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A 12-Year-Old’s Memory: “I’ve never wanted to be an American more than on that day!”

(It concerns me we don’t have the name the author to post with this article, but perhaps he preferred it that way. In any case, this piece touched me profoundly. –JDS)

This 1967 true story is of an experience by a young 12 -year-old lad in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. It is about the vivid memory of a privately rebuilt P-51 from WWII and its famous owner/pilot.

………………………………………….

In the morning sun, I could not believe my eyes. There, in our little airport, sat a majestic P-51. They said it had flown in during the night from some U.S. airport, on its way to an air show. The pilot had been tired, so he just happened to choose Kingston for his stop-over. It was to take to the air very soon.

p51bI marveled at the size of the plane, dwarfing the Pipers and Canucks tied down by her. It was much larger than in the movies. She glistened in the sun like a bulwark of security from days gone by.

The pilot arrived by cab, paid the driver, and then stepped into the pilot’s lounge. He was an older man; his wavy hair was gray and tossed. It looked like it might have been combed, say, around the turn of the century. His flight jacket was checked, creased and worn; it smelled old and genuine. Old Glory was prominently sewn to its shoulders. He projected a quiet air of proficiency and pride devoid of arrogance. He filed a quick flight plan to Montreal (“Expo-67 Air Show”) then walked across the tarmac.

After taking several minutes to perform his walk-around check, the tall, lanky man returned to the flight lounge to ask if anyone would be available to stand by with fire extinguishers while he “flashed the old bird up, just to be safe.”

Though only 12 at the time I was allowed to stand by with an extinguisher after brief instruction on its use — “If you see a fire, point, then pull this lever!” he said. (I later became a firefighter, but that’s another story.)

The air around the exhaust manifolds shimmered like a mirror from fuel fumes as the huge prop started to rotate. One manifold, then another, and yet another barked — I stepped back with the others. In moments the Packard -built Merlin engine came to life with a thunderous roar. Blue flames knifed from her manifolds with an arrogant snarl. I looked at the others’ faces; there was no concern. I lowered the bell of my extinguisher. One of the guys signaled to walk back to the lounge. We did.

Several minutes later we could hear the pilot doing his preflight run-up. He’d taxied to the end of runway 19, out of sight. All went quiet for several seconds. We ran to the second story deck to see if we could catch a glimpse of the P-51 as she started down the runway. We could not.

There we stood, eyes fixed to a spot half way down 19. Then a roar ripped across the field, much louder than before. Like a furious hell spawn set loose — something mighty this way was coming. “Listen to that thing!” said the controller.

In seconds the Mustang burst into our line of sight. It’s tail was already off the runway and it was moving faster than anything I’d ever seen by that point on 19. Two-thirds the way down 19 the Mustang was airborne with her gear going up. The prop tips were supersonic.

We clasped our ears as the Mustang climbed hellishly fast into the circuit to be eaten up by the dog-day haze. We stood for a few moments, in stunned silence, trying to digest what we’d just seen.

The radio controller rushed by me to the radio. “Kingston tower calling Mustang?” He looked back to us as he waited for an acknowledgment.

The radio crackled: “Go ahead, Kingston.”

“Roger, Mustang. Kingston tower would like to advise the circuit is clear for a low-level pass.”

I stood in shock because the controller had just, more or less, asked the pilot to return for an impromptu air show! The controller looked at us.

“Well, What?” He asked. “I can’t let that guy go without asking. I couldn’t forgive myself!”

The radio crackled once again, “Kingston, do I have permission for a low-level pass, east to west, across the field?”

“Roger, Mustang, the circuit is clear for an east to west pass.”

“Roger, Kingston, I’m coming out of 3,000 feet, stand by.”

We rushed back onto the second-story deck, eyes fixed toward the eastern haze. The sound was subtle at first, a high-pitched whine, a muffled screech, a distant scream. Moments later the P-51 burst through the haze. Her airframe straining against positive G’s and gravity. Her wing tips spilling contrails of condensed air, prop-tips again supersonic. The burnished bird blasted across the eastern margin of the field shredding and tearing the air.

