Kevin L. Callahan, 8th AFHS-MN Archivist and Videographer


See also my  Website Contact Link (at the bottom of the links on the right side of this page).

My Background

I am currently a full-time student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis,Minnesota. (I am otherwise retired.) I have a B.E.S. Degree in History and Humanities from the University of Minnesota and two other degrees. My Father, James Robert Callahan, Jr. was an USAAF Aviation Cadet during WWII and in training to be a Flight Engineer on a B-29 when the war ended (see his webpage).

Electronic arts

I have taken over 20 classes in electronic arts, film, and video at the U of M and posted over 400 videos on You Tube.

Archaeology

My archaeology masters thesis was written about the relationship between shamanism and rock art in Minnesota and about Achnabreck, a Neolithic period rock art site in Argyll, Scotland.

I have done archaeological field work in Minnesota, North Dakota, Hawaii, and Scotland and have several articles at the Upper Midwest Rock Art Research Association (UMRARA) website.

I have published a book about the Jeffers Petroglyphs in southwestern Minnesota.

I was in the Star Tribune on May 10, 1998 in an article called "Dreams underfoot: Jeffers Petroglyphs is page of state's ancient history" by Chris Welsch.

I have also taught a Compleat Scholar course on rock art through time and around the world.

I have been President of the Minnesota Society of the Archaeological Institute of America.

Education

My U of M degrees include a Bachelor of Elected Studies degree specializing in History and Humanities, a Juris Doctor degree in Law, and a Masters Degree in Anthropology, specializing in Archaeology and the archaeological subdiscipline of International Rock Art Studies.

Teaching

I have taught Anth. 1101 Human Origins and also English Composition at the University of Minnesota.

Law

I was a trial lawyer for 13 years in Saint Paul handling both civil and criminal jury trials.

Travel

I like to travel and have been to over 30 countries and all 50 states.

Archivist

I am the archivist for the Eighth Air Force Historical Society of Minnesota and do video interviews with Veterans to record their memories and preserve their stories and legacies for the future.

Contact information

The best way to reach me is by e-mail at call0031@gmail.com

I design and actively maintain the following two websites on Google.

The Eighth Air Force Historical Society of Minnesota Presentations website

The Callahan History and Genealogy website

I also maintain several webpages on Facebook.

Cafe Philo, Bayport MN, USA

Merchant Marine WWII Veterans

I maintain a Public Group on Facebook.

The Callahan History and Genealogy Public Group

The following much older websites are still archived and the information is available, but I need to renovate these as they have broken links and some of the original webhosting services, like Geocities, have disappeared. I plan on transferring, renovating, and rejuvenating these old websites on other servers soon.

Ancient Mesoamerican Civilizations

Introduction to Ojibwe Culture and History

Introduction to Dakota Culture and History

These are a few of my writings.

They are available at Wilson Library at the U of MN. I also have several online articles at the Upper Midwest Rock Art Research Association website.

Callahan, K., & Prairie Smoke Press. (2001). The Jeffers petroglyphs : Native American rock art on the Midwestern Plains. St. Paul: Prairie Smoke Press.

Callahan, K. (1999). Shamanism, dream symbolism & altered states in Minn. rock art : Ethnohistorical accounts re: Pipestone, Jeffers and Nett Lake (Upper midwest rock art papers). Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota.

Callahan, K. (1999). The Fort Ransom Writing Rock and other cupmarked boulders at Fort Ransom, North Dakota (Upper Midwest rock art papers). Minneapolis: [K. Callahan].

Callahan, K. (1999). Newport, Minnesota's Red Rock and other sacred boulders of the Upper Midwest (Upper Midwest rock art papers). Minneapolis: [K. Callahan].

Callahan, K. (1999). The cupmarked boulders of Blood Run, Iowa : Death stones, baby rocks, & vision questing on the northern plains (Upper Midwest rock art papers). Minneapolis, Minn.: [Callahan].

Callahan, K. (1999). Current trends in rock art theory : Issues and developments since World War II (Upper Midwest rock art papers). Minneapolis, Minn.: [Callahan].

Callahan, K. (1999). Rock art research : A glossary and bibliography (Upper Midwest rock art papers). Minneapolis, Minnesota: [Callahan].

