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History with a face is history you want to know about

April 25, 2010
By SANDY MICKELSON, Messenger staff writer

History has a way of becoming more important the older you get. I'm ashamed to admit I didn't care much about history in high school, but that's not the point.

For nearly 10 years when I worked in Oshkosh, Wis., I reported on the Experimental Aircraft Association annual fly-in, and that's where history came to life for me.

I shook hands with the man who flew the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. I met Chuck Yeager, an ace pilot of World War II, and heard the story of Doolittle's Raiders from one of the pilots who dumped his plane in a rice paddy in China after dropping his bombs.

Suddenly the war had a face. And I cared.

For the past several weeks we've been running stories on World War II veterans who will be taking the Brushy Creek Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., on May 1. Each story is different, and each is compelling, whether the person was deep in battle or feeding the troops or running a decoding machine.

Everybody has a story to tell, and each story is part of history. These may not be the stories of history books, but these are stories that bring history to life.

Men like Lloyd Lumsden, of Fort Dodge. He's 87 now, a veteran of the Army, with service in Iceland, England and France.

Lumsden signed up for the May 1 Honor Flight, but has had to give up that dream. He's not well and is at Tompkins Health Center.

His wife, Betty, said he didn't talk much about the war until recently. "I've heard more about it in the last few months than I did in the 67 years we've been married," she said. "He was getting excited about the Honor Flight."

Born in Lehigh, Lumsden was drafted into service in January 1943. He ended up in the quartermaster corps and was part of the Omaha Beach invasion at Normandy.

Lumsden took basics at Fort Warren, at Cheyenne, Wyo., which is now F.E. Warren Air Force Base.

He asked Betty to come out to Wyoming so they could get married before he went to war. She went. "It was the first time I was away from home," she said. "We were married the first time I went, then I went home for a few weeks and went back out there because he was shipping out. That's the last time I saw him until he came home in December of '45."

And when he got back, it was to see his year-old daughter, Lloyda, for the first time.

Betty said she still has the letters and V-mails he sent to her during the war.

I never knew about anything called a V-mail, but this is what I found out:

During the latter years of World War II, V-mail became a popular way to correspond with a loved one serving overseas. V-mail letters were written on forms that could be purchased at five-and-ten-cent stores or the post office. These special forms were photographed, put on film, flown across the world then reproduced at the mail center closest to the recipient's position. The development of the V-mail system reduced the time it took a soldier to receive a letter by a month - from six weeks by boat to 12 days or less by air.

However, the main advantage of V-mail was its compact nature. Reduction in the size and weight of the letters translated into more space for crucial military supplies on cargo planes; 1,700 V-mail letters could fit in a cigarette packet, while reducing the weight of the letters in paper form by 98 percent. Transport of the letters by plane minimized chances that the enemy would intercept the letters, although writers were told to delete any information that might be useful to the enemy if V-mails were captured.

Hmmm. Who knew?

I've written a bunch of the Honor Flight stories, but one story I didn't get to tell was that of Clyde Farmer. He's going on the May 1 flight, but some of his story already has been told, so when I asked if I could talk to him about his war years, he said I should contact Tom Engler instead.

That I did, but I thought it was only fair you know a little about Farmer's role in the war. The first thing he said, though, was how sad it is that America is losing a thousand World War II veterans every day. That's almost impossible to imagine.

Farmer enlisted in the Air Corps, and in December 1945 he started basics at Sheppard Air Force Base at Wichita Falls, Texas. From there he went to teletype operator school at Scott Field, Ill., across the river from St. Louis, Mo.

By the time he was set to go overseas, "the European Theater was filled up, so they gave me a choice of the South Pacific or Alaska," he said. "I didn't think I wanted to go to the South Pacific because of malaria, so I chose Alaska."

During winter in the Aleutian Islands, he wondered about that choice.

"Oh, the wind blew," he said. "Our barracks were set 4 feet in the ground so the wind wouldn't get under them and blow them away."

That had to work; he's here to talk about it.

So long friends, until the next time when we're together.

Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or



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