Uncategorized

Our Forgotten Casualties

DSC07750On April 22, 1934, a 39-year old man died of pneumonia outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. To his neighbors who watched as the family house fell into disrepair, was finally boarded up and abandoned in the depths of the Depression, the owner was an oddball sort of man who never fit into their community. He was seen drinking alone on his porch, and in his final years alcoholism wrecked both his health and most of this relationships.

Wrote historian Dennis Gordon, “…spiritually ravaged by his war experience, he had increasingly sought release through drink. He appeared dispirited, much older than his thirty-nine years….”

Lieutenant_Colonel_William_Thaw_IIThis was the tragic last act in the life of Lieutenant Colonel William Thaw, the first American to fly in air combat. He became a national hero during World War I, first while as a Soldier in the French Foreign Legion, later as a member of the all-volunteer American squadron called the Lafayette Escadrille, which fought for the French long before President Wilson asked Congress to declare war on the Central Powers. Later, as the United States Army Air Service reached the Western Front in 1918, he commanded the 102nd Aero Squadron. He served with great distinction and was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses, the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre while being credited with five German planes downed.

Somewhere in his experience on the Western Front, the vibrant, brilliant young man suffered what has been called, “the soul loss moment.” He returned home, but returned home in form only. Ultimately, the war claimed him as surely as it claimed his comrades who died fighting on the Western Front.

Over the twenty-seven years I’ve been writing about and interviewing combat veterans and their families, I have heard the same refrain countless times. “He came home, but he was never the same.” Families have shared with me stories of their veteran’s return. The first months, a honeymoon, but after the luster wore off, the war reclaimed them. My knowledge is anecdotal, but the alcoholism and suicide rate among those who returned from World War II’s front lines seems to have been a vastly underreported cost of our victory.

A dear friend who served in combat during the Gulf War once retold the story of his own father’s struggles. His dad had joined the infantry at the start of World War II and was sent to fight in Italy. He stayed in after the war and rose through the enlisted ranks to be an established and highly regarded non-commissioned officer. He served in Korea, and during the Cold War. But his experiences in Italy were never far from him, or his family. Ultimately, he took his own life, years after the shooting had ended. When I asked his son, a well-respected NCO and combat veteran in his own right, if he considered his dad a combat casualty, he didn’t even hesitate, “He absolutely was.”

In 2011-12, I wrote a book with Captain Sean Parnell detailing the experiences of his infantry platoon in combat during a particularly difficult deployment to Afghanistan in 2006. Since Outlaw Platoon was published, at least four members of Captain Parnell’s company have taken their own lives.

From 2001-2014, the suicide rate among veterans jumped thirty-two percent. As of 2016, twenty veterans commit suicide every day. Not every one of those tragic ends is a result of combat experience, but some no doubt are.DSC07786

After World War II, thousands of veterans returned home with severe medical conditions. Many were survivors of Japanese prison camps and the Bataan Death March where starvation, jungle diseases and brutalizing treatment by their captors destroyed their physical health. Some survived only a few months after being rescued at war’s end, others survived longer. But all too often, their physical debilitations dramatically cut short their lives.

The Second World War was not unique in this regard. World War One saw thousands of post-Armistice deaths directly attributable to the wounds (such as those inflicted by gas) and the physical cost of serving in the trenches.

The Americans taken prisoner in Korea came back after the war in as poor condition as the captives of the Japanese. In Vietnam, it was the same story with our returning POW’s, but now chemicals such as Agent Orange inadvertently destroyed the post-deployment lives of tens of thousands of veterans. By the early 1990s, almost 40,000 veterans had filed disability claims with the VA as a result of the health impact of this defoliant. How many have died as a result of exposure is unclear, but it is not a trivial number.

During a deployment in Iraq during the early years of the invasion and occupation, Indiana and Oregon National Guard troops assigned to guard a water treatment facility were exposed to hexavalent chromium, which has caused several deaths to rare forms of cancer.

