My father died on December 15, 2010; but not before celebrating his 95th birthday a month early. A cousin presented him with a quilt memorializing his life including his service in the United States Army Air Corps as a navigator during World War II. He was delighted with this wonderful gift which was on display recently in the lobby of the Iberia Bank on Marco Island along with a fine collection of memorabilia from veterans and their families. I would like to share my father’s story with you.
On my father’s 50th mission over Friedrichshafen, Germany on July 20, 1944, his plane was badly shot up but the pilot managed to fly over Lake Constance to Switzerland before crash landing near a school. My father and the crew parachuted to safety or so they believed. However, because of Switzerland’s neutral status they were detained and not allowed to return to their base in Italy.
The Swiss treated the detainees humanely but most longed to return to duty. More than 1,500 airmen were detained in Switzerland during the war and hundreds tried to escape. Half were captured and imprisoned by the Swiss under terrible conditions. My father was among the escapees who were caught but he managed to escape the camp and make his way to France over the Alps. He returned to active duty navigating air crews to all parts of the world.
When the crew was parachuting to ground they were observed by local Swiss school children. Several of the children and teachers helped to rescue the crew and get my father to a doctor. One of thechildren was a boy named Tom Keller. He watched these brave young men floating down from the sky and was moved that these Americans were willing to risk their lives to fight Hitler. From that day he considered my father his personal hero.
As an adult, Tom Keller moved to the United States and joined the Naval Reserves. He never forgot the young airman and, in 2000, decided to find him and thank him for his service. They reconnected at a military reunion and remained in touch. Tom joined our family for my father’s 95th birthday party and recounted their story. There wasn’t a dry eye among the guests.
My father earned six air medals including the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart and two Presidential Commendations for Courage and Accuracy. He left the service as a captain. After the war he married, raised a family and operated several food stores. One goal was left unfulfilled and in his 70’s he returned to school and graduated from Hofstra University with a law degree. He used his new talent to assist veterans and seniors resolve legal issues. All this he did pro bono, happy that he could still help others in his community.
Several weeks after my Dad’s death, I received a note from Tom Keller. “I can’t stop thinking about your father, who has been my torch bearer since July 20, 1944. More than just a warrior, he symbolized the Old Testament values I was taught as a child by my father.”
MAN MUST BE ESSENCE
To practice love is burdensome. ‘Tis not enough merely to love, we must ourselves, like God, be Love. Angelus Silesius.