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 plane.
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 crazy-dangerous stunt.
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 Allied forces.
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 jobs.”
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 to me.
God bless you all.
See you soon,
Copyright © 2020 Marc Schmatjen
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