A perspective on Memorial Day

Builders,

Below is a story written by my brother in law, John Nerges. It contains his personal perspective on Memorial Day, the culmination of serving 30 years in the US Army, and being the son of a WWII combat veteran. For many of us, it is the chance to see our country through a different set of eyes this day.

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The officer in the center of the photo above is my brother-in-law John Nerges. The above photo was taken in the Eisenhower Suite at Walter Reed. He was head of the nurses in the intensive care ward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. On that day, 11 February 2005,  John was being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Although he was Airborne and Air Assault qualified, and had been deployed with both the 82nd and 101st Divisions, the focal point of John’s career was the care for severely wounded soldiers.  My sister Alison, herself a critical care nurse, left, and my father, a career naval officer, right, pinned on John’s insignia. It was a very moving ceremony where John’s promotion was read by a recovering, severely wounded Army helicopter pilot. The pilot’s mother was on hand to thank John and his staff personally for saving her daughter’s life. With characteristic humility, John said the credit was entirely for his staff. It was a most memorable day in my family’s history in many years. John had said that his only regret was that his own father, a veteran of World War II fighting in Burma, did not live to share the day with him.

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John’s letter:

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Friends,

Most of the things I write are meant to be funny, musical cats and dogs and a swipe at pop culture. Allow me to share my thoughts on Memorial Day and get this off my chest. Memorial day is when we honor our War Dead.

When I Goggled Memorial Day to codify my thoughts, the word “Sales” came up 3#. If I go into Lowes today, I get a pretty big discount being a veteran. But it’s a conflict. I didn’t die in war so why should I get 15% of all purchases. The young man below Arlington isn’t going to need “Super Savings at Wal-Mart” today.

The Google search also gave me this:

“Memorial Day, an American holiday observed on the last Monday of May, honors men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. Unofficially, at least, it marks the beginning of summer.”

This tradition makes me proud of the United States. To my way of thinking, nations that do this this are better than those that do not. When a country honors the fallen, speaks volumes about the people.

Here is my struggle; Today’s military enjoys unrivaled support but with a hidden price. My friend is a Viet Nam vet. During an extremely intimate conversation about war, he told me he resents it when somebody tells him: “Thanks for your service”. To him, it feels like a catch phrase. Now if you met him, you would never know his feelings, he keeps his anger in check and is extremely gracious and affable. But I understand him. He is mad because people didn’t thank him for his service in 1970, they spit on him and much worse. It’s a burden he hides from most, he allowed me to see as a brother in arms. In my dark times, I suspect that slogan means more to the sender than me. I know those who breath these words don’t have any ill will but the reality is I don’t always trust catch phrase on Memorial Day.

My own hidden burden is this: as an Army Nurse, I look at every death on my watch as a loss, a failure on my part not to take better care of soldiers. It’s not a pathological sentiment but a product of my experience. I have seen an awful lot of death in 30 years of service. I know acceptance is inevitable or I would go insane. Don’t worry; I am ok today. But a soldier’s death is proof of our powerlessness. When you talk to a vet, there is usually more going on behind blue eyes than we let on, it’s nobody’s fault but it requires sensitivity.

So when well meaning friends and strangers say: “Thank you for your service”, sometimes, like Memorial day, it reminds me that I failed every KIA, whether on the battlefield, in Walter Reed’s ICU or alone from suicide.

I believe all soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, coast guards, contractors and military families deserve the nations gratitude but if you could hold off until 11/11, or at least Tuesday, that would be great, just not on the last Monday in May. Let’s reserve those accolades for those who died from war or preparation for war, too soon, too futile, too courageous. Too many.

It would be really bad form to point this out when people offer support. I know there is good will in their hearts. This is my conflict and why I am writing now. I don’t want to discourage anybody from “thanking a vet” on Memorial Day. I want to encourage people to be more mindful.

What I would like to hear instead of

“Thank you for your service” is

“I am grateful to those who died for our country”.

Me too.

Now its time to turn to happier sentiments. We are grateful for the support. I love summer and Memorial Day is opening day for summer fun. I love me some “Ten dollars off at Ace Hardware” as much as the next guy. I am no suggesting we walk around morose for a 4-day weekend. What I am suggesting to change our thinking, just a little bit. If you have a moment, close your eyes and feel that swirl behind your eyes, the kind that shows up with a tear and thank our nation’s War Dead. In the midst of our political season, lets keep these thoughts sacred and honorable. I think we are slightly out of balance. So when you are finished with reflection, go have a blast and see you at IHOP.

