Glimpses of a Life
inSeptember 26, 2012 - 7:07am
Labor Day weekend marks the end of the tourist season here in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Years ago, the city came up with an idea to bring the tourists for one last hurrah—they bill it as South Carolina’s Biggest Garage Sale. The 300 spaces sell out early and the residents of Horry County bring their soup to nuts to the Convention Center to sell it to the 10,000 customers who attend the event. This isn’t an ordinary flea market with lots of professional vendors—this is a garage sale.
Cinsababe and I were up bright and early and started making the rounds of tables filled with miscellaneous bric-a-brac. On one table she spotted a cufflink box filled with an assortment of small men’s trinkets, mostly military—a box of his father’s keepsakes. The price of $2 was worth it just to sort through and have a look at what was in there!
Once home I spilled the contents out on my desk. Cinsababe immediately recognized the Blue Star Mother’s pin as a memento from WWII, but she didn’t know the emblem attached to it. There was a military ribbon, some small pin backs, a pin with a propeller, a gold colored button with an eagle—I was starting to get a picture of a man.
Blue Star Mother’s pins were tiny flag pins worn by mothers during WWII. The number of blue stars on the flag represented the number of sons serving in the war. A gold star among them meant a son had died. This flag had one star. The symbol attached to it was a pair of wings with a propeller. Being a retired Air Force officer myself, I knew this had to be from when the Air Force was still a part of the Army. A few minutes on Google pinpointed the date. In 1941 the Army Air Corps became the U.S. Army Air Force and this was their new emblem. This young man had left behind a proud and most likely worried mom to join the ranks of a new kind of military—one in the air. Enlisted and drafted men, like my own father, were required to serve for the duration of the war plus six months.
He had obviously made it through because one of the items was a “Ruptured Duck” pin. Actually an eagle with spread wings bursting through a wreath, the pin earned the nickname because it looks more like a duck! The pin was issued at discharge to be worn over the breast pocket of the uniform. It signified that the wearer was no longer in the service, but not AWOL. It meant that he could still wear his uniform, for many that was all they had, and it meant he was on his way home!
There was a WWII Good Conduct Ribbon. Good Conduct Ribbons have been given to enlisted Army personnel upon completion of 3 years of honorable and faithful service since 1941 and during war years the award was given after one year. According to the Army It is awarded on a selective basis to each soldier who distinguishes himself from among his fellow soldiers by their exemplary conduct, efficiency, and fidelity. I have one myself from my enlisted years in the Air Force before I became an officer. So this man was a stellar troop—I was really starting to like this guy!
The next pin was a Veterans of Foreign Wars dated 1945—the year WWII ended. Back home, he joined the organization geared to helping fellow soldiers returning from war. And there was another pin—a blue enamel pin with a propeller with the number 5 in the middle and letters: W A T, A T W or was it, yes, TWA. TWA was the number one airline in the United States in the late 40s and early 50s. A quick Google search showed that this was an early 1950s TWA 5 year pin. This guy was a pilot? Wait a minute, everything in his little box showed he was enlisted—weren’t pilots officers in the military?
It didn’t take long to find out that I had missed something in my own Air Force Officer training courses—that in the dire shortage of pilots at the beginning of WWII, the Army gave a once in a lifetime opportunity to a select few exceptional enlisted men—the chance to become pilots. They were called “The Flying Sergeants.” If chosen, and if they successfully completed the training, the men were given the rank of staff sergeant and pinned on wings.
Seventeen of the enlisted pilots became fighting aces and one famous one, Chuck Yeager, broke the sound barrier. Suddenly this stranger who owned this paltry box of trinkets had become very real. The pieces in the box told a story—the story a man. He was a special man who risked it all, took a chance, accomplished his dreams, and left a legacy. I wish I had met him—in a way I did and I thank him for his service.
Written by Cowboy Rick
Cinsababe’s on Ruby Lane