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Quotes from my mobility pilot granduncle’s war diary

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Capt.) Levi Welton, 436th Airlift Wing chaplain

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- From Oprah Winfrey to Mark Zuckerberg, our nation’s most successful leaders are readers. Warren Buffet spends 80 percent of his day reading. Bill Gates reads 50 books per year. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense and retired Marine general James Mattis carried around a library of 6,000 books with him, everywhere he went. 

For those who feel they are too busy to read, take heed to the message this legendary general, sometimes referred to as “The Warrior Monk,” had for his troops: “The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience, i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final.”

In 1996, retired U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald Fogleman created the CSAF Professional Reading Program, updated yearly, to promote a reading list of titles intended to inform, educate and inspire. 

In this spirit, I’d like to share with you my favorite quotes from the published diary of my granduncle Lt. Barney Welton: a World War II C-47 pilot. Serving in what would become Air Mobility Command, he flew 130 missions as part of the 79th Troop Carrier Squadron, including delivering fuel and supplies to Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army. In his book, “Come Fly With Me,” Lt. Welton records the “fine esprit de corps among the airmen” and details the adventures he had while fighting “guns loaded” against the “Nazi Dragon.” 

While you may be too busy to read his entire book, here are nine selections from his diary, which I found to be most insightful or intriguing, delivering a small glimpse of his experience. I hope you find them meaningful and that they help you on your mission as you fly higher, as my granduncle would say, “into the wild blue yonder and into another adventure.”

No matter what branch of service we’re in, our uniforms are designed with some form of camouflage. But don’t let the uniform obscure the reality that you are not just a cog in the wheel of the military but a treasured individual. As the Chassidic scholar Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz taught, “Every person possesses one valuable trait that cannot be found in anyone else.” Or as my granduncle put it, “I’ll never forget the wealth of friendship I’ve enjoyed in the happy family of the 79th. It’s a big outfit – but I can’t think of it as a squadron. We were made up of individuals. That’s the way the boys lived. That’s the way they flew. That’s the way they died” (pp. 126).

On the flip side, “It is only a noisy few that spoils things for the many” (pp. 94). Nevertheless, America is a great nation, regardless of the “noisy few,” because “America’s strength lies in the fact that ... we are profoundly more good than we are bad. The little I can do to win the war in itself won’t make much difference – except that I know now that a lot of people doing what they can, collectively, add up to a big job done” (pp. 115).

When he first flew into combat, my granduncle jotted in his diary, “You could feel it as it rocked the ship and fragments of flak hit the fuselage like hail on a tin roof. We weren’t as scared as we should have been. We were nervous and uneasy, but actually too busy to be scared” (pp. 62). After facing death numerous times, he marveled, “Fate has saved me many times these past few years. I wonder for what” (pp. 32). At the end of the war, he reflected that, “Having gone into combat we felt a sort of dignity and sense of responsibility we hadn’t enjoyed before” (pp. 45). 

Speaking of enjoyment, being away from loved ones is not an enjoyable aspect of being deployed in service of our nation. But, as my granduncle’s close buddy Pete would often say, “‘Loving’ is the one thing you get farthest behind on and catch up the quickest” (pp. 52).

At the conclusion of his service as a World War II mobility pilot, my granduncle humbly wrote a line which I found particularly inspiring: “I think everyone has the need of a definite aim in life – and while playing my position in this war game I have been able to lose myself in a course which was bigger than me” (pp. 99). Perhaps this is why we refer to the one percent of Americans in the military as people of service. For when we “lose” ourselves in a course “bigger than me,” it is we who truly gain.

In the preface to his diary, Lt. Welton wrote, “We were heroes and didn’t even know it.” But I know that every one of you who serves an ideal bigger than yourself – even if you don’t always feel like it – are the true heroes our country needs.