Monday, July 17, 2017

Not "just" a number!

Well...a whole week in the books after vacation.  I'm still wondering why there isn't Escargot on the dinner menu.  It seems the chef is slacking.  Slacker!  (Mrs Juvat and I have an "arrangement".  I do the cooking, she does the lawn mowing)

Progress on the new buildings is progressing as fast as Molasses stored outside in Nome in January.  'Nuf Said!


So, strictly for the entertainment value, Mrs Juvat, Little Juvat, his Bride and I went over to our winemaker friends place for one of their Winemaker dinners.  (One of the bennies of knowing winemakers is trying their wines.  His are VERY good, and available on Amazon ).


Dinner was Cioppino paired with their very refreshing (it's July in Texas) Rose' and their Sangiovese.


I've got to say, the Cioppino was the second best I've ever had.  The first being My Mom's (of course, she'd haunt me forever if I said differently).


I think this guy stole her recipe.  Truth be told, he's correct when he says Cioppino is not so much a recipe as a technique.  Mom's was great, last night's was pretty close.


But that's not the story, today.


So we're in the barrel room of the winery, (the only place cool enough to house 28 folks, in July in Texas) and folks are starting to settle in to their seats.  We're sitting down at one end next to the Winemaker.  (He's got an ear infection and can't hear very well.  He wants me to give him discrete volume adjustment hand signals as he's giving his talks).


As people are filing in, he leans over and points out an older gentleman just sitting down.  The Winemaker says "juvat, you REALLY need to go over and introduce yourself to that guy.  He was in the Air Force also."


OK, I will after dinner, methinks.


BIG MISTAKE.


Dinner comes to a completion and people are milling around, so I walk over to the older gentleman and introduce my self.





He returns it with "Hi, juvat.  I'm George Carruthers."


"Hi Sir, (He's older than me, they get called Sir, until telling me otherwise), I hear you were in the Air Force. So was I, what did you do?


"I was a Navigator on a B-17."



Notice there's no guns in the nose, that will be a problem in this story.
Source



"Where did you fly?" (Thinking he might not have made it overseas or had flown in a different theater.)

"England"


"Oh, My!"  I sat down beside him, wishing we could rewind back to the beginning of the evening.  Flashing handsignals seemed unimportant now.




"What time frame was this?"


"1943."


Oh, MY!


You see, that was when the P-51 and the Drop Tank were not quite ready for prime time.  These guys flew missions without escort, in the Daytime!



Source



I asked him how that went.


"Pretty well until July 14th."


"What happened then?"


"I was shot down"


"By what?"


"A Focke-Wulfe, in a head on attack. "

Source


"You must have had a spectacular view of it from the Navigator's position." (always the master of the understatement)





"I did, but it saved my life."


"How so?"


"The aircraft exploded and the nose fell off.  I fell out the back of the nose section as it separated from the aircraft.  My parachute was still attached, but it was damaged. (I found out later, his parachute had absorbed a 20MM round that would have hit him in the torso.)  As I pulled the ripcord, it was all tangled.  I managed to get it partially untangled before I hit the ground, but I still hit pretty hard."


"Where was this?"


"An airfield (Villacoublay) just southwest of Paris."





"So you spent some time with the Germans?"


"Yes, in Stalag Luft III." (Didn't realize it at the time, but....Great Escape)


His voice lowered. "Those were the 'Hungry' times."


 I knew not to press this issue.

"When were you liberated?"


"April 30th 1945, by George Patton's 3rd Army."


Much to my dismay, at that point the rest of his party returned and took him home.


Several things struck me.  First he was 94 years old and got around with only a cane.  That meant when all this took place, he was 20, maybe barely 21.


He very vividly remembered the dates, cited above, and  joy was still very apparent in his voice 70+ years after the fact when he mentioned being liberated.


As a kid, I read about these missions.  In ROTC, we studied these missions, as a Fighter Pilot I studied these missions,. as a Staff Officer, I studied these missions.  I knew there were losses, severe losses.  But....


You read mission reports like this and it's too easy to say "Oh,  Only 1 KIA, 3 WIA  and 21 MIA, that's not too bad."


Unless one of those numbers is you or someone you love.



Col, then 2LT, Carruthers is front row, first on the left. A few in the photo were not on the mission.  The rest were killed.
Source

Col George Carruthers was one of those MIA. The rest of the crew would later be reclassified as KIA.  


 Real people.  


It was a very educational evening!


