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Silent Wings WWII
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Dedicated to the Glider Pilots of WWII
Dedicated to the Glider Pilots of WWII

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Making Waves!

Fishing around the Internet today, I happened to run across the ‘new official’ Silent Wings Museum website! Of course, I have no idea if my website had anything to do with the ‘new’ and ‘improved’ version over at the City, but whatever the reason, at least it has been revamped and has updated and valuable information contained therein.

This is a noticeable and needed improvement. Good Job! Bravo! My site will never top theirs on Google Search since they are, after all, the ‘official’ site – however, let’s hope that this site will continue to inspire and motivate them to keep their site as well as social media moving along to keep the interest in this fabulous part of our local history.

I’m happy to help the cause!

Keep visiting, as I’m no where near finished posting images and stories. Unfortunately, I have more projects that I’m working on that take me away from this site at times, but I’m committed to this site and to posting new and fresh WWII content.

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Recent Museum Visit

The Toys go to War exhibit took me to the Museum recently. The exhibit was OUTSTANDING! Well put together and presented in a very professional manner. The amount of toys was quite impressive. I am curious as to whether some of the toys were on loan or if they were all from the Museum’s collection. I wonder about that, as I don’t remember the Museum curating that many toys while I was there. At any rate, it was a fantastic exhibit and I’m truly sorry for those that missed it. I hope to post a whole new section on the Toys Exhibit soon, so those that were not able to visit, can at least see some of the toys that were presented.

Here are my after thoughts on my visit as a whole.

Atmosphere

Things seem to be a little different today than they were back when I worked at Silent Wings Museum.  I left somewhere around 2005 and have only visited a couple of times since.  As I stated, I visited at the end of the Toys go to War exhibit and I must say, while the exhibit was outstanding, the atmosphere was ….well, non-existent.  It was sad.  For such an outstanding Museum, upon entering you should feel the excitement that surrounded the Glider Program and genuine interest from everyone there.  I can say that unequivocally because when I first went to work there, I had no idea what the Museum was about or what a significant part in history these men played.  However, that quickly changed as the Glider Pilots themselves began visiting the Museum and inevitably engaged everyone around them with their fascinating stories.  You just cannot help but become enthralled and by extension, enthusiastic about sharing the Museum with every visitor that walked through the door! I was sincerely disappointed by the lack of that enthusiasm by the employees that I encountered that day – perhaps it was just one of those off days and not a true representation of day to day operations.

While I worked there, visitors were greeted with Big Band Music in the front lobby. Unfortunately I don’t think it was playing the day I visited. My office was located in what is now the Library reception area, but I could still hear the music that played all day. During Christmas time, we played WWII period holiday music. When I think of that time, I always smile…hearing the music over and over got to be a little monotonous, but I would give anything to go back in time and listen to it again!

We always had volunteers on hand in case visitors wanted a guided tour – sadly, I saw no volunteers during my visit.  There were two employees visible upon my arrival, and one of those left as I was paying.  I was the only person in the gallery’s for the 2 1/2 hours I was there. Yes – two and a half hours and I used to work there! There were a few new exhibits, but that wasn’t what kept me there, and to be honest I really have no idea where the time went, and I really didn’t realize I had been there that long. The Museum is simply amazing and there will always be something you missed seeing on each visit.

Plaza Bricks

It had snowed several days before my visit and I noticed the blue salt that had been thrown on the Plaza bricks in order to melt the snow and ice. While I can certainly understand the need for safety, the damage that the salt it doing to the personalized bricks is very discerning. I, along with many many others paid to have a brick engraved and placed in that Plaza, and I do not wish to see my father’s name disappear simply because no one wanted to shovel snow! Personally, I feel when you make the decision to lay personalized bricks, you also have made the decision to care for those bricks. I was more than a little upset at seeing blue salt continuing to cover the bricks, well after the snow was gone.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit! I was nice to see Billy and Rob again…and really the whole gang.  I didn’t get to know Goldie all that well, in fact, I’m not sure Goldie was there when I left…but I was very much involved with Goldie and that is a whole story in and of itself! If you are not aware, I’m talking about the mannequins. We gave them names and they somewhat took on personalities. We needed ways of identifying which mannequin might need attention and what better way, than to give them names. You might ask yourself what type of attention might a mannequin need – you would be surprised. I honestly think they must have partied at night while the Museum was closed, as there was always clothes to straighten and artifacts to re-position from time to time.