Callahan, K. Pica and Geophagy in Rock Art. A chapter in a book about the rock art of the eastern United States published by the U of AL Press. Diaz-Granados, C., & Duncan, J. (2004). The rock-art of eastern North America : Capturing images and insight. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

 

The Gift of the Story and The Eighth Air Force Historical Society of Minnesota

 

Kevin L. Callahan, the Archivist and Videographer


Posted on December 12, 2017

 

    As someone with a background in anthropology and thus curious about people, their personal histories, and social and cultural organizations, I think a lot about the hundreds of remarkable stories that World War II, Korea, and Vietnam Veterans have passed on to me, and I have passed on to others, and I think of them as gifts. These extraordinary Veterans are ordinary appearing citizens “hidden in plain sight” who possess amazing stories that are only revealed in certain social situations and settings. The unexpected emergence of these stories and the sudden evaporation of the intervening time from when the events occurred can be truly astonishing.

    A Veteran often has the capacity to describe events which occurred over seventy years ago as if they had happened yesterday. The retelling of the experiences of their youth with this sense of immediacy positively affects both the storyteller and the listener. The storyteller sees, hears, and feels again the experiences of their youth in a very immediate way, and I as a listener can perceive and understand something of their world and feel what it was like to be alive in the world before I was born.

    As a member since 2010 of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society of Minnesota, I have been in a sense a kind of on-the-ground “participant observer.” I am the audio recorder, the videographer, the interviewer, the historian, and the archivist. I put the presentations and interviews up on a website and on You Tube so that I can pass along the gift of their remarkable stories to others and preserve them for current and later generations. For the past seven years I have, at least metaphorically, manned an Internet “way station”—in effect a website time capsule or digital portal created to pass their stories on to future generations.

During this time I have often pondered not only the qualities of the people I have met, their points of view, and the world of the past that they knew, but, as I will describe later, I also think a lot about the several reasons for the social and organizational success of the 8th. In the early twentieth century, anthropologist George Bird Grinnell might have called this a kind of “warrior society.” Today we simply call it a Veterans group. My volunteer work to preserve their stories and their history is rewarding, enriches my life, and gives me a serious goal and meaningful sense of purpose After seven years I have a strong “tribal” sense of identification and belonging with the group and consider them all longtime friends. This has provided me with what anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski called the “substance” of happiness.

    The parallels with Malinowski’s Kula have not escaped me.  Malinowski famously described a repeating cycle of gift giving in the southwestern Pacific called the Kula, which gave the temporary possessor of special objects a kind of status until they passed the gift on and eventually received another one in its place. These objects were not particularly or intrinsically valuable in a material sense but were associated with stories and reminders of the ancestral past.

    Like Malinowski’s famous description of the Kula, the 8th has a cycle of gift giving, but it is not of objects associated with history. The gifts given to each other are the relating of their personal experiences—first person accounts told by the people themselves during conversations at lunch, in presentations to the group, and at air shows such as Air Expo in July. It is the gift of their memories and experiences. These are not the people who collect militaria—mass produced historical objects that people own and trade to feel a tangible connection to the past. They are also not, for the most part, recorders of history, nor are they simply eyewitnesses to history. These are the people who made the history. An historian would call them primary sources. 

One of the key insights of anthropologist Eduardo Kohn seems to apply to these Veterans. Kohn argued that all living beings appear to possess emergent properties and inner truths, which may be outwardly masked and hidden from view, but that often reveal themselves over time. Under the right conditions these Veterans will reveal their stories, which with some Veterans unfortunately may only happen a few times in their lives.  

    At the weekly 8th luncheons I am often the youngest person in the room, having been born nine years after the end of the war. I did not experience the Great Depression or World War II as a formative experience growing up. As a member of the subsequent “Baby Boomer” generation I grew up in suburbia with rock and roll music, Vietnam, and the Cold War, and thankfully have not, thus far, had a bullet fired at me in anger.  

    Younger members like me and the visitors to 8th luncheons often feel privileged to be able to know these men and women and hear about things not discussed or revealed elsewhere. 

Nearly all of the Veterans whom I have asked have been willing to talk about their experiences. However, I do have a friend, a WWII paratrooper and not a member of the 8th, who has consistently refused to talk about the war, even after many requests. He reminds me that “not everyone in WWII was a hero” and says that he is “tired of talking about World War II.” Anthropologist Audra Simpson described a similar example of “refusal” during an interview with a member of the Mohawk tribe. From my perspective, having done years of interviewing, when a question is met by a sudden or surprising silence, awkward change of mood, or non-responsive answer, it may signal a sensitive topic, perhaps embarrassing or painful, or one they have talked about to the point of boredom, disinterest, or impatience. Sometimes rephrasing the question or coming back to it later will generate a discussion but sometimes it will not. I have never gotten my exceptional paratrooper friend to tell me even one story.

