TODAY I’M GR8FUL 4: “Google Search” (Part 2): Cyberspace Twilight Zone

(“Counting your blessings”—regularly pondering those things you are grateful for in life—helps maintain a positive attitude, reduce anxiety, and learn more and more to trust God. I am sharing my thoughts about some of the “Things I Am Gr8ful 4” in this series, and hope it might encourage others to do likewise.  Today’s entry is Part 2 about why I am Gr8ful 4 Google Search. Be sure to read Part 1 if you missed it.)

In part one about my appreciation to God for Google Search I explained why I consider it a tool that God can inspire you to use to bring about Little Miracles for friends and family. This time I am going to show you something else it can do at the same exact time—it can guide you into a Cyberpace Twilight Zone of virtual time travel!

My mother, Pearlie (Allen) Newbauer, died in 2009 at the age of 87. She had been born in Nebraska in 1922. A couple of years later she was blessed with a baby brother, Wallace Allen. Here are Frank and Irene Allen and their first two children, Pearlie and Wallace.

Wallace was a cheerful child who brought joy to his parents and siblings.

Wallace turned 18 right in the thick of World War 2, and like so many other young men of his generation found himself in the military. His choice was the U.S. Army Air Force. That’s him posing proudly in his dress uniform with his family, between Pearlie (on the left) and their younger sister, Maxine. and then between Maxine and Pearlie.

Pearlie loved her brother dearly, and was devastated when word came late in the war that he had died in an air battle over France, while serving as a bomber tail gunner. As I was growing up, she never talked much about him, but there was always a large framed copy of that photo above of him as a little boy, and another of him in his uniform, displayed prominently in my parents’ home wherever they lived. Hanging in a closet was his WW2 brown leather bomber jacket.

In 1986, Pearlie suffered a massive stroke, which left her paralyzed on one side and unable to read and write for the rest of her life. My father, Bob, cared for her at home until just before he died in 2009, and she died three months after he did. Since Pearlie couldn’t read, and had no way to really indulge in any hobbies, Bob was always looking for things to help her while away the long hours. Her memory for incidents of the past had not been affected by her brain injury, and her sense of nostalgia was strong.

So one day in 2001 he dug out a big box of letters Pearlie had kept since WW2. Many of them were no doubt sent between the two of them—they had married in 1942, and Bob served with the Marines in the South Pacific. She wanted to rummage through the letters and have him read some to her. One 1945 letter really caught her attention. It was from a man named Morris Sunshine, and was addressed to her parents in Traverse City, Michigan. Morris had been a good friend of Wallace in the military, and he was writing to mention he hoped to make a trip to deliver his condolences to the family in person.

Pearlie remembered learning that Morris had indeed come for that visit and had spent a few hours sharing thoughts about Wallace with Frank and Maxine who were home at the time, but then the family never heard from him again. She had inherited the letter when her mother Irene had died in the 1980s and had preserved it in her collection for years. When she saw it, and my dad read the message in it to her, it brought in a sweeping melancholy about the loss of her brother so young. She wondered what he had been like during his years in the service, what others thought of him, and wished there was some way to contact the man belonging to this voice from the past who might be able to fill in some blanks for her. Morris would, of course, be past 75 years old himself, and she assumed the chances of finding him somewhere in the US would be close to zero. My dad made a couple of attempts to trace him through the return address on the 56 year old letter, and phone books in the state where he had lived as a young man, but had no success.

Then they happened to mention Mother’s yearning to me on the phone one day. And of course I immediately thought of Google.

It took perhaps ten minutes to find him, but finally on a webpage put up by the USAAF WW2 384th Bombardment Group (Station 106 Grafton-Underwood England) I found a little pic of Staff Sergeant Morris Sunshine.

The picture was on a website section called “Real Stories of Honor,” and accompanied a story written by S/Sgt Sunshine titled “Mission to St. Lo.”

