KEEP THE PLANES FLYING by Lori Hamilton
(Kenneth Hamilton in World War II)
-written for grade 6
"Goodbye, Lois, I love you," I whispered to my wife of just a few years. We hugged goodbye, and I turned away, so she wouldn't see that I was holding back the tears. Oh, how I would miss her. The first time I noticed her was in church. I was sitting in a pew, and she was playing the organ. Oh, but I couldn't think of that now. It would only make what was ahead even harder. I had to be brave.
Drafted! I had been drafted and sent to training for war. World War II had been going on for a while now. It had started in 1939; it was now 1942. Germany invaded Poland in 1939; my country of the United States of America did not join in the fighting until 1941, the year Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese. My training time took a few months; I was trained to repair P47 fighter planes. Now that I had been trained, it was time to leave my home, my wife, and everything else I loved to go to war.
I boarded the Queen Elizabeth. 18,000 of us were on that ship, all of us with that same nervous feeling in our stomachs. The Queen Elizabeth used to be a luxury liner, but it had been converted into a ship that could carry men to battle. The trip was enjoyable, but sometimes rather frightening. It was a fast ship, which is a good thing, because we were going to travel through some dangerous spots. There were U-boats in the area that belonged to the Germans, so we had to try to stay away from them. The ship had to make an abrupt turn every 12-14 minutes so we would be harder for the Germans to find. My captain was even using radar to help him detect the U-boats and steer away from them. I was afraid at times that they would catch up to us anyway. One morning, all of us woke up. The engines on the boat were no longer running. "What is wrong?" we whispered to each other.
I hurried over to the window, actually the port hole of the ship, along with many other curious people. I stood on my tiptoes, trying to see past people's heads, hoping to catch a glimpse of what was going on. Our worst nightmares were relieved when we saw chimneys, very different from the ones we have in the United States. We were in Scotland! When we got off the ship, we had our first meal - tea and crumpets. If only my wife Lois were here; she would absolutely love it!
Well, I did not stay in Scotland very long. We traveled to the military camp near Cambridge, England. The field for the airport was unlike anything I had ever seen. I went over to get a closer look. Sure enough, it was in a pasture. There were steel mats on the ground. This was the actual runway! The planes had to land and take off from here.
I started repairing fighter planes that came back damaged from battle. Most of the time we would repair the planes outside, in the open. Our job was to keep the fighter planes flying so they could escort the bombers on their missions. Then D-Day came; the day of the invasions and landings in France. Planes, bombers, and gliders went right over our base on their way to France. We could hardly believe what we saw. It must have been very discouraging for the Germans! The night before the invasion, we had worked hard to prepare the planes. We put wide stripes on all of the planes for identification purposes. Some of the planes that came back throughout the day needed much repair. One fighter plane came back and had bullet holes in its prop. Another fighter plane had been flying low to the ground, and hit the runway while shooting hangars and enemy planes! I was surprised that he made it back alive. The propeller on the plane was bent from the accident, so we started working on fixing it. Perhaps the most exciting thing for me was when one pilot had an airplane that needed to be fixed immediately. The other pilots in his group had already left for a mission, but he wanted to hurry so he could jump in the plane and catch up with the other pilots. I fixed it, and he was able to take off and catch up.
Things were going well, until I received some horrible news. Lois, my dear Lois, had a terrible car accident. Oh, how I wanted to be there for her! All I knew was that she had been injured. I had no idea how serious her injury was and could not find out because I had to leave England to go to France immediately. I prayed and prayed that God would spare her life and help her heal. My wife found out that there was an option for Red Cross to send me home for two weeks, but in talking with her doctor, she decided that she did not want me to see her in her critical condition. She was in a head cast and body cast. I think it is best that she made the decision for me to not come home because it would have been nearly impossible for me to visit her and then have to leave again for war at a time when I wanted to remain by her side. Only by the grace of God did we get through those days. I was also having physical trials at that time because I had frozen my fingers in the cold air while changing a prop on a plane in France.
I could tell you many more adventures about my time in Europe, but the war finally started drawing towards a close. I returned to the base in England, and it was there that I found out that Hitler had killed himself. The war continued. I was going to be sent to the Pacific, where the war was still raging, but then the atom bomb landed, ending the war quickly. At last I could return home to my wife. The wait to return home seemed so long. Finally I returned to the USA. We arrived on the Lake Champlain, an aircraft carrier. Many of us ate a steak dinner; we had not had one of those for a couple years! From New York, I was able to call my wife and talk for half an hour. I went to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin and was discharged. The food I wanted immediately was a banana! I just had a huge craving for this fruit that I had not tasted for two years.
Japan surrendered August 14, 1945, and the war was finally all over. We could resume our lives that had been interrupted. It was not pleasant to leave home and family. However, America was and is worth defending. I was fortunate to be in a spot that was not as dangerous as going to the front lines, and I never had to shoot anyone - for which I am thankful. However, we would have defended our base if necessary. God was good, and He brought me safely home to my country and to my precious wife, who had survived and recovered from her accident.
The story of Kenneth Hamilton is a true one. He went on to work at a company called National, and he is the father of two children. The author of the story is his oldest granddaughter. He and his wife are still living and have now been married for almost 60 years.
Keep the Planes Flying
- What are some of the adventures Ken faced while traveling on the Queen Elizabeth?
- What was the first thing Ken noticed about Scotland when he arrived?
- Describe the job Ken had during World War II.
- How did Ken get through the hard days when he was in France?
- What foods did Ken crave when he arrived back in the United States?
- What do you think Ken learned while he was at war?
A. Saying goodbye to Lois
B. Being drafted
II. The boat ride
A. Boarding the Queen Elizabeth
B. Avoiding German U-boats
III. Arrival at Scotland
A. Running to the porthole
B. Spotting the chimneys
C. Eating crumpets and tea
IV. Military camp
A. Traveling to England
B. Observing the temporary runway
A. Repairing fighter planes
B. Working under pressure
VI. Hard times
A. Hearing about Lois' accident
B. Freezing my fingers
VII. End of the war
A. Waiting for the war to end
B. Returning home
A. Resuming life in America
B. Reflecting on the war
Props: plane pictures; tea and crumpets to serve in class, tools that may be used for planes
Source: e-mail correspondence interview with Kenneth Hamilton
Answers: 1)traveling with 18,000 people, abrupt turns, avoiding U-boats 2)chimneys 3)repair planes 4)depended on God's grace 5)steak and bananas 6)answers will vary