These men and women are never honored on Memorial Day. Counting them is impossible because of the nature of their deaths and how the war claimed them. They did not fall in battle, but they deserve to have their service and its consequences recognized and honored, even if one considers suicide a dishonorable end. Men like William Thaw helped secure freedom for Europe and the United States, and their devotion in battle should not be tainted by the way they chose to die. Judging them, stripping them of what they did accomplish in their lives by ignoring them, is to deny the emotional anguish and trauma they lived with every day after returning home.  For those who know its nature, it is a form of living death.

The consequences of loss, be it on the battlefield or after, has a generational impact on the families who endure these deaths. That point was driven home to me early in my career when I wrote about a fighter ace who died at the end of World War II.  His wife was destroyed by his loss and the family was forever scarred by his death. It led to dysfunction and fifty years of pain, alcoholism and mental illness. His brother, who also served, blamed himself for his brother’s death in 1945 and took his own life in 1975. I remember writing the end of that story, sobbing as I recounted how everything in his family broke after the fighter ace’s death. It was never whole again.

When I moved to my little town in Oregon in 1994, I discovered one of our neighbors had lost her husband during WWII. She raised a daughter alone, never remarried and lived a silent, desperately lonely life as a recluse. The death of her loved one caused her to disengage from almost everyone around her.

More recently, I’ve been researching another ace whose loss had a similarly catastrophic effect on his family. Once highly regarded and politically connected, his family slipped into financial insolvency, abuse and chaos as his widow married and remarried five times. Who can ever fill the void of the loss of one’s true love?

DSC07787These are all human costs of war; ones that rarely makes the history books as they are difficult to face and discuss. But we need to have a conversation about them, because it is an after-effect of every war this country has fought. Before we send our men and women into battle, our nation’s leaders must recognize the long-term effect it will have on some of the families and communities that send their loved ones off to war. It must be a factor when deciding whether or not the crisis at hand merits the use of force. Once the decision is made to send in the troops, we must have in place a better and more robust structure to support those who return home. In the last sixteen years of war, we have a spotty record at best of doing that, and the toll has been a heavy one as a result.

So this weekend, while we honor those who have fallen in battle, I will take a moment and give thought and prayer to those families who have lived the nightmare of loss and know the shattering moment when the contact team arrives on their doorstep. Their loved one gone, their lives destroyed—rebuilding and finding a new sense of normalcy among such grief is a monumentally difficult task.

This weekend, I’ll remember what I’ve learned these past twenty-seven years of the post-war deaths that wrought such pain to the families I have met. Just don’t tell me their loved ones were not combat casualties. The only difference I see is that it took longer for the war to claim their lives.  I hope you will join me in remembering these forgotten combat veterans as well.

DSC07779

Categories: Uncategorized, Warrior Memories, Writing Notes | Tags: | 1 Comment

Stories from Golden Gate

Today, I wandered through Golden Gate National Cemetery. Every marker tells a story. Here’s one:

 

Master Sergeant Kenji Munn Tashiro:

Sixty-one years. Three wars. Volunteered for service in 1943 despite the fact that his wife and two children were rounded up and thrown in an internment camp.

Fought with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe as part of an anti-tank gun company. Earned the CIB.

Returned home and stayed in the reserves, served in Korea and Vietnam as a military intelligence NCO. Incidentally, while he was in Korea, his son was fighting to hold the Pusan Perimeter with his brother Soldiers.

Died of stomach cancer in 1967, An American patriot to his core.AO5Y9423

Categories: Uncategorized, War in Europe, World War I, World War II, World War II Europe, World War II in Europe, WW2, WWII | 1 Comment

The Planes of Fame Air Show Aviators

DSC07389Last weekend concluded one of the best warbirds air shows in the country. The Planes of Fame Air Museum puts on an astonishing display of military aviation heritage every May in what has become a major tradition within the warbirds community.