How did I know that this was the right Morris Sunshine? Because as I looked at the caption on the picture of his bomber squadron illustrating the story, I was startled to notice one of the men in the pic was “S/Sgt Wallace F. Allen.” My uncle. And, even more poignantly and shockingly, as I read the story I finally realized that it was a description of the bombing run during which Wallace was killed by German fire! What are the chances of this?! Morris, a top turret gunner, described Wallace as his best friend, and told of the moment he realized Wallace was dead. And there was no chance he could forget the date—it was the day after his own 20th birthday, July 25, 1944.

At that moment I felt like I had entered the Twilight Zone! I had been taken back by Google to a frozen moment in time that was of major personal significance to my own family.

And I also realized that I had been given an opportunity to get in touch with a Time Traveler who could take my mother back to 1945 to get a glimpse… alive, not dead … of her brother.

There was no contact information for Morris on the website, so I wrote to the webmaster and explained my situation, describing my aging mother and how much it would mean to her to actually hear from Morris Sunshine in person, perhaps by phone. She replied promptly. She had sent my inquiry along to him.

Dear Pam,

I am forwarding this message from Morris at his request. The only way he can communicate with you or your family effectively is by e-mail, as Morris himself so eloquently describes below. Please take care in your communique with Morris, and let him set the rules. He is my special friend.

Your friend –

Carol S

From Morris to Carol:

Dear Carol,

Please get in touch with Pam Dewey for me and tell her that I cannot speak to her by phone because of the strong emotional factor despite the passage of more than 50 years. Previous experience shows that strong emotions take my voice away and I begin to dissolve. Very embarrassing for everyone while I try to find my tongue. So the only way we can “talk” is by computer keyboard.

I do have Pam Dewey’s e-mail address and I will contact her soon. And though I am pleased to be of service to Wallace Allen’s family—he was my dearest friend—I need to put on a special suit of psychological armor before I go into those dark and dusty places in my memory. It’s very rusty, it does not fit very well, and it pinches badly in certain places, so she will have to be patient.

Now that I think about it, perhaps the easiest thing for you to do would be to forward a copy of this letter to her.

Thanks and best wishes.

Morry

I certainly understood Morris’s ground rules, and was just thrilled that he was willing to communicate by email with my family. In fact, the two emails he subsequently sent to our family left us with a permanent record of his gracious comments. They were indeed of great comfort to my mother.

Here then is the trip down memory lane into the past that Morry provided for Pearlie:

Email 1

I first met Wallace Allen at the Pyote (Texas) Army Air Corp base where we were assigned to a B-17 aircrew. That probably was in the early months of 1944. All of us had been to air gunnery school in Nevada but did not know what gunnery position we would ultimately occupy until we were assigned to a crew. The crew, as best as I can recall, consisted of Pilot Harlan Peck, copilot Bill Jennings, Navigator Al Bell, Bombardier Jerry Twomey, waist gunner George Hunter, Ball turret gunner, name momentarily forgotten, tail gunner Wallace Allen, waist gunner 2, Frank Rancatore, top turret gunner, me, and Max Algase, radio gunner. The first four people I mentioned were, of course, officers.

Pyote, Texas was in the western desert area of Texas. The sand blew and it was hot, but we were young and willing. I have no memories of Wallace in Texas. I know that we hardly ever went to town because Pyote had nothing to see and we were too young to drink anything but soda pop. There were probably l0,000 guys to every Pyotean girl. So we mostly stayed on base. I remember that every gunner tried out every gunnery position on a B-17 and except in one case, freely chose the one that they wanted. The one case was top turret. George Hunter wanted that position, but the pilot said that he was too short, so he assigned me to that position. Therefore, if Wallace was a tail gunner he chose that position.

