Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Unknown Dead

Memorial Day is America’s day to honor the memory those who served their country, who fought for more than themselves, and gave all that they had so others could know freedom.

My grandfather, David Lee Willis, served in WWII as a pilot. He flew the Hump (the route over the Himalayas in the China-Burma-India Theater) in a B-24-D painted with nose art which read “Dippy Dave and his 8 Dippy Diddlers.” He and his crew were forced to bail out on a mission in China. A secret memo dated May 5, 1943, reported his missing status (published in the book Chennault’s Forgotten Warriors). It states:

Ship No. 24143, 1st Lt. D. L. Willis, pilot, lost from returning formation in heavy overcast. Last reported at 1530 at coordinates 22° 50’ N-104° 45’ E at about 19,000 feet headed on 310°, believed probably bailed out or landed at WENSHAN about 50 miles NE of reported position.

The fuel transfer system failed and Dippy Dave and his Diddlers were forced to bail out near Amichow. One man’s chute failed to open, and he died. The remaining crew, including my grandfather, survived and returned to base. I do not know the name of the man who died, or if the following picture is of that particular crew (the plane isn’t the same). But I honor this unknown man’s memory.

Papa always said that he didn’t want to jump out of a plane because he never wanted to practice something he could only do wrong once. His experience in China adds a layer of bitter irony to his joke that I never appreciated as a child.

Papa later flew in the Berlin Airlift, dropping supplies to people who needed them. He was dedicated to his country and risked all he had in its service. He came home. Many, many others did not, including George’s great uncle George Paloranta, after whom George was named.

This Memorial Day, America honors the memory of the fallen, and those who stood by them. I thank them all for their sacrifice, because even those who come home from war sacrifice more than any civilian can ever understand.

Blessed are those who mourn; for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)


  1. What a wonderful tribute you have here...I LOVE those photos...Theres something so cool about the old photography...and it always amazes me how wonderful and crisp they stay after the years go by...The resolution is so good! Your GrandDad was a real looker...Very Hollywood...I see the last name is Willis any relation to Bruce? Have a Wonderful Day Susan...Your tribute is so nice! Hugs...Cookie :)

  2. What a beautiful post! I was all wrapped up in the trivial happenings at my house, thanks for the reminder about Memorial Day. I have many special people to remember. :)

  3. I loved this story. My dad flew a B26 and had some horrible tales to tell. He did get to go to DC last year with the Honor Flight. He came home and told me "they treated us like heros". I told him - that is what they were. Kris from Iowa

  4. Wow, Kris, I got teary reading your post. They really are heros, but they don't see it that way. Please convey my thanks to your father for his service.

  5. I loved reading about your grandfather. It's so cool that Memory Box made a penguin stamp that will bring his memory to mind whenever you use it! My husband was a flight surgeon in WW II, and my stepfather served in the Pacific theater. All the brave soldiers, past, present and future are ever in my prayers.


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!