Update 1: September 2, 2015
We have just been informed that global events permitting, the 100th Bomb Group Reunion will have another visitor in New Orleans -- in the form of a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 100th Air Refueling Wing, RAF Mildenhall, England. We have quickly set up what we hope will be a special event for our members on Thursday September 24, 2015. From 2pm-4pm we have arranged for both the B-17 "Movie Memphis Belle" and the KC-135 to be on Static display at New Orleans Airport side by side. We will be providing bus transportation from the Hotel to and from the Airport. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the tail of a B-17 with a Square D beside a KC-135 with a Square D on its tail. This will be the only time both planes will be together during the reunion so make sure you make arrangements to be in New Orleans early. More details to come.
Update 2: September 3, 2015
The Liberty Foundation informs us that the B-17 will not be available for passenger rides. Ground visits are proceeding as originally scheduled on Thursday Sept 24 (see details above).
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - A little girl in Heidi braids sat on her father's knee in a hotel lobby, hesitating before answering his question.
"How do you feel about what I do?" Stan Caldwell asked.
"Um," replied Haley Caldwell, 9. "I'm glad I have a dad who will do this, but when this happens, I wish you didn't have this job."
Somewhere in Kuwait is a big, steel trunk the Army shipped, filled with what Caldwell figured he'd need. But his Tupelo, Miss., family gave him more as they prepared to send him off to war today.
A slumber party prayer. A grandfather's Bible. The brush of a 7-month-old's palm across his face.
And the steeled, if tearful, support of a wife, three children and two parents.
Throughout this city this week, wives shopped with their husbands for last-minute items like baby wipes and granola bars; the sniffling of weeping family members mingled with the sound of clattering dishes at Shoney's, and soldiers barely out of their teens got tattoos and marriage licenses before heading to the desert.
Caldwell, 34, a helicopter pilot with the Mississippi National Guard, is among thousands leaving nearby Fort Campbell, Ky., for Kuwait.
Nearly every day for the past few weeks, planes from the 101st Airborne Division have spirited away their human cargo from families promising letters, care packages and prayers.
Today, it's Caldwell's turn, and, today, the prospect of war will radically alter one more family's life.
In this family is a father who retired from the same Guard unit his son is in just two months before it was deployed, one who wishes he could trade places with his son.
In this family is a mother whose father died when his B17 went down during World War II, a mother who tearfully presented her war-bound son a pocket-size New Testament her father got from a Sunday School teacher in 1933.
And in this family are a wife who, once the plane lifts off, will start planning her husband's welcome home party, a son who will start a "hero's wall" at his school, a daughter who will miss shooting hoops with her dad and a baby whose father likely won't see her first steps.
As he boards that plane, Caldwell will take a photo album with pictures of all of them, plus a mutt named Sadie and a huge cat named Binx. A devout Baptist, he'll take a medal of the Virgin Mary given by a Catholic friend.
And, whatever happens, he'll take a belief he's doing something to make his family and country safer.
"In the big picture, even if something happens to me, I know we'll be successful in our task if we can prevent anything from happening to my family or to the people of my country," he said.
"If we can do that, then, yes, it will be worth it."
His parents, Robert Caldwell, who flies medical helicopters in Memphis, and Adrian Caldwell, both 60, describe the younger of their two sons as the outgoing one, the one who as a teenager jokingly threatened to make selling Polo shirts his calling.
The other, Robert, commands a maintenance unit at a Navy base in Jacksonville, Fla.
During his last hours with his family, Caldwell's mood varied as the Army changed departure schedules.
His personal items packed and the Kiowa Warrior helicopters he flies already overseas, Caldwell attended briefings and spent time with his parents, wife Ranae, 31, son Taylor, 11, daughter Haley and 7-month-old Gracie.
Today is the day the family has dreaded since Caldwell was deployed last month.
Unlike the anonymous departures urban Guard members experience, this time more than 1,000 showed up at the Tupelo armory to see the 22 pilots off.
Among them were 80 of Caldwell's friends and family.
Since then, his family has received cards, gifts, babysitting offers and inclusion on prayer lists across the region.
