Searching for Father

by Paul Friday
Son of Captain Joe Friday - China Burma India Pilot, 1944 - World War II

(originally appeared in the Ex-CBI Roundup, July 2009)

I stood up on an old easy chair in the living room, backward, facing over the high back of the chair watching a beautiful 1940s wooden electric clock I wish I had today. Maybe I was 4 years old. I remember the smoothness of the second-hand and the pleasant whirring noise it made. I kept asking, over and over, "when will my father come home?" My grandmother had told me "when you see the little hand reach here, and the big hand reach there, your father will be home". I watched that clock all day. I remember, it was so slow.

Finally, my father arrived. He was so handsome, so beautiful I remember, in his Army Air Corps uniform - khaki pants, and the olive (was it?) jacket with his pilot's wings and Captain's bars. It was the best looking uniform ever! If only I had it today - my mother threw so many things away.


Lt. Joe Friday, India 1944


Father and Mother (center)

I really didn't know him, he didn't know me, but I remember looking forward to being with him. I didn't understand, of course, until years later why he spent so little time with me that day, instead disappearing with my mother. He had been away a total of 5 years.

Like other men who returned from the war, he spoke little of his experiences. I cannot remember a single story he told us of his exploits. He and I did spend time together. At various times he owned a Piper airplane, a Cessna 140, and later when he could no longer pass the flight physical, a beautiful old 1930s wooden cabin cruiser boat, and he taught me what he could at my young age. I loved navigation best, he showed me off to his friends because I could hold a compass course and tell directions at night from the stars. He taught me the various propeller airplanes of the day. Eventually I could tell him the type of aircraft just from the sound of it flying overhead. The memories of that time with my father sustain me still.

Soon after the war, my father and his brother-in-law bought a 65 horsepower Piper J3 aircraft. Like so many other experienced airmen of that time my father thought there were great opportunities in private aviation. They had bought a piece of land on the shoreline of the Potomac River, south of Washington (if we had that today, we'd be very rich), and opened a seaplane base where they were going to instruct students. They bolted floats onto the J3 at National Airport and my father had put the plane and floats on dollies, taxied out to the runway, and flew the plane off the dollies - letting them shoot down the runway. I wish I had been there to see it. An embarrassing story soon followed. I was 6 years old and my sister 3 or 4. He took us to the seaplane base for the first time. I took one look at that small fabric covered airplane bobbing at the dock and said "I'm not getting into that!" My younger sister took the first flight with my father. I decided not to ever repeat that mistake again! I flew with him whenever I could, first in the Piper J3 seaplane and later in the Cessna 140 tail-dragger. We flew the little two seat Cessna to his sister's farm in upstate New York. We landed on a grass strip in a farmer's field and I got to visit my Aunt Margaret and Uncle Bill.

My father had a workshop in the basement. He made toys for us - by hand! He made a tool chest for me. The kid up the street had an elaborate Lionel electric train set. My father bought manual track switches, wound his own electromagnets and changed them to electric track switches. He hand-crafted wooden trestle bridges and town scenes. He built a beautiful miniature Hoosier cabinet for my sister's play kitchen. He built me a scooter and a wagon. He was a terrific carpenter and craftsman. The 1950s were an era when families craved new "labor-saving" appliances. My father and another uncle built their own 20 cubic foot deep freezers - from wood, masonite, metal tubs, copper tubing, fiberglass insulation, spring-hinged doors, interior lights that turned off automatically! I remember that they didn't know whether they bought the right sized compressor for the size of the freezer. So my father put an old clock in a coffee can, fashioned an aluminum disk that fit the hour hand shaft, and cut round pieces of paper to lay on top of the slowly turning disk. Then he rigged a coat hanger to the compressor and attached a pencil to the other end. Each time the freezer turned on or off, the vibration caused the pencil to make a mark on the paper to record the time the compressor had to run. He built a solid oak workbench with an array of hand-made drawers that I still use today. The most treasured object I now have is a finely-crafted mahogany chest he built to contain his Kodachrome color slides from the war. It deserves an article in Fine Woodworking magazine.