At about 500 mph and 150 yards from where we stood she passed with the old American pilot saluting.

Imagine. A salute! I felt like laughing; I felt like crying; she glistened; she screamed; the building shook; my heart pounded. Then the old pilot pulled her up and rolled, and rolled, and rolled out of sight into the broken clouds and indelible into my memory.

I’ve never wanted to be an American more than on that day! It was a time when many nations in the world looked to America as their big brother. A steady and even-handed beacon of security who navigated difficult political water with grace and style; not unlike the old American pilot who’d just flown into my memory. He was proud, not arrogant, humble, not a braggart, old and honest, projecting an aura of America at its best.

JstweThat America will return one day! I know it will! Until that time, I’ll just send off this story. Call it a loving reciprocal salute to a country, and especially to that old American pilot: the late-JIMMY STEWART (1908-1997), actor, real WWII hero (Commander of a US Army Air Force Bomber Wing stationed in England), and a USAF Reserves Brigadier General, who wove a wonderfully fantastic memory for a young Canadian boy that’s lasted a lifetime. ###

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January 10, 2016 Posted by | courage, Inspirational, patriotism, Special Occasions, veterans | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Five Beans and a Cup of Broth (Dr. James Sutton)

Five Beans and a Cup of Broth

As we commemorate Veterans Day, 2014, it’s important that we stress to our children that freedom is never free. However we choose to share that message with our sons and daughters, it should be noted that the liberty we often take for granted was bought and paid for with the courage and the blood of those who’ve gone on before.

Journalist Tom Brokaw said it best in his book, The Greatest Generation, when he heralded those Americans that brought us through World War II. Today, we are still recipients of all they accomplished seventy years ago. For the majority of the men and women who served in the Pacific and European Theaters in WWII, as well as many of those on the home front sending a steady stream of support and supplies, it’s too late to say, “Thank You,” to them one more time.

Hardly any of us are without relatives who served their country during a time when their contribution was so vital. My father-in-law was part of the invasion of Normandy, while a former next-door neighbor manned a minesweeper that helped clear the waters for that landing. Another next-door neighbor fought in the Pacific for the retaking of the Philippines. (I didn’t know until his funeral that he had been awarded two Bronze Stars.)

WWIIposterAnd my uncles played a part. One of them faithfully patched up bombers on Guam so they could go out again, while another uncle flew desperately needed supplies over the Burma Hump. (Dad had joined the Army Signal Corps, but was badly injured in a workplace accident before he could be activated.)

A Special Bond

Ask anyone who’s ever been in or near combat about their greatest fear. Their answer might surprise you. It’s NOT the fear of being killed; it’s the fear of letting down one’s comrades, of losing their trust and respect.

Stephen Ambrose’s book, Band of Brothers, gave us an accurate feel for this unique brand of bonding. During the Battle of the Bulge, the 101st Airborne was completely surrounded by the Germans near Bastogne, Belgium. They were told to hold their positions until help arrived … no matter what. (Which they did, with heavy casualties, becoming the ONLY full division to ever receive the Presidential Unit Citation.)

Five Beans …

According to Ambrose’s account, a former company commander, a Captain Richard Winters, had shown exceptional leadership under fire. He was promoted to a staff position with battalion.

Christmas Eve dinner of 1944 was relatively comfortable for the staff officers as they gathered at division headquarters. They had a Christmas tree, a tablecloth, real silverware and turkey with all the trimmings. But Captain Winters elected to dine alone, eating instead what his men in the foxholes were having that night: five white beans and a cup of cold broth.

11 Days Old

I was 11 days old that night, the eve of my first Christmas. I was clean, dry and well-fed; Mom saw to that. I didn’t know about the Men of Bastogne who braved the bitter cold and the shelling of the German big guns as they thought, I’m sure, of loved ones so far away on the night that mattered most.

I didn’t know about them then, but they were as real as if they had been guarding my crib that night, because, in essence, they were.

I didn’t know about them then, but I certainly know about them now.

