Author Archives: Tom Demerly

U.S. F-15E Downs Iranian-Built Syrian Drone After Airstrike on U.S. Led Forces

Syrian Drone Destroyed by Strike Eagle After It Engaged Anti-Assad Coalition Ground Forces. Second air-to-air kill for the Strike Eagle since Gulf War.

U.S. Special Operations advisors leading anti-Assad Syrian forces came under fire from an Iranian built Shahed 129 drone operated by Syrian pro-government forces on Thursday according to the U.S. Army.

A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle shot the drone down.

The incident occurred outside Al-Tanf, southern Syria close to the Jordanian border. An installation in Al –Tanf serves as a forward operating base for British and U.S. special operations teams assisting the anti-ISIL Syrian guerilla group Maghawir al-Thawra or “Commandos of the Revolution”. Maghawir al-Thawra is regarded as an indigenous special operations group who have received training and support from coalition forces to fight the Assad regime.

The U.S. reacted to the drone attack by tasking an F-15E Strike Eagle to locate and destroy the Syrian drone. It was officially the first time U.S. forces had come under air attack by a hostile nation in nearly 20 years and the second air-to-air kill for the Strike Eagle since the downing of an Iraqi Gunship helicopter in 1991.

According to U.S. Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman of the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), the Assad government Syrian drone strike on U.S. advisors and Syrian revolutionary commandos “did not have an effect on coalition forces,”

“The pro-regime UAV, similar in size to the U.S. MQ-1 predator, was shot down by U.S. aircraft after it dropped one of several weapons it was carrying near a position occupied by coalition personnel who are training and advising partner ground forces in the fight against ISIL,” CJTF-OIR’s public affairs office released in a statement. “The shoot down follows an earlier engagement in the day in which Coalition forces destroyed two pro-regime armed technical vehicles that advanced inside the well established de-confliction zone threatening Coalition and partner forces.”

Pentagon Correspondent Tara Copp was among the first to release the U.S. aircraft involved in the drone shoot-down incident (Twitter)

A 34-mile region around Al-Tanf has been declared a “de-confliction zone” by coalition forces for the past several weeks. This buffer was established to safeguard U.S. and British supported anti-Assad forces. Several incidents have taken place recently inside this de-confliction zone that have prompted a U.S. response. On Tuesday, a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet dropped four bombs killing an estimated 10 pro-Assad combatants and destroyed several of their vehicles.

It is also likely the pro-Assad forces controlling the Iranian made Shahed 129 drone were in close proximity to the drone itself at the time it attacked U.S. advised anti-Assad forces. The Shahed 129 can be controlled by satellite guidance from a remote ground station, but this example was almost certainly controlled by a local ground controller with line-of-sight to the Syrian Shahed 129 when it was destroyed by the U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle.

The incident is significant since U.S. ground forces in the region and, in the entire history of the Global War of Terror, have been largely immune from air attacks. The Iranian-made Shahed 129 drone was also employed by Hezbollah in a 2012 operation over Israel. The Israelis downed the Iranian-made, Hezbollah-controlled drone but the incident marked a dangerous escalation in terrorist capabilities.

The Iranian-built Shahed 129 armed drone (Iranian News Media)

 

36 Years Ago today, “Operation Opera”: The Israeli Air Strike on an Iraqi Nuclear Reactor.

Israelis Shock The World With Audacious First Ever F-16 Strike.

1735 HRs Local, Sunday, June 7, 1981. Al-Tuwaythah Nuclear Research Facility, outside Baghdad, Iraq.

Iraqi Colonel Fakhri Hussein Jaber is in shock. His jaw drops, mouth gaping open as a strained moan leaves his throat. Despite the hot desert temperature his limbs feel cold. He cannot believe what he is seeing.

Eight F-16s painted sand-colored desert camouflage flying in a single-file attack formation at rooftop level hurtles over the outskirts of Baghdad from the southwest. They bank hard left, slicing white tendrils of vapor from their missile-clad wingtips in the evening air. One at a time they light their afterburners over the southern edge of the city. The crack of jet thunder makes people all over Baghdad glance upward to the sky. As the attacking pilots pull their side-sticks back the jets instantly vault upward into the clear evening blue on tails of orange fire.

Their wings wear the white roundel and blue Star of David. The Israelis are here.

