Sunday, November 25, 2012

The door to the offices or barracks of my dad's squadron.

My dad's B-17, named after my mom.

My dad, Gordon L. Dobbs (with hat on right) in the pilot's seat. I don;t know the name of the crew member.

My mother and father were keepers. Perhaps it was their experiences as children of the Great Depression, but both of them hung onto things.

Make no mistake, neither were pathological hoarders. They simply saw value in keeping objects and documents that many other people would have thrown away.

My brother and I saw a lot of that recently as I helped him close down my mom’s house, now that her health as forced her to move in with him. There were the standard objects –furniture, books, kitchenware – and then there are those items that instantly transport me to either a time earlier in my life or to a point in our parents’ lives that I only heard about.

My parents liked taking photos and there are several suitcases of family photos. My brother Patrick is a skilled photographer and so these photos interest each of us on several levels.

My father was an Air Force veteran of 26 years who piloted B-17s in WWII, B-29s in the Korean Wars and after, B-52s with nuclear payloads, until 1961 when an accident grounded him. He stayed in the Air Force on the maintenance side, serving in Vietnam as his last assignment.

Three wars in one life. I can't imagine the impact other than my dad was changed in some ways upon returning from Vietnam.

As a rule, He talked very little about any combat experience. We heard very few stories as kids. As he grew older, he would call members of his various crews and speak with them. The experience they went through linked them in a way that someone who had not been there couldn’t understand.

For years, he would read the "Air Force Times" to follow the careers of guys he knew and with whom he served.

About WWII, he did say you could never tell who was coming back and the B-17 crews were witnesses to seeing fellow squadron members shot down before their eyes. Occasionally there would be a colorful detail, such as how he chewed tobacco when he flew to help stay awake. I never asked him how he spat wearing an oxygen mask.

So the discovery of photos my brother and I never have seen helps us gain a tiny shred of additional insight about our dad. My brother found a large roll of unprinted negatives, which we believe are from the WWII period. He plans to scan those to see what they are.

My dad was pretty tolerant of my interest in films, but he had no interest in any war film. He didn’t want Patrick or me to watch them as he said they glorified war.

With combat vets you never know what trigger will cause a cascade of memories – negative or positive. My dad liked the television series “M.A.S.H.” but when McLean Stevenson’s character was killed on his flight home and out of the service, my father stormed from the room. He said something the effect, “That’s not funny. That kind of thing really happened.”

The following photos include combat photography taken in the skies over Europe by an unknown cameraman. Pat and I have made the assumption the reason my dad had these prints was because the photographer was either in his plane – Sue’s Special, named after my mom – or flying somewhere within my father’s squadron.

Those puffs of smoke are flak from German guns. This photo shows a B-17 that has been hit.


Kim said...

Thank you for sharing a few "photos from the suitcase" with us. I didn't know about the name of your Dad's plane, but it certainly makes sense. I couldn't help but think that when I met your Dad in 1985 he didn't look much different from the photo of him as a pilot. You've got good genes. Keep the stories coming ... I'd love to hear about the young man in the sweater that was so important to your Mom that she kept the photo AND the sweater.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mike for posting this. I am trying to learn more about uncle Gordon's time in WWII. In the shop he never talked about it. Probably dad told me more.