Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas, 1942

Photo from the collection of  Sgt. Jack Kotlovker, U.S. Army

Here is a glimpse at what one Squadron, the RCAF 111(F), now approaching six months in the Aleutians,  was up to on December 24th & 25th, 1942.  By this time, they had been relieved of their duties on Umnak and were now, just newly stationed, on Kodiak Island with the Army Air Force at Fort Greely.  They were the only fighter squadron around and the Canadians were responsible for protecting the North Pacific's main U.S. Naval Base which was also located on Kodiak.

Entries copied from the Squadron diaries. 

December 24th, 1942

Mess staff busy preparing for big day tomorrow.  Weather C.A.V.U. Aerobatics, low flying and Ask Ask Co-operation with American Anti-Aircraft Divisions.  Flying time 2:50 hours.

Ground crew left here (Miller Field) to spend Christmas with other boys at Fort Greely.  The pilots all took off this morning (from Miller Field)to enjoy the same privilege.  Flying time 1:30 hours. 

December 25th, 1942

Christmas Day with Officers serving the mess as custom.   Very fine meal provided both at noon and evening by our very capable mess staff.   All members received gifts from the Air Force Mothers Auxiliary of the Army-Navy Wings Club of Edmonton and the American Red Cross.  Weather closed in at 0900 hours.  Strong winds and snow storms all day.  Thirty to forty mile an hour wind from 1530 hours on.  No flying carried out.
All personnel at main field so nothing to report. 

Interestingly, as I spend the first Christmas, in almost a decade,  at my family's home in Winnipeg, the weather forecast for today, Christmas Day 2016,  is calling for the same darn miserable conditions.  So much so, that we had to postpone our family holiday dinner until the storm passes.   Wonder if my grandfather ordered that for effect? 

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A WW2 Thanksgiving, 1942

As we sit down to enjoy the feast and family of the season, let us keep in mind those who came before us to make the celebration of this day possible.  Our world would look so very different if it were not for those brave enough to sacrifice themselves in order to protect our way of life.  Keep those of service in your prayers.

So, what did Thanksgiving look like in the time of war?  Well, here is what the guys in the R.C.A.F. 111(F) Squadron were up to Thanksgiving day on Kodiak Island, November 26th, 1942, as they were on guard, ready to defend our land.  This entry was taken from the Squadron diary.

R.C.A.F. Mess Hall, 1943

November 26th, 1942
"The Squadron had a very fine, "Thanksgiving Meal" at noon with turkey and all the trimmings, and in the evening a luncheon consisting of cold meats, cold salads, beer and smokes. Flight Sergeant Staples, H.M acted as Master of Ceremonies, and handled the affair very capably. There were speeches by Squadron Leader Boomer, Flight Lieutenant Webb and Flying Officer Farrell. Several members of the Squadron released their hidden talents and community singing was enjoyed by all. Some of the personnel took advantage of the invitation which had been extended by the 401st Bombardment Squadron, U.S. Army Air Corps and went to their Mess Hall around 2030 hours. Weather conditions bad, runways poor. Flying time today totaled zero zero hours."

Looks like a rare, relaxing (can you say that during a time of war?) day thanks to the lousy weather.  I guess, in this case, the clouds, wind and freezing rain was on their side...

Here is wising you all a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Veterans Day- All Day, Every Day

2016 Veterans Day has come and gone and many of you may be wondering where my standard Veterans Day post is.  The fact of the matter is that November 11th is most certainly a day worth celebrating but I can't help but feel that every day there are veterans deserving of a celebration, recognition and honor.  Why limit it to just one day?

Although I remained somewhat silent, I did enjoy carousing around Facebook and reading the tributes to all of your family members, random strangers, the active and the fallen and the men and the women of those dedicated to our way of freedoms.  This particular tribute from 2014 struck me strongly.   What an inspiration this little boy, of only 6 years, is.   To have the depth of understanding of the sacrifices our WW2 veterans made, was incredibly moving and gives me hope that our younger generation will keep the legacies of this group alive.   Personally, it is something I have tried to teach my, now 13 year old, daughter over the years.   And as it turns out, she may have been listening!  This year, she gave her very own tribute to our veterans, in the form of a play,  in front of the entire school!  An immensely proud Mama moment indeed.  Please take a moment to watch this little man's act of gratitude for those who gave up so much for the sake and safety of so many.

