This Veteran's Day, Thank an Airman

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The last doughboy is but a memory and it's estimated that we're losing our World War II veterans at the rate of 1,000 a day. For those of us who grew up sitting at the knee of fathers, grandfathers, or uncles who fought "The Big One," it's inconceivable that we'll someday live in a world where the voices of these noble men and women are forever stilled. If you know a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Corps, or a Marine or Naval Aviator, and they flew to fight in World War II, you can thank them in the comments box below. Let's also thank the Seabees, the trainers and the maintainers who kept America flying. Let's not limit our thanks to these shores. If you want to thank any Allied airman, please drop off your appreciation in our comments box.

I am kicking off this small Veteran's Day initiative by thanking William L. Bacheler of Penn Valley California, who was a decorated F-4U pilot in the Marine Corps, then went on to complete a superlative career as a navigator, instructor and pilot-in-command for Pan American World Airways.

Batch's Brave, Splendid Fools is available now on AVwebBooks.com.

"Batch," as he was known to all his friends, grew up in Seattle, Washington during the depression, and recalled as a boy straining to catch a glimpse of Charles Lindbergh, who was being paraded through town. Encouraged by Lindbergh's exploits, Batch later earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Washington, then joined the Marine Corps before Pearl Harbor. Batch was later surprised to meet Lindbergh himself when his squadron was being assembled at the outbreak of the war. Their relationship continued when Batch led his squadron on a strafing run over a Japanese weapons depot, only to discover that an additional aircraft had formed up at the rear. He cautiously dropped back to identify the unknown aircraft, fearing it might be an enemy plant. Batch was elated to recognize that it was, in fact, Charles Lindbergh, who had joined the attack as an unannounced witness to history.

After the war, Batch secured a job with Pan Am, where he rose through the ranks for the next 33 years. He was a skilled navigator back in the day when airliners crossed the vast Pacific guided only by the stars. And he pioneered the polar routes from the west coast to Europe. He closed out his career as a 747 captain, and never touched the controls of an airplane again—an eloquent statement by a man of dignity and discipline.

I knew Batch when I was a teenager, wondering if I would ever have the right combination of skills to become a pilot, an ambition I realized in 1989. The captain had already been retired for ten years. He used his time profitably by penning a remarkable memoir — Brave, Splendid Fools — which I discovered on a visit to California last March. Batch is in a nursing home, cared for lovingly by his wife Ione and their kids Dan, Nancy and Janet. Ione brought out the only copy of Batch's book and I was utterly captivated. For more than 700 manuscript pages he interweaves the story of his last flight for Pan Am with a detailed description of 1930s flight training, the development of Marine aerial gunnery, and acting as XO for Medal of Honor - winner Joe Foss, who had tied Eddie Rickenbacker with 26 confirmed kills. Batch described the air side of McArthur's island-hopping strategy — with a stick and rudder perspective that pilots will appreciate and enjoy. I learned, for instance, that Marine Corps pilots in the South Pacific chilled their beer by loading it into a new drop tank, then flying it to 25,000 feet for an hour to chill down. Then they threw out the gear and flaps and dove for the deck to get the brew into the hands of thirsty comrades.

After the war Batch found employment with Pan Am and flew the complete line of Douglas and Boeing products. He discusses airmanship, cockpit resource management, accident prevention and tricky approaches in precise, easy-to-understand language that pilots will find enlightening and entertaining.

After reading Brave, Splendid Fools (impeccably typed by the devoted Ione) I decided the book had to live. I scanned the manuscript pages and emailed them as .PDFs to India, where the book was re-keyed. It is now available as a downloadable E-book through AVweb partner Aero Technical Books. It's also being prepared for Kindle. Brave, Splendid Fools offers an expansive sweep of early to mid-20th century aviation — from its rag-wing infancy to the globe-girdling people haulers we know today. It took tough, smart pilots like Bill Bacheler to master these nascent technologies so that, today, we can fly direct on GPS with nary a care. Publishing Batch's book has been a labor of love at AVweb, and all proceeds will be directed to the author. I know that Batch is pleased to be published, and he would be delighted to know that his experiences — and his collected wisdom — are now being handed down to future generations for whom the sky is no limit. If you're interested in reading Brave, Splendid Fools, you can find it at this link:

AVwebBooks.com

So, thanks Batch! And don't forget to thank an airman, wherever they are, in the comments box below.

Tim Cole is publisher of AVweb and editorial director and vice-president of Belvoir Media Group.

Comments (15)

I wish that I could thank my Dad. He was trained to fly B-25s in 1944 but was assigned to Cargo Command in the South Pacific as a co-pilot in C-47s. He and his commander were decorated for a life-saving flight in the mountains of New Guinea in bad weather, where they dropped supplies to trapped soldiers, enabling them to successfully fight their way out.

