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Letters from my father

Updated: Jun 11, 2023

I love history - that should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me or follows me on social media. For me it is not the political events of history that are the focal point, it is the events of the individuals that are the threads that make the patterns. Perhaps governments are at times the result of those patterns but more often than not they are the drivers of another agenda that has direct consequences on the individual. Such is the case in war. Although people enter the military voluntarily they don't do so because they are lovers of war but because they prefer to prevent war on our shores or feel a need to stop an injustice. Such was the case with the volunteers of WWII. I try and put myself in the shoes of a soldier and ask how would I get off that landing craft and run across a beach into certain death, how do you make you limbs move? What would I do if I was told to jump from a plane and land behind enemy lines - would my legs turn to lead, would I freeze? What would I do if I had to fly a glider behind enemy lines into heavy enemy fire and hope I survived the landing? How do these men and women keep going when friends die horrible deaths next to them or suffer terrible injuries. This isn't something that only happened in the past. It happens everyday in the military. The answers to those questions was answered by my father in his wartime letters. He was a glider pilot and a main motivation for my book The Suicide Jockeys. At the age of around 20 he had graduated from Advanced Training School for Gliders and became a check pilot. Check pilots did exactly what it sounds like - they test flew the newly constructed gliders. A few months in he had just carried a fellow check pilot and friend off the runway and to the ambulance when he died in his arms. There were now only three of the original 10 check pilots left after 3 months. How did he get in a glider the next day with those odds and he wasn't even in a combat zone? Often in his letters over the years he would say "when I get back" followed by the caveat "(if I get back)" . He watched friends die and had two of the men who had survived the entire war with burn to death in a glider on their last mission of the war. How did he do it, how did they all do it? He answered my question in a simple sentence to my mother, simply a pen pal at that time. He stated that he always thought when you lost a buddy that you would not be able to forget them or move on but he was surprised that after a few days you didn't think about them anymore and continued to do your job. Perhaps that sounds cold but on the other hand maybe his other simple comment explains it "It's not good to give a soldier too much time to think". The glider pilots I knew always said they thought it would be someone else and not them, maybe thats why the young are sent to fight. I think persons my age would be more apt to say "Whoa, let's hold off there and rethink this plan" or " I have a great idea!! You go first and let me know how the plan you came up with worked out for you, then I'll think about it." To all those had the courage to take that step, jump off that plane, drive that humvee outside the wire and fly those gliders into what must have seemed certain death and to your families that suffered losses so many of us cannot fathom, you have my humble heartfelt thanks on this Memorial Day and everyday I wake up.

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