Bicycle Diaries: Black Friday

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Black Friday

62 years ago today...

Robert Klippel flew his P-51 out of Iwo Jima. He was escorting a squadron of B-29s bombers that were called up on a last minute mission. Before my mother's brother and his buddies reached their targets over Osaka, a tsunami engulfed the planes. Only a few eventually returned. It has come to be known as Black Friday.

My uncle was one of the unlucky ones a little over two months before Japan surrendered. He and his plane were never found. In 1946 his Missing in Action status was changed to Killed in Action. Some of his buddies who survived visited my mother's family soon after the war. They said that the last time they saw his plane it was trying to climb out over the storm. Years later I got my hands on the afteraction report from a veterans' organization. It states that this mission was the largest loss of life and equipment in the WWII's Pacific Theater.

As as a young boy, every time we visited my grandmother she would show us Robert's Army Air Corps insignia and medals. The stuff was always cool to look at; in fact, I've had a bit of an obsession with this uncle who had died 17 years before I was born. Thanks to the web, I've done a lot of research on his squadron and fighter group. A couple of years ago, I even made contact with the veterans from the fighter group. But they were in different squadrons and didn't remember my uncle.

It wasn't until I was an adult, many years later, that I realized that Robert's death had torn the heart out of my mother's family. My grandmother firmly believed that he was still alive somewhere on Pacific island or in Japan. Her eldest daughter, my aunt, started to suffer from bipolar disorder at the end of the war. And my mother still can't talk about my uncle with getting extremely emotional.

Once a soldier's ghost sits down at the dinner table it doesn't ever really go away. The one that started sitting with my mother's family in 1945 now sits with me as well as with my cousins and their children. Today there are too many ghosts sitting at dinner tables or in backyards or on porches and decks around Chicago and the country.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

One other thing that caught my attention was the narrative about your KIA fighter pilot uncle; Sometime during WWII that same Montrose Ave/Bell Ave apartment building was brought under "air attack" by a P-38 Lightning. A young man whose name escapes me now, had grown up in that apartment building and who had the opportunity to be in Chicagoland with his P-38 for some reason or other, did what any piss-and-vinegar fighter pilot would do and buzzed his mom and dad at home. Must've been quite the show too because, while not being daily conversation-material, it was still being occasionally mentioned ten years later when we moved away.


3/6/07 11:13  

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