And let's use these young ones as an inspiration to discover ways we can show our appreciation to every vet we encounter.  Paying homage to our brave military men and women who proudly don the uniform in defense of our beloved country and the freedoms we so indulgently enjoy should always be in the back of our minds.  So, I encourage you to look for ways to celebrate Veterans Day everyday by reaching out to our service men and women and thanking them for their tireless service.  Even the simplest act of a handshake, a greeting, a smile or a kind word is all it takes to show them our heartfelt gratitude,  for this group of people are the humblest among us.  It is the least we can do.

With that, on November 12th and everyday forward, I wish you a very Happy Veterans Day!

Monday, October 3, 2016

We're On Facebook!

It is official- Florida Beaches To The Bering Sea is now on Facebook!!  You will get more up to date information about what I have been doing in my quest to bring honor and recognition to those who served in the Aleutian Campaign during WW2.

LIKE us on Facebook!!

There are so many incredible things happening that it is sometimes hard for me to keep up.    So help me spread their word and LIKE, SHARE and INVITE your friends to our new Facebook page too!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Snippets From A Squadron's Diary

I am supposed to be working on my next post, researching the 111(F) squadrons initial flight up to Elmendorf Air Force base in July of 1942 but easily got myself sidetracked and enthralled with reading every darn day of the Squadron diary up to their arrival in Alaska.  Here are a couple of diary entries that make me chuckle. I love a good sense of humor and apparently the diarist did too.  At one point in the diary and during this time frame, it was noted that my grandfather had been appointed to 'Squadron Diarist' not sure for how long he had that role and if he was still doing that during these entries but I can definitely see him saying some of these things.

The time frame is February 1942- May 1942, which is when the 111(F) Squadron was stationed in Pat Bay, now the Victoria, British Columbia Airport. Also referenced is Sea Island which is now the Vancouver Airport.   The green squadron had just arrived from Rockliffe, Ontario fresh out of B.C.A.T.P. a few months earlier and were still learning how to master the flight of the P-40.   From there the Squadron was sent on it's very first deployment as a unit- to Alaska,  in July 1942.

R.C.A.F. Pilots in Patricia Bay.   
Back Row: F/S Schwalm, F/S Lennon,  F/S Baird, F/S Merkley, F/S Weber, WO2 Orr, F/S Pigden, F/S Peacock, F/S Orthman, F/S Skelly, F/S Orthman, WO2 Johnson
Front Row L-R: P/O Lynch, P/O Gohl, P/O Williams, Flt/Lt. Kerwin , W/C Nesbitt, Ftl/Lt. Mitchell, F/O Cannon,
 P/O Ingalls

Bad weather made it impossible to do any flying today and the crew took this chance to get all the aircraft ready to be flown to Patricia Bay.  Tonight marks the fourth time our pilots have celebrated their last night in Vancouver and are finding it very expensive."

The total flying time for today was thirty-four hours and five minutes which is the highest daily total to be complied by the Squadron to date. The pilots are really happy now that they are getting a lot of flying and enthusiastic about operational training.  As a result, their work is improving daily.  Stern attacks and breakaways are now being practiced and it is funny to hear the pilots relate their reactions after this maneuver, which is a very violent procedure. Sgt. Edwards of the armament section is kept busy by loading and reloading the guns so that everyone can get some air-firing.  Our basketball team played it's first contest tonight and kept a huge throng (three in number) on the edge of their seats by a scintillating display of team work and skill.  However, as they had little training, they came out on the short end of the score. "