God Bless ‘em.

Dr. James Sutton is a Vietnam veteran and nationally-recognized child and adolescent psychologist. He is the founder and host of The Changing Behavior Network and monthly publishes The Changing Behavior Digest [website].

November 10, 2014 Posted by | adversity, courage, family, Healthy living, Inspirational, Integrity, Parents, patriotism, Resilience, Special Occasions, veterans | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

To a Vietnam Vet: “Thank You for Your Service”

I was having surgery at the VA hospital. The prep nurse spoke to me reassuringly as she got me ready. As she wrapped up her tasks and prepared to roll me into surgical holding, the nurse paused and gently placed her hand on my chest.

“Thank you for your service.”

I smiled, swallowed and tried to acknowledge her kindness, but nothing came out. She seemed to understand, as we continued our way over to holding.

Sharp Contrast

As a Vietnam vet, I am always touched whenever my service is recognized; I always will be. It stands in such sharp contrast to the reception many Vietnam veterans experienced when they returned home in the 60s and 70s. They were called murderers and baby killers. They were screamed at and spat upon.

I knew of a marine who had barely survived an explosion. He was in desperate shape. It took many months and surgeries, including, as I remember, the amputation of at least one limb, to put him back on his feet.

A few years later, he caught a cab in a large city. His injuries being quite obvious, the cabbie asked him about them. When he shared that he had triggered a mine while on a combat patrol in Vietnam, the cabbie became livid and threw him out at the next corner, luggage and all.

“Put it in the Closet”

Nothing about my own story is that graphic, but, when I was being discharged in California, I was instructed to waste no time in getting home. I was strongly encouraged to remove my uniform, put it in the closet, and leave it there. “No need to borrow trouble,” they told me.

I was proud of that uniform and what it meant to me. To walk away from it broke my heart.

Times HAVE Changed

Times, of course, have changed. Vietnam veterans are being honored, and rightly so. As more and more of them suffer a plethora of diseases and conditions brought on by the long-term effects of Agent Orange, they are receiving support.

So, when the prep nurse said, “Thank you for your service,” it felt good. It felt VERY good. And, although I would no longer fit into the uniform I came home in 40+ years ago, it’s still there in the closet.

I would be ever so proud to wear it again. ###

James D. Sutton, EdD, CSP
Consulting Psychologist/Certified Speaking Professional
PO Box 672, Pleasanton, TX 78064 Email

August 24, 2013 Posted by | Counselors, Educators, family, Healthy living, Inspirational, patriotism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thanks FROM a Veteran

It seemed to me that the recognition of and for active duty military and veterans this year was extra strong and extra special. As a vet myself, it was wonderful to experience. In fact, I just got back from Chili’s, where they were feeding lunch to a whole bunch of vets today. Wonderful.

I’m a Vietnam vet, and it’s becoming increasingly more clear to me that we are the OLD guys (and gals), now that so many of our WWII and Korea vets are no longer with us. When I do training now, and especially when I train school folks, most of the audience wasn’t even born when I was in the service.

When President Johnson stepped up the war in Vietnam in the late 60s, the draft was on, big-time. I joined so as to have at least a little choice, knowing my “number” was coming. I went into the Navy and, on balance, it was four years I think back on with pride. Because I tested out well in boot camp, I was able to get into the Naval Security Group, a branch of the Navy that handled extremely sensitive communication. It’s a very small part of the Navy.

This put me on two separate trips to Vietnam in 1969-70 in support of our marine counterparts With the Third Marine Amphibious Force (Camp Horn), near DaNang. I knew these guys; we had trained together in Pensacola, Florida. Because part of our duty was to call in firepower on the enemy, it was their job to try to knock us out of business. They wanted to kill us, and they certainly tried. I can remember clearly still wondering if the next incoming rocket was going to have my name on it. Fortunately, I made it through alright, with just a few close calls. Since then, I haven’t been able to come even close to the feeling of fellowship I experienced with those marines, and I’ve never felt, before or since, the sensation of absolutely KNOWING that what I was doing was signifcant because it saved many, many American lives.

