Thursday, November 11, 2010

Born To Be a Pilot

Had trouble finding this in the online archives of the Northwest Florida Daily News. So...I'm putting it into the blog so we can find it again next time we need it without tearing apart Grandaddy's office! :-)

Born to Be a Pilot - Monday, May 9, 2005 Northwest Florida Daily News, By Kelly Humphrey

Baker - As a young man, Johnie Courtney dreamed of attending West Point and becoming an Army pilot.

It was an ambition foreshadowed in his childhood as a North Okaloosa County farm boy.

"My mother used to say that she always knew Johnie would grow up to be a pilot, because whenever they'd be out in the fields picking cotton, if a plane flew overhead he'd have to stop and gaze up at it," recalled Courtney's sister, Jeanette Henderson. "He had it in his blood."

For a while, it looked like Courtney's dreams just might come true. Although his family lacked the political connections needed in those days to obtain an academy appointment, Courtney had heard that each year, two enlisted men in the Army were selected to attend West Point.

Determined to be one of those two, he enlisted shortly after graduating from Baker School in 1936.

"I almost made it," Courtney recalled. "I was the number three man on the list, so if anything had happened to the first two, I would have been in."

Fortunately for numbers one and two, but not so fortunately for Courtney, the top two men made it to West Point unscathed. And while Courtney's dreams of flying may have appeared to be grounded, it was only a temporary setback.

"I found out that there was a program where enlisted men could become pilots," he said. "So I stayed on that track, and in 1942 I went to flying school at Kelly Field in Texas."

Ordinarily, the enlisted pilots were not allowed to fly in operational situations.

"We were just supposed to be involved with maintenance and testing," Courtney explained. "But then the war came along and changed everything."

Almost overnight, Courtney went from being a technical sargent to a newly commissioned second lieutenant flying A-36 dive bombers in North Africa.

"There weren't very many of us who survived the war," he stated. "A-36 pilots had about an 86 percent mortality rate."

Flying the tiny bombers was inherently dangerous because of the low altitude at which they operated.

"You can see from the length of our missions that we were incredibly close to the front line," Courtney said, pointing to a report that detailed missions lasting just three or four minutes. "We used to say that if they (they German soldiers) threw their helmets in the air, they'd hit us."

The A-36 pilots' job was to swoop down low over enemy targets and drop bombs on railroad installations, bridges, tunnels, and other infrastructure.

"Our planes were equipped with two guns on each wing, and two synchronized guns that shot through the propeller," Courtney explained. "We'd use the two side guns for strafing targets, and we'd save the synchronized guns for the trip home. We needed the ammunition because we flew so low, and the Germans used to love to fly over us and jump us."

One one occasion, Courtney was flying a mission over Italy when his small aircraft was hit by a 20-mm gun from a flak tower.

"I was strafing some targets, and I didn't see the tower until I was already committed," he recalled. "I saw it coming, but there wasn't anything I could do about it."

A few years later, Courtney would recount his experience for a local newspaper.

"He just boresighted his 20 mm gun on me and WHAM! Smoke and fire began licking my face," he said. "I yanked the stick back hard, and at 800 feet the A-36 and I parted company. The 'chute swung once, maybe twice, then I was on the ground shucking the 'chute and running. I could see some of the 'master race' galloping up to make my acquaintance and I wasn't in a talkative mood."

Courtney headed toward a stand of pine trees, where he tripped and began to roll down a small mountain. Seeing his rather unorthodox landing apparently discouraged the Germans, who gave up the chase.

After taking part in more than 20 missions over enemy territory, Courtney chalked up three confirmed enemy kills and several "probables".

Along the way, he earned a Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and several other decorations. In 1943, he was sent back to the states for some rest after being wounded, and paid a visit to his family in Baker.

There the dashing young pilot took part in a bond rally at his alma mater, helping the senior class at Baker School raise more than $9,000 for the war effort.

After Germany surrendered in May 1945, Courtney was assigned to a reorganized squandron that was sent to the Pacific theater to escort bombers launching an offensive against Japan.

All told, he took part in more than 60 missions during the war, both in the European and Pacific theathers.

"We flew our missions out of Iwo Jima," he recalled. "That's where I was when we got the word that the war was over."

Although World War II may have ended, Courtney's service had not. During his early flight training, he and the other enlisted pilots had signed on for an eight-year committment.

"I ended up being assinged to Eglin, which tickled me," Courtney said.

Not long after, the ace pilot was called back to flying service as the Air Force ushered in its new fleet of jets.

Over the next two decards, Courtney would fly dozens of different aircraft, taking part in such important missions as the Berlin Airlift.

All in all, it was a fitting career for a farm boy fascinated by the planes he had watched fly over Baker so many years earlier.

"I joined the Army because I didn't want to pick cotton for the rest of my life," he said with a laugh. "It turned out pretty good."

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Grandaddy the Snake Killer

Check out these pictures of the rattlesnake William and Grandaddy killed at our house this morning (well, mostly Grandaddy - William took his gun out but since the snake crawled right up bedside the house, Grandaddy killed it with his hoe instead). Scary!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Snow in the Deep South?