The single file procession of ear-splitting jets reaches 5,000 feet, their tails to the sun and invisible from the ground in the blinding light for the moment. They roll heavily onto their backs, wings bloated with huge one-ton bombs. They pitch downward into a shallow dive and lazily tumble back to wings level. Then they each drop two Mark-84 delayed fuse 2,000-pound general purpose bombs on Iraq’s new industrial pride, the French-designed nuclear reactor at Osirak. The large round reactor dome is completely destroyed in only two minutes. Nothing else is touched.

And then they are gone.

Iraq’s own air defense gunners do the only collateral damage. They accidentally shoot one of their own anti-aircraft gun positions on the ground when they try to hit the last Israeli jet fleeing at low level as erupting explosions from the delayed fuses on the bombs shatter the nuclear dome. One French contractor from Air Liquide dies tragically in the air raid. Ten Iraqi soldiers are killed as well, although it is not known if their death was a result of the Israeli bombs.

This Google Earth image shows the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center with the arrow indicating the former location of the reactor destroyed during Operation Opera (Google Earth via Rick Herter)

Having recovered from his shocked surprise and weighed down by dread, the next day Colonel Fakhri Hussein Jaber is hanged in a public execution along with his fellow officers. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has them executed for incompetence while failing to defend the most important strategic target in the country. It was the big Iraqi hope for building a nuclear weapons program.

In a script that has played out before, and would repeat itself again and again, a foreign nation has attacked Iraq to destroy its Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) program. This time it is Israel, and this is Operation Opera, one of the most audacious airstrikes in the history of airpower on June 7, 1981. It compares in significance to the air attack on Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid, the RAF’s dam buster attack and in an unusual way the nuclear strikes on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

It is not the first time an audacious airstrike has been launched to destroy Iraq’s nuclear development program. The Iranians launched a similar strike only a few months earlier in September of 1980 but failed to achieve a tangible result, using two older McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantoms. The Iranian Phantoms missed the reactor dome with their bombs. Work on the Iraqi reactor supported by the French continued, this time with enhanced air defenses ringing the facility. It would not stop Israel from trying.

Operation Opera, sometimes also called Operation Babylon, holds a significant place in aerial combat history for many reasons. A few regard it as perhaps the most daring and significant air attack in history.

The aircrews who flew Operation Opera (Ze’ev Raz)

This was a spectacular combat debut for one of the most successful tactical aircraft ever built and still serving in front line service with many nations today. The early General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons used in the raid were called the “F-16A Netz” or “Hawk” in Israeli service. These very same F-16As went on to build an illustrious legacy for Israel, downing an amazing 40 enemy aircraft in the first war with Lebanon the year after Operation Opera in 1982. The original F-16A Netz aircraft were only recently retired from Israeli service on Dec. 26, 2016. They are being sold to a private contract “red air” company to provide simulation of enemy forces for training of new combat aircrews, probably over the U.S. southwest. During the following decades U.S. Air Force F-16s would go on to drop thousands of tons of munitions in the region.

In the latest chapter the free Iraqi Air Force acquired the first of thirty-six F-16s in June of 2014. That same year a U.S. F-16 instructor pilot told us on condition of anonymity that the program to train Iraqi pilots to fly the F-16 at Tucson International Airport in Arizona was, “Going dismally, most of them [the Iraqi F-16 students] can barely fly.” But the free Iraqis went on to develop enough proficiency to use their F-16’s successfully in combat over Iraq beginning in September of 2015. Just recently the Iraqi Air Force received its fifth batch of four F-16IQ’s on March 24th of 2017 completing the full Iraqi 9th Fighter Squadron with all of its F-16s.

Operation Opera has its roots in traditional aerial bombing before the introduction of stealth and precision guided weapons. It also reached into the future because of its mission of ending the proliferation of WMDs in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. That same agenda would haunt every U.S. President since then and eventually compel George W. Bush to invade Iraq in March 2003. Operation Opera foreshadows U.S. doctrine with North Korea today, supporting a rising argument that the U.S. should follow Israel’s example with Iraq and destroy North Korea’s looming nuclear threat before it becomes too dangerous to challenge.

While Operation Opera earns its place in the lore of combat aviation it was, for the most part, a relatively conventional low-level interdiction air strike. One of several things that made Opera sensational was the audacity of Israel for launching the strike, an aggressive act that Israel would defend with vigor, the United Nations would condemn and then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan would shrug off in surprised but quiet admiration of Israel’s aggressiveness, daring and initiative.