Today, Friday the 13th, the day of ill-omen and bad luck, came to a safe conclusion for us after twenty-one hours and twenty minutes of vigorous flying and I mean vigorous.   These breakaways after a stern attack are good practice, but the pilots feel that there must be an easier way to kill yourself.  The radio equipment could be in better working order these days; everyone is now equipped with handsets and microphones but quite a few planes cannot be used for R/T formation because of some defect in radio.  Our gasoline truck held up operations in the morning by running out of gas- again; then the long procedure had to be followed before any gas could be obtained- limiting flying to only one flight during the morning.  The officers and men were honoured guests at a pay parade during the morning. "

There was no flying today because of rain and poor visibility.  The mechanics took advantage of the lull to start giving P60 inspections to those planes due to have them.  As yesterday was pay day our sergeants pilots were anxious to get into town to spread good- cheer and joy among the natives, so when in became apparent that no flying could be done they were allowed to leave.  Spies report that many a rose was bought by our Romeos.  Sgt. Edwards of the armament section finally obtained some help; six armorers reporting today from A.A.S., Mountainview, Ont.   At the same time one armorer was S.O.S. posted to A.A.S., Mountainveiw.  One for six is a good exchange."

P/O Orr continues his good work as an instructor pilot and today checked out Sgt. McLeod, Maxmem, Clarke and Christy for solo in the Harvard.  The only pilot who got away solo on the Kittyhawk was P/O Stiles and he thrilled the spectators when he made a very unoriginal attempt to land with the wheels up: however he reacted quickly to the persuasive power of a Red Verys signal and went around again to make a successful landing.  P/O Whiteside, Gooding and Sgt. Crowley carried out air to ground firing in the morning.  The C.O. led a formation of five new pilots to have a look at their formation flying.  Twenty-nine hours and fifty-five minutes flying."

Side Note- a day later they lost one of their airmen, Sgt. D. Stapleton,  in a training accident when he crashed into deep water on the range.  This marked the second fatal accident (the first one being Sgt. Pierce who's plane went into a spin and crashed on 27-12-41) the squad has had since their formation over six months prior.

The Squadron's Kittyhawks just after arriving at Pat Bay in January, 1942.   The one on the left, AK905 is now privately owned and is still airworthy!  Photo credit- Bill's incredible website on the 111(F) Squadron.

More fighter attacks and some low-flying was done today and P/O Lynch practiced an hours instrument flying.  Sgt. Lennon acting as safety pilot.  Sgt. Lennon later took up Orchard of the anti-aircraft battery, for a ride in the Harvard.  P/O Whiteside became the first member of the squadron to do battle in the air.  His opponent was a duck and "Whitey" finally rammed it with the airscrew spinner damaging some and splattering the wind screen with gore.  He returned and landed safely none the worse for his encounter. Twenty one hours, thirty minutes flying carried out today."

Today's routine flying consisted of air to air and air to ground firing and a flight of six pilots under training: total flying time for the day being thirty-one hours, twenty minutes.  The latter exercise was carried out between 1730 and 1900 hours.  P/O  Whiteside, Gooding, Paynter and Sgt. Crowley will soon be fully trained for operational work so they are getting the most flying. WAC (Western Air Command) reported an unidentified aircraft over Esquimalt in the late afternoon and the ensuing scramble of two machines was very satisfactory.  The unidentified aircraft was a Kittyhawk piloted by Sgt. Stusiak of this squadron.  The Link Trainer program was fully extended this afternoon."

This will be a memorable day in the Squadron's history, as nearly everything happened today.  In the early morning Sgt. Schwalm did some damage to the tail assembly of A.L.110, running into the aircraft with the "Jeep". After a routine air to ground firing exercise,Sgt. Maxmem low on petrol, landed at Bellingham, refueled and on landing at our base, the undercarriage of his aircraft A.L.218, collapsed and came to rest on it's belly in the center of No. 1 runway with wrecked undercarriage and aircrew.  As a result of this accident, Pilot Officer Eskil and Sgt. Stusiak were unable to land here and forced to set down at Sea Island.  They returned and landed here in the afternoon when the runway had been cleared. Air to ground firing was carried out by Pilot Officer English and Sgt. Maxmen. Newspapermen from Victoria paid us a visit and took numerous pictures late in the afternoon.  Air Commander Stevenson, on a surprise visit, was very pleased with a four plane scramble accomplished in two minutes, thirty-one seconds. One new pilot, R.T. Walker, reported here from Ottawa today. Only nine hours, thirty-five hours of flying was done during the day. "

