Paul Ford Celebration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, July 23rd, The Gathering Place for Community, Arts, & Education held a celebration to honor the life of Paul Ford and to dedicate our classroom in his memory.

Anne Armezzani, TGP Board member organized the event and gathered some of Paul’s writings read by Ann Vitale, Paul’s writing mentor, Rev. Bill Carter, Paul’s pastor from the First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit, and Emily Rancier, TGP board member and who was in Paul’s writing group.

The following if the transcript of the afternoon’s festivities that include some of Paul’s writings.

 

—    We got to know Paul through a writing group when he and Barbara Taylor traveled to Tunkhannock then continued with our group in Clarks Summit. “I want to write down some of my experiences for my grandchildren,” he told us. When Paul, in his gentle, soft-spoken way, read his tales of his military service and his family, he simply related what had happened, never looking for any praise.

 But there were so many times when we stopped him as he read. We exclaimed, “Wait a minute!  Did you just say that you had flown over the North Korean war zone during enemy fire in a plane carrying 50 500 pound bombs?”  He would just smile a little then continue, always humble. His stories showed us how very dedicated and brave our fellow writer was. We’re going to pay tribute to Paul tonight in the best way we know—through his own words.

As Paul attended Colgate, other young men were in combat in the Korean War.  Paul, always a person who believed deeply in his country, enlisted as a private in the Air Force in 1950, then served 5 years on active duty as a navigator in a B29 super fortress, then as a member of the Strategic Air Command, followed by 27 years as a reservist with Air Force Intelligence, leaving finally in 1982 with the rank of full colonel.

     In Paul’s words, we can hear what this young airman thought of his new life as an enlisted man.  These two stories show a contrast in his experiences during the Korean War.  In the first, this young lad from Easton had a wonderful opportunity that few people would ever have.

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ANN VITALE

                                                CIRCLING MOUNT FUJI

Paul Ford, navigator USAF

 Our B-29 bomber crew arrived in Japan in September of 1952, after having trained together in the states for four months.  We were stationed at Yokota Air Base outside Tokyo and would be joining the bomber streams flying to targets in North Korea.

     However, before joining the combat ready force, we had to fly several training missions so we’d be familiar with procedures. These were short – just several hours – and not demanding, a far cry from the 14 to 15 hour nighttime missions that were ahead of us.

     One beautiful morning we took off with clearance to fly in the general area while we completed a number of procedures involving the gunners, radar operator and bombardier.  As an aircraft navigator, I had no requirements – we’d be maintaining visual contact for the short time aloft.

 Visibility was spectacular – 50 miles at least – no haze, few clouds, blue sky – just one of those remarkable days.

     We headed south and Mt. Fuji came into view in all its beauty- the most symmetrical mountain on the planet – perfectly formed as a white capped cone.  The contrast with the browns and greens on the land and the blue of the ocean nearby was exceptional.  Our spirits were high!

     Captain Speckman, our commander, was in a particularly good mood.

We got   into the mountain’s vicinity and received clearance for unlimited flying at our altitude.   It was one of those days when you loved to be a flyer.

     Suddenly, over the intercom came the words,” A/C to navigator.  Come forward. This was most unusual.  While I was located only ten feet or so behind the two pilot positions, I had never been asked to come up there before while we were in flight.  I responded quickly.

   “Change seats with Lt. Hanaway.  He’s taking over in my position.  I’m going to take some pictures.”  With that, he put the B-29 on ‘autopilot’, moved   out of his seat (which Hanaway quickly occupied) and moved back towards where I had been sitting.

     I sat down in the co-pilot’s seat.  It felt good.  The view was spectacular.  You could see lines of people walking up the mountain, many little huts on the way.  I learned later that Fuji is sacred to the Japanese people and the 20 mile hike up the mountain was a devout pilgrimage.

