I Went Searching For an Indian and Found I Was a Dutchman

I Went Searching for an Indian and Found I Was a Dutchman.
I've always been interested in history so when my Uncle Wayne gave me some information about our family roots I had to begin changing the way I've always thought about where I came from. We had always been told, "there's Indian blood in our ancestry, we just haven't been able to prove it". I have been surprised to learn that while searching for an Indian link, I found a Dutchman. Now I'm not saying there may not be some Indian blood somewhere but the prospect looks dimmer the more I find out.
I also have had some general prejudices about folks back east, especially areas like Ohio (I grew up in the Woody Hayes era and couldn't stand Ohio State). What a surprise (and God ordained I believe) to find we arrived in Ohio in the early 1800s, my ancestor fought in an Ohio Regiment in the Civil War, and came to Kansas afterwards. That, and some visits to Ohio, has adjusted my thinking.
And the other reason why-to keep communication between the far flung members of my family and encourage them to drop a note so we can keep in touch with the details of their lives. We miss too much by not being there in the day to day workings of life. So, leave a post for all of us.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

43 Years Ago

On this September 7, 2013, it's a nice sunny, cool, morning with a wind expected to be 7-13 knots out of the south.  Many of you who know me also know I have a sailboat and this is near perfect sailing weather.  So you know what we'll be doing.
Unless you read this blog regularly (hopefully with more regularity than I write it) you know the Admiral and I have a sailboat, a 27' Newport, built in 1970, we've named the Glenn E.  You may also know why we named it that (see post "One of Those Weekends 2/26/12).  Knowing that, you might also know why today is such a special day.
Forty-three years ago today, the namesake of our boat, SSGT Glenn H English, Jr, gave his life for his buddies and our country in the Phu My district of South Vietnam.  For his actions, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. So this is an important day for us.  Would you take a moment to read this and remember Sgt English?  Maybe even pray for his family and the families of those who still to this day bear the scars of loss.  We show the fiber of our character by the honor we show to those who sacrifice.

GLENN HARRY ENGLISH JR served as a squad leader with Company ' E ', 3rd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade and was a posthumous recipient of the CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR who rests in honored glory in section 1 - 288 - A in the Fort Bragg Post Cemetery, Fort Bragg, Fayetteville, North Carolina.


Staff Sergeant English was riding in the lead armored personnel carrier in a four vehicle column when an enemy mine exploded in front of his vehicle. As the vehicle swerved from the road, a concealed enemy force waiting in ambush opened fire with automatic weapons and anti - tank grenades, striking the vehicle several times and setting it on fire. Staff Sergeant English escaped from the disabled vehicle and, without pausing to extinguish the flames on his clothing, rallied his stunned unit. He then led it in a vigorous assault, in the face of heavy enemy automatic weapons fire, on the entrenched enemy position. This prompt and courageous action routed the enemy and saved his unit from destruction. Following the assault, Staff Sergeant English heard cries of three men still trapped inside the vehicle. Paying no heed to warnings that the ammunition and fuel in the burning personnel carrier might explode at any moment, Staff Sergeant English raced to the vehicle and climbed inside to rescue his wounded comrades. As he was lifting one of the men to safety, the vehicle exploded, mortally wounding him and the man he was attempting to save. By his extraordinary devotion to duty, indomitable courage, and utter disregard for his own safety, Staff Sergeant English saved his unit from destruction and selflessly sacrificed his life in a brave attempt to save three comrades. Staff Sergeant English's conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the cost of his life were an inspiration to his comrades and are in the highest traditions of the United States Army.

CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR was presented to his family on 8 August 1974 at Blair House by the Vice President of the United States of America Gerald R. Ford

Plaque mounted on the bulkhead of the S/V Glenn E

Saturday, November 24, 2012

There's more to that story (continued from post below)