Thanks for reading and have a great summer.

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Icon A-5 , A unicorn going extinct in spite of glowing ‘journalist’ reports?

Builders,

If you came here to read the article listed in the title, sorry, after several days of it being up, I have elected to take it down. I got a phone call this morning for a very well known person in experimental aviation, even though they liked the message, they convinced me that the drama caused by the story wasn’t going to do much to fix the issues illustrated in the story, but it would likely disrupt things that are important to me right now, which are finishing the Western builders tour and having a good year at Oshkosh and staying focused on assisting my siblings in the care of my parents. I have said my 2 cents, some else can take a turn at being an industry critic now.

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All the stuff I write on my website is just directed to people who might be called traditional homebuilders, the learn, build and fly people. The only two points I wanted to make in the Icon/unicorn story come down to this:

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Aviation ‘journalism’ doesn’t always have the ethics we expect. A lot of it is really just press releases, and there are factors going on that most people new to homebuilding are not yet aware of. I just want homebuilders to understand that they really need to consider these factors. I am pretty sure none of my regular readers nor customers is among the 1,850 people who have a deposit on an Icon A5, but many of them will buy components for their homebuilt or a kit, based on published ‘reviews’ of those products. Many of the same writers and publications will produce the reviews they will read, and builders should be aware of the limitations of the information they will get.

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Second, I wanted my readers, who are mostly guys who are never going to buy a $200K Cessna 162 or a $239K Icon, or any of the other planes of that category, to stop being concerned about what happens to those companies. Many of the articles about them are written as if the future of light aviation is hanging in the balance of their success. If a new guy reads enough of this stuff, each of their failures brings questions about the health of the small plane industry. Alternatively, I want the new homebuilders to understand that the vast majority of new light planes in the last 20 years are homebuilts, Homebuilts are doing great, and if you are a homebuilder, either by choice or economics, you are already in the successful part of the industry. I want them to know that their personal adventures in flight are determined by what they will build with their own hands, and they have nothing to do with commercial ventures, good nor bad.

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A positive note about Homebuilding: It is easy to understand why Icon buyers wanted the planes. Flying off water is a beautiful thing, and it takes little imagination to picture some of the best flying one could ever do, hours you would treasure forever. The 1850 people who put down deposits obviously were motivated by ideas like that. If the company doesn’t pull off an industrial miracle, these buyers will likely never have their dreams become reality.

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Conversely, nearly any homebuilder reading this, who had the same dreams, can decide to make them real, and isn’t dependent on the success nor failure of an over extended company. A homebuilder mostly just counts on himself. He can go buy a set of Volmer plans or any number of planes on floats, and work with his own mind and hands to have the experience. It may not have the special interior, but it isn’t going to have the 40 page agreement nor the 4 bedroom house price tag. The message is very simple: People who are willing to learn and get their hands dirty can make their own dreams come true, and people who are not willing to do these things will remain dependent on others.

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Anyone who thinks the interior or glass cockpit, or composite construction is essential, get a look at the following link: It is a fantastic video of French kite boarding wonder Pauline Valesa, waterskiing behind a Zenith 701 on floats in one of the most beautiful settings in the world, the reefs off New Caledonia on the east side of the Coral Sea. Watch the video and tell me that you wouldn’t want to be there yourself.

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http://www.zenith.aero/video/video/show?id=2606393%3AVideo%3A508941&xgs=1&xg_source=msg_share_video

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“To the President of the United States in 1956” – a story of human integrity

Builders:

Here is a WWII aviation story, but the element I would like to draw your attention to happens 18 years after the aviation event.

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Colin Kelly.jpg

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Above is Colin Kelly Jr., a B-17 pilot from Florida. He was a 1937 West point graduate. He was killed on December 10th 1941,  the third day of America’s involvement in WWII. He had just completed a bombing mission and was returning with a crippled plane to Clark Field in the Philippines. It caught fire, he ordered the crew to bail out, but stayed behind to fly the plane to buy them the chance to escape. They did, but the plane exploded and took Kelly’s life. He was just 26 years old. He was married and had an infant son, who carried his fathers name. 

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A week later, this heroic deed was brought to the attention of the President of the United states, Franklin Roosevelt.  Kelly was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Nations’ second highest award for valor. When the president is made aware that Kelley had an infant son, who will never know his father, he is overwhelmed.  As he sits at the presidential desk in the oval office, FDR hand writes a letter titled ” To the President of the United States in 1956″. It is asking  the person who will hold the office 15 years in the future, to appoint Colin Kelly’s son to West Point, to allow him to follow his fathers path. FDR writes this knowing his ill health will likely never let him see 1956, but the content of the letter expresses his great faith in the future of country. FDR places the letter in the drawer of the desk, to wait 15 years. He dies in office in 1945, 3 and 1/2 years after writing the letter.

