When poet Edward Field and I visited Washington, D.C. earlier this year to honor Jack Coleman Cook, Edward had the opportunity to sit for a Veterans History Project interview at the Library of Congress. Edward’s friend David Perrotta arranged for fellow Library of Congress staffer Owen Rogers to conduct and record the interview. My husband Bill and I were invited to sit in to watch the proceedings.
Ever so quietly with cell phones muted and seated comfortably out of camera range, we witnessed Edward recount his remarkable story of growing up in pre-WWII America as a gay Jewish man, his wartime service in the Army Air Forces, his post-war return to civilian life, and his journey to become a poet.
Owen Rogers was kind enough to share the recording with me and I was honored to have the opportunity to edit and present Edward Field’s Veterans History Project interview on YouTube.
Edward’s story is eye-opening. It shows us a time in America for which we can only feel shame for the actions of our forebearers upon a young man growing up in a neighborhood in which others felt his family didn’t belong. We see what it meant to be gay and Jewish in a long ago time that seems both so unlike our own time, yet so familiar, too. It is, at times, an emotional story. It is a story told through the heart of a poet.
Aside from being an award-winning poet, Edward Field is a WWII veteran who served as a navigator aboard a B-17 heavy bomber in the 546th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force.
Edward’s Veterans History Project interview was conducted and recorded by Owen E. Rogers, Library of Congress Liaison Specialist, at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., April 11, 2018.
Video photos courtesy of Edward Field, David Perrotta, Ryan Saylor, Delia Cook McBride, Ray Lustig and Susan Taylor.
Video editor Cindy Farrar Bryan of TheArrowheadClub.com.
Many thanks to Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman for honoring Jack Coleman Cook on the Floor of the House of Representatives April 12, 2018.
Links to information and previous The Arrowhead Club posts about Jack Coleman Cook and Edward Field
- Missing in Action, 1945
- Edward Field
- Jack Coleman Cook
- Jack Coleman Cook – Part 2
- An Honor for Jack Coleman Cook in the Congressional Record
- Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson Honors Jack Coleman Cook
- Congress Honors Jack Coleman Cook
- February 3, 1945 Mission to Berlin
- Video of poet Edward Field reading World War II
- World War II by Edward Field in print
- Delia’s interview on KARK
- Delia’s interview on Fox 16
- A Hero’s Hero
- The Boy Who Took My Place in the Water
- The Cook Family Scrapbook Holds the Answers
- Jack Coleman Cook’s personnel record with the 384th Bomb Group
- Edward Field’s personnel record with the 384th Bomb Group
- Robert Long crew photo album in the 384th Bomb Group Photo Gallery
Next week I will present “Cataract Op,” the unpublished WWII-related poem by Edward Field which he mentions in his Veterans History Project interview.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018
Late last year, 384th Bomb Group NexGen Christopher Wilkinson requested my help with a special project. Back in 2014, Chris sat down with Col. Robert E. Thacker in the Colonel’s home for a lengthy interview. Chris wanted to turn that raw interview footage into a video, but didn’t have the tools to do it himself. He knew I had dabbled in video production, so Chris asked if I would take his footage and some photos of the Colonel and put it all together. Colonel Thacker’s 100th birthday was approaching and Chris wanted to give the Colonel a copy of the interview on DVD as a birthday present. And Chris wanted to upload the video to YouTube so that he could share the interview with others.
I finished the video just in time for Col. Thacker’s birthday and Chris has now uploaded it to YouTube. It covers a lot of ground and is quite interesting. Before I began working on the project, I did not know anything about the experiences and accomplishments of Colonel Robert E. Thacker. The Colonel has led an amazing life and each story he tells tops the one he told previous.
Colonel Thacker was an important player in the 384th Bomb Group in WWII, which was Chris’s initial interest in interviewing him. But Thacker was so much more than a respected Deputy Commander of the Group as you will learn watching the video.
I’m happy I had the chance to be involved with the making of the video and I feel honored to have played my part in bringing Colonel Thacker’s story in his own words to the public.
If you’d like to view the video, it is on YouTube in two parts. These links will take you to YouTube to watch them.
Part 1 Topics and Highlights…
- 00:28 Growing up in El Centro, California
- 02:54 Early interest in aviation
- 03:42 Airplane modeling
- 04:32 High school
- 05:15 Entry in the Air Corps
- 10:50 Strategic bombing training
- 11:52 Family
- 13:05 The romance of flying
- 13:34 Marriage to Betty Joe
- 14:00 First assignment
- 16:43 Transition to B-17’s and Pearl Harbor
- 32:15 The Pacific Theater in WWII
Part 2 Topics and Highlights…
- 00:48 The Pacific Theater in WWII
- 08:05 The WWII Battle of the Coral Sea and a close call with the USS Chicago
- 11:00 Strategic bombing in the Pacific Theater
- 12:10 Repatriated back to the States to train B-17 crews
- 13:12 Thacker Provisional Group took forty B-17’s to North Africa and on into Foggia, Italy
- 15:05 A military man goes to Europe
- 16:20 Flying B-17’s with the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th AF out of Grafton Underwood, England in the WWII European Theater
- 31:25 Back to the States and reassignment
- 33:30 Flight Test Division Assignment at the Experimental Test Pilot Academy of the US Air Force at Wright Patterson in Dayton, Ohio
- 35:10 Flying the P-82 non-stop between Honolulu and New York City
- 43:50 Test pilot days with Chuck Yeager and Bob Hoover
Like I said, it’s a long interview, so get comfortable and sit back, put your feet up and take a look. You’ll learn a lot about the life and aviation career of Col. Robert E. Thacker. He’s a fascinating storyteller and will leave you wanting more.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018
A couple of months ago, I received a call from Todd Touton. Todd is the son of William F. Touton, a pilot with the 545th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group. Todd and I collaborated on the video, “A Tribute to the 384th Bomb Group in WWII.” I created the video from photos in my dad’s (George Edwin Farrar, 544th Bomb Squad of the 384th) personal collection and from the vast collection of photos from the 384th Bomb Group’s photo gallery. Todd provided the music, a song named “Damn Yankee,” which he co-wrote with Evan Wallach, and performs on the video.