The Daily Mirror (Los Angeles)
8 motherless children

Dec. 20, 1957
Long Beach
Faustino Abella, 31, was hurrying back to his ship, the Navasota, a tanker at the Long Beach Navy base, when it happened in the morning darkness, about 5:30 a.m.
His wife, Jennie May, 30, was driving the car when it stalled on the approach to the Ocean Street Bridge over the Los Angeles River. A woman in another car offered to give them a push. But when the Abellas' car started, the gas pedal apparently jammed. The car roared up the bridge, jumped the curb, tore out 37 feet of railing, hit a concrete abutment and plunged 20 feet into the water, landing upside-down.
As Navy divers worked to recover the bodies from the overturned car at the bottom of the river, four children were waiting for their mother's return: Faustino Abella Jr., who was 18 months old, and three girls from her previous marriage, Gloria Jean, 12; Mary, 10; and Susan, 9. The home at 2100 W. Willard St., in Long Beach, was sparsely decorated for the holidays with a small Christmas tree in a corner and a single package.
Several hours later, Long Beach police officers told the children their parents were dead and took them to Juvenile Hall because there was no one to care for them. "With anguished tears, the girls gathered up a few belongings, their little brother clutched a toy truck in both arms and they went along," The Times said.
Mrs. Sam Novak, a great-aunt living in San Diego, took custody of four children, saying: "I'd have gone to them if I'd have had to crawl."
The next day, Jennie's parents, Samuel and Minnie Icke, arrived after an all-night drive from St. Louis, where they were raising four more of her children: Claude Capps, 15; Charles, 13; Susan's twin brother Bobby; and Sammy, 8.
Samuel began disposing of the few pieces of furniture in the home and settling Jennie's affairs before taking the children back to St. Louis. Faustino's funeral was held in the Philippines, where he was born, while Jennie's was held in St. Louis.
The Lafayette Hotel hosted the family for Christmas dinner and gave them a check, but beyond that, we don't know what became of the children. We can only hope for the best.

Why History is Important

When I was just a young pup, in the 60’s and 70’s, every year we went to the Icke (pronounced “Ike”) family reunion in Carmen, Oklahoma, the first weekend in August.  My grandmother Rachel was an Icke and we rarely missed one.  Through my childhood, and into my teen years, there was an old curmudgeon who came from St. Louis named Sam Icke.  He was supposedly a cousin of my grandmother’s but it was always a bit fuzzy where he fit into the people who were important to me.
He was old (to me anyway), had a cigar (early on at least if I remember.  I always knew that was a no-no), outspoken and opinionated but he did buy all the “sodie” for the reunion.  He would go downtown and buy cases of “pop” (which is what WE called it) and on the Sunday of the reunion (while we were, of course, at church), he iced it down and had it ready at the Carmen City Park Pavilion (or alternately at the old skating rink if the park was taken).  I’m not sure if I liked Sam or not, given his brashness, but if I did dislike him, it was tempered by his purchase of sodie.  As a kid, that balanced things out for me.
Sam would always tell us, “you kids don’t waste that sodie!” because we were always tempted to open one, drink a little, shake it up and squirt each other.  He was grumpy that way.  As a kid I couldn’t understand the big deal. As an adult I understand.  As an adult I am Sam-like that way.
Anyway, Sam would bring his second wife Olga (his first wife had died) along with his grandson Tino.  I never understood why his parents didn’t come but vaguely remember being told his parents had died and that was good enough for me the kid.  Tino was a few years older than me and he would pal around with me and my cousins like an older brother.  He was always smiling.  I remember as just a young teenager being struck one year to find out that he wasn’t coming anymore.  He died suddenly at 17 from a heart problem.  I found that strange but being a self involved teenage-type person it didn’t affect me too much.
Then comes today, November 24, 2012, my 33rd wedding anniversary, and I’m going through the papers, newspaper articles and such, that I got from my grandmother.  She lived with my aunt Leta and uncle Loyd Wilson her last years and when aunt Leta passed, uncle Loyd thought it best to pass the papers on to the family so gave them to uncle Vic.  Uncle Loyd’s thoughtful that way. Uncle Vic sent them to the last reunion and I brought them home.  The last few days I have had a chance to scan some in to put on Ancestry.com. 
I found a strange article (it’s below) talking about a tragic accident where a couple were killed when their car went into a river and they drowned.  The couple, Mr and Mrs Faustine Abella, left behind eight children and it said the couple was the daughter of a cousin of my grandmother’s.  Still not knowing how it all went together, I filed it under my grandmother’s documents and moved on.   I then found a full page article about Sam Icke, telling of all the things he does at age 76-roofing, gardening, fiddling, dancing, quilt-making and so forth.  As I read the article, it mentions Sam raised his grandchildren after the tragic death of his daughter and son-in-law.  Wait a minute-wasn’t Tino’s last name Abella?  Then it all came together like a jigsaw puzzle.
I began trying to figure out how Sam was related so I could attach the articles to the right records on Ancestry.  He couldn’t be a first cousin because none of grandma’s brothers had a son named Sam that fit (although she did have a brother-wrong age though).  Could it be her dad, John Cheatum Icke’s, brother’s kids?  Sure enough, a Samuel Lee Icke popped up.  Born 1900, moved to Oklahoma as a child, then back home to St. Louis, and died in November 1978.  A perfect fit. 
Sam had a wife, Minnie, who had died (fit again) and two daughters-one was Jenny May who died in 1957.  Was that the right date?  I flipped over the article to find an ad for the local theater. It was showing, on January 7,8, & 9, 3:10 to Yuma.  I went over to IMDB.com to research and found 3:10 to Yuma was released in 1957.  It was showing in Oklahoma in January 1958.  Bingo.
Once I input Jenny May under Sam, Ancestry found her death certificate-Los Angeles California in 1957.  So I added a husband, Faustine Abella, and up came his death certificate-same place, same time.  But I did find he’s actually Faustino Abella and was from, per the certificate, “other country”.  I then put in Tino and seven other unknown children under him and lo and behold, up pops Tino’s death certificate.  And his name wasn’t Tino-it was Faustino as well. He was less than a year old when his parents died.  He passed as well in 1973 at the age of 17-in Illinois where his grandparents lived.
Sam always was a curmudgeon, as I noted at the beginning, but knowing what I know now-the life he lived as a young kid, moving to Indian Territory in a covered wagon, moving back east again, suffering the tragic loss of his child, the pain of his orphaned grandchildren, the loss of a wife, then again of a beloved grandson he raised, can you blame him? 
So, why is history so important?  These people aren’t just dusty facts.  They are real people who live lives just like us.  For some it’s harder.   Maybe if we know their history, instead of being a curmudgeon, they suddenly become giant heroes.  I’m proud to be related to Sam.  I hope I’m half the man he was.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Wingman

