It's Just Elmer's Tune by Carl S. Pyrdum Jr. - August 23, 2011
It was a typical morning on the hills and meadows surrounding Kettering and in all the other places in lower England and the midlands. All was as it should be and all was as it was and as it had remained for quite a long time now. Everything was in order, they were all here. The aircraft were parked wing tip to wing tip, prepared for the day's adventures. No more need for the worry of enemy attacks, as that had all long ago been settled.
Here, there was no more war. Those who are stationed here now, are those who once long ago lifted off to fight their adversaries across the way, but those days has long since passed. Here there are no enemies, no wars. They are all here now, both planes and crews, un-tethered to time and each day their mission is simply to relive the times in their lives when they were young and in love and serving a great purpose.
They were in love with their country, in love with their sweethearts back home and they were in love with leaving the ground to brush past the clouds to touch the face of God, even if that meant the danger that they all knew lay ahead in the skies each day. But none of that mattered to them now. Those fears and anxieties were all in the past. A long ago past that not many on earth still remembered and all too many here in this place recalled with regularity. But their memories were not of sorrow, for each had done his part and they were all proud of their service and their lives and all that had transpired in between.
Their is no anger or fear here now. There are no enemies, only love. All pain and sorrow have been washed away and replaced with the joys of friendship and love and the mutual love of what once was and what will always be. All that remains here now is their camaraderie and their daily routine of doing something that they truly dreamed of doing each day so long ago. To touch the face of God? They each now have done so and they have each have now seen that face, as he resides here with them. Soon it would be Gene's turn.
These men, many of whom were not far from being boys, when they flew into battle to fight for freedom, country, the love in their hearts and those who remained back home. They didn't fight their enemies out of hatred, they fought them because that was what was right. They were on the right side of right and wrong and they fought along side each other with mutual respect and dedication to their mission. They shared their dreams as they shared their hopes and they shared their aspirations and they shared their fears. And many times that sharing happened above twenty thousand feet and in skies far from their homes and far from their loves and filled with enemy guns and flak.
But today was a day to rejoice. They were welcoming home another brother. Someone who had been a long time coming, but someone none the less they all knew, would one day re-appear. He was a little more paunchy than they recalled, but then again? He hadn't received his new uniform issue yet, nor had he visited the saints and become born anew in his new body. That was all to come, but for now there he stood. A bit bewildered while all the memories and the faces came flooding back. They all looked just as they always had and as he remembered them. Their uniforms now crisp and no longer battle weary. But it was the faces that really intrigued him. They all seemed to be ageless, just as he remembered them, nothing had changed in all the years. How could that be?
The first to come forward to extend a hand was Elmer Gillespie, the pilot. He said: "welcome home Gene, it's been a long time." Then one by one, each member of the crew stepped forward, they all embraced. There was Ted Chapman, "Chappie" the co-pilot and David Taylor "DL", the Bombardier. There was "Dead Eye" Hodge Mason the navigator and Don Zirbel "Don D" the engineer. There was Tom "Smokie" Lambert the left waist gunner. There was Jefferson D. Dickson, the tail gunner. They called him the kid. There was "Buck" Robert Bush, the right waist gunner who always insisted on being called Buck. There was "Chuck" Charlie McFall, the radio operator and now there was Elmer Eugene Browning "Brownie" the ball turret gunner, Gene to his friends. Here and now, Gene and all of his friends and crew were finally together again. They all came to meet him, to welcome him home, to shake his hand and to tender a salute. Just as he remembered them and just as he had always hoped they would be. One by one they had all come together in this place and in this moment in time.
Gene was overwhelmed, there was so much to take in and so much that he wanted to say to each of them. Captain Gillespie and the others knew what Gene was feeling, they had all experienced it themselves when they arrived. The captain took Gene by the shoulders and said "just let me look at you old friend, you made it farther than any of us. There will be time for all of your questions, but first you must realize that here and now, there is no time. So let's get you checked in, there is a gentleman I want you to meet, his name is Peter. He has been here for quite a long time. From the beginning. He keeps the books"
Captain Gillespie took Gene by the shoulder and led him up a hill to a place so beautiful. A place where it seemed like one could look and see all of eternity. A man approached and said: "Gene, I am Peter and I am here to verify your reservation. According to our files? You are exactly where you are supposed to be and you are welcomed with the love and light of all the angels of Heaven."
And when those words were spoken, there was suddenly a chorus of heavenly voices. Voices of acclamation and a transcending of the Holy Spirit that came and settled around Gene. In a twinkling, he was anew. His body of old, the one he had brought with him when he arrived was now gone. Replaced by the one of his youth. He could immediately feel the difference, as if suddenly there was muscle and sinew that he had not known in decades. Nothing ached any longer and his eyes were once again sharp and crisp and as he looked down at his body he could see the uniform taking shape around him. The one he had worn so many years ago. Like Captain Gillespie and the others, the uniform was all new and crisp and his Air Corps hat gently settled on his head.