Todd’s grandfather, Forrest C. Touton, fought in WWI. He was with the 128th Infantry of the 32nd Division.
Todd wanted me to help him create a video with a number of WWI photos he had collected from the National Archive in Washington, DC and the State Historical Society Collection in Madison, Wisconsin along with several from his grandfather’s personal collection. And he and Evan had a song named “Doughboys” that he wanted to set it all to music with.
The video, “A Tribute to the 32nd Division in WWI,” is finally finished and I uploaded it to YouTube earlier this week. If you want to take a little break from WWII history with me to go back a few years to WWI, please take a look. “A Tribute to the 32nd Division in WWI” can be viewed here.
And if you’d like to see “A Tribute to the 384th Bomb Group in WWII,” you can see that one here.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017
For quite some time I have played around with the idea of creating a tribute video to the 384th Bomb Group in WWII. The 384th’s photo gallery is overflowing with photos of the men who served with the group at Grafton Underwood from 1943 to 1945. All I needed was the right music to bring the photos to life. What with the complex copyright laws in the music field, I was perplexed as how to proceed, and put the project on hold.
A few months ago, a music CD arrived in my mail from fellow 384th Bomb Group Nex-Gen Todd Touton. Todd is the son of 384th pilot William Touton. The CD contained a dozen songs that Todd and his friend Evan Wallach, a bronze star Vietnam veteran, created. Evan wrote the lyrics and Todd put them to music and performed the songs.
One song in particular caught my attention – the one Todd dedicated to his father. “Damn Yankee” does not describe any particular mission. Todd and Evan chose the title “Damn Yankee” as it was the plane William Touton flew on his first mission as pilot of his own crew. Bill Touton began his 384th tour as co-pilot of the John Hunt crew, but November 29, 1944 found him in the pilot seat on a mission to Misburg, Germany to destroy an oil target.
For those not familiar with 384th Bomb Group aircraft history, there were several aircraft named Damn Yankee assigned to the group at different times.
The first was a B-17F with tail number 41-24557. 41-24557 had a relatively short life in the 384th – only thirteen missions before being shot down on December 1, 1943. Five of the crew were killed, four were taken POW, and the pilot, Bruce Sundlun (who would become Rhode Island’s 71st governor in 1991), was able to evade capture. For more information on Bruce Sundlun, click here.
Then there was B-17F tail number 42-29809, aka Queen Jeanie or Damn Yankee II. 42-29809 completed twenty-one missions with the 384th from September 26, 1943 to March 27, 1944. She was returned to the states in June of ’44.
And then finally, there was tail number 42-102518, the Damn Yankee that Bill Touton flew on his first mission as pilot. 42-102518 completed 135 combat missions with the 384th. She was a B-17G and her first mission was on April 20, 1944. She suffered damage on October 23 when she crashed after her landing gear collapsed upon returning from a training mission. There were no crew injuries. She was out for about three and a half weeks for repairs and then back on duty for almost two weeks before Bill Touton took the helm for his first flight in the pilot seat.
She continued to perform admirably through the end of the war and was then moved to Istres, France with the group to serve her last purpose, mapping duties. Sadly, after the war the last Damn Yankee was, like other B-17’s, destined for the scrap yard. Her last duty date was December 10, 1945. Like the song says, she was not much more than a metal tube, but she came alive with some oil and gas and lube. But that metal tube had one of the most important jobs of the war – to transport the young men of the 384th and their bombs through hostile skies into enemy territory and to bring them safely home, again and again. One hundred and thirty-five times.
As for the tribute video, it’s finished now and available on YouTube for viewing here.
I would like to thank the 384th Bomb Group site for permission to use photos from the photo gallery.
And I would especially like to thank Todd Touton and Evan Wallach for permission to use their song. “Damn Yankee” is a hauntingly beautiful song that evokes the emotions of a war where so many sons and husbands and fathers lost their lives in their fight for freedom.
Many were lost, but many survived to return home and get married and raise children. Bill Touton was one of the fortunate ones who completed his thirty-five missions and made it back. And like Bill’s son, Todd, those of us of the next generation that know of the sacrifice of the young men of WWII’s 384th Bomb Group firsthand want to share their stories with others. We do our best to honor them and it is our responsibility to remind future generations what their lives, and deaths, mean for all of us.
Some of the men of the 384th had only twenty years on this earth, others ninety, but they all leave their legacy – the ones that returned and the ones that didn’t. They embraced a responsibility to defend our country. They fought for our freedom and they won it. We will be forever grateful.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015