Weep No More
“When sorrows come, they come not single spies, But in battalions.”
William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5.
Memorial Day came and went. June 6th was the 68th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy in World War II. The Internet was awash in reminiscences by surviving veterans. Still, I just couldn’t seem to write about the veteran who was on my mind.
A longtime friend, one I’ve known since we were a couple of skinny high school kids, died on January 9, just a few days after his 87th birthday. He was the last member of his B-29 crew to die. In an e-mail a year ago he wrote that the next to last survivor of his crew had died and he wept when he got the news.
I like to think he will weep no more, that he and his buddies are together in the next life – young again, fit and full of the old can-do spirit.
My high school friend, Le Triplett, was a radar-navigator on a B-29 stationed in the Pacific. Before he was old enough to vote he had flown on 33 bombing runs over Japan, many of them in a plane named The Gamecock.
He steadfastly refused to tell me about his experiences, except for one brief story about firebombing Tokyo. That air raid was said to be the single most destructive air raid of the war, and it was during that raid that American flyboys encountered something new to them – the jet stream.
Le’s recollections of the March 1945 raid over Tokyo:
On our first raid on an aircraft plant at OTA we hit the jet stream, something we had never heard of. We were on the bomb run for over 30 minutes, bucking head winds and practically standing still according to ground speed, and the sky was buzzing with Jap fighters. Who knows where our bombs landed.
Weather and the jet stream made our first missions a big waste. That’s when (Gen. Curtis) LeMay took command and sent us in on low level night raids with fire bombs.
The raid ovcr Tokyo on March 10 — I have never been so scared in my life. Our plane was tossed around like a leaf. We were caught in thermals, winds rushing up, downdrafts pulling you down at high speed. The pilot and co-pilot really bent the controls bringing us out of a dive. I thought we had bought the farm.
When Le came home his troop ship sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, a sight he never forgot. He moved to Colorado and enrolled in college under the G.I. Bill of Rights. There he met and married a beautiful girl named Nancy, and they raised a family in Greeley, Colorado. Le enjoyed a long and productive career in the field of education. For years he attended the high school reunion at Moss Consolidated High School near Holdenville, Oklahoma, and contributed books to the school library. He also attended the annual reunions of his bomb group.
From the World Wide Web:
Firestorm over Tokyo
“The 334 B-29s that bombed Tokyo on March 9 – 10, 1945 did so with impunity releasing some 2,000 tons of bombs. The fires that raged joined and created a firestorm that burned out 16 square miles of the city – killing 83,000 people and injuring 41,000 more. 267,171 buildings and structures were destroyed leaving a million people homeless. It turned out to be the single most destructive air raid of the war.”
1) Gamecock’s original crew
Front row: second from left, Le Triplett, radar-navigator.
Back row: second from left, Henry Berg, radio operator; second from right, Eric Gran, co-pilot, later Aircraft Commander on Gamecock’s fatal flight.
Gamecock photo courtesy of Dan Fay
2) Nancy and Le Triplett, Pat Browning and Carolyn Smith, Oklahoma City, June 23, 2005