He taught me photography, woodworking, electricity - we enclosed an old porch on our house together. We went camping, took the boat out onto the Chesapeake Bay, in the days when there were no other boats as far as you could see, slept overnight, and I cooked breakfast, that you could smell a mile away, with the early morning mist rising off the water, with ducks and geese nearby the tall grasses on the eastern shoreline. He taught me to do things right, or don't do them at all. He taught me a Greatest Generation trait that now has all but disappeared, good old American "know-how".

He was proud of me too. The boat had an old 6 volt electrical system and the engine was sometimes hard to start. At age 10, I figured out how to wire a switch and cable to another battery allowing him to throw the switch for a few seconds during starting to boost the system to 12 volts. Many decades later my father's older brother told me that he had proudly told him this story about what I had done.

The next year, in the season of his 40th birthday - he died.

He went to work one morning and never returned. He knew - a week before he took me for a walk and told me that I was the man of the family and that I would have to take care of my mother and three younger sisters. I didn't understand what he was saying. I was 14.

The burial was at Arlington National Cemetery, on the central hill one hundred feet from where now President John Kennedy lies. Full honors with a horse-drawn caisson and a 21 gun salute. I had the memory of the years I had spent with him as a youth. I was awed by the ceremony at Arlington. But I didn't think then to make the connection between the honors he received there and what he might have done during the war.

Our family began to unravel. My mother, Mary Helen, was a 1950s housewife with no career. She was a brilliant woman - but how she raised her four children alone, by herself, I do not understand. I had spent 10 years with my father, so I had some sense of family, some sense of his companionship, some sense of being guided by a father. But my three younger sisters: Shirley had known him 10 years, but Joanne (dad's favorite) only 4 years, and Stephanie only 18 months. Dad had died of a kidney disease that induced heart failure. Had he lived another year until the dialysis machine was introduced he might have lived. His kidney disease was contracted, then amplified, by health problems he experienced in India and Burma.

I didn't know what to do. All of us children felt a loss of pride and a sense that we were not as good as other families we knew, shame almost. Without our father, in a fractured family, we foundered.

More than a third of a century passed. My youngest sister, Stephanie, herself aged only 40 years, died - partially I think from having been nurtured by her dad for only the first 18 months of her life.

I had failed my father. I did not take care of the family as he had asked of me.

Our family, as a family, no longer functioned in the traditional sense. Except . . . except . . . there was a tiny hidden thread back to my father I as yet knew nothing about.

A few years later in the 1990s, before she died, my mother was cleaning out her records. One day she handed me an old letter. "It's from your father", she said. I opened it. His handwriting so beautiful - something not seen anymore. He had written the letter in July 1945 when flying a C-54 across the Pacific on a long night flight. He said to me that he was sorry that he had been away during the important first years of my life, that he was sorry that on his return visit I didn't know him, and that when he finally returned "we will have so many things to do together, and so many things to learn together." He said "I have an important job to do and maybe someday you'll be able to tell your children that you didn't have to go off to fight a war right in the prime of life because their granddad and a lot of other men like him saw to it that the last one was done up right." Further, he said "Yours will be the job to see that it remains that way. It's your life, your world, and your job." "I'll make it up to you, son, for being absent in this time, and hope you'll someday think there is no one like your dad - that someday you'll be proud of what I did." Then, "Love, Dad."

I was stunned. This letter from my father traveled halfway around the world, and through a half of a century of time, 50 years, before it reached me. And he was speaking directly to me. All of the time that our family had lost its way without our father . . . all of this time . . . this letter was making its long journey to my hands.

I knew that it would take some time, but that it would change everything.

We knew that my father was in the war. We knew he was a pilot. That's all. More than that, he told us nothing. My mother told us little. My father's older brother didn't remember. How could I be proud of what my father did if I didn't know what he had done? I vowed at that moment to find out, to trace his history in the war, to follow his footsteps from so long ago.

I was lucky. My father took hundreds of color slides in the war. I found his flight logbooks. I rescued many of letters he wrote home to mother.

I contacted the Army Times newspaper. I was surprised that they were so kind to me. They suggested that I contact the China-Burma-India Veterans Association and the Hump Pilots Association. I was elated. The thought that these organizations that were connected to my father's experiences still existed and that I might find people who knew his history or even remembered him filled me with emotion. My initial hope was that I would soon find someone who remembered my father. If I found someone who knew him, they would have an adult memory of him, and a memory of him in the war in CBI, to supplement our childhood-only memories.

