Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Man from Nantucket

On a blustery winters day early in Dec of 1923on Nantucket island, a son was born to immigrant parents from Norway. This firstborn child would go and live to see the world change as never before in history. He would go on to leave an indelible mark upon it.
His family,country, and friends would be forever in debt and gratitude.
This is the story of  that Man from Nantucket.

As his last born son, I will attempt to give you some sense of the man.
I will from time to time in this narrative tell you of my recollections and lessons learned.
We didn't always see eye to eye on a lot of things. Thankfully in his last years we came to an accord of each other.

And so it begins.....

Of his very early life I know less than I would have liked.
Here are the few things I do know:
After leaving Nantucket my grandparents settled in the small fishing village of Noank, Connecticut.
This is just outside Mystic, the famous whaling port.
This was a time when four-masted schooners still sailed, outhouses were still common,and milk and ice still came delivered to your door.
In his youth he belonged to the sea scouts [a nautical boy scouts].
At thirteen he built by hand a 16 foot sailboat with a small cabin,
hand cut, sanded and assembled from keel to mast.
It made the local papers.  [Somewhere in my vast library I personally have a copy and photo..Impressive as hell.]
From the cabin he witnessed history we have only read about.
The last age of grand sailing ships interspersed with the modern age of shipping unfolded under his gaze.
Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart flew past his boat...Lindbergh even waved.
The Hindenburg passed over so low he could see the faces of the passengers on it's final fatal journey to New Jersey.
He also got a job driving and delivering the local milk truck at 12.
He also got into harmless mischief from time to time....
Moving outhouses a few feet back in the dark..
Relocating ships in the harbor..
Sneaking into the local old cranky sea captains house and making spooky noises,relocating furniture.
Deep in the middle of the depression his father [a fishing boat Captain] died of pneumonia.
At the age of 16 he was the sole breadwinner for his family of 5 siblings and his mother.

He worked three jobs and carried on.

The winds of war came in 1941.
He heard the call to arms and volunteered.

Selected for duty in the then relatively new Army air force.
He was chosen for Bomber command aboard the pride of the air force fleet.
The new B17 flying fortress.
[Having seen the Bombers of WW2 ....I gotta say it was the best looking plane ever built]
He tried as a pilot but due to his size the local commander asked if he would consider belly gunner.
This was no small request.
From  Piloting to sitting in the most vulnerable spot on the plane.....I doubt many men would have said yes.
But, it was stressed that not many had the fortitude and size to fly in that small turret....His service would be better served.
Going where the need was most, he agreed.
Off to gunnery school near Kingman, AZ.

Most of us know our parents as straight laced do-rights and my perceptions were no different.
Imagine my surprise..
In his eighties after my mothers passing I offered to track down the lady he had dated when he was stationed in AZ.
He replied...I think she would have passed by now as she would be over a hundred..
Yes, my straight laced conservative father dated a 40+ year old women when he was 19!!
Rock on DAD!  you little Cad.

Back to the story.

Off to Europe aboard the troop ship Queen Elizabeth 2.
Final destination Kimbolten England.
Staff Sergeant Lief H "Flash" Nelson.
[The story is told that when asked to due a task...He'd get it done so fast they called him "Flash"
Personally..I think it was the "Eisenhower incident" as my mom called it..;]
379 bomb group. 524th  Squadron.
His first was to Bremerton Germany attacking the heavy water plants..[German nuclear research]
Students of bomber history will recognize certain famous names..., Dresden.. Schweinfurt.
Some raids 80 percent were lost.
On one mission an inexperienced pilot drifted into my fathers slot in the formation.
His plane rose and veered into the others spot.
No sooner had the planes settled in their accidental positions..
A direct hit from anti aircraft flak exploded the plane now in their slot.
All hands lost.
Another raid had flak go off just below him
Blasted the ball turret up into the  belly of the plane.
Another, He saved his fellow airmen by shooting down a Focke-wulfe.
[To put this in perspective..try shooting an airborne fly with a bb gun....actually that might be easier]
Another he took a direct hit of flak that blew his pants off.
[Upon landing he had to walk pass Gen Eisenhower reviewing the troops in full dress.
Half frozen and pants less...The Eisenhower Incident]
His courage under fire and determination gained him notice of the local fighter pilots commander.
He was recommended for p51 fighter pilot duty.
[This is huge...the two branches rarely if ever interchanged...A bomber pilot isn't considered a good candidate for fighters and vice versa due to the extreme different flight characteristic's of each respective plane....and a gunner?   Forget it!]
Unfortunately the war was by then coming to the close and the head brass decided no new pilots were needed.
Ending the war with a DFC with 2 oak leafs [each oak leaf is another award of the same medal]
The Air-medal with 4 oaks and numerous ribbons and medals. Not a purple heart among them..Imagine!!
[I imagine he walked lopsided with all that brass hanging off his chest]

After the war a 21 year old Veteran of war met a feisty little tornado of all of 16...Even combat experience never prepared him for the fiery tempest that was June Delores Harris.  Daughter of a direct Mayflower descendant and former whaling ship fleet owners.

