Reflection of Greatness
by Don Gaddo
Introduction by Wally Blackwell
Don Gaddo prefers to be known to us as an ordinary citizen of the State of North Carolina who had a cousin serve in the 398th during World War II. Dons cousin, Joseph D. Doglio, was a 602nd Squadron navigator who was killed in action flying a combat mission with the 398th on July 19, 1944. Don is a gifted writer and a truly outstanding speaker. He attended the 398th annual reunion at Oklahoma City in 1999, not necessarily to be a guest speaker, but just to be with us. Don wanted to share his personal feelings on Democracy, Freedom, Sacrifice and Heroes. The following text of Dons address to the 398th membership present at that time is outstanding proof of his talents, his respect for those who served in combat and his deep feelings for a cousin who gave it all for our country.
President 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association
Reflection of Greatness
by Don Gaddo
During World War II an Englishman said, An American airman is like a dog trying to be friendly with everyone in the room, while wrecking everything with its tail wagging. Im Sure this doesnt apply to the men of the 398th . Friendly, yes. Breaking everything in the room, only you can answer that.
More than five decades have passed since the end of World War II. More than five decades have passed since those days when you endured the mud of Nuthampstead, the bitter cold at 25,000 feet, the loss of your friends, and the tormented skies over the European Continent.
During my discussions with you I have come to believe that many of you are embarrassed to talk or write about the cause you fought for. Yet, in my opinion, you are the children of democracy. You and your generation did more to help spread democracy around the world than any previous generation.
I believe you were special then and you continue to be special now. I truly believe you were a group of people unequaled by previous generations and quite possibly a generation that will live in our minds forever.
While working on a project relating to a 398th aircrew I found that the men in this photograph became a part of my life. Each day I would gather my thoughts, look into the eyes of the crew, and I could feel the eyes of time looking back at me. Before long I began to know them. As the months passed I began to respect them for their bravery and fears, courage and doubts, strengths and shortcomings.
I did my best to describe them in words and then I tried to find word to describe you. I wanted to do this in one sentence. I asked the questions, What kept you going? Where did you find the courage? From where did you draw your strength? Time after time I found that I was not up to the task.
Finally, unable to find the proper words, I turned to the masters of literature and I came across these words written by Ralph Waldo Emerson. He said, What lies behind you and what lies before you are tiny matters compared to what lies within you. Now allow me to repeat that again. What lies behind you and what lies before you are tiny matters compared to what lies within you.
During those war years you had within you the will to sacrifice, the will to give of yourself, and despite the odds, you had within you the will to succeed. For those of you who waited for your loved ones to return you had within you the will to endure.
At the core you and your generation knew the difference between right and wrong, and you didnt want to live in a world where wrong prevailed. So you fought, and you won, and we, all of us, living and yet to be born must be forever and profoundly grateful.
Perhaps an author said it best when he wrote. Is it accidental that many airmen became teachers after the war? Perhaps a period of violence and destruction at one time attracts them to look for something creative as a balance in another part of life.
There also seems to be a large number of men who became builders of homes and other things. To me, whether you want to believe it or not, you are the generation that built modern America. You learn to work together in World War II, you have seen more than your share of destruction and know you wanted to construct.
There is no doubt in my mind that you had seen enough killing, and now, upon your return to America, you wanted to save lives.
As a result you licked polio and you made other revolutionary advances in medicine. Thank God, for all of us, that you learned in the United States Army Air Force the virtues of solid organization, teamwork, and the value of individual initiative, inventiveness, and responsibility.
Think of it if you will. You developed the modern corporation while inaugurating revolutionary advances in science and technology, education and public policy. Just think of those things for a moment. What you and your generation did for America is simply mind-boggling.
What it boils down to is that you were the WE generation As we are all in this together. Not only did you do special things for America you did special things for the world.
When you arrived in Europe you did not come as conquerors you came as liberators. Eisenhower said, Your mission is to destroy the German war machine and eliminate Nazi tyranny over the oppressed people of Europe and to secure a free world for ourselves. You accomplished that mission.
You see, you in the 398th had seen enough war, you wanted peace. You had seen evil of dictatorship, you wanted freedom. You gave us freedom. You entrusted freedom to our generation and we and those who follow must be forever vigilant to protect it. You learned in your youth that the way to prevent war was to deter through strength. We must draw from your wisdom and forever keep America strong.
While listening to a lecture at a major university, I watched as a professor taught a course on World War II. The students were awestruck by descriptions by what it was like to be in the sky over the European Continent during the war. They were even more amazed by the responsibilities carried out by Junior Officers and NCOs who were as young as they. Like all of us they wondered if they could have done it. Even more they wondered how anyone could have done it.
You were young and strong then, possessed with the marvelous resilience of youth. For all the misery and fear you endured some of you might say it was a terrifying adventure. Not a man of you would want to go through it again, but I would venture to say you are proud of being so severely tested and finding yourself adequate and to the task. I would think the only regret you should have is for those friends who never returned.
Sometime, I am sure, you have reflections in your mind about your friends who didnt make it. All those junior Officers and NCOs who were killed in appalling numbers. These men were natural leaders. They died one by one. We may often wonder what their life might have been had they lived. A genius, a doctor, a politician, the president of a company. Certainly they would have been wonderful fathers and marvelous grandfathers to a host of grandchildren. It is impossible to know. What we do know is that their loss is our loss. No doubt the biggest price we pay for war is WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN. When you toll the bell for your friends who went down over Europe, the bell tolls for all of us.
Remembering this I urge you to remember Emersons words and reflect on what lies within you. Take a portion of what is inside of you, write it down, and give it to your family. They must never forget what you experienced, how you sacrificed, and how you endured those terrible hardships of World War II. Go to schools and watch as young people look at you in awe when you describe what you did to give this world freedom. Never allow your story to be forgotten.
Finally, there is a person here tonight who corrected me when I called him a hero. He asked that I never call him a hero again. Well I have given thought to this request and I will close by saying this to him and to all of you. In 1949, at the age of eleven, I watched as those mighty Flying Fortresses flew over a small country cemetery paying tribute to my cousin, Joseph Doglio, a navigator from the 398th and my hero. Several months ago I shed tears for the passing of another hero of our generation, a waist gunner from the 398th.
Today I will say to you, each and everyone of you, that you are heroes. The greatest heroes of our time.
If you have a problem accepting a title of which you so richly deserve then maybe I can make it easier for you by repeating a story about a grandfather from the 601st Squadron.
His grandson asked him the question, Grandpa were you a hero in the war? No, he answered. But I served in the 398th. I served with a group of heroes.
So far as I am concerned, so did you all.
GOD BLESS YOU
Reflection of Greatness was transcribed for our 398th web page by Ray Borys, 600 Squadron.