Part of me misses the Museum very much. I don’t think I could go back and work there, but I very much enjoyed visiting again, and will try to visit more frequently.

 

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Volunteers Rebuild Glider

The Assault Glider Project, based at RAF Shawbury, has missed out on a place in the final of the National Lottery Good Causes Awards.

The project was one of 10 initially shortlisted in the Best Heritage category.

Voting closed on 10 July. The three most popular projects go on to a final public vote.

The Assault Glider Trust was established in 2001 to build a full scale World War II Horsa glider.

Rebuilding the Horsa

While many types of aircraft survived the war, the fragile, wooden Horsa gliders were usually destroyed on landing. Those that never left the ground, were left to rot away after the war; while the wood was often re-used for other building work.

The Horsas faded from memory, and by 2000 not a single complete example existed in the country. The Assault Glider Trust used surviving sections of original aircraft to piece together their own blueprints and form the basis for the final aircraft.

The trust is funded entirely by grants and charitable donations, including a £200,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The hangar to complete the work was offered by RAF Shawbury in 2000.

The Horsa is one of four aircraft currently being restored by the trust, including a Waco (the American equivalent of the Horsa glider), a Douglas Dakota (used to tow the gliders to their target), and a 1930s de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane.

Work on the aircraft is being completed by volunteers. While the project has proved popular, the trust say they are keen to hear from other people who want to get involved.

These chaps [volunteers] really need the recognition for all the years of hard work they’ve put into this project.  –Rachal Abbiss

The social element of the project has proved as popular with many volunteers as the chance to ‘give something back to history’.The original Waco glider, built by Ford Motor Company, took 7,000 man hours. Trust volunteers believe their own model will require a total of almost 20,000 man hours.

Retired Sales Manager Brian Rathbone has volunteered on the project since 2004. He said that the recent Veterans’ Day was an emotional moment: “They’ll sit in in the Horsa or the Waco and they relived the moment when they actually flew in these things.”

Curator of the Assault Glider Trust Rachel Abbiss believes the nomination for the National Lottery Good Causes Award is testament to the hard work put in by volunteers.

The Horsa glider

“These chaps [volunteers] really need the recognition for all the years of hard work they’ve put into this project. It’s so brilliant… these guys really deserve the award,” Abbiss said.

The Horsa glider was designed to carry large numbers of troops, supplies and sometimes light jeeps to an enemy target. Troops would not need parachute training, while soldiers and supplies could be kept together allowing fast re-grouping on landing.

However, many of the fragile and slow gliders that survived enemy fire had to face dangerous landing conditions.

The gliders were most famously used in Operation Market Garden, the assault on Arnhem in September 1944. The Glider Pilot Regiment suffered 90% casualties during the battle.

Operation Varsity in March 1945 was more successful, with Horsas helping to land 14,000 British and American troops on the east bank of the River Rhine. The assault allowed airborne troops to tackle enemy artillery and help safeguard the 21st Army Group’s crossing.

Source: BBC – Monday, 6 July 2009

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WWII GP Gets Overdue Star

Little known are the 6,000 World War II glider pilots who were towed into combat zones, in a one-way flight to drop off soldiers and supplies. Bob Swenson, 90, of Bellevue, finally is getting an overdue Bronze Star medal for his heroism.

By Erik Lacitis

Seattle Times staff reporter

From The Seattle Times

The CG-4A could carry 13 fully equipped troops plus a pilot and co-pilot. As a cargo carrier, its capacity was almost 4,000 pounds. Used late in the war, gliders were generally considered expendable in combat.

There is something about guys like Bob Swenson, who for two days back in World War II took part in a heroic mission. Bodies were on the ground, gunned down by the Germans.

Swenson is now 90, retired as a bank analyst for the state and living in Bellevue. He’s very low-key about how earlier this month he finally got the Bronze Star for bravery in action on March 24, 1945.

He was a pilot on a glider sometimes nicknamed “The Flying Coffin.” It was an unwieldy flying crate that carried up to 15 men on a one-way trip. It’s hard to imagine the nearly 49-foot-long things flying, but they did.

Few people have even heard that the gliders — really, this country’s original stealth plane — were used in that war and something like 6,000 men trained as their pilots.

Swenson was 21 back then.

“At that age you’re not scared. Life is still an adventure,” he says.