    Growing up in the 1960s, most of the adult men in my neighborhood were in the service, but as a child I heard almost no one talk about the war or what they went through. The men seemed to know what the others had done in the service, but it was not a topic we, their children, heard much about. Many Veterans have told me in recent years that they did not look back, but were looking forward and were so busy with education, marriage, career and children, that they did not think much about their time in service during their waking lives until after they retired. 

Since sixteen million people served during WWII there was also a social phenomenon that if a group of them sat down and one began to tell a story, that there seemed to always be someone there who could “top the story,” which could be a disincentive to bring up the topic.   

    Many who saw combat however did, and still do, have repetitive dreams that disturb their sleep. At night they may still “fly a mission” or see a German Division “coming over the hill.” The latter was an expression I heard a friend and colleague mutter aloud in his sleep at a conference. He was a machine gunner trained to close with the enemy, was wounded, lost his twin brother, and had nightmares throughout his life.

    For all the horrors of that time, Paul Dowswell in his book True stories of the Second World War has observed that, “For them, the battlefront campaigns, front-line or home front comradeship, wartime romance and eventual victory are all remembered in a blur of glorious Technicolor. The rest of their lives seemed to be lived out in dull black and white” (2003:165).

Although they are certainly not a homogenous group, to me the generation that went through World War II has an admirable and distinctive set of personal characteristics. As a group they generally seem to be more polite, formal, hard-working, humble, honest, egalitarian, patriotic, and practical. They do not suffer fools lightly. The experience of the Great Depression gave many a feeling of perpetual economic insecurity. They do not consider themselves “heroes” and they do not all necessarily consider themselves “The Greatest Generation.” (Tom Brokaw came up with the title to recognize the difficulties they lived through during the Great Depression and World War.) Some of “The Greatest Generation” would describe their own parents as the greatest generation because it was they who taught them their values, which suggests the possibility that children and historians may view their own parent’s generation in a too positive light. Perhaps things are commonly perceived as tougher for one’s parents’ generation, but is it? 8th member Bob Clemens often said that as a child in the Depression he wasn’t aware of being poor because everyone around him was also.

    Many younger Americans do, however, feel the WWII generation’s personal sacrifice and hard-won victory over aggressive Fascism during the worst war in human history was a true gift to later generations and part of their historical legacy. Each of the sixteen million who served contributed something, which together added up to a tremendous collective effort to defend the country which had unexpectedly and suddenly come under attack. Over four years they fought a global war on two fronts to a successful conclusion.

    The feelings of collective gratitude of younger people, including myself, who meet and get to know these Veterans is not that of “elder worship” but of respect and sometimes awe for the incredible things they describe having experienced and accomplished during their lives. In addition to this sense of gratitude I also always seem to learn something new during our conversations. These are interesting people to talk to. With their age and experience they are all “walking encyclopedias.” 

On rare occasions and in the right setting I have also seen similar feelings described and be publicly articulated by others in remarkably clear and truthful ways. In 2011 this happened at the memorial service for Ted Murphy, a WWII Navy Wildcat Pilot I had thought I knew very well. Ted flew and fought against Japanese warships during the most critical moment in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in human history. I had had lunch with Ted for a year and visited him in hospice and heard many of his stories and had even viewed an early video of a presentation he had given to the group. 

When the pastor at the memorial service asked the audience if anyone would like to share anything, I was surprised when Randy Penrod, someone I did not recognize as being an 8th member and did not know at the time, walked up to the microphone and began talking. His remarks were so clear and articulate that I later went home that day and transcribed them. This is what he said. 


I’m a member of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society, which is how I met Ted about ten years ago. . . And if you ever come to one of our luncheons, you’ll find that people sit in the same spot all the time.

Now I sat with the Air Force guys because Larry Bachman, who is a B-24 pilot, 8th Air Force, was my introduction. But the Navy guys, they always sat over here.

And so “Murph” was there, and Glenn was there, and “Spook” was there--another tail hook guy--and I found as I migrated over to that area from time to time, just to find out who were these guys sitting at that table, I found that naval aviators can tell incredible stories. . .

The way I feel about Ted and the way I feel about these guys . . . This is what I told [a] Doolittle Raider. He happened to be Jimmy Doolittle’s navigator.

I said, “You are my American father. Before I was born, you and your brothers in arms risked all of your tomorrows, and far too many times you gave them up, so I could have today the greatest nation on the face of the earth. You guys let me have lunch with you. You let me join your organization. You give me the needle and the barb, which I consider a huge compliment, and sometimes you even let me call you friend. You tell me stories that I don’t think even your wives or your children know. I owe you a debt of gratitude I can never, ever, repay.”