After this four month span of, at times, playful and somewhat story like entries, the diary seemed to revert back to a nuts and bolts, factual and dry kind of writing style for several more months, definitely noting a shift in diarists.   It picks up again once the Squadron establishes itself on Umnak but I'll save that for a later date. Writing can be a tremendous outlet, and in times of war, it was just another way one of the guys could bring some form of humaneness to what they were preparing to do and in many cases already doing. A way to cope and separate themselves from the reality of the brutal nature of the job they all signed up for.  A job they took ultimately for the benefit of us and our country.   So I say, write away diarist. Write away...

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

2017 Aleutian Tour Dates!

I am so excited to tell you that the dates for Valor Tours- 2017 Battle of the Aleutians trip has just been announced! Next year is a very special year as it marks the 75th Anniversary of the bombing of Dutch Harbor, Unalaksa which began the Aleutian Campaign. We would love for you to join us for, a once in a lifetime chance- historical tour though the battlegrounds of the Aleutians!    Due to the remoteness of this trip, limited space if available so if you are interested please make sure to call and reserve your spot! 

I will also ask you to take just a moment to share this with anyone who is interested in WW2 history- you never know who will want to hop on board!  Also post it to Facebook,Twitter, Google... to help us spread the word!  Hope you see you next year!

If you have any questions about the trip, feel free to contact me or Vicky at Valor Tours-   Also watch my blog as I will be posting highlights from the 2016 trip.

Hope to see you in June 2017!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Other Forgotten Story

Before I begin to recount to you the incredible and most memorable experience I had following in my grandfathers footsteps through the forgotten battlegrounds of the Aleutian Islands in June, I think it is important to start at the beginning, and for me, the story of WW2 in Alaska begins before any bombs were dropped.  It begins with the peaceful culture of the people who called the Aleutian Islands their home prior to the Japanese attack on June 3 & 4th, 1942.    What people may not realize is that many of these islands were inhabited by the most resourceful of resourceful a populous. A humble, simple and happy folk- the Aleuts.  

When the invasion happened and the U.S. troops moved in to defend the land, the native peoples along the chain were forced to leave the only place they called home disputably "for their own protection".  Sadly, like so many others along the Western edge of the continent, they were forced into despicable, inhumane internment camps to wait out the war, with most of them never to see the only homeland they have ever known again. 

This topic creates such conflict within me because as a Canadian, I am familiar with and can definitely empathize with the struggles of the First Nations populations historically.  It is something I grew up learning about and respecting.   It presented an interesting dichotomy that I struggled with while on the boat. On the one hand,I was on this trip to honor, and in a way celebrate, not just my grandfather, but all who served up in these remote islands.  But on the other hand, I also found myself feeling remorseful and thinking a lot about what happened to those gentle peoples and their beloved homelands.  And how do you celebrate that?

Chief, Edward Jim of the Saanich First Nation commemorated the naming of the new 111(f) squad who was the first Canadian Fighter Squadron to arrive in Alaska.  The squad was now to be known as "Thunderbird" after the Band's ancient deity.  R.C.A.F. P/O Harold Paynter in the Winnipeg Free Press pictured here with the totem.

  R.C.A.F. 111f Squadron- P/O McLeod's plane in the drink just off the Fort Greely runway in Kodiak, Alaska.  Notice the totem painted on the nose of this plane.   Not all 111f Squadron planes had this.  Not sure how they selected which plane received the totem emblem.

