War Bonds

War Bonds Hero Dies on Memorial Day Weekend

War Bonds Louie Anderson

On Sunday, May 27, Louie Anderson slipped the bonds of Earth and flew to be with his beloved Barb.

He and Barbara enjoyed 71 years of marriage and because they lived close to my home, I got to spend quite a bit of time with them.

The photo below watched over me from my filing cabinet as I wrote War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.

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It shows Louie and his flight crew looking impossibly young and irrepressibly confident. Their 22-year-old leader, first pilot Louis Anderson sits on his haunches in the front row, far left. The photo was snapped as the 10 young men prepared to depart for Chelveston, England. It was May 1944 and the crew of the G-model Flying Fortress eagerly anticipated getting their licks in against the enemy.

Thirty-five missions later, Louis returned home, having lost only one of his original crew. Amazing because he said, “There was only one mission that we didn’t get shot at.”

Below is an excerpt from their chapter, “Keeping Time.”

“A ship in our left wing got hit,” Louis said. He and his men watched in dismay as the ball turret gunner fell from his turret and hung suspended by his foot. Many B-17 crew members considered the ball turret the worst position on the aircraft. The gunner was confined in a sphere fastened to the underside of the plane.

Louis cleared his throat. “I had to explain to the fellows that he was no longer with us.” After 45 seconds the gunner fell from the aircraft.

“We had quite a bit of difficulty talking the crew into getting back in the plane to fly a mission the next day,” he continued. “We had to have several conferences with the chaplain to explain that the gunner hadn’t been hanging there, suffering.”

When Barbara died in November, Louie’s already declining health, worsened.

He just wanted to be with her.

And he got his wish, but not before he was awarded a special Quilt of Valor made by the quilting group at Fairwood Retirement Community. Barbara was an avid quilter and she would be delighted to know of Louie’s gift.
He received the quilt, Saturday. He passed away Sunday.

And on Memorial Day I will be thinking of them both.

War Bonds with the Andersons at Fairwood

 

 

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War Bonds

The Bomber Pilot’s Secret

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Constance (Connie) and Wilson (Bill) Conaway on right

The first time I interviewed Bill and Connie Conaway, Bill didn’t talk much about serving overseas as a B-17 pilot during WWll, but his eyes lit up when he talked about the planes.

He recalled every aircraft he flew and who trained him on it.

But on a subsequent interview he told stories of harrowing missions over Germany, of how he nearly froze when a piece of shrapnel pierced his flight suit as he soared miles above the ground.

And then he told the story that has haunted him for 70 years.

His radio operator, Lynn, a good friend, was killed on a mission.

“The night before we left, we all had dinner together, and his wife and little baby came– that was the last time she saw him.”

He sighed, shaking his head.

“The airplane floor was covered with his blood,” he said, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. “I tried to get in touch with his wife for many, many years. I wanted to tell Lynn’s daughter about her dad.”

He was never able to find her when he returned to the States.

Bill Conaway died January 11.

His widow, Connie who served in the WAVES called to tell me the news. He died just days before their 71st anniversary.

She’s never forgotten how fortunate they’ve been. Many B-17 pilots never returned.  She said, “I’ve told him many times, ‘I’m lucky to have you, honey.'”

And I’m lucky that I was able to include their story in War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation. 

But mostly I’m grateful that this gruff pilot, turned school teacher, turned artist, trusted me with his secret.

During an interview he leaned forward in his chair, glanced at Connie and said, “I’ll tell you a secret; I love her more today than I ever have.”

CONAWAY LOVE

War Bonds

Thankful for 70 years of devotion

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I got a call last week from Barbara Anderson. She wanted to let me know that her husband of 70 years had suffered a stroke and that they were now in an assisted living facility. She also told me that her grandson-in-law, Col. David Banholzer had passed away on November 4 at age 47. She wanted to send some copies of War Bonds to his family.

Banholzer was the commander of Air Force One until cancer forced his early retirement. He and Louis loved to talk about flying. As told in chapter 28 of War Bonds, Louis was a B-17 pilot during WWll.

 

.War Bonds Louie AndersonI was so happy to visit with this dear couple. Louis’ speech has been somewhat affected by the stroke and his vision is poor. But he knew me and gave me his characteristic grin. His blue eyes still sparkle and he kept my hand firmly tucked in his.

As I prepared to leave, Barbara insisted on giving me some mementos from Banholzer’s time on Air Force One.

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But for me the true gift was more time and one more visit with these shining examples from the Greatest Generation.

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War Bonds

My Veterans

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That’s my dad in his airman’s uniform just hanging around in the mid 1950’s, long before I was born.

He joined the Air Force in the waning days of WWll and shook the dust of Luxora, Arkansas, off his feet, returning only briefly before being summoned back to duty by the advent of the Korean War.

I was born at Fairchild Air Force Base and by the time I was 5 had lived on Guam and in California before Dad decided to retire back in Spokane, Washington. I learned to stand at attention and salute the flag before I could walk.

Dad was proud of his two-plus decades of Air Force service. His love of God and country anchored our family and his passing in 1994 left a void in my heart that cannot be filled.

daddy

So, of course I fell in love with a man in uniform!

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I met my husband just after he graduated from flight school. He served in the Washington Army National Guard for 23 years– most of our married life. He’s duties took him to Panama and to Honduras, but he loved flying and mentoring other young pilots.

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My love for my father and for my husband gave me deep empathy and added insight when I begin to tell the stories of WWll soldiers, sailors, pilots and corpsmen.

I understood duty, courage, leadership and self-sacrifice because I’ve lived with it all my life.

Today I honor my father, Tom Burnett and my husband, Derek Hval.

Of all the veterans I’ve met, these are the two I love the most and their stories have made my own story so much richer.

Happy Veteran’s Day.