I don’t think you could have gotten him on that plane

Jane Curtis

Today, my Dad would be 107.

He would have loved the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight, though I don’t know if you could have actually gotten him on the plane.

Dad was an Air Apache, part of the 345th Bombardment Group of the United States Air Force. They served in the Southwest Pacific Theater.

I think he may have had his fill of flying.

The 345th was known for its strafing. That was made possible through the removal of the bottom turret of a B-25 Mitchell, and replacing it with an extra gas tank, according to the 345th’s website. The greenhouse nose was rebuilt to accommodate four forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns.

“Two side-pack machine guns were added on each side of the lower fuselage just aft of the cockpit, giving the plane eight new .50-caliber machine guns in addition to the twin fifties in the top turret and tail, and single fifties at the waist positions. Later versions would bring the total forward firing capabilities to 14 forward firing .50-caliber machine guns that would make the superstructure of an enemy ship dissolve as the armor-piercing incendiary projectiles melted it.”

The 345th was in combat 26 months, logging during that stretch 58,562 combat hours on 10,609 sorties, the website says.

“Fifty-eight thousand bombs with a total weight of 6,340 tons were dropped and over 12-and-a-half million rounds of ammunition were expended. They were credited with sinking 260 enemy vessels and damaging 275 others. They destroyed 260 Japanese planes on the ground and another 107 in aerial combat. …

“In August of 1945, the Air Apaches were given the great honor of intercepting and escorting the two Japanese ‘Betty’ bombers that were transporting the peace emissaries who were to initiate the Japanese surrender. The group was officially deactivated at Camp Stoneman, California, on Dec. 29, 1945, after just over three years of existence.”

Dad was 33 at the time.

It is impossible for me to imagine what he experienced in the war years.

Prior to serving, he was a professional baseball umpire who traveled the “Old Sally” League on a bus that also carried team players.

So he already knew discomfort.

But I can’t ever know the extent of that discomfort. I only know that he couldn’t sit in a theater in anything but an aisle seat, and then for not long. In the days when my brother and I performed on stage, I can count on one finger the times he attended.

He had a preference for the golf course.

He farmed.

He loved our family with all his heart.

And I think he was proud of his service, though his tale of the humongous reptile that slithered through a tent was hair-raising.

Then there was the time he gave up his bunk on a troop vessel to a tired soldier. That man died a short time later when a kamikaze struck where he slept.

Dad contracted some kind of fever that plagued him through much of his life.

He smoked Camel straights with dedication.

He lost all of his teeth and most of his hair.

He taught me to keep my eye on the ball when taking a swing at it.

He never failed to be proud of me, even when I spectacularly failed myself.

He was, in the perhaps worn-out label, part of the Greatest Generation.

His death, in 1989, taught me the vacuum of loss.

But his love never left me.

He would have eagerly soared to D.C., through the sky in his head, but I don’t think you could have gotten him on the plane.

Jane Curtis is editor of The Messenger.