What a surprise! We got snow, in the South, in MARCH!

As soon as we got up and noticed it was snowing, we grabbed coat and hats and threw them on over our pj's and ran outside to play it in before it disappeared.

We stayed out until our glove-less fingers started freezing and then we ducked inside to find breakfast and some real clothes. Then we headed back out for some more fun in the snow.

The snow didn't stick (of course it didn't stick, the temperature the day before was in the 70's which meant the ground was still really warm), so no snowmen, but we had a fun time anyway!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Welcome Home to Remember

Today we got to be a part of something special.

There is an organization called "Honor Flight Network" that arranges for veterans to go on a day-trip to Washington D.C. to tour the monuments built in their honor. My grandaddy, a WWII vet, got his turn today. Just the group of veterans and some Honor Flight volunteers took a chartered plane to Reagan National airport in the wee hours of the morning and then spent the day viewing the WWII Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and a few other of Washington D.C.'s famous memorials. Then they returned home.

I don't know what it is usually like for the veteran's of these flights when they return home, but for the guys returning tonight to Valparaiso, FL,
there was a big surprise in store. SO many people had turned out to personally welcome them home, I was overwhelmed...and I think some of the veterans were too (William did say that Grandaddy looked surprised and pleased when he realized that his whole family was there to greet him - I think he was just expecting Uncle Johnie to be there to give him a ride home :).

People were lining the walkway- all the way from baggage claim to the very end of the concourse. Active duty soldiers, retired military, regular townsfolk, family members, airport workers, previous "Honor Flight" veterans - all cheering, clapping, waving American flags and homemade signs saying "Thank You" and "Welcome Home".

We got the honor of walking with Grandaddy through all these cheering folks, which included a walk through the Honor Guard's Saber Arch or the "sword tunnel" as Marshall called it. The kids also loved the small American flags that seemed to be everywhere (and I have no idea how, but we arrived with none and left with about 10- my kids must have been working the crowd with puppy-dog eyes or something ;).

Because I am not the greatest of writers, I cannot capture fully how proud I was tonight - proud of the 100 men and women who were being honored and also proud of my town that turned out in such numbers on a wet, rainy, Wednesday night to simply say "Thank You" to people they had never met. I think it was best summed up by the conversation Marshall had with an active duty soldier while walking in. He told the sodier he was coming to see his Grandaddy get off a plane and the soldier said, "I think I am coming to see your Grandaddy too".

I am SO proud of my Grandaddy! :)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Jack's First Hair Cut - Disney Style!

My baby is big enough for real hair-cuts these days and he got his first one Disney-style! We took both the kids to the barbour shop on Main Street at Disney World late time we visited my mom. Marshall got his haircut first so Jack could see that it really wasn't that bad. And when it was Jack's turn, he did great! He sat very still and was super-patient, which was amazing since he is only 1 1/2 years old.

When we were all finished, they gave him an official "Certficate of Bravery" and some Mickey ears to wear that were embroidered with "First Haircut" across the back. He did sit for another few seconds for mom to get a picture of him with the ears on and then we got back to the important stuff at Disney World...the rides! ;)

T-Rex Cafe

Marshall is really into dinosaurs these days so we met Aunt Chrissy and Gabriella for dinner at the new T-Rex cafe while we were in Central Florida. Talk about a hit! Dinosaurs, woolly mammoths and a cool ice cave full of fossils plus pretty kid-friendly food - what more could we ask for? :)

Marshall and Gabriella had a great time! Jack liked it too, right up until the time they made the volcano erupt. After that, he was a little bit wary of everything and was pretty ready to get out of Dodge. He did like the erupting dessert that came at the end of the meal though, compliments of Granny.

This will definitely be one we do again (the restaurant AND the dessert!)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy 90th Birthday Grandaddy!

Happy Birthday Grandaddy!

My grandaddy turned 90 this year on Dec 22 so we decided to celebrate with a big birthday party! How many times do you get to do anything 90 times??? What an accomplishment!

Grandaddy, Brayden and Marshall patiently waited for permission to blow out the candles from the ladies in charge (if you look closely at the picture you will see the candles were already burning down quite a bit at this point - I can't believe the little ones were so cooperative!)

Here's a good one of all the brothers and sisters with their Dad. I can't remember now what was said to get everyone to smile (including Grandaddy!) but whatever it was, it worked! :)

My mom, the veteran school teacher, and Aunt Patti made sure the kids had lots of activities to keep them busy during the party. They had talked with the North Pole and found out that Santa's elves had been out joy-riding on Santa's sleigh the night before (to relieve a little pre-Christmas stress) and some presents had accidently fallen out of the sleigh over Aunt BB's yard (ok, so this isn't exactly how they told the story, but you have to admit, my version is funnier... ;). The kids had a great time finding the presents...however they got there. :)

Here are a few pictures of our family taken at the party by Janet Carden of JCardenPhoto - Thanks Janet! If you are interested in having some wonderful pictures taken of your family check her out at