History is history and the reality is, that this was a battle we could not avoid.   Without a doubt, we had to go and defend ourselves.  Most definitely things could have been handled differently. No doubt. But hindsight is 20/20. Hindsight is also an essential part of the learning process. Those gross misjudgements are a fundamental piece of how we all, hopefully, learn for the future.    The key now and for generations to come is to continue to learn and evolve from the people who came before us, albeit in their good judgements or poor, while at the same time,  honoring their place in history.
This is what I am hoping to do by beginning with this post.  To bring honor and recognition to another group of people who deserve our sincerest gratitude and apologies for the sacrifices they incurred during the bloody Aleutians.

Please take a moment to learn more about their story.  This is a clip from the highly acclaimed documentary titled The Aleut Story.  I encourage you to buy the full film and learn more about their journey.

 Qaįaasakung- thank you in Unangan (Aleut).

Aleut Story from SprocketHeads on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sea Lion on Kiska.

Still working on my next post...  In the meantime, this is one of my favorite non war highlights of the trip.  This was taken at the beach in front of the World War Two Japanese submarine base in Kiska Harbor.   It was a nice break to the heaviness of emotion that was surrounding us as we walked though the bomb crater filled battle zone.  Enjoy. 

By the way- trip dates are out for next summer June11th-25th, 2017.. this could be YOU!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Where Do I Possibly Start?

Where do I possibly start with a trip that held so much sentiment as this one did for me?  At the beginning?  Nah... Way to predictable. 

View from atop a hill over looking Umnak's two WW2, still functioning, airstrips.

I had held it together until this point.  The second last stop of the trip- Umnak Island, Alaska; the most forward base at the onset of the campaign. The first one my grandfather and his squadron were stationed at.  Fresh out of flight school- his first combat posting.   He was only 24.   This unknown mountainous territory totally new to him.  To all of them.   Even for a modern day pilot who has all the help of GPS, radio systems, satellite, you name it.. still find it hard to fly in Alaska.  Imagine a group of green pilots making their way, several thousand miles through the clouds and fog, battling the unpredictable winds,  loosing five along the way; nearly more, nearly yourself.  Only to arrive at a barren, treeless, village-less land.  What must they have been thinking?  What Godforsaken place were they? 

I had left the group momentarily, climbed  alone to the top of this hill over looking both airstrips where my grandfather used to take off and land his P-40 back in summer of 1942. I sat there alone and soaked in the enormity of the moment.  I needed to.  The four year journey, countless hours, tons of tears, incredible memories and unforgettable people- I had done it.   Mission compete.  Now what?  You see, Umnak was the last stop I needed to complete my journey to visit every base my grandfather was stationed on while in Alaska.  And the funny thing is, by no way does this seem like an ending.  It actually feels like the beginning of what is yet to come. This blog that started out as a tribute to my grandfather has captured my heart and has morphed into an educational and historical storyboard that brings awareness to those who sacrificed so much of their lives and homeland so we could live comfortably now.   So what is next?  To be truthful, I am not entirely sure.  But I am sure willing to find out.   And so it begins...again. 

My Papa, recieiving his wings as a Pilot Officer,  October 24th, 1941, just four months after starting flight school.

And as I was atop of that hill, the only word that came to mind is blessings.  Immeasurable blessing- and it is thanks to them.   And so I write...

Sunday, June 5, 2016

One Hell Of A Layover...

How fitting as I finish the last post of my first trip to Anchorage on the first day of my second trip....

I left Kodiak the next morning with contentment and excited to one day return,  for there are still things left to be done there.  As I sat in the airport I wondered where that comforting twelve year old, Kya, was?   And who was going to distract me on the flight back to Anchorage?  It was looking as though I would have to put on my big girl pants and just suck it up.  Well, so I thought...  Entering the plane was this ruggedly handsome young man who requested to sit beside me.  Apparently, he had been sitting behind me on the way over to Kodiak. Happily, he entertained me the entire trip, but mostly by randomly shrieking "Oh no!", "What is that noise?' and "Uh Oh...".  Obviously,  he had noticed my previous apprehension and found great pleasure in making light of it.  Good thing I don't take things too seriously.  It made me smile. 