Friends cry when they see the family, school counselors console the children.
And, at 2:30 a.m. during a friend's slumber party two weeks ago, Haley's friends noticed she seemed sad, so they interrupted their giggling to join hands in prayer.
The Caldwells agreed to let a reporter and photographer share their final stateside days together.
It's important, they thought, that those without family in the military understand what they're experiencing.
"It's important just so they know the sacrifices these people are making," Ranae Caldwell said.
"They're leaving their children and their daily routines and the comforts of home to go to the des ert.
"I don't think most people think about it or appreciate it as they should."
"And I don't think people know what the children go through," added Taylor. "And they need to respect that."
As the group ate fajitas and pizza for lunch Thursday, Gracie's dad played with her, and other patrons smiled at her squeals.
Caldwell left the base briefly to meet the family at Applebee's and announced quietly that, finally, he knew for sure when he was leaving.
At the other end of the table, his father put his head in his hands.
"I'm doing terrible," he said. "I have such disbelief that this is really happening. It's hard to accept. When I see him, I see my little boy, but I also see a damned fine helicopter pilot."
As he talked, Stan Caldwell read Haley's composition entitled "The Person I Admire." It was about him.
"The most important thing I've learned from him is to look at the good in people and situations," she wrote.
"That's really good," Caldwell told her, dabbing his eye.
That night, the family gathered in the hotel lobby and wished fellow Mississippi Guard pilot David Bledsoe of Collierville well as he prepared to leave.
Bledsoe, 54, is a decorated Vietnam veteran who never seriously thought he'd be called to combat again.
Also leaving Friday were Michael Purvis of Cordova and Mark Gardner of Oxford, Miss. On Thursday, Tupelo Guard unit members Greg Timmons, of Tupelo, and Memphis's Dennis Osborne left.
After saying goodbye to Bledsoe, the Caldwells were both serious and light as they talked of the separation.
"When I'm over there I'll be looking at my watch thinking they're getting home from school now, wondering if they're out playing and just wishing I was there," Stan Caldwell said.
"At least you'll know what we're doing," his wife replied.
Taylor said he'll think of his dad when he looks at the watch he got for Christmas, and Haley had an idea.
"I think I'll have an imaginary friend," she said with a laugh. "When I pour a glass of milk, I'll pour another one for my dad."
In a few months, the family, minus Stan, will load up the Ford Expedition and head for Florida, where they'll join Robert for a trip to Disney World.
In the meantime, Ranae will continue the family tradition of popping popcorn, starting a fire, turning off the living room lights and watching a movie with her kids.
Or maybe the video Stan made of himself talking to them just before leaving.
"I asked him to," Ranae explained. "So that when I'm really missing him bad, I could turn it on and just see him and hear him."
Laura Coleman Noeth
By Adrian Leist Caldwell and CW3 Stan Caldwell
March 20 was my grandson Taylor’s 12th birthday. His dad had promised to wish him a happy birthday from his base at Camp Udairi, Kuwait. The night of March 19, we sat with our daughter in law and granddaughter, Haley, huddled under blankets which still did not stop our shivering as we watched the news of the first waves of "Shock and Awe." We felt sure Taylor would not receive the anxiously awaited call from his dad. The call, in fact, did come in late in the day of March 20 as Stan had promised.
Taylor’s dad, our son, CW3 Stan Caldwell was one of thousands of National Guardsmen who had been activated to serve during "Operation Iraqi Freedom." He is one of 22 OH58D Kiowa Warrior pilots who were assigned to the 1/159 AVN, Tupelo, Mississippi. Stan reported to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky to the 101st Aviation
|Brigade on February 4, 2003, the 59th anniversary of the death of his Grandfather, S/Sgt. Leroy Leist. S/Sgt. Leist was KIA on the return leg of a mission to Frankfurt, Germany with the 100th Bomb Group.
Stan’s grandfather is one of over 78,000 men still listed as Missing in Action. He remains to this day, at his battle station somewhere off the coast of Holland with five of his fellow crewmembers.
