Wednesday, December 07, 2016

A December 7th Story

A December 7th Story
(First written-December 7, 2002)

Sixty-one years ago today a young man celebrated his eighteenth birthday.
Little did he know that date, his birthday, would become "A day of infamy"
.
Six months later when he had graduated high school, he enlisted in the US Army Air Corps and subsequently earned his wings as one of the youngest fighter pilots in the Army Air Corps.
In the next two years he progressed from Stearman biplane trainers to P-40 Warhawks and finally to the beautiful, twin engine P-38 Lightning fighter.
During that time he also found time to marry his high school sweetheart and, while serving in Italy escorting B-24 bombers, he learned that he was soon to be a father. 
In Jan. 1944 he had completed his tour and was waiting in Triola, Italy to return to the States when a call came out for volunteers to fly escort for another bombing raid over France.
Fighters and pilots were scarce in those days.
Our bomber crews were getting hammered and our fighter pilots suffered the same fate. 
He did not need to volunteer, but of course, like so many others, he cheerfully did his duty.
On January 27, 1944, over Salon de Provence, France their bomber group encountered "a superior number of enemy fighters."
From wingman 2nd Lt. R. E. Hoke: "Being greatly outnumbered by enemy fighters and unable to rejoin the Squadron, we took evasive action from the enemy fighters, by losing altitude. 
We dropped from 24,000 feet to the deck. 
By this maneuver we lost the enemy fighters but encountered heavy ground gun flak. 
Suddenly I felt a terrific concussion. 
After getting my airplane under control, I looked back and the Lieutenant had disappeared from the
formation."

The young Lieutenant's P-38G just "disappeared" in the great explosion as German antiaircraft gunners found their mark. 
His body was never recovered.
He was just 20 years old. 
He never held his newborn daughter.
He was only one of the many tens of thousands of American heroes over the last two hundred or so years.
He was 2nd Lieutenant James G. Riley, Jr., USAAC, my Dad's older, and only, brother.
Sixty-one years ago today, Pearl Harbor Day, Jim turned eighteen. 
His whole life was ahead of him yet he had barely two years to live. 
Those years he gave to his country.
Thank God for all those brave men and women.
God protect our soldiers, sailors and airmen.
May we never forget.
Uncle Jim, we miss you and your fellow heroes.

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