I first phoned Homer Cooper of the CBIVA. I described the situation and he invited me to the 2000 national reunion in Texas. As I talked with Homer, telling him what I knew of my father, my involuntary tears began. He told me that was normal for people who finally made a long delayed contact. I also met, by chance, Rudy Gaum of the CBIVA, at a WWII airshow in Frederick Maryland. I saw his CBI patch and just walked up to him and started a conversation.

I traveled to the reunion in Texas. Initially I feared that I would be greeted as an outsider, and intruder, a camp follower, but just the exact opposite was in store for me. Homer stood up and introduced me at the meeting and I described my quest for my father's history to the whole assembly. I distributed war-time photos of my father and a paper I had written of his history as I knew it at that point -- in it asking if anyone remembered my dad. There I also met Sy and Faye Kantor. Sy and I hit it off immediately -- we talked for hours upon hours about CBI aviation stories. Cy knew so much about WWII aircraft that in a later visit we made to the Smithsonian together, the historian there was asking Cy questions. Faye adopted me as her honorary CBI son. I took some of my father's color slides from CBI to the meeting and I showed them to Dario (who later worked on the Mercury, Apollo, and Lunar Lander spaceflight programs) and Annette Antonucci, Bill and Angela Toy - who I admired greatly, and Carmen and Joan Germano, now dear friends.

Here I also talked with a veteran, Jarvis Moore, who only a few days after I first met him told me this story: In the jungles of Burma he happened upon a GI who had been mutilated by the enemy. He described the horrible detail. The GI begged Jarvis to shoot him. Of course, he could not. As he told me this, his eyes were overflowing with tears and his trembling hand, I remember, touching my shoulder. He told me that he had kept this story secret all of his life, not telling his wife or children. But he told me - after knowing me for just one or two days. We embraced as we departed. I felt a great love and empathy for him and wanted to talk with him at the next meeting the following year but he died before we could see each other again. I wrote a small article in the Fall 2001 CBI Sound-Off magazine about our meeting and the story he told, revealing it to his family. I asked his wife and children to know the secret he carried in his heart for 55 years with great pain - and to be exceedingly proud of him.

Six months later I attended the Hump Pilots Association national meeting. Here too I feared rejection, but soon met Jay Vinyard, the president of HPA, and his wife Sally. Jay listened to my stories of my father, and Sally, too, adopted me as her honorary CBI son. I met George and Patti Saylor, close friends to this day. George flew C-47s in CBI and went on to fly F-86s on long endurance high altitude reconnaissance flights years before the famous U-2 flights, and later flew Eisenhower's C-54. George's aviation exploits are profiled in two U.S. Air Force museums. Also Roy and Pat Ladd - Roy was a B-36 pilot after the war - a B-36 had 6 propeller engines and 4 jet engines. I'll tell you: it's not possible to talk to a B-36 pilot enough! With all of these new best-friends I've shared many stories and experiences since then. At the HPA meeting I learned that a large group of veterans recently traveled to China and had been greeted with warmth and love by the Chinese. I knew from my father's logbook that Kunming China was a frequent destination so I was sad that I had missed that trip. So...I decided to travel to China myself!