Stan serving as a Maintenance Test Pilot flew aircraft between Baghdad and Kuwait providing maintenance support to the 2/17th CAV. After repairing the last battle-damaged aircraft, he left Kuwait on June 14th to rejoin the 2/17th CAV for the remainder of his tour in Al Quyyarah, Iraq. Al Quyyarah, nicknamed "Q-West" is located just south of Mosul.
In Al Quyyarah, he was reunited with six of his fellow Mississippi pilots. During this assignment, he and CW2 Dennis Osborne, also of the Tupelo unit were on what he described as a regular recon mission on July 22, 2003, when they received a call from the ground commanders for assistance on an important mission.
Here is an excerpt from his diary about this mission.
"It was a two (2) ship mission with CW4 Doug Ford and Maj. Blackman (in the second ship). We took off at 1100 hrs and proceeded along the road from about 30 minutes. We had turned north and were practicing CCA’s, a maneuver where you come in low, do a steep climb, then nose the aircraft over towards the target. The loss of airspeed at the top of the steep climb allows you to just hang there. As you dive towards the target, it improves accuracy.
Around 1130 hrs, we received the call that STRIKE 6 had wounded and was taking fire. They asked for air support from QRF (Quick Reaction Force). We were 18 minutes away when we were ordered to Mosul, Iraq. We arrived and could see the ground machine gun rounds impacting the side of the building and the smoke rising from where they had hit it with MK-19s.
We were immediately cleared "hot" and Ozzy and I started our run. We did our CCA aimed at the large house and nothing! (The rockets didn’t fire.) We broke right and came around for another run. The second aircraft hit the top of the house with a 2.75 inch rocket. The roof was so thick that it did no damage.
We came in hot with .50 Cal machine guns and made three or four runs firing at the front of the house and through the windows. A cease fire was called and the ground troops entered the building.
We got back around 3:30 and found out what the whole thing was about. The Special Ops guys had been watching this house for two days from a tip of a local Iraqi. Uday and Qusay, Hussain, the sons of Saddam, were in the house. Number 2 and 3 of the 55 Most Wanted. Later that night it was confirmed they were dead."
Stan returned to Ft. Campbell, Ky on 23 August, 2003. He and Dennis were greeted as the true heroes they are, although they play this down totally. They, as all veterans of any war, feel that they were just part of a mission simply doing their duty as they were trained.
Television and newspaper media interviewed them as they passed through the gates to greet their wives and children. Stan had not seen his little daughter, Gracie, since she was 5 months old. Now, she was 13 months old and walking. Dennis had not seen his little daughter, Lucy at all. She was born three months prior to his return from Iraq.
Our family received an invitation from Haley Barbor, gubernatorial candidate to attend a Presidential Luncheon, September 12, 2003, Jackson, Mississippi, as his special guests. Stan and Dennis were also invited to meet Air Force One at the Air National Guard Base to personally meet President George W. Bush and join his motorcade to the Mississippi Coliseum for the luncheon.
As President Bush greeted Stan and Dennis upon his arrival, both were presented with the Presidential Coin bearing the seal of the President of the United States on one side and the White House on the other. As the President presented the coins to each of these young soldiers, he said, "This coin is reserved for heroes. Thank you for your service."
I think that his grandfather, S/Sgt. Leroy "Babe" Leist would be very proud of his grandson if only he knew. I know he does.
Adrian Leist Caldwell, daughter of S/Sgt. Leroy E. Leist
As Veteran’s Day 2005 approached and I recalled this past 100th Bomb Group reunion in Pittsburgh, all of a sudden I had a sinking feeling, you know, that feeling deep down in the pit of your stomach. It was that moment that made me realize just how quickly the years are flying by and there’s no way to catch them. Yup, within the next few years there’s going to be a lot of changes.
As the country celebrated November 11th, President Bush spoke out and recounted the days and events leading up to this country’s participation in the restructuring of Iraq and the responsibility we endure as we send troops all over the world in the name of democracy. Was this the same US that sent our boys over seas during WWII?
Prior to this Veteran’s day I noticed a few articles appearing in our local papers reaching out to our servicemen that had returned from previous wars and conflicts to fill the empty chairs and tables at the local VFW Halls. Where are all the veterans? Are the WWII Vets the only ones, the proud few that remain, that are certain their buddies gave their lives for the prize of democracy?
