One of many — a remembrance for Veterans Day by Paul K. Vey
One of many — a remembrance for Veterans Day
Roughly 78 years ago, a high school senior from Bellevue PA, just outside of Pittsburgh, learned that the United States had been attacked and was entering World War II. He wanted to join the war effort immediately but his parents insisted that he finish high school.
He graduated from high school that spring and enlisted in the Army Air Corps, the predecessor of the United States Air Force. Although he wasn’t a great student, he desperately wanted to fly. He managed to show enough promise that he was sent to flight school in Lafayette Louisiana, where after a rigorous, but incredibly short training period, became the captain of a B-24 Liberator bomber at age 18, and responsible for a 10 man crew.
The bomber group to which he was assigned was called upon to support the Italian campaign in Europe where he and his crew managed to stay airborne through almost 50 bombing raids. Just as he and his crew were about to be sent to England for rest and recuperation, his orders were changed and his bomber group was dispatched to India to support the Allied effort to drive the Japanese from Southeast Asia. It was now 1943.
On what turned out to be his last mission, he and his crew were part of a three bomber mission to destroy a rail line in Burma, now known as Myanmar. The approach to the target was a low altitude approach to increase the likelihood of surprise. His aircraft was the first to the target. Almost immediately upon releasing his bomb load, the plane was struck by ground fire starting a fire in two engines and dramatically reducing the power from a third. As he attempted to climb out and away from the target it became clear that the aircraft would be incapable of taking the crew back to India. The other two bombers stayed with the crippled plane as long as they could, but pulled out when it became clear that the third plane no longer was airworthy.
The young captain gave the order to his crew to abandon the airplane. After his crew were clear of the aircraft and had deployed their parachutes over the jungle, he too jumped, deployed his chute and watched his airplane crash below him in the jungle.
The crew was scattered. The captain landed in a tree 30 feet above the jungle floor where his chute was entangled in the branches. He cut himself loose and tried to climb down, but when he reached the trunk he could no longer get a firm hold and fell to the jungle floor where he broke his ankle and his back. Realizing that he couldn’t survive in the jungle, he began to crawl through the underbrush in hopes of finding his crew and shelter. He was discovered by inhabitants of a small Burmese village who were sympathetic to the Japanese and promptly turned him over to a nearby Japanese garrison.
Despite his injuries, the Japanese marched him to a prison camp on the outskirts of Rangoon where he spent 14 months as a prisoner of war in a bamboo cage, a cage too small to allow him to stand. Eventually, all of his crew members except his copilot, who was never found, were imprisoned at the same camp. Rations consisted of a one small bowl of rice each day. Sanitation was nonexistent. The prisoners were not permitted to speak to one another and if they did so they were beaten bloody.
The Captain kept track of the days. 50 years later at the reunion of the British and American prisoners who had survived, those assembled tearfully recalled that after dark on Christmas Eve that year, this same American Captain sang the Christmas Hymn “Silent Night” to the 40 or so prisoners. Punishment was administered Christmas Day.
None of the men in the Captain’s crew survived their internment, save the Captain. His last crew member died in the Captain’s arms. His captors forced the Captain to sew each man’s burial shroud out of burlap and dig the grave of each. He alone survived to see the British soldiers who drove the captors from the prison.
From England, the Captain sent a telegram to his parents back in Bellvue, PA announcing that indeed he was alive, not knowing that his parents had received a prior communication from the War department that he been lost in action and was presumed dead.
He married the sweetheart he had met while he was in Flight School in Lafayette, Louisiana. He returned to Pittsburgh to start a successful business and raise a family. Like many who served, most of the story of the Captain’s experience never came from his lips but rather from the recounting by others. Only very late in life did he acknowledge his service and provide the details at the urging of his family.
The Captain was among many who served and sacrificed and by doing so insured that those of us who followed could enjoy an unprecedented period of national security and prosperity. On Monday, the nation celebrates and remembers all of those who served. I wanted to take time to remember and to share this one story with you- the story of my father-in -law, Captain Jack McCloskey. (Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross) [written by Paul K. Vey]
To Captain Jack McCloskey, and all the veterans, the Pietragallo Law Firm would like to extend a hefty THANK YOU for your service and sacrifice.
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