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 In 1956, Dwight Eisenhower, himself a 1915 west point graduate, is elected to his second term. In 1959, Colin Kelly the third, becomes of age, and Eisenhower offers him an official presidential appointment to West Point. The 18 year old young man, who never knew his father, considers this, but refuses to accept the Presidents offer.

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For reasons of personal integrity, Colin Kelly III, insists on taking the competitive entrance examination for West point. He decides he will earn a place in the class of 1963, but he will not accept an appointment, as he might be taking the place of a more qualified candidate. He intended to serve his country, but he didn’t feel he was owed anything. After the test, he qualified by examination. He graduated with the class of 1963, and went on to serve in the US Army for 20 years. He then served as a pastor in the same church for 27 years, before retiring.

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I have known this small piece of American history for more than 25 years.  The part of the story that I find most moving is Colin Kelly III refusal to accept an appointment.  It is an outstanding act of integrity to understand that no matter what is offered you, even at just 18 years of age and speaking with the president of the US, he still had integrity to not accept what he had not earned, particularly if this meant he might be taking the place of a better qualified person.

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This story came to mind about a month ago, when I was listening to someone I know, who holds an important position which requires integrity, was speaking of their child graduating from college, and going on to start working in the same field. Without the slightest hesitation, the parent said they were going to “Pull a lot of strings to get (their child) a good job.”

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I understand supporting one’s child, and I think there is nothing wrong at all with doing everything one can to provide the education to make their child the most qualified applicant, but this isn’t what the person was saying. They were directly stating they didn’t care who was the most qualified applicant, they had connections, and could call in favors, and thought there was nothing wrong with doing so. When I politely asked if their child was OK with this, the parent said “Of course, we paid for their college, they will do as we say”. 

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I was thinking about mentioning to them that their child is nearly 21, and is a responsible adult: they can sit on a jury in a capitol case and in many states, decide if someone else is put to death, and maybe it wasn’t ok that they just “do as we say”.  I wanted to tell  the same person about the story of Colin Kelly III, who even at 18 fully understood integrity, but in the end I decided that I was never going to get this person to consider that perspective, as they had long ago misplaced their own integrity, and likely had no interest in looking for it again.

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The complete letter from FDR, dated December 17th, 1941:

“To the President of the United States in 1956:

I am writing this letter as an act of faith in the destiny of our country. I desire to make a request which I make in full confidence that we shall achieve a glorious victory in the war we now are waging to preserve our democratic way of life.

My request is that you consider the merits of a young American youth of goodly heritage—Colin P. Kelly, III—for appointment as a Cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point. I make this appeal in behalf of this youth as a token of the Nation’s appreciation of the heroic services of his father, who met death in line of duty at the very outset of the struggle which was thrust upon us by the perfidy of a professed friend.

In the conviction that the service and example of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., will be long remembered, I ask for this consideration in behalf of Colin P. Kelly, III.”

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http://www.ladailypost.com/content/toths-father-colin-kelly-retires-after-27-years

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Job Offer: Work from home, learn a lot, make up to $400/hr.

Builders:

I will explain the title a little further into the post, but to start, examine the Corvair powered plane below. It is a brand new 3,000 cc Corvair powered SPA Panther, built by Brent Mayo, of Florida.  Besides the fact that it is an outstanding example of craftsmanship, read this next part slowly: Brent’s builders log shows that he has a total of only 828 hours of work into the plane, 14 months of build time, and this includes building the whole airframe and the Corvair engine for it, all the way through being ready for his FAA inspection.

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Rachel Weseman wrote at story about Brent’s plane on the Panther website. You can read it and see a lot of great pictures of the plane at this link, it is the second story down: https://flywithspa.com/category/panther/ Included in Rachel’s story is a link to Brent’s builders log, it is a treasure of information and pictures, and it clearly documents how little time it took him to do each of the tasks, and total hours for different sections. The log is inarguable testimony that both the Panther airframe, and the Corvair engine can be built in a very reasonable amount of time.

