to remember those who made these luxuries possible. It IS because of the brave that we have these liberties. Freedom isn't free.  It is the most expensive thing of all. It costs lives.  Let's give it the respect it deserves. 

Happy Memorial Day.

Note: after the Aleutian Campaign both squadrons were sent overseas and re-designated:  111(F) Squadron to 440 FB (fighter bomber) and 14 (F) to 442 (F).  Both played active roles in preparation for the allied invasion of Europe and remained there until the war ended in 1945. 

F/O Leslie Ashburner,  23, St. Catherines, ONT
F/S Gordon Baird, 22, Shoal Lake, MB

S/L Kenneth Boomer DFC, AAM,  22, Vancouver, B.C.

F/O William Campbell, 22, Vancouver B. C
Sgt. Richard Christy, 19, Victoria, B.C.
F/O George Costello, 21, Stonewall, MB (second to last)

F/O Frank Crowley, 23, Brockville, ONT (second from the left)

F/O John Dewar, 21, London, ONT
F/L James Doak, 31, Cowansville, P.Q.
F/O Ronald Doidge, 20, Windsor, ONT
F/L Ian Dowling, 35, Brandford, ONT
F/L Odin Eskil, 27, Iron Mountain, MI
F/L Stanley Garside, 24, Edmonton, ALBA (standing center, dark life jacket)

F/L Jim Gohl AAM, 24, Roland, MB

F/L Clifford Hicks, 22, Crediton, ONT

F/L Arthur Jared, 27, Lansing, MI
S/L John Kerwin, 24, Belleview, ONT

F/S "Pop" Frank Lennon, 24, Clifton, NJ (first hammock)

F/O John Lippert, 22, Kitchner, ONT
F/S Stan Maxmen, 20, Moosejaw, SASK
F/O Ed Merkely, 25, St. Vital, MB (on the right)

F/L George Millar, 22, Winnipeg, MB

F/O William Peacock, 24, Noranda, P.Q.

S/L William Pentland, 27, Calgary, ALBT
Sgt. Charles Pierce, 25, Port Rowan, ONT
F/L Arnold Roseland, 22, Calgary, ALBT
F/O George Schwalm, 23, Tottenham, ONT (standing)

F/O Frank Skelly, 24, Kirkland Lake, ONT (second from the left)

Sgt. Doug Stapleton, 20, Hamiliton ONT
P/O Donald Sterling, 20, Ottawa, ONT
F/O Nicholus Stusiak, 24, Vancouver, B.C. (center with life jacket)

F/L Dufferin Wakling, 23, Brantford, ONT
P/O Dean Whiteside, 24, Waterville, KS

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Different Side Of History

"Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything."

Napoleon Hill - 1883-1970 - Author

I recently traveled to Anchorage to do some long awaited research in John Cloe's old archive room at Joint Base Elmendrof/ Fort Richardson.  I was warmly greeted by a couple of his replacements, both like John, having arrived in Alaska from the southern regions of the United States.  One of them was able to recount all kinds of fantastic historical events in a series of successive stories that rolled smoothly out of his mouth like a walking American history encyclopedia.  Something I am always in awe of- how they remember so many facts and tactical details so easily.   Afterwards,  I began to reflect on how my interpretive delivery method of military history differs.  John, the previous 11th Air Force's Military Historian for 20 plus years, God love him, was the most thorough individual.  He knew the stuff he knew well.  His newest book Mission To The Kurils, which was the follow up to Aleutian Warriors, was a big one.    Reminiscent of my 10th grade history text book.  

In my writing, I try to blend the dry facts, thoroughly verified as John drilled into me "Make sure you have the facts correct," with the human side of war.  Because ultimately, war is about people.  Heck, everything is about people.  And what I think lacks in much of the literature out there is an emotional connection to the individuals who pay the price for our continued modern day comforts.  That is the gap I try to close with the work I do.  At the end of the day, every single one of us is human and relating to each other and seeing how we are more alike then different is what will aid in the elimination of conflict going forward.   Isn't that the ultimate goal of wars in the first place?  To somehow find a more permanent peace?

