Monday, February 20, 2017

WWII Aleutian Pilot Flies Again!

This week will go down as one for the highlight reels.  Anyone who knows me, knows I dream big so when presented with a window of opportunity to make a dream come true for the only known Aleutian Campaign pilot still living, I was on it!  Thursday, thanks to the Collings Foundation and pilot, Brian Norris,  I got to be part of the extraordinary experience of seeing WW2 fighter pilot, Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Bob Brocklehusrt re-live some of his wartime youth by flying a P-51 Mustang once again.  It was an absolute honor and privilege to be part of.  From the way I see it, my role in making this happen is the very least I could do for anyone who was willing to pay the ultimate price in defense of our continent and to protect our way of life;  the glorious life of privileges that we enjoy today.

Pilot, Brian Norris and Co-Pilot Lt. Col (Ret) Bob Brocklehurst

Back on the ground after a successful flight.  L-R: Me, Bob and Brian. 

Mr. Bob keeps asking me, why I do this thing that I do?  I thought I would give him a formal answer and share it with you... online.

First off, I will say that the drive to peruse this passion comes from a place much bigger than myself and I am really just along for the ride.  Those who have been following me for a while all know it began with the story of my grandfather, an Aleutian Campaign P-40 pilot with the RCAF and my desire to discover what he went through during the war.  This quickly lead to the realization that many people had no knowledge of the fight going on in Alaska during WWII.  That was heart wrenching.  I wanted these airmen, soldiers, and sailors to have a voice as well.  To be heard.  To be remembered and to be honored.  So this began my mission to write about those that served alongside my grandfather in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.   

14 & 111 Fighter Squadron, RCAF Pilots on Amchitka, Alaska. 

Obviously through this process, I began to develop a sincere appreciation for all veterans who served in the biggest war our world has seen.  And because of this, I feel indebted to the greatest generation for the selfless sacrifices millions of them made in defense of our freedom. OUR freedom.  Yours and mine.   The same freedoms we enjoy every single second of every single day.  Freedoms that sadly, are regularly taken advantage of without thought or appreciation.  The lessons and the significance of what this historical group did for us is getting lost in the busyness of the rat raced narcissistic life many of us are caught up in.  Especially today, with the internal turmoil I am witnessing, it is important that we remain level headed and keep in focus, why these men and women were putting themselves on the line for you and I.  Was it so we could live in a conflicted country 75 years later?  I think not!  These WWII veterans, who were from all walks and religions of life, went to war in defense of all of our liberties.

I recently posed this question to a miserable Boston cab driver, who had some derogatory uneducated things to say about a certain group, "Hey picture this" I said  "If you were on the battlefield and your life needed to be saved, you would not care one bit if that same person you are criticizing was coming to save you.  You would just be happy to be saved.  So, why would it be any different now?  We are all humans first."  Interestingly, this cab conversation came just after finishing up an interview with Allan Serrol,  a 101 year old, Aleutian Island Army veteran who took part in the bloody hand to hand combat on Attu.  He was sharing with me what it was like to shoot a gun at someone for the first time.  And how he would not have wished that on anyone.  Allan had some profound things to say about the war experience and how it effected him.  And here, this damn cab driver is unjustly worried about one group of people just because they are different than him.  Shameful really.  Allan's story is just one example of many stories I have heard with the common message being that our veterans were fighting for everybody who lived here, not just certain groups of people.  Do you really think millions of people died so that we can continue to fight against each other in our own country?  Seriously?  Is that why they sacrificed their lives?  Their stories are important to us as a nation, so we can stay grounded and insure that their fight was not in vain. 

101 year old, Aleutian Island Army Veteran, Sgt. Allan Seroll.  December 2016.

For that, I feel a personal responsibility on behalf of my grandfather and all who served alongside him in defense of our freedoms, to do my best to make their stories known long after they are not around to share them themselves.  If we choose to forget their sacrifices, then also lost are the lessons that the war provided us.  And if the lesson is lost, then what the heck were they fighting for in the end?  And to me, that is the most tragic end of all.
This is something that so deeply touches my heart, that to speak about it creates tears of immense thankfulness and undying gratitude for their willingness to give up their lives for a bunch of people they did not personally know.   I didn't know them.  You didn't know them.  My parents, aunts, uncles did not know them but yet they were willing to quietly give their lives for us, complete strangers, as well as for this great country in which we now live and call home.   It IS thanks to them.  And that is why I do what I do Mr Brocklehurst. 

Take a look at Bob flying high at 8000 feet in the 'Toulouse Nuts' a TF-51D.  This was the last original TF model ever built and won the 2016 Oshkosh Warbird Grand Champion.   Riding in style, I'd say. 

Bob is still on top of the world after his ride.  I knew that I would fall in love with this story but I had no idea that the world would too and I could not be more thrilled at the result.  Bob is flabbergasted with the amount of phone calls he is receiving from all over and deservedly so.  To him and his family, he is just a humble regular guy- Dad, Grandpa, Great Grandpa, Great Great Great Grandpa, Uncle, friend, neighbor.... But to many of us, he is a hero, and part of a group that we will always owe a great deal to.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your service Lieutenant Colonel (Ret)  Bob Brocklehurst.