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FP23052016A00011

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Above, Brent Mayo’s Panther LS, powered by a 3.000 cc Corvair. It is a done aircraft, awaiting only it’s FAA inspection.  If Brent’s name rings a bell, it is because he was one of the five builders who finished and ran his engine at out first “finishing school” Get a look at this link and spend a few minutes looking at the video of the running engines. Brent’s engine was the first one to run, notice how quickly it starts and runs:  Corvair Finishing School #1, Video report.

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OK, get a look at Brent’s builders log, and see that he has 104 hours under the engine category. Note that this includes installing everything ahead of the firewall. If you break out just the part with is assembling and test running the engine, the hours total only 34 for the assembly and 8 hours more for the test run at the finishing school.

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Conceding that any engine needs to be mounted, cowled, have a prop and spinner installed and be wired, then selecting a Corvair and building it for his plane only added 42 hours to Brent’s total build time. Over the years I have seen plenty of magazine articles saying that “choosing and alternative engine adds a year at least to your build.”  While that might be so for a poorly supported engine that has never been mated to a particular airframe, it clearly doesn’t apply to the Corvair or installing on the Panther, or the other airframes we have long ago proven it on and support with installation components.  The reality is that the decision to use the Corvair, and build it himself, didn’t cost Brent any significant amount of time in his build.

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42 hours is less than 6% of the total of 828 hours invested in the whole plane.  But stop and think for a moment, that a Panther is one of the fastest planes on the market to build.  There are plenty of other good planes out there, but many of them take more than 2,000 hours to build. If you built the same 42 hour Corvair for a plans built fabric covered plane that took 2,000 hours to build, the engine would constitute just 2% of the build time. So much for the “traditional wisdom of experts” who speak on line and at EAA meetings.

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But lets stop and consider what a builder gets who decides to invest 42 hours gets for his time. First, he knows the engine far better than any guy who just buys some imported engine in a box and bolts it on. Second, there is a great satisfaction in building your own engine. I have shaken the hand of 300 builders a moment after their engine started on my stand. You can literally feel a builders pride in their grasp at that moment, it is a genuine, and it is a moment that doesn’t happen for people who buy engines. These are the two best reasons for any builder to select a Corvair.

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A third reason is the title of this story: Consider for a moment, that Brent’s engine is an absolute first class engine that utilizes nearly every part in in the FlyCorvair and SPA/Panther catalog of parts. I am pretty sure it has more than $10K in parts in it. The next least expensive engine option is probably a Jabaru 3300, and because of exchange rates that engine is actually down in price, near $18K.  Rotax and others are north of there, up to the UL-350 somewhere around $30K. They are all reasonably good engines, but just looking at the price vs the 42 hours, Brent saved between $100 and $400 per hour he invested in his Corvair build.

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BTW, the 42 hours isn’t a record. We have a number of people each year that come well prepped to Corvair Colleges, and fully assemble and test run engines in a two and a half day event. Before anyone remotely suggests such engines don’t involve learning or are less than perfect, let me say that I have seen these engines built and run, they are first class, and I was there when they were assembled and can attest that these guys were motivated to do their homework and learned a lot. Open minded people with a plan happen to write a lot of success stories in experimental aviation.

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Before anyone gets too upset or comes back with other calculations or alternatives, let me flat out say that people should use/buy/build which ever engine they like, and it has always been my policy that Corvairs are not for everyone, and I don’t portray them as such, I just say they are a very good option for the right builder. I have owned, built and flown behind many different engines, there are reasons for the right builder to own any of them. The whole purpose of the story is just to illustrate that you can build a Corvair is a short number of hours, it isn’t a significant portion of the total build hours, even on a really quick building plane like a Panther, in comparison to other popular engines it is economical, even when you select the highest end build, and the biggie, that there is a lot to be said for the learning and accomplishment of building an engine yourself.

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There is nothing wrong with a guy who has had a Corvair in his shop for years, and he enjoys tinkering with it. Building the motor isn’t a contest, it is a group of choices and actions that are supposed to teach you things and provide satisfaction when looking at the completed engine.  But know this: I have seen countless guys spend years on internet discussion groups, following people who counsel making all manner of starters, hokey oil systems, and poorly thought out parts, all with the goal of making something ‘unique’ or saving some bucks. Even if that crap worked as well as the stuff we sell and teach people to use, (which it doesn’t) I can still make the case that it is a poor use of your life to spend five years making parts, when better stuff is available that bolts right together in 42 hours, proven systems you can trust. There is nothing ‘unique’ about making one off poorly thought out parts and finding out they cost nearly as much as our stuff, but discovering they don’t fit on your plane, you don’t trust them. This isn’t “unique” at all, people waste years of time and thousands of dollars doing this all the time. Want to do something that will set you apart? Make some smart choices, use proven stuff, build it according to our methods, and go out and enjoy it. In a world of people letting years slide by, deciding that you will not let that happen to you is a unique decision.