This group, the "Bloody Hundredth", as they were known back in ’44, were no more than 22 years old and the center of the Army Air Corp’s efforts, the fighters, the pilots, the gunners, the mechanics, the cooks, coming from all corners of the US, now based in England over there at the Thorpe Abbotts air base. This day they came with canes, walkers and hearing aids gazing at each display table assembled with the loving care of each exhibitor. As we all walked around glancing at the aged bomber jackets and assorted memorabilia, medals of bravery and other artifacts, all remnants of a long ago era, reminiscing about the 8 odd months they spent flying over, Berlin, Brunswick, Leipzig and Strasbourg among other German held areas, personal stories abounded.
The ‘Lucky Bastards Club" is the certificate you earned when you made it back alive from the missions you flew. Each time you returned another bomb was painted on the back of your Army issued leather jacket and if by chance you actually hit your target, a Nazi plane or installation a swastika was painted on that bomb. Hooray for those brave young men, now most over 80. There were plenty of stories to go around and even as the details faded their pride in their mission was clear. It was the 8th Air force, the 100th Bomb Group and my Dad’s squadron #351. 35 missions, flying day and night for almost 4 straight months, Sergeant Louis Tekel, ball turret gunner in Glenn Rake’s crew, locked into a metal ball attached to the underbelly of the B17 fighter plane, knees to his chin looking through the clear plastic with guns ready. There was no heat, only heated uniforms that lost their warmth most often before the plane returned to its base. Keen eyesight and a steady hand were characteristic of the fighting men in the Army Air Corp, now no longer evident. As the veterans entered the opening night dinner, they walked around shaking hands and reintroducing themselves, their spouses and their children. To the best of their recollection they spoke about the past reunions and talked about the others, the ones no longer with us.
I know that the next reunion will be in Nashville and as we will all be there, the ones that remain to retell the personal stories, the stories of the tragedy they witnessed as bombs rained down relentlessly upon the historic cities of Europe and joy they recalled as they returned home from this, the people’s war, fought by citizen soldiers demonstrating their democratic values, uniting this country through their sheer patriotism.
We’re so proud of you dad, our hero. We will always remember.
More Memories From Splasher Six.
By Les Bratt – Wireless Operator/Air Gunner RAF
Volume 35, Spring 2004, No. 1
As part of my training to be a Wireless Operator / Air Gunner, I was posted to the Head Quarters Bomber Command base at High Wycombe for a few months.
This was a very busy, Top Secret and mostly underground. Officers from various countries were everywhere, wearing unknown uniforms, confusing rank identification. To prevent any problems, all saluting was banned. I believe this was the only RAF base where this situation occurred.
In the Autumn of 1943 I was posted to the Frenze Hall, Splasher Six beacon site. This was a complete change in every way to the type of service I had been used to. Arriving by train at Diss station, I was picked up by a small wagon and took me to where I was billeted with Mrs. Bellington at Mount Pleasant in Diss. I was informed that all the airmen at Frenze Hall were scattered around Diss and Scole in similar homes as there was no RAF airfield nearby.
The following morning the Sergeant in charge at the Frenze Hall took be to the transmitting station at Frenze Hall. The transmitters were of various types including the R.C.A and G.E.C. models. These were fixed inside single decked buses and huts in a field near to the Hall. The sets were very noisy when operating and due to the power, a field of electricity was involved inside the buses. During the damp weather conditions when entering the buses by the sliding doors, the person involved would receive quite a nasty shock by earthing the R.F. power.
At night everywhere was completely blacked out and it was difficult to get around. I believe about twenty-five airmen including a Sergeant were on the site and worked on a shift system. Frenze Hall was part of a line of transmitting stations along the east coast. Each one had a coded number to identify it’s position out in Morse code followed by a long note. This enabled the operator to in the returning aircraft to tune the radio receiver to the signal and was guided back to the home base.
