Published in the July 2006 Ragged Irregular
I write with a bitter-sweet feeling on this, my last opportunity to share my views with you as your President, it has been an honor to be of service to you. On the return trip from Europe, I savored the sweetness of being able to report to you how well regarded we are in many, many quarters and planned to start writing this over the past weekend. News of Earl Pate's death put other thoughts in ;the forefront. Earl and I exchanged three recent communications including two during my three week absence in Europe.
We shared immense respect for the 91st Bomb Group and the service that all of you provided 60 plus years ago to our fellowmen. Those of us who survive have lost a good friend and a stalwart supporter of the 91st BGMA. As many of you know from personal contact, Earl always went the extra mile to help anyone with matters relating to service in the 91st BG or support of the BGMA. God speed, good friend.
I'll briefly mention some of the items your officers covered in our quarterly Conference Call on 6 May 06. We are working towards establishing a location for the archives of the 91st Bomb Group; I have written to Gen. Metcalf at the National USAF Museum at WPAFB suggesting they would be the logical choice because of the presence of our B-17's Shoo, Shoo, Shoo Baby and - now - the Memphis Belle, and because of their exceptional capability (and assured funding) to provide for scholarly research and to manage archives. Other matters included our improved contacts with the 303rd BGMA and the 91st Space Wing at Minot with whom I will be visiting 6-8 July. Planning for the Colorado Springs Reunion seems to be going well; now you need to identify the events in which you would be interested so we can firm up transportation services. Make room reservations directly with the Sheraton. Let's make this another great Reunion.
In the rest of this Page, let me share with you some impressions of the high regard in which we are held in the areas I visited in Europe. I am well aware that the courtesies that were extended to me were not because of who I am, but rather in honor of you; I thanked our many gracious hosts in your behalf. The prestige of the 91st Bomb Group is alive and vibrant. I was especially reminded that those who pay their respects are not of my age group. but of generation or two later. I usually wore my (Tacoma reunion) cap emblazoned with our emblem, reference to our arrival at Bassingbourn and that glorious B-17 stitched on the side. The trip did cost the BGMA a few wreaths and over $500 of caps, patches, pins, etc. from the PX given to my hosts.
Fortunately, I had enough frequent flyer miles to cover most of the trip which permitted me to make a stop-over in Paris from where I drove out to the west coast of France. Figuring I would need a bit of rest after the flight I planned a two-hour drive down to Provins after landing at Paris. I expected to buy a bare-root Rose of Provins which is sold only by the Knights Templar store (forget Da Vinci Code Stuff) supposedly from stock brought back from Palestine in the 12th Century; that rose is on the coat of arms of the House of Lancaster. My grand plan was to give it to the Royston Town Council for the Memorial Garden in honor of our brotherhood with the Lancaster crews. Imagine my surprise when I learned they had only potted plants - a bit of a transport challenge. The rose is so sweet that they make candy and honey form the petals, so I settled for a pot of honey. It was easier to transport on a 2-day nostalgic trip along the Loire Valley to La Baule near St. Nazaire, the train ride back to Paris and on Subsequent flights.
As I wrote in April, Alain Charles was my host in western France. We visited memorials at sites of downed B-17's including the 323rd Panhandle Dogie and the Memorial to WW1 and 11 American servicemen in St. Nazaire. We spent an afternoon with Michel Lugez who led the Committee which raised the equivalent of over $500,000 to restore the Memorial which had been destroyed by the Germans in 1941. Michel, who had witnessed the crash of the 303re BG's Snap, Crackle, Pop, then spent over 20 years of his life cataloguing data on crash sites in France of 777 Eight Air Force B-17"s plus over 300 other aircraft including personal interviews with eye-witnesses, crew identities and pictures in loose-leaf notebooks.