Sweet Allan is now 103 and still going strong! In this video he shares what it was like being faced with his first combat experience and his realization of what it all means in the end.

This year, one of my colleagues who is soon to take over the position of Historian for the  RCAF has initiated the process of me becoming an official Royal Canadian Air Force Associate Historian, for which I am extremely humbled.  It is hard for me to consider myself a historian especially when standing next to someone like the John Cloe's or Peter Coffman's of the world who have spent years in school studying and/or also in service but I suppose I am in my own right.  

Although the reason why I started this history filled blog journey may be different than those that study and act as military historians for a living, the work I do is equally as important and without a doubt, just as relevant. My work focuses specifically on a particular segment of WWII, a piece of the war often overlooked by most supposedly 'in the know' people.   It is this lack of awareness and recognition that deeply drives my desire to tell the forgotten story of my Grandfather and those he served with.  My mission is personal and for the 144, 000 troops who were stationed in this remote and isolated area, it means the world and clearly validates the need for my efforts.   

Nine surviving Aleutian Island veterans at the Attu75 Commemoration in Anchorage.  May 2018
BACK ROW (L-R): Allan Seroll (Signal Corps), Bob Hinsdale (USN), Joe Sasser (Army- 50th Combat Engineers), Paul Shaughency (Army), Bill Green (Seabees), Bob Brocklehurst (Pilot-Army Air Corps), Roy Dover (Co F, 50th Combat Engineers)   FRONT (L-R): Clint Goodwin (Co B, 807th Combat Engineers), Gerry Rusello (USN Pilot)
Sadly, we have already lost Bob Brocklehust and Clint Goodwin since this photo was taken.

I definitely miss John Cloe's guidance but I know he had faith in what I was doing.   As we were preparing the 75th Anniversary of the bombing of Dutch Harbor planning Committee, I had asked John if he wanted to be part of our group.  And his reply- "No Karen. You can cover for me."  was all I needed.  With that I knew I had his approval of the work I was doing and before he passed, I vowed to him that I would continue on with his legacy. John spent at least the last 25 years dedicated to Military History in Alaska. He was a legend.  You can read more about John here

As for me, take me or leave me- I am not going anywhere.  My mission will continue on and it will do so keeping these fine fellas in mind.   And so I write...

Members of 111(F) Squadrons. RCAF enjoying some downtime on Umnak after their rotation on Amchitka where they actively participated in missions over the Japanese occupied island of Kiska.  
BACK ROW (L-R):  P/O Ed Merkley, WO1 Joseph McLeod, P/O Delbert English, P/O Hal Gooding DFC AAM,  P/O Bill Peacock, P/O Alfred Harrison, P/O George Millar, P/O Jim Gohl. 
 FRONT ROW (L-R):  F/L John Clarke, P/O Frank Crowley, P/O Campbell  DFC, P/O Billy Weeks DFC, P/O Bill Williams, F/S Delaney, W/C David Ramsey (driving), P/O Frank Skelly, and an unidentified airmen.
**P/O Campbell,DFC, P/O Crowley, P/O Gohl, P/O Peacock, P/O Merkely, P/O Millar and P/O Skelly did not survive the war and were killed over Europe.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Blue Skies And Tail Winds Bob Brocklehurst

When this project of passion began nearly seven years ago, I could not have imagined the lengths at which this endeavor would reach.  Although there have been numerous highlights, and I mean numerous- many of which have yet to make an appearance on this site,  my friendship with WWII Aleutian Island P-40 pilot Lt. Col (RET) Bob Brocklehurst has to be at the top. 

I am not sure what the odds are of meeting the last living Aleutian Island P-40 pilot just fifteen minutes from where I live by way of a client who, at the age of 85, is still cutting hair at the old timers barber shop five minutes from where I work and who just so happen to cut Bob's hair one day,  but they have to be in the range of 'winning the lotto' proportions.  This jackpot reunion between Bob and I would lead to a non stop host of adventures that neither one of us could have foreseen.  Funny how life does that.  There are no accidents, even at the age of 96.

