Norris News – May 24, 2018

Memorial Day 2018

The unveiling of the newly restored B-17 “Memphis Belle” at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio last week was the perfect prelude to Memorial Day this week. It was attended by a number of World War II veterans who told us about their service and the colleagues they lost in combat. Sadly, we are losing many more World War II Veterans every day.

I witnessed World War II Veterans – -aging airmen of the Eighth Air Force – – mingling with other visitors; recounting their experiences as tail gunners, pilots, and crews of B-17s, B-24s, and other weapons of war. I spoke with the families of those lost at war, or since war’s end, and reminisced in bittersweet tones about the ultimate sacrifice and ultimate end for those we memorialize this weekend.

Our friend, Buzz Davis (foreground), with other veterans at Memphis Belle dedication last week. (Photo courtesy of National Museum of the United States Air Force).

Our friend, Buzz Davis (foreground), with other veterans at Memphis Belle dedication last week. (Photo courtesy of National Museum of the United States Air Force).

The Memphis Belle became a metaphor for part of what we observe this Memorial Day. It was the first B-17 to return in tact with its crew alive. 80 percent of the 91st Bomb Group’s B-17s and their crews did not.

“Eighty percent losses means you had breakfast with 10 men and dinner with only two of those 10,” said Captain Robert Morgan in an interview after the war. According to the National Museum, more than 30,000 U.S. Airmen aboard heavy bombers, like the B-17, were killed in Europe.

The Pacific Theater was brutal, too. My uncle, Major James Saalfield, flew a B-24 in the Pacific. He was a commander of the 23rd Squadron, 5th Bomb Group, 13th Air Force. He was shot down over Borneo and had the further misfortune to land in what was then Matut (headhunter) territory. I recently found on-line a Department of Defense investigative report that described my uncle’s death. His remains and those of his crew are buried at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis.

My Uncle's grave at Jefferson Barracks. He was killed in action in the Pacific.

My Uncle’s grave at Jefferson Barracks. He was killed in action in the Pacific.

Every year, I remind my constituents and others of the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Sometimes the distinction gets blurred as so many of our veterans pass on.

One such veteran was my father-in-law whose memorial service we held in Collierville this week. He served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War and flew the F-86F Sabrejet with the 48th Fighter-Bomber Wing until 1955.

While celebrating the Memphis Belle in Dayton last week, Chris and I visited the Korean War exhibit at the National Museum and saw a jet like those her dad flew.

Chris and one of the jets like her father flew in Korea.

Chris and one of the jets like her father flew in Korea.

As Chairman of the Senate Veterans Oversight Committee, I have worked with my colleagues to fund critical improvements at West Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery and to provide funding for new veterans cemeteries across the State of Tennessee.

This year, we also provided new funding for the Dyersburg Army Air Base Veterans’ Museum in Lauderdale County. It’s West Tennessee’s version of the National Museum at Dayton on a miniature scale. I encourage you to visit.

This Memorial Day, let us pause to give thanks to those who offered and gave their lives in the cause of freedom so that we might exercise and enjoy the freedoms for which they fought and died.

Senator Norris placing a wreath at Tomb of the Unknown, Arlington National Cemetery.

Senator Norris placing a wreath at Tomb of the Unknown, Arlington National Cemetery.

 

 

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