We laid the Wingman to rest in a little cemetery north of Belvue, Kansas, not far from the Union Pacific tracks where his father called a workplace. The Wingman's dad worked for the UPRR and moved the family up and down the tracks to the various little towns in northeast Kansas.  I know this because the Wingman gave me the book he wrote, Sunflower Wild, about growing up and going off to war.  The Wingman's name was George Joseph Brooks.  LIEUTENANT George Joseph Brooks, US Army Air Corps, DFC, retired.

The little cemetery sits alongside a dirt road about a mile north of Belvue, surrounded by soybean and corn which aren't faring too well due to the terrible drought and heat of this unique summer.  All the crops look pretty bad except those gaining the benefit of a huge irrigator arm in the field next to the cemetery. It's obvious which of the beans are getting the moisture and which are on the periphery gasping for it.  But today is a unique day in that this day, of all the days over the past few months, is graced with overcast skies, cool breezes, and a drizzle in the air.  It's a little damp but we don't mind after all the dryness.  It actually feels good.  And a little moisture won't bother us as we gather to honor the Wingman.

Even the army honor guard isn't bothered as they stand waiting for the Wingman and his family to arrive. They're about a half hour late but for all the he has done, no one cares.  I sit in my car, peering in the rear view window through the detail towards the rock wall gates waiting for them to arrive.  It's obvious when it occurs because the detail suddenly comes to attention and gives due respect.  After they park, those of us waiting get out and slowly make our way past the detachment to the covered grave.

After everyone settles, the detachment, in their very military way, marches to the hearse and crisply move the Wingman to the grave site, his coffin properly draped in the national colors under which he fought.  They retire and we give ear to hear the hospice chaplain recount to us comforting words from The Word-reminders of the One larger than us and His comfort and care for us.  Frankly I'm not one much for women preachers but she did a nice job.  As if on cue, out of south, came the distinctive whistle of a steam engine. Of all days for an old steamer to come down the UP tracks, it was this day-and time.  A coincidence? I don't think it was planned to coincide with the Wingman's ceremony but a coincidence it wasn't. It was so significant, even the chaplain paused to take note of the uniqueness of the event.  She then continued on, recounting the Wingman's exploits which I matched up in my head from what I had learned from his book.

He went off to war back in the 1940s when he was just a young man of 18.  Away from a small community where no one strayed very far from home, to Texas where he trained to be an airplane pilot.  He progressed through his training until the day when he was proclaimed a newly minted Lieutenant and of all things, given the controls of the magnificent P-51 Mustang.  From England then eventually France, he would fly to do his part to end the Nazi aggression.  On one fateful day in 1944 he was doing his duty as, you guessed it, the Wingman. It was August 13, 1944, his fifth mission (exactly 68 years ago today).