Gene looked up and Peter looked upon him and said welcome home Gene, all is now well. You are now in the loving arms of the Father. Captain Gillespie took Gene's hand and began to lead him down the hill back toward the others. Suddenly Captain Gillespie stopped and told Gene to turn and look, as he did Gene saw what he thought was the most beautiful sunrise that he had ever experienced. There was a warmth and a peace that he had never known or felt before. Gene felt embraced and loved as he had never known before.
Knowing Gene's thoughts before he could ask them, Captain Gillespie looked at Gene and said: "isn't he beautiful Gene?" That is the face of God. That which we have all sought for so long, only now to be able to gaze upon him and stand in the presence of his love and feel his presence all around us. Yes Gene, he is here with us as is the son and they are pleased to see you at home once again, we all are. There will be time for more later, but remember? There is no time here, there is only love and happiness and the presence of the father and those who we loved.
As Gene and Elmer walked slowly back into the grassy meadows among the other men and those beautiful aircraft parked on the flight line, he thought to himself and then remarked, "this place looks a lot like Kettering." Hodge Mason leaned in and said: "It is Kettering Gene, just as it existed back in our time. Only now it is as it was meant to be and as it came to exist in later years because of the sacrifices that we made. It is as we always dreamed for it to one day be. It is now a place for our dreams to become our reality."
David Taylor the bombardier looked at Gene and said: "You ready to go back up again Brownie? We are about ready for today's reconnaissance flight." Gene asked: where are we headed? And Don D said: "Well, we will swing through Ipswich after take off and a few other places after that. After we pick up the main formations, we will be off to France and Belgium and Germany and all the old familiar places. And today? We will take a couple of detours to do fly overs of Illinois and Georgia, just for you Gene, so sit back and enjoy. you are about to see things that you never dreamed existed. I'll bet you always wondered what they would look like from above.
And with those words, they all began to crawl into a brand new and shiny B-17. It was just like the one they had picked up so long ago and flown over to Europe, but this one was different. There were no guns in this one and no place for bombs. Only Plexiglas portholes for viewing. Gene's ball turret was there also, but this time there was no targeting window or twin 50's to be crammed inside with.Just a nice large picturesque viewing bubble.
As the plane taxied out with the others, it seemed as if they all just lifted up together as if on the wings of doves. And just as suddenly they were flying again. The entire crew was together again. The complete crew now that Gene was with them. Gene went over and hit the switch and rotated the ball turret down and there was the hatch to the turret. He opened it and seemingly just stepped right inside, like putting on an old comfortable coat. Everything was as he remembered it. The controls were all there, there just weren't any guns or the feeling of being crammed inside a can. That is when Gene noticed, that his hearing had returned perfectly. Not for the last sixty six years had he heard as he was hearing now. He hadn't noticed it when talking to Captain Gillespie and Peter and the others, but now it was obvious. He could hear like a kid again.
As the plane banked and turned, Gene noticed that there were fighters closing on their formation. German JU 88's and ME-109's, but they weren't in attack formations. These planes were coming up leisurely to meet them. Gene was truly amazed and one German pilot flew up so close to his turret that Gene could see the medals on his uniform. And there were no guns! Just a beautiful aircraft, just like the one that Gene was now in. The German pilot slid back his canopy and smartly saluted Gene, then slid the canopy forward and peeled off to rejoin his group. Gene now wondered: "was that one of the men that he had taken out of the sky so many years ago?" It didn't seem to matter, as they were all together now and there was no more war and no more fighting. Only love and respect.
The formation of B-17's banked sharply to the right and began descending. They were coming in below 10.000 feet now and still descending. The features of the ground seemed familiar. Gene suddenly realized they were flying over his old home in Illinois and there was the old Hyster plant where he had worked for so many years after the war. Then just as suddenly, the bomber banked hard to the left and Gene began to see that they were descending upon his home in Georgia. There it was, the flag pole in his front yard with his American flag and Distinguished Flying Cross flags still flying. That is when the plane seemed to simply stop. It was as if the bomber had stopped in time and began to hover. Something a B-17 is not supposed to do. At first it scared Gene, his hearing was now perfect, yet it was as if the engines had simply stopped. There was no engine noise and not even the sound of wind. It was as if they were in a cloud bank, everything had stopped and time seemed suspended.