For a more detailed version of his story, please read here.  It corroborated his story from last night and filled in a bunch more details.


Sources

http://www.8thafhs.com/get_one_mission.php?mission_id=326
http://www.taphilo.com/history/8thaf/8aflosses.shtml Site contains a spreadsheet providing details of ALL 8th AF missions during the War.
http://www.purpleheartaustin.org/carruthers.htm





"

32 comments:

  1. Wow! How very awesome that you were able to meet and visit with Col. Carruthers!

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  2. As a Marine I take great pride in what Marines accomplished in the Pacific in World War II. Casualties were heavy against an implacable foe. But I never understood how impressive the record of the Eighth Air Force was until I visited the Mighty Eighth Museum located right off I-95 in Savannah, GA. When you realize that they flew day after day, and took losses that often exceeded 50% it is hard to comprehend such bravery. In fact, the Eighth Air Force suffered more casualties that the entire Marine Corps in World War II. Gentlemen of the Mighty Eighth, I salute you!

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    1. And you should be proud. While stationed in Okinawa, I walked most of the infamous places of that battle. That took a lot of courage also. But you're right, flying one of those missions and surviving would test anyone. The almost daily "rinse, repeat" cycle would try anybody. His story put a little more understanding into why the USAF made us watch "12 O'Clock High" multiple times in my career. Heck, even the Army made us watch it at CGSC.

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  3. A great post Juvat.

    Looking at your chart of B-17 missions, nearly 40% losses! Those guys had stones!

    It's always an honor to talk to one of the men who was there. Used to happen a lot, but as the years go by, they grow fewer and fewer. As they march off into the mists of time, we salute them and honor their memory!

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    1. Yeah, I thought the same thing. I talked to his neighbor (the folks that brought him to the winery) and told them about the Nimitz Museum's Living History program and asked that they mention it to him. Hopefully, he'll take them up on it.

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  4. Another excellent post Juvat, thanks. A reminder to me not to let opportunities slip by as we never know what surprises they may have for us.

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    1. Thanks, Yep, I'd have been kicking myself if I'd let them walk out the door and then found out what he'd done.

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  5. Exactly my thought, OAFS. I had a carrier qualified Naval Aviator instruct me in Statics, Dynamics, and Strength of Materials in college. He was tough but fair. We used to joke about him coming to class with armor under his suit. Mr. Copenhaver. His name still gives me shivers...

    One of our math professors was a spook pilot in VietNam. He told us he wanted to write about it, but he wouldn't live long enough to outlast the Top Secret clearance on what he did!! A friend's dad in High School was a Marine, wounded on Iwo Jima. They were everywhere you went. High School chemistry teacher was a tank commander in Korea (kept a picture of his tank in his desk!!!!), deacon at my church was 2nd ID from 51-52 in Korea. Nicest man I ever met was with Patton from 12-44 throgh 2 years of occupation duty in Germany.

    I miss those guys. They were the one's I looked to when I needed advice or direction...

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    1. You're right about that last paragraph, both sentences.

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  6. Oh wow, what a fantastic opportunity!

    I read and "studied" those stories too. Even got to listen to and occasionally shoot the shit with a few of those guys at SERE and other training venues. At some point the reality of those lost, MIA, and KIA numbers began to sink in. The Eighth Air Force lost more killed during the war than the entire USMC. Every time I get a good pity party going I feel those guys (America's Fallen) looking over my shoulder and it takes all the fun out of my whining.

    Fantastic that Col. Carruthers is getting around and enjoying life more than 70 years later. Something to emulate!

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    1. Yeah, he's getting around a little slower, but still had a good sense of humor and tells a great story.

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  7. An excellent post Juvat. You never know when you'll run across a vet with such experiences to tell. A repairman came to fix my parents furnace and I happened to go downstairs to see what needed to be done. Turns out the guy was a Navy vet from WWII, he was on a destroyer sunk off Guadalcanal during that campaign. What he said.... whoof....

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    1. Back in the day, almost every male was a WWII vet, and had a tale to tell. That's why I like the link Sarge has in the sidebar entitled "War Tales". Has stories from just regular folk that did their duty. It's a good reminder that the military is real people not numbers.