As they flew over France, the Leader took some German fighters under his guns and in the swirling fury of a WWII dogfight, P-51s up against ME-109s and FW-190s, the Leader managed to down three and the Wingman two.  As they limped for home the Wingman noted the Leader's plane was a bit worse for the wear.  In fact, he barely made it back. The Wingman wasn't so lucky.  The oil temperature went up, the engine died, and flies began coming from under the instruments, burning off the Wingman's wool socks,  He tried and tried to get the canopy off, but to no avail, until he remembered some words from training. Suddenly the canopy, and the Wingman were away.  His parachute barely opened, an apple tree breaking his fall.  He was now a resident of France.  For the skills he used that day, he helped the Leader get home and won for himself the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart.

The Wingman and "Kansas Aggie"
The Wingman managed to evade the enemy with the help of some kind French folk, eventually made his way back to friendly lines, now a full fledged member of the Air Force's Escape and Evasion Society for life. His hand badly burned, he was treated and eventually returned to duty to fly more missions and even serve again during Korea.  After all that excitement the war ended and he went home to take up a job with the US postal service, somewhat dull in comparison to his life thus far (commented the chaplain).  The Wingman lived his life like most of us, getting married a few years later, but he never gave up his love of flying.  He even built three of his own planes, one from an old Volkswagen, and one from a kit.  He used them to help the students at K-State learn aviation.

I met him many years ago through his brother Larry with whom I worked.  George was kind enough to allow me into his world, showing me his plane and sharing with me his memorabilia.  He shared with me his book, videos of his interview as a veteran, and his memories.  It was my privilege to call him my friend and I tried to remember each year on his birthday (February 14) and Veteran's Day to send him a card again thanking him and his family for such a sacrifice for me and my family.  It was a small thing.  Which is why I had to rearrange my schedule and show up today.

With the chaplain's part done, she turned the service over to the army detail who, in classic format, just like the movies, they carried out their duty.  Only it was different this time. This was no movie.  They lined up and gave George the required ritual for a hero-three volleys of seven shots and the mournful notes of Taps.  It was a struggle to stay composed but a necessary duty.  They then marched to the coffin, removed the flag, and so very precisely folded it, working every crease, to make it perfect.  They handed it off to the command Sergeant who checked it over again, dug into his pocket and placed within the folds an item unknown to me, and walked to George's widow.

I've seen it a hundred times but the motions, the words, "from a grateful nation" churn my heart, as it obviously does others who openly weep, all restraint having been lost.  But that's ok.  Times like these are reserved for such emotional carnage.  Thankfully, for me, the moment passes. Composure is gained, the chaplain says a final blessing and I wander back to my car.  I look out over the bean field and listen to the gentle whoosh of the misters and the chup-chup of the sprayer on the irrigator.  It was nice. This is the land for which George fought and was willing to die at such a young age.  It was good we remembered him this day.

Rest in peace gentle warrior.  You stood your post with honor. Thank you, from a grateful nation.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Important Things From Your Old Fat Dad

