Because Mammaw had so many children, I had a whole bunch of aunts and uncles and first cousins. My oldest brother and some of my cousins served during World War II. My sister was in the WAC and later the Army Reserves as a sergeant first class. My brother Stanley, now 95 and living in Georgia, was a B-17 pilot. After he learned to fly the big bomber, the Air Corps had him teaching others to do so for a while; then he went to Italy. From there he flew 50 missions before the war’s end. My uncle Leonard and my cousin Morley were both fighter pilots who gave their lives in combat. My cousin John Henry was an aircraft mechanic career man and he was still in the Air Force at the rank of master sergeant when I enlisted in 1959.
John Henry was stationed in Bitburg, Germany when I received orders to do a three-year tour at Hahn, Germany, not far from Bitburg. Even though John Henry was considrably older that I was, he came to see me at Hahn and I became friends with him and his family. He knew that Cousin Morley’s grave was in Nancy, France, so he asked me to go with him to find it. We camped out on a stream near the cemetery and explored until we found it late one summer day. He took a lot of pictures and sent them to Morley’s mother, one of our aunts. I do not remember ever seeing Morley. He had already shipped out before my childhood memories kicked in. But it was satisfying to be part of the somber reunion. John Henry and Morley were close. That cemetery in Nancy, France exhibits row upon row of symmetrically arranged stars of David and Christian crosses, giving a sense of order to the chaos that precipitated it. In my mind’s eye, I could see Morley’s fatal flak-lit demise so far away from home where his mortal plans were forever foiled.
My brother Curtis went through the Air Force ROTC program at Louisiana Tech. Upon graduation and commissioning, he went to Harlingen, Texas for pilot training. He was there while I was in Air Force supply school in Amarillo, Texas. One day when I was between classes, the sergeant came and said, “Ford, your fly-boy brother is up at the flight line and wants to see you.” I went up there and helped him do the pre-flight on his T-33 trainer. We talked and laughed and cheered each other up. I did not know that visit would be our last. The Air Force sent him to B-47 training shortly after that and he became co-pilot on a B-47 that went down on takeoff at a base in Ohio. I was in Germany at the time, so I went home on emergency leave.
My surviving siblings and I were all three in uniform at the funeral in El Dorado—Colonel Ford, Sergeant Ford and Airman Ford. After the service, some neighbor kids who had grown up next door brought me some casings of the 21-gun salute firing, a very thoughtful gesture. I plan to visit the grave Memorial Day and think of all service people living and dead, and the many kindnesses shown in gratitude by so many.