Kunming, China 1944

I have many Kodachrome photos my father took in Kunming in 1944. As my plane approached the Kunming airport, the pilot, who by that time had heard I was on the plane, told me to sit on the right side for the best view of the city. I had been studying my father's Kunming photos and immediately recognized the surrounding mountains. As I rode a taxi to the hotel I showed the photos of my dad to the taxi driver with emotion that I guess I did not conceal well. He spoke no English, but had a kind heart that you could see in his face - he knew what I was saying. A few hours after checking into the hotel, the taxi driver found me again, in a Denver-sized town, walking near the downtown lake. In those few hours he had contacted the Kunming Veteran's Aviation Association, the Spring City Evening News newspaper, and the Culture Exchange Bureau. I had come to Kunming with no plans, no itinerary, no contacts. But thanks to the taxi driver, I soon had a full week of astounding events. I appeared in a front-page newspaper story the next day with several of my father's photographs of Kunming from 1944, printed in full color. The article told of my quest for my father's footsteps and said that I was looking for a Chinese soldier, maybe 14 years old during the war, who my father had photographed and whose photo accompanied the article. The newspaper articles and my father's photos continued on the front page of the Kunming newspaper as a serialized story for 5 straight days. I became a local celebrity. I had refreshed their memories of the time a half century earlier. People began calling into the newspaper wanting to meet me and tell me their war-time memories of the Americans who had helped to save their city, and wanted to give me artifacts, souvenirs of the Americans' presence long ago, that they had hidden during the Cultural Revolution (at some risk to themselves). Two war-time Chinese pilots met with me to share my photos and their stories. Ben, from the Cultural Exchange Commission, acted as my interpreter and could not have done more to facilitate a crowded week of spontaneous events and meetings. I visited the beautiful Hump Pilot's Monument in the hills overlooking Kunming. I visited the wreckage of an American transport plane that had been found in the mountains after 55 years - a young Chinese man sacrificed his life, dying next to the plane he was guarding until it could be carried down the mountain to Kunming. The taxi driver transported me around all week refusing any pay. Then invited me to his home for dinner with his wife and son. His son had studied English and asked me my opinion of his future educational plans. I was accepted into their family right then and there.

Now I felt . . . I felt it myself - in person . . . something I had not thought to expect before - how could I have known? I felt first-hand the sincere love the Chinese have for the Americans who came as young men to far-away China to the aid of their country in their time of greatest need. We are a foreign power, who gave of ourselves to assist their country, uniquely rare in all the history of China. They have not forgotten. I have never experienced so much kindness and human affection - and I am a generation removed.

I told my family back home that I felt my father's hand in the events, to me unplanned, of my extraordinary trip to Kunming.

In subsequent years there were incidents that generated tension between the governments of China and the United States. But I have personally experienced the affection the Chinese people have for us, and the American CBI veterans have told me many times of the fondness they feel for the Chinese people they encountered in the war. If, in the future, we remember that our fathers and grandfathers fought side-by-side with this bond of mutual respect, I think we, China and the U.S., will be alright.

We found the aunt of the 14 year old Kunming soldier. He was killed in the war. The Aunt, then a young girl herself, had to prepare his body for burial. She invited me to her home for lunch where I presented to her the photo my father took of her nephew in 1944.

I have become life-long friends with Ben and with the Taxi driver and his wife and son and have returned several times to visit them. I helped the son get into college and with some of his school expenses. Later I returned on two organized trips with some of the Hump pilots, and Flying Tiger and 10th and 14th Air Force pilots, and with two pilots from the Doolittle Raiders. The receptions during these trips were grand and more formal, of course. People lined the streets to see us go by. Beautifully uniformed school children stood excitedly in precise arrangements, waved flags, played music, and placed necklaces of fresh flowers around our necks. The Kunming government was so kind in including me in a ceremony honoring the CBI veterans - I received a certificate of honorary citizenship of Kunming, for my father, for his war-time contributions, engraved with his name! Jeff Greene, the trip organizer, published a beautiful book "When Tigers Roared" in which he graciously included photos of my father. Renjie Hua's son, Jianning Hua, published a wonderfully comprehensive hard bound book (dedicated in honor of his father, a Chinese CBI pilot) "American Airmen in China During WW II" in which my father was again honored with the photos he took in 1944. But for me these trips did not dim the experience of my original personal trip of discovery to Kunming. In common was the overwhelming outpouring of love from the Chinese people.

