Wednesday, January 16, 2013

WWII viewpoints

I've been plodding, yes plodding, through this biography on Dwight Eisenhower published in 2012.  Thank goodness for my Arizona library's generous online renewal system.  I like a good, fat, comprehensive biography every once in awhile.  No need to stay up all night finishing it as you already have a pretty good idea where the story is going and how it will end.  But all the fascinating little details and nuances, that is what keeps one coming back a few pages at a time.

Eisenhower is the first US president that I can remember as he won the presidential election the year I was born.  However, I was a bit confused as a child.  I thought there was only one president in my world, President David O. McKay, who presided over my church as well as country.  One day my mother sat me down and gave it to me straight explaining all about Eisenhower.  It rocked my world a bit but I accepted it.  I think my mother had a soft spot for both men.  She considered President McKay to be a living prophet and she had served in the Women's Army Air Corps during WWII and appreciated General Eisenhower's leadership as allied commander.

The President McKay of my youth was a tall man with a full head of beautiful white hair and he looked like a prophet.  I found this picture on the BYU web site taken in 1952 when then President Harry S. Truman visited campus during a campaign trip for Adlai Stevenson.  President McKay is on Truman's left. Truman played a part in the subtle political wrangling the eventually put Eisenhower on the Republican ticket.

I found the political presidential part interesting but more so the military career of Eisenhower.  It was fascinating to follow the history of WWII from the commander's viewpoint and logistics, both the seeming failures and the triumphs.

When my son learned of my current read, he recommended and lent me "Rite of Passage".  The author, Ray Matheny, had been my son's professor at BYU.  Now I had another viewpoint of WWII, that of a young enlisted man who trained as a flight engineer and top-turret gunner on a B-17.  His plane eventually was brought down over Germany and he and one other crew member survive but soon find themselves POWs in Stalag 17 under the command of the Nazis.

If I had been more interested in history when younger, I might have had the WWII viewpoints of my maternal uncles from the ground and the air.  The greatest generation doesn't like to talk much about it but I could have at least asked a question or two.  Lowell, in khaki, became a top-turret gunner like Matheny but in a B-24 Liberator.  Ray Metheny was based in England and his  bombardment group mostly dropped their wares over Germany.   Lowell D. Nyborg was based in southern Italy with the 746th heavy bombardment group as part of the 456th, or "Steed's Flying Colts," who dropped their bombs in Italy, Austria, and Romania preparing for the invasion of southern France.  Other targets included those in Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the Balkans.  Lowell, too, survived when his plane fell from the sky over Austria near the end of the conflict.  He also was taken as a prisoner of war who eventually returned home not only with a beating heart but with a Purple Heart for valor. His brother, Elden, served in the Army as an infantry soldier marching across France.

Lowell is the hat less blond on the front row in this picture of his crew in front of their B-24 Liberator.  I found online a scanned hand typed page with 5/2/45 at the top listing each crew members' name and rank along with the name of a family member and their home address.  My guess is that it was in preparation for the notification of the next of kin about the plane going down.  They came from New York to Kentucky and Washington, D.C. to Drummond, Idaho.  My grandmother's name, Rhoda, is on that list.  I can only imagine her worry and despair.  There is also a scanned page of an "Individual Casualty Questionnaire" given by Lowell Nyborg.  It states when questioned about the bombardier, "Went down with the plane."

It is pretty amazing how much one can find by browsing the Internet but I know it would have been so much better if I could have just sat down and visited with the uncles.  Too bad my interest and questions came later.  They are both gone now, but miraculously they both came home and my grandmother's family, though marked forever by their experiences, remained intact.

1 comment:

Laraine Eddington said...

Before Mark's dad died he wrote his remembrances of WWII and made a soft bound volume for each child. He titled it "Daddy, What Did You Do in the Big War?" Since he had never talked about it with his children, it was fascinating. I am so glad we have it. I received a book about an American and a German fighter pilot whose lives collide in the sky called "A Higher Call" that I am waiting to dive into. It sounds really good.