As some of you might know, Vietnam vets were spat upon and ridiculed when they returned, as if they were somehow involved in the politics of it all. I remember all that. But today, I’m deeply humbled and appreciative.

Thanks again, from a veteran. May God bless you all.

 

Petty Officer 2nd Class James D. Sutton, USN (1966-1970)

November 11, 2011 Posted by | Inspirational, patriotism, Special Occasions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Humble Hero

Today I participated in the funeral service of a man that was a next-door neighbor to me and my family for 28 years and an active charter member of my 52-year-old church. He was a rock of support to others with a quiet wisdom that made him one much sought in times of difficulty.

He died four days ago, and I simply can’t shake the feeling of a deeply personal loss.  

If we’re fortunate, we have close to us folks around whom we can pattern a life. Intuitively, we know the day will come when we will part company with them in this life. “Sooner or later,” I would say to myself and my wife, “the men and women who were there for us will be caught up in the inevitable movement of time.” But in my heart I never thought “sooner.”

It was always “later.” Well, “later” came.

I knew he served in the Pacific Theater in WWII, and I knew he was involved in the re-taking of the Philipines, the liberation of our soldiers held prisioner there, and the occupation of post-war Japan. What I didn’t know, after knowing him for 50 years and living next door to him for 28 of those years, was that he was twice-awarded the Bronze Star for personal valour under fire.

In the end, humility was among the greatest lessons he taught me.   

James D. Sutton, Psychologist       www.docspeak.com

November 3, 2010 Posted by | adversity, family, Healthy living, Inspirational, patriotism | Leave a comment

Thoughts on D-Day, 65 Years Later

Precious few of those who survived the invasion of Normandy and eventually broke the back of the Nazi regime are still with us. It’s been 65 years.

Their sacrifice and their unfaltering resolve stood in the gap at a time when the Allies were assured of nothing. I don’t know if there was a back-up plan to the invasion, but I doubt it. Had the invasion failed, our world would be much  different today.

The decision to invade the beaches and thrust through France and eventually onto German soil had to be sheer agony  for Allied Supreme Commander General Eisenhower. He was aware of the cost. I’m sure that, as he looked into the faces of the men of the 101st Airborne as they were preparing to be dropped behind enemy lines as a component of the plan, he knew full well a good many of these soldier would ever see their families and loved ones again.

But mostly, it was not the generals, but rather the privates, corporals and seamen whose resolve made the defining difference. They weren’t fighting for glory; they were fighting for absolutely everything they held dear. 

We could use a little of that sort of resolve today.

 

James Sutton, Psychologist     www.docspeak.com

June 6, 2009 Posted by | adversity, family, Inspirational, patriotism, Special Occasions | Leave a comment

Grocery Store Poppy — Memorial Day, 2008

As a kid growing up in Abilene, Texas, I recall those times with Mom or Dad would come back from the store with a little plastic, red poppy they had received for making a donation to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. That was, of course, the Memorial Day weekend. My father would wear that little poppy on his suit Sunday morning, although it was years before I really understood what the little flower represented, and that the artificial poppies were made by disabled vets.

As I understand it, the significance of the poppy and the rememberance of faithful veterans killed in action goes back to the Great War–World War I, although Memorial Day (which was called Decoration Day at one time) as an event goes back to the Civil War era. When American troups were lost to enemy action and disease in Europe during the Great War, they were buried in Flanders Fields, where they take their rest to this day.

I’ve been told that poppies only grow on soil that’s been broken and turned, as in the preparation and use of a grave. This was the inspiration of one of the greatest poems ever written to the memory and dedication of our uniformed heros past. It was written by John Mcrae in 1915, but it fits today, more than ever:

 

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders Fields

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe;

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies blow

In Flanders Fields

…………………………………………………………………..

James D. Sutton, Psychologist    www.docspeak.com

 

 
 

  

May 26, 2008 Posted by | adversity, family, Inspirational, patriotism, Special Occasions, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments