19 August 2010

It's kinda creepy...

I learned early on when I began to blog that a serious blogger never apologizes for any long delays or silences.  If there are technical difficulties with the site that prevent a post here and there, or problems that jack up the comment stream or other user interface, okay, apologize.

But if you post randomly (or not at all) for, say, a month and a half or two months or two and a half months, don't apologize.  Why should you have to justify your blog or your posting schedule (or lack thereof) to someone else?

The best thing to do is just keep on writing.

My aunt Kathy stopped by a couple of weeks ago for a short visit.  Her son, my cousin Matt, and his wife Ashley have two daughters that are on the way out of their infant and toddler clothes, and so since we have Princess Maddie, (who, by the way, began crawling on her eight-month birthday the other day!!) we get bags of hand-me-downs from time to time.

On this visit, my aunt also brought a book with her.  She was shopping at a second hand store and found it on the dollar-book rack.  There were airplanes on the cover, and the book was appropriately titled "A Wing and A Prayer".  The title of the book sounded slightly familiar for some reason, so she thought I might be interested in reading it.

I was, and I did.

A Wing and A Prayer is a war memoir by Lt. Col (Lieutenant Colonel) Harry H. Crosby, who was a navigator on a B-17 during World War II.  He flew 37 missions over occupied Europe in the "Bloody 100th", a hard-hit heavy bombardment group that lost 86 percent of its original crews.  Over the course of two years, the 100th Bomb Group lost over 200 aircraft to flak and enemy fighters, with 1,772 men killed or captured after being shot down.  Crosby himself was with his crew when they just barely made it back to England after a mission, crash-landing at an abandoned fighter base along the Channel coast.

As far as memoirs go, this one is excellent.  Crosby did not spend too much time on his training or background, or for that matter what he did after the war.  The memoir focuses on what I believe a war memoir should focus on, and the writing is crisp and concise.  I caught the faintest glimpses of Joseph Heller's Catch 22 in the way Crosby explored the absurdity of fighting a war in the air, then coming home to a relatively peaceful and normal England to eat at the same mess hall, sleep in the same cot in the same building.  Crosby questions the morality of strategic bombing as well, wondering if he actually did make a difference, and if the difference was worth the effort.  In one passage, after he has been promoted to the staff level, he sees just how many people were working around the clock just to put he and his crew up in the air.  He puts the number at around three thousand people, whose responsibility it was to ensure that a bomber could get airborne and to it's target.  He concludes, like Heller, that it is a very strange way to fight a war.

Crosby consistently decries what he calls "raunch", the machismo and braggadocio that most often accompanies young men with much responsibility.  Swearing, excessive drinking, and flashy dress were all part of this raunch, as well as a healthy dose of locker-room boasting, and the entire package was almost expected out of the young officers who took to the sky.  Crosby would have none of that, preferring to simply do his job well and get back home.  One is left to wonder what Crosby thought of Tom Wolfe and The Right Stuff.  I can only imagine that to a straight-laced guy like that, the stories that came out of Edwards Air Force Base after the war and into the 1950's were enough to make him airsick.

An excellent read, and one that was right up my alley.  I'm honestly surprised I hadn't heard of this book before, being familiar as I am with some of what went on in the Army Air Corps during World War Two.

Here's the kinda creepy part:

Obviously I have named my blog after the song that was written to express a sentiment that Crosby also wanted to express in his book, and he does it well.  That is coincidence enough.

That my aunt found the book for me and gave it to me is simply a nice gesture.  A nice little gift.  As I paged through it, it turns out to be more than just a gift.  I turn to the title page, where I see that it has been autographed by the author.  Bonus!!  When I travel to airshows, I make it a point to get autographs wherever I can, especially for the vanishing generation of warriors who fought in WW2.  They are getting to be few and far between these days, and any time I can connect my library directly to these men of history, I jump at the opportunity.  It was already autographed.  Not to me, but it's still an autograph.

I flip the page to the publishing information.  Copyright 1993, which is about the time it became okay for the Greatest Generation to begin sharing their stories and being honest about what they did and what they saw.  Underneath that, in all caps: FIRST EDITION.

Double Bonus!!  While a war memoir will probably never be as highly valued a collectible as some other literature, it's still desirable to have an autographed first edition on your bookshelf, and so I was well pleased with the gift.

So here I am with a signed first edition copy of a book with the same title as my blog, by an author who probably would have been one of my childhood heroes had I known of him before my aunt gave me the book.

I decide to do some research on Lt. Col. Harry Herbert Crosby, PhD.  I went to wikipedia and came up empty, which was strange.  I went to amazon, and found only a few copies of his book, all later paperback editions.  I then got busy and dropped the issue for a couple of days, until today, when I did a Google search with his name.

The first hit was an obituary.  I rather expected it, since in the book he mentions that he was born in 1919, and being born then and living even until 1993 to see your memoir published would have been a good long life for many.  My grandfather was born in 1919, and he was 84 when he passed away in 2003.  Dr. Crosby would have been the same age, obviously, and as I was reading the book, I really didn't expect him to still be living.

I clicked on the obituary.  I could not believe the date on the top.  July 28, 2010.  Not only did this man live to the ripe old age of 91, he passed away just about the same time I was discovering his book!  How is that for coincidence?

So, my not-so-belated-as-I-thought tribute:

Thank you, Lieutenant Colonel Crosby, for your service to freedom during those dark times.  Thank you for your lifelong devotion to learning and teaching.  Thank you for sharing your experiences during those two years of your life with us.  Thank you for your unflinching honesty about what you felt and did.  Thank you for not attempting to sugar coat the realities of warfare.  Thank you for your attempt to make the world a better place.


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