Dad joined the Wyoming Air Guard after the war, but he was killed in 1948 (along with several others that year) by incredibly substandard transition training after the squadron was “blessed” with receiving a flock of surplus P-51s. What happened is another story altogether. But his love of aviation was passed on to me, although I was only 4 at the time, so that eventually I was able to begin flying, curiously at the same age that he was when he died.

I have loved aviation all of my life, and for the last 39 years, I’ve been actively participating. Although now my flying is purely personal and largely recreational, I have instructed and flown Part 135 SE charters. I credit my Dad for my aviation heritage, and I thank him and all of his contemporaries for giving all of us the freedom to enjoy that heritage.

Posted by: Cary Alburn | November 7, 2011 8:57 AM    Report this comment

A remarkable story, Paul, and good for you getting Batch's book out. I'm eager to read it! And a special thanks to my uncle Dana Johnson of Newton, KS, who was photographer/crewman aboard B-24's out of the Aleutian Islands during the war, and to William "Bill" Cantrell of Springfield, MO, who was my (long-retired) banker and an F-4U pilot in the Pacific Theater.

Posted by: John Johnson | November 7, 2011 9:05 AM    Report this comment

Hard to single any one out of all those who valiantly served, but was privileged to meet Richard Kirkland at an Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic meeting last year. He flew P-38s in WWII then went on to pioneer the use of helicopters for SAR in the Korean War. Thankful for his service and for the dedication of so many like him. We'll be in DC on Veterans' Day, showing our 10 year old granddaughter what our nation owes to our veterans.

Posted by: Ronald Horton | November 7, 2011 10:43 AM    Report this comment

I want to thank my Grandfather, a Naval tail gunner in Grumman Avengers during WWII. While he wasn't an airman, he was involved in some of the most intense aerial battles and ground strafing runs of the Pacific Theater. He has his PPL, but hadn't flown for decades. I feel so fortunate to have been able to take him up flying 2 summers ago. We flew over his house, and I let him take the controls. He had a fantastic time. We lost him a month ago, but he's at peace. Thank you, Grandpa.

Posted by: Brandon Freeman | November 7, 2011 10:58 AM    Report this comment

I'd like to thank my uncle, Thomas Walter Barksdale, Jr. Uncle Tom was a B-24 radio operator and gunner in the 389th Bomb Group of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. His airplane was shot down in April 1944 and he spent the duration of the war as a P.O.W. in Stalag 17B. Today he's a robust 92-year-old, living an active life in his hometown of Gray Court, SC. Here's to you, Uncle Tom.

Posted by: Hank Cabler | November 7, 2011 11:51 AM    Report this comment

I'd like to thank my grandfather, CDR Warren Ernest McLellan, USNR, who flew Grumman TBMs with Torpdeo 16 off the USS Lexington during WWII. He was shot down twice, the second time just yards from a Japanese cruiser. He spent the next 22 hours floating near the Marianas islands before being picked up. He remained in flying after the war, first with Central airlines, then with Frontier where he retired as a 737 captain in 1981. He also flew F4U4s out of NAS Dallas as a reservist. I have no doubt that he's the reason I fly today. The best part of the day I passed my private checkride was when he gave me his leather G-1 jacket. He flew with me a few times, but I sure wish we could have done it more than we did. He flew west on August 24, 2011.

Posted by: Chris McLellan | November 7, 2011 12:35 PM    Report this comment

First I'd like to thank all the brave airmen, still living and those that have gone on regardless of the branch of service in which they served. Although I had no close relative that served in flight status during WWII, I knew a quiet unassuming man, Mr. Marshall Dowe. He ran a card and gift shop in my hometown and was always pleasant to us young folks who frequented his shop to peruse the latest comic books. Years later, after his untimely death in an accident, I learned that he had served his country as a command bomber pilot in Europe. Also, I had the privilege to meet and shake David "Tex" Hill's hand at an air show in Houston, Texas. Tex flew with Gen. Claire Chennault's Flying Tigers. Both Mr. Hill and Mr. Dowe are heroes whom I had the privilege to meet and know. They have both flown the last trip west. God bless you both.

Posted by: Richard Law | November 7, 2011 1:18 PM    Report this comment

We don't celebrate Veteran's Day down in this part of the world, more's the pity, but I would like to acknowledge the continuing efforts of Bryan Cox, who flew RNZAF Corsairs in the Pacific. He survived the disastrous day of 15 January 1945 when seven Corsairs of 14 and 16 Squadrons RNZAF, based on Green Island, were lost. They had been covering a fellow pilot in the sea of Simpson Harbour after he had been shot down (he later died as a prisoner of the Japanese after reaching shore) but ran into a severe tropical front on returning to base. Five crashed into the sea or collided, one crashed when about to land, and the seventh simply disappeared. Bryan later flew in Japan as part of the occupational forces and, after a spell as air traffic controller, spent the rest of his working life teaching people to fly. He has published several books about his flying lives and continues to contribute magazine articles.

