Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Clock of Life

The following text, the author of which is unfortunately lost in an endless loop of email forwards, is to me a powerful message about life and purpose.  I hope readers of this blog will agree and that anyone who knows the source will add it in a comment below:


    Many years ago, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago . Capone wasn't famous for anything heroic. He was notorious for enmeshing the windy city in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder.  Capone had a lawyer nicknamed "Easy Eddie." He was Capone's lawyer for a good reason. Eddie was very good! In fact, Eddie's skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time.

     To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well. Not only was the money big, but Eddie got special dividends, as well.. For instance, he and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all of the conveniences of the day. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago City block.  Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocity that went on around him.  Eddie did have one soft spot, however. He had a son that he loved dearly. Eddie saw to it that his young son had clothes, cars, and a good education. Nothing was withheld.  Price was no object.  And, despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong.  Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was.  Yet, with all his  wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn't give his son; he couldn't pass on a good name or a good example.

      One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. Easy Eddie wanted to rectify wrongs he had done.  He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al "Scarface" Capone, clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son some semblance of integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against The Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great. But, he testified.  Within the year, Easy Eddie's life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a  lonely Chicago Street.  But in his eyes, he had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he could ever pay Police removed from his pockets a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medallion, and a poem clipped from a magazine.

      The poem read:

"The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour.  Now is the only time you own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in time. For the clock may soon be still."


      World War II produced many heroes. One such man was Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare.  He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific.  One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank.  He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his  ship.  His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet.

     As he was returning to the mother ship, he saw something that turned his blood cold; a squadron of Japanese aircraft was speeding its way toward the American fleet.  The American fighters were gone on a sortie, and the fleet was all but defenseless. He couldn't reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. Nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger. There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert them from the  fleet.  Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50 caliber's blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was finally spent.

     Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to  clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible, rendering them unfit to fly.  Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another  direction.  Deeply relieved, Butch O'Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier.  Upon arrival, he reported in and related the event surrounding his return. The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It showed the extent of Butch's daring attempt to protect his fleet.  He had, in fact, destroyed five enemy aircraft.

   This took place on February 20, 1942 , and for that action Butch became the Navy's first Ace of W.W.II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.  A year later Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His home town would  not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade, and today, O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man. So, the next time you find yourself at O'Hare International, give some thought to visiting Butch's memorial displaying his statue and his Medal of Honor. It's located between Terminals 1 and 2.


      Butch O'Hare was "Easy Eddie's" son.

Postscript: confirms much of the above as fact and rejects some details as apocryphal.  Whatever the actual facts may be, the story is clearly inspirational and compelling as testimony to human experience on a broad scale and its message has considerable value - WGS

Sunday, June 17, 2012

To the Colors

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how can we measure the worth of a poignant video?  I was touched several years ago by the Ford commercial of a young veteran returning home from Iraq.  You'll find that one in the archived posts of this blog.  The video embedded here, titled "Reveille" is not new, but it's worth watching every now and then just to help us keep things in perspective.  I hope you find it as inspirational and thought provoking as I did.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Never Forgotten

The raison de'ĂȘtre of Memorial Day is our universal hope and pledge that those who lost their lives in the cause of freedom will never be forgotten.  This weekend, Americans from coast to coast will spend time reflecting on past events that took some of our brightest minds and strongest spirits.  That is a cost of war that's impossible to measure.  The effect of their sacrifice is that others could survive and prevail in the name of Liberty.  Our reflection today, well intentioned as it is, seems so trivial in comparison to their deeds.  Sadly, many of those heroes are not remembered at all—lost in time and space.  We can only think of them today in the abstract.  There is a modern tendency to honor all of our military on this day, though I personally still consider it a day of tribute to those who died in the line of duty.

Last night I returned home from the Ninth Air Force Association reunion in Columbia, South Carolina.  It was a bitter-sweet experience.  The association was founded by, and its membership consists mainly of, veterans from World War II.  These hardy and intrepid souls are nearly all in the 90+ age group and they have been reuniting for 67 years.  They come from all parts of the country and relive the times that were so important in their lives.  Although my own service in the 9th AF was 20 years after WWII ended, I have very much appreciated the camaraderie of their reunions.  Simply being a part of their group made me feel more closely connected to the days when I was just an infant and they were locked in mortal combat with a fierce enemy of Democracy.  The bitter part of this reunion is that it was to be the last of a long and memorable tradition.  The years have finally taken their toll and like many other veteran groups, this one can no longer defy the transition that eventually comes to all of us.  Helping to make this final reunion memorable, the current IXth AF Commander, Major General Larry Wells and his wife Kathy hosted the group for an exciting tour of the facilities and aircraft at Shaw Air Force Base.  Their personal attention and hospitality was extraordinary.  General Wells was also the keynote speaker at the reunion banquet and shared his vision of the Air Force of the future—never losing sight of the fact that it rests on the foundation built by the veterans of WWII. 

