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!

They actually dared to print it…!

Last Friday, I came home to a nice surprise: a single advance copy of my new book (seen here, in all its Amazon-based glory). The cover art, by Mark Postlethwait, is pictured above in its full form; it’s cropped a little horzontally to fit the book cover. Mark did a great job – it really has an illusion of motion to it. That’s Grover Siems shooting a Bf 109G off of Deacon Hively’s tail, by the way.

I have one copy so far, so please don’t feel bad you haven’t received one, if you’re one of the people who helped me out – I’ll be sending yours shortly, when I get a few more from Osprey.

Here’s what I think about the book: I like it a lot more than when I turned in the photos and manuscript! The design is very good, and there are a few extra photos plugged in that address specific incidents mentioned in the text ( a couple of which are “via Roger Freeman,” which are interesting since Roger’s died a little while ago and I have certainly not spoken to him since then). Chris Davey’s profiles are really nice; I compared them to profiles of some of the same planes that appeared in “P-51 Mustang Aces of the Eighth Air Force” and these are far superior in accuracy of markings and weathering. It’s impressive how much better the artists have gotten in the 15 years or so since Osprey started doing books of this ilk; you can thank the readers and their constructive criticism for that.

A couple of observations about this book:

1. There are a lot of dogs in the photos – Kidd Hofer’s Alsatian Duke is most prominent (he’s even labeled in a shot of personnel gathered at Debden, right next to Don Blakeslee), but there are others – Ken Peterson’s dog, Johnny Godfrey’s dog… The book is crawling with dogs.

2. There is no photo of “Shangri-La” after Don Gentile pranged it, but there’s a photo of it immediately before that mission, thanks to Wade Meyers.

3. There are a lot of photos of people who are mentioned in the text – which I think is a very good thing. It helps to humanize the stories, and I used a lot of contemporary accounts this time around, so putting a face with the words helps make things more involving.

It comes out for real on Nov. 18. Now, I just have to get the next book okay’ed by someone who doesn’t mind paying for it to be printed…

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