Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Boy tail gunner

I was glad to see this picture of my father and the rest of the crew of the Incendiary Blonde. (My father is standing, all the way to the right.) At seventeen, my father left his life as a sharecropper's son near Lexsy, Georgia, joined the Army Air Corps, and began to see the world as he trained in the West and North. I remember him telling me that people elsewhere were ignorant about the South, and how a woman in Kutztown, PA asked him about the family slaves.

Before long, he was serving as a tail gunner with on the Incendiary Blonde (91st Bomb Group), based in England and flying on runs over Germany and France. He was tall and slender, and would do a backward roll when leaving his perch in the tail of the plane.

The linked picture was taken shortly after shrapnel struck and killed the mid-waist gunner, Blaine Corbin (the name is spelled incorrectly in the note.) My father told me that the day Corbin died was the very last day that waist gunners were utilized in World War II. Ill luck married irony in that loss. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I see that his widow, Ruth, died just last year... She married again, graduated from college, saw life bring her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and appears to have been the sort of volunteer who blesses the world with work. She lived a different life from the one she began with Blaine, but it seems as though it was a good one.

They are almost all gone now, the men in that picture, though they were beautiful with youth not so long ago. Some of the vivid traits in the character of Pip in A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage come from my father.

For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass... 1 Peter 1:24

6 comments:

  1. Marly,
    I don't see your dad in this picture, but he does remind me so much of my dad, who left home as early as he could, enlisting while he was actually still too young to do so legally. He joined what became the airforce and was a co-pilot and mechanic, flying 35 missions over Germany.

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  2. The names are underneath--maybe I should add that in... The standing row, far right.

    Yes, that was quite a way to manhood... although in some ways they were already men, those who had to struggle in that time.

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  3. A handsome young man and an inspiration for you.

    What a life our fathers had during the war - mine in Finland fighting the Russians then the Germans. I lost a grandfather and an uncle. My father never ever talked of the war except for good things such as how he always carried his beloved mandolin and sang with it whenever he could, and was loved by his fellow soldiers for it.

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  4. Oh, that's interesting! Yes, I don't know that much either. They don't talk about such things, our men... Not a lot, anyway.

    My maternal grandmother had five sons sprinkled around the world during the war. People said she prayed them home. I've been told that she was on her on her knees by the bed every night. They all came home.

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  5. Lovely, evocative photograph, Marly. There was a time when such photographs seemed very distant to me. The photographs of my own father in uniform appeared ancient when I was a child, though they were separated from me by little more than a decade. However now photographs of my own youth look a hundred years old, and I begin to understand that time plays tricks with us all.

    My father spoke relatively little about the war beyond the relationships he made with local people met during his time in the 8th army. (He was in N Africa, Italy and Sicily.) His job in Italy seemed to be to make inventories of the fixtures and fittings of palaces and great houses requisitioned from the owners for use by the allies. He clearly became fond of the owners and they of him, and he always spoke warmly of the friendships that grew through his work.

    I carry these stories and cherish them. After me there will be no-one to remember. The photographs will become even further removed from those who behold them. Already the names of my father's fresh-faced companions in them grow dim. Full of vitality, they inhabit so completely the world the shutter clicked on. They can't have known or imagined that one day the photograph would be a record of strangers smiling happily at whoever stood behind the lens, and that their identities, their lives and their world would be lost forever.

    Mmmmm. Autumn fast approaches, and I seem to have the blues.

    I have no word verification at the Artlog, and yet it all seems to work OK there. Wordpress catches most of the spam and I rarely have trouble. Hope you fare as well here. It is nice not to be struggling with those damned distortions and hazy numbers!

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  6. My father looks rather like my eldest son in this picture, so there's more time confusion! Yes, it's so strange the way as we get older we eventually become a kind of parent and holder of memories to these hopeful young things we see in photographs, out on their life's adventure.

    That's a piece of your father's life I knew nothing about--and very interesting, too. I never thought about inventory-making as a part of that complicated struggle, but of course it makes sense. And what endless trouble has come from the lack of inventory of paintings and art objects on the Axis side... Even now, so many years later, stories of stolen objects surface. Why inventory the possessions of those slated for destruction? It must have seemed so needless.

    I have been thinking of Trevor because of your green man mask and the Trevor-image in "The Foliate Head." And you have caught him elsewhere in your paintings. He'll go on meaning something to people, though the memories drift away.

    We are all green men of another kind, our lives grass and bound for harvest. Autumn is melancholy. All those simple things--the round of the year, the journey, the path--have such power.

    The spam catcher seems to have improved...

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.