25 years ago today, I sat in my parents’ living room and had perhaps the most vulnerable conversation I ever remember with my dad, Bill. He was in his recliner lounge chair we called ‘control central’. He had his remotes for TV and VCR, along with his portable radio. He was a WW II pilot 👨✈️ and this was his cockpit. It was the 50th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion and for some reason I was up visiting from the San Luis Valley. He had just turned off the TV news coverage remembering D-Day. No one else was around and I asked him how he felt. “Mark, I am a very fortunate man. I got to come back after the War. I met your wonderful Mom, had four great kids, built a business, did amazing things, went to wonderful places, had great friends”. Then he said, as he held back tears, “The heroes never came home”.
My dad was a glider pilot. Actually, he was an instructor pilot at the glider base at Alliance, Nebraska. He taught hundreds of young pilots how to fly the huge gliders. We had a few thousand gliders. Each glider made of plywood and canvas, would hold 13 troops and a half-track tank. They were towed up by a C47 transport plane. Half way over the English Channel they were cut loose and given orders to land behind German lines in France. During the first 24 hours of the invasion, twenty five percent of all glider pilots were killed. Two that survived were my dad’s Colorado buddies, John Ballentyne, from Pueblo and Carmel Lopez, from Alamosa. After they got back home in 1945 they found each other and formed a bond that continued to death.
My dad did not go in on D-Day. He was still training pilots in Nebraska. By August he was dropped in on his only combat mission, in Holland. He was then promoted to co-pilot on a C47 transport plane. “What did you do”? “I flew supplies up to the front line”. “What kind of supplies”? “Oh, gasoline, ammunition, food, water… all the things our men needed”. “Did you ever get shot at”? “Everyday. The hard part was in the morning in the briefing room, when we would get our orders, and you could see who was missing from the day before”. Then he began to openly cry. “Those were some great young men, they never got the chance I had, Mark. I have tried to live my life in gratitude”. This is the truth— I never heard my dad say an unkind thing about anyone… ever. He died six years later with a heart that was full. Today we try to remember those who did not come back and to give thanks for those who did.
Onward and Upward,