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The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics had the following data:

“–Watching TV was the leisure activity that occupied the most time (2.8
hours per day), accounting for more than half of leisure time, on average,
for those age 15 and over. “

2.8 hours a day is 1022 hours a year.  That is far more time than Brent spent building is whole airplane.  At that rate, it would have only taken him 15 days of TV watching to finish his engine. Is there really anything you saw on TV in the last to weeks that would make you feel like Brent did when his engine fired up?

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“There is a combination of simplicity/effort/money that can get a great number of people flying. You can be one of them, and the odds that you will be go up dramatically if you use my experience to avoid every mistake I made and paid for.”

from: Thought for the Day: Time…..Your enemy.

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-ww.

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#4201-C Pietenpol Motor mounts, now on the shelf, ready for shipping.

Builders:

These motor mounts are a good example of advancements in our 2016 operations.  Over many years, I developed and hand made several dozen of these mounts. They are on many well known Corvair powered Pietenpols, and the design allows the plane to be flown with larger pilots without having aft CG issues common to other engines. The only drawbacks to the mount was that it was difficult for me to meet demand for them, and second, because of builder variations in fuselage width, we ended up making them in two slightly different widths. Both of these issues have now been eliminated, we have filled all the back orders, and we now have these mounts on the shelf, ready for immediate shipping.

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To make the availability better, the solution was to advance the production from hand fitted tubing sets, to using full on CNC cut tubing sets like we do on all our Zenith mounts. There is a significant tool up charge for this and the tubing sets cost much more than the raw tubing, but it removes a lot of labor from the job and increases the quality of the finished mount. It also allows us to use SPA resources as I wrote in this related story: Parts Production improvements- #4201 Motor Mounts

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The second innovation actually came from the mind of Dan Weseman. I was explaining to him how many Piet builders miss the plans specified fuselage with of 24.00″ because they don’t put the plywood on the fuselage until later, and only then discover their finished width is 24.25″. Because of the style of the fuselage attach points, this would normally require two different mounts. After looking at this for a while, Dan offered the idea pictured below, which allows one mount to cover any fuselage between 24.00-and 24.25″ width.  This allows stocking mounts that will serve all fuselages.

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From here forward, we will build several batches a year of these mounts, with the intention of keeping the on the shelf to stay ahead of orders. Right now we have a small number on hand, extras from the first CNC batch that filled all the existing orders. If you are a Pietenpol builder, and you would like to advance your project by purchasing one of these mounts, you can order it directly from the link below to our products page. If you order it today, it can be at your location in 2 or 3 days. That is a serious improvement, and typical of the many advancement we have made in 2016.

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Above, a top view of the mount. They are all powder coated haze gray. To understand the development of the design, read this story: Three Pietenpol Motor Mounts.

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Above, the detail that makes it work on both fuselage widths: The mount is held to the airframe with four AN-5 bolts. ( The bolt illustrated is just for reference, it is not the correct length nor is it an AN bolt. ) On each of these four bolts there are two AN-960-516 washers, acting as spacers. If they are installed as above, on the inboard side of the mount, the mount fits a 24.00″ wide fuselage like a glove. If the washers are installed on the outboard side of the mount, it will fit a 24.25″ wide fuselage perfectly. This even works for the one guy who made a 24.125″ wide fuselage, as he can put one washer on each side.

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Although this seems like an obvious idea, it has actually been checked very closely on CAD drawings to make sure the tube shown doesn’t contact the ears on the fuselage attach brackets on either fuselage width. A special note to other Pietenpol builders: The 1960s revisions to the Piet plans show a much more elaborate straps and finger patched on the mount legs. If you are building your own mount, particularly if you are not a professional aircraft welder or you are using a gas welder instead of TIG, follow the plans, do not try to imitate the design shown here. What makes it work for us is the fact we are using very thick wall 5/8 tubing for the bolts to pass through, the 3/4 tubing welded to it is perfectly CNC’ed  to fit, The material is all US made tubing, it is 100% TIG welded with state of the art machines, and most critically, it is all welded by Travis, Vern or myself. This is not a particularly challenging weld, nor is it highly stressed, but I have seen a lot of guys who say “I’ll get my buddy to do this, he had been welding for 25 years, and he works cheap” and the guy isn’t capable of reliably making that weld, nor honest enough to admit he can’t. If you are not going to get the mount from me, use the style of fitting shown in the plans, not the welding style pictured here.