My personal thoughts on Memorial Day will of course include Bill Cramsie, who might as well have been kin to me.  I wish that I could report on this occasion that the plane flown by Bill has been found, but that was not to be.  The wreckage that might have been his turned out to be an unrecorded German aircraft shot down during WWII.  The search for 43-9699 continues.   Also in my thoughts will be my maternal grandmother's brother Melvin Roberts who died in a Japanese POW Camp in Formosa only a few months before the end of the war.

 Melvin Roberts 
7 Jun 1908 - 29 May 1945

Melvin was a robust French Canadian from the north woods of Wisconsin.  He worked for a time in the maritime industry on the Great Lakes and joined the Army in 1938 at the age of 30.  He served as a private in Company C, 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry Division and was stationed in the Philippines at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack and America's entry into WWII.

Hokusen Maru - 1945

After surviving the Bataan Death March, the horrendous conditions at Cabanatuan, the wretched hell-ship Hokusen Maru, and the constant forced labor, Melvin could not conquer the beriberi that years of malnutrition had vested upon him.  He died on May 29, 1945.  In 1949, as part of the effort of the American Graves Registration Service, his remains were recovered from the grave at Shirakawa in Formosa and transferred to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Honolulu where they remain today.  As a youngster, I heard many loving tales about Melvin and even then realized how much his loss was felt by those who loved him.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cramsie Day 2012

Bill Cramsie and 43-9699 continue to make news as we mark today the 67th Anniversary of the day that he and his gunners Charles Henshaw and Jack Steward disappeared without a trace.  Those who are familiar with the story will know that Bill has not rested in peace during that time.  In fact, he has pulled, pushed, cajoled and clawed his way into the hearts and minds of scores of people from California to the U.K.  The search for Bill Cramsie began seven years ago.  It should have begun sixty years earlier, but a tiny human foible precluded that.

Readers of this blog will know about "First to Fall" and about Ross Stewart.  Some will know that Ross discovered an anomaly in the records that may well lead to closure on this search.  As Lt. Cramsie was flying alone at 400 feet above Bradwell Bay, he made a call for a bearing to the RAF base there.  His hope was to make an emergency landing before the overburdened left engine of his A-20 Havoc failed completely.  He had lost the other engine much earlier due to intense flak over France. 

The call was heard by his friend, classmate and fellow pilot Marion S. (Scotty) Street, who was also flying on one engine and could see Cramsie below him.  Street was within sight of the main flight as they crossed the English Channel and entered Bradwell Bay.  They were on a direct course from just east of Dunkirk to their home station at Wethersfield.  The call for a bearing was heard and acknowledged by the ground station and a determination of Cramsie's position was made by triangulation of the radio signal.  That location was logged at latitude and longitude coordinates that placed Cramsie at 40 miles east of the station at Bradwell Bay and actually in the North Sea.  The Missing Air Crew Report includes a map with that location marked by an "X" and an arrow showing the coordinate he was advised to follow.

This reported location has always been at odds with common sense and the official reports of pilots who saw Cramsie's plane below them on the return from France to England.  Ross Stewart astutely realized that the reported longitude must contain a number inversion.  Plotting the corrected coordinates put this position precisely on the line and at the proper distance from land that all contemporary reports of pilot would suggest.  Ross also discovered through an internet charting resource that there is an unidentified aircraft wreck at this very spot, which happens to be a large sand bank that is partially exposed at the lowest tides.  He then located a 35-year-old British aerial survey photo that showed a twin-engined aircraft at that spot.  The photo was taken from 26,000 feet and detail was insufficient for positive identification, but it looked very much like the profile of an A-20 Havoc.

As Ross expanded his search for information to local divers and fishermen, he met Roger Gaspar an expert in these waters and a man with extraordinary background and skills.  On Easter Sunday morning, the two of them coordinated a trip to the site with the help of Alan Bird, an Oyster boat's captain, to determine if that wreck was still to be found.  Why on Easter?  It has to do with the Spring tides being at their lowest point of the year for a couple days and that bad weather was forecast for the following days.  These intrepid explorers boarded the waiting craft at 4:00 AM and anchored off the sand bank in the early AM, approaching it with a dinghy as the tide receded.  Their effort was well rewarded.  At precisely the coordinates expected, they did find the wreckage of an aircraft and some indications that it may be an A-20.  Further examination of the wreckage is presently underway and it is hopeful that a solid identification will soon be possible.

The main part of the aircraft which was visible in the 1970s aerial survey is apparently now covered with sand, but is likely in the immediate vicinity of the tail sections and main landing gear shown in the photos above.

The story of Bill Cramsie and "9699" has always seemed to write itself and to lead people to the place they need to go.  I feel comforted in the fact that it happens to others, not just to me.  There are a lot of people with the desire to see closure on this long episode and obviously a lot of will to prevail in that quest.