mysteries and motorcycles

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

With the pending release of the movie "Red Tails," I felt it appropriate to post my humble tribute to these brave Americans. The fo;;owing is a chapter from my novel, The First Domino “Lieutenant Springfield?” The body didn’t match the voice. The man standing in Otis’s doorway was old and small in stature. The voice that had called his name had been youthful and booming. He looked to be at least in his seventies, possibly older. His skin was as black as the telephone on the desk. He wore an expensive looking suit and wore it well, like he was used to it. He was smiling. Otis stood up and returned the smile. “Yes, that would be me. What can I do for you today?” The old man moved into the office and sat in the chair that Otis had gestured toward. “I’m John Reid. A friend of yours tracked me down and told me that I might be interested in meeting you. I must say, you’re an absolute picture of your father.” “My father? You knew my father?” The man smiled again. “Certainly did. Probably about as well as anybody except your mother. Never met her though. I sure heard a lot about her. I served with your father in the army. We were part of a huge plan to cut off supply lines to the German troops. We flew together. Faced the enemy together. We were flying together that last day, the day he died. He was the squadron leader and I was on his wing that day. There was a little action over the target, nothing too intense, just a couple of one-o-nines that we managed to chase away with no real damage. I don’t think we scored any serious hits and none of our guys took any punishment either. We didn’t get jumped until the bombers had made their run and had headed home. They were way ahead of us. We were bringing up the rear. We got into a fight with over a dozen German fighter planes that were going after our bombers. We were low on fuel and ammunition. Actually some of that worked to our advantage because it made us lighter and more maneuverable. We managed to take out five of their planes and send them running for cover. It was a ferocious fight but probably didn’t last more than ten minutes. One of our most decisive victories. But we took some losses as well. I was hit and I was wounded too, but was able to make it back to the airfield. Your father had over a hundred and fifty missions under his belt, a really seasoned flier. We were great friends. It was such a waste. He was such a good man and so young. War just doesn’t leave much time for grieving. You stay real close to your buddies and you give them everything you have but if one of your friends, no matter how close, goes down, you pay your respects and you move on. Otherwise you’d be doing nothing but mourning. There would be plenty of time for grieving once the war was over. I never had the chance to talk to anyone in his family, to tell them how I felt. That’s why I wanted to see you. From what I’ve been told, your father never even knew about you. Anybody ever tell you that?” Otis nodded. “Ours was a tight and loyal group. Things were tough for us in those days. It was a different world, with all the racism back then. Of course most of the white guys didn’t even know that they were racist. Hell, I don’t think that the word racist had even been invented yet. It’s just the way things were. The Army was segregated. It wasn’t a hatred thing, more like separatist or something on that order. But we were definitely not considered equals. Of course, the fact that we were in the middle of a war didn’t make things any easier. A lot of our guys were worried that a black group would be used for nothing more than cannon fodder, but I knew better because we flew airplanes and airplanes were expensive. The Army couldn’t afford to go sending them out on suicide missions, even the older ones that they gave us when we first went into combat. I knew that they’d train us to do everything we could to survive and bring their equipment back. We had some of the best pilots in the air. Did you know that our outfit has the best record ever in aerial combat? In the history of warfare, there’s no other fighter group in anybody’s army that even comes close. We can carry our heads high for the rest of our lives. We did our job better than anybody in the world has ever done it, before or since. After the war, I decided to finish my education and went on to do a lot of post-graduate work and eventually worked my way up to full professor at Michigan State University. I taught history. I’m retired now and me and my wife are back at my home right here in Detroit.” Otis leaned back in his chair. “I really appreciate you taking the time to stop by and chat and I certainly want to hear a lot more about my father. As a matter of fact, I’d like my whole family to learn more. One of these evenings, perhaps you and your wife would be our guests for dinner at our place. My Marla is a wonderful cook and she loves to entertain.” “Perhaps. Maybe when you get home from Italy.” Otis blinked. “You know about me going to Italy? How’d you find out about that?” The old man grinned. “Your friend, Michael O’Conner, the man who found me, told me that you’d be going over there on police business. He said that you planned to visit your father’s grave while you were there.” “I see,” said Otis. “How did he find you anyway?” “Oh, I don’t imagine it was too difficult. As a matter of fact, there’s a Tuskegee Airmen museum right in Detroit at the old Fort Wayne down on Jefferson Avenue. You should go and visit the place. Get a feel for your heritage. There’s a fairly large group of us old Tuskegee Airmen in the Detroit area and we’re accessible through the Internet. We’re not hard to find at all. Once your friend made contact with the group, he put the word out that he wanted to contact anyone who might have known Lieutenant Isaac Springfield. That’s when I stepped forward. You sure do look a lot like him.” “Well, I’m going to Italy on police business. I’m hoping that I can find enough time to visit the cemetery but I’ll have to see how it goes when I get over there.” The old man’s face took on a very serious expression. “Young man, I hate to preach, but you owe it to your father to at least stop by and leave some flowers or a little flag or something to show that you appreciate his sacrifice. If the truth be known, you owe it to all of our fighting men of all races, the fallen as well as those who survived. Unless you’ve been there, unless you’ve faced death, unless you’ve fought shoulder to shoulder with other kids who were just as terrified as you, you can’t possibly fully understand the meaning or the depth of that sacrifice. No doubt that your police business is important. Just don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that it’s more important than what our boys did there. Yes, you have an obligation to your badge but you also have a debt to those who gave their lives for your freedom. A lot of those boys are buried in that cemetery over there, and your father is one of them.” Otis sat with his head down for several seconds and finally said. “I’ll make time. You’re right, absolutely right. I’ll visit the cemetery and I’ll say a prayer at my father’s grave.” “Oh, and another thing” Otis looked up. “Yes?” “Say hello for me”

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