Our first meeting.

Truth be told, I am not sure who was more excited- Bob or myself.  He thought he was going to bore me with his war time stories.   Little did he know what he was getting himself into.   I showed up at his house with all my grandfather's memorabilia in tow and ready to record every word that came out of his mouth.  From that point on the journey began and we never looked back.   Bob's contribution to the the Aleutian Campaign research effort was immense.  Through Bob I was able to get a better understanding of what my grandfather and his comrades were up against when flying in the Aleutians, what life was like being stationed in such a remote place and the challenges they faced day to day.  He became the voice and face of those airmen who are no longer with us.  And because of Bob's stories, I was able to connect faces and names to the literature I was researching creating an even stronger personal element to my work.  Here are just a few examples of the extraordinary connections that we discovered along the way.

In April 1943 while stationed at Fort Glenn on Umnak,  an RCAF Kittyhawk flown by P/O Thomlinson with No. 14 Squadron crashed killing the young pilot.  Bob, also stationed at Fort Glenn at that time with AAF's 344th squadron,  was the one who walked up the airstrip and found the Canadian airman.

RCAF airman P/O Thomlinson.  He is buried at Fort Richardson National Cemetery in Anchorage.

Bob also tells a story about his 41-G classmates, F/L Bacon, F/L Dunn and F/L Crisp and how they became the brunt of the joke at roll call (Bacon Dunn Crisp... ).  This was one of the first stories he told me actually and it was just recently while researching the RCAF squadron diaries during the time they were stationed at Fort Glenn and flying joint patrols with the 11th Pursuit Squadron, that I, low and behold,  discovered the names of both Lt. Bacon and Crisp as part of the days personnel on patrol with the Canadians- and with my grandfather I might add, who was also part of the days rotation!

We flew six patrols this morning.  Lt. Bacon who substituted for P/O Gooding,  flew with S/L Boomer.  At noon W/C McGregor, P/O Orr, P/O English arrived from Elmendorf Field after spending the night at Cold Bay. bringing three P-40 K1's with them. Incidentally, a fair quantity of mail also arrived.  They also brought with them socks for the officers and men, games and playing cards.  These were donated by the American Red Cross and were greatly appreciated.  This is the first time in the history of a squadron that a donation of any kind has been received.  We take off our hats to the good ladies of the American Red Cross.  In the evening,  Major Ashkins' volleyball team defeated our sextet two games to three before a huge crowd of spectators.  Flying time today totaled 13:05 hours. 

Royal Canadian Air Force Squadron Diary

But best of all, is an entertaining recollection from his early days when he was with the 11th Pursuit Squadron in Oregon just before heading to Alaska.  It was early 1942 and the day's flight path was Portland to Medford, Oregon.  Bob somehow got lost and ended up landing his P-40 on a cub sized field in Grant's Pass, Oregon instead.  By the time he got to the hanger area, what looked like, the entire town was gathered around to welcome him.  He telephoned his supervisor, Major Al Aiken,  who drove over the next day to fly the P-40 out of there while Bob, much to his dismay, was sent to the back seat of the staff car.  Fast forward five months to the Aleutians- it is September 25th, 1942, the Americans and Canadians take off from Adak on their first joint offensive over Kiska Island and actually, the first P-40 escorted bomber mission of the campaign.   My grandfather is one of the Canadians flying that day.  As they approach, four zero's come up to meet them and one is hot on the tail of an American P-40 over Kiska Harbor.  RCAF Squadron Leader, Kenneth Boomer sees it, flies up underneath him and let's him have it.  The Japanese plane goes down and the American plane makes it home.  The pilot of that American ship.... was none other than Major Al Aiken.

Canadian artist, Rich Thistle paints his version of the battle over Kiska Harbor

THESE are the things I will miss about Bob.  The stories. The ability to call him up on a dime and ask him things or to share with him the latest discovery.  Research is research but it means so much more when you can connect it personally.