And I was thinking this morning, I was talking to somebody, and I said, “And all I have to offer are tears for his life and his death. It’s not a fair trade.” Ted is the fourth of my World War II friends that I lost in three months, and I knew that this would be the price I would have to pay to get to know them: that I get to know them better, and closer, they become more dear to me, and it’s going to hurt more and more.

Like my Dad said, “You can get used to anything.” And I’m getting used to this, but I don’t like it. But it’s the cost I have to pay to get to know wonderful men like this and maybe show them just a little bit of my gratitude.”



 

Following Randy’s remarks three completely unrelated people stood up and to my amazement told stories about how Ted Murphy had saved their lives. 

    I had sat with, talked to, and ate lunch with Ted Murphy for a year, and heard him tell many stories, but I did not know these stories about him. They were revealed simply by giving a large group of people at his memorial service the opportunity, if they wanted, to stand up and talk about him. The lesson here was that these stories may be deeply hidden. No one person knows everything about another’s life. We only glimpse a small part. Veterans can possess stories and inner truths that may not emerge even by knowing and regularly talking with them. For these stories, told by others, to emerge and be revealed there needed to be the right setting and conditions and someone needed to invite the people to talk.

    I just recently heard another very clear expression of intergenerational gratitude, which occurred at the annual 8th Holiday Party, held on December 3rd, 2017. The emcee, Stan Turner, a radio host on KLBB and former TV news anchor, shared these thoughts.

 

Isn’t it amazing this coming week will mark the 76th anniversary of America’s entry into World War II. For many of you that was the wakeup call to respond to the colors, which you did so bravely, you did so finely, and you helped with the victory. To this day it shaped our lives. We are in your debt. There is no way that we can ever repay you. 

I remember as a kid I was surrounded by you folks not knowing what you had done. But I knew you were out there. You were my heroes as a boy and you are still my heroes and always will be. All of you who answered the call. 

And I tell you what, I’ve talked to many of you--hundreds of you over the years--because I was so interested in you and so grateful to you. You always say “Nah! I was just doing my bit. I was just ordinary.” Yeah. You were just an ordinary guy or gal who was doing extraordinary things, which makes you extraordinary people. We’re all so proud of you. Thank you.

 

Stan’s family understood the sacrifices made during WWII. I was informed that Stan Turner was named after his Uncle who died in a B-17 during WWII. 

    Most, but not all, 8th members are religious, and an invocation begins the meetings. Members who are religious attend various churches, so religion is not a major focus of discussion. Those that are religious generally attribute surviving close calls in combat to divine intervention or favor. Those who are not religious usually articulate their having survived close calls due to “luck.”  

    As a social organization the 8th has done many things very well, not the least of which has been to grow and flourish over time even with the attrition of an aging population. Various other societies founded by World War II Veterans, such as the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association and the local Viking Chapter of the WWII Merchant Mariners, have, to the dismay of many, voluntarily disbanded on the grounds that it was the right time because of this attrition. To me this has never seemed like a very satisfactory explanation since I have personally observed the robustness, health, and organizational longevity of the 8th, a group which has far outlived the passing of its original founding members and outlived other World War II Veterans associations. I suspect that the 8th may eventually outlive me. I hope that it does. 

    What accounts for the group’s growth and success is that it rather quickly became both multiservice and multigenerational in nature.  It is both open and welcoming to the public. The group did not arbitrarily restrict its membership to only one service, nor one war, nor required that members have personally served in the military. The name of the group is something of a misnomer since, although it was originally founded by 8th Air Force Veterans, many of the members today are from different services and different periods and wars. Not everyone is a Veteran and some long-time members were simply interested in history and have become friends with the different Veterans who attend. Some of the occasional visitors are family relatives of the Veterans. 

    Women are a very important part of the 8th ’s story. Two of the longest and most highly respected members, Mary Berg and Liane Sparrow are women who were not personally in military service but are either patriotic and believe in helping Veterans, are historically minded, or say they are just very impressed by the brotherhood and close bonds that men form who have been in the military. Sue Rucker, a personal care nurse, has personally organized large events and entertainment events for the 8th. Liz Strohfus a well-known and well-respected WWII W.A.S.P. pilot transported planes and towed gunnery targets. Her outgoing and vivacious personality was like nobody I have ever seen before or since.

    Like many social organizations the 8th has regular unifying “rituals” which articulate its values. Following the first half hour of informal and unstructured socializing the weekly the Wednesday luncheons start on time at 12:30 pm with a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. People stand, face the American flag and recite it in unison. If a person is a Veteran, they may hand salute the flag. If a civilian, the right hand is placed over the heart. A room full of voices reciting the same words in unison is somewhat like a congregation reciting a prayer. 

