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September 16, 2011
Such Men LivedBy Greyhawk
Today is National POW/MIA Recognition Day, which seemed a fine time to revisit this entry from January of this year, and remember a man who would never forget such an occasion...
Traveled to Dallas and back over the past week. Sadly, the purpose was a funeral. The week that marked the passing of Bill Bower, the last surviving Doolittle Raid pilot, and Dick Winters, the original Easy Company commander, also included the death of Gil McDowell, the last of the World War Two veterans in my family. Uncle Gil was my mother's brother and a member of America's high school class of '42. As soon as he graduated he followed two older brothers into the Army (Air Corps), became a pilot (no college degree required in those days), was shot down over France, captured by the Nazis, and eventually liberated from a POW camp by Patton's Third. There are much longer and amazing stories there for another day (and other tellers). For now suffice to say he decided military service - though he'd certainly experienced some of the worst potential consequences of it - wasn't so bad. So he stayed for thirty years, three decades that included Korea and concluded with Vietnam.
Though his military career almost ended before it really began:
I trained on the PT-17 (Steersman bi-wing), which was the first time I was ever in a plane. After 9 hours I soloed then took basic training in the BT-13, then the advanced trainer AT-6. I got my silver wings and 2nd Lt. Bars on February 8, 1944, then to P-47 high altitude formation for escorting bombers & simulated dogfights. During one training dogfight I collided with the other P-47 and cut it in two. My prop was wrapped around the engine cowling so I could not return to home base. I saw a nearby cow pasture and landed there with wheels up. I went to the farmhouse, which fortunately had a telephone, and called the base to tell them about the accident and where I was. The other pilot had bailed out and survived the crash.That's how he ended his teenage years. On the street where he spent his final years in Texas he was the old guy with the flag pole in his front yard. Such sights aren't rare there, so if you passed by at the right time and took notice you'd see him raising it in the morning and lowering it in the evening - actions I doubt he could take without remembering this:
It was not long afterward that Uncle Gil decided being in the service (back in those days, kids, it was simply called in the service - short for in the service of the country) wasn't bad. By the time he retired he had nearly 8,000 hours flying time piloting more types of aircraft than most people might see in a lifetime.
But he did this, (click image for a larger, readable version) too:
There's a family story behind that report, too. Seems he was saving lives without permission, and at some point was ordered to cease and desist - an order he fully intended to comply with just as soon as he was finished. This landed him in some hot water, from which he in turn was saved only by a timely letter of praise and thanks sent by some Japanese government official to echelons above those who wanted his head. Our family version of the story concludes (and from experience it sounds like eternal truth to me): the same commander who wanted to bust his chops for doing this ended up getting a medal for it, too.
I hope that on reading that punch line you laughed. These stories are meant to be told with some laughter - if you could get him to tell them in the first place. Uncle Gil was like that. He wasn't one in a million, he was one of a million - or more - ordinary men who did ordinary things and didn't see much need to talk much about them once they were done. (His nephew respectfully disagrees with that last bit - obviously. Having the benefit of knowing these stories as points of comparison for my own 24 years in the service meant I could often remind myself along the way that my own circumstances really aren't so bad...)
Now that he, like so many others is gone (and sorely missed) this comment from a peripheral player in Uncle Gil's story sums it all up well: "It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died," General George Patton said of those who fell in the Second World War - appending a conclusion that likewise applies to those who went on to long and worthy lives thereafter: "Rather we should thank God that such men lived."
(Uncle Gil's story - as told to his daughter, here.)
Posted by Greyhawk / September 16, 2011 11:34 AM | Permalink
Mudville's eighth anniversary falls in a time period with lots of military anniversaries. One occurring this week - the 150th anniversary of the South firing on Ft Sumter, has (rightfully) gotten a lot of media coverage. Others, like the 70th anniversa... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
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Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com