Another thing that surprised observers including U.S. intelligence analysts was how the Israelis managed to complete the raid without aerial refueling and how they were able to infiltrate one of Iraq’s most heavily defended airspaces completely undetected in broad daylight. The answers to these questions are exceptional planning, vigorous espionage, incredible work on the part of the maintenance crews, support personnel and incredible airmanship for the strike pilots along with no small measure of good fortune for the Israelis.

The Israeli F-16A’s take on fuel up to the last moment before take-off (Ze’ev Raz via Rick Herter)

It is interesting that the Israelis chose to use eight lightweight, single-engine F-16As as the bomb-carrying strike aircraft and assigned six of the heavier, twin engine F-15 “Baz” aircraft to fly combat air patrol over the mission. The F-15 would later be adapted into a dedicated strike fighter configuration that would have been better suited to a raid like Operation Opera.

Remarkably, 26 years later Israel would use this mission template again.

On Sept. 6, 2007 Israel would reverse the role of the same aircraft during Operation Orchard, an airstrike on a secret Syrian nuclear installation in the Deir ez-Zor area. In this later strike on a similar target, Israel would employ new F-15I Ra’am strike aircraft as bombers and use the latest precision guided air-to-ground weapons including Maverick missiles and laser-guided bombs. An Israeli special operations team infiltrated the area to provide initial reconnaissance, including radiological survey, and later provide target designation for the precision-guided weapons during the strike. The Syrian nuclear site was built with significant support and cooperation from the North Koreans, and ten North Korean workers were killed at Deir ez-Zor, Syria during the 2007 strike.

Aviation artist and historian Rick Herter of the U.S. traveled to Israel some time ago with a U.S. Air Force Major General. Herter was given unique access to the secretive Israeli Air Force, interfacing with the Israeli Air Force Chief of Staff to gain a detailed historical understanding of Israeli operations including Operation Opera. Following Herter’s trip to Israel he began to work closely with retired Israeli Air Force Colonel Ze’ev Raz who planned and commanded Operation Opera himself, flying one of the strike aircraft. Herter’s unique relationship with the man who planned and flew the mission gave him insights that lead to his painting of the mission, the only in flight image with historical and technical accuracy. Rick Herter’s painting, “Dropping The Hammer, Operation Opera” is used at the top of this article.

Retired Israeli Air Force Colonel and pilot Ze’ev Raz collaborates with aviation historian and artist Rick Herter. (Rick Herter)

“Aircraft Carrier” Documentary Provides Unique Perspective and Insight Into Naval Aviation And F-35 Ops At Sea.

Beautiful Visuals Meet Mechanical Understanding in Aircraft Carrier Documentary. With some cool footage of F-35B and F-35C stealth jets.

Large format filmmaker Stephen Low has taken his IMAX cameras to sea for the filming of his new hour-long documentary Aircraft Carrier. The 43-minute long film premiered at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. in the United States on May 24 and has opened at large format IMAX theaters around the U.S. this week.

We had a chance to preview the film at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan. The Henry Ford, formerly Greenfield Village and The Henry Ford Museum, has a large format IMAX movie theater and sound system. If you haven’t seen one, an IMAX theater is a large format film theater that uses much larger imaging film and screen for higher resolution. It is combined with a more immersive sound system and frequently uses 3-dimensional filmmaking requiring the viewer to wear 3D glasses to see the images correctly and with as increased sense of depth perception.

The Henry Ford Museum also has an impressive collection of historical aircraft including a 1928 Ford 4-AT-B Tri-Motor Airplane, the “Floyd Bennett,” Flown Over the South Pole by Dean Smith as commanded by Richard E. Byrd on Nov. 28, 1929. The museum also houses a Fokker Triplane used on various early arctic expeditions.

Aircraft Carrier was shot mostly on and around the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), a Nimitz-class nuclear powered carrier commissioned in 2003 with a homeport of Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan. She carries a massive crew of over 5,000 personnel in both the air wing on board and for the ship’s crew. The ship itself is over a thousand feet long.

The film and the format work together to communicate a feeling of size and grandeur. The opening scenes are breathtaking and, like any well-made film or documentary, draw the viewer in.

Filmaker Stephen Low operates a large format IMAX film camera (credit: Stephen Low Company)

The IMAX filmmaking crew with their camera helicopter (credit: Stephen Low Company)

There are effectively three themes to Aircraft Carrier. Firstly, there are sweeping visuals that entertain and inspire. Secondly, there are historical insights that add context. The slides used in this segment are excellent. And finally, strong technical graphics that, while probably the weak visual link in the film – especially in large format – do an excellent job of helping the viewer visualize complex systems onboard an aircraft carrier.

