A story from the life of a soldier

We lose eleven hundred of them each day. Journalist Tim Russert
says,

We stand on their shoulders. They shaped our destiny.

Eventually there won’t be anyone left who remembers actually
fighting in the greatest war of the last century.
We lose eleven hundred of them each day. Journalist Tim Russert says, “We stand on their shoulders. They shaped our destiny.” Eventually there won’t be anyone left who remembers actually fighting in the greatest war of the last century. No one will remain who can give an eyewitness account. It is important that we record as many of their stories as we can before it’s too late.

Those who served in WWII are the humblest of soldiers and the least likely to tell their stories. Take Gilroy’s Mitch Avery, for example.

Those of you who know him as the affable local musician who likes to crack jokes might never guess that he had once been stationed in the Panama Canal Zone and had seen active duty in the western Pacific theater of operations. Avery enlisted in the Air Corps in September of 1940 and attended an Aircraft Mechanics Training School at Chanute Army Air Field in Illinois. Following completion of his training, he was assigned to an air base near Panama City named Albrook where he joined the Sixth Bomber Command in July of 1941.

As soon as the Pearl Harbor Attack occurred, Avery says, “Our duty activities changed drastically. We began 24 hour per day bomber patrol designed to provide constant protection of the entrance to the canal from the Pacific Ocean. The canal had become a critically strategic target as the most direct and shortest water route from ocean to ocean.

“Our aircraft maintained surveillance in order to locate any ships carrying personnel or aircraft which could pose a threat to the canal, the three sets of locks, or any military base located in the canal zone.

“My outfit, the Sixth Bomber Command protected those targets very effectively,” Avery recalls. “The types of planes we used included B-17’s, B-24’s, LB-30’s, and an occasional amphibious PB-Y flying boat that was used for performing sea rescues. My duty as an aircraft mechanic meant I had to keep our planes ready to fly their missions. While on patrol flights, they reported all sightings with a secret message to the command center by radio while they awaited orders to attack if necessary.”

Although he had enlisted for three years, he was held over for the duration of the war. He was transferred to B-17 flight training where crews were readied for combat duty in Europe. In early 1945, he moved to a B-29 base in Kansas where he prepared for duty in the Pacific. He was on the Island of Iwo Jima on special assignment when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the war. Upon Japan’s surrender, he was finally discharged. He had been on duty for the entire length of U.S. involvement in WWII.

After the war, he raised a family, served in Korea, worked as a civilian pilot and mechanic, and was involved in work on futuristic aircraft, including development of tiles for the Space Shuttle. Now widowed and retired, he loves to visit his grandchildren, play the trumpet, sing in his church choir, and dance to big band music.

Last year, former Staff Sergeant Hugh Mitchell Avery attended the final reunion of the B-29 330th Bomb Group. Too many of them are gone now to warrant holding anymore reunions.

“Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men.” – Pericles (c. 495-429)

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