In the last trip with AVG and Hump pilots that I accompanied, a woman in Kunming, Qiyu Liao, presented an opera performance, a cantata, called "Green Path and Rainbow - the Story of the Flying Tigers and the Hump Airlift", that she had personally written over a period of years with no external sponsorship. It was performed in a theater with perhaps 60 singers that she had trained. It tells, in song, the story of the towns and villages that were being bombed from the air by the enemy. At first, the villagers didn't know what bombs were - they thought umbrellas would protect them from these objects falling from the sky - until the innocent men, woman, and children were killed, bodies blown to bits, parts hanging from tree limbs. The story tells of a young American who leaves his home and parents in Texas to fight the enemy in the skies over the Chinese villages. He falls in love with a young Chinese girl. But their love is short, he is killed in an air battle defending the village. The cantata is her life-long memory of the war and her love for the young American. At the very moment in the play the young American airman lost his life, a thunder and wind storm arose outside the theater, adding a stunning impact to the drama of the story. I missed some of the performance because I couldn't see clearly through my tears. The performers saw my emotion and pulled me onto the stage and surrounded me in a 60 person embrace. It was the most lovely performance I have ever witnessed. If this cantata could be performed to audiences widely in China and the United States, the history it portrays of the cruelty of war and the cooperation between the Chinese and the Americans, from the perspective of the Chinese villagers - it would create a deep understanding between our countries.

In this trip I visited a beautiful museum display dedicated to CBI. There I saw a Kunming man carrying his 10 year old son Jimmy, who had debilitating muscular dystrophy, around the museum. Normally the Chinese kept their handicapped children out of view - but this father carried his son proudly. I stopped and talked to them, introduced them to the Flying Tiger and Hump pilots, including Dick Rossi, Charles Bond, and Clifford Long, and gave Jimmy the CBI books and souvenirs I had collected. Jimmy and I, and his family, have become dear friends. I went to the Hump Pilots Memorial School and made a contribution to their library, and in turn they engraved my father's name on the memorial stone in front of the school.

I also presented flowers at the memorial for Bob Mooney. Bob was a pilot who intercepted two Japanese bombers that were harassing a silk road era village. He shot them down and saved the village further damage, but was hit himself. Rather than bail out, he steered his plane away from the village and died the next morning after a frantic effort by the village doctor to save him. The villagers built a monument to Bob Mooney in the nearby mountains. During the Cultural Revolution, the government removed the monument. The villagers rebuilt it in defiance of the government. This happened more than once. Finally the monument to Bob survives now, and the people in this still-small village, including the doctor's son, visit and care for the monument, still remembering, to this day.

Since those first CBI meetings in 2000 I attended every national reunion of both the CBIVA and the Hump Pilots Association, as well as uncounted local CBI chapter meetings with Joe Shupe of the Stillwell Basha in Virginia and Bill Pribyl of the Free State Basha in Maryland. It surprised me then, and now, that the best friends I have had in my life are from my father's generation. I've shared so many of the memories of my CBI friends, I feel I am almost a part of that generation, and regret only that I missed actually taking part, with them, in WWII. Originally I had hoped to meet someone who knew my father but soon realized that instead the stories I heard from the men and women of the CBI were just what I was seeking. I was hearing what it was like in the air and on the ground in India, China, and Burma. These first-hand stories gave me the understanding of my father's life and experiences just as if he had told me himself. I knew then that even if I never met anyone who knew my father, I felt his presence in all of my CBI friends.

Then, an astounding coincidence! A CBI veteran in San Diego was considering joining the CBIVA for the first time, 56 years after the war's end. A friend had clipped out a membership application from a single page of the Fall 2001 Sound-off magazine and sent it to him. As fate would have it, on the same page as the membership application was my article about Jarvis Moore. The California veteran immediately recognized my father's name in my letter, and he called me that same day. It turns out he was Raymond 'Jack' Blake who was the Operations Officer at Dum Dum airfield in Calcutta India where my father was stationed for the first few months of his CBI tour of duty. Jack was the person who signed-off on my father's missions! Jack sent me a story he had written previously that began "Our 1305th test pilot, 1st Lieutenant Joe Friday, was one of those easy going, unflappable, pilots with whom I shared some rare and unforgettable experiences. We flew together on several occasions when I signed on with the crew as the 'observer'." I talked to Jack for many hours on the phone and recorded some of the conversations. The next year I flew out to San Diego to visit Jack and his wife Meg for several days. Jack told me all the stories of my father he could remember and made it a point to tell me that he never forgot my father in the 60 years since he had seen him last. Meg also adopted me as her honorary CBI son!

