Bruce Stribling always looked forward to the Veterans Day ceremonies at Southminster, the retirement community on Park Road in south Charlotte where he moved with his wife, Goldie, in 2009.
He appreciated the respect shown to veterans and the importance of remembering their sacrifices, Goldie Stribling said of her husband, a radio man in the Naval Air Force in World War II.
Her husband’s death in 2013 inspired her to encourage other Southminster veterans and spouses of deceased veterans to share personal stories from World War II and other wars. About 20 percent of the community’s 377 residents are veterans.
In recent months, Stribling collected their recollections and photos for a commemorative booklet and a video salute that were presented at Southminster’s Veterans Recognition Ceremony on Thursday.
“I felt like I needed to get them to talk and do this now, because before long, there won’t be many left to tell these stories,” said Stribling, 88, an English teacher who taught kindergartners at Cotswold and Billingsville elementary schools in the 1970s and ’80s.
Here are five of the 19 stories they shared.
He saved B-25s from Japanese attack
Ten thousand feet above northern Burma, Jim Wall’s flight leader made a fatal misread of the four U.S. B-25s flying 2,000 feet below them, despite Wall’s attempt to convince him otherwise.
“Hell no, they’re Bettys,” the flight leader said, referring to the Allies’ code name for Japanese Mitsubishi G4M3 bombers.
Wall, 96, who later rose to the rank of captain, still shakes his head recalling how his flight leader proceeded to dive on the rear of the B-25s’ formation. The plane was instantly shot down.
Wall had turned the wing of his plane up so the white star, a U.S. air craft marking, was visible, which spared him. But he instantly spotted four Japanese fighter planes code-named “Oscars” that were about to attack the B-25s.
“I pulled up into their formation, turned, and fired at the closest Oscar, scoring hits in the wing section,” Wall wrote. “He went smoking down through the very heavy cloud cover.”
Wall escaped the other enemy planes by pushing the stick hard forward and heading straight down through the clouds. He later learned he’d helped break up the enemy attack on the B-25s, which also got away in the clouds.
He survived direct hit at 30,000 feet
World War II veteran Moe Ward, 92, eventually rose to colonel and also served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
But he was a 20-year-old second lieutenant navigator aboard a B-17 bomber on the day he’ll never forget: July 31, 1944.
The bomber, nicknamed “Lucky Lady,” was at 30,000 feet near Munich when its nose took a direct hit from a German plane, opening a hole three feet in diameter and killing the bombardier seated in front of him.
An explosion beneath Ward tossed him feet over head toward the likewise damaged and exposed rear of the plane. The next thing he knew he was hanging out of the plane from his waist down.
Because of the altitude, he quickly began to lose consciousness as he tried with “all of my strength” to pull himself back inside. Then he lost consciousness, he said, but reflexively released his flack suit, pulled the ripcord of his parachute and floated to earth. He spent the next nine months as a prisoner of war.
“At one moment, everything is as it should be,” Ward wrote of the experience. “At the next, everything has happened, seemingly all at once, from which there will never be a going back. At one point it is; at the next, it simply isn’t.”
Piloting President Eisenhower’s helicopter
Harry and Gail Grim were newlyweds in 1954 when one of his friends was killed on a plane at their military flight school in Pensacola, Fla.
She’d been there only a week, but Gail Grim recalls begging her husband to try something else. He switched to helicopters, and after flight school was assigned to HMX1 in Quantico, Va. “I soon found out that it was President Eisenhower’s helicopter,” Gail Grim, 84, said.
Where he flew the president Harry Grim wasn’t allowed to tell even his wife. “Sometimes he would be gone on the weekend and sometimes longer,” she said. “Everything had a code name. Many years later, I learned that the weekend trips were to (what is now) Camp David, President Eisenhower’s retreat.”
More than 55 years later, the Marine Corps sent a beautiful wreath to her husband’s funeral, she said, along with a letter from one of his former commanding officers praising her husband’s service to country.
Secret of the doorknobs
In the late 1980s, Bruce Stribling’s granddaughter, Lindsay, interviewed him for a junior high social studies assignment.
Stribling was a radio man in the Naval Air Force during World War II. Near the end of the war, he was stationed in Edenton in Eastern North Carolina.
“He answered all of her questions,” his wife, Goldie Stribling, recalled. Then Lindsay asked if he’d like to share anything else he would always remember, and after a few thoughtful moments, out came a story:
As a hurricane came up the coast, Stribling joined other volunteers to fly the Air Force planes to Charles Town, W.Va., to keep the aircraft far from the storm.
When they landed, each pilot was given a door knob. “Because,” he said, “the only place they had free for us to spend the night was in the mental wing of the hospital, and those rooms didn’t have door knobs.”
Said Goldie Stribling: “If we thought that was a surprise to the young sailors, it was probably also a big surprise to the junior high social studies teacher.”
‘He thought every second would be his last’
Nicholas Long never expected to face Japanese kamikaze suicide planes as a second officer on a Navy landing craft in World War II, said his wife, Southminster resident Kash Long, 87.
He was a junior at the University of North Carolina when his class was called to active duty. His flotilla thought it would be going to Europe. They sailed instead through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific to the Philippines.
“Nick said they had been operating in the Philippines for a few weeks – long enough for the ‘skipper’ to become furious with the crew,” Kash Long wrote. “He couldn’t get them to respond to their battle stations fast enough when a ‘red-alert signal’ was sounded.”
One beautiful morning, she said, the craft were anchored with P.T. boats on a peaceful ocean with no enemy in sight. Suddenly, a lone Japanese plane came out of nowhere and dove onto a tanker filled with high-octane gasoline. The tanker vaporized in the explosion.
“After witnessing that, they had no trouble getting the crew to respond quickly to a red alert signal,” she said.
The next week, a kamikaze crashed onto the deck of another tanker, which didn’t sink but was burning furiously, she said.
“Nick’s crew volunteered to board the burning tanker to help fight the fires,” Kash Long said. “Nick said he thought every second would be his last. They survived, saved the tanker by bringing the fires under control and later received a commendation for bravery.”