August 3, 1944 – The Day my Life Changed Forever

August 3, 1944. That was 71 years ago, but I think of that day every year as August 3 draws near. That is an important calendar event for me because it was on that day that my best friend died. He was only 20 years old, and he was 7 years older than me. He was also far ahead of me in school. That didn’t seem to matter to him. He let me tag along behind him, and he taught me things. He was an expert at building model airplanes. He used balsa sticks, TesTor’s glue, and a double-edged razor blade with adhesive tape on one edge to keep from slicing his fingers off. Then, he covered his models with tissue paper and sprayed on water to tighten up the paper. He let me play with them, and being a clumsy kid I broke a few of them, but he never complained, he just repaired them, and gave them back to me because he was my best friend. I hung one of them over my bed and it was the last thing I saw before I went to sleep at night.

On Sundays he combed the paper for coupons and when he found one, he would tell me about it. The two of us would walk the hundred miles (well, it SEEMED like a hundred to me) to the “filling station” where we could trade in his coupon and a nickel for two Mounds candy bars.

He loved classical music and on Sunday afternoons he liked to listen to the NBC symphony broadcasts on the radio. I hated that music, but I often sat with him because I just enjoyed his company. The Fisher Body Company, which made the bodies for General Motors cars, had a contest. The entrants had to submit a hand-carved model of the Queen’s Royal Carriage, Fisher’s logo. With just a pocket knife, my friend made a fantastically intricate model with scrolled carriage wheels, and doors that opened. He won a prize, but I don’t remember what it was.

All through high school, he worked in a metal fabricating shop after school and sometimes well into the night. And yet he excelled in his school work. He was President of the Honor Society, and was Valedictorian of his graduating class. His grades were so high he won a full scholastic scholarship to N.C. State University, where he majored in engineering. During the summer he worked in Chattanooga, TN for the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority which was spreading cheap electricity throughout the south).

But then America entered World War Two. My friend was a true patriot, so after his second year of college (which was required to be considered for flight training) he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was accepted for flight school.

Although I was just a kid, he took the time to send me post cards as his training progressed from base to base. He told me about being chosen for training as a fighter pilot, which was quite an achievement. Those who “flunked out” of flight school became gunners or navigators or radio operators on bombers. He was assigned to a squadron which flew the P-51 which was, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful airplanes ever built. But by 1944 the ally’s troops were sweeping across Europe to stop Hitler. So my friend was transferred to a squadron that flew Republic’s P-47 fighter to supply ground support. There was a reason for that which, as a kid, I didn’t understand. The P-51 was great for escorting bombers into Germany, but one bullet into its liquid cooled engine and it was out of the fight. The P-47 had a big air-cooled radial engine, and six fifty caliber machine guns. It was ideal for supporting the ground troops which were, by that time, marching deep into enemy territory. I do remember writing him a postcard and telling him he was a “dope” for allowing them to make him leave his beloved P-51, but of course he had no choice. Apparently he was an excellent pilot because he had a field promotion to First Lieutenant.

He had been helping me build a control-line model plane when he went off to war, and I was lost without his help. But he wrote me a card assuring me that we would complete it when he returned. I was impatient with him, because I really wanted that model finished so I told him to hurry up and finish off the Germans and come home!

Some thoughts from those days are as fragile as vapor now, as I grow old. But I vividly remember a midnight phone call and a bored operator reading a telegram from the War Department as if she had done it many times before. “We regret to inform you that Lieutenant George Edward Boeckmann was killed in action…“

My life changed forever on August 3, 1944. Yes, it was 71 years ago, yet it still hurts as much as if it happened yesterday. You see, he was not just my best friend – he was my only brother.

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 Amazon.com, "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 http://johnbeckmanbooks.com and available from Amazon.com. . .
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1 Response to August 3, 1944 – The Day my Life Changed Forever

  1. ronald41 says:

    Wonderful story … thanks for sharing it.

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