This morning while the wife and the dog were still sleeping and the birds chirping, I ran across something I wrote and bound for my girls when they were still at home.  Advice from me to them.  I thought you might like it as I reread them myself.
I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.  3 John 4
When you are looking for a life's mate, make sure he exhibits these two qualities (besides being a Christian): honesty and unselfishness.  If he is a man of integrity and will serve his family's needs before his own, he is worthy of consideration.  If he's selfish and isn't honest in his dealings with others, drop him like a hot rock.  Chances are he won't get better; he has a basic flaw from his earlier years of training.  Trust God to help you find a mate but use these two items for guides.  (PS-If he asks you for sex to prove your love for him-FLEE!  He is both dishonest and selfish.
God is rarely early but always on time.
Think of money as a tool.  It is an item used to accomplish a task.  As a hammer is used to build a wall or a sweeper is used to clean a floor, so money is used to accomplish a task (like pay a bill, buy food, etc).  Don't allow it to have more importance than it should have.  Once you have a hammer or a sweeper, you have enough to accomplish the task God has given you, you have enough.  Don't let this "tool" dominate your life any more than you would let a hammer or sweeper dominate your life.  God has promised to meet our needs i.e. to provide us with the tools for any job He gives us.  Be satisfied with what you have, because if you can't you won't be satisfied with more. 1 Tim 6.6
Your reaction to any situation in life is more important than the situation itself.  Remember, God put you there.  Your reaction to the impact shows your faith.  Matt 5.39.
There is on greater calling in life for a woman than to be a wife and mother.  If God should give you a husband and children consider it a privilege to put them first and make an impact on your family.  If you have a family, they come first, before your own wants and plans.  If you bring children into the world, it is you and your husband's responsibility to take care of them.  No one else is as qualified as you to do it.  If you put your family's needs ahead of yours and invest your best in them, you will be fulfilled and have no regrets.
Don't find your happiness anywhere else but in God.  "Rejoice that your name is written in the Book of Life".  Luke 10.20.  He is your "portion"-your allotted amount.  With Him you have everything you need in life.
People are more important than programs or things.  Invest your time in people because programs and things won't last into eternity, only people and God's Word.  Don't run over people to accomplish programs or to get things done.  It can't be God's will if you have to harm others to get it done.
Don't be tempted to continually change cars to "keep up with the Jones'"  The cheapest car to have is the one you already have.
Guard your good name (Proverbs 22.1).  Always try to keep your good name pure and unsullied.  Remember you are a Bartlow.  Although there have been some through the years who have been scoundrels, by and large we are a people of honesty and integrity.  This is true a hundred-fold as a Christian.  We must do our best to never let dishonor come to the name of Jesus, the One who gave Himself for us.  Finally remember that a good name is easy to lose but hard to get back.  (Remember at family reunions we always cleaned up the place better than we found it?  This wan't to ensure the return of a deposti or the like but because it would be dishonorable to leave it dirty).
As you go out into the world, watch out for Satan.  He will mask himself as a heavenly messenger (Gal 1.8-9), an angel of light (2 Cor 13.14), a false prophet, etc.  Know God's Word and use it as a filter for your mind to protect yourself from the Evil One.
Motivation.  What is your motivation for what you do?  There are really only two: God and self.  Many people do many good things (for friends, family, etc) but their motivation is still self.  It makes them feel good.  Make you motivation to please Christ in all you do.  then when you do something good it will please Christ AND make you feel good.  Col 3.23.
Change the oil in your car at least every 5000 miles (3000 would be better).  It will save you thousands of dollars.
Rotate the tires on your car every 6000 miles.  It will save you hundreds of dollars.
Check the fluid levels in your car at least twice a month and before trips.  It will save you thousands of dollars.
Make sure the car you're driving has a spare tire and you know how to change it.
Find a good mechanic and service station.  Trade there consistently even if it costs more. It will pay off in the long run.
Keep your car garaged if possible. It will last longer that way.
Giving thanks to God honors Him.  Be sure to thank God for all the things in life, including your next breath.  By thanking God you also make a way for Him so show His salvation to you (Psalms 50.23).
Be prompt and on time for engagements.  By being late, you show disdain and disrespect for the other person.  Remember, their time is important to them also.
The story of the wise and foolish builders.  (Luke 6.40ff).  The wise one built his house on the rock-the rock of faith in Christ.  The stones in his foundation are the trials of life that build faith.  Don't consider the trials of life as 'bad" things but opportunities to trust God so that your faith is build up and you have a strong foundation that will stand when the big trials come.  James says "consider it pure joy" (Jas 1) for trials build perseverance and faith so you may be mature.  No one relishes bad times, but don't consider them negatives-God knew they were coming to you before you were born.  As Job said, "Should I accept the good from the Lord and not the bad?".
Don't be ashamed if your lot in life is "only" a wife and mother.  More lives have been affected for the good by a mother in a well-run household than all the lawyers, doctors, politicians, etc, combined.  The world doesn't need any more of the latter but could use plenty more of the former.
Be faithful to study God's Word daily.  It is the very Word of God entrusted to your care.  To not study diligently and hold it in high regard in the decisions of your life is foolish and a betrayal of the sacred trust given to you by the One who died in your place.
In your marriage, never bring up old wrongs.  Once they're discussed and forgiven, they're gone.  God did it for you-do it for your mate.
Think before you promise to do something.  It is better to not promise than to promise and not do it (Deut 23.21-23).  If you tell someone that you'll do something (including God), then do it and don't look for an easy way out of it.  God takes no pleasure in fools who don't fulfill their vows (Ecc 5.4-5).
Laugh a lot!  It's good for the bones.  God never intended our Christian lives to be a drudgery, but a joy and an adventure.  I hope you'll always remember me as laughing!
If you marry, be gentle with your husband.  After the honeymoon is over, he may not tell you he loves you as much, or may not gently touch you as much or do the little things as much.  It isn't because he doesn't care, it's because he thinks he has proven his love and doesn't need to do it again.  Gently remind him that you still need those things and do it in a way which doesn't harm his ego.  Our (males) egos are fragile and easily bruised.  Also, don't become hardened to him if he doesn't do the things you like.  Talk with him-he probably doesn't have a clue that you're unhappy or what you're unhappy about.  COMMUNICATE!  It's one of the best tools to combat Satan's attempts to separate you.
Although I have tried to be a good father, and much of what you think about your relationship to God as father you get from your relationship with me, remember that God is the perfect Father.  Where I have failed, He will not.  He will always do what is best for you. Matt 7.9-11.
One final thing.  Where ever you go in the world, if you make mistakes (and you will), remember there is always forgiveness and restoration at home.  At our home, and at God's (1 John 1.9).