(FYI, I am in irregular communication with the daughter of the ball turret gunner—we called him ”Oakie”—but he has alzheimer’s and doesn’t remember me at all. I am also in regular touch with Al Bell, the navigator, who was with us, I think, on that fatal mission to St. Lo. I also am in touch with the son of my bombardier (Jerry Twomey) and learned that he died a long time ago. I am not in touch with anyone else on the crew despite have made strong efforts since I bought my computer 2.5 years ago. (So, you see, Pam, I am a computer novice.) No doubt, some are now dead.

My memories of how we got to England are vague too. In April, 1944 we went to North Dakota (Grand Isle?) and picked up a brand new B-17 which we then flew to Newfoundland, Canada. From there, we flew to Northern Ireland, refueled and landed again in Scotland. On the night flight over the Atlantic, the pilot lost control of the airplane, it went into a steep dive from about l0,000 to 2,000 feet and he was lucky to have pulled it up before we hit the water. (The medical problem is called vertigo.) So we almost didn’t get to England.

I remember that we went by train to what was called a redeployment depot where newly arrived crews stayed until they were assigned to a Bomber Group. We could not leave the depot and were frequently buzzed by US and English fighters. They wanted us to learn what their planes looked like so that we would not erroneously shoot at them. We received instruction on English culture and how American English and English English are two different languages. We also got a lecture on venereal disease and on military law as it applied to desertion.

The depot was in the countryside and we saw many houses with thatched roofs. We thought that the English must be very poor.

Our biggest fear was that we would be assigned to an unlucky bomber group, a group that had lots of casualties. One such outfit, by reputation, was the 100th Bomb Group. If you wanted to frighten somebody you said, “I hear that your crew is going to the 100th!” But after waiting around until weeks, we learned that we were going to the 384th Bomb Group in Grafton-Underwood and took a train there. What happened to the new B-17 that we brought to England, I don’t know.

More later. Autobiography is hard to write. Talk to me, if the Internet will let you.

Best wishes.

Morry Sunshine

 

Email 2

I have been thinking about what to say to you and your family about Wallace who was my best friend in the Air Force, or Air Corp, as it was called then. After the war, you want to forget about all that and with the urge to forget, you do forget. And with the passage of so many years, I have only a few memories of Wallace. I remember that we went on leave together to London with other members of the crew sometime after D-day. I think that we shared a room together. Once in a while we went to the local town near our air base which was always crowded with soldiers. I think that Wallace and I once took leave together and went to Birmingham. Why Birmingham, I cannot say. It was our bad luck that the survivors of the 101st Parachute Division arrived back from their bloody fight in Normandy when we got there. The 101st tore the town apart celebrating. The British police and the American Military Police had their hands full and the streets were filled with drunken paratroopers. I think Wallace and I decided to return to our hotel where we met up with the crowd I am talking about and our leave was spent mostly meeting paratroopers and trying to keep out of fights.

I suppose that we were about the same age. When I flew my first combat mission about May 20, l944, I was 19 years old, really just a kid. I suppose Wallace—I always called him Allen and he called me Sunshine—was about the same age. In every respect we were ignorant and innocent. We didn’t like Hitler and the Nazis and the Germans, and it was our job to fight. Beyond that our historical knowledge was nil.

I was a city kid, and I thought of Wallace as a farm boy but he really wasn’t. I can best describe him by saying that his main feature was “purity.” By that I mean, he was idealistic, sweet, never aggressive, never used bad language, never critical of people who deserved criticism, tolerant, uncomplex, humorous, willing to listen to people he disagreed with, and for all these reasons, was attractive to girls and respected by his crew and bunkmates. Actually, if Wallace had a girl l back in Michigan, he never mentioned her and I suppose that he did not.

A B-17 bomber crew was a small group of tightly-knit people because we depended on each other. I remember on one of our early missions near the end of May, 1944, the ball turret gunner—I remember his name now, William T. Chapmon—realized that he had forgotten to bring his parachute aboard. Unfortunately, he remembered as we were approaching the English Channel on our way to the most heavily defended target in Europe: Berlin. If Chapmon had asked the pilot to return to base, the pilot would done so, but we would not have made that mission. In circumstances like that the whole crew would have had to make a seeming extra mission. In the end, the enlisted men kept Chapmon’s secret. He was ready to sacrifice his life if need be so that the crew would not have to “abort” the mission.

