I recently went to Detroit to participate in the memorial service for my Uncle, Jim. He was the last of three siblings and died suddenly at the age of ninety-four after a life that included lots of love, some heartbreak, and mostly good health. This post is not about his passing but rather a reminder of the kind of people that his generation represented.
Uncle Jim was a pilot in World War II. He joined the army after Pearl Harbor even though he had a wife and little boy at home. When asked why he joined his response was simple, “I have some talent that should be useful.” He was also only twenty years old. This first photo is Uncle Jim in high school. The dedication on the photo is to his sister, my mother.
He was a swimmer, football player, and played a pretty mean game of golf. He married his high school sweetheart and then the war came along. Here is a photo of him, his wife, Maxine and their son Jimmy taken after he finished flight and air combat school.
He was transferred to the European theater. Here is a photo of him overseas.
Uncle Jim flew thirty missions in support of the war in Europe. He was certified to fly the B25 bomber, the P51 Mustang, and the P38 Lightning. His favorite was the P38 lightning since it was so fast and maneuverable.
Here is a photo montage of all three.
His assignment on these thirty-three missions was to fly an unarmed airplane (Called the F-5 version of the P38) and take pictures of the enemy locations for later targeting. He often laughed about how he posed a real danger to enemy aircraft and ground gunners with his cameras and his .45 caliber sidearm. He was fortunate to be able to out maneuver various threats and still return with the photos needed. I always wondered about the courage it took completing these missions knowing there would be no way to protect himself. He did say that he relied on his training and the speed of his airplane to keep him safe.
Here is a picture of Uncle Jim’s Photo Reconnaissance Unit patch (The 34th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron)
Here are the medals he earned during his service (He also received the Good Conduct Medal but he felt everyone got one of those.)
Also, a poem written by Tom McGuire about the “Recon Joes” as people like my Uncle were named.
To: Photo-Recon Joe
By: Tom McGuire
Of all the Air Force pilots that I most deeply admire,
I give my top-notch vote to Photo-Recon Joe
Who goes it alone, unarmed, and braves the enemy’s fire
By taking crucial photos which spell doom to the Axis foe.
Ahead of his Lightning’s sound, his F‑5 zips in at tree-top level;
Too late they hear him coming, now he’s already gone past
A flashing form, a blast of wind, the Fork-Tail Devil,
His photos taken, speeds home, no higher than a mast.
On lists of fighter aces, his name is never placed,
And sadly, he’s soon forgotten after the war has ended,
But war historians know that priceless F‑5 photos based
The Normandy invasion so air, sea, and land attacks all blended.
“Unescorted, unarmed, and unafraid” Joe wings his gutsy way
Into the lethal Axis Reich, where death waits in that murky air.
But he presses on, he shoots his films, and dearly earns his pay
By these “dicing,” flack-filled missions that only he would dare.
So now I raise a grateful toast to Photo-Recon Joe,
And, Joe, I also bow to you-and believe me, I bow low.
Here is a photo of my uncle taken after his eighty-fifth birthday.
Thank you for all you’ve done, Uncle. You did more than required.