Friday, March 16, 2012

Another Hero Goes Home 3/2/12 Van T Barfoot CMoH


Rank: Second Lieutenant
Organization: U.S. Army
Division: 157th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division
Born: June 15, 1919, Edinburg, Miss.
Departed: Yes (03/02/2012)
Entered Service At: Carthage, Miss.
G.O. Number: 79
Date of Issue: 09/28/1944
Accredited To:
Place / Date: Near Carano, Italy, 23 May 1944

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 23 May 1944, near Carano, Italy. With his platoon heavily engaged during an assault against forces well entrenched on commanding ground, 2d Lt. Barfoot (then Tech. Sgt.) moved off alone upon the enemy left flank. He crawled to the proximity of 1 machinegun nest and made a direct hit on it with a hand grenade, killing 2 and wounding 3 Germans. He continued along the German defense line to another machinegun emplacement, and with his tommygun killed 2 and captured 3 soldiers. Members of another enemy machinegun crew then abandoned their position and gave themselves up to Sgt. Barfoot. Leaving the prisoners for his support squad to pick up, he proceeded to mop up positions in the immediate area, capturing more prisoners and bringing his total count to 17. Later that day, after he had reorganized his men and consolidated the newly captured ground, the enemy launched a fierce armored counterattack directly at his platoon positions. Securing a bazooka, Sgt. Barfoot took up an exposed position directly in front of 3 advancing Mark VI tanks. From a distance of 75 yards his first shot destroyed the track of the leading tank, effectively disabling it, while the other 2 changed direction toward the flank. As the crew of the disabled tank dismounted, Sgt. Barfoot killed 3 of them with his tommygun. He continued onward into enemy terrain and destroyed a recently abandoned German fieldpiece with a demolition charge placed in the breech. While returning to his platoon position, Sgt. Barfoot, though greatly fatigued by his Herculean efforts, assisted 2 of his seriously wounded men 1,700 yards to a position of safety. Sgt. Barfoot's extraordinary heroism, demonstration of magnificent valor, and aggressive determination in the face of pointblank fire are a perpetual inspiration to his fellow soldiers.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Wings of Freedom 2009 Part 3

Notes from the Road, Part 3, July 9, 2009, 1600-2350.
We were all enjoying looking over the bridesmaid when the bride showed up about 1600.  The old 24 suddenly became a nice place to stand in the shade while we watched the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress land and taxi up to the static display area.  She had everyone’s attention.  Even though the 24 flew higher, longer, and carried a bigger payload, the 17 always has been the darling of the show and one can see why.  Where the 24 waddles, bobs and weaves as it taxis, the 17 is a graceful lady and there is also no comparison when in flight.  It’s no wonder folks have flocked to her in droves.   One can even tell it by the number of folks who paid to fly on her these few days.  The 24 had two flights this evening; the 17 had three.  And tomorrow the 24 wouldn’t leave the ground except to fly to KC while the 17 garnered 4 more flights.

Anyway the 17 came to a stop west the 24.  We had to hold back the crowds as they rubbernecked trying to get just that right photo.  Brad, by the strength of his personality, held them all back himself while the rest of us went to the bomb bay to get the cones and string out the rope around the plane.  The cones were held, six at a time by a piece of threaded rod and hooks, to the inside of each bomb bay door.  It seemed so strange to see the 17 sitting there in its tail down position.  Whereas the 24 has a tricycle landing gear arrangement (one under each wing and one at the nose) so it sits fairly level when parked, the 17 is a “tail-dragger” with a wheel under each wing and a tail wheel, the failure of which caused its delay from Pueblo, Colorado today.  The tour for the 17 started with a ladder up into the crew access door in the front port side (remember Gregory Peck in “12 O’clock High”?) where one would normally reach up and grasp the frame like a pull up bar and swing one’s legs up and in.  The queue was about 50 people long by now and they began to be able to go into the plane.
For this particular tour, they went in via the aforementioned hatch which brings one in under the flight deck and gives one a view to your left of the nose arrangement: bombardier and navigator positions.  You then moved to your right through the radio operator/flight engineer/upper turret gunner “room”.  I say “room” as I noticed while the 24 was laid out in such a way one always was watching out for head banger and shin knockers and always climbing over and around things.  While it is true the 17 also had plenty of tight spots, it appeared to have had more thought put into simple things that made it easier to get around and more comfortable for the crew.  This area even had a hatch, about four foot by three foot in the upper fuselage forward of the upper turret that could be taken out and left open even in flight.  More about that later.  Anyway, then one went on the catwalk through the bomb bay and into the next “room” which contained the lower ball turret housing and waist gunner positions.  On the starboard side was an exit door much more like a passenger airliner. From there, they had up a canvas bulkhead and no one was able to go back into the tail gunner position.  I understand it’s accessed by a small tunnel and would be difficult for tourists to get in and out of without holding up the show.