Alain, his successor as President of the Association, is striving to put it all in the web in French and English; the technical part is basically completed and about half of the aircraft are entered, but translation and entry costs are high and I will seek help form other sources like the Museum at WPAFB, The 8th AF Historical Society and some of the BGMA's. Alain spent more than two days escorting me around the "Love Coast". (The Cote d'Amour is a play on words adopted in 1911 after southern France called themselves the Cote d'Azur). We visited the St. Nazaire sub-pens which cost many 91st lives. What particularly impressed me was the honor that the citizens of the area have paid to us since we killed more than 100 French men, woman and children in our efforts to destroy the sub-pens. You might want to remember that the next time someone makes a snide remark about France of some self-appointed authority decries "collateral damage". Surprise!! People do value freedom.
My next stop in your behalf after France was at Bassingbourn where I was (to my surprise) the guest of the Army Training Regiment for four days. (I remembered more about the bike rides I took to Letchworth and beyond - perhaps to "get away" - then about the Base). The Base is now redecorating some rooms in honor of the 91st thanks to the inspiration of former base commander Lt. Col. Nick Richardson supported by our old faithful friend Vince Hemmings: Nick was kind enough to come up from London (where he is assigned to Ministry of Defense) to say "Hello". I met with Maj. Hamish MacPherson, the President of the Mess Council (PMC), and his predecessor, Maj. Louise Mallin, who was the initial project officer, and presented some photos contributed by Joe Harlick, videos from Jake Howland, some patches and pins from our PX, a couple of lithographs and other items: in July Mick Hanou will take a copy of "Curly" Havelaar's fine history of the 91st to them for the Mess library. There are numerous memorabilia about the 91st decoration Mess walls particularly in the Bar. Even in the VIP suite there is a picture of Nine-O-Nine to which I contributed some explanatory info about the exemplary efforts of MSgt Rollin Davis and his crew. Our trusty Editor of The Ragged Irregular - Steve Perri in case you had forgotten - still graces the wall of the bar next to some fellow named Clark Gable. I was asked to speak to the officers and ladies abut "Combat and Leadership" and showed some flak and 20 mm shells that Rudy Steele had given to me. I pointed out that in the bar they have a picture of Rudy in review before Gen. Eisenhower in front of Yankee Doodle. The Prop Memorial looks great after the refurbishing arranged by David Crow last year. The old Nissan hut is still being used as a Chapel and I attended on Sunday. Major Hamish MacPherson (he's of Scotch ancestry, did you guess?), my host as the PMC, provided a well-organized, cordial and generous reception to me as your representative. Lt. Col. Nigel Smith who had just taken over command two months before my arrival made me extremely welcome; hopefully we established a rapport which will enable our future Presidents of the BGMA to stay in contact. A visit to Duxford Air Museum which I had asked Vince Hemmings to arrange in hopes I could mention the hopes of the 91st BGMA that the Bassingbourn Tower could be supported grew into much more. Some (as yet unknown to me) person arranged for a local flying club to provide an aircraft in which a volunteer RAF pilot flew men from Bassingbourn with a few turns around the area to Duxford. TV coverage started at the Tower and continued at Duxford sitting in the Sally B, the only airworthy B-17 in the UK; it provided an opportunity to encourage attendance at the Tower museum while talking about your contributions to victory in WW11. Because it was a Bank Holiday weekend I did not have much chance to discuss cooperation with the Duxford Air Museum, but I did have a thoroughly enjoyable tour in the company of Air Commodore Peter Thorn (a contemporary of ours) and Duxford Associate Keith Boswell.
The Bassingbourn Tower museum is open but attendance is limited for various reasons. I had a frank discussion with EAAS Chairman Ray Jude, Vice-Chair Chris Murphy and Secretary Mike Killaspy. Your Board will be discussing in our next Conference Call on August 12th how we might help and I will be reporting at the Colorado Springs Reunion. More on that in later issue of The Ragged Irregular. Exhibits are attractive and in good condition, the radiation problem has been solved and the Museum has been designated as an historical preserved site. While Ray says they have only six active members of EAAS, there is hope. Chris Murphy was especially helpful; he met me in a base staff car at London airport for the drive to Bassingbourn, toured Bassingbourn and our monuments, and at Royston showed a film that he has produced on Bassingbourn and two nearby bases. Chris hopes to attend our Reunion and I have asked him to bring the film with him. (We'll find an hour to show it for it is very well done; if you had not planned to attend, this may push you to make the effort).