Eventually I met two other veterans who knew my father. Doug Devaux flew with my father as a radio operator on only two flights, and worked with him on the Link Trainer, but remembers him vividly as a "pleasant guy". James Tuck received his instrument check ride and rating from my father. James was an airline pilot after the war and said that in his long career other flight examiners try to intimidate you but that he remembers my father because he was competently self-assured and consequently was mentoring and calmly reassuring to James during the check ride. I'm a private pilot myself, and at the moment James told me about my father being an instrument check ride examiner I realized, with a sudden hot-flash of regret, what I had missed, what my father could have taught me had he been with me longer.

In the three men I had found that remembered my father, I absorbed the idea that my father was a competent, sociable, outgoing, likable, and memorable personality - which exactly corresponds to his children's abbreviated memory of him.

I met Buck Saunders and his young Vietnamese wife, Mary. Buck was in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. I visited them in Texas.

I studied my father's logbook, I went over his war-time photos countless times, I read all of the surviving letters he wrote home to mother, I did research at the National Archives, I spent years talking to the CBI veterans - hearing their experiences, and I traveled to many of the places that were destinations in my father's flight logbook, and am still doing so.

Here is the story of what he did in the war: Dad was born in 1917 in a scrappy western Maryland paper mill town. He came to Washington D.C. in the 1930s where he learned to fly on his own, as a private pilot. He enrolled in a CAA (Civil Aeronautics Authority, a forerunner of the current FAA) sponsored flight school where he graduated second in his class. He was a little miffed at taking second place because it was his older sister, Mary, who graduated first in the class!

In 1938 he partnered with his sister Mary's husband to open a private airport, Sky Haven Airport, just outside Washington D.C. I learned of this airport only in 2005, and further discovered that the building in which I spent my career sits atop the old runway, from 67 years earlier, of Sky Haven Airport! Dad also went to a cross-country navigation school in Altoona PA where he lived in a tent because he could not afford anything else. By the time of Pearl harbor, dad was an accomplished pilot and flight instructor.

Britain had lost many of its trained pilots in Europe and in the Battle of Britain in 1940. As a result Churchill and Roosevelt reached an agreement to train British replacement pilots in the U.S. Shortly after Pearl Harbor my father joined this effort, still a civilian, and in 1942 trained British RAF pilots at an airfield in Albany Georgia, flying open cockpit PT-17 biplanes. In his classes my father asked each new cadet to write a short autobiography. I have several of these today. I traveled to Albany and found a kind historian of this period, Robert Drake. He took me to the Albany airport where a museum display shows my father's photograph with several of his graduating classes. Robert gave me a copy of a roster of all of the British RAF cadet students, along with their subsequent history. Early on I had wanted to see if I could find my father's students in England and return their autobiographies from long ago but discovered that almost all of the British pilots had been killed in battle only a short time later in the skies of the European Theater.

As I studied my father's 1942 flight logbook entries I found entries for many flights each day all year long - except for a one week break in March where the logbook was silent. I was born in December.

There is a story written about the Americans who trained the British RAF cadets in Georgia during the war. The book is "Common Glory" by Robert Middlemiss - another gentleman who helped me understand my father.

In 1943 my father received a commission as a First Lieutenant in the United States Army Air Corps in the Air Transport Command (ATC). He received further flight training in the U.S. and then flew the Homestead Florida, Barinquen, Trinidad, Balem and Natal Brazil, Ascension Island, Accra Africa, El Fasher, Khartoum, Aden Arabia, Karachi and Bombay route to India as first pilot in a B-25. The logbook entry for the Brazil to Ascension Island leg says "1443 s. miles over ocean, navigator confused, 1.5 hours fuel left". They almost missed Ascension in the middle of the South Atlantic. I remember my father later telling his brother that he signed up for the Navigator School after this incident so he would not again be vulnerable.