For most who attend, myself included, the amazing aircraft are the stars of the show. Thousands of photographers carrying insanely expensive gear turn out to capture these rare birds in flight. If you’re a member of any of the warbirds of WWII Facebook groups, no doubt you’ve been seeing their results.DSC07256

It dawned on me this year that the aviators and crews who keep these aircraft functional are the real stars. Who wakes up one day and says, “Gee, you know, I’d really like to spend my life working on Pratt & Whitney R2800 engines from the 1940s?” I mean, the market for that skill has got to be pretty limited. Ditto with the pilots like Steve Hinton, his son, Chris Fahey and Mark Foster. Some are prior service military aviators, others are legacies drawn to the family’s passion. It has to be something akin to a monastic calling.AO5Y3446

So today, I want to share a few moments I captured on the ground and in the air that highlight these remarkable folks who have taken the road less traveled to a unique and unusually special life. It is a dangerous one, as the many crashes, lost friends and aircraft can attest.  Jim Maloney. Jimmy Leeward.  Jay Gordon. Marcus Paine last year at Madras. The list is a long one. Yet, that does not dissuade them from climbing into the cockpit of aircraft built seven decades ago to carry men into battle at the cutting edge of their nation’s technological envelope. What a wild ride that must be.

AO5Y3083

Here’s to a safe 2017 season and many more spectacular moments with these remarkable  historical artifacts.

AO5Y6579

John Kerpa in period attire at the controls of an SBD Dauntless.

DSC07474

When your P-63 King Cobra’s door won’t latch….who ya gonna call?

AO5Y5320

Seriously, how cool would it be to put on your resume, “Pilot of the only complete airworthy A6M5 Zero on the planet?”

AO5Y5290

John Kerpa channels Bill Ault on the weekend of the 75th Anniversary of The Battle of the Coral Sea.

AO5Y3759

Mark Foster makes a low level, high speed pass in Wee Willy, a P-51 painted in the markings of the 357th Fighter Group’s Captain Calvert Williams. Willaims scored the legendary 8th Air Force group’s first kill during Big Week in February, 1944.

AO5Y5294

In the CAF’s homage to top Navy ace David McCampbell is Chris Liguori, who has been flying since he was 14 years old. Got his pilot’s license before his driver’s license.

DSC07709

Lt. Col. (ret) Robert “Lips” Hertberg in the cockpit of this AT-6 Texan. Col. Hertberg flew F-16’s, initially with the 496th Tactical Fighter Squadron, and later became an F-16 instructor.

DSC07609

John Hinton, Steve Hinton’s brother, in the cockpit of a Desert Air Force P-40.

AO5Y5047

Another shot of Lt. Col. Hertberg in the T-6.

DSC07616

Jason Somes Taxis this beautiful late model Spitfire. Jason earned his pilot’s license at age 19 and has been racing at Reno since 2003.

AO5Y2409

Steve Hinton watches his brother depart in the P-40.

AO5Y4054

Jason returns from a flight to a very eager ground crew.

AO5Y3825

Chris Fahey in the only flying P-38J left in the world.

Categories: Uncategorized, World War II Europe, World War II in Europe, World War II in the Pacific | Tags: | 1 Comment

Chino’s Legendary Planes of Fame Airshow

AO5Y3975For one weekend every year since 1957, the skies over Chino, California fill with the sights and sounds of World War II aircraft. Nestled on an old Army Air Force base where the likes of 24 kill ace Gerald R. Johnson once trained, hosts this incredible event as one of its main fund raisers. These days, lucky visitors to Chino can see upwards of forty warbirds thunder overhead.

It is an awe-inspiring sight.

AO5Y7222

My dad found the museum one day in the mid-1950s. He was out driving around with his best friend from high school and looked over to see a Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighter just sitting in a field. Both boys had grown up on the Southern California coast during the war and had fallen in love with aircraft as they watched F4U Corsairs and P-38 Lightnings zooming over their homes. A Corsair even crash landed in front of my dad’s place on the Balboa Peninsula in 1945.AO5Y6509

So of course, they stopped. The museum back then was basically a field full of WWII aircraft discarded by the military and somehow acquired by the founder of Planes of Fame, Ed Maloney. One plane, a Japanese J2M Raiden fighter, had been a plaything for local kids at Griffith Park in Los Angeles before Ed acquired it. Rumor has it that some thief had pulled the seat out of it and pawned it, and Ed had to go to the shop and pay $50.00 to get it out of hock and re-install it in this incredibly rare warbird.