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  8. As I have mentioned here before, my dad was a B-17 pilot and flew 35 combat missions over Europe with this group--

    http://www.447bg.com/

    He flew his first mission January 2, 1945. I never heard him bring up the topic in conversation, but he was comfortable talking about it when asked. One day, while he was visiting our family (especially to see his grandkids) he and I got to talking about his tour. He said that no one on his crew was ever injured, but that they came back on three engines "more than once". At the end of the conversation, he summed it all up in one word. He said it was a "lark". Without saying so, he was comparing himself to men like Col. Carruthers.

    For anyone interested, another descendant of a 447th air crew member has put up a huge amount of group records and info on Smugmug. Here's the link--

    https://447bg.smugmug.com/

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    1. Oh, WOW, I'm going to be spending a lot of time on that site! Thanks.

      What a difference Air Supremacy makes though, huh?

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    2. Here's another site you might find useful as well, especially as it is interactive.

      http://www.americanairmuseum.com/

      I found the following image there--

      https://447bg.smugmug.com/

      It looks to me to have been taken from a ship in the low squadron, with the high squadron in the background. It always brings to mind something I read awhile back. Seems a German fighter pilot was transferred from the Eastern Front to the Western Front. He later remarked upon seeing the American bomber stream for the first time, "My God. Our own formations for Hitler's birthday never looked that good. And they came on. Always, they came on.

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    3. Well, drat. When I clicked 'publish' on the first try, Blogger had a hissy fit, so I tried again. Feel free to toss the extra copy.

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    4. Double drat. I just noticed that the link put up under "I found the following image there--" is wrong. Here is the correct one---

      http://www.americanairmuseum.com/media/1239

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    5. Yeah, I stumbled upon the American Air Museum Site a while ago. Pretty cool site. And that's a great picture. Chin guns might have saved my friend some grief if they'd had them.

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    6. Indeed they might have. On that note, interesting to compare the photos you put up. Windy City Challenger appears to have NO forward firing nose guns, just single field installed mount just forward of the navigator position. My guess is that this ship is an E of F model. The photo farther up looking forward inside the nose looks to be the Collings Foundation "909". I have had the honor of taking a ride in that ship. It is a G model with provision for a "cheek" gun on each side. For those interested, the seat to the immediate left is the navigator's position. The seat up front is the bombardier's position. Immediately in front of the chair is the Norden bomb sight. The bent pogo stick looking thing sticking up to the right is the control for the chin turret.

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    7. You're exactly right, the Nav position photo is one I took a few months ago when 909 visited our airport. Col Carruthers said his B-17 was an E model and so had no forward firing guns. From what I've read, the attack that shot down his bomber was a favorite attack of the Luftwaffe at the time as there was minimal way to defend against it. That generated the redesign of the G and subsequent models with the chin turret.

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  9. A true hero and treasure, and one with nine lives apparently. Glad he survived to tell the tale(s)- a lifetime of them in just a few years. I'm glad you got the opportunity.

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    1. Yeah, if ever there was someone (other than myself) who epitomized "Better to be lucky than good", Col Carruthers might be the man.

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  10. You state (above), "It's a good reminder that the military is real people not numbers."
    I think that this has been lost on our citizenry. We make no sacrifice for the "war on terror". We pay for it with our sweat and blood, but the profit from it accumulates in the coffers of mostly unknown billionaires.
    I think more now of the years in USAF (dream come true BTW), than the many more years spent as a heavy equipment operator for Western and Delta. Camaraderie, true friendship and common risk. Not known amongst the multitude today.

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    1. I think you're exactly correct, Dave. I think of myself as a Fighter Pilot, even though it's been more than 25 years since I've last flown. I do miss the camaraderie of Squadron life a bunch.

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  11. Thank you for a most excellent post ( the usual standard at this blog ). Would that I could have been hanging over your shoulder listening to that gentleman. Thank you again.

    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. You're welcome Paul. It was a great conversation.

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  12. Talking to them IS like stepping back in time... And they truly WERE the greatest generation!

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  13. I often bemoan how my "Boomer" generation failed our previous generation. They overcame The Great Depression, WWII, (many were) recall for Korea, and then raised their families under the nuclear threat of the Russians. They set the table for us and, I believe, we failed them if today's society is any indication. Raised in a small Central Kentucky town of 2,000 where most of the men and some of the women went off to WWII. All were affected by it. Not a day goes by when I don't think of some of them and how my life was influenced by them. Thanks for the post Juvat, regards, Alemaster

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    1. My pleasure. I'm going to go with "Never Give Up! Never Surrender! I don't think the battle is over regarding our society, although I agree that it is an uphill fight. I do, however, reflect on the impact my Parent's generation had on my life.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)