My father spent 1944 in several places the China-Burma-India Theater. Here he flew B-25s, A-26s, C-47s, C-46s, and B-24s (or C-87s). Today it takes many months to transition to a new aircraft type. I don't understand how some WWII pilots like my father flew so many different aircraft. He served as test pilot, instructor, Link trainer, flight examiner. In Calcutta he was in charge of the Transition and Pilot Training and Instrument School. In India he flew missions to Tezgon, Chittagong, Tezpur, Chabua, Kharagpur, Jorhat, Lolhat?, Sylhet, Kurmitola, and Assam. He flew missions over the Hump into Kunming China and in China to Luliang and Chunking. He flew missions into Burma and Myitkyina. In his logbook many flights are captioned "secret mission". He was air dropping supplies to troops in Burma in their thrust to drive the Japanese out. Calvin Bannon of the 10th Combat Cargo Squadron recently sent me his annotated logbook entries to help me better understand the missions. One of my CBI friends, Les Robinson, was in the MARS Task Force on the ground in the jungles of Burma and could have received air-dropped supplies from my father. Dad participated in the battle for Myitkyina Burma. But there are many remaining mysteries in the cryptic logbook entries describing his missions that I have yet to sort out.


My father, Kunming 1944


Flight planning, Burma 1944

In 1945 my father changed theaters, received a promotion to Captain, and flew C-54s in the Pacific. He crisscrossed the Pacific staging men and material for the intended invasion of Japan. He flew into Guam, Kwajalein, Johnston Island, Leyte, Manila, Saipan and Tinian, the Marianas and Marshall Islands. He flew paratroopers from the 1st Airborne Infantry from Okinawa to secure a base in Atsugi Japan. He flew a C-54 "hospital ship". After the Japanese surrender he was flying into Japan to Tokyo and Yokahama evacuating our prisoners of war, our boys who had been held in mainland Japan - some in slave labor camps, from Japan back to Okinawa and on to Manila. My mother remembered my father saying our POWs were in rough shape. Later he flew missions to Hong Kong, Port Darwin Australia, Iwo Jima, Singapore, and Rangoon.

My father participated in 3 theaters of World War II. He trained fighter and bomber pilots for the European Theater and himself flew in the China-Burma-India Theater and in 1945 in the Pacific Theater. Not bad! I think my father always had an eye on flying for the airlines after the war, but by then could no longer pass the flight physical. The last plane he flew for the Army was the C-54 which had four 2000 horsepower engines - a total of 8000 horsepower. I believe in size it was second only to the B-29. When he returned and opened the seaplane base he transitioned from the 8000 horsepower C-54 to a 65 horsepower Piper on floats - more than a 99 percent decrease in engine power. I can see from the photographs of the time that he was a little sad.

You can understand how the rediscovery of my father has reconstituted my family. We now know that my father had a small place in history, in a justified war fought for the freedom of the whole world, within the Greatest Generation. We now have a sense of belonging. My father didn't perform great acts, he wasn't a hero in World War II - at least not in the sense of the heroes we know about - but in a private sense, to our family, now, he has become a source of our family's pride. Knowing his story is important to us.

In 2004 my sister Joanne and I traveled to the U.S. Air Force Academy and added my father's name to the CBI dedication plaque under the C-46 in the Memorial Sculpture Garden adjacent to the Academy Chapel.

In 2004 I met and talked with Tex Hill. Tex was one of the AVG "Flying Tiger" pilots, the small group of pilots who stopped the Japanese in their tracks, the pilots who are best remembered by everyone in China today. In his book he wrote to me "To Paul Friday, son of Capt. Joe Friday: you have a great heritage of a father who gave so much service to our country as a fellow pilot. All the best, "Tex" Hill." Tex is one of the most famous pilots in all of World War II, a real hero. To have written this of my father, who had more of a supporting role in the war, shows Tex as a real gentlemen.

Conducting this search for my father for the last 10 years is by far the best thing I have done in my life. I have made the most valuable of friends across the normally forbidding boundary of generations. Talking with the CBI men and women, learning the history from their perspective and that of the Chinese who suffered severely, has taught me an understanding, empathy, human love, and kindness I would have otherwise never known. Many CBI veterans, now friends, who helped me understand, include Carl Constein who authored several personal history of CBI books, Mel (a B-24 nose gunner) and Jennifer McMullen who organized countless reunions that allowed meeting so many CBI veterans, and Nick Hudson who continues organizing the Hump Pilots reunions, Liz Gussak, John Barmon, George (a Pearl Harbor attack survivor, who calls me every December 7th!) and Shirley Martin, "Red" Sweeny (who told me the Chinese he trained at Ramgarh were good men), Sam Burton, Jan and Bill Thies, Jim Hill, Lee Cobaugh, Charlie Rose, Art Aymar, Wes Fronk, Helen Colony, Woody Hudson, Wendell Phillips (who spent time as a prisoner of both the Germans and Japanese), Brian and Pat Bumpas, Charles Tucker, David Dale, and Eddi Dunne, and to William Q. Wu, M.D., a CBI doctor, whose beautiful book "Monsoon Season" that he sent to me way back in 2000, was the first CBI story that made me cry.

