August 3, 1944. The Day the Music Died.

August 3, 1944. That was the day my only brother died. He was twenty years old. My big brother was the handsome, smart one in our family. He was the Valedictorian of his high school class, a member of the Beta Club, an honor society. He received a full scholastic scholarship to North Carolina State College where he majored in engineering.

But, there was a war on. It took two years of college to be able to qualify for Flight training in the U.S. Army Air Corps. When “Sonny,” as we called him, (his name was George) finished his second year at NC State he immediately volunteered for the Air Corps and was accepted.

He excelled in his training and was commissioned as a Lieutenant. He was allowed one short visit home on which he became engaged to a lovely girl named Betty. After his commission he was assigned to a squadron flying the P-51 Mustang, arguably the prettiest of the World War II fighter planes. The P-51 was a high-altitude aircraft designed to accompany the B-17 and B-24 bombers that flew deep into Germany on bombing missions.

But on 6 June of 1944 the D-Day invasion by Allied troops took place. Two months later they were advancing across France and Belgium and Holland. The P-51 aircraft, although it was fine for high altitude work, had one drawback. It had a liquid cooled engine. One bullet into the engine, the coolant poured out, the engine seized and that was the end for that airplane.

The Republic P-47 was much better suited to support ground troops. It had a huge, air cooled radial engine. There are accounts of half the engine being shot away and the P-47 was still able to return to England. It also had six 50 caliber machine guns, ideal for strafing the enemy, blowing up tanks and generally aiding the Allied forces doing the ground fighting. It could also carry a huge load of bombs and/or rockets.

So my brother’s whole squadron was transferred to P-47s. Sonny was an excellent pilot, but he made one mistake. He chose to hitch a ride to his next base on a C-47 cargo plane. The pilot of that plane violated the most fundamental rule of flying. He flew it into a thunderstorm. The plane crashed in flames and 28 young men, including Sonny, died on that fateful 3rd of August 1944. Ironically, if he could have survived just eight more months, the war in Europe would have ended in April 1945 and he could have returned home and married his sweetheart.

That tragedy occurred 70 years ago when I was thirteen years old. And yet the loss that I felt then, I feel as strongly today. Those who have not lost someone, whom they love, in such an unnatural way, have no idea that it will haunt them for the rest of their lives. The tragic loss of someone you love very much has consequences. Sonny’s death destroyed our family. A year later my parents divorced. My sister became a hypochondriac and was ill the rest of her life. I became an active alcoholic for the next thirty years. I still miss him every day. I can’t think of him without anguish. He was my hero, my big brother and I loved him very much.

About johnbeckmanbooks

John Beckman, a retired meteorologist, was known as “Johnny the Weatherman” in a career that spanned forty years. He forecasted the weather on WSJS-TV in Winston-Salem, NC, at WFGA-TV in Jacksonville, FL, and for thirty-three years in Atlanta at WSB-TV and WXIA-TV. Also a well published author Beckman now devotes full time to writing fiction. He currently has several eBooks on, "Tropical Knights," first in a series of adventure/mysteries about a sailor and his lovely CIA cohort on a mission to save America. Now available the sequel, and second in the series: "Tropical Daze." The third Jack & Amy adventure is "Tropical Rage" which became available on 30 April 2014. All of his books are highlighted on and available from . .
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