Constant checks were made during the transmissions. The German transmitters often picked up British signals and beamed them back on another wave length, which could cause confusion. Upon realizing the situation, the signals at Frenze Hall were quickly mutilated to warn the bomber crews of the danger. I believe the British transmitters did a similar activity to confuse the German aircraft whilst bombing this country. The signals from Frenze Hall were very powerful and at time while sitting in the billet at Mount Pleasant, the electric fire illuminated with a pulse in time to the Splasher Six beacon call sign.
We often had complaints from people living near Frenze Hall that the signals blotted out the radio programs at times. It was a joke at the time that someone had contacted Thorpe Abbotts to ask if the mission to Europe could be planned not to coincide with popular radio shows!
Although the airmen at Frenze Hall were all fully qualified wireless operators, I was never called upon to send or receive any Morse code messages. Sometimes during the bad weather, no flying took place so the signals were not required. During these times the shifts were very boring as the social side was short of equipment. A battered old Billiards table was used often and many fortunes were won and lost.
By mutual agreement, shifts were changed to enable the operators to fix longer periods off duty, mostly at weekends. I had the unfortunate experience of being home in Stoke-On-Trent without an official weekend leave pass. When the invasion of Europe took place on D-Day. I quickly hitch hike the 200 miles from Stoke to Diss expecting the place to be really busy and perhaps be put on a charge. However, I was informed that nothing unusual happened.
Early one morning I was cycling to Frenze Hall and I counted around 370 bombers orbiting very high taking up battle positions. I wondered which group of aircraft would be bombing using the beam I would be transmitting. It made me feel that in some little way I was helping them. We were issued with a Sten machine gun while at the site to defend ourselves with should an airborne invasion by German paratroopers take place. However, we were never instructed how to use them and never had any ammo issued! The Sergeant I/C at the site owned a .22 rifle and quite a lot of shooting was done at the Pheasants that returned in the evening through the field we were in,
The RAF issued us with a cycle to get us to the site and back to the billet. They had to be guarded carefully as lots of cycles were taken by the airmen from Thorpe Abbotts to get back from Diss to the airfield. After a night out or a dance at the local Corn Hall, the men were not able to walk all the way so the cycles were borrowed without permission, ridden to the camp and then parked neatly in a pile by a large hedge. The cycles were collected the following morning by the owners.
The RAF operators formed a cricket team and we were invited to several placed for friendly games. One came was versus the Secondary School in Diss, in which we won, and I had the dubious honor of bowling out almost all of the young school boys. I also took part in two games against the RAF airmen at Pulham St. Mary. During these games their fast bowler succeeded in causing the ball to rear up and strike my face and I needed to visit the hospital. I believe there was an American PX hut in the town of Eye but I’m not certain of its position. It was for recreational purposes and the RAF were invited to use its facilities.
Diss was always busy in the evenings and the pubs were full of Americans and men for the British 8th Army who were station nearby. They had returned to England from North Africa, waiting to start the second front invasion of Europe. On several occasion trouble would break out between the Forces due to drinking too much, and a bit of jealousy with regard to the young ladies in town. The RAF airmen from Frenze Hall were rather left out of things at dances because the young ladies preferred to talk about distant exciting places such as, Italy, North Africa, or Arizona and New York, etc.
The general people in Diss and Scole were very kind and friendly to us and we all were invited to quite a number of homes. The cinema in Diss was a very popular venue and several amusing incidents took place when some the American films showed places known by the men from Thorpe Abbotts. My friend and I were invited to the airfield several times and also taken for a meal in the Sergeants Mess. We sampled food there that was never seen for quite sometime in RAF camps. It was quite a sobering experience when the airmen pointed out to us group photographs of crew that had not returned to base just days ago.
I always admitted the light leather jackets issued to the bomber crews, and a particular crew member said he could get one for me. However, when I visited the airfield two days later I was informed that he also did not return from a mission. I know now that he became a POW and returned later after the war to his home in New Jersey. For a brief period I was sent to the Splasher site at Mundesley and I stayed with the local Post Office lady with the other operators that were there before me. We were not allowed on to the beaches as they were all heavily mined to prevent enemy troops landing.
I never really settled there and I was pleased when I returned to Diss again.