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MegellasMe.jpgSeptember 12, 2010: I've returned home from attending the World War II Glider Symposium in Madison, Wisconsin. The conference honored an underappreciated aspect of our war effort -- the men who piloted or landed in gliders, most often along with equipment needed for immediate use in battle.

After lectures and presentations during the days, participants attended dinners on Thursday and Friday night. I was the keynote speaker at the first night's dinner, preceding a moving panel discussion involving veterans in attendance. 

In the picture, I'm with Jim Megellas, 93, the most decorated officer in the history of the 82nd Airborne. He earned the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star twice, and several medals of honor -- and, if justice is served, eventually will be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Megellas was the keynote speaker the second night.

Meg Jones of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel attended the presentations, held the first day at the U.S. Forest Product Lab at the edge of the University of Wisconsin campus. She did a terrific story on the glidermen in the Friday, September 10 paper, and it's available
here.

I also watched as a Wisconsin television station also spoke with some of the "glidermen,"  and in the picture below in the lobby of the Forest Products lab building Thursday are: Raymond Nelson, Lester Schwarm, John Nasea Jr., and Robert Herriot.

Glidermen.jpgOn Thursday during the day, the program was fascinating, as I and the others heard from:

--
Kenneth Black, secretary of veterans affairs and a 22-year Army veteran.
-- Brigadier General
Donald Dunbar.
--
Dr. John Hall, who holds the Ambrose Hesseltine Chair at the UW history department. He spoke of Native American contributions to the airborne war effort that went far beyond the well-known "Code Talkers" and Ira Hayes' involvement in the iconic raising of the flag on Iwo Jima.
--
Dr. Richard Haney, retired professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Dr. Haney, whom I met several years ago and have come to consider a colleague and friend, wrote a touching book, When Is Daddy Coming Home?, about his father's death during the war while serving in the 17th Airborne and his family's memories and reaction.
-- Lt. Col.
Guy Lofaro, a 23-year Army veteran and author of the upcoming The Sword of St. Michael: The 82nd Airborne Division in World War II.
--
Dr. J. Norman Grim of Flagstaff, Arizona, author of
To Fly the Gentle Giants: The Training of WWII Glider Pilots.

In my speech, I briefly discussed a visit to Fort Morgan, Colorado, one of the training sites for glider pilots during the war. (Yes, there's an exhibit on the glider pilots in the Glenn Miller Museum in the Fort Morgan Library building). Then I discussed the voyage of discovery that led to Third Down and a War to Go, and also the concept that I was a representative of a generation that not only took too long to say thank you, but also took too long to act as if we cared.

Megellas and I talked about the phenomenon I discussed in my speech -- the tendency of so many World War II veterans to keep their wartime experiences to themselves for so many years, not even opening up to their families; but to perhaps open up late in life, if given the opportunity. He said he resisted implorations to discuss his experiences for many, many years, but then sat down to write the book on his own terms, considered it catharsis, and has been able to be more open and comfortable discussing it all since.

I returned to Denver Friday, earlier than planned, because of sad family circumstances and didn't attend the second day of the conference and the second night's dinner. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see and hear presentations from:

-- Dr. Ellsworth Brown, director of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
-- Glider historian Charles Day, author of the scarce and much-praised Silent Ones: WWII Invasion Glider Test and Experiment. In our discussions Thursday, I quickly realized Day is a great guy ... despite being an Ohio State fan.
-- S.W. (Susan) Maynes, author of The "G" is for Guts, about her uncle, glider pilot Charles Stephens. Stephens was shot in the hip during a glider landing under fire in March 1945, suffered additional injuries in the crash, was captured by the Germans, but spent only about a week under their control before Allied forces showed up.
-- Gary Detore, author of the upcoming 321 Field Artillery.

GliderSigning.jpg(LEFT: Terry Frei; Kathy Borkowski of Wisconsin Historical Society Press; and Richard Carlton Haney, author of When is Daddy Coming Home.)
(RIGHT: Charles Currier and Terry Frei.) GliderCurrierFrei.jpg
 
As part of my preparation, I previously had purchased Grim's and Maynes' books via Amazon. I came home with a signed copy of Megellas' All the Way to Berlin, a lot of memories, increased appreciation of the glidermen's roles in the war effort, and debts or gratitude to Symposium president Sara Connor;  operations coordinator Jim Romlein; Continental Broadcasting president David Peschau, who acted as media coordinator; and Kathy Borkowski and all at the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.
 
Also, thanks to friend Charles Currier of Beloit, who came up for the dinner. Charles' father, Ken Currier, and my father were roommates, fellow starting guards labeled "Roughie" and "Toughie," fellow WWII pilots, and best friends for life. Charles also played for the Badgers himself in the 1960s. I always make sure to point out the picture in Third Down and a War to Go of Charles as a toddler, on the post-war Badgers practice field with his father.

And, of course, thanks to all the veterans in attendance.

GliderForum1.jpg

ABOVE: Glider pilot George Theis of Roanoke, Texas, talks about landing and serving in Operation Varsity. Jim Megellas is next to him, listening.