    The flag also reminds people, on a weekly basis, that they are Americans and as citizens are pledged to defend the country and its Constitution. Part of what binds the group together is that they served their country and they have and continue to pledge their allegiance to their country. The pledge and the flag are serious symbols here since they personally know what service to the country means. Several of the members lost members of their family or their best friends in wars. It is no empty ritual or gesture. Generally speaking, actual combat Veterans are usually against war because they know what it really involves and means, but they are willing to defend their country and served because they thought it was necessary and the right thing to do. 

The Invocation that follows the Pledge usually reminds people on a weekly basis that people are still in harm’s way today, and the country’s leaders need wisdom. There is always included a pause for a “moment of silence for those who have gone before.” I have never told anyone this, but I personally use this pause to recall in my mind’s eye, two photos of my parents who have passed. I assume others remember those who they knew who never made it home from service or friends and family who have passed on before them. I have never heard anyone ever discuss later what or whom they think about or remember during this profound and private moment in the room.

    The “Amen” ending is usually followed by something upbeat like “Let’s eat.” The meal is served by standing in what is a familiar “chow line” and getting the food. Talk at the tables while eating is usually friendly, energetic, and interesting.   

    The 8th as a group has the cumulative wisdom of people who have lived long lives and gained practical wisdom. Their generation often literally traveled the world during their time in service and received training and practical experience in working as a team to achieve a goal. There is also universal praise among the Veterans for the GI Bill, which gave them the opportunity for a second “formal” education, and the opportunity to buy a home--two opportunities afforded them in recognition by the government of their service to the country. To be in the Army Air Forces they had to take an IQ test and a battery of aptitude and skill tests and if they didn’t measure up were “washed out.” They were classified by their interest, existing aptitude and skills, and the Army Air Force’s needs. Since it was a common desire at that time to be a fighter pilot, those who served were in some ways akin to the “astronauts” of their generation. They had gone through rigorous mental and physical testing and training and a very fine process of screening.  

    There is so much intelligence, cumulative experience, knowledge, and practical experience in the room when these people get together, it almost seems like if you were to ask any important or significant question about any topic, that someone would have a profound and personal experience that would address it. Having been formed by the common experience of military service and military discipline, they are accustomed to demanding work, personal sacrifice, difficult circumstances and will often credit their later success in business to what they learned in the service, which includes learning “discipline.” They possess intelligence, personal integrity and dignity, are honest people, and they value good character and humility. They have strong values and a feeling of brotherhood or comradeship.  With their interest in airplanes and aviation they are “brothers of the air” and share something they feel is special. 

    They are simultaneously also parents, family oriented, and personally concerned for the welfare and education of their children and children’s children. They want young people to understand what happened during WWII and when asked will speak to High School history classes. To young people these are their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents and the family relationship may overwhelm their perceiving them as individuals or thinking of them as having been young. Family members will occasionally come to meetings or drive someone who is having difficulty driving.

    The initial reason for my going to an 8th luncheon was because I was researching and trying to understand my own Father’s World War II experiences as a United States Army Air Force Aviation Cadet and I had a lot of historical questions. He was born in 1924 and died at age 72 so I guess I just assumed everyone else was gone from his generation and this would be a meeting of a group of historians. Little did I know that this was a group of people from his generation who had lived significantly longer.

I then really thought I was in the wrong place when I sat down and asked the person sitting across from me what they did in the service. His answer was that he had been in the Marines!  Since there were no Marines in Europe with the 8th Air Force, this baffled me until I could figure out that he was a Marine Corps pilot in the central Pacific during World War II.

My Dad jokingly referred to having fought the “Battle of Texas” since he never saw combat and his training ended in 1945 while in B-29 Flight Engineering School. When the atomic bombs were dropped the war ended and he was no longer needed. 

I have regretted only recording about three minutes of video of him describing some photos from his time in service, but I am thankful now that I did that. Looking back, I wish I would have recorded more, but over time the Veterans at the 8th have helped answer my history questions.

The creation of Veterans groups has some time depth to it. In Viking mythology, a warrior who died in battle was rewarded by going to Valhalla to socialize, feast, and tell stories. I can understand the attraction, and I’ve often thought of this while standing in the chow line at luncheons. In American Valhalla the feasting is excellent, and happily you don’t have to die in battle.  

    Veterans societies appear to have self-organized following specific wars. The Civil War was followed by the creation of Veterans organizations on both sides of the conflict, such as “The Grand Army of the Republic.” Vince Parker, a B-17 tail gunner told me that as a young boy at a patriotic school assembly there were half a dozen Civil War Veterans sitting in chairs up on the school stage. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) was then created 44 years after the Civil War in 1899 and explicitly did not include the still living Civil War Veterans for some unknown reason. VFW membership then increased dramatically following the First World War. The American Legion was created in 1919 following World War I. Vietnam saw the creation of a few very specific groups, but they rarely appear at 8th meetings. The reason for this is not entirely clear and something of a mystery. 