     “We’ll circle the mountain,” Speckman said. “Let Ford try the controls.”  Hanaway released the wheel in front of him and said to me, “Go ahead.  It turns nicely. “

     So I did!  I handled the wheel, turned it a bit, and felt the huge airplane respond.  Gradually, I became more confident and flew the airplane all the way around Mt. Fuji. It took about 15 minutes to circle the mountain and I managed without any disasters.

     Afterward, we all resumed our proper positions and returned to Yokota with our tasks completed.  And I could say, “I circled Mt. Fuji!”

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The other part of Paul’s involvement in the Korean War was not quite so peaceful. He tells of some very risky nights aboard the B-29.

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REV. BILL CARTER

Paul Ford second from right back row.

     If anyone had told me during the spring of 1950, which was my final semester at college, that two years hence I’d be sitting in a metal cylinder with two extended wings, four propellers, a huge tail and a Plexiglas nose, at 30,000 feet altitude preparing to drop bombs on a country I’d barely heard of, North Korea, with temperatures outside 40 to 50 degrees below zero and a 100 mile per hour jet stream wind blowing against us, I would have said they were not only crazy but demented!  However, they would have been right, for such was the situation for our

B29 crew during our 27 combat missions in the fall, winter and spring of 1952 to 53.

The Korean War had been going on for 2 1/3 years at this time and the 98 Bomb Wing had racked up an impressive record.  Due to some heavy losses to MIG fighters in daylight raids, the unit had begun flying mostly night missions.

     A typical mission consisted of 8 to 12 B-29s leaving Yokota in late afternoon, flying across the Sea of Japan, arriving in North Korea about midnight, returning to Japan about dawn.  Duration of the missions was between 8 and 10 hours – a long, cramped period in an airplane. We were part of a bomber stream of aircrafts, each about a 30 seconds to a minute apart.

     The mission briefing was similar to those portrayed in World War II moves starring Jimmy Stewart.  Just like the movies, the briefing officer would appear on the stage in front of a closed curtain.  When all were in attendance, he would pull the curtain aside to reveal our track and targets on a large map of Korea.  The further north, the more groans.  The more south, more gasps of relief. 

     At the appointed time, with a signal from the control tower, we took off, loaded with as many as fifty 500 pound bombs.  Our take-off was laborious- far different from jets today.  We strained and struggled down the runway to get the speed and lift with all this weight, finally groping for the sky and slowly rising.  It was my job to make sure we were on the proper route out of the country and, of course, to keep us on the mission track into Korea, on the target and back to Japan. Enveloped in darkness, we coasted at 30,000 feet.  If we ran into the jet stream, we hit currents of air at over 100 mph moving against us.

Many prayers were said.

     Flying toward the target, the navigator (Me!) had to get the stream of aircraft as close together as possible to reduce exposure to the enemy.  The bomb run had to be perfectly straight and the proper altitude.  After the target was hit, we headed home, a lot easier at 350 mph with the wind at our backs. Landing at Yokota was a great feeling for all of us and we could cross off one more mission against our required number – 25 or more.  Dawn saw us back in our tents and into the sack and as the sun broke the horizon and a new day began.

     Our   27 missions were divided about half as ‘tough, hard ones” and half “mush easier.” One of the hard missions involved the MIG Alley where we suffered battle damage on the aircraft twice, but made it home with holes in the wings.  I was given an early promotion to First Lieutenant so I returned home with silver bars on my shoulders, looking forward to marrying the best and most beautiful girl in the world and to take her to Idaho, Mountain Air Force Base, the next assignment for our crew.  We learned that we would remain intact as a crew and would be flying B-29s converted to carry nuclear bombs and that we would be joining the famous Strategic Air Command led by legendary General Curtis LeMay.

     I did lose some good friends when their B-29s were shot down over Korea.  Three of my navigator school classmates were lost to MIGs plus several B-29 crews stationed with us at Yokota.  I was indeed most fortunate.  My combat experience was certainly the most defining event of my life.

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—     Going back a little, I would like to highlight the job of a navigator.

