TAPS-Judge John H. Kirkwood
My father who was the navigator with Tom Mustaleski's crew from January to April 1945, passed away peacefully at the age of 96 on June 16, 2012. I was lucky enough to have him in my life for so long and for him to share many of his experiences with me. As a tribute, I took him on his final mission and released his ashes from the radiio room on a flight aboard the "909" on 6-24-2012.
"Gone but never forgotten."
Here is a letter he wrote that I'll share with you:
“Looking back brings to mind so many vignettes of flying with the 8th: the solemn talk by the Squadron C.O. when we arrived on the base; landing about forty feet off the runway at Criel, near Paris, when the English bases were socked in, and slamming down on the gear with a terrific impact; cruising over Paris one sunny morning on the way to Royan, and gazing at all the avenues; watching a plane on the wing gently surge up and down, the pilot never taking his eyes off our wing tip; flying formation so tight that the rivets in the neighboring plane can be counted; the feeling of kinship with a certain little lake in the German hills that served as a checkpoint so many times; the wearying noise and vibration of a mission to Berlin, or Chemnitz or Augsburg; the sight of smoke towering above Munich, and the tiny planes visible in the cloud of flak above the city; the Me 262-first would come the hammering of our guns, comments on the interphone, and by the time we could jump up to look all we saw was the jet breaking off just abeam; a big chart in the mess hall pointing out the difference between a P-51 and the Me 262 head on; losing an engine over Hamburg; a direct hit in the bustle over Kiel that left us minus most of the left tailplane-flak was our main enemy, and it was terrifying; the lurch of the plane as the bombs are dropped; the long threads of smoke from the marker bombs standing in the air and reaching down to some luckless target; the red glare from a B-17 that has crashed on takeoff early in the morning; the endless circling of Forts into squadrons and groups over the splasher beacons, groups forming into wings, and wings swinging into the division assembly line-it was quite a traffic problem; the silvery sheen of the Zuider Zee; the “different” feeling as we enter Germany-a general quickening of the pulse; the feeling of relief and well-being on the way home, and a million and one other things.”
- In 1964, John Kirkwood wrote a letter to Steve Birdsall. An edited version of that letter was used as an epilog in Steve’s book, Hell’s Angels John Kirkwood, 709th Bomb Sqdn., 447th Bomb Group, crewman on “A Bit O’ Lace,” one of 1800 veteran B-17s scrapped at Kingman, Arizona in 1947.