Remembering Billy E. Garrett

20161111_223148My Dad passed away two days after Thanksgiving in 1990.

Most of his family had been with him on Thanksgiving day. It was a beautiful November that year. The weather was unseasonably warm and instead of worrying about drought we were grateful that the children could spend time releasing their energy outside.

Our smallish house was full of love and family; when Dad began failing on Friday we were able to say our goodbyes personally. Then on Saturday evening while we sang hymns, Dad peacefully went home.

A few years later my writer Mom published Remembering Billy E. Garrett. The cover featured a drawing of a B-17 by his grandson Aaron Morris. She had a book signing at the local book store. We all received a copy at Christmas that year.

For Mom life without her husband moved forward. Fortunately she had many interests and projects that kept her busy.

Then one day she received a phone call. A man asked her if she was the widow of Billy E. Garrett. She said she was. He identified himself as Lt. Col. Bill Sheaves Ret., one of Dad’s crew members on the Tar Fly, the B-17 he flew on in World War II.

Lt. Col. Sheaves explained that there was a model of the Tar Fly in a museum at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. Lt. Col. Sheaves invited us to join him for lunch and then he would give us a tour of the museum. He also mentioned a video that he wanted to share with us.

We were thrilled to meet with Lt. Col. Sheaves. He shared stories and information about the missions of the Tar Fly and the story of the last flight of the Tar Fly. The museum was fascinating.

There were displays that depicted a typical day in a prisoner of war camp. I learned things that day my Dad had never mentioned. My sense of Dad’s heroism grew.

Finally, we were invited into a video viewing room. There we were treated to the best part of an already exceptional day. We watched a video called The Last Flight of the Tar Fly. It told the story of that day in September 9, 1943 when German fighter planes shot down the Tar Fly. It indeed showed the actual videos of that aerial warfare and then the video of the crew of the Tar Fly being marched through a French street.

When we were finished watching the video a question occurred to me. Did they make these videos for every family of POW’s? When I asked my question I was told that no; that was not the case. In fact, this video was unique.

We left with DVD copies of The Last Flight of the Tar Fly for each member of the family and a heightened sense of the sacrifice that men and women make for our country.

The story of the Tar Fly is the story of many who have served. May it be a tribute to everyone who has given their all or has been willing to. God bless you.

Here is the link to The Last Flight of the Tar Fly.

 

The Last Flight of the Tar Fly

boeing-401844My dad was never healthy as long as I can remember.

He had been a prisoner of war for twenty-three months when the European part of World War II ended.

I grew up with a few stories of his experience but never understood the grim reality of his experience. The stories he did tell sounded more like jokes to us his children.

The most often told story was of cabbage soup. That was his daily diet.

He said that eventually the cabbage soup had worms in it. He told us of how at first he fished the worms out. Then with a bit of wry humor he said that he would stir them back in to “give them another chance.” Eventually, he said, he welcomed the extra protein.

I am guessing that his purpose was to reprove one of the finicky eaters at the table.

What the stories did for me was to minimize my understanding of what my dad suffered.

In 1990 Dad was dying and I was able to come back home and spend time with him during his last two months.

At that time a movie called Memphis Belle was released. Dad wasn’t able to go to a theater but PBS ran a documentary that Billy Wilder made about the actual last mission of the crew of the Memphis Belle. [The movie was based on the documentary. I have since seen the movie and the documentary is better by far.]

At the time, there was a policy that any B-17 crew than completed 25 missions would return home.

The catch was the Army Air Corp didn’t count your flight as a mission until you safely returned. And no crew had been able to complete 25 missions until the Memphis Belle.

Dad was a crew member of a B-17 called the Tar Fly. They only completed half a dozen missions. But they attempted fourteen. There were missions that ended when they had to turn around before reaching their target. There were a couple missions that ended in the English Channel.

And then there was the Last Flight of the Tar Fly.

They were shot down over France,on September 9, 1943, and the survivors spent twenty three months in a German prison .

Because Dad never made a big deal of it, I didn’t realize how serious it all was.

That all changed when I saw the Billy Wilder documentary. It’s strange to me but Dad watched every World War II movie; and there were plenty of movies about the air war. But until I saw the documentary I never realized that the crews of those planes were flying in bitterly cold conditions and that there was danger in taking off with a plane full of airplane fuel and bombs. They encountered fighter planes and anti-aircraft guns. The airplane could develop system failures as well.

It was a big deal when the Memphis Belle completed its twenty-fifth mission because of the many dangers the B-17 crews faced.

I am so grateful that I had time to realize all that and tell my father that he was a hero; to thank him for what he did.

I am grateful to all the men and women who serve our country in the military and law enforcement. Not all of them will have to eat wormy cabbage soup but they all live with the realization that they are putting their lives on the line. Not just if they are in combat or under fire on the job. Today they never know when someone will make them a target of their anger.

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Thank you for your service. Because of your sacrifice and bravery I am free.

God bless our veterans.