The Waco CG-4A glider was pulled into the air attached by a 350-foot nylon rope to a C-47 transport aircraft.

The fabric-covered gliders would get towed behind enemy lines, with the pilots then landing, as the book, “Silent Wings of War,” described it, amid flak and small-arms fire, “in some farmer’s potato patch or grazing meadow bordered by tall trees. …”

Explains Charles Day, a historian and secretary of the National World War II Glider Pilot Association, based in Lubbock, Texas: “Most people think of a glider as a soaring glider with one or two places (for passengers). These were large enough to put in a Jeep, or a quarter-ton trailer, or 57 mm anti-tank gun, or a 75 mm howitzer.

“If you parachuted in the howitzer, it had to be disassembled into components, and each of those pieces would drop who knows how far apart. If you parachuted in men from a plane going 120, 130 miles an hour, those guys could end up a quarter-mile apart or more.”

With a glider, says Day, the soldiers all arrived in one spot, with artillery immediately ready for action.

“G” is for guts

There were nearly 14,000 of the gliders made for the U.S. military. In later years, helicopters evolved to take over that task.

The gliders weren’t exactly known for a comfortable ride.

“It was like riding inside a bass drum,” Swenson remembers. “It was just that fabric hull around a metal frame, no insulation. There was all this noise of the air going from side to side.”

Swenson went to flying school, hoping to be a fighter pilot, and went as far as advanced school.

Then, he says, “I didn’t pass the test ride.”

But the Army Air Corps wanted glider pilots, even if they had washed out as fighter pilots.

“They’d take anything that was alive,” says Swenson.

The glider pilots were a proud bunch, especially because some pilots of powered planes looked down upon them.

On its website, the Glider Pilots Association says about the “G” on the silver wings that pilots wore. It stood for “glider.”

But, says the site, “The brash, high-spirited pilots were not a bit bashful about letting everyone know that the ‘G’ stood for ‘Guts.’”

And why not?

The glider pilots took part in eight major operations.

Swenson was in Operation Varsity, which involved 1,348 American and British gliders.

They were flying in troops and armament to take the strategic city of Wesel, Germany, to deliver “the final, fatal blow to the Axis forces,” says the Glider Pilot Association.

Deadly operation

Normally, the glider pilots were told to meet at a central point after landing so they could make their way back to base.

But there was such a shortage of infantrymen that Capt. Charles Gordon of the 435th Troop Carrier Group of glider pilots, of which Swenson was a member, volunteered his 288 men to become infantrymen upon landing. Swenson was equipped with a machine gun.

The gliders were towed for 2½ hours from their base in France.

Nearing the landing site, Swenson remembers, the 13 soldiers and two pilots made sure to sit on their flak jackets, in case a bullet came in through the bottom.

The Allies had used smoke machines to make the gliders less visible to the Germans.

Still, the flak and bullets punctured the glider. “Nasty,” Swenson remembers.

Landing in a field, jumping out of the glider, the Americans were immediately greeted by sniper and artillery fire. The men lay flat on the ground until it slowed a half-hour or so later.

Later, a buddy of Swenson’s gave him photos he had taken of the battlefield.

There, in front of one g… http://buff.ly/1DP3p9u
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WWII GP returning to Normandy for D-Day.  Mr. Riddle has a couple of interesting videos on this site.  I'll bet a visit with him would be fascinating!  Thank you for your service Mr. Riddle and enjoy your trip!

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Mr. Ryan was so excited to actually get to ride in the P51! He was a Glider Pilot in WWII flying in several missions, including Market Garden. Thank you for your service Mr. Ryan! http://buff.ly/1ivG3KU

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Short video, unmistakable aircraft!
Waco Glider at Air Force Museum

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GP Training in Plainview, Texas | Article relating information about the Glider training program at Finney Field in Plainview. The article contains a list of civilian training facilities as well as a list of qualifications, also the particulars associated with the types and methods of training performed at Finney Field. http://buff.ly/1lqfNBJ
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What do Lady Ebury's bedroom, Glider Pilot's and Horsa's have in common?

WWII Veteran Mike Hall could tell you!  Thank you sir, for your service!

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So excited to see another Horsa Reconstruction project....maybe this will encourage Silent Wings Museum in Texas to complete their Horsa Reconstruction!  The wing spans on these things are huge!  

A huge thank you to these two WWII Vets, Leslie Kershaw and Ken Plowman, for their service and continued education efforts!
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