Tuesday, June 06, 2006

D Day and my Dad

My step father Dale (No Middle Name NMN) Jennings and one of WW2's most famous days share it, it became Dale's birthday in 1908 when he was born in Missouri. I am sure he never imagined his birthday becoming such a day that would make him live to regret having to celebrate it.
Dale joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 like many other men of the time, their country needed them, Dale was a radio and telegrapher, he could send Morse code at a fast rate of speed. He found himself soon in England with a B-17 wing, they became famous because of the plane the Memphis Belle, but Dale remembered the other things that made them famous, the amount of bombers they lost over Germany during the bombing runs.

Dale would not talk about WW2 except on his birthday, normally Dale never touched alcohol before 3:00 PM as he called it "Tea Time" then he could put away scotch like Humphrey Bogart. June 6th was the exception, he started drinking as soon as he awoke, he hated June 6th, it would not let him forget, ever his bad memories of that War, and that says a lot, Dale served in Korea during the Korean War, he flew the Berlin Airlift, one of his greatest moments of pride, but June 6th just put him in a foul mood. He always took the day off from the Post Office where he worked as a clerk after retiring from the Air Force in 1963.
It was the only day of the year if you waited until about lunch time he would start answering questions about the war, I guess he had enough Scotch in him, he loved the Tuskeegee Airman, and that is saying a lot from a man born in 1908 Missouri, they begged for them to be the escorts planes for their bombing runs into Germany, why? They never lost a single plane to enemy fighters with the Tuskeegee Airmen providing cover. They each and everyone had Dale's highest regards.
Dale had a lot of friends thru out the Air Force, I learned how that network was used in February 1976, I was coming back from Korea on a mid tour leave of 30 days, I was hopping Air Force planes across the Pacific, it's free, just time consuming. I left South Korea and it was 10 below zero, I had my overcoat, long johns, etc., trying to keep warm, when we left Kadena AFB Japan, it was not much warmer, but when we landed at Clark AFB in Manila, PI, it was 70 degrees and humid at 3:00 am.
Most of us went into the air terminals bathroom and came out of the long johns and the overcoats were packed. When we were loaded back on the C-141 they had added some pallets in front of the seats, they were long aluminum boxes, there were two of them. A dependent went to set her purse on the top of them and the flight chief of the plane, loadmaster, the NCOIC, quickly grabbed it off of the box and handed it back to her and told her for the rest of the flight to not ever set anything back on top of the caskets again. My first experience with military caskets.
We arrived in Guam, and the free loaders like me that were flying Space A, which meant Available were told we were being bumped off the manifest for another flight crew going back to Norton AFB. I checked with American Airlines and they wanted 1200.00 dollars one way from Guam to LAX, I didn't have that kind of money. I called home, Mom told Dale what was going on and he said to call back in half an hour, he would put the Air Force Good old boys network to work.
When I called home, 30 minutes later Dale told me to go the the Base Escort Office which would be located in the air terminal. He gave me the Senior Sergeants name, but it slips me now, hey 32 years anyway guess what I got to sign for, remember those 2 caskets? Yup, I signed for them, they were priority so they left on a United Flight coming back from Thailand full of GI's and we went to Travis AFB, they were a rowdy group.
When we landed in Travis, a Colonel came on the plane and called out my name, they were expecting me, or let's say they were waiting for the caskets, I had never seen so many Generals in my life, Army, Air Force, Marine's Navy Admirals, it looked like a meeting of the Pentagon group on the West Coast. I had been traveling for 4 days in my Class A's and they were a mess, I had shaved on the plane, but I was a disagrace to the uniform. The Colonel quickly took the paperwork and signed for it, gave me a copy of the receipt, so I could prove I signed them over. He then had some Air Force people escort me into the terminal before the Generals all saw me.
I was there about 4 hours when a C 141 came in, sure enough it was the same one I got thrown off in Guam, I got back on and they were wondering how I beat them to Travis AFB, by the time we landed at Norton the morning papers were out and we all learned the truth, those 2 caskets were bodies that had been returned from Vietnam after the embassay had fallen, the Swiss had arranged the return of the remains, which explained all the Generals at Travis.
Dale was a good step father, he could say more just by talking to you without ever raising his voice, he was that kind of man, he taught my brothers and I many fine values. He was a man who coped with his PTSD very well, he was like most of the "Greatest Generation" they sucked it up and went on with life, they never talked about the war, unless you caught them at a weak moment, Dale tried to watch the movie "Memphis Belle" because he knew the crew in England he ripped the arms off his easy chair, during the first scene of flak during a bombing run over Germany, he was white as a sheet, he dropped the arms on the floor, stood up and walked out of the room, and it was never mentioned again. Tell me he did not have PTSD.
I felt sorry for him, that his birthday was one of the greatest days of death of WW2, and the memories it brought back to him, a day to celebrate became a day to mourn for him, and he truly was a great man, and all I can say is I wish more men had been like my step father who earned the name DAD, and if he had lived would be 98 today he died in 2000 at 92. With him a lot of history died.
After his death we cleaned out the desk, he had been awarded his Distinguished Flying Cross by Eisenhower in 1944 for landing a plane after the pilot and co-piloit had been killed, Dale was a radio operator, the plane it was said on the citation had 175 holes in it, he was credited with saving the life of the crew members. The only time I ever saw him cry was when we buried my mother and he learned at Riverside National Cemetary that they would inscribe all his medals above the Bronze stars for Valor into the headstone, his is quite full, his drawer was full of citations from WW2 and Korean War. I hope you and Mom are together in a better place and your eyesight came back. Dale I love you and Happy Birthday.

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