Seated behind the yoke of his B-29 for another bomb run, Jack Fischer probably didn’t think much about what might be called a deadly trial and error air campaign reaching into Japan’s homeland. As is often the case with military campaigns, the high ranking brass and analysts gave their best attack strategies a shot.
Some worked, some did not. Trouble was, cost of the learning curve could be loss of human lives. It was just how things worked, how projects succeeded, battles won, Nothing personal.
Fischer and the 10 crewmen under his command all knew that. So, starting his preflight checks, crew checks, engine run-ups, then rolling down the runway on Saipan in 1945, Army Air Corps pilot Capt. Jack Fischer focused on the day’s work — fly his crew 1500 miles to Japan, make a low level bombing raid over Japan, and hopefully get everyone back alive and in one piece.
The “hopefully” part was stacked against Fischer. Japanese fighter planes might shoot him out of the sky. Anti-aircraft batteries would certainly try as well. Ever present mechanical gremlins might raise their ugly heads in-flight, working to bring the giant bomber down. Fischer might get blown off course, get disoriented in weather or smoke, spend too much time in the air, run out of fuel, crash, burn, or see his men flounder in a raft on the Pacific Ocean. Even if everyone survived that, worse fates awaited. Death might be preferable to becoming a Japanese POW. Every airman had heard the stories — starvation, deprivation, torture, beheadings. Pick any of the factors, one or another had taken lots of other crews.
It was a step by step goal of hopscotch. A vast network of tiny islands across the Pacific needed to be taken from the Japanese in order to establish airfields for bombing raids on Japan. Those potential bomber bases extended from the Aleutians north near Alaska to thousands of miles away into the South Pacific.
Jack Fischer would fly out of Saipan, an island part of the Mariana chain of islands.
The first to pay a high price for winning those islands back from the Japanese occupying troops were U.S. Marines. They secured the valuable real estate needed to build the bomber line into Japan. Next came combat engineers. Sometimes their work on hastily constructed airfields began while battles still continued. Marines invaded and secured Saipan in June of 1944. Three thousand Americans and 24,000 Japanese lost their lives.
Campaign not going well
In 1945, Jack Fischer flew his B-29, Maiden’s Prayer, tail code T28, serial no. 4461678 under San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge headed to the war in the Pacific. He flew missions from Saipan that year.
As of August 4, 2014, there have been 2,201 U.S. military deaths in the War in Afghanistan and additional 134 fatalities in the broader Operation Enduring Freedom outside Afghanistan. 1,819 of these deaths inside Afghanistan have been the result of hostile action. 19 964 American servicemembers have been wounded in action during the war. In addition there are 1,173 U.S. civilian contractor fatalities.
At the end of May 2010, the number of American fatalities was reported to have reached 1,000. By September 2012, the total number passed 2,000. More than two-thirds of those deaths have occurred since the American military presence in Afghanistan was doubled under President Barack Obama in 2009.
The highest number of American fatalities recorded in a single incident occurred on August 6, 2011, in which a transport helicopter was shot down killing 30 Americans, including 22 Navy SEALs.
In another incident in August 2014 major general Harold J. Greene becamethe highest-ranking American servicemember killed by hostile action.
(This is the third and last part of a series on Branson’s Downtown M. Graham Clark Airport. To read the previous stories; “Breezy Wasn’t a Breeze to Build,” or “Money Flying in From the Sky,” go to www.bothsidesofthebridge.com, or email: email@example.com to request a free PDF copy.)
By Earl Stresak
“I was there that day,” Mark Trimble said. “I believe it was in ‘68.”
The Trimble family has a long-standing, grass roots, connection with local history, Mark, in particular, with Branson aviation. He had been actively involved managing Branson’s first airport, and now serves on the county board of Downtown M. Graham Clark Airport. He’s a go-to guy on the subject. Mention a local aviation event, chances are he was there, or has first-hand knowledge about it.
Take his airport oral history lesson this day, sharing the story of an aviation mishap helping to jump start development of the M. Graham Clark Airport.
“First airport in town was out on Hwy. 76, built under one of President Roosevelt’s programs under the CCC. (Civilian Conservation Corps), Trimble said. “It was a farm owned by the Boswell family. The city acquired the property and it was completed by 1935. It was open to the public then and was the only airport in town.”
In the 1960’s, flight instructors operating from the airfield acquired a Cessna 337, a push-pull prop aircraft easily spotted by its tail configeration
“They flew it out of Branson,” Trimble said, “ but kept it in Springfield. Branson’s airport was just barely adequate for it. Orville Moore was flying it one day and had Nettie Marie Jones in the airplane. They ran off the end of the runway, across the ditches and across the highway, Trimble said. The plane came to rest “in a ditch on the south side,” he said “ I know, I was there. Nettie Marie Jones was shook up, but not hurt.”
Nettie Marie’s response was an unexpected, but fortuitous one.
“You need a better airport,” Nettie Marie said.