Vince Hemmings had arranged a visit with the Royston Town Council with interviews by the local media. The newly elected Mayor, Lin Berry, honored the 91st BG in her first public ceremony. Paul Limm had provided a lovely floral display for Celia Walpole, the retiring Clerk of the Royston Council, who has rendered many services for us over the years. I presented her with a 91st pin and that pot of honey from the Rose of Province - "sweets for the sweet". We must have done good because I noted a bit of moisture in her eyes; the Royston fog hangs around, you know. I was joined by fellow 91sters Chris Goodwin and John Bunch in laying our wreath at the memorial marker in the Garden.
Laying the wreath at Madingley Cemetery on Memorial Day was a Moving Experience. Lt. Col. Nigel Smith and his wife, Laura, invited me to join them on the trip over since he was also laying one of the 141 wreaths. Vince had obtained seats for us directly in front of the spot at which we were to lay the wreath at the Wall of the Missing close to the names of three of our former comrades; I did not have very far to hobble and Chris Goodwin again participated.
Memorial services included some excellent thoughts by the U.S. Ambassador and a military Chaplain, a missing-man formation and flyovers of a Spitfire, C-47 and the Sally B. At her request, I had the opportunity to have a delightful chat with Mrs. Ellinore Sallingboe (in case you wondered where "Sally B" came from), the owner of the B-17, and presented her with a 91st patch and a 324th pin since the right side nose art on her aircraft is still that of the Memphis Belle from the movie making. )AI shared with her that not everybody is lucky enough to be in the 323rd).
My last stop in your behalf was in Innsbruck, Austria, to thank Dr. Jakob Mayer for his research for a memorial that was dedicated last year to Lt. Henry Supchak's crew from the 323rd that avoided a village when crashing Priority Gal nearby on 31 Jul 44. The village of Neustift had long honored the crew and a local mountain guide and hotel owner, Mr. Haas, had many items including some damaged parts from the B-17 in a "hut" where he had been staying with his grandmother when Priority Gal crashed nearby. He was 10 years old at the time and still has scars on his leg from debris and vivid memories of the burning wreckage on the mountain stream. The Memorial erected by him last year was reported on the "Ring". Oh yes, that "hut" in which he lived during the summer to watch the cows and goats which were pastured at higher altitude, is now a lovely rest stop on a mountain hiking trail with a couple of suites and rooms and a dining room in which he served us a huge buffet. He offered us rooms for the night at $30 when we were paying over $100 at Garmisch; there was a lot of "eating your heart out" going on and my son called his wife that night in hopes they could visit later. The next day a friend of Jakob's, the Austrian consul in Philadelphia, told us that the Stubai Valley province (where Neustift is) was the only one in Austria to vote overwhelmingly against annexation by Hitler in the 1930's.
Then there were those incidents brought on by seeing my cap. The lady in Paris who insisted that I go ahead of her in line for a cab. Two Brits at London/Stansted airport who asked about the B-17 and chatted about ;what we did for them; they were on holiday to visit a former prison camp in Germany. A US Soldier we on the bus in Stuttgart insisted that my grandson, Steven, call him if I needed anything. An Air Force Colonel Rick Modell, son of 323rd member Bob Modell said - sigh him up as a member after we chatted at Stuttgart. Young people who want to remember! It inspires me to continue a vibrant 91st BGMA as the best "living memorial" around.
To you of the next generations, Mick Hanou has specifically asked you to contact him if you would like to help at the Hospitality Room of in any other way at the Colorado Springs Reunion. The old crews are going home; we need new ones to continue the missions.
There are so very many people to thank - especially Vince Hemmings, who honored your service and made my trip a delight. Thank you for the opportunity to represent the 91st BGMA. See you in Colorado Springs.
Your President Ed Gates
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