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. 



  1. What a beautiful tribute, Karen.

  2. Thank you. He was a beautiful person and I am better for knowing him.

  3. Oh my gosh! I coukdnt keep a dry eye so I can only imagine how many boxes of Kleenex you went through writing this. Truly an amazing union of circumstance and fate. This is such a beautiful tribute to an inspirational force who will live on in the hearts of many. It was an honour to meet you Bob, and thank you Karen, my bestie, for the invite to join you at Oshkosh and rub shoulders with a legend.

    1. It was a tough one, that's for sure. So glad you got to meet him. Through out the entire week, he kept saying to me "I can see why she is your best friend." Such a special weekend full of memorable moments.