I’ve written about a couple of World War II veterans groups that continue to have regular meetings – the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, who meet the third Tuesday of every month at The Terrace restaurant in Walnutport, and the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II, who meet quarterly at the City View Diner in Whitehall.
Last week I finally got around to another group, called I Was Shot At, whose members are Army Air Force veterans of World War II and meet the first Thursday of every month at the City View. These are guys who flew on B-17 Flying Fortresses, B-24 Liberators, B-26 Marauders, P-51 Mustangs, P-47 Thunderbolts, even C-47 Gooney Birds. Their group has been around since 1991, so what’s my excuse for not going earlier?
They meet for breakfast. They’re being served by 9 a.m. That’s asking a lot for an old newshound who works at night. But after I was invited by a fellow member of Calvary Moravian Church in Allentown, Milton Fett, and Calvin Frantz of Allentown, both from bomber units, I forced myself to get up and out of the house, got to the diner, sat with a dozen ex-airmen in their 80s and beyond and enjoyed a few stories, as well as coffee and a short stack of pancakes.
Calvin lent me a folder two-and-a-half inches thick that serves as the official record of I Was Shot At, or IWSA. It has a roster of more than 150 men, many of whom have since “earned their eternal wings.” It also has copies, carefully preserved, of newspaper, magazine and newsletter stories about the group and the war as it was fought in the air.
It was good to see my employer, The Morning Call, has had a bunch of stories about IWSA and its individual members over the years, from the likes of writers Jim Kelly, Stan Schaffer, Frank Whelan and Paul Carpenter. There’s even one I did in 2003 — Frank Speer’s account of his experiences as a P-51 fighter pilot in Europe, headlined “I could feel the bullets hitting my plane.” http://www.mcall.com/news/warstories/all-frankspeer,0,2668864.story Speer has written three books, Wingman, The Debden Warbirds and One Down, One Dead.
Looking down the roster, I saw familiar names: the late Sam Benscoter, a B-24 bombardier/navigator, and the late Ed Glowka, a P-47 pilot, worked in The Morning Call newsroom many years ago; I never met them but knew of them. There’s B-17 pilot Lee Leaser, whom I interviewed in 1999 http://www.mcall.com/news/warstories/all-earlleaser,0,2607912.story. He died this year. Bob Reichard, a B-24 bombardier in WWII, told me his Korean War story in 1999 http://www.mcall.com/news/warstories/all-robertreichard,0,6303383.story. A prolific chronicler of his experiences, Bob wrote a book, One Soldier’s Story, and has a website, http://www.456thbombgroup.org/reichard.html. He and I have stayed in touch.
My friend Wendall Phillips, a C-47 radio operator, is on the list. He was a POW of the Germans and later served in the China-Burma-India Theater, where he was taken prisoner by the Japanese. Chris Showalter served with the Flying Tigers in China and painted the shark’s mouths on the fighter planes. He told me his story in 2008. http://www.mcall.com/news/warstories/all-chrisshowalter,0,2301120.story
Regular attendance at the IWSA breakfasts has fallen off over the years. But you can still hear fascinating stories from the dozen or so onetime fliers who show up. So come join them sometime for an hour-and-a-half of fellowship, and shake hands with history.
It’s worth getting up for.