But coming back to 1944, perhaps the best thing that I can do is describe the world of aerial war that Wallace, and his crew and thousands of other fliers faced that summer in 1944. I will do that in my next e-mail.

Actually, after receiving that second email, we lost contact with Morry and never heard from him again. I am suspicious that given his age and serious health issues, he likely passed on before he could write again.

But actually, he did provide that description of “aerial war” in his original story that I had found on the 384th website. I hope my readers will go there to read it, as it has historical significance as well as personal significance, and should particularly be of interest to people fascinated with WW2 history. Below is the portion of the story that discusses the circumstances of my Uncle Wallace’s death. For the historical context leading up to this, and the aftermath, along with some insight into the general war efforts of the time as they affected USAAF forces, see the whole story of “Mission to St Lo” at the 384th “Real Stories of Honor” website section.

Bomber crew, 546th Squadron, 384the Bombardment Group, S/Sgt Wallace F. Allen, tail gunner, back row, third from left.

I remember July 24, l944 for a variety of reasons: first, we were being asked to directly intervene in a major ground offensive; second, the mission would be flown at a dangerously low altitude for slow-moving heavy bombers; third, the bombing had to be very precise lest we bomb our own troops; and lastly, it was my 20th birthday. I can still remember the huge groan of disbelief as we were told that the target would be bombed from l2,000 feet, an altitude so low that we would not need oxygen and the German flak gunners would not need gun sights. (Everybody had a huge respect for the German 88’s.)

If memory serves, this was not the first time we had intervened in a major ground battle. As best as I can recall, we had flown a bombing mission for General Montgomery’s British-Canadian forces trying to break out near Caen. But on that mission we bombed Caen from high altitude, as did the RAF. (It didn’t work, hence the later attempt at St. Lo.)

That morning as I got to our B-17, I was not thinking about my birthday. I was trying, like everybody else, to find an extra flak suit to spread out around the base of my top turret. I think that our crew chief went through planes that were not flying that mission and came back with a few spares. They ended up laying in the waist walkway. It was a day for flak suits, flak helmets, and good luck charms. The only thing we had going for us was the hope that the bomber groups leading the way would take out the flak.

Of course, the mission on July 24th, l944 failed. We could not find the bomb line that separated friendly from enemy forces despite our low altitude, so our squadron brought its bombs home. We had never done that before and I know I was praying that a bomb would not break loose in the bomb bay as we touched down. Because we turned back before crossing the bomb line, I do not think that we caught much flak. It was a classic milk run as far as my crew was concerned. And we certainly hoped that General Bradley could get along without us in the future…a badly mistaken view.

On July 25th we learned that it was St. Lo, again at 12,000 feet. This time I was really worried. We had previously flown to Big B [Berlin] and I had seen lots of nasty flak: big black puffs with angry red-glowing centers following us closely as we dropped our bombs from 33,000 (repeat, 33,000) feet! And we were throwing out hundreds of bundles of chaff too. So the basis for “concern,” i.e., fear, was there. If they were too close at 33,000 feet, think what could they do to you at l2,000! And this time we would not have the advantage of surprise.

The crew chiefs were all running around trying to find spare flak suits again. I should not be surprised if a couple of extra parachute chest packs were put aboard. As I looked at a B-17 crew nearby suiting up and getting ready to start engines, I did not see any brave men. I saw lots of guys hoping that someone would announce that the mission was scrubbed, permanently.

July 25

I have no memories of taking off or crossing the British Channel. … Our squadron was a bit spread out and the pilots were trying hard to get into close formation. As the top turret gunner, I was watching overhead to protect against falling bombs from friendly aircraft. The ball turret gunner was doing the same thing. The navigator and the toggelier were looking for markers indicating the bomb line. The bomb doors were open. We were flying the mission “as briefed,” at about 12,000 feet.