     The title “navigator” sounds peaceful enough until the job description is given.  Paul had to guide a 99 foot long, 141 foot wide, 140,000 pound flying fortress off the runway to a target that was often more than a thousand miles away.  Once they arrived, Paul had to pinpoint the target, guide the bombs, avoid all other planes flying in their group as flak and spotlights filled the air around them, then get the plane and crew safely back to the base, All at night. This was done by a sextant, or celestial or polar navigation, or just plain instinct  for “coming in on a wing and a prayer “ in many tense situations.  He soon became known as one of the best navigators in the squadron. 

Blended in with his stories of military duties were stories about his girlfriend, soon to be his wife. Paul and Nancy had met on a blind date and it was a done deal from that first night on.  They had run out of gas and had to walk a long way to get home, but Nancy’s mother liked Paul and told Nancy, “You can marry him. “Little did she know, Nancy would. They “dated” for three years, although saw each other only a dozen times during that period as Paul was half a world away with only brief leaves between assignment.

It was very plain that these two were meant to be together.  They planned to marry in the spring of 1953, but Paul had no idea when he would finish his combat tour.  He compliments his future wife in this story.

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EMILY RANCIER

Two of Us in Idaho

     Nancy certainly had tremendous blind faith in the spring of 1953.  She had been patiently waiting in New Jersey for about a year for an Air Force Lieutenant to return from Asia to marry her and take her to an undisclosed location.  She didn’t know where!  She not only had little idea where she was going to live, but she didn’t really know the Lieutenant very well.  Lastly she couldn’t even nail down a wedding date precisely, because my travels to the US were dependent on military transport.

 At Yokota, packed and ready to go, I waited for room on a flight.  She and her mother waited in Bridegton to schedule the wedding event.  They actually reserved the church and minister for four consecutive Saturdays in May.  Invitations and notification to the attendants were on hold while I waited and waited.

     Finally the call came.  A runner came to advise me that transportation would be available in a few hours.  And it happened!  Soon I was on a slow moving airplane across the Northern Pacific to the US via Alaska.  From Shemya, Alaska to Anchorage at 3AM in full sunshine.  Then back on board for Seattle.  Landing there brought cheers from the planeload of airmen, sailors and soldiers. What a feeling of euphoria!  What a contrast to the terror felt when our B-29 had been caught by enemy searchlights over our bombing targets, casting an eerie illumination throughout the interior of the plane.

     But that was all forgotten and an important notification had to be made to New Hersey.  I checked with airlines and found I could be in Newark in 24 hours, so I sent a telegram to Nancy advising her “The bridegroom cometh!”

     Within a week, on May 23, a beautiful wedding unfolded and went off perfectly.

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— That day, they left for a four- day drive to Mountain Home base in Idaho and a life on a military base.  Perhaps one of Paul’s most difficult wartime assignments was soothing his very homesick new wife who quietly cried her way across the country. Nancy soon got acclimated to their new life and, 63 years later, laughs to tell about her first days of marriage.

  Ten weeks later, Paul was sent to Guam and began his trips all over the Far East. The next stage in Paul’s career was one that few men could have done, navigating a plane with the world’s most deadly weapon beneath him in the bomb bay.  He flew missions that assured that the US always had a nuclear threat in the air 24 hours a day in the event that a nuclear weapon was fired at the US.  This strategy, one of the main reasons the US was able to control the Soviet Union during the Cold War, was based on the idea that only through absolute strength would the US remain safe. Paul, we knew, was one of the few men who could have understood and completed his mission to SAC.

By the time his Strategic Air Command duty ended, Paul, was awarded the Air Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, The United Nations Medal, the Korean Conflict Medal with two battle stars and citations for the US and South Korean Presidential Unit.  He never mentioned these decorations in his writings, but we all heard “through the grapevine” of Paul’s merit in the military. 