Back then, you paid a quarter at a tent that denoted the museum’s entrance, then walked through part of a bomber’s fuselage to enter the field of warbirds.

AO5Y3214

As a kid living in the Silicon Valley, my dad would sometimes take me down to the Chino air shows. I still have snapshots I took in the 1970s with a 126 instamatic camera of the museum’s A6M5 Zero that had been captured on Saipan’s Aslito Field in 1944. Years later, while in graduate school at the University of Oregon, I discovered my landlady had been in charge of checking in and documenting captured Japanese aircraft as they arrived in Southern California. Quite possibly the initial paperwork the U.S. Navy generated on the Planes of Fame Zero had been filled out by Marge Goodman.AO5Y5847

Anyway, the trips down to Chino became a father-son thing for us Brunings. In 1986, we stopped going. I left for college that fall, and as graduate school and a career up in Oregon dominated my time, the chance to get to Planes of Fame became a pipe dream. Then came marriage, two kids and a new career as a military historian and writer.

Finally, after I came home from Afghanistan, we revived the tradition. Five of the last seven years, we’ve road tripped down to Chino for the air show. In 2013, we brought my son and made it a tri-generational road trip. AO5Y7833

This year, my dad and I returned and spent the weekend out at the Chino Airport, amazed and inspired by the thousands who turned out to see the old birds fly.

AO5Y5938World War II is slipping from modern memory as the few remaining veterans of it pass. It won’t be long before we won’t have anyone alive who experienced the war at all. But thanks to Planes of Fame, the visceral sensation, the raw power and speed of the planes our grandparents flew in defense of our nation will endure and live in the memories of succeeding generations. Ed Maloney was a visionary, and thanks to his aircraft rescue efforts long before anyone saw value in those aluminum bodies, the sounds and sights of these amazing machines will continue to fill the skies over Southern California for years to come.AO5Y2187

It is a truly special place. If you love aircraft, make a point of coming here someday. You won’t be disappointed. You’ll be in the heart of the warbirds community.

AO5Y5614

Below are some more photos I took this weekend at the 60th Planes of Fame air show.

DSC07509

The Planes of Fame P-38J Lightning in 475th Fighter Group ace Parry Dahl’s markings.

AO5Y6585

Warming up the CAF Mitsubishi A6M Zero on Saturday May 6, 2017

AO5Y3825

Pilot Chris Fahey at the controls of the POF P-38. The sound of this plane’s twin Allison engines is like crack to your friendly writer.  After spending nine years researching and writing a biography on P-38 ace Col. Gerald R. Johnson, this aircraft became very dear to my heart. In the 90’s, I interviewed a lot of men who flew them in New Guinea and the Philippines during the war, and they swore by its firepower, range, speed and one-engined flight abilities.

AO5Y3315

Mark Foster at the controls of this beautiful P-51 Mustang. It wears the markings of the 357th Fighter Group, a crack 8th Air Force unit that included Chuck Yeager and ace Bud Anderson.

AO5Y7702

The Planes of Fame B-25 Mitchell making a pass over the Chino airport. This bird’s been used as a photographic aircraft for various aerial scenes in movies for several decades. After writing Pappy Gunn’s story in Indestructible, the side pack .50 caliber machine guns endear this bird to me. Every time I see it fly, I think the spirit of Pappy Gunn flies with it.

AO5Y4093

A Red Air Force Yak prepares for a flight with the Korean War demonstration part of the air show.

AO5Y7580

This year’s show included this stunning bird, a Consolidated PB4Y2 Privateer U.S. Navy patrol bomber. 

AO5Y7749

I’d never seen a PB4Y in flight before. The first pass it made during the airshow left me absolutely speechless. Loud, slow and huge, the plane is a dominating presence. I checked my Fitbit after it thundered by and saw my heart rate was at 150. I got credit for cardio, so props to the pilots for bringing on the work-out inducing excitement in their low-altitude passes.