    One of the reasons for the 8th’s creation was perhaps a changed perception and relationship to time. The group was initially formed after the World War II generation, born in the years around 1924, had raised their own children, retired from their careers, and then had time to look back on their lives. Immediately after the war people were busy and looking forward in time. When they retired they had time to reflect on their lives and what they had experienced and accomplished as young people and one of the most important things they accomplished was winning WWII.
    Specifically, the 8th was begun in 1982 by four Eighth Air Force Veterans meeting for lunch at an American Legion Hall in Richfield or Bloomington (since torn down). The founders were Jim Keefe (95th Bomb Group), Dave Dahlberg (487th BG), Earl Joswick (95th BG), and either Ray Prozinski (486th BG) or Harold Rutka (34th BG). According to Ray Prozinski, who I asked about the group’s early history prior to his death, the triggering event for forming the local chapter was that the national 8th Air Force Historical Society meeting in 1981 was held in Minneapolis. Jim Keefe was a leader in organizing the group at the beginning. All are gone now, but the organization they founded continued.
    A second specific and local factor was the presence of a restored and flyable B-17 and a very large number of other restored and flyable WWII aircraft collected by Bob Pond at the Planes of Fame Air Museum, which was then located at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie. Minnesota. Jim Keefe recruited and organized many 8th’s Veterans to volunteer at the museum. These men shared a common interest in WWII airplanes. Some Planes of Fame volunteers from other military services, such as the Navy, also started to attend the 8th luncheons. Unfortunately, Bob Pond, the owner of the Planes of Fame museum, which had been open for over 15 years, eventually closed it on Dec. 18, 1997 when he moved to Palm Springs, CA. The Planes of Fame Museum is now in Chino, California.
    There is a special bond between Veterans because of a shared experience, which civilians do not necessarily even understand. I have had one Veteran tell me that when he was showing his adult daughter and her husband, a documentary about the horrendous fire-bombing of Dresden, his traumatic first combat mission, that after five minutes they just stood up and walked out of the room and never came back, a response which completely baffled him. They never even gave an explanation. Veterans feel more comfortable talking to other Veterans with similar backgrounds and will often only share the more distressing stories with them. Combat Veterans who served together also form a close bond that they say is closer and different from any other in civilian or family life.
    The military experience requires a certain level of social competency and intelligence. Starting from boot camp on, these young men learned the importance of working as a team, getting along, and being responsible. They knew how to work together on an aircrew and smooth over individual differences and differences of opinion that inevitably arise when people need to cooperate to achieve a task. A B-17 bomber crew of ten men worked, lived, and sometimes died together, and everyone had a vital job they were trained to do. They did not tolerate someone who did not take their job and the plane’s safety seriously and such people were often quickly kicked off a crew and transferred. Bomber crews respect each other but also the other various services, which they often have a certain curiosity about. One individual only saw a small part of World War II, so they usually have an interest in what else happened.
    Walter Benjamin wrote that there are two kinds of storytellers--those who traveled, such as sailors, and those who stayed at home. For some reason some of the best storytellers have worked with their hands, perhaps because people tell stories to exchange practical wisdom. From 2001 to 2003, Dick Hill, a P-51 instrument mechanic and long-time Vice President of the 8th began videotaping members’ individual presentations to the group when they described their time in service. These can be quite engaging. I know this because I obtained a grant and digitized them and have since video recorded and transcribed the presentations since 2010.
    Interestingly, the people who have written the 8th members stories have tended to not be 8th Air Force Veterans. In 2004 Don Ward, a US Navy Pilot, wrote and published a book called The Greatest Generation of Silver Wings about several members of the 8th. Ward came to the luncheons for several years before my arrival but later moved to Pattaya, Thailand. The many decades of the group’s existence, there have also only been two newsletter editors, Pete Backlund and Larry Sagstetter; neither of them were WWII Veterans.
    The Veterans have had all the usual medical problems of aging which creates an awareness of their mortality especially as their contemporaries die off. Medical problems are another occasional topic of conversation, more as the comparing of notes, rather than a topic dwelt upon for long. As young men they saw many of their generation die, but this awareness of death then waned during peacetime as they raised their families. Now again, as older men, they have seen those around them dying off.
    Regardless, the 8th’s luncheons are fun to attend and usually have a lot of humor, friendly rivalries, and what anthropologists might call “joking partners.” For many years “Club Cherokee” a group of small plane pilots flew the World War II Veterans to various airshows and aviation events for free. Many of the Veterans have also been on “Honor Flights” to see the WWII Memorial in Washington DC. All expenses are paid, and they are treated as “The Greatest Generation” and thanked for their service, although it can be a very long day. Like flying a combat mission, those days begin at 3 am.
    The regularity of their weekly contacts with a large group of friends makes the rituals and faces very comfortable and the meetings happy and relaxed. Except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the group meets all year. They tend to sit in the same chairs every week, so they get to know people in great depth. The “schema” is familiar. Ted Murphy used to say that the 8th’s luncheon was the highlight of the week.
    The composition of who sits at any table slowly changes over time as people die and other new people come in. One table that known for having many of the very earliest 8th members was taken down as most of them passed on. The conversations at tables typically include memories of different events, planes, people, upcoming airshows, or current activities like searching for a missing B-29 in Upper Red Lake, Minnesota. The habit of sitting in the same place sometimes results in not knowing the people who habitually sit across the room, even after years of attending the meetings. There are over 300 people on the membership list, but only about 30 or 40 usually attend any particular weekly luncheon. Don Kent estimated that in the late 1990s, when more World War II Veterans were alive, that 50 or 60 men met for lunch at the Bloomington American Legion.
    The annual Holiday Party is an important social event that deviates considerably from the schema of a weekly luncheon. The men dress up in coats and ties for this event and some may even wear their medals. There is live entertainment, and wives and children attend. It is held on the first Sunday of December and always at Mancini’s Char House in Saint Paul.
    Members of the World War II generation I have known have been politically diverse and some can be very conservative and others liberal and progressive. In another group I attend on Fridays, I know an 8th Air Force Waist Gunner wounded in combat who still refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance because he doesn’t believe in some of what it says.