Before I knew it, we were on the tarmac in Anchorage and I was on my way to find my future shipmate Allison.  As shipmates go, Allison is top notch. She is always smiling and positive, no fear, politely says what she thinks, is organized and well informed.  My kind of human.  And while I was busy exploring the history of WW2 in Kodiak, Allison was successfully scouting out Merrill Field, Anchorage's first airport, now commercial airport, for of one of only three airworthy WW2 Japanese Zero fighter planes that temporarily, call this Alaskan air  field home. 

Looking from my hotel room towards Merrill Field.

There, lined up along the taxi way were two Harvards, one decked out in a showy Canadian color scheme and the other as an American Texan T-6,  one of Alaska Airlines very first planes, and an infamous Japanese Zero.  We walked circles around the planes drooling.. or maybe that was just me. Probably just me. I couldn't help it,  these old warbirds were sitting pretty in pristine condition and proudly basking in the Alaskan sun.  After several laps,  we finally ventured into the open hanger, where Mike, the flight mechanic, was working on the brakes of yet another Texan.  We introduced ourselves and after giving him our spiel, he insisted we go inside the Alaska Airlines plane which we appreciated but didn't dare follow through on.  I could just imagine, with my luck-  I 'd open the door to this antique plane, and it would rip off in the wind because I did not tie it down or latch it properly.  And I was not about to chance destroying such a masterpiece.   Instead we returned to the taxi way, looked inside every possible window and continued counting our laps.  Mike sensing our uneasiness eventually came to check on us, opened the plane up and insisted we get inside.  That Mike- he really rocks.

Harvard (T-6)- mostly used as a  trainer Aircraft. 

1931 Fairchild Pilgrim 100B, N709Y

One of Alaska Airlines very first planes.

My opinion of Mike skyrocketed when he asked us if we wanted to climb into the cockpit of the Zero.  Hell ya I want to get inside the Zero!  Hardly able to control my excitement, I tried to listen carefully to his instructions as to the most graceful way to enter was.  Whatever.. who knows what he said.. step on the wing, hold here.. pull yourself up...  Before I knew it, I was in, sitting inside a notorious, once almost unbeatable Zero.  The same plane that my grandfather would have been dueling with. A tremendous privilege!

Mitsubishi A6M Zero at Merrill Field.

Early in WW2 the Zero, which was operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy, was nearly invincible.  In one of it's first appearances it shot down ninety nine planes while sustaining not a single loss of their own.  It left the air force world puzzled.  This plane, that seemed to appear out of nowhere,  was lighter, faster, more nimble and had a longer range than any other fighter ever seen before.  It was the cream of the crop and in the beginning of the war it controlled the skies.  That is until we could come up with a strategy to take it down which started to take shape by 1943.   

There several factors that contributed to the fall of the infamous Zero.  One of major contributors was the recovery of a downed enemy fighter that crashed in Akutan, Alaska on June 4th, 1942 flown by Tadayshi Koga.  The young 19 year old pilot could not recover from the ground fire that severed his main oil line and headed for the safety of what the Japanese had designated as an emergency landing area.   This emergency air strip turned out be be a bog and as the plane attempted to land, it flipped over, killed the pilot and was left virtually undamaged.  
Under two weeks later, the Navy went back to recover the downed enemy aircraft loading it onto the USS St. Mihiel for San Diego where U.S. Army engineers would repair it back to air worthiness.  By September 20th, Lieutenant Commander Eddie R. Sanders took the Akutan Zero for it's first of twenty four test flights.   From these tests flights they were able to understand the enemy's strengths and weaknesses and devise an effective air strategy to gain control of the skies once again. 

Of course, another valuable source of information was how the allied pilot himself encountered it in the sky.  Below is R.C.A.F. Squadron Leader, Kenneth Boomer's debriefing report of how he encountered and shot down a Japanese Rufe over Kiska Harbor on the very first fighter escorted bomber mission over Kiska.   For this mission, he plus three other Canadian Airmen were awarded the American Air Medal, my grandfather included.  One other Japanese plane was said to be shot down that day by Major Jack Chenneault, son of Major General Claire Chenneault.




