May 13 2012

My apologies that I'm falling behind in my correspondence, and will endeavor to do better!

After Charley and I left Portsmouth, we drove to the 19th century charming south coast resort town of Bournemouth, where we based ourselves for four days.

During that time, Charley hosted dinner for his southernmost brother Sherwood Rangers and their families at our Fin-de-Siecle, family-owned hotel (red wallpaper, white linen tablecloths, and scarlet velvet upholstered chairs). It was apparent that Charley had been taken on not only as honorary member by the Sherwoods in attendance, but has been embraced as a member of the family. As the Old Bold Pilots in Oceanside have also demonstrated in word and deed, here was another example of WW2 combat veterans and former adversaries forming bonds of the deepest sort of friendship.

On Sunday, we visited the grave of Charley's closest Sherwood brother, Ken Ewing, who had fought against the Afrika Korps in Tunisia, and who had welcomed Charley to the Sherwood Rangers Regiment family so warmly twenty years ago. Ken is keenly missed by his family and friends since his passing two years ago. At his grave, Ken's children regaled us with stories about his misadventures until the tears rolled down my cheeks. I was so sorry I had never gotten the chance to meet such a brave and courageous soldier, and funny and warm-hearted father, grandfather, and friend.

After Ken we visited and interviewed Bert, who had been one of the few lucky "swimming tank" crew members to successfully land at Gold Beach (and not at the bottom of the Atlantic) during D-Day. Bert had fought through Africa with the Sherwoods before being part of the Sherwood charge across Europe in 1944, when he was wounded and lost most of his eyesight. His injuries did not stop him from becoming a professional classical musician in London after the war.

Monday was our first day of rest in weeks, and sorely needed, as the schedule had been testing both Charley's and my endurance, although he never let it show.

Tuesday we toured the exhibit halls and back sheds of the Bovington Tank Museum with the curator and chief archivist, marvelling at their wonderful collection of tracked vehicles, a good portion of which still run. Their collection of WWI tanks is truly formidable, and some of them have been only recently put out of action by increasing metal fatigue and wear caused by moving their massive weight under their own power nearly 100 years after they were originally in combat.

Of course we visited the Panzer III's and IV, the tanks used by Afrika Korps, but also saw a DD Sherman swimming tank with original canvas screen, two King Tigers, and the formidable Jagdtiger, of which only about 100 were made at the end of the war. George and I had met the 96-year-old former commander of one of these massive beasts at the tank reunion in Germany in 2010, but he passed away before we could properly interview him. That loss of his story still pains me today.

Wednesday Charley and I stopped at the Royal Navy submarine museum on our way back to London. Charley admires the courage of submariners, as we all should, and I was game for adventure. After touring the museum and looking through the real periscopes out into Portsmouth Harbor, we climbed in and around two real British subs, one of them built around 1900.

Charley is indefatiguable, and I do hope that I manage half as much as he does at age 88. But alas, Thursday he flew home to Germany while I flew on to the Air Forces Escape and Evasion reunion in Albuquerque.

Here I have met incredible American airmen downed behind enemy lines in Europe who successfully escaped capture by the Germans, and some of the French, Dutch, and Belgians who helped them. In one of those fortuitous chance encounters I met a B-24 pilot shot down on the same bombing run as Bob Sweatt. Ed Miller was in the 93rd Bomb Group, and had a harrowing and magnificent story of walking in full leather flight suit past German soldiers multiple times in rural French villages and towns. Either he was one of the luckiest men alive, or hiding in plain sight really does work, or maybe it was a large dose of both in delightful, comic combination.

Ed met Bob at his first AFEES reunion decades ago simply by choosing a random empty seat - the one next to Bob. In conversation they found they had come down on the same run and had even been enjoying occupied Paris at the same time while waiting for the opportunity to return back to England.

In the midst of talking to these fascinating men and women, and sharing notes with other researchers, the time here in Albuquerque has passed all too quickly. Today I fly home to San Diego, and Wednesday I can't wait to see my Old Bold friends.

Until then, with all my fondest greetings,



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