Another member of the Greatest Generation passed away today.
Born 24 December, 1922, and left us today, 17 Sept 2011.
My father enlisted in to RAAF on the 11th of May 1942. Five days earlier, on 6 May 1942, American Forces had surrendered to the Japanese at Corregidor in the Philippines. The concern that Australia could be next would have been on the mind of many. With an uncertain future, My Father completed his induction and was sent to Melbourne for technical training, prior to joining 80 Sqn, RAAF. The Squadron deployed to New Guinea in 1944, landing first at Lae, Nadzab, Tadji, Hollandia, Bisk, Noemfoor, Morotai before their last landing in Tarakan in May 1945.
RAAF 80 Sqn closeup.jpg
Dad servicing a P-40 from 80 Sqn in New Guinea
The 'Old Timers' were released from the Sqn first, in in November 1945, my Father flew back to Brisbane in a Catalina Flying Boat, where he was demobilised on 18 December 1945, six day before his 23rd Birthday.
He spoke little of his time in WW2 with me, even after I had completed my first Tour in the Gulf, his stories were always about the people he worked with, and observations about different things he noticed during his time in the RAAF. 80 Sqn was equipped with US provided P-40s, providing ground attack support to troops as they landed on various beaches, as they Island hopped through the Pacific.
He told me stories of stealing jeeps from USAAF units, and repainting them with 'fake' RAAF numbers, before the American Army turned up asking about their 'lost' jeeps. Even rolling a jeep on to its side to service them seemed normal in 1944, and we wonder why our 67 year old jeeps are a little worse for wear.
Dads photos 018b.jpg
The 'crew' circa 1945 - Dad is second from the Right
Many of the 80th Sqn Vets have long passed away. Of the four who shared a tent in many of the forward airfields, my Father was the last to pass away. Even 'Buck' Rodgers on the right could not out-live destiny.
Some 39 years later I joined the Army and started my career. I took many of the stories of his war with me. He never glorified what deeds they accomplished, yet always presented the lessons he had learnt through those three years at war.
When I purchased my wreck of a 1944 GPW, I had the aim to give day is first ride in a ANZAC Day Parade. Even though I had marched many times, my father had never felt comfortable to march himself since returning to Australia in 1945. We worked hard in the last year to give him a first and best ride in the ANZAC day March for 2011.
My jeep was finished on the Morning of ANZAC day, 2011, yet my Father at this time was too unwell to travel to Melbourne. Even up to the last few weeks, we all hoped he'd be given to OK to travel. It was not to be.
Seven weeks ago, Dad had a massive heart attack that would have killed most. He fought his way back again, but after 88 years the fights had taken their toll. It was only on my last visit in August he had told me that in 1944, a mortally wounded pilot who crashed his P-40 as he attempted to land, and missed my father by inches with his wingtip, as the plane broke up on the rough strip. The pilot did not survive, and you have to wonder did he give the plane a bit of a nudge away in his last moments?
Last night, I flew from Melbourne to Brisbane after receiving word that the end was very close. I was lucky to arrive in time to spend last night and this morning visiting with him. I showed him the first photo, which I had recently purchased from the Australian War Memorial and we talked again about his time in New Guinea.
At 1250 today, my father quickly passed away. We had only been talking about lunch and other mundane things, when he said he felt unwell and could not breath.
To those who helped me with my project, thank you. We got so close to giving one of the Greatest Generation his first and last ANZAC day ride. Thanks Bill, Andrew and the many others who helped or encouraged me here on DIYC.
LEST WE FORGET, for I know I never will. Goodbye Dad, thanks for all that you taught me and much you tried to teach. I'll be a better person for having your guidance and wisdom.