Another segment of the film focuses on new F-35C and F-35B operations and the testing and integration of the Joint Strike Fighter into the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines. These sequences are visually remarkable in clarity and composition. When you add the 3D visual effect they have depth and resolution that feel like seeing the flights in person.

A screenshot from Aircraft Carrier showing JSF blue-water ops.

The strength of Aircraft Carrier is that it offers fresh and inspiring imagery for the aircraft enthusiast and a set of basic insights for the non-aircraft enthusiast to remain interested. It’s a good film to take people to who are not aviation experts or enthusiasts, but it is visually exciting enough to keep the aircraft enthusiast interested. Finally, since this is a quick little film at only 43 minutes it is great for young audiences.

Mostly, this is a beautiful and reverent visual and sensory experience that does a better job than any Hollywood movie of showing naval aviation at its most remarkable.

If there is an IMAX theater near you, seek out Aircraft Carrier; you will most certainly enjoy it.

Sea Vixen Does Wheels-Up Emergency Landing at Yeovilton

Pilot Uninjured After Excellent Airmanship during Belly-Landing.

The last remaining Sea Vixen aircraft, XP924 G-CVIX “Foxy Lady”, has made an emergency landing without landing gear at Yeovilton, UK, on May 27.

The pilot was uninjured and walked away from the aircraft after jettisoning the canopy upon touchdown on the tarmac.

Mr. Scott Dabinett, 32, of Yeovil, Somerset, UK captured excellent photos of the incident. Here is his account of the incident:

“As always when I have the chance to photograph aircraft I made arrangements with the wife to visit Yeovilton airfield. I arrived early and set up the camera equipment.

Due to possible weather issues the display time had been brought forward and the aircraft would be leaving at 1615. It took off on time as planned. We waited the hour and ten minutes for the flight as planned. A chap had a handheld scanner so we could hear what was going on.

The Sea Vixen prior to today’s incident shot by Paul Smith.

The aircraft returned from Duxford and flew up the runway. We then heard radio communications between the tower and the pilot asking for visual of the landing gear. The response was your undercarriage is clean, which means it is still up. After several more passes and discussion between pilot and tower and other emergency personnel, it was soon announced that this was going to be a gear-up belly landing.

The Sea Vixen performing a pass prior to today’s incident (credit: Paul Smith)

The feeling between the few of us standing by was that this does not look good. On the final approach we all crossed our fingers and held our breaths whilst pointing our cameras at the Sea Vixen.

As soon as she touched the runway the canopy was released and engines were shut down. She slid up the runway very smoothly and under control. It was much quieter than I was expecting. Eventually she came to a stop. We kept waiting for movement from the pilot.

The emergency landing as photographed by Mr. Scott Dabinett

The Sea Vixen performs the gear up landing (credit: Mr. Scott Dabinett)

As soon as we saw the pilot was OK we all started breathing again. Everyone was shaking. The emergency guys were on the scene straight away and took control of the situation. I would like to ask people to visit the navy wings website and make donations if possible as it will help repair aircraft like this that otherwise will be lost for good.”

[Editor’s Note: The aircraft is kept flying largely through private donations to the Navy Wings site at this link: https://www.navywings.org.uk/support-us/sea-vixen-appeal-2017/]

This incident might have been caused by a hydraulic problem that prevented extending the landing gear. Interestingly, a similar incident occurred 46 years ago on Sept. 15, 1970 at RNAS Yeovilton, Somerset in the UK when Sea Vixen XJ561 performed an emergency landing without landing gear. That aircraft was written off and subsequently scrapped in 1974.

The incident is somehow alarming in the wake of an unusually high number of airshow accidents early last airshow season in 2016. In June last year there were four serious airshow accidents around the world in only one week. The accidents involved the U.S. Navy Blue Angels who suffered the loss of Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds that lost an F-16 aircraft, the Russian Knights aerobatic team that also suffered a fatality and the Swiss demonstration team, Patrouille Suisse that had two aircraft involved in a collision.

Airshow incidents are of particular concern in the UK because of the August 2015 crash of a Hawker Hunter T7 at Shoreham Airshow, Shoreham Airport. There were 11 fatalities from the crash on the ground and 16 injuries. It was the deadliest airshow accident in the United Kingdom since a 1952 crash at the Farnborough Air Show that killed 31 people. Oddly, the show in 1952 continued the next day following the deadly accident.