Captain Gillespie came on the intercom to Gene and said: "Eyes forward and down to the six O'clock Brownie, this is for you." And the clouds parted and there it was below. That beautiful place that he had told his wife Melba about. The place that he wanted to be when the time came. And there they were. Melba, his family and all of his friends.They were all there. They were paying their last respects. There was a full honor guard and a rifle squad, there was the bugler, each as he had told his beloved Melba that he wanted. And they were all gathered on this beautiful day at this beautiful place to remember him. Some were seated and some stood somberly as words were spoken of his life and his love of country, friends and his beloved Melba.
The silence he had known was now replaced by the clear sound of rifle fire, three vollies, twenty one shots. The solemn playing of Taps on the bugle and his friend Jim Stockton quietly singing the words. Then came the folding of the flag and the words by those who loved Gene and whom had been brought together to be there with his beloved wife Melba on the day of Gene's home coming.
Gene cried, the first tears that he had shed in his new body, but they were not tears of sorrow, they were tears of joy. Everything was as he had always wanted it to be. Melba had seen to it and they had all remembered. And now, they were were all standing for one last time before they lowered his old body into the ground. Gene saw all of that too. The meticulous care that had been taken to insure that he looked his best. How could he not have loved all of these people, each and every one of them. The Patriot Guards, The Legion Riders, Rolling Thunder, friends, and family, they were all there.
Gene didn't know what to say. Here he sat inside his turret, suspended in time with an unobstructed view of all of the love that he had created in life. And here they all were now before him, paying tribute seeing him off and making sure that his gal Melba was taken care of. Gene felt like standing and saluting them, but even with the guns gone from the turret, standing simply wasn't possible. So he saluted them and silently thanked each and everyone of them for being part of his life.
Gene then felt a hand on his shoulder. It was a familiar hand, it had a familiar feel to it. Gene turned to look and to see who was there. There was this young man, some how sitting right behind him inside the turret. The young man was smiling and he introduced himself. He said, "you don't remember me Gene, because we never really met. You see? I was a ball turret gunner too."
"Do you remember that one mission where the hatch came open on your turret and you almost fell out? You later told people that as you were struggling to stay inside the turret and being buffeted by the wind, that you suddenly felt a hand on your backside and that hand pushed you back up and inside and the hatch was closed. Remember?" Gene said oh yes, I remember that! The young man said: "well that was me Gene. You see, me and my crew had gone down on a mission a few days before and when I saw you in trouble, I just knew that I had to do something. So I gave you that little shove and I have been waiting to meet you in person for quite a long time. I am glad to finally make your acquaintance. I'll see you around," and just as quickly as he had appeared, the young man was gone.
Gene looked down again and they were finishing the service and once again he was overcome with both joy and thanks for all who had come to pay their respects. Captain Gillespie came on the intercom and told Gene that there was one more thing left to do. The plane suddenly came to life again and just as suddenly it was in a formation of three other B-17's.
As Gene looked around, he saw that the formation of bombers was lining up over and just to the south of the Georgia National Cemetery. They were coming in low at around two thousand feet and as they came over those departing the service, Captain Gillespie pulled back hard on the stick and the plane rocketed toward heaven and back toward their base. Gene didn't know what to say but Elmer Gillespie cleared his thoughts by telling him: "the father wanted you to see it Gene. The love. That's something we all get to bring with us and he wanted you to see that it still remains in the hearts of all of those who knew you. Welcome home buddy."
And with that, the B-17's all banked to the left and climbed toward heaven, where they later descended back into the grass and came to rest once again at Kettering with all the others who had flown Gene's mission that day. As all the planes rolled to a stop on the flight line, the ground crews appeared and chocked wheels and aligned props. And as Gene and his crew exited the aircraft, the crew came around and gave him hugs and salutes and told him of all the catching up that remained to be done. They said:"It's good to see you again Brownie."
As they turned and began walking toward their quarters, Gene suddenly remembered. At first it was just a melody rambling around in his head, but the words soon came back to him.
Why are the stars always winkin' and blinkin' above? What makes a fellow start thinkin' of fallin' in love? It's not the season, the reason is plain as the moon It's just Elmer's Tune
What makes a lady of eighty go out on the loose? Why does a gander meander in search of a goose? What puts the kick in a chicken, the magic in June? It's just Elmer's Tune
Elmer's Tune... they were all finally together again and it all seemed so right. And Gene remembered the words that he had spoken during one of his talks not so long ago. When he told those assembled of being a boy raised in a railroad shack and living a miserable life the first eighteen years. And then of joining the Army Air Corps during the war when he turned eighteen and how in the end, he believed that he had had a good life. He new that he had had a good life, he knew that now for sure. Just as he knew that one day his gal Melba would be here with him. So he better get busy preparing for that day, because there is no time here he'd been told by Elmer. But first, he had some catching up to do with his crew and a meeting with the Father.
Tribute to Elmer Eugene Browning who died on July 30th 2011