I know that many veterans of World War II remain silent, not telling their descendents of their contributions during the war. There are many reasons for this. Perhaps you witnessed or experienced horror and pain you don't want to relive. Perhaps you believe that people who were not there cannot possibly begin to understand. Perhaps you think your contributions were small while countless others suffered greatly or made the ultimate sacrifice. Perhaps you remember the everyday drudgery and think its not worth retelling. Perhaps you think only the people who were more heroic than you have a right to speak. But remember this: my father's contributions to the war were very small in the scheme of things - yet they are the core reason our family can hold our heads high today. Remember that your personal memories of day-to-day existence in the CBI are different than the historical perspective you can leave to your family. You took part, you contributed, in the greatest struggle in modern world history. Perhaps your family needs and deserves to know their place in history, derived from what you did, and perhaps you can give this gift to them.

Whatever your personal contribution during the war, the history is that the Americans helped prevent China from totally collapsing under the cruel occupation of their country, perhaps saving millions of Chinese lives, and tied up one million enemy troops that otherwise could have been moved to the Pacific Theater to fight against us there, with the result of prolonging the bloody Pacific struggle that had already taken so many American lives.

Remember the soldiers who died in the war who had no wife, no children, back home. They have no descendents to learn and remember their sacrifices. Some are forgotten forever. Remember, "When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today". You are not in this category. If you're reading this, you still have the opportunity to pass your history to the next generation.

China-Burma-India has been called the "Forgotten Theater". But I won't forget. Perhaps other son's and daughters of CBI veterans will not forget. I know the people of south-western China will not forget.

But there is a second aspect of this theater that is on the verge of being forgotten - that should not be forgotten. The Americans and the Chinese fought side-by-side in many of the struggles to save their country. I have been overwhelmed by the vivid memory the Chinese have of these events, and of the affection and gratitude directly shown to me by the Chinese. And I have heard many stories from the CBI veterans of their fondness for the Chinese they trained or fought together with. Perhaps it just might be that this unanticipated aspect of the CBI experience is the greatest contribution that the CBI Theater (and you) will make to the future of the world - and it's a continuing contribution. I think we have an opportunity to tell this story of mutual fondness, in both America and in China, to help keep our countries on the path of cooperation and friendship in the future, as they did during the war. We can see now that how well China and America work together in this new century will define the future of the world - and the CBI story of our close war-time cooperation and reciprocated respect could be a foundation for the success of this.

In the future telling of the CBI story we can simultaneously begin to rectify the "Forgotten" aspect of the CBI Theater and we can bring to light the little-known closeness of the Chinese and Americans from this period, using it, I think, to promote peace, understanding, and cooperation in facing the mutual, and overwhelming, global issues now apparent to us.

One of my dearest friends in my local Basha was Gene Lantz. Gene worked on the petroleum pipeline in Burma and China. He took care of a Chinese boy during the war and recently traveled back to China to be reunited with him, with the help of Pat Lukas and Zehao Zhou from the foundation "Remembering Shared Honor". Gene told me his stories and I told him of all of my efforts, trips, and discoveries in the quest for my father. Gene died a few months ago. I visited him the day before. The last thing he said to me was "I like everything you do". I told him "I like everything you did".

And to CBI veterans I also say "I like everything you did". Thank you for what you did for our country, and the world, and what you did for my generation, and all succeeding generations.

And to my father, "Dad, in your letter you said that you hoped that someday I would be proud of what you did. Dad, I am proud of you - we, your family, are proud of you."


More photos from Paul Friday


Compiled by