The Frontiers of Flight Museum, located near Love Field, hosted Honoring Our Nation’s Heroes, which recognized America’s veterans and active-duty members on Saturday, Aug. 18.
Gathered under the museum’s roof were military veterans from many eras, including World War II, each with a story to tell. There were also some games for youngsters and adults to play, including a model of the World War II carrier Hornet, upon which visitors could attempt to land model airplanes.
One of the oldest attendees was Fiske Hanley, 98, who as lieutenant and B-29 flight engineer in the Army Air Corps, was shot down near Japan in 1945 while on a mission. He was held as a prisoner by the Japanese through August of that year and released after Japan surrendered.
As a member of a B-29 crew, Hanley was held by the Kempeitai, which has been compared to the German Gestapo. On 14 different occasions, Hanley said divine intervention prevented him from being killed, and for many decades a pastor told him God saved him so he could tell his story. He’s doing just that in the book “Accused American War Criminal,” which relates his time in captivity in what the veteran called a “dungeon in downtown Tokyo.”
“All B-29 prisoners were special prisoners to be tried and executed for killing women and children,” Hanley said. “All of them. The war ended before they got around to killing me, but they tried for six months.
“[The pastor] said the Good Lord pulled you through, so you can tell the people you speak what humans are capable of [at being bad]. I speak to men, women and children. Children are my best listeners.”
Honoring Our Nation’s Heroes allowed Hanley and another attendee, author Beverly Thompson, to point out that such venues offer people a chance to learn about our nation’s history. Thompson is the author of “The Colonel is a Lady,” the story of military nurse Evangeline Jamison, who served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. She also has plans to write about WWII-related subjects, including Pearl Harbor and Doolittle’s Raiders.
Doolittle and his squadron bombed Tokyo just months after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the United States into the war.
“We can’t let our history go by, and that is why I wrote this book about the nurse,” Thompson said. “I didn’t want her story to die.”
Another lesser known part of military history are those of the flight attendants, then known stewardesses, who took care of soldiers flying into and out of Vietnam. BJ Elliott was one of them from 1969-71, and she wrote about her experiences in “Behind My Wings; Untold stories of Vietnam Vets Told by a Young Stewardess.”
“We took them out of Saigon [South Vietnam] and flew them into Saigon,” Elliott said. “We flew to Kam Ranh Bay, Saigon, Da Nang and Bien Hoa.”
Her first flight with soldiers destined for Saigon remains with Elliott.
“The reality of the war, I was 25 years old, really hit me,” she said. “All the veterans deplaned, and they were like 18 and 19 years old. I’m looking at an empty cabin and I see them going down the stairs to wherever they needed to go, and I started crying. I didn’t want anyone seeing me crying, including my crew. So, I went up the cockpit and cried. I told myself that I would never cry again; that was the beginning of an emotional two years.”
That stretch also included trips where the planes took fire from enemy ground forces. One stewardess on another flight, Elliott noted, was killed by a sniper right after she opened a plane door.
“There was the danger that we could be shot down or shot going in,” Elliott said. “We always knew that.”
Also, Elliott saw first-hand the weight lifted from soldiers’ shoulders once they lifted off from Vietnam on the way home.
“You could see what the war had done to them,” she said. “As soon as wheels lifted up from wherever we took them out of Vietnam, we could all hear the applause. Then, they would go right to sleep, and we would let them sleep as long as they wanted to.”
Carrollton’s David Cueter, a 22-year Army veteran, saw three tours of duty in Iraq. He enjoyed Saturday’s gathering for several reasons, including discussing WWII, and relating to GI Joe history. GI Joe, which was a favorite of young boys for many decades; Cueter is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth GI Joe Collector’s Club.
“I got into it in 2002 when I bought my son a GI Joe and a Play Station at the same exact time,” Cueter said. “He said the heck with the GI Joe, and I ended up adopting it.”
He and others manned a table at Honoring Our Nation’s Heroes displaying those figures, which were quite large when first introduced.
“I had all kinds of GI Joes back in 60s,” he said. “Originally, when the GI Joes came out, they were built around the Korean War and World War II [military roles]. It wasn’t until Vietnam, that [the manufacturer] saw the changeover in the atmosphere, and changed the GI Joe line from the fighting man to the adventure man.”
The table also had figures dressed in WWII uniforms and accessories associated with that period.
“It shows that our past is not forgotten,” Cueter said.
You can view photos and video from the event below:
Photos by Rodney Moore and Greg Ford
Video by Greg Ford
Written by Greg Ford