Knowing when the heart's battle was lost, He surrendered his name to her and she became June D Nelson.
For the rest of his life, His heart was hers even after her passing.

Meanwhile for reasons I was never told,when the Army and the Air force became two separate branches...He chose Army.
Peacetime didn't last long.
Off to Korea.

Now here in the narrative things get a little sparser,yet by no means less impressive.
This is truly all I know about that time.
It was unbearably cold and miserable.
Perhaps that's why he never discussed it.
Two things I Do know..He faced a machine gun embankment on foot, the bullets shot off his ear flaps on both sides,the spacing of the bullets was just wide enough to miss his face!
During a very intense battle he ran up the hill and rescued two wounded GI's carrying both at the same time, put one down momentarily, drew his service pistol and shot the North Korean trying to shoot him. He calmly picked up the GI and continued on to the M.A.S.H unit.

Dad +2   North Korea-1
Check and Mate!!
The other is my personal favorite for obvious reasons.
He was the first motorized conveyance to cross the 38th parallel under fire.
ON A Harley!!
WLA 45 liberator to be precise.

I swear the man needed a wheelbarrow just to carry his balls.

After Korea he raised 7 kids while working for the Army on Nike sites.  [Titan nuclear missiles]
Highest classification.
Two story's from that era
The first
Sears had introduced the first home garage door openers during this time.
Every morning near 7am and at 5 pm...The bases missile doors would open and alarms would go off.
The base would go on high alert..this was during the Cuban missile crisis.
The silo doors and the garage door openers were on the same frequency!!

They used to bring the missiles on to the secret bases disguised as milk tanker trucks.
The base commander held drills every morning stressing to GI and family alike
Never discuss our base or purpose here!!
Later at the local country store a little girl began screaming at the passage of a milk truck "The missiles are here the missiles are here!!"
It was the commanders 8 year old daughter.....;]

Dad retired from the military in 1968.
Started a successfull television repair business.
Became the local commodore of the Taunton Yacht club.
In his mid 70's he chased down a car thief, made him lay on the ground till the police could catch up all without laying a hand on him just by force of voice and will.
In the mid 1980's he needed surgery. They still sent an MP to stand by in case he spoke while under anesthesia. I have often wondered what top secret information he knew that was still relevant 20 years  later.
Still needed that wheelbarrow!!

Shortly after my mom's passing in 2003 he never went home again.
He stayed at the nursing home till it was his time.
Left us 1 day before valentines to be with her.
We survivors are completely at peace with it.
Damn he earned it!
He did all this...
And raised one Crazy Biker writer kid who thinks a hundred miles an hour in a pack of 50 is...Just cruising.
What can I say?  he started the daring shit first!!


KT Did said...

Now that's a life well lived and full of history. I felt proud just reading it, but it must have been something to live it.
We must talk in the future. I feel that my Grandfather and your father probably, without any doubt, knew each other. Both Commodores and ship workers/builders, that life was pretty much networked. What a honor it must be to be called his son. Sorry for you loss and many thanks for his service to this Country.

Samantha said...

Great One Dad!!

mq01 said...

this warmed my heart. i love hearing about good guys and what all they have lived through and accomplished. and the personalities that it took to carry some of that shit off...huge! what an incredible man! thank you for sharing a little bit of him (and you) with all of us here. thank you for your service "flash". sorry for your loss caveman and family.

Webster World said...

Great life your dad lived. He lived it and came home too. Wheel barrow I guess. You'd have to be proud of him.

Arizona Harley Dude said...

It was god to read about your dad. He was a mans man for sure. Sorry for your loss Big D, may he RIP.

Lady R said...

What a great an honorable tribute that was for your dad. He was a true hero and a man who I would call... "larger than life". I think it's absolutely wonderful to know this history about your dad. Know what else I think?

I think he's passed that ball toting wheel barrel on to his youngest boy.

I'm sorry for you loss Daryl, but in spite of your grief, I know your proud, and you have many reasons to be.

So let's tip our glasses to the man from Natucket...
RIP Mr. Nelson. May your memory live long in the hearts of your loved ones.

Ann said...

There once was a man from Nantucket...

Too soon? LOL!

I love you Babe, and this was a beautiful tribute to Dad. He is now where he has wanted to be for the last 7 years...with Mom. I'm sure they're bickering again already! :)

FLHX_Dave said...

I can only hope that my son honors me this way when it's time. I figure he is smiling right about now. A good son always carries on the history.

Awesome D. It is an extreme honor for you to share this. I had to gander twice just to make sure I was reading the accomplishments clearly. Wow!

I'm sorry for the loss, but honestly...and hopefully avoiding being an ass here, I feel like I should be celebrating your Father. He accomplished far more than I ever will.

My respect is endless. Thanks with honors Man From Nantucket. This is just another timely inspiration. Seriously, thanks for sharing brother.

IHG said...

Sorry for your loss! Thank you for sharing his story with us.

WooleyBugger said...

Thanks a bunch for sharing this Big D. I really don't have any words of wisdom to share here. With a telling like that what more could I possibly add to a Tribute such as this.