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)