Friday, October 16, 2009


We consolidated some poignant photos from other internet sources and background music from the USAF band into a short video clip for presentation at the 416th Bomb Group reunion banquet on September 12, 2009 at Branson, MO. It is a memorial to those veterans of the Group who recently passed away. Those killed in action, or who died before about 2000 are not included in this clip, but a project to honor their memory is currently being planned. The original video included a rendition of the National Anthem, which is not included here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Defining Moments

We can all look back at moments in our lives when something extraordinary moved us abruptly from the path that we were on and launched us on a new course. These, for lack of a better term, might be called defining moments. The journey that led to the writing of First to Fall was punctuated by a host of defining moments—so much so that I often wondered where the path was headed next. One of the most powerful episodes was the apparition of Clemie Smith's V-mail sent to Bob Basnett in June of 1944.

Nearly three years ago, on October 19, 2006 to be exact, Doris and I were visiting with Bob and Puz Basnett at their home in central Missouri. We had enjoyed a delicious meal and a couple glasses of wine when the discussion turned to Bill Cramsie. Bob shared a number of memories and patiently endured my grilling for details. Then, without saying a word, he rose from the table and walked into a nearby room. When he came back, he had in his hand what looked like a photograph, except that it was all handwriting. Although I knew of V-mail, this was the first that I had actually seen. It took me by surprise, not only because it was more than 60 years old, but also because it was signed by Clemie Smith. As I sat there, nonplussed, Doris had the presence of mind to snap a photo. As I was soon to learn, that photo captured a defining moment.

Wayne (right) holding the V-mail from Clemie Smith

The first thing I noticed was that Clemie's address (previously unknown to me) was at the top of the form. Other little details were enlightening, but the lightning bolt struck when I read these words: "Have seen Dee and she told me Bill is missing in action - and asked me to ask you if you knew anything about it." Bob had told me about the double-dates in Manhattan, but he did not remember the name of the girl that Bill had dated. Here it was—sort of. My first thought was how I would ever find someone named "Dee" in a city the size of New York.

Vmail from Clemie Smith to Bob Basnett - June 1944

It took the better part of two years and a LOT of false leads and dead ends before the mysterious Dee finally materialized. But, in the process, I learned enough about their relationship to know that Dee and Bill were far more than casual acquaintances. The revelation in Clemie Smith's V-mail was indeed a defining moment in the development of First to Fall because it brought to me a new perspective of Bill Cramsie the person, not just the West Pointer killed in action. Without the V-mail from Clemie, it is very likely that I would not have been able to follow the story to its conclusion.