Written By: Christopher Ames
At the September 2014 ACTC (Arizona Classic Thunderbird Club) meeting, the club’s contact with Fountain Hills, Rita Havel, spoke briefly about the upcoming Thanksgiving Day Parade to honor the Fountain Hills WWII Veterans. And 30+ year club member Ken Falkenberry added that it is a rewarding experience to be part of this event. I considered speaking about my experience at the 2011 parade but decided I should write about it to do it justice. On Thanksgiving morning 2011, I was introduced to my honoree, Moylan Smith. We spent a little time discussing the pros and cons of riding on the rear deck vs. sitting on a cushion on the passenger seat. Moylan elected to take the passenger seat. I had noticed Moylan was holding a model of the revered B-17 Flying Fortress bomber so after getting settled, I asked, “Moylan, I see you are carrying a B- 17, what is your connection with the B-17?” Moylan sat up straight and in a commanding voice said, “I was a pilot.” My father was a Bombardier on B-17s, and I have a fair knowledge of the aircraft and its missions during the war, so I asked, “How many missions did you fly?” “32 … but I only remember one” Moylan replied. “Why do you remember that one mission?” I asked. “It was the first shuttle mission” Moylan quickly responded. When I asked if the Germans had damaged his aircraft the ground in Russia, Moylan asked, “You know about that?” A shuttle raid is where the target is beyond the aircraft’s round trip range thereby requiring a landing site away from home base. The 8th AAF flew their first Shuttle Raid on June 21, 1944, which turned into a disaster when by happenstance a German Reconnaissance aircraft spotted the B-17s and followed the formation to identify its landing location. A subsequent night attack destroyed or damaged 57% of the B-17s on the ground. Well, Moylan and I had an enthralling conversation during the parade. We compared notes on the B -17, airfields, and missions. I had to keep reminding myself to drive the car! After I had dropped Moylan off at the end of the parade, I was reflecting on our conversation, and it troubled me that Moylan only recalled one of his 32 missions. I have done research on my father’s and uncle’s WWII service, and I thought if I could find Moylan’s BG (Bomb Group) I would have a good chance to find his other 31 missions. I started working through my list of BGs assigned to the 8th Air Force. When I got to the 390th and discovered it was Moylan’s BG, I was excited for a couple of reasons. First, I had met Dorothy Moller, the widow of Colonel Joseph A. Moller, the last commander of the 390TH while they were flying combat missions. Dorothy had given me a copy of the 390th BG Anthology written by various crew members telling of their personal experiences in the sky over enemy territory. But more importantly, the 390TH Memorial Museum, located within the Pima Air Museum in Tucson has one of the most comprehensive websites I have found. It didn’t take long, and I had Moylan’s complete mission log with mission number, date, target, and aircraft number. I compiled this information into a single page document for Moylan. By this point, it was October 2012, and so I contacted Rita to request the honor of being assigned as Moylan Smith’s driver for the 2012 parade. Rita worked this with the VFW Post, and we were all set for Thanksgiving Day. I brought Moylan’s mission log and the 390th BG Anthology to the staging area, but as honorees started arriving at their assigned cars, I was assigned another honoree. After my honoree had settled in the Thunderbird, I located Barney Barnett from the VFW post and inquired about Moylan. Barney said that Moylan had to scrub the mission that morning for sick call. Turning to return to the Thunderbird, I realized I had Moylan’s mission log and the 390th BG Anthology in hand; I gave them to Barney and asked him to get them to Moylan. I was out of town on Thanksgiving Day 2013, but last year Rita coordinated with Boe James at the VFW Post, and he assigned me as Moylan’s driver for the parade. On Thanksgiving Day, I spotted Moylan when he was a short distance from the car and went over to greet him. As we moved to the car, I asked him if his mission log had caught up with him. Moylan stopped, pulled out his wallet, opened it and pulled out and unfolded the mission log and with a smile said, “Yes, I carry it with me.” It was touching to see his pride in his 32 missions. As Moylan was getting situated in the Thunderbird, Major Kip Schlum, a squadron commander of my former Air Force unit, stopped to say hello. We had time before engine start, so I introduced Moylan and Kip and then got the ACTC photographer, Duane Foster to take a picture of the three generations of Airmen, which is shown above. After I had strapped on the Thunderbird, Moylan and I were catching up a bit, and he said that for years, family and friends had told him to write about his military service, and after receiving his mission log he decided to do just that. He said that when he finished his work it was over 30 pages. He graciously offered me a copy which I was honored to accept. At 7:32 PM that evening I received an email with My Military Career by Moylan E. Smith attached. It is an excellent account of his experiences before, during and after WWII. From Moylan’s mission log, I knew that he and my father had both flown two missions on D-Day and that on their first D-Day mission they had bombed the same target, gun emplacements at Caen, France. And on June 21, 1944, when Moylan led one of the two wings on the first shuttle raid, my father was wounded by flak after bomb release on a target in Berlin. So after I read Moylan’s story, I studied it as another source of information on my father’s service with the 8th Air Force. In 2015 I was again scheduled as Moylan’s driver. Sadly we lost Captain Smith just a week before Thanksgiving. One of the heartbreaking lessons of getting to know our patriots from the Greatest Generation is that we are losing them so quickly. But I wouldn’t miss the opportunity for anything. I said a prayer to ask our Lord to grant Captain Smith CAVU (Clear Above, Visibility Unlimited). It was an honor to have known him. It is such a privilege to spend time with these men and learn about their experiences and sacrifices. I always find myself deeply moved by their patriotism and valor. I encourage them to tell or better still, write their stories. I invite you to take every opportunity to meet these veterans and hear their stories. The opportunities are rare and becoming more so each day.