Posted by: John King | November 9, 2011 2:20 PM    Report this comment

When I was a young kid a handful of Civil War vets still lived and were, in the South at least, honored on every appropriate occasion. I recall the veterans of the Great War, some of them maimed and disabled, who always appeared in uniform on Armistice Day in our little town. Now both of these groups are gone and with the passing of those who knew them personally their sacrifices have become no longer much thought of.

Sadly, the time has come when America is now saying farewell to the vets who are our remaining direct touchstones to WW-II, and soon following them will be those who can remember the war years as youths. When that process is complete WW-II, and the Greatest Generation who fought it, will be only books, pictures, copies of grainy 16mm film and a few artifacts that no longer can invoke a rush of personal memory in those who view them.

I honor all those who went forth and played their parts in our many conflicts, and particularly those who were denied a life after the fighting ended.

Posted by: John Wilson | November 9, 2011 3:27 PM    Report this comment

I'd also like to thank Algernon Middleton. Algie was born in Argentina and flew Mosquito Bombers for the RAF. He flew primarily reconnaissance missions. He was a gentleman, a friend, and he's dearly missed...

Posted by: Tim Cole | November 9, 2011 5:24 PM    Report this comment

Looking forward to reading Brave, Splended Fools. Please advise when it's available on Kindle. As a Vietnam vet helicopter "airman", I would like to thank the infantrymen. Their commitment to duty in terrible conditions made me appreciate being in the cockpit.

Posted by: James Sanford | November 10, 2011 7:29 AM    Report this comment

I'd like to honor USAF 1st Lt. Michael J Blassie who was shot down on May 11, 1972, in a A-37B Dragonfly near An Loc, South Vietnam. Lt. Blassie and I graduated from St Louis University High School in 1966 (just had our 45th re-union) and he entered the Air Force Academy.

Initially Lt. Blassie was buried in the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. Advancements in DNA identification eventually identified his remains, and he was reburied in July 1998 at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St Louis.

Rest in Peace.

Posted by: Michael Weidhaas | November 10, 2011 10:13 AM    Report this comment

My dad grew up with the flying bug. He attended Aviation High School and interned at Floyd Bennett Field where he met many aviation legends. He heard many tales from guys who had flown against the Nazis in the Spanish Civil War. In 1941 he left his home in Brooklyn, NY to sign up with the RCAF, before the US got into the war. When he returned home on leave, before starting flight training, his mom faked a heart attack to prevent his return. The Canadians were sympathetic and told him that he could return whenever and resume where he left off. Shortly after, Pearl Harbor was attacked and the next day he enlisted in the USMC. He became a First Division grunt and was among the first to land on Guadalcanal and served throughout the Pacific theater for the duration. He didn't get to live his flying dream until the mid 1960s. When the young men of his generation, most of whom never left their hometowns, went off to war on the far side of the world, it would be like present day kids being sent to another planet. We lost him in 2005 and I'm still in awe of his courage and independence.

Posted by: Steve Tobias | November 10, 2011 1:30 PM    Report this comment

When I was growing up in a rural community in California, many of the adults (Scoutmasters, Teachers, Coaches) who touched our young lives were Veterans of both Theatres of War. These men, and a few women, impacted our lives in a very positive fashion, in spite of any “Generation Gap”.

The stories that we heard on drives to games or on field trips or around campfires were something to savor and think about for young boys who were trying to find their way. I had teachers/coaches/scoutmasters who were Pilots, Bombardiers, Gunners, mechanics, Sailors, Merchant Seamen, Soldiers and Grunt Marines from both the Pacific and Europe.

Some of them found it difficult to talk about combat experiences, but stories about funny experiences during training and how they managed to stay alive in combat over long periods of time were amazing.

Sometimes the tales of Combat were difficult for the Veteran to relate. The randomness and the violence and the unexpected losses were burdens they carried that were probably not completely appreciated by many of us who, up to that point in our lives had never been hungry, gone without water for days, scared, seriously hurt or so tired that we could sleep in fetid mud or in freezing water water and ice in a foxhole under fire.

Certainly, those men, most of whom are gone now, deserved our gratitude not only for their service, but their continued service as mentors and leaders for young men and women.

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | November 12, 2011 12:54 PM    Report this comment

When I started flying for Supplemental Air Carriers (Non-Scheduled FAR 121 Airlines) in 1968, many of my fellow crewmembers and maintenance personnel were veterans of both WW 2 and Korea. A few of the Captains I knew made a contribution to WW 2 that was a lot more dangerous than flying transports over secure routes, and yet they were denied Veteran’s Status or Benefits.

As a group, you knew you could count on these people when things did not go as planned, either on the airplane or on the ground. While I may never have thanked all of them for their service, as a Former Marine, I was grateful for their friendship, advice, moral support and their quiet heroism. These men and women won two tough wars and then came home to create the most vibrant economy in the world. That made it possible for me and those of my generation who joined me to spend a good life in Aviation.

Without the service and sacrifice of the WW 2, Korean War and all Veterans, both during their military service and afterwards, our world would be a very different place.

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | November 12, 2011 1:02 PM    Report this comment

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