The following is the Japanese Zero Fighter Aircraft tactics.  The following information was gained from an encounter, which took place outside Kiska Harbour in the Aleutians on the morning of September 25th, 1942.

It is recommended that this information be circulated and forwarded to Canadian Squadrons in any active theaters in which they are liable to encounter this type of opposition.

1. When the enemy aircraft were first observed they were flying at approximately 1000ft, in a loose echelon formation.  It would appear they were attempting to impress their maneuverability on the opposition as they repeatedly did slow rolls in series while approaching.  When within striking distance they separated slightly although still maintaining section formation, they wing man apparently acting as cover for the leader.   Unfortunately, the tow became separated and further section tactics could not be observed.  The leader dove straight at the leading P-40 seemingly attempting to bluff him into turning.  When this failed, and at approximately 200 yards he suddenly pulled straight up, half rolled and came down almost on the ail of the P-40.  At the  end of his pull out he was in a straight and level position and it was at that point that he was hit from two different angles and consequently went into a steep dive and crashed into the sea.  The pilot jumped out as approximately 100 feet, but was wearing no parachute of any kind. 

2. After that half roll attack the enemy aircraft appeared to be firing with both heavy and light type armament, probably 20mm and .25 or .303 machine guns although the number of guns firing could not be ascertained.  The machine appeared to go to pieces easily with the return fire, indicating either light construction or very weak armour plating.

3. The second zero attempted either to climb away from an attack, or else into a favourable position.  His rate of climb was exceedingly fast and of a very steep angle, the aircraft appeared to be literally “hanging on it’s prop.”  At the end of his climb he also half rolled and after one misjudged attack on a P-40 disappeared from the observers view.


a) The zero fighter is extremely manourverable and can probably turn easily inside a P-40.

b) It has an exceedingly fast rate of climb and a very short pull out from a half roll.

c) Armament appears to be 20mm cannon plus light machine gun of an undetermined calibre.

d) The aircraft appears to be either of light construction of have little or no armour plating.

e) From a consolidated report of Japanese tactics in this theatre, these tactics appear to be standard and almost exclusively used.  The pilots appear to be both extremely daring and very well skilled in the handling of their aircraft.  Signed: (K.A. Boomer), Squadron Leader, Officer Commanding, No. 111 (f ) Squadron, RCAF Fort Glenn, Alaska

Excerpt taken from the Royal Canadian Air Force Operations Record Books:

 C-12242, 111 (F) Squadron. 

Heritage Canadiana

My Grandfather, RCAF P/O Robert W. Lynch & P/O Jim Gohl on Adak just after their return from the above mission, September 25th, 1942

In a matter of hours I will be boarding a plane for Adak, Alaska to begin my 2016 WW2 Historical tour through the Aleutian Islands to honor the noble service, not only of my grandfather, but for all who served there to ensure our country was safe. Hard to believe the day is finally here. I hope I do them proud. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day- What does it mean to you?

As this much needed long weekend approaches I have been reflecting back on several discussions I have had over the last month. It is apparent, that in this overstimulated, rat raced, narcissistic, disconnected world we now live in (well, isn't that a positive way to start a post...), many of us have forgotten the reason we have this long weekend in the first place.  We owe this break to the countless men and women who lost their lives fighting for the very place we call home.    

During WW2 alone, over 400,000 men and women exhibited the utmost of courage, and valiance, that I do not have, and lost their lives in one of the scariest places-war, just so you and I can live a privileged life of freedoms.  And that is exactly what we have in this country- freedom, regardless of what political party you are associated with.  We have more freedoms and choices than most of us can even comprehend.

Only 2 of these R.C.A.F. 111(f) pilots survived the war.  L-R: Frank Skelly, Frank Crowley, Joseph 'Red' McLeod, Ed Merkley, Hal Gooding, Clifford Hicks, Jim Gohl and Nick Stusiak in Kodiak, Alaska.   Photo Credit. Bill Eull

We are incredibly privileged and fortunate to make North America our home.  When we lose sight of the sacrifices made by those who came before us, it diminishes the amount of contentedness we feel for our current lifestyle.   Again, a lifestyle made possible by those who fought for the survival of this country we now enjoy!   Continuing to remember their significant contribution to our life, allows us to put into perspective, just how blessed we all are.   The reality is, if those brave servicemen and women had not paid the ultimate price, then rest assured, our lives would look very different right now.  We have to be thankful.  We have to remember their sacrifices.

