I am proud to say I have quite a few
veterans in my family tree, including my own father, his father, and my wife’s
grandfather. The old war story that always makes me smile, however, is one from
my mom’s side of the tree.
Brad Dolliver, my mom’s Uncle Brad,
was a WWII and Korean War veteran. He was the Captain of a B-24 Liberator in
WWII, a bomber named the “What’s Cookin’ Doc?,” complete with Bugs Bunny
painted on the nose.
He received his plane and his crew
here in the U.S., and they had to fly from his home state of Colorado to Kansas
for training, and then make the long trip overseas. On the day they were
leaving, he called his wife, who worked at the courthouse, and told her to come
out onto the front steps on Main Street at noon.
She assumed he was going to drive up
with flowers or a box of candy, so you can imagine her surprise when Uncle Brad’s
shiny silver B-24 roared over the center of town, less than 500 feet above Main
Street. He was so low she said she could clearly see the face of his tail
gunner, smiling and waving from his little bubble window in the back of the
When Uncle Brad got to the end of
the street, he pulled back on all the throttles momentarily, then slammed them
all forward to the stops, backfiring all four engines on his way out of town.
An exhaustive “I Love You” courtesy of Pratt & Whitney, and a
He and his crew continued their low-altitude
midwestern barn burning run all the way across two states. He was flying so low
over some farms that his tail gunner radioed up to the cockpit to announce that
the prop wash from the engines was picking chickens up off the ground and flipping
them around in the air behind the plane.
Captain Dolliver only decided to put
a little more sky between his plane and the ground when the tail gunner radioed
back over Kansas to let them know they’d just sent a farmer diving for his life
into the dirt off a moving tractor.
(That incident could very well have
been the first chance meeting between the families, since my dad’s side were
Kansas farmers, but, alas, we’ll never know.)
Brad said, when interviewed later in
life about the flight, quite simply, that none of them knew if they were ever
coming back, so they were having as much fun as they could along the way.
As it turns out, thankfully, his
whole crew did make it back. Captain Dolliver and his nine men flew thirty
missions over Europe, only sustaining one single crew injury, when flak
shrapnel hit one of his gunners on their final mission over Germany. That was
an amazing feat, since their campaign tour included being shot down on
Christmas Day, 1944!
They were hit hard by anti-aircraft
fire that knocked out three of his four engines, and he knew they couldn’t make
it back to their airfield in England. He was losing altitude fast and heading
for the Allied lines in France when he told the crew to bail out. There was
heavy ground fog, and he had his eye on a large clearing, but had no way of
knowing if it was a field or a lake.
His crew unanimously disobeyed his
order and they all stayed with him in the crippled plane. As he recalled, he
made the smoothest landing of his entire career that day, thankfully, in what
turned out to be a plowed field. He and his crew hitched a ride with a French farmer
in a pickup truck, and Uncle Brad assumed they were being taken to the nearest
Fortunately, the navigator didn’t
stop doing his job after he got out of the plane. He was paying attention, and
informed Captain Dolliver that they were being driven in the wrong direction,
toward the Germans. The way Uncle Brad told the next part of the story speaks
volumes about his generation and their matter-of-fact style. As he put it,
“Somehow my .45 ended up in that Frenchman’s ear, and we got that truck turned
around the right way.”
Got to love it.
Uncle Brad and his crew were some of
the lucky ones that returned home from the wars they fought. On this special
day set aside to remember and thank our veterans, let us not forget those who gave
their lives for our liberty, and the liberty of other nations.
As a husband and a father, I can
imagine no sacrifice more grave or selfless than the one the soldier makes when
he or she leaves their family behind to fight on foreign soil on our behalf. The physical, mental and emotional toll must
be staggering, but we are reminded of the caliber of people who stand at our
defense when we hear them say, as Brad Dolliver said, “We were just doing our
The humility and grace of our
nation’s finest always strikes and inspires me, and I am always at a loss for
words of gratitude when I get a chance to thank them. It’s always just a simple
“thank you,” because anything else I would or could try to express would fall
well short of the reverence deserved.
For all the thanks and praise our
returning heroes rightly receive, sadly it is the men and women that we will
never get a chance to thank who deserve our utmost appreciation. They gave
their lives for us, and that is a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.
So, from this freedom-loving
American to all you VFW’s out there, all I can say is, “Thanks for your
service,” because I will never be able to adequately convey what you truly mean
God bless you all.
© 2020 Marc Schmatjen
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