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! 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Last Post

At any time, in any place, this British nineteenth century traditional lone bugle call that indicates the death of a fallen soldier is one I can never get through without tearing up.  Hits me hard right in the heart.  As it should.  It is honoring those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.  For us.

It also reminds me how much I hate war and how deeply I wish we could all get along.  

Here is to the fallen, not just today, but everyday.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Thanksgiving 1942

Normally,  when Canadian Thanksgiving rolls around,  I am on some softball park sweating every once of fluid I have out of my body while I watch my daughter play softball.  But not this year....  This year, for the first time in close to a decade, I had the chance to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving, albeit still sweating, but this time over my stove while preparing a traditional feast for a group of people I am most thankful for.   My Floridian neighbors who watch my house while I am traveling around the country in the pursuit of history and for a mom and her family who seamlessly step up to fill my shoes for Aly when needed.  What would I do without these people?  

Whether they wanted it or not,  having them in the house became a history lesson.  The photos, planes and war memorabilia that decorate my dining room inspired them to ask questions which gives me a chance to tell them the story of a group of brave unknown servicemen who stepped up for our freedom in a barren and lonely place that so few know about.   Believe me, the pleasure was all mine... if they hadn't left, I'd still be talking... smile. 

Let's take a look at what the 111(F) Squadron, RCAF and the rest of the folks at Fort Glenn on Umank were doing October 8th, 1942.   Not celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving that is for sure...  Take a look.

Keep in mind, at this time, half the Canadian squadron had been at Fort Glen for three months and attached to the Army Air Corps while the other half remained on duty at Elmendof.  Therefore you will see two separate entries, one from the group at Elmendorf and the other from Umank.  At this time, Canadian airmen made up roughly one third of the air strength in the Aleutians.   



LAC Ward, H.D. Fabric Worker, became an acting Corporal (unpaid). Sergant Wise, L. was discharged from Post Hospital. A large portion of our squadron that is at Elmendorf received Typhoid shots. The first word of the pending movement of our pending squadron to Kodiak. A Signal was sent to Umnak for all personal of No. 111 (F) Squadron to return to Elmendorf as soon as possible. Flying time total was 5:10hrs. 

Pilot Officer O.J. Eskil and Flight Sergent Stusiak and Skelly on patrol today.  Weather poor. Signal received from Elmendorf notifying us to return to Elmendorf as soon as possible. Everyone busy arranging for quick move. Signal sent to Fireplace for flying officers Gohl and Lynch, and pilot officer Gooding to return immediately. The pilots of the Army Air Corps 11th Pursuit Squadron came over and paid us a visit of "Congratulations" on the **Kiska Mission. The books for our Umnak Detachment Library, so kindly donated by the American Red Cross, were turned over to the 11th Pursuit Squadron, U.S. Army Air Corps. Flying Officers Gohl and Lynch and Pilot Officer Gooding arrived from *Fireplace at 17:15 hours. Flying time total 7:00hrs. 

*Fireplace was the Canadian code name for the base on Adak.  
**The Kiska Mission is the first offensive mission the Canadians saw in Alaska.  On September 25th, 1942,  four RCAF Pilots: P/O Lynch, P/O Gooding, P/O Gohl and S/L Boomer, were chosen to fly with the 11th Pursuit's,  343rd Squadron on a escorted bombing mission over Japanese occupied Kiska Island.  The mission was a success.  Many targets were destroyed as well as the take down of two enemy rufes.  RCAF S/L Boomer credited with one of them and Maj. Jack Chennault, son of Brig. Gen. Claire Chennault, claiming the second.  S/L Boomer's take down will forever be in history as the only RCAF victory in the Pacific Theater.  Before arriving in the Aleutians, the Canadian Squadron Leader also had victories in the skies over Europe.  Read more about the Aleutian mission here

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

When in Dutch Harbor- Tour Crab Boats & Eat Crab!

Last night's Deadliest Catch episode inspired me to share with you a special tour I got while I was in Unalaska for the Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Bombing of Dutch Harbor and Aleut Evacuation- a crab boat tour!  My friend and Unalaska resident, Lydia, surprised me with arranging a tour of her friends fishing vessel- F/V Baranof, on a rainy Saturday when all the warbird flights were grounded due to the lousy weather.  I was stoked!  I have been watching the Discovery Channel's, Dutch Harbor based crab fishing show for the last nine years, not in an effort to learn more about crustaceans but in a effort to learn more about the Aleutians itself and the type of environment that my grandfather would have encountered while flying P-40's there. It somehow connected me to his experience.   As a positive result,  I now have a new found appreciation for the fishing industry. 

Deck of the 180ft F/V Baranof

Anatomy of a crab boat: the launcher, the block, coiler and the crane (left).

F/V Baranof Captain Patrick Sjodin. Good sport.  Thanks for your time. 

I took quite a bit of teasing for my viewership of the show and especially for the LFS Bering Sea 2017 sweatshirt I donned while at sea during the WWll history tour that took us out along the chain to Attu and back.  Now understand, some people from those parts, have a beef with the show;  how is has become dramatic, fake, exaggerated, over glamorized (is that even possible of a fishing show?) and in a sense, invaded their community.  All sentiments I agree with especially in the latter years of the show but it is television and most TV shows are like that.  Real with a hint of exaggeration or outlandishness.  They almost have to be in order for the show come across the tube as compelling enough to watch.  It is the nature of television. It is 'entertainment' after all.  How entertaining would it be if the people on the show were as boring as dirt?  Exactly.

My buddy and retired Bering Sea crab fisherman, Travis Lofland
BIG props to you Travy and friends.  I don't know how you did it...

Aside from the stretch in reality that it may be at times, a positive aspect of the show is that it brings light to one of the many overlooked industries that we so easily enjoy the fruits of.. or in this case, the meat of.  These guys work in some horrendously treacherous conditions just so we can eat crab and other sea foods!  And after watching an episode a few weeks back where they fished through 30 foot seas and 50mph winds,   I have even more appreciation for those who catch the crab I eat.  I mean, I know what 10 foot seas feel like (see my short, measly in comparison, video below) and that was plenty enough.  And I was just sitting in the wheelhouse never mind running around on a pitching and rolling deck with freezing spray.  Seriously- that is some unbelievable shit they go through.  Almost unimaginable.  So why not recognize them- we (and I don't mean me.. just to be clear) celebrate the Kardashian's and Honey Boo Boo for goodness sakes and they provide us with nothing! I 'd say we owe these crab guys a great big freaking thank you!!!

Oh dear... and I digress, the crab boat tour...right.   Lydia, sweet soul Lydia, being the good sport and human that she is, indulged my inner guilty pleasure and set up a tour.  Alex, one of the CAF warbird pilots, came along and boy was he glad he did.  He and the engineer had a blast talking mechanics.  I thought they were never going to emerge from the three floor engine room.  The F/V Baranof is not your standard crab fishing boat, it also serves as it's own processor.  It processes and boxes all it's own catch right there on board to ensure the highest standard of quality and freshness.  The frozen and boxed product is then shipped and sold mostly to Asia.  Why? Simple. Supply and demand.  They are huge seafood consumers, much more than the U.S. and they buy the stuff up.   Luckily for us, not all of it went west that day, we were sure to leave with two boxes of freshly caught crab to be enjoyed on our last day of the commemoration.   And it was scrumptious!

Lydia and I on deck of the F/V Baranof
Alex, one of the CAF pilots with our dinner! 2- 11lb boxes of crab.
Scarlet King Crab (front) vs. Tanner or Snow crab (back).  Scarlet all the way.

Alex & Cricket enjoying a well deserved crab feast after a weekend full of flying.

So, I'll continue to withstand the friendly jabs at my show preferences because in the end, I actually feel grateful because it inspired me to learn more about the Aleutian Islands and what my grandfather persevered in the 1940's. It peaked my interest, and it helped motivate me to travel there. And look what has come of this so far?   No complaints here... nothing but smiles.  Fish on.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Work Is Worth It

Written 6/20/2017
Exhausted is how I left Florida in May.  Exhausted describes how I have been this entire year really.  Excited, yet exhausted   There is an expression that my daughters team uses repeatedly when they are in the thick of practicing for a competition- the work is worth it.   And it is. When you are working towards something you care deeply about, every ounce of work is worth it.  But as I laid my weary, tired achy body to bed one night aboard the rolling Puk Uk, our marine chariot for the 2017 WWll Aleutian Island history tour, I was questioning my desires.  

My home for three weeks, the 70ft M/V Puk Uk.  It is one of the only vessels that travels all the way to Attu. 

Normally, I feel strongly guided to move in a certain direction lead by some kind of extraordinary circumstance that directs me to move one way or another.  With all the busyness of this year coupled with several misleading heart flutters, I have been missing or perhaps numb to the strong pull of my guide wires, the ones that make it clear what my next step is.   Don’t get me wrong, there are some incredible things on the horizon for 2018, and in actuality next summer is already full with exciting events!  But something, at least as of that night, was missing.

I suspect this contemplation stems from the utter feeling of devitalization from the last 300 some odd days of planning this summer’s events.  I’d say,  if there is one place for me to get replenished, it would be here in the middle of the Bering Sea.  I mean, we are totally disconnected, surrounded by the breathtaking marvel of the sea, the mountains and marine life. The history alone should be enough to clear all ones uncertainties away.  The most challenging part of the year is over.  Our trip is half way through, we have our sea legs, the long days of hiking are behind us, and I am fully caught up on sleep. It is now time to exhale, slow down and open up to the experience of what may be next.

Barren Islands, Alaska
And as for the long awaited events that brought on such contemplations?  Phenomenal. All of them.  For now, here is quick slide show that highlights some of the festivities and people involved with the 75th Anniversary weekend

Welcome to Unalaska!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The 75th Anniversary of the bombing of Dutch Harbor has been filled with a weekend long remembrance ceremony in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. We were blessed with the presence of nine WWll veterans, forty evacuees along with speakers, warbirds and an outstanding community that came together to honor those whose lives were effected. 
After nearly a year long of planning for this commemoration, it was a huge success all around, even when the Aleutian weather reared it's unsettled head.  It is an event quite worthy of a separate post, perhaps even multiple, which will have to come at a later date.

WWll Veteran from the 7th Infantry who landed on Attu May 1943, Signalman Frank Vaughn.
Right now, final preparations are being made for a second WWll historical tour through the Aleutians that leaves just hours from now!  This years tour has a very diverse group with three Japanese film makers, two ladies, both daughters of Aleutian Island veterans and four Alaskans, plus me- the Canadian.   Makes for a well rounded trip, I'd say.

As I so often do, before I left I wanted to sit down and investigate what the 111 (F) Squadron, RCAF were up to on this day 1942.  Around this time 75 years ago,  the squadron, then stationed out of Patrica Bay, British Columbia (now the Victoria Airport) were just days away from making their long trip north to Anchorage in defense Alaska.

Below are a few entries from the Squadron diary leading up to their arrival in the last frontier state.   After reading this and coupled with the memories fresh in my mind from last weekend, reminded me of exactly why I am out here and how all the blood, sweat and tears of this last year, is totally worth it.  

Patricia Bay, B.C

June 10th, 1942
No flying.  Servicing Ships.

June 12th, 1942
F/S Baird and Sgt. Stusiak returned to Pat Bay from leave and left that evening for Prince Rupert enroute to Anchorage.  Balance of squadron arrived at Wrangell and departed at 19:00 hours.

June 13th, 1942
Squadron Leader Nesbitt leaves the squadron to take the post of C.O. of the Canadian Wing at Annette Island.  He will be sorely missed by all personnel of the squadron.  F/L Kerwin appointed C.O. of our squadron.   The balance of the squadron arrived in Juneau at 07:00 hours. 

June 14th, 1942
Squadron left Juneau at 06:00 hours and arrived at Valdez at 14:00.  Squadron offices set up at Elmendorf.  No flying today. 

June 15th 
Squadron took over readiness (24 hours) with six Kittyhawks. Balance of squadron departed Valdez at 07:00 hours.

June 16th, 1942
P/O Lynch and *Whiteside on orders from W.A.C. moved by air to Sea Island (Vancouver Airport) for the purpose of flying two Kittyhawks of the 14 (F) to Anchorage, in formation with the three that are already at Sea Island.  All machines to have belly tanks.  Balance of squadron to arrive at Seward at 14:30. Disembarked at 19:30, embarking on train at 21:00.  Church services were conducted each Sunday by the Adjutant. 

L-R- my grandfather P/O Lynch, wife Eileen, Baird's wife Muriel, *F/S Baird at Patricia Bay, B.C. just before departing for Alaska.  F/S Baird was killed July 16th when he and four other Canadian Airmen were killed when lost in the Aleutian weather.

* P/O Whiteside did not survive the war, he was in the same formation as F/S Baird (above) when they got lost in the fog and crashed into Unalaska.