Next, Paul was assigned to California where he navigated a K-97 tanker as it refueled other planes in mid-air.  Try that sometime!  In 1958, he was released from active duty, but continued to serve his country as a reservist in the Air Force.  His daughters remember his being gone one weekend a month, then a few weeks each summer and how proud they were of him in his striking blue Air Force uniform with the shining buttons. He was called into extended active duty service many times, serving as commander of the Air Force Intelligence Detachment at McGuire Air Force Base, and working with the Air War College, the Air Force’s highest professional military educational institution. Just the words “Air Force Intelligence” and “War College” let us know that Paul was a trusted, valued officer with a rank of full Colonel. 

     In 1973, Paul was chosen to assist in the debriefing of US prisoners of war returning from Viet Nam.  His compassion and kind way with all made him a perfect choice for this role.  He was assigned to a pilot who had been in a POW camp for six years.

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REV. BILL CARTER

The Debriefing

I was seated at the table when he came into the room.  He was slender, about six feet in height with a pale complexion.  Dressed in new Air Force casual, he smiled and put out his hand.

      It was the spring in Mississippi, March 1973.  I had been training for this moment for two years in   New Jersey and at the Pentagon. 

     Tom Sterling was an Air Force colonel who had been a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for seven years.  I was nervous, and surprised to see that he was also.

     Our prisoners, POWS, about 400 in number, had been released in four groups at two week intervals, following peace talks in Paris.   They had been transported to the Philippines for medical attention then flown to military hospitals near their homes.

     Tom’s wife and two college age children had been on the flight line several days earlier, waving American flags with hundreds of other welcomers when Tom and six other arrived.

   In 1967, Tom was an Air Force major, flying in the backseat of a two- man fighter bomber. They were shot down by a heat seeking missile, after which both had survived bailout, landing in a rice patty where they were immediately captured by farmers with rifles.  Tom had broken both legs upon landing.

    It was my task to summarize and put in order his seven -year captivity.

 As a prisoner, Tom had been through   isolation and torture with no medical attention.  He lay in his cell with two broken legs, then was dragged from   his cell and interrogated for hours. The prisoners developed a tap code system to communicate with each other.

     I look back on this experience as one of the most humbling, yet rewarding, of my life.  I also realized how the spirit and will of Tom Sterling enabled his survival.  I spent a month with him in awe and with the greatest respect.

     How fortunate I have been in my life!

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—   Nancy told me that Paul and Tom maintained contact through the years.

    Paul, after his military duty, remained just as steadfast and generous in spirit as he had been during his service.  His personal success as a realtor and president of a well-known real estate company in Easton.  This firm, the Paul Ford Agency, established in 1910, quadrupled in size during Paul’s direction from 1971 to 1994.  His commitment to his community showed in his activities with Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, his Church as an elder, and in many other organizations, helping people whenever he could and guided by the principle. “It is never wrong to do the right thing.” When he moved to Clarks Summit, he continued commitment to help and serve others.

 Paul valued two things most: his country and his family.  He and Nancy became the parents of three girls: Gail, Carol and Barbara.  The girls grew up believing that their father had a donut making machine in his car.  He would fill the glove compartment with donuts when the girls weren’t around, then, when the girls were riding with him, he would magically open up his donut machine, taking out a fresh donut for each girl.

     The next generation followed with seven grandchildren, and Paul’s niece and nephew were just as close. For his children and grandchildren Paul and Nancy traveled everywhere to watch sporting events or concerts.  “In hot or cold weather, for hours on hard bleacher seats, I always remember my grandfather on the sidelines,” said one grandson.

     Each summer for years, he and Nancy took two grandchildren, once they hit age 9, to International Elderhostel for a learning experience that often included dissecting fish, riding horses, nights in college dorms in Alaska, Colorado, Arizona, Texas and many other destinations. Each child chose the place to visit and each, with the exception of the last, had three trips to the Hostel.  On one trip to a “Cowboys are my Heroes” program in Arizona, the whole group had to spend the night in sleeping bags outside on the ground.  They avoided lying down on rocks, cacti, gopher holes, etc. but spent a restless night after a question from one grandson.