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Left side view of the mount. It is 100% 4130 aircraft steel, 100% TIG welded. We have never had any steel of unknown quality (Chinese) in any aircraft mount we have sold. If you are looking at tubing for sale, even in aircraft catalogs, and it doesn’t specify the country of origin, there is a fair chance it is from China. The CNC factory that supplies our tubing kits is the #1 suppler of aircraft tubing kits in the world, I know the owner personally, and he has plenty of evidence to show that Chinese tubing isn’t made to the same standards no matter what it is marked. None of the kits he supplies to any of his customers use tubing from China.

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Bottom view of the mount. The diagonal brace on the mount is required on a Pietenpol, but not all other Corvair mounts. The requirement is mostly driven by the narrow with of the from of the Pietenpol fuselage.  The diagonal tube make the mount very stiff in torsion.

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Related stories:

Current Corvair Installation in a Pietenpol, part #1

Current Corvair Installation in a Pietenpol, Part 2

Steel tube Pietenpol fuselage with landing gear and 12 x 4.8″ tires.

Pietenpol Products, Motor mounts, Gear and Instalation Components.

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If you are a Pietenpol builder, and would like more information on the Corvair/Piet combination or the life of B.H. Pietenpol, look at this link:  Corvair – Pietenpol Reference page

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-Ww

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Link to products page:

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http://shop.flycorvair.com/product/4201-b-engine-mount-pietenpol-high-thrust-line/

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Back in Florida 

Builders,

Yesterday afternoon, we departed from my Parents house in NJ, and 996 miles later, pulled into our driveway here in the airpark in Florida early in the morning. North of DC is was raining with accidents, and northern Virginia was it’s typical 60 miles of pointless traffic, but the over night drive was very nice. It was a full moon that rose just after sunset illuminated the clear skies so well, you probably could have driven the run with the headlights off. I-95 was empty, and a set the cruise control at 74 and drove all night with the radio off, just thinking of things I have seen and done with builders in the last six weeks on the road.

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Above, an actual sign in the I-95 Florida State welcome center, right next to the parking lot. I like living in a state with serious wildlife. Given a choice between water moccasins and DC beltway traffic, I opt for poisonous snakes.

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I am back in Florida for two weeks, to replenish the stocks of parts on the shelves here, and get through the next rounds of orders. In the next few days I will be highlighting products we have on the shelves and in process, to give a better look at how our inventory has been greatly updated. Tomorrows story will be about Pietenpol Motor mounts.

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After this shop phase in Florida, I will be flying back out to northern California to continue the western builders tour.

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-ww.

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A Sailor’s code from the 1940s and 50s.

Friends,

Below, a selection of photos from old albums of my fathers, dating back 74 years.  Over the years I have shared a number of stories of my father, his perspectives and values, and how they were shaped, and how they became the code I try to lead my own life by. I have spent the last 10 days in New Jersey, listening at great length to my fathers memories, brought back by combing through old photos. I remain stunned how easily, in spite of the distractions of health, diminished eyesight and the passage of decades, how dad can easily point out dozens of faces of men he has not seen in five six or seven decades. Turning over any picture and reading the notes on the back reveal that given only a visual reference, my fathers memory at age 90 is very strong.

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On the left, my father at age 16, four days before his 17th birthday. Beside him is Chief Frank Ryan. It is December of 1942. They are standing in the backyard of the Wynne family home at 118 Albion Street in Passaic NJ. Before my father was born, my grandfather found Frank Ryan, a young homeless orphan. He and my grandmother cared for him until he joined the Navy at age 16 in 1922. In the photo you can see he has 20 years of stripes. The photo looks happy, but it is cast against this back drop: Ryan is home because he was a plank owner on the USS Vincennes, CA-44, a heavy cruiser that was sunk a few months before at the battle of Savo Island. It took 322 shipmates, about half the crew, to the bottom with it. Ryan’s idealistic stories of Navy life were the largest factor in my father joining the Navy a few months after this picture was taken. If you read a single other story I have written, make it this one: A clarification and a century old story. It will dispel every thought one might have about my family being militaristic.