    There are no African-Americans that I know of in this group. During World War II the U.S. military was racially segregated and there were few African-American pilots. The military service of African-American “Red Tails” (a P-51 Fighter Group in Italy that protected 15th Air Force bombers) however, is highly respected and honored. During WWII the Red Tails fighter pilots were older and college educated, compared to many of those in the 15th Air Force who had just come out of High School. This difference in age and education is just one of the reasons that Black WWII pilots are respected. They also protected some of the bomber formations of members who served in the 15th Air Force. The Red Tail pilots were unfortunately subjected to overt and outrageous racial discrimination both before and after their military service, which they highly resented and with good reason. 

    Members of the 8th AFHS-MN were mostly northerners, who were truly shocked and angered by their exposure during World War II to the Jim Crow segregation and racism in the south during their early military training. Many were posted at training airbases in the southern United States because the weather for year-round flying was better there.

Jewish aviators also served alongside everyone else during World War II and were treated the same as anyone else.

There appears to be positive health and emotional benefits in being involved in an active social group. People seem to leave meetings feeling physically better and happier compared to when they came in. It is a very curious thing to watch. Although they may walk into the room ninety-some-years old, moving carefully, with canes or a walker, after they start talking to each other it seems to bring back their youth. As the enthusiasm and energy of conversations  rise, the aches and pains of age seem abate and be forgotten. They are young and happy again. It is perhaps a temporary “fountain of youth” effect, but it is quite visible, even to a visitor. Bob Clemens, a B-17 Navigator, used to tell me that just seeing a B-17 seemed to take some of his pain away. Most Veterans perceive the airplanes they served in as “beautiful.” Whatever plane they flew in that got them home again safely after a dangerous mission was for them a great aircraft. There is thus a seemingly never-ending comparison and endless joking about which plane was better--the B-17 or the B-24.

    Compared to later generations, to me they have a dignity, strength, and soulfulness born from adversity. There is a clear sense of morality and right and wrong, honesty, and a respect for good character. Their relationships are formed during face-to-face interactions and they know how get along with each other. 

    During the annual round of official American holidays, both Memorial Day and Veterans Day are explicit American opportunities set aside for recognition of their past military service and sacrifice. Memorial Day is, of course, for remembering those who served and died but Veterans Day is for recognizing those still alive. They are thus recognized with Parades, free meals, and other special events. At these times the news media seems to always be looking for Veterans to interview and feature and several articulate 8th members have received considerable public recognition over the years. The Minnesota Twins have had Veterans open their games and newspapers, television, and local TV documentarians have all produced short segments on various 8th members. Many members have been interviewed on WCCO radio’s “World of Aviation.”

