Talking With My Grandad and Frank
My Grandfather, Herb Bowman, and my Great Uncle Mick, served in WWII. Grandpa did not see combat, although as an expert in electronics he did help install TOP SECRET Norden Bomb Sights and maintained other electronic systems for the Army Air Corps. Uncle Mick was a guy – who as far as I know I only met him once – who is the great looking sailor who served on Destroyers in the Navy. I only have one picture of him, in which he has his Dixie cup hat jauntily set back on his head and his arms around two girls (in fairness, one his soon-to-be-wife and the other his sister, my grandmother). Uncle Mick could have been the model for the Lone Sailor statue at the Navy Memorial. I miss my Grandfather very much, as he passed away in 2000. I don’t even know what happened to my Uncle.
So if you understand what I mean by this, I went to the OKLAHOMA Pillar at the WWII Memorial to talk to Grandpa and Uncle Mick. To say my thanks and to tell them I wish they could have seen this thing, but if what my Grandpa believed is true, he probably already has. I will be honest, it was amazingly emotional to me.
After watching our Central Valley Honor Flight Vets march into the Memorial, many stopping at the California Pillar to give a thumbs up or gently touch it, it was hard not to feel the weight of special-ness of this place. So after talking to a couple of our Vets, I eventually found my way to the Oklahoma Pillar and starting my chat with my family who served in the cataclysm that was the Second War War.
There I met Frank Guns.
Like me, Frank is a Okie, although he’s from Enid, not OKC like me. During the war he flew C-47’s, affectionately referred to as “Gooney Birds.” It’s an ungainly aircraft with none of the sleekness of fighters and none of the toughness of Bombers. But in so many ways, the Goonie Birds did as much as anybody to win the war. They delivered supplies, and in Frank’s case, gliders that brought troops in long before anybody knew anything about “stealth” technology.
And here’s the thing, Frank told me a joke.
What I have learned on this trip is that pretty much every WWII Vet tells jokes, usually very bad but like 12 year old boys at summer camp, riotously funny to them. And believe me, this joke was all of that. But, and this took me off guard, it was the same joke I heard at least a thousand times from my Grandpa.
Standing in a special place where my own connection to the War was being tearfully missed that moment, I laughed at that silly old joke. Frank may have thought I was just being kind, but I felt at that moment a connection to him, and to my own past.
Frank said that he “followed an aeroplane” to California, as after the war he flew commercially. And then he stood in for my Grandad and Uncle as his stood beneath the OKLAHOMA pillar and let me take his picture.
We lose as many as a thousand WWII vets every single day. Some estimates are that there are a mere few hundred thousand left. You can do the math for yourself. I have come to believe that every single WWII vet should be brought here. I saw three groups, ours from California, one from Illinois and another from Tennessee stand in this memorial and remember their own, and then reach out to tell us about what they did and why. It’s something that everybody should experience, but most importantly these Vets should.
Frank’s Guardian is a WWII Widow. Her husband came here four months ago, and then passed away. She pushed Frank’s wheelchair on up the ramp, and I stayed behind to say my final goodbye to Grandpa and Uncle Mick. I swear to you that as I was leaving I looked back across the memorial towards their Pillar. I saw them standing there, waving goodbye.
You can help send Vets to the WWII Memorial that they built with their courage, sacrifice and later their money, by donating to Central Valley Honor Flight.