Sea Vixen XP924 “Foxy Lady” is operated by Fly Navy Heritage Trust Navy Wings. According to information published on the Navy Wings web page:

“Sea Vixen XP 924 first flew on September 23, 1963 and was delivered to 899 Squadron at RNAS Yeovilton on December 18, 1963.  The aircraft suffered several incidents in squadron service.  Tyre bursts, canopy shattering, some engine problems and, while onboard HMS Eagle, an inadvertent release of a practice bomb near the island of Gan in the Indian Ocean.  Retirement from active service sent her to Royal Naval Aircraft Yard at Belfast in August 1971.  The Royal Aircraft Establishments (RAE) at Farnborough and Llanbedr were in possession from 4 June 1973 until August 1977.  Flight Refuelling took over on 11 October 1977 at Tarrant Rushton and converted her to a Drone (D3) with a Red and Yellow paint scheme to improve visual acuity.  In February 1996 she was taken on by de Havilland Aviation and was re-registered as G-CVIX.  In May 2003 she was painted in promotional “Red Bull” colours as a sponsorship arrangement and was subsequently purchased on 18 April 2006 by Drilling Systems Ltd (Mr. Julian Jones) and operated from Bournemouth.  March 2007 saw a return to Naval colours as XP 924 with the 899 Squadron mailed fist logo.  The aircraft was gifted to Naval Aviation Ltd in September 2014 and now operates from the Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton.”

The emergency landing as photographed by Mr. Scott Dabinett

The Sea Vixen has finally come to a halt after the successful gear-up landing (credit: Scott Dabinett).

The Sea Vixen is an unusually configured aircraft that first flew in 1951. It was the first British two-seat aircraft to break the sound barrier when it achieved Mach speed in a dive during its operational testing phase in the early 1950’s. It was replaced by the F-4 Phantom in British service.

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Memorial Day 2017: Shot Down with an A-20G Low-Level Bomber in a Hail of Flak During WWII

We Find Treasured Historical Records of Heroism in Celebration of U.S. Memorial Day.

October 16, 1944. Inside Douglas A-20G over Bologna, Italy.

Staff Sergeant Raymond M. Trzeciak,

86th Bomb Squadron, 47th Bombardment Group, U.S. Army Air Corps.

Hurtling headlong into a vertical hail of razor-sharp shrapnel from the constant drum of enemy ack-ack, the Douglas A-20G light bomber crew wrestles the flight controls as their aircraft bucks wildly on turbulent eruptions of rising hot air at impossibly low altitude. Gunner and observer Staff Sergeant Ray Trzeciak tries to steady himself inside the plane so he can identify targets flashing below at over 200 MPH. Blinding fire-orbs leap at them from the ground, then disappear behind them. The plane bucks at irregular intervals from an occasional minor hit. Until one of the rising enemy shells hits an engine…

The Douglas A-20G was a widely used ground attack bomber. Staff Sergeant Trzeciak was a gunner and observer on board this aircraft in WWII. (U.S. Army via Staff Sergeant Raymond M. Trzeciak)

73 Years later: May 26, 2017. Dearborn, Michigan in the United States.

Mark Trzeciak is a lifelong friend of mine. Educated, a family man with a Masters’ Degree in education. Two kids and a beautiful wife. He lives in my neighborhood. Teaches at a local school. Trzeciak is a practical and industrious man. He can fix anything, teach anything. A civic leader in the local Maltese community, he is a great American.

“Hey, I think I have a story for you for Memorial Day,” He tells me last week on a Facebook chat. “My Grandfather was on a bomber crew in WWII. Got an award for parachuting out.”

Staff Sergeant Raymond M. Trzeciak in 1944. (Staff Sergeant Raymond M. Trzeciak)

I meet Mark at his house. On the dining room table is a weathered leather satchel. It sat hidden in a corner in an attic behind the Christmas decorations. Dust fell on it when a new roof was put on the house. After Mark’s Grandfather, Raymond M. Trzeciak, died in 1999 the family finally opened the case and examined the contents.

The first thing you need is altitude. Enough height to bail out. Never turn into a dead engine, it’s fatal. The fire spread backward through the engine nacelle as they clawed upward for enough altitude to bail out. The airspeed unwound. Only one engine fighting to pull them up, up. They need to get to at least 2,500 feet. If the Douglas A-20G light attack aircraft stalled there was not enough room to recover. Trzeciak would spiral into the ground, a fiery gash in the dark earth marking his grave in fields outside Bologna.