So I ask, before your festivities begin, that you take moment to reflect on your life, on your priorities, your decisions, and on your outlook and if necessary make some positive adjustments- mentally or otherwise to live up to your end of the deal.  Life is meant to be lived happily.  Hundreds of thousands of airmen, marines, soldiers, sailors and coastguardsmen paid the ultimate price just so you could do so.   The gift they left behind is the power and freedom of choice so that you can make the changes needed to live a fulfilled life.   You not only owe it to yourself but you also owe it to every single person who died fighting for every liberty you enjoy today.

Otherwise, what the heck were they fighting for? 

Today's post is dedicated to R.C.A.F. P/O (Pilot Officer) Ed Merkley.  He was one of my grandfathers closest friends and I have numerous pictures of them together.   One of my absolute favorites is below.  Ed survived the treacherous flying conditions of the Aleutians, went on to fly with the 440(f) overseas and was killed November 19th, 1943. 

R.C.A.F. P/O (Pilot Officer) Ed Merkley

A Christmas card from Ed sent to my grandfather just before he died.  1943
 " Dear Bob & Eileen,
How goes things with you?  I am doing fine.   Gee- these Spits are a real air craft.
We just came back from a 48-    boy did we get goosed. Sure had fun-and you can't beat fun- Life is good.
Hope you manage to get home for Xmas. 
How is instructing going? Are you going to quit smoking Eileen, if you go home at Xmas?
              Best of Luck,   Ed."

L-R- P/O Robert Lynch & Ed Merkely, S.F.T.S. #2 Uplands Ontario, 1941

With that I wish you a Happy Memorial Day and remember- as Ed said, even in the middle of war- life is good.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

More From Kodiak, Alaska

There were simply too many extraordinary images to share.  Here are just a few more... and then some. 

250th Coastal Defense Gun Emplacement at St. Peters Head,  Battery No.1
 Chiniak Point, Kodiak Island.  2014
The remains of the 8 inch gun after its demise.  
At least 100ft away from it's base at the top of the hill. 
WW2 Ammunition Bunker at St. Peters Head. Battery No. 1.  
Chiniak Point, Kodiak Island.  2014
Inside the same bunker.  
One day, I hope these graffiti artists realize how disrespectful this is. 
WW2 Pill Box at St. Peters Head, Battery No. 1. 
Chiniak Point,  Kodiak Island.  2014

Construction of Fort Greely.  Base buildings consisted
 of wooden structures, Quonset huts and tents.
Photo Credit: Baranov Museum.

250th Coast Artillery Regiment- Robert E. Metcalf. 
Photo: from his daughter, Jane Metcalf

One heck of a view from Chiniak Point.
Arctic Lupines.

WW2 Housing- a Quonset hut found in some random yard along the way.
Quonset Hut in Fort Greely. 1943.  
Photo: Levi Ballard, c/o R.C.A.F. Corporal. Killip's collection.
The huts slept about 12 men and were often built 4ft into the ground 
for protection but primarily to contain the heat 
during the cold Alaskan winters.  

Now,  one historical storage shed. Do they have any idea?

R.C.A.F. Mess Hall in Fort Greely. 1943

How would you like this in your front yard?  
A grown over WW2 gun emplacement along the
 coastal dirt road to the base.  2014

  Frequent and strong crosswinds may have caused this 
AAF P-39 accident at Chiniak Point.  1943. 

Representing at the Northeast end of the air strip.

And that's a wrap from day two in this sweet little fishing town filled with an unknown yet important history.  Kodiak leaves an impression on you.  As I sit here I can still smell the sweet clean air that envelopes this Alaskan Island.  One day Kodiak.  I'll be back.