Friday’s talk: I’M speaking, and YOU’RE in the audience?!?

Friday’s talk to the Aviation Enthusiasts in San Jose went very well. I must admit I felt like I was in a bit of an altered state looking out at a room full of pilots, crewmen, mechanics and others who have done the things I only write about – it’s a pretty humbling experience. I worried that my talk would be too low-level, but I brought out all the Fourth Fighter Group chestnuts – the first mission flown over occupied France by Spitfires with non-standard six-pointed stars, Blakeslee’s “help! Help! I’m being clobbered! Down here by the railroad tracks!” and “it had damn well better be able to dive – it can’t climb!”, Kidd Hofer’s antics, Gentile and Godfrey and the ace race, and Gentile pranging “Shangri-La” on his last flight. The old stories got laughs (luckily, in this case, that’s what I was aiming for!). Elizabeth was there as my spotter and she said I didn’t speed up or freak out from nervous tension, although I thought that’s what I was doing! I had to get things right – Bill Gillette of the Fourth was right there in the audience! Here’s the two of us…

Chris and Bill Gillette

During the question and answer period, anything I couldn’t answer was handled by Bill, an almost-ace (4.5 victories!), who sat next to Elizabeth and I. Naturally, there was almost a P-47 pilot vs. P-51 pilot face-off – even 65 years later, fighter pilots remain fighter pilots. Guy Watson had the last word – Guy was a P-38 driver, so for a toast to the birthday boy, B-17 pilot Sherman Gillespie, he recited the poetry of Tech. Sgt. Robert Bryson:

Oh, Hedy Lamarr is a beautiful gal
And Madeleine Carroll is too;
But you’ll find, if you query, a different theory
Amongst any bomber crew.
For the loveliest thing of which one could sing
(This side of the Heavenly gates)
Is no blonde or brunette
Of the Hollywood set,
But an escort of P-38s

The next most humbling thing was that the audience bought a LOT of books – and they asked me to autograph them! Bill Gillette and I traded autographs, and I signed for the many fighter pilots, bomber jockeys, and even a TBF Avenger driver. Why on earth was I the one signing autographs – they’re the heroes!

Anyhow, it was a humbling afternoon and one which I hope will result in many more articles and a few models, to boot! I still need to build Sherman Gillespie’s B-17G, and I may have to sneak in Archie Maltbie’s P-47D, since I met him and the namesake of his three “Joanie’s!” Here’s Sherman and me.

Sherm and Chris

There is so much history living so close around us, and we so often fail to realize it. If you know a veteran, make sure you capture his or her story before it’s too late. Not only is it a huge service to the future, but, as you can see, it can be a lot of fun!


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