 

EMILY RANCIER

     The heavens were magnificent – as we looked up from our sleeping bags on the desert floor in central Arizona in August of 1996.  Overhead were the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Polaris and thousands of others. 

    With two ten-year-old grandsons, cousins Kurt and Peter, my wife and I were enjoying Elderhostel. We had visited an operating ranch, witnessed a cattle auction and were now overnight camping, the chuck wagon close by. 

    There were about 40 grandparents and grandchildren in the group. We all scattered randomly on the ground with our sleeping bags.  After we made our “beds” on the ground, a questions suddenly came from Kurt.  “Nan… Granddad… where do scorpions and tarantulas sleep in the desert?”  With a gulp on our part, Nancy and I tried our best to reassure by saying we didn’t think there were any in this desert tonight.  Some moments later, “How about rattlesnakes?  Where do they sleep?”  Another reassurance, then we all dozed off.

     Perhaps an hour went by when I felt a gentle prodding in my side.  Looking up, I discerned Peter standing next to me – shoeless.    I said, “ Peter, what’s wrong?”

     “Granddad,” he said,” I have to pee.”

    “Ok,” I replied.  “I’ll help.’”

   With bodies scattered all around us, I picked him up and carried him through the sleeping group and beyond to a cluster of bushes.

     Now to get him back to the sleeping bag without a flashlight – the bags were all identical. What direction to go?   I was fairly certain my family was in one direction. 

     “Ah, there’s the bag.”  I slowly put Peter down and felt for the top of the bag. “Hey, what’s going on?” An angered adult head popped up.  I muttered an apology and said we were confused and stumbled away, hoping not to step on anyone. Fortunately, I heard my wife’s voice softly, “Over here, over here.” And the night was saved.

     Kurt never did see a tarantula or a scorpion but he and Peter did taste rattlesnake – on a dare of $1.00 each- at a local hangout.  And Peter still has the cowboy hat he purchased on that trip.

 

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—    Paul encouraged reading and writing.  He would start a story, mail it to one grandchild to add on, add his own part, then mail that version back and so on until the story was “finished.”

He often “bribed” them to try new things. “$1.00 if you jump in and swim to the dock,” “$1.00 if you clean the spiders out of the boat,” and, in Italy, “2000 lire if you try to eat squid.”   He encouraged one grandson to pick and buy a stock at a young age, then they watched together as the stock rose or dropped.   Before bed at night on their family gatherings at Sterling Inn and the Algers cabin at Lake Ponchatoula, he would ask one to “Pick your own adventure” and Granddad Paul would guide them through the adventure, always turning it into a humanitarian mission to deliver food or medicines to suffering people. As the patriarch of the family, he would prepare prayers before each meal and hand write them on a notecard.  The family could always count on Granddad to pull out his folded notecard, give thanks for all their blessings and pray for those in need.

        His “there is more to the world than what is in your own yard” attitude encouraged them to view their lives as part of a wide world.  Forever an optimist, he encouraged his girls and grandchildren to make their own decisions and was supportive and kind as they all worked through those decisions.  He might have been a little disconcerted traveling to the PA Grand Canyon in a covered wagon or riding a horse at a dude ranch in Montana, but the only time anyone remembered seeing him angry was when someone else tried to pay the check at dinner.

      Paul’s flaws?  That will be a much shorter part of this piece. He disliked I-pads, I-phones, computers and electronics.  Luckily, Nancy didn’t and was willing to scribe all his stories for us to read.

     His family remembers Paul’s way of reacting when he was happy or excited about something going on.  His grandsons and nephews will let us know what that was – again in Paul’s own words.  Boys, what did you Granddad always say when he was so glad to see his family doing so well?

     And these stories are what brought our writing group together with Paul.   These stories showed us a man who truly made the world a better place.  He was a quiet, humble navigator – not just the navigator of an airplane, but of his life, which serves as a guide to how people should live.