An A-20G of Staff Sergeant Raymond M. Trzeciak’s Unit with mission markings. (Personal collection: Staff Sergeant Raymond M. Trzeciak)

Generalleutnant Richard Heidrich, commander of the German 1st Fallschirmjäger-Division is a battle hardened elite paratrooper of the Luftwaffe. He owns the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords for heroism and daring in service of the Third Reich. Heidrich’s men of this elite German airborne unit are the shock troops that have tried desperately to hold Bologna, Italy in the allied advance of 1944. So far, they have been successful. But men like Raymond M. Trzeciak are trying to change that.

The tempo of operations is insane. Trzeciak’s A-20G light attack aircraft flies dangerous low altitude bombing and reconnaissance missions nearly every day. The maintenance crews can barely keep up. On June 14, 1944 Trzeciak makes an ominous two-word entry into his mission diary, “2:15, two explosions, :50, engine trouble.”

Log book of Staff Sergeant Raymond M. Trzeciak. (Personal collection: Staff Sergeant Raymond M. Trzeciak)

But the missions continue. A low-level strafing mission on trucks. A nighttime bombing raid. A reconnaissance mission to locate German convoys (they find and bomb them).

But on October 16, 1944, as the tempo of allied airstrikes on the occupying German paratroopers of Generalleutnant Heidrich picks up steam, Trzeciak’s plane crashes.

“He never talked about it.” Mark Trzeciak tells me of his Grandfather. “Never said a word.” It is the same thing you hear about nearly every veteran of every war ever fought. Veterans tend to put the terror of war into a compartment separate from their civilian life of comfort and safety. They try to leave it behind, like Raymond M. Trzeciak did in a leather satchel in a dark corner of an attic. Still there, but hidden. Not forgotten, but never mentioned. It does not define them, but it is a current that runs deeply through them.

Earlier that year in 1944, Staff Sergeant Trzeciak received the Air Medal for surviving 10 sorties over enemy held territory. He went on to receive two Oak Leaf Clusters for his Air Medal. His terse notes reflect the casual attitude toward their daily relationship with low altitude aerial combat. Any one of these missions is filled with enough risk and sensation to fill a book, but on Trzeciak’s notepad they are summarized in terse one-line entries.

There is no record of the crash. Few records of the parachute escape. Staff Sergeant Ray Trzeciak is awarded a certificate as a member of the “Caterpillar Club”, a fraternity of air crew members whose life has been saved by a silk parachute. Trzeciak’s parachute was manufactured by the National Automotive Fibres Company, Ltd.

After his parachute escape from the crashed A-20G, Trzeciak’s crew receives another aircraft and is back in combat on November 12, 1944 hitting targets outside Milan, Italy. In only a few months Trzeciak’s efforts with the constant low-level bombing campaign will pay off when the Battle of Bologna begins on April 9, 1945. It is a critical part of the spring 1945 offensive across Italy that is tightening the noose on Hitler’s neck as the allies press into his occupied territory from the north following the D-Day landings the prior spring and from the east as the Russians break the neck of the Germans and begin to drive them back out of Russia from the brink of losing Stalingrad in a grinding, medieval battle of attrition that claimed millions of lives.

He returns home after the war. A leather satchel filled with papers and photos. He goes to work as an electrician with Local 58, an electrician’s labor union. He raises 6 children, one of them is my friend Mark Trzeciak’s father. His hearing is very poor, likely from his .50 caliber machine gun echoing in the small gun compartment of his aircraft. Two years before he died in 1999 he received two hearing aids. It was the first time since the war he could hear anything.

Mark Trzeciak, grandson of Staff Sergeant Raymond M. Trzeciak, holds a photo taken by his Grandfather of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Author)

Staff Sergeant Raymond Trzeciak’s story is one of many, many stories about America’s greatest generation. A generation that served humbly in countless death-defying roles and in long hours of laborious toil away from the battlefield in support of World War II. The story is a thread that wove the fabric of America, reinforced it. His story makes it strong today. It is the foundation upon which his grandson’s life is built.

Mark takes me into a bedroom to show me a drawing on the wall, but we must be quiet. His son Thomas, only 18 months old, is sleeping. The drawing shows a sailboat sitting in an Italian bay. It is a quiet image drawn from a photo kept by Mark’s grandfather. He took the photo in a rare peaceful moment during the war. Young Thomas sleeps under it. He was born on December 7, 2016, exactly 75 years after the Pearl Harbor attack that thrust the United States into World War II. Someday the story behind the drawing, from the photo, from the satchel that was hidden in the attic, will be passed on to young Thomas. Until that day, it is ours to tell.

 

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