I tell you all about this tour however I never got inside the plane until the moment I got in the rear door to go on the flight. More about that later.  At this time I was busy watching the crowd and Brad and I got back to our grease wiping duties. The pilot (sorry I never caught his name as he was always gracious and kind, never forgetting to thank us grease monkeys for taking care of his plane) started wiping her down too and before long I had an oil-soaked rag.  I’ve noticed the engines on these planes lose a lot of oil, not surprisingly, since they’re almost 70 years old. Oh I know, they have certainly been rebuilt but I think the initial Pratt and Whitney models were that way too.  I assume (from no experience of course) that they were made to be loose to a certain degree to prevent wear and it was natural to go through some oil.  I found out the 17 uses 200 gallons of fuel/hour and a gallon of oil.  In each wing, aft of the interior engines (#’s 2 and 3), up in the wheel storage area, is an oil tank of about 35 gallons for the engine’s use.

We wiped down the plane and I asked the Captain what else I could do for his plane and he said I could get the ladder and wipe down the engine casings (the big casing that you see at the front of the engine with all the lines going into it containing the crank and out of which the pistons project).  He said “Number Four’s kind of juicy”.  I got out the ladder, careful not to bang it against the props and cleaned each one, including the rubber and chrome lines.  I started with number one and worked my way to the starboard.  I found out that number three had a black hub where the others were chrome. And I got to number four and it WAS a bit juicy.

We finished up and I spent a little time by the ladder, chatting up folks.  A couple of big old farm boys (men, actually) came up and were excited about looking inside.  Both of them had not missed many meals around the dinner table but the larger of the two appeared to be about 6’6 or so and I’d say 300 pounds.  When they went in, I stepped over to the bomb bay.  At that point you were about four feet below the cat walk and you should have heard the  caterwallin’ as they made their way to the bomb bay and then tried to skinny through it. Both of the planes not only have the catwalk, about 10” wide to walk on, but uprights at a couple of places going up to the top that supported the catwalk and on which the bombs hung.  They angled as they went up so started at 10” at the catwalk and got wider on the way up but apparently not wide enough for these boys.  It took a bit of exertion to get through there but they were determined and eventually made it.  It was fun to watch.

I didn’t get to talk to many veterans but did chat with one fella and his wife as they looked on and I stood around the number four engine. A lot of questions started out “Hey, I’ve got a question for you” and this one was no different.  He wanted to know who manned all the guns in the front since there were three (two cheek guns, one on each side, and a dual chin gun).  I pondered a bit and allowed how I wasn’t sure either.  As far as I knew, there was only two in the front: the navigator and the bombardier.  I said I’d have to find out.  I went back in and talked to Rick (I think) and he said it was simple, the bombardier had a horseshoe type sight and controls in front of him which ran the chin guns and the navigator alternated between cheek guns as the need showed itself.  Makes sense to me. While I was up there I ran into Brad.  He had two bright green stickers in his hand much like I had seen many lucky stiffs wearing that were to take the flights.  Lo, and behold, we got on the number 3 flight and I was going to get the chance of a lifetime, riding the B-17!  I had hoped I would get that chance but honestly had told Steve it was a thrill for me just to be able to be around the planes on the ground and they didn’t have to feel like they had to give me a ride.  But I wasn’t turning it down!

I went back out to find my friend who asked the question and eventually found him in the shortening line to tour the plane.  I dutifully gave him the answer he wanted then got out of the way as the last of the crowd got their turns.  Eventually, everyone was brought back into the holding area just outside the hangar and the planes were readied for their flights.  The first groups got a briefing with the pilots outside each plane and then were loaded up for the flights. They were half hour flights and when the planes would land, they’d taxi over, let one group out, and the other would load up.  Our safety briefing was held in the air conditioning by Fred and you could tell he had done it once or twice. He added a bit of humor telling us if you got sick there were sick sacks in each first aid kit and to please use them.  When done, hang onto it and take it with you.  And be aware, airsickness is contagious; when one does it, invariably someone else will follow. I understand on one flight a fella got sick and just puked inside his shirt. Wasn’t me-I was wearing my good B-24 shirt and wouldn’t do that to it.

