Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Of Dodgy Weddings, Bit Scary & Too Fond of Tractors

Nick, an English Facebook friend, recently posted the map of England on the right; the one on the left is from my files.

After Dad passed away, a massive amount of 8th Air Force material involving his WWII service came to me. Recognizing that somewhere in all that stuff was his story...the one he never really told, I undertook to learn what I could from it.
One project was to take from his diary, that of an excited 21-year old 2Lt on his way to the greatest adventure of his life, his route of flight as they departed the States, eastbound over the Atlantic. He was a navigator so, he diligently recorded the waypoints along his journey. Making a very accurate route tracing on a map was possible. Now, Nick’s modern chart of England placed alongside a traditional version adds an entirely new perspective to Dad's adventure.
Landed at White Walkers, took a train south through 17th Century Massacres and Perpetually Drunk, continuing south to a city near Gobby. Then, in routine military fashion, reversed course, now traveling northbound on the same tracks. Turned left at Dodgy Weddings and headed west across Spare Bit of Scotland, they crossed the North Channel, disembarking at Liam Neeson’s and continuing westbound to an area just south of Can’t Decide What It’s Called, near Bit Scary.
Here the boys met some REAL veterans where they began to learn what they had gotten themselves into. The unit’s task was to prepare the first wave of Replacements for their combat assignments to the approximately 40 Army Air Force bases situated to the southeast, in the region of Too Fond of Tractors, etc.
The most important lesson imparted near Bit Scary was that if they got lost, steer 330º and “You Caunt Miss It.” That bit of sage advice would later save Dad’s fanny once or twice and he wrote a story about it, entitled 330º.
Upon leaving Bit Scary after traveling via some unrecorded means and route, they ended up first assigned to the 94th between Russian Spies (probably then known as Nazi Spies) and Too Fond of Tractors. Although they were pleased with the civilized digs they found at the 94th, just south of there, at the 447th the day before, Kaffun and MacDonald were shot down. So, they picked up their kit and moved south where a couple of replacement crews were now needed. He probably never knew why his crew was moved, since his diary and subsequent stories only complain about the muddy, unpleasant living conditions they found at the newer base. Kaffun and his crew were killed; MacDonald and his, taken prisoner.
Crossing the shore over the Too Fond of Tractors coastline, he joined the Aluminum Overcast, most frequently steering a course of 150º bound for where there was a problem. When 2 engines failed on the same wing or when the vertical stabilizer was shot up or when the flak shell pierced the right wing on its way to explode at a higher altitude or the fog was too thick to see through…recalling the sage advice imparted at Bit Scary, they sometimes steered the reciprocal of 150º …. 330º. And he never missed it….50-times.



James said...

Dang, that is an awesome piece of writing, Gus. Love it. Somehow you have explained some very interesting history about WWII and your father while being funny as hell. Great piece, my friend.

Gus said...

Thanks, good ones tend to flow, don't they? That one came out with little editing while the mind was racing ahead to the next chuckle.

James said...

I know a writer friend who calls that "Dragon Smoke" when the writing just seems to come to you like that. This piece just takes off and soars right up to the end.

K said...

Beautiful piece about your father’s war, Gus.

Although it was extremely witty, I found it rather sad. The terse mention of the fate of Kaffun and MacDonald and their men left me thinking about Snowden’s death. We all read Catch 22, of course, but it must have had a profound resonance for you. Do you remember if your father read it?

My own father read much more about the Civil War than he did about World War II or Korea. He used to go to the war movies, but my mother could not stand them. I remember her walking resolutely out of "Pork Chop Hill". She just did not see the point of being reminded of all the painful uncertainty.

Now that I think about it, Heller definitely has your disdain for institutionalized cant. I just re-read the death of Snowden, which I rather wish I hadn’t done. I had forgotten how wrenching it is.

Lovely writing, old friend.

Gus said...

Kaffun and MacDonald….I have their crew pictures also. They are particularly poignant.

Treating them with the terseness you noted was a device to jerk a reader into the awareness that, wittiness aside, this was seriously nasty business; and, the young men, at that point, had little clue what was in store for them.

Dad and his generation didn’t like Catch-22; as you probably know, it was largely a failure until our generation discovered and embraced it. I must have been in California when I read it and found that it perfectly matched my sense of humor at the time. I was rolling with laughter from the very first page and read it straight through. The film didn’t do nearly as much for me as the book did. Dad wouldn’t have liked it nor, I suspect, this piece as I’ve written it. He was more of a Sousa March type of man.

Snowden didn’t touch me as much as others. That may be due to my having taken so much gallows humor (the institutionalized cant) from the book while failing to consider the serious undertone. Maybe growing up a boy, playing war and cowboys during the fifties tended to dull those kinds of sensitivities…I don’t know.

The characters I liked most were Yossarian, of course; also, Major Major and the 107-year old man.