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When Frank Ryan went back to sea, he was a plank owner on the most fearsome battleship afloat, the USS Iowa, BB-61. On the Vincennes he was head of the ‘Black Gang’ in the boiler rooms, on the Iowa He was the Chief quartermaster. He is in Khaki on the left. Other than the kindness of my grandparents, to whom Ryan was devoted, his life knew no lasting joy; He was married in ’39, but his wife died of TB shortly after, he was haunted by the loss of his Vincennes shipmates, and no one could stop him from drinking himself into an early grave. He did not live to see 1950.

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Same two men, four years later: My father, who signed up as an Enlisted man in July of 1943, had become a midshipman at the Naval Academy by the time this picture was taken in 1946. My Grandfather, initial livid about Ryan encouraging my father to join in WWII, has relieved the war was over. There were a few brief years where it looked like my grandfathers one wish in life, that his son would not see what he had seen in WWI, might come true, but this didn’t last.

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Above the USS North Carolina, BB-55.  My father took this shot while he was on a midshipman summer cruise on the ship. Every boy of the 1920s and 30s thought of these ships as the ‘big guns’ of the fleet, the heavyweight knockout punch. Although WWII made carriers ascendant, and atomic weapons had been invented, there was something lasting about the mystique of battleships. For my father, this was tempered by a very ugly friendly fire accident on this cruise. The ships main battery of 16″ guns was being exercised on a Caribbean range; A land based block house fired a mortar which designated the target. Aboard the ship, someone pointed the optical range finder at the block house to see when the mortar was fired instead of waiting for the shell to mark the target, not understanding that the 16″ guns would train to the rangefinder. A mistaken command sent nine 16″ shells to the block house. At 20,000 yards the flight time of the shells was long enough to tell the personnel in the block house of the mistake and to take cover. It did no good at all. It was an awakening to my father, that even in peacetime, his profession would be dangerous.

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Just before the cruise, my father met my Mother at Bradley Beach NJ. In 1998, our family took at tour of the North Carolina, which is a museum in Wilmington NC. My father had not been aboard since 1946. What part of the ship did he want to show us? We went all the way aft to the post office, where dad showed us the mail slot where he put a letter in 1946….It was to my mother asking if she wanted to go on another date.  I looked at the mail box and realized that my very existence hinged on my father being a good writer. He is, therefore I am.

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Dad, on his summer cruise on the USS Randolph, CV-15, an Essex class carrier. In those days, all midshipmen learned to fly at the academy in ‘Yellow peril’ N3-N biplanes on single floats. On summer cruises, they were sent out as crewmen on attack planes. Dad flew in both SBDs and TBMs. It was a way of evaluating who would later be offered a slot at Pensacola.  In 1947, the USAF had just broken off from the Army, and they were threatening to end Naval Aviation. Dad’s N3-N instructor, a veteran of the ‘Marianas Turkey Shoot’, said that dogfighting was probably never going to happen again in the missile age, and the USAF, might end carrier construction in favor of something new called a B-36.  From there, Dad starting looking at Amphibious Warfare. Ironically, Essex class carriers had radically longer and more useful lives than B-36s, and people came to learn that both the USAF and USN need aviation.

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In the story: Patriotism has no Party I make a brief mention about an F-8F Bearcat hitting the back of the USS Randolph. My father saw this on the same cruise. They brought midshipmen down to the aft most 40mm gun tub on the starboard side, which hung  just below the flight deck. It was an excellent vantage point to see planes approaching the carrier. An F-8F on final got a wave off from the LSO, and when the pilot put full power from the 2,000 hp radial at slow speed, the plane snap rolled and hit the stern of the ship, about 50 feet from the gun tub. It was a low hit, and the midshipmen were shielded by the tub. All that came to the surface in the wake of the ship was a fuel slick and one of the main tires. Nothing else was recovered. It was another reminder that being in the military had risks beyond conflict.

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Even though he did not choose to become a Naval Aviator, my father still loved planes. His albums are full of pictures of them. Above, he took this picture of a Martin Mars, one of the largest flying boats ever built, when it came to the Severn River at the Naval Academy. When going across the pacific many times between 1949 and 1953, dad made the trip in both a Martin Mars and a Consolidated Coronados, stopping at Midway, Wake and Guam. The note about the young officer and the pool in this story Patriotism has no Party, comes from a 1953 trip home from Korea.

