Saturday, September 25, 2021

25 September, 1942

75 years ago today marks the first joint U.S. and Canadian Operation of the Aleutian Campaign with the first P-40 escorted bomber mission successfully completed. In actuality, this mission was schedule to take place 22 September, only escorting 12 B-24s with 20 P-40's slated to come in from behind and 15 P-39's sent forward. Encountering rain squalls and diminishing ceilings around the half way point, Colonel Eareckson, leading the bombers, scrubbed the mission and turned back unbeknownst to the P-40's who continued flying at under 200 foot ceilings and who then met head on, the returning P-39s! As Major Al Aiken, 18th Fighter Squadron leading the flight of P-40s said, 

"It was the maddest scramble for safe airspace I ever 
experienced in my life.

He managed to get his flight turned around and up through the clouds avoiding the mess down below only to discover that Lt. John A. Bernston was missing. He had gotten disoriented and spun into the water.  Thus, he became the first casualty of the 18th FS in the Aleutian Campaign. 

Below is an official 'List of Officers assigned for Mission.' Dated 18 September, 1942

Because I spent so much time with Lt. Col. Bob Brocklehurst, (18th FS), and
have done so much research,
 I feel like I know half the people on here:
Gayle, Rex Rynerson, Al Aiken, Saxhaug... 

Bob would talk about these people and tell funny stories... And of course,
the Canadian pilots, some of the families of these gentlemen 
I am now in contact with.  

The morning of 25 September, 1942 Major Jack Chennault, (eldest son of of Claire Chennault) would lead 8 P-40's from the 11th, 7 from the 18th and 4 from 111(F), RCAF, as escort to eleven B-24 bombers, lead by Col. Earekson against Kiksa. Also supported by Major Miller, Commander of the 42nd FS, and his group of 11 P-39s. The mission was a success, with the fighters suppressing the anti-aircraft fire so the bombers could get into position to hit different shipping positions and shore facilities. Several Rufes (A6M Zeros on floats) came up to greet the fighters, one was hot on the tail of Lt. Al Akien in his P-40 over Kiska Harbor when Canadian Squadron leader Kenneth Boomer shot the Rufe down.  The second one was downed by American lead, Jack Chennault.  The entire mission took 3:35 hours. To read S/L Boomer's debriefing on his encounter with the zero, you can see that in a previous post titled  "One Hell of a Layover".

Sadly, Major Miller would be killed several days later on further operations over Kiska when he flew to aid of one of the fighters that was was being attacked. Another air battle ensued but this time, he did not come out on top and his P-39 when down in the water. Al Aiken, who was almost lost during the mission on the 25th recalls,

  "I followed him in a more loose formation. I couldn't call him, I couldn't say anything, 
I was just helpless as far as he was concerned to communicate. So I just sat there 
and watched him helplessly fly right into the water. I feel to this day that he was
 either dead since I couldn't see any damage on his airplane, or he could have been 
hit and unconscious... I just don't know, but the airplane went in and I never saw it again.
 It didn't skip or anything, just went in like a bullet... When I got back to Adak, 
I learned that it was Major Miller. "

You can see both of them noted here in my grandfathers logbook.

I love that he logged downed pilots names in his book, there are other examples as well. This was very real for them, these were their buddies. They all knew at any moment, it could be them next.  Now, as we honor their legacies, it is important to remember,  as Lt. Col (RET) Bob Brocklehurst put it, "... that this was a war and it wasn't all parades and beautiful flying in the skies."  

Thank you Lt. John A. Berntson and Major Wilbur G. Miller for you service and sacrifice to our countries.   

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Why They Should Fly

There has been so much discussion over the last few years of whether or not warbirds should continue to fly and offer the unique public experience of riding in one.  Although I somewhat understand the point of wanting to ground them in an effort to protect them and avoid unnecessary and unfortunate loss to both planes and passengers,  I still feel that their benefits to historical preservation far outweigh the unlikelihood of a loss.  

Flying museums, which is essentially what warbirds are, provide a very tangible way for younger generations to learn an important part of history, demonstrated perfectly in this video taken by my friend's daughter Molly (14), her sister, Madeline (8) and my daughter, Aly (13).   This clip, created by these teenage girls, took place on a quiet day during a Collings Foundation Tour stop in Punta Gorda, Florida four years ago.   The downtime gave the girls a chance to hang out in the B-24 Witchcraft and the late, B-17 Nine-0-Nine. They really learned something about these planes; like what the gadgets did, why the aircraft were important and aviations role in the outcome of history.  But THEN, best of all- they shared it publicly for others in their generation to learn from too!  And they were excited about it.  It was brilliant!  THAT is exactly what this is about.  To pass the lessons from our greatest generation on so the lives that were lost in such an ugly conflict are never forgotten neither are the circumstances leading up to it. 

To see the seamless educational experience that these aircraft have in action during this video is beautiful.  THIS is what these planes can do when given the chance.  They make history come ALIVE.   They stimulate ones ability to absorb the information which hopefully, they make use of throughout their lifetime.   


Yes- this really gets me pumped up.  It is important.  You know,  I would bet good money that these young ladies learned, and better yet, retained more from those two hours in that living museum then they ever would in a school history class learning about the exact same subject; and that is not a knock on history teachers because my daughter has had some amazingly dynamic history teachers over the years but none, can compare to this type of learning environment.  At the very least, an encounter like this will help them connect the dots to the bookwork taught in school. 

We will save for another day, the summary of other positive and life enhancing ways these dynamic historical machines contribute to the connectedness family members of those who served feel or the light and joy that passes over veterans faces when reunited with their aircraft.   It is priceless and should you witness this firsthand, you will understand for yourself why they need to stay in the air!  

If you must see the evidence now, check out Bob Brocklehust's ride in a P-51 a few years ago, an end of life changing event for him.  Just ask his family. 

It is also important to remember that all of these benefits are possible thanks to the tireless work of the planes, the pilots and the people who spend countless hours maintaining them so that the story of those who flew them is never forgotten.  And when a loss happens, no one feels it more than those who put their heart and souls into the mission of honoring a generation that is near extinct.

Keep Em Flying!