Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On the Road Again

During the last three weeks, I drove 7,500 miles, interviewing World War II veterans in Florida, Dallas and Arizona, and making a stop at the Atlanta Armor Modeling and Preservation Society's annual show on my way back East.

It's been an emotional journey, never mind the 60 miles of icy slush in Maryland and the driving snow between Memphis and Little Rock, or the record snowfall in Dallas that greeted my arrival.

I don't have any sponsors, but I do feel a debt of gratitude to Hertz for providing me with a reliable car -- a relatively new Mazda 3 that got more than 35 miles to the gallon on the highway (okay, so I avoided the tempation to go 80 mph even when that was the posted speed limit in parts of Texas), and to McDonald's for their free wi-fi and senior coffee (I still can't bring myself to ask for a "senior coffee," but most of the kids they have working there recognize my antiquity).

Above all, I thank J.R. Lemons, a veteran of the Kassel Mission, for arranging a series of interviews for me in Dallas. J.R. is a member of the Happy Warriors, a group of mostly World War II veterans who gather on the fourth Friday of every month to share their experiences. I was unable to plan my trip so I could attend a meeting, but J.R. set up the interviews. One was with his pilot on the Kassel Mission, James Baynham. Another was with Louis Read, a survivor of the Bataan death march, and a third was with Bob Cash, who was the only survivor when his B-17 was shot down and told me of his experiences in Stalag Luft IV and the 90-day march across Europe. J.R. also set up an interview with a veteran who flew in a B-24 on the first Ploesti raid.

A prime reason I took this trip was to meet and interview John Sweren in Mesa, Arizona. John was a tail gunner in a B-26 that crashed in France. He was one of three survivors among the six-man crew, but other planes on the mission counted only two parachutes, so John's parents were informed that he was killed in action. He was sent to Stalag Luft IV and also took part in the 90-day march, and when the Red Cross helped him make a phone call to his family upon being liberated, his mother angrily asked who he was ... until he told her he couldn't wait to have some of her pierogis, upon hearing which she dropped the phone and fainted.

Now I'm faced with what I think a sound technician would call "white noise." Before I left, I started writing a book about the battle for Hill 122 in Normandy. I also began digitizing and editing an interview with Jack Sheppard, a former company commander in my father's tank battalion that stretches out over six 90-minute cassettes, for an audiobook to accompany the book on Hill 122. While in Florida I promised Sybil Swofford, the wife of a pilot on the Kassel Mission, that I would write a book about the mission; Sybil chastised me for taking so long because everybody in her church is waiting eagerly to buy a copy. Add to this the need to revise and update my web site, and all the changes coming to eBay, and I don't know where to turn first.

The conversations on this trip were recorded with my new Zoom H4, a digital recorder which produces a clearer sound than many of my earlier recordings. I plan to post excerpts from the new interviews at audiomurphy.com just as soon as I have them available.

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