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Above, a 1951 picture from Okinawa, where the Seabees were practicing amphibious landings for Korea. I wrote about these in this story: USN sea story.  If you want a better look at the island in WWII, read this: Memorial Day Reading. Unlike most other pacific island involved in WWII,  Okinawa had been densely populated.  In the WWII battle, which took place just 6 years before my father took this picture, The US lost 20,000 KIA, the Japanese lost 110,000 KIA, but nearly 40% of the 300,000 civilians on the island also perished, enormous numbers of them from committing suicide because they had been told that the US troops were monsters who did despicable things to civilians. Above, the ‘monsters’ are feeding little kids who survived the battle, years after it was done. Notice that one of the enlisted men is using chop sticks to eat. To get a look at what my father thought was worth fighting for, please read: William Edward Wynne Sr. – Father’s Day Notes

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Above, Dad operating a bull dozer on a beach while he was a company commander in ACB-ONE. This is the same piece of equipment that hit the LST door in this story: USN sea story.

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This is a LST, which stands for “Landing Ship, Tank” The US built about 1,000 of these in WWII. If you look closely, on the side it is carrying several hundred feet of floating pontoon causeway, folded up 90 degrees. Approaching the beach, these are dropped from each side, and the LST drops an anchor behind it to slow down, and the pontoons are maneuvered, mostly on inertia, out in front of the LST to form a path to the beach. This technique was used on assaults where the beach was not steep enough for the LST to get close.

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Above the two sections are joined, and lined up with the bow doors of the LST. The craft to the side of the pontoons is a “warping tug” a general purpose tugboat, crane, barge that Seabees used a lot.

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Above an amphibious DUKW, the command post of ACB-ONE, Dad described these as fun, but not really sea worthy. One of the ones he used sank, fortunately in practice mission.

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Above, a good end view of a LST with the bow open, a pontoon causeway and a warping tug. Lettering at the top of all of these pictures is dad’s handwriting.

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Above, a look at what made the Inchon landings so tricky: The have some of the highest tides in the world, 40 feet of change at times. That LST draws 15 feet at the stern, so it gives you a good idea of how fast the tide ran out, and ran back in to submerge anything stuck at low tide.

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Above, and LCU unloads two bull dozers after  the Amtrack on the left disembarked.

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Above, dad stands with his parents in front of an F-8F. Many sailor’s stories from WWII and later hint at exotic ports of call and drinking, gambling and brawling. Not all sailors excelled at those ‘arts’. My father was always a very grounded man, even when he was young. He credits this to his loving parents, who set strong examples with their own lives, and expected their kids to do something meaningful with theirs. If you want an example of how tough my grandmother was, get a look at this story: Italo Balbo in 1933, an 83 year old family story. My father dated my mother nearly the whole time he was at the Naval Academy, they were marred a few months after he graduated, and 66 years later they are still the love of each others lives.

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How the stories have always been shared: Above, in a photo taken yesterday, Grace sits with my father, as he is recovering. She drove up from Florida with ScoobE to see Mom and Dad. They are looking at some of the old photo albums that contained the photos above. Grace has a phenomenal memory, and treasures this kind of history, she needs only hear it once for it to be saved. ScoobE had his little yellow vest on and his shots cards so they let him into the hospital, and after they saw that he could sit in my fathers lap, silently, for hours, the staff was glad to have him. He and Grace spent many hours of every day this week taking care of dad, attending to his needs, one of which is sharing memories of 90 years on earth.

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Many of the stories are moving, some are very somber. The case of characters are mostly all memories now. Having made it to 90, my father feels nothing but gratitude for his good fortune. I know many people who only like to hear ‘nice’ stories, and my father knows plenty of them, but ‘nice’ is rarely what was the pivotal, moving moments of a life well lead, where values were followed and costs were not a consideration when weighed against one’s virtues.  My father was born to and raised by such people, and in turn become one himself, and found a soul mate with the same codes in my mother.  He taught us all that a life well lead will contain both triumph and tragedy, and to strive for ‘nice’ or ‘happy’ is to desire a luke-warm world in which to live. In the quiet hours my father wants you to consider and remember the pantheon of good men he once knew, and the values for which they lived, the willful decisions they made to lead meaningful lives.

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“Sunday night, with most of the family and friends on their way home, found my parents home suddenly quiet. While all of the afternoon’s conversations had been on family and good memories, my father, now almost 90 and somewhat frail, took the last hour of the evening to meet an obligation he finds very important;  I sit beside him and listen while he looks back through the decades to remember and speak the names and the stories of good men, who’s devotion to their Shipmates, the Navy and our Country cost them everything, including a chance to grow old with the families they loved. This spoken remembrance is central to my father’s gratitude for the great fortune of being married for 65 years.”-from New Jersey, June 2015 and 65 years ago …

 

 

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-WWjr.