AO5Y5419

When I was in 3rd grade, my Uncle Dean gave me a book for my birthday entitled, “Greatest Fighter Missions of the Top Navy and Marine Aces.” I read it in a recliner next to the T.V. for hours every night after school. I still have it, though it is beat up and missing its dust jacket. One of the chapters is called, “Trapped By Zekes at Rabaul” and details one of ace Ike Kepford’s most harrowing missions in the South Pacific. This weekend, a Corsair in Kepford’s markings went blasting past me, and I was taken instantly back to those nights curled up in that 70’s-era chair, engrossed by Edward Sims’ recounting of Ike’s miraculous escape from pursuing Japanese fighters.

AO5Y2004

Morning on the flight line, Saturday’s sunrise shoot.

AO5Y6509

Steve Hinton piloting an F4U in Korean War markings from VMF-214’s 1950-51 deployment. 

AO5Y5876

A bit of movie history. This was a modified BT-13 trainer altered to look like a Japanese Aichi D3A Val dive bomber, then used in the film, “Tora Tora Tora.”

AO5Y6292

The only place I know of where you can see two Japanese A6M Zero fighters fly. The bottom one is Planes of Fame’s Saipan Zeke.

Categories: Uncategorized, World War I, World War II, World War II in Europe, World War II in the Pacific, WW2, WWII | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

12-7-41

arizona-explodes-at-pearl-harbor-color-4x6Not forgotten. 12-7-41.

In December 2000, I was in Tuscon interviewing survivors of the USS Arizona’s catastrophic destruction. Listening to the stories of the men who were aboard, or later returned to the wreckage of their ship to recover the remains of their brother sailors was a life changing moment.

It is imperative we stand vigilant and strong so that such a catastrophe never happens again.pearl-harbor-1-ewa-field

Thousands of Americans died today 75 years ago. Tens of thousands more would die fighting across the Pacific over the ensuing four years. Remembering them is vital. But today, I will also be remembering those in the Philippines who lost their lives on this same day as the Japanese Empire launched a massive onslaught on Southeast Asia. Ultimately, 900,000 Filipinos died as a result of the storm the Japanese unleashed on December 7th 1941.js-9d-battleship-row-pearl-harbor-aflame

Categories: Uncategorized, World War II in the Pacific | Tags: | Leave a comment

Amazon Book of October!

pappy-in-cockpitMy Friends,

I’m very humbled and very excited to report that Amazon selected Indestructible as one of its Best Books of October!
I want to take a minute and thank everyone who has pre-ordered this labor of love. I know that it is delayed gratification to do it, something I hate too, but those pre-orders are incredibly important for the book’s launch. So, it is much appreciated, especially since each book purchased equals about 15 more seconds I can keep Renee in college.🙂

We are also up to 29 reviews on Amazon through the pre-release Vine program. Pleased to report that I won’t need to day drink after reading them! The story of Pappy Gunn and his family is having a profound impact on our readers.

Thank you all again, your support and interest makes possible what I love doing.

 

John R. Bruning

indestrictible_facebook_image

 

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0316339407/ref=s9_acsd_al_bw_c_x_9?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-3&pf_rd_r=FCSFGH2CPSHWMNYNWME0&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=a2807aab-f710-480a-9a8b-148441f0f1f0&pf_rd_i=6458662011

Categories: Uncategorized, World War II in the Pacific, Writing Notes | Tags: | 1 Comment

The Liberation of Santo Tomas Internment Camp

indestructible-cover

 

Indestructible is not just the story of Pappy Gunn, the legendary aviator and mad genius of the 5th Air Force. It is the story of his family’s experience during World War II as Pappy went to extraordinary lengths to rescue them from the hellish conditions of Japanese captivity in Santo Tomas University Internment Camp.

