Friday, March 16, 2012

Picking Up the Feathers

(post copyright 2012, Dawn Weber)

I could always tell when he was thinking about the war. It hung in his blue eyes. Faraway, like clouds. Wet, like rain.

Some were born to fly. And some are forced to pick up the feathers. So it was with my grandfather, who served in the Army Air Force during World War II. He loved planes, loved flying, and had hoped to take the skies, to lead missions. He wanted to be a hero, like in the movies.

Life is not a movie.

He served in the Army Air Force, but he was not a pilot. His main job was to sail out and recover airmen - or what was left of them - after their planes were shot down over the Pacific.

He found very few survivors. Some. But very few. I never could fathom the horrors he'd seen. I don't - I can't - call what he did picking up the pieces. I call it picking up the feathers.

I wonder how many he helped send home. How many families have closure because of what he found. I hope he knew that this was important work.

Of course, he didn't talk much about it to me, anyway - the little blonde granddaughter. He spoke only of good things: the stunning beauty of Hawaii, the unforgettable friendships, the unwavering patriotism.

The Army Air Force had told him he was too "uncoordinated" to fly, too clumsy to wield the controls of an airplane. I have always been suspicious of their judgment: He was a good driver, an experienced farmer. He was used to machines and engines.

Sometimes I wonder if the USAAF, when faced with hundreds of thousands of wannabe-pilots, didn't deem many unsuspecting men "uncoordinated." And sent them on to other, less glamorous, still necessary tasks.

Like picking up the feathers.

But that's just my hunch. What do I know? And of course, it never, ever occurred to him to question his superiors. No one said such dishonorable things. Back then.

So he did his job. He didn't complain. A farm boy knows much of life and death and blood and guts - that's what they did. Back then.

On a three-day pass, with my grandmother, he made my mother. A good thing, too, because he promptly caught a severe case of measles in the service. No more babies would be possible after that.

And, eventually, he came home. Unlike so many others.

In the end, maybe the USAAF was right. It's good he didn't fly, that he didn't end up as feathers in the ocean. He lived a relatively long, happy life, married 50 years to my grandmother. He helped raise me in a wonderful small town in Ohio. In 1998, he got to meet my daughter, his great-granddaughter - who is named after his wife, Laura.

He died six months later.

Much to his great dismay, he never flew a plane.

That's fine with me. He was here. He came home.

And he was still, very much, a hero.

(This one's for him)

(a re-post on the eve of what would have been my grandfather's 92nd birthday, and my grandparent's 70th wedding anniversary.)


  1. OH MY GOD, Dawn! That was incredible! You are an amazing writer. What a tribute to your grandfather. My favorite line is when you talk about knowing when he was thinking about war, and your analogies and I was caught up!

  2. Wow Dawn- once again you hit my emotions in a way that only great writers can! This time however instead of uncontrollable laughter, I had to wipe the tears away. My grandfather is my hero too for serving a radio operator in Germany. His stories were few, but I am proud that my sons were able to hear them from him.

  3. Your grandfather was definitely a shining example of his generation, the Greatest Generation. Great piece of writing Dawn!

  4. Nice. I love planes too. In the pic is the P-51 Mustang. My favorite plane in the whole world. :)

  5. This post is really beautiful. The men of that generation who fought without question are all heroes whether they flew, picked up feathers (a beautiful phrase)or toiled away at other tasks.

  6. What a lovely, moving tribute. My dad was in the Air Force, he was a pilot. Thanks for sharing your story.

  7. Feathers or not, he was a true hero. And you wrote a lovely tribute to him. :)

  8. That was so well done, Dawn.

    My father joined the Air Force to become a pilot. They made him a secretary. He went on to become exactly what he wanted to be -- a pilot -- and I have wonderful memories of just me and him, in the air.

    Happy Friday.


  9. You're as sentimental and prolific as you are funny, Dawn. This is a great piece, such a sweet tribute to your heroic grandfather.


  10. He is also lucky to live on in your memories and your genes. Very nice tribute.

  11. BDB!I need a beer after that post---so I can cry in it and toast your grandfather. I have tears running down my face right now. What a wonderful post. I'm sure he was as proud of you as you are of him. And what important work he did. Ic an't imagine doing it, but you're so right. I am sure he helped so many families by having the courage to do it.

    Hugs and beers,

  12. That was truly beautiful. I bet your grandfather was proud of you too.

  13. What a beautiful post Dawn. Very well written and very moving as many of us admit to tears while reading it. Me included!

    Often times the most important jobs are those most overlooked and often go without thanks or praise. Without those who pick up the feathers, many of the families would not have had the closure they were afforded.

    Your grandfather truly is a hero for doing what he did. He would have been blessed and honored to have read your words here and is likely smiling upon you from Heaven each day.

    Hugs and smiles to you

  14. Just a couple of months ago my father-in-law's younger brother (age 87) came to visit. "Dooge" as the family called him was a tail-gunner on a B-17 over Europe during WWII. So I was quite interested to hear about his war stories; particularly in view of the fact that a lot of those bombers were shot down by the Germans and fatalities were high.

    Dooge manned the tail gun for 36 missions. He never fired his .50 caliber dual machine guns in battle, only the brief test fire when they were over the English channel. Surprised to hear this he explained that His plane was never in the lead group. The American bomb sites were high tech devices and they didn't want them to fall into German hands. So only the FIRST THREE aircraft had the bomb sites. When they reached the target, all the other planes dropped their bombs when the lead planes did.

    Because of this, all the German fighters concentrated their efforts in shooting down the lead planes. If they were taken out, the bombing mission was scrubbed. Just by luck, Dooge ended up flying 36 missions without even a scratch, even though all the planes flew through heavy flak. Who would have guessed?

  15. This was really touching. I love hearing stories about other people's grandfathers as I never knew either one of mine. Beautiful post Dawn.

  16. Such a moving, exquisitely-written piece. I enjoyed it very much.

  17. Very good.
    Life has a way of working out like it is supposed to.

  18.'re all so awesome. :)
    Heidi - thanks. You always have the kindest comments.
    Kristi (anon)- Your grandpa is a hero, as so many of that generation were.
    Master - thanks, man, means a lot coming from you!
    Trav - glad it's a cool plane, I was just trying to find a WWII plane picture that wasn't copyrighted.
    laughing - You changed your icon! Thanks - you're right. ALL those tasks are important
    Helen - How awesome your dad got to fly!
    Linda - thank you. You're such a sweetie.
    Pearlie - How fun, the two of you up in the air together!
    Robyn - thanks, that means a bunch, because I don't often do serious pieces.
    Jono - I was actually adopted, so it's not truly my genes, but my family none the less. Thank you. :)
    MTM - Sorry to make tears. luvs ya.
    Lisa - He was proud of me, and often told me so. I miss him.
    Pixie - Your words made ME tear up. Thank you, sweetie. :)
    Robert - Dooge kicked some heiney! Loved the story!
    SF - Thank you, dearie, and I so wish you could have known your grandpas.
    Jayne - Thank you! Serious pieces come easier to me. Comedy is hard!
    Ruth - indeed. ;)

  19. Sounds like your grandfather was the real hero. Sounds like they did him (and you) a favor as well.

  20. NY - Exactly. :)
    Ron and Barb - Thanks! He was something else.

  21. Beautiful post Dawn. Your heart is in your prose and picking up feathers is perfect.

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