As top turret gunner, I could not see the target area. Looking forward I could see the bomber groups queued up ahead of us. The flak was greeting them. It was not Berlin, Leipzig or Munich but there was enough to trigger the adrenaline and cause the heart beat rate to double, maybe triple.

About that time I heard the tail gunner, S/Sgt. Wally Allen, call out, “Flak! Behind us, and low.” I swung my turret to six o’clock and looked. Black flak tracking us and getting closer. Allen said something again, I don’t remember exactly what. The next burst was closer, still behind us but the flak’s altitude was improving. Projecting where the next shell would burst, I was convinced that we were finished, dead. I keyed the mike and shouted, “Pull ‘er up!” Naturally, as we were on the bomb run, there was no option to maneuver and we didn’t.

The shell exploded with an audible noise behind and just below us. I was astonished to still be alive and that the plane was still flying. I don’t know where the next flak burst went but I do remember the toggelier shouting “Bombs away.” The formation seemed to loosen up and as we turned away from the target I looked down but could only see smoke and dust in the target area.

When we cleared the target area the navigator asked the crew to check in. There was no response from the tail gunner. The pilot ordered one of the waist gunners to investigate. I assumed it was merely some sort of intercom problem. But in a few minutes the waist gunner reported that Wally Allen had been fatally wounded.

As soon as we hit the Channel, the pilot got permission to break away from the Group and head straight to Grafton Underwood. I climbed out of my turret and went back to the waist. I thought that there might be some sort of mistake. The two waist gunners were sitting on the floor. I peered back into the tail and saw that Wally’s parachute had been opened and used to cover his body. I asked George Hunter if he was sure that Allen was dead. He said that he was sure. He did not know where the flak had hit him but there was blood all over. There was nothing to be done, according to George.

I sat down on floor near the waist guns, stunned, refusing to believe that my best friend was dead. Death was something that happened to other people, in other planes, not here and not now. I don’t remember what happened next. Maybe I was crying or shaking but I remember somebody putting an arm around me and offering me a cigarette. I was just twenty and it was the first cigarette I had ever smoked.

Months later, after completing my tour and returning to the States, I went to Traverse City, Michigan to see Wally Allen’s family. We had made certain promises to each other, so I had to go. And I told his father and sister about what we did for General Bradley at St. Lo.

…In 1995, I contracted tuberculosis. The doctor asked me if I was a smoker. I said I had quit years ago. He asked me when I first started smoking and added somewhat sympathetically, it was okay to make a reasonable guess. I said, “I know exactly when I started smoking: it was July 25, l944.” He looked at me in amazement. “How do you know that?” I replied, “That was the day we bombed St. Lo.” Still amazed, he said, “Where is St. Lo?”

It was, of course, sad to read of the details of Wallace’s death, but it strangely brought closure for my mother, especially when combined with the vignette’s of Wallace’s life that Morris had shared. I’m still amazed a decade later that my family was able to take this trip back in time via the Twilight Zone I encountered via Google Search. And that’s what I’m Gr8ful 4 today!

What better epitaph could a man want than what Morris Sunshine wrote about Wallace F. Allen:

I can best describe him by saying that his main feature was “purity.” By that I mean, he was idealistic, sweet, never aggressive, never used bad language, never critical of people who deserved criticism, tolerant, uncomplex, humorous, willing to listen to people he disagreed with, and for all these reasons, was attractive to girls
and respected by his crew and bunkmates.

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One Response to TODAY I’M GR8FUL 4: “Google Search” (Part 2): Cyberspace Twilight Zone

  1. Pingback: TODAY I’M GR8FUL 4: “Google Search” (Part 2): Cyberspace Twilight Zone | Currently StaRRing …

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