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In Honor of Veterans Day

In Honor of Veterans Day

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I really enjoy learning about history and especially World War II history. With today being Veterans Day I wish I could somehow respectfully relate Star Wars to all that our veterans have done for us and all that our current miliary men and women still do for us today. Yes, the Empire can be compared to Nazi Germany and Emperor Palpatine to Adolf Hitler, both bent on complete domination and destruction of their enemies. The Rebel Alliance can be compared to the Allied forces, because both were fighting for something greater than themselves. But our veterans do, and have done, so much more that is never talked about or known. I live near an Air Force base and when I hear of servicemen and women being deployed to a foreign country for sometimes over a year at a time I can’t imagine how they do it. I start to miss my family when I’m away from them for a few days. So the best way for me to incorporate Star Wars is to say that without these veterans we would not have the freedoms and opportunities that make it possible to enjoy our favorite saga.

On December 18, 2015, I will go see Star Wars Episode VII, probably at midnight, and I will completely take for granted how easy it is to buy movie tickets online, go to the movie and sit in my assigned seat, and be able to safely have my own opinion on the movie no matter what anyone else thinks. This is almost all because of the freedoms our veterans have helped protect and our current military members still protect today.

My grandpa, Charles, was one of these humble heroes. He was a ball turret gunner on a B-17 bomber (which is what The Ghost from Star Wars: Rebels is based on) during World War II, a member of the 603rd Bomb Squadron and the 398th Bomb Group in the US Eighth Air Force. On July 7, 1944, my grandpa and his crew were flying only their third mission and their target was Leipzig, Germany. At 11:30 am, while over Gera, Germany, their plane was shot down by Nazi forces forcing the crew to bail out. According to some of the crew, the right wing was blown off and the plane began to spin. The last thing my grandpa remembered before being shot down was asking the navigator, “How much longer until target?” and the navigator answering, “Thirty minutes”.

            B-17

July 14, 1944, was the first day my grandpa remembered after being shot down. That day he found himself in a German hospital with a broken femur and a fractured skull, and he was the only American in that hospital. He stayed there until September 25 and then was moved to another hospital. In all he spent a total of 10 months in three German hospitals before being liberated in April 1945, due to Germany’s surrender.

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My grandpa never knew how he got out of the B-17 the day it got shot down. Two of the crew were killed and of the six other survivors none could remember helping him get out of the ball turret. The only thing all six knew for sure was that my grandpa was blown out of the plane without a parachute. There just wasn’t enough room in the ball turret for a parachute. While in the hospital he was told that Nazi soldiers captured him after he landed in a tree, which may have caused his injuries and almost surely saved his life.

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When he left Meinigen hospital in Germany he was eventually flown back to Hill Air Force Base in Utah and received further treatment for his injuries at a nearby hospital. For his courageous efforts in World War II my grandpa received the Purple Heart, Silver Star, and Prisoner of War medals.

My grandpa has been dead for over 15 years now, but when he was alive he would rarely talk about his experiences during World War II. He definitely never bragged about his service and I hope I don’t come across as bragging about him today. He always downplayed it and acted like what they did was no big deal. In reality he was a hero and a walking history book. There aren’t many generations who can say they lived through things like the Great Depression, a World War, a president’s assassination, and the invention of the internet. It wasn’t until almost 50 years after the end of World War II when he and his fellow surviving crew members met for a reunion that he actually started opening up about what he went through and I got to hear his stories.

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According to Veterans Administration statistics there are only about 1 million living US World War II veterans and they are dying at a rate of approximately 555 a day. By 2036 it is estimated that there will be no more living WWII veterans to recount their experiences so hopefully we’ll appreciate them and all veterans while we have them.

If anyone else has any related stories to share please contact me at ryderw@coffeewithkenobi.com, @ryderwaldrondds, or comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

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12 Comments

  1. Jon
    November 11, 2014 at 08:34 Reply

    Very cool article

  2. mikeklimo (@mikeklimo)
    November 11, 2014 at 09:07 Reply

    I wish your Grandfather were still alive today so I could thank him for his service. And what an amazing story! Thanks for writing this and paying tribute to all who served.

  3. Becca Benjamin
    November 11, 2014 at 21:56 Reply

    Thank you, Charles!
    Ryder, I’m blown away by this article, well done.
    Love the emotional truth behind it, very touching and historically engaging.
    Great job 🙂

    PS: I had no idea about the conceptual design for the ghost was based on the B-17 bomber?! Wow!

    1. Ryder
      November 16, 2014 at 10:39 Reply

      Thanks so much!

  4. Pam Bruchwalski
    November 12, 2014 at 21:50 Reply

    Wow, Ryder. I am humbled by your grandfather’s service. What a story. Thank you so much for sharing. So much.

    1. Ryder
      November 16, 2014 at 10:40 Reply

      Thanks Pam!

  5. Dan Z & Cory Clubb
    November 14, 2014 at 11:01 Reply

    This was tremendous, heartfelt, and perfectly timed. Your Grandpa is an inspiration to me!

    -Dan Z

    1. Ryder
      November 16, 2014 at 10:40 Reply

      Thanks for letting me post it.

  6. Melinda
    November 18, 2014 at 09:36 Reply

    Ryder, what a wonderful tale! 🙂 I loved every word. Your grandfather — and countless others — saved the world all those years ago, and today’s military personnel do their utmost to save and protect all of us. I’m glad we at least have one day each year to remind us all of the sacrifices those in the various branches of the military have made to try to make the world a better, safer place. Not just for Americans, but others who live far, far away.

    I, too, am a huge history/WW II “fan”. I love learning about that period in time. I won’t say it was a “simpler time and place.” However, I think, in some respects, there were clearer lines defining for what military forces were fighting. My dad was in the Army, serving in South Korea, and the objectives were much more murky then. That’s been the case (at least for American servicepeople) ever since. Still, so many men and women have interrupted their lives to serve our country, have given their lives in service of their country. We never should forget that. November 11 is more than just a day off from work or school or a bank/postal service holiday. Thank you so much for paying homage not only to your granddad but to the countless others who have donned a U.S. military uniform over the years. 🙂

    MTFBWY 🙂

    1. Ryder
      November 18, 2014 at 16:30 Reply

      Thanks Melinda. I appreciate that.

  7. Mike MacDonald (@MikeTarkin)
    November 18, 2014 at 11:11 Reply

    Really enjoyed this. Thanks. #MTFBWY

    1. Ryder
      November 18, 2014 at 16:32 Reply

      Thanks for your comments and taking the time to read it.

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