My Dad was a hero. Now, not just your ordinary, average, everyday hero, mind you. Oh, he was that, to be sure. But he was so much more. As I was growing up, there was the hero he would show. You know, the normal daily acts of heroism as a husband and father. ...
But then there was the hero he didn’t show. That was the hero I came to know, only in his last decade or so. After my wife, Karen, and I adopted our daughter, Amanda, from China, I began to learn about, and he would talk more openly about, his military service. It was only then that I began to learn of:
The courage of a 17-year-old boy who volunteered and enlisted to fight an imperial enemy on the other side of the world;
The courage of a boy who was called up for duty in the United States Army Air Corps in the summer he had just turned 18;
The courage of a boy who learned to fly airplanes shortly after most kids were learning to drive cars;
The courage of a boy who, after training from June 1943 until September 1944, got his wings at the rank of flight officer; and
The courage of a boy who became a man in the service of our country.
He boarded the Army train on Flag Day, June 14, 1943. That was also the birthday of his good friend and later brother-in-law, Cornwell Sirmon, and a few years later, my birthday. After his military and flight training, in February 1945 he was shipped off to India to serve in the China Burma India Theater. There, he participated in what was at the time the largest airlift in world history. His mission was to fly supplies in cargo planes from India to the British Army in Burma. He flew at this time in C-47s, the workhorses of the Army Air Corps. The routes he would fly would take him up and over or through the Himalayas. Those routes would become known as flying the “Hump.” He would make several of these flights a day and logged hundreds of hours of combat flight time.
When the Japanese army had been driven back to Rangoon by the Brits, he began flying in China in the summer of 1945, and was then flying in C-46s — bigger, less reliable and more dangerous planes. He flew most often in the heart of China between Kunming and Liuchow, more often than not in such poor weather that most of his landings were by instrument only.
The war with Japan ended in August 1945 soon after he began flying in China, but he remained on duty there for several months. ... Many years later, he would tell me the stories of how he was among the first Americans in, and the liberators of, many cities in eastern China which the Japanese had occupied prior to and during World War II: Canton (now Guangzhou), Shanghai, Tientsin and Peking (now Beijing). He also participated in the liberation of a prisoner of war camp outside of Beijing.
By December 1945, he was on a transport ship crammed to twice its capacity and on his way home on a literal slow boat from China. After a long cross-country train ride from Seattle, he made it back home to Atlanta just in time for Christmas. He was just a few months shy of his 21st birthday. He served in the Air Force Reserves for a few more years after the war and flew from time to time in those duties, but to my knowledge, after that, never flew again. By the end of his service, he had achieved the rank of second lieutenant.
From the U.S. Army Air Corps, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters. From the Republic of China and the Chinese Air Force, he was awarded an air medal and the China War Memorial Medal.
After returning home from the war, he met and married my Mom, Barbara, and they parted (Jan. 8, 2013) over 65 years later. He got his college degree in animal husbandry from the University of Georgia. They bought a 250-acre farm in Austell and there raised me, my sister Peggy and my brother David. (Dad) worked as a rural letter carrier in Mableton and Mom worked at Lockheed. … That farm was their home for 46 years. Twelve years ago, they sold the farm, which was developed into a new subdivision. They moved to their home in Kennesaw, which was a dream house for them both.
He was known through his life as a pilot, a farmer, a postman, and a hero. …
He has now taken off on his final flight and final mission.