Most importantly though, above all of Bob's irreplaceable contributions to the Aleutian Campaign recognition efforts,  I will miss Bob's friendship the most.  Bob was a inspiration.  He epitomized what it means to live. To wake up every day with a plan and to pursue it with zest and with joy.  To speak honestly and frankly.  To be impeccable with your word.  To say what you feel.  Bob had a way to energize you.  He inspired you to be at your best.  His ability to remember names and details of things put me to shame.  I can barely even remember why I went in the darn kitchen!   His charisma and openness to all humans was magnetic. 

One of my favorite moments of Oshkosh.  Engaging the younger generations so the lessons and sacrifices from his era are not lost.

Another one of Bob's fans last year at the Venice Airport.  

My daughter Aly.  What a gift he was to her as well.

Bob also reminded me what a true gentleman looks like and the value in allowing a man to be just that; a gentleman.  You see, I grew up surrounded by elders so having respect for them is something that is important to me.  I remember vividly when Bob and I first met,  I would naturally attempt to hold the door open for him until one day he firmly exclaimed "Karen will you let me be a gentleman!"  I never held the door open for him again and I will always remember to allow the wonderfulness of gentlemanly behavior. 

Bob was a letter writer. This was the first of many notes I received in the mail form him.

The last time I saw Bob he was boarding a private jet as it's only passenger.   He was headed home after a fun and successful 2018 AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  Bob and I were part of an Aleutian Island Campaign P-40 Warbird in Review session where we got to represent those who flew in the most treacherous place on earth.  What an honor for me on so many levels to share the stage with Bob and to have his blessing over the work I do.  

Warbird in Review- Aleutian Campaign P-40 Session.  July 2018.  Watch it online here.

100 signatures later and still smiling.  National Park Service & the RCAF provided the books we were signing.

We spent the rest of the time tooling around in a golf cart courtesy of his good buddy Brian Norris and his amazing friends who took unbelievable care of us.  Bob had always wanted to go the world's largest air show and after 98 years- he finally made it!!  It just goes to show you that you are never too old for another first.   In fact, Bob had such a good time, he was going to return this year as a volunteer!!   I may have to go in his place.

Bob & Brian Norris.  Brian is the lucky pilot that gave Bob his P-51ride a few years back.  Check out that flight here and here.   They have been good friends ever since.

Another co-pilot opportunity for Bob- a helicopter ride over Oshkosh.

Two WWII legends: Bud Anderson & Bob Brocklehurst in the green room.

Modern day aviation legend Michael Goulian and his team were the ultimate hosts, opening their tents to us throughout the week.

Myself, David Frasca & Bob in front of my Papa's plane, AK905.  The Frasca family now own the RCAF Kittyhawk (painted as a Fighting Tiger).  David flew it to Oshkosh to be part of our P-40 Warbirds in Review session.  In fact- David was the one who first suggested we do WIR!  So glad he did!
Bob bidding farewell to my best friend Candice.  I am so thrilled she got to meet him.  She flew up from Winnipeg to join the fun and good thing- she is a professional photographer and one of her aviation photos from that weekend helped her win Photographer of the Year in Manitoba!

This blog journey has been chalked full of incredible synchronicities exactly like the ones that brought Bob and I together and I am certain they will continue to happen.  As I have said all along,  I am only the puppet following along the path being laid out by my grandfather,  who coincidentally is also named Bob (Robert).  Now, not only do I have my grandfather leading the way- Bob is up there as well.  One Canadian, one American- a reminiscent joint effort.  How fitting.  Looks like I better buckle up!

Robert L. Brocklehurst, you are truly one of a kind and I will miss you tremendously here on earth.  I know you are still with me though and my work will continue in your honor and in honor of those who served with you.   Enjoy your eternal wings and the freedom you now have to do all the loops and rolls you want.   No restrictions- let 'er rip and give my Papa a hug for me.