The first two flights of each plane went up and then we were called out to stand by to board the plane. It would be coming in such that the rear door would be facing us. Rick said for Brad and I to get to the front and run to the door where Steve would meet us and sit us up by the pilots.  I think we were getting preferential treatment for sure.  Steve was the Flight Engineer/Stewardess on the 17 flights and did a good job.  When it landed,  we hot-footed it for the door where Steve was standing.  I felt kind of rude, going to the front like that but orders were orders.  Steve shooed us through the bomb bay and sat us in the radio operator/flight engineer takeoff positions which were on the floor with our backs to the pilot and copilot’s seats.  The seat belts were original and nothing fancy.  I thought I was a reasonably intelligent fella but after a few tsk-tsks by Steve he showed us how to buckle them up. It didn’t take long and the engines came up to speed.  As we taxied, Steve took up his position standing in the upper turret and looking out for obstructions, etc. I got a great view of his hairy legs all the way up to his suntanned head peering out the plexiglass.  Then, off into the wild blue yonder over Salina.  Steve gave us the “unbuckle the seatbelt” signal and the tour began.

We were told there were two rules: don’t bother the pilots and don’t fall out of the plane, both of which I intended to follow.  But other than that, we were free to go anywhere but the tail gun position just being courteous of others who wanted to see the same things.  Brad and I wanted to see the nose first since we were the closest to it anyway, so we dropped into the hell hole (the crawlway from under the flight deck to the nose) and got to spend quite a bit of time taking pictures and rubbernecking out the windows.  There was even a plexiglass bubble forward of the pilots and above the navigator’s position where you could look back at them and take a picture.  We bombed some imaginary targets and shot down some imaginary German fighters then back through the hell hole to the RO/FE position.  That hatch I spoke of earlier was open to the sky and we were free to stick out our heads, or anything else we weren’t afraid of losing, into the slipstream.  I took off my hat and was careful with my glasses.  It was amazing-a big giant hole in the top.  Made for some good ventilation throughout also. It was here that Steve showed me a couple of holes in the fuselage that looked out into the interior of the wing.  I told him my granddad was a small man and one of his jobs at the Boeing factory was to work in the wings.

We moved on back through the bomb bay where Steve showed us the manual crank positions for the wheels and bomb bay in case they wouldn’t open.  Then on to the waist gunners positions and got a chance to shoot down some more imaginary planes and strafe some unsuspecting cows (Oh, George, not the livestock!).  Way too soon, Steve gave us the “buckle up” sign and we scurried back to our positions.  Landing was a bit of a “bounce-a-roo” and then we taxied and rolled to a stop back at the hangar.  Steve disappeared and out the forward crew “Gregory Peck” hatch.  Steve said we could come out this way too if we wanted.  We wanted!  He said to just not fall out as it was a good drop. We got to swing out just like the real boys did and drop to the ground.  Hard on my old body but I didn’t let on and would have gone around for another go if they’d let me.

By now the excitement was beginning to wane and it was getting late.  The adrenaline was bleeding off I suddenly realized I was REALLY tired and REALLY sun and wind burned.  The crowd left and Steve, Brad, and I loaded into the Blue Goose to head to the Hickory Hut for some more BBQ.  As we pulled in we realized the little restaurant was only open inside until 2030 and it was now 2050. Drive up closed at 2100. YIKES! We pulled around and ordered, got our goodies (except for Brad’s Mountain Dew) and drove to the Quality Inn where we enjoyed our repast on the tables in the atrium of the Quality Inn.  I have GERD (Reflux) and it’s not good for me to eat so late.  Also, I hadn’t had any carbonation for about three years but got a root beer with my meal.  At this point, I didn’t care.  I had flown in a B-17!  I could die now and no big deal so I lived life on the edge and ate BBQ.  Surprisingly, it was excellent, especially the burnt ends. 

We toddled off to our rooms where the pup promptly turned on Sports Center for noise and crawled under the covers. I stayed up until almost midnight sorting and uploading pictures to Facebook but there just wasn’t enough time in the day to do these notes also.    Besides I’d have time to write later.  What more excitement could there be after this great day?  Well, just when you think the Lord has showered you with all the blessings you can stand, He says “hide and watch what’s next”.