With Honor and Appreciation

Col. Wilcox with his wife and daughter, following the end of WWII

Tomorrow is Veterans Day in the U.S. Originally called Armistice Day to celebrate victory in WWI, the holiday was declared by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, in remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice during that war. It was later expanded to include all veterans, including those who served and survived.

I’d like to honor one of the latter, the late Colonel Robert E. Wilcox, my husband’s grandfather. Col. Wilcox was the highly decorated pilot of a B-29 bomber, and served in Army Air Corps during WWII, and later in the U.S. Air Force in the Korean conflict.

He was a two-time POW. The first time, he was held in northern Japan in a concentration camp, and wasn’t released until Japan’s defeat. He’d been presumed dead for nearly a year by then – the military already had a headstone made for him and planned for placement in Arlington Cemetery. It was due to the efforts of the Red Cross that he was rescued at the war’s end, and this was something he never forgot. One of his hands was broken in multiple places, and he also credited the Red Cross for getting him prompt medical attention and for arranging multiple, complex (for the time) surgeries that restored to him the full use of his hand.

Despite his harrowing experience, he went on to serve in Korea a few years later, and again was taken prisoner.

Colonel Wilcox’s accomplishments were many. The medals shown here recognize some of the missions and campaigns he served in during both wars. The Purple Heart was, of course, for the wounds he suffered while a prisoner of war. The medal on the upper right states was “Awarded for Honorable Service while a Prisoner of War, for the United States of America.” He also was recognized for completing 25 missions as a bomber pilot, denoted by the medal in the center on the top row. The lower center medal is for “Service in Defense of the Principles of the Charter of the United Nations” during his service in Korea.

He also was awarded the Bronze Star and Silver Star.

Grandpa never talked about these awards, or his time in the military. Despite his achievements and service, he always seemed to regard it as a duty, simply something one did.

He always kept busy. After he retired from the Air Force after 20 years of service, he went to work as an electrical engineer for NCR, until his retirement from there 25 years later. Throughout his life, Grandpa Wilcox was always committed to serving others, and never forgot what others had done for him. He flew for the Civil Air Patrol during the 70s, and later, volunteered for the Red Cross along with his wife, my husband’s grandma Mary. When I met my husband in the early 90s, they volunteered a couple days a week, taking elderly people who were unable to drive, to doctors’ appointments, the grocery store or other necessary errands. They were also active in their church, and participated in activities to help others. They served in this capacity into their late seventies, until forced to stop by their own health issues.

Grandpa passed away in 2002, at the age of 84, two years after Grandma’s passing. Although I only knew him for the last ten years of his life, I consider that a privilege. It’s because of him and others like him, that we continue to enjoy the freedoms we have today.

I’m also privileged to have several friends, neighbors and coworkers who served, and to all of them I’m grateful.

Who will you thank tomorrow?

My Town Monday: Haunted Aircraft at the USAF Museum

The first time I heard about hauntings at Wright Patterson Air Force Base was several years ago, when I heard that The Atlantic Paranormal Society was coming to film an episode of Ghost Hunters. Supposedly, a couple of office and storage buildings on base are haunted, as well as the Hap Arnold House.

What I learned more recently, is that there’s a much more haunted place on base: the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

It shouldn’t be any surprise, considering how much death is associated with some of these aircraft and artifacts.

The Black Mariah

The more recent hauntings are from the Vietnam war, both of which were involved in rescue/medical evacuation missions. The Black Mariah is a Sikorsky CH-3E amphibious transport helicopter that saw many highly classified runs. The Black Mariah is riddled with bullet holes. Supposedly, many soldiers died aboard the Black Mariah, and their voices and moans can still be heard where it sits in the museum today. (Note: according to its Fact Sheet dated 12/2010, the Black Mariah is undergoing restoration and can only be seen as part of the museum’s Behind the Scenes tour.)

 

The Hopalong, at the National Museum of the USAF

The Hopalong is a Sikorsky UH-19B Chickasaw that served as a medevac chopper in both the Vietnam war and in Korea. It’s also home to an apparition of its last pilot, who the museum’s night staff claim they sometimes see in the pilot’s seat, flipping switches and trying to steer the craft to safety. The seat is still stained with the pilot’s blood.

Bockscar, shown when it was delivered to the USAF Museum in 1961, with a group of its original crew. The nose art was added after the Nagasaki mission.

One of the museum’s more dramatic exhibits is the Bockscar, “the aircraft that ended WWII.” Named after its pilot, Frederick C. Bock, this Boeing B-29 bomber dropped the “Fat Man” atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, which led to Japan’s surrender. Supposedly, people have seen the ghost of a young Japanese boy near the plane at night.

The ill-fated crew of the Lady Be Good

The Lady Be Good was a B-24D that disappeared after departing for a bombing mission over Italy on April 4, 1943. The other 24 bombers sent to Naples that day returned safely. But the Lady Be Good wasn’t found until sixteen years later, after a group of British archaeologists spotted wreckage while flying over the Libyan desert. After an intensive search of the area, remains of eight crew members were recovered, one of whom had trekked over 100 miles from the wreckage. The ninth crew member was never found. The aircraft was recovered in pieces, many of its instruments and equipment still in usable condition. Some of these parts were installed in other aircraft. According to the Lady Be Good fact sheet, a C-54 with autosyn transmitters from the Lady experienced propeller trouble; it managed to land safely only by ditching cargo. A C-47 with a radio receiver from the Lady had to be abandoned in the Mediterranean. An Army “Otter” plane got an armrest from the Lady Be Good, then crashed in the Gulf of Sidra. None of the ten men aboard were ever found. Some parts were, however – including the armrest. Now housed in the museum, the parts inexplicably rearrange themselves.

The Strawberry Bitch

Another WWII-era B24D, the Strawberry Bitch is one of the museum’s more popular attractions. With a range of over 2,800 miles laden with 5,000 lbs. bomb load, the B24 was well-suited for longer range missions like the raid on the Ploesti oil fields in Rumania, which were estimated to supply 60 percent of Germany’s crude oil. Visitors and museum staff have reported hearing rattles and clanks from the undercage where the gunner sat, and some even claim to have seen a shadowy figure inside. Others say they’ve seen strange lights inside the aircraft. Whatever its/their nature, the spirit(s) haunting the Strawberry Bitch are the only ones said to be violent: a former janitor from the museum claims one slapped him in the face once. Who knows, maybe he made a comment about the plane’s pinup girl nose art. :D

Prisoners of War exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force

There’s one exhibit at the museum that isn’t an aircraft, but evokes a sense of dread and unease in more people than any other: the POW exhibit. With my skeptical nature, I’d be more inclined to believe this is simply due to knowing the horrible experiences suffered by our prisoners of war, rather than any paranormal activity. Still, it makes one wonder!

I have to admit, I didn’t see or hear any evidence of ghostly activity when I visited the museum. If you’ve been there, did you? Do you know of any haunted museums in your home town?

More at the My Town Monday blog