In 1945, when the camp was liberated, Pappy’s family nearly died during a Japanese artillery bombardment that struck the university. I recently drove to Texas and interviewed Nat Gunn, Pappy’s son, on camera about his experiences during WWII. The moment he describes in this interview was one of the most difficult scenes to write in Indestructible. But I thought it was extremely important; Pappy was not the only hero in the Gunn family.

Categories: Uncategorized, World War II in the Pacific, Writing Notes | Tags: | Leave a comment

The Legendary Pappy Gunn

pappy-in-cockpit

Perhaps no figure in American aviation history had as colorful–and painful– career as Pappy Gunn. During World War II, Pappy was shot down twice in Beech 18 airliners (painted red), was wounded at least seven times, possibly nine, ordered a surgeon to amputate his pinky after he repeatedly fractured it while working on A-20’s and B-25’s, and on one ground support mission took a piece of AA shrapnel in the hand that not only wounded him, but killed his pet lizard, Sam.

Hundreds of combat missions, thousands of flight hours in the Pacific. He fought two wars, one against the Japanese and one against the USAAF’s rear echelon brass. He is credited with doing more to win the war against Japan than anyone else below the rank of general.

Not bad for a middle aged guy with a sixth grade education who was running an airline at the outset of the war.

Categories: Uncategorized, World War II in the Pacific | Tags: | 1 Comment

Coming October 11th, the epic life of Aviation Legend Pappy Gunn

indestructible_quote_card_2

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Our Election Day, 2010

eric-west-shortly-before-departure-from-ghazni-after-a-refueling-stopSix years ago today the Afghan people turned out to vote in a national election. September 18th became one of those dotted line moments in my life. The Chinook I was aboard, #262, suffered catastrophic mechanical failure. I remember seeing smoke coming out of a panel above the crew chief’s head as he stood on the ramp with a screw driver opening things up to see what was going on. A moment later, Joe Speal‘s voice came over the headset, “Land this aircraft now!” Jeric East dropped us right out the sky onto a dry lake bed at the foot of a rugged, sawtooth range of mountains in the Hindu Kush. Their skillful handling of a dire situation ensured I’d be able to see Renee graduate first in her class this year.

6a00e553b244e188340133f5113d78970bFlying out of Savannah to San Jose in a few hours. Going to be drinking a toast to the crew of 262, to Local Union for coming to our rescue, the Polish infantry we had aboard who also kept us safe, and the Apache crews who circled overhead with enough menace to keep the Taliban at bay.

And, another big toast to Kyle Evarts, a Chinook pilot whose bravery and commitment to protecting those around him went beyond the extraordinary. I’ll never forget getting off the ramp, looking up and Seeing Kyle sweeping down on the deck to circle us and keep us safe until more help arrived. I was on a subsequent mission and watched Kyle go to the aid of some 173rd Airborne troops who had just been hit with an IED and were under small arms fire. Never seen a Chinook flown so aggressively and with such skill.

Earlier that day, I encountered Cass Wyllie for the first time. She & her command pilot were at FOB Ghazni refueling when we showed up before heading out to Ajerestan and our mechanical incident. I had no idea there were female gunship pilots in the brigade, so I took some photos of her, noticing her personalized helmet. The next day, when we went back to COP Ajerestan, I noticed the helmet again under very different circumstances.

That chance encounter at Ghazni has led to one of the most important friendships I’ve had since. So, Cass, I’ll be drinking a toast to you today as well.

The piece I wrote about this day, “We’re Not Leaving You Brother” ended up receiving a Thomas Jefferson Award that year, which aside from the accomplishments of my children is among the most meaningful things that has happened to me. I remember finding out about it over Facebook fromDwayne, and was totally astonished. I did not even know I’d been nominated. I sat in my library and remembered that day, feeling like all the effort, expense and personal cost it took to get to Afghanistan meant something after all.

With all the toasts, I’ll probably not be sober by the time I board my flight. But to all the folks in TF Brawler–thank you for everything. Being out with you was the most meaningful thing I’ve done professionally.

-JohnB

gwen-and-me

The story of that day is here.
http://www.theunawriterslair.com/…/were-not-leaving-you-bro…

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.