    There are fewer and fewer living Veterans left from World War II. Death is again a presence in their lives and all around them. They have outlived most of their contemporaries and often many of their own family members. Modern advances in medical care has extended their lives through heart surgeries, pacemakers, cancer treatments, and prescription drugs for which they are grateful. This has allowed them to continue enjoying life on Wednesdays with their friends at the 8th.

Don Kent, a B-17 radio operator with the 401st Bomb Group 614th Bomb Squadron and once the Chaplain for the 8th put it this way.

 

We gather together in the twilight of our lives to share a ‘look-back’ through the shadows and mist of some 60 years ago. . . We are getting old, yet we grow younger with each meeting, telling and retelling each of our own individual stories of those days so long ago. We gathered together back in those days too, and shared that ‘tap’ on the shoulder in the wee hours of the morning telling us that we had to rise and prepare for the day’s mission. . .  We laugh, joke, reminisce, and sometimes in contemplative silence. The shadows lengthen, and the mists begin to cloud what once was. If it weren’t for these gatherings, maybe these memories would be lived in solitude and sadness, but once a week we are young again preflighting our aircraft, starting engines, and again taxiing to the end of the runway for takeoff.

 

My effort has been to video record their stories to give them a kind of digital immortality and keep their memories alive on the Internet and available to future generations. I especially like video because it captures their demeanor, humor, sound of their voices, body language and as a practical matter is much faster than transcribing audio recordings. As I understand it from John Mbiti (1970) and John H. Loewen (1995) some East and Central Africa religions believe that there exist several stages or kinds of time and death. There is the physical death of the body, but a person will live on (called in Swahili “sasha” or “sasa) in the living memory of those who knew them.  When all those alive who possess a living memory of the person die, the person may continue in the category or macro-time of the revered ancestors (“zamani”). A person thus only truly and finally dies when and if no one remembers them--and that will not do.

    One of the most difficult and saddest things for me is when a close friend from the group is dying or there is an announcement that he or she has died. At those times I am thankful that I have video recorded some of their stories and some of their voice, laughter, smiles, ideas, values, and demeanor.  Perhaps this feeling of comfort parallels one of Malinowski’s most profound and striking cultural images in Argonauts of the Western Pacific, which appears in his final chapter, entitled “The Meaning of the Kula” (513). He describes observing the family and friends of a dying man comforting, soothing, and fortifying him for hours by placing Kula objects on his forehead and chest, rubbing them on his belly and ribs, and dangling them before him. Malnowski wrote: “I believe there is a complex, emotional, and intellectual attitude at the bottom of it; the desire to inspire with life; and at the same time to prepare for death; to hold him fast to this one, and to equip him for the other world; but above all, the deep feeling that the vaygu’a [Kula objects]are the supreme comfort, that to surround a man with them, even in his most evil moment, makes this moment less evil” (513). This desire to comfort “those, who . . . are most directly hit by the death” is why the brothers of the widow give the brothers of the dead man the Kula objects, which are given back on the same day to continue on their journey.  

 

 

References

Benjamin, Walter. 1968 “The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai              Leskov. In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. by Hannah Arendt. Schocken Books.

Dowswell, Paul. 2003. True Stories of The Second World War. London: Usborne Publishing Ltd.

 

Grinnell, George Bird. 2008. The Cheyenne Indians: Their History and Lifeways. Bloomington, Indiana: World Wisdom.

 

Kohn, Eduardo. 2013. How Forests Think: toward an anthropology beyond the human. University of California Press.

 


Loewen, James W. 1995. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything your American textbook got wrong. Touchstone.

 

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1950. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc.

 

Mbiti, John. 1970. African Religions and Philosophy. Doubleday Books.

 

Simpson, Audra. 2014. Mohawk interruptus: political life across the borders of settler states. Duke University Press.

 

The Eighth Air Force Historical Society of Minnesota Presentations Website https://sites.google.com/site/8thafhsmn/

 

The Eighth Air Force Historical Society of Minnesota Organizational Website

http://www.8thmn.org/  

 

Ward, Don. 2004. The Greatest Generation of Silver Wings. The Memorial Press.


 

 

The Eighth Air Force Historical Society of Minnesota (8th AFHS-MN or “8th”) is an aviation oriented Veterans association open to the public, which holds weekly meetings on Wednesdays at 11:00 am at the Knights of Columbus Hall on American Boulevard in Bloomington, Minnesota. There is a half hour of socializing, and the regular meeting begins with the Pledge of Allegiance and an Invocation. This is followed by a luncheon, which consists of a full catered meal or soup and salad and continued conversation during the meal. After lunch there is often a presentation by a Veteran, historian, or other speaker, or a documentary is shown on a large screen TV. The meetings end at 1:00 pm. 

 

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