B-24 Co-Pilot in WWII. Geologist, Paleontologist, NSF Program Administrator, Husband and Father.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

About this Online Journal




Members of the WWII generation shared so many common values: duty, honor, country, personal responsibility and the marriage vow. It was the last generation in which, broadly speaking, marriage was a commitment and divorce was not an option.... They stayed true to their values of personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith.
Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation

My father, John F. (Johner) Lance, was in graduate school when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Like many men his age, he very soon enlisted in the Army Air Corps and prepared to risk his life to defend his country.  After a brief stint in air photo interpretation, he went to pilot school and earned his wings in 1942. Later that year he married Kathryn (Kate) Haisley, a classmate from the Texas School of Mines. Their first daughter, Kathryn (me!), was born in 1943. In 1944 Johner was sent to the South Pacific Theater with the 13th Air Force.

When he arrived in the South Pacific, Johner was 27 years old, an age that to me now--in early old age--seems painfully young. When I was that same age I was single and had just begun an adventure in New York City, where I lived a bohemian and relatively carefree life in search of a writing career. A generation earlier, Johner--already responsible for a wife and child--had embarked on a very different sort of adventure, an urgent one of life and death that would help preserve his country's freedom. While I learned the ins and outs of the publishing world, Johner at the same age learned the rigors of co-piloting a B-24 on long missions, dodging flak and never knowing if he would return from a mission alive.  

For nearly a year, Johner flew dozens of missions, any one of which could have meant his death, though some were more perilous than others.  Somehow he survived, though most of the crewmen in his immediate outfit did not. He returned home in 1945, and finished his education on the GI Bill, earning a PhD in paleontology from Cal Tech.
   
I was around two years old the first time I saw Johner (I had been an infant when he went to war). To me, my "Daddy" was a photograph on the piano.


Throughout the years I was growing up, Johner never mentioned the war, which I have learned was very common for the men who had fought in it. It was only toward the end of his life that he began to tell me about some of the things he had been through. He was always an excellent raconteur, and the stories were alternately funny and horrifying. I asked him if I could tape these conversations, and he agreed. After he died, I edited them and eventually, with the encouragement of aviation writer Robert F. Dorr, put them together into what became a short book.

I never realized until after I had worked on editing the book and then discussing it with other people after they had read it what a horrifying young adulthood my father had experienced. And how carefully he had kept all of that horror hidden.

In this journal, I want to share some more of Johner's war stories--not taped this time, but things I remember that did not make it into the book. There were a lot of facets to my father beyond his war experience, and I want to talk about some of them too. I also want to share here some stories I have heard from other members of my father’s generation and their descendants. I intend to write about many other things as well: the contrasts between World War II and the Vietnam War, the differences between my father's and my generations, paleontology and my father’s place in it, and the ways I've come to appreciate all of these things as I grow old. If you would like to write a guest post on any similar topics, or contribute something else, such as photos or flight logs; if there is something you would particularly like me to cover here, please let me know in the comments or email me at the link in the left-hand sidebar. I welcome all corrections of technical and historical detail, and hope to hear from many of you.



8 comments:

  1. Looking forward to seeing more about your Dad. Of course, the palaeo is my greatest interest, but it's all good!

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    1. Thanks, Richard! Hope to publish more very soon!

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  2. It's hard to imagine my life at 27 in the context of your father's. I'd done some growing up by then, having spent two years in the Peace Corps, but nothing nearly as life-altering as he went through. The unimaginable stakes and losses . . . they are unimaginable. To have survived them, as so many did (five of my uncles, who also never talked about the war -- and one was a POW near the end), that alone is remarkable.

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    1. Yes, exactly. It is all unimaginable to us, yet it happened to them. And they are disappearing from the earth.

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  3. Sounds like a beautiful story lovingly put together. Good for you. However, please do not forget that the men are only half of that generation, and that your dad's plane, the ammunition in the guns, the guns themselves, the instruments so crucial to flying...all of these things were most likely put together by women. There's a very good chance your father's plane was flown-untested-to his base by WASPs. There were women on Corregidor & in the the Bataan Death March, and almost every location where soldiers may have needed medical care. Anyone who believes WW II was won by the men, is very ill informed.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Gayle, and for pointing out how important it is to include the women who risked their lives as well as the men. Certainly those women who labored on the home front in the factories were just as important to the war effort as those men who were actually on the front lines. I admit to not knowing too much about women's roles in WWII, and have all along intended to add material relating to them. I would love it if you would be willing to write a guest post addressing some of the most important contributions women made in all the areas you mention.

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  4. Thank you, Kathryn. My mom was a draftsman @ Consolidated Aircraft in Texas & I'm actually working [VERY slowly <:] on a book about these women & have stacks of research. If you can give me a few days--maybe over the weekend--I'd love to write about these courageous women. Suggested word count? My email is atiba19971@gmail.com.

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    1. Gayle, I'm so excited that you will write about women in WWII for this journal! I have sent a private reply as well.

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