“She was one of the school’s benefactors back then,” Trimble said. “She was from New York. I remember she used to like to ride the DC-3 and they went and picked her up with a bunch of our friends and flew her out here one time. She funded several things around the campus. She was the reason, primarily, why they built the airport (at it’s present location). She was the driving force behind it.”
Old Airport on 76 Hwy
“Understand, this was city property,” Trimble said of the old airport built by the CCC on 76 Hwy. “I can’t remember how many acres it was but the city used it for different things. The city dump, for instance, was located on the east end of the runway where Red Roof Mall is now.
“Right after the Second World War there was a boom in general aviation. There was a GI Bill training operation there in ‘46 and into ‘47. Hangars were built in ‘46, and the airport was quite busy.”
“The City of Branson still owns the land. “All those businesses like White Water are on leased ground,” Trimble said. “So, the city still has a considerable interest in the old airport (land).” That land generates a lot of income for the city, he said.
“The old airport never had asphalt, it always had grass. I was the airport manager for a lot of years. Designating me the airport manager meant I would mow the strip of grass so I could take off and land,” Trimble said who flew planes in and out of the old airport.
When Trimble joined the U.S. Air Force in 1954, he became a meteorolgist stationed in Salina, Kan. On off-duty days, he would return to Branson to keep airport maintenance up.
“GI Bill aviation program left in 1947, and the airport just served the community as a general aviation field,” Trimble said, “until College of the Ozarks started a training program there around ‘67.” The college continued the program at the new airport.
“When the school started to build the airport,” Trimble said, “they reached an agreement to close the other airport. They didn’t want to divide traffic, so the city agreed, and started leasing property off the old airport.
Graham Clark Airport was completed in 1970 and opened with a ceremony. The grand opening was officiated by Dr. M. Graham Clark whose namesake the facility still keeps as Downtown M.Graham Clark Airport. A passionate aviation enthusiast, Clark along with two other long time area residents, Seth Caperton and Bill Todd headed up the school’s well respected aviation training program.
As part of the opening celebration, a military jet landed at the airport, but the aircraft’s heavy weight caused runway pavement to give way.
The incident prompted restructuring. The runway was then restressed to become a good and solid runway. A grant enabled the airport to extend its runway from 3500 to 3739 feet.
A series of commercial commuter airlines operated out of the airport during the 1990’s.
Early this year, a Southwest Airline’s 737 landed safely at M.Graham Clark by mistake. The landing of the huge jetliner is perhaps dramatic testiment to runway’s present day soundness.
When the long-reaching ugly tentacles of post traumatic stress disorder mess with the mind of a fifth-grader, it gets your attention. Its sheds a different light and perspective on a current national problem that challenges grown men and women veterans and can make daily life a struggle.
So, imagine trying to understand, rationalize, cope with it, at age 10, 11, or 12. That is what Kristin Stowers did — is doing. So did her older sister Kaili and her mother Angela, and of course, her U.S. Marine Corps veteran and ex-police sergeant father, Steve Stowers.
Like some corroding canister of poison gas that begins leaking, the invisible effects of long term PTSD began seeping into the Stowers family, consuming existence. It scrambled life for each them, hitting the youngest, Kristin, probably the hardest.
Steven Stowers served in Operation Desert Storm when the terror of possible biological or chemical gas attacks were part of military anticipation and preparation. The wars’ well documented atmosphere of fire, smoke, and oil fields ablaze added a surrealistic fear of the unknown.
Steve would bring those images home with him locked into his subconscious. They would stay mostly hidden for a long time, then begin to surface more, take control and manifest themselves in classic style — denial, silent anger, outbursts, withdrawal, temporary acceptance, depression. (See U.S. Marine Steve Stowers’ Story below)
Fifth-grade stigma of PTSD
In fifth-grade, Kristin had started at a new school. An innocent classroom ritual, would create a stressful burden for her and Kaili.
Kids were asked to share what their parents did for a living.
“I’d say, oh, my mom works at the municipal court and my Dad is medically retired,” Kristen said.
Medically retired? The class wondered — what did that mean?
“They would always ask why, and it would be — ‘Oh, he has PTSD,’– and they would ask what it was and everything. Then, it got to the point they would be bugging me about it.” Kristin’s voice begins to sob when recalling the experience which would repeat itself during future school years. Classmates began to react to Kristen and Kaili differently than to other friends and students. It’s what Angela Stowers refers to as the “stigma of PTSD.”
At school, they dealt with the social stigma, at home, the first-hand reality of PTSD fueled behavior. Home life could be a pins and needles situation.
Steve’s lack of control over his PTSD nagged at him. A Marine, a police officer, a father, he felt it was his responsibility to be in charge of himself and his family the in-control leader. It wasn’t happening.
For wife and mother Angela Stowers, watching her family’s vitality and happiness draining away over the years, took its toll on her.
“I think the one thing that the kids had to deal with is the stigma of it,” Angela said. “People don’t want to know what PTSD is.”
But, if someone does take the time to understand, Angela said they develop a mentality that says, “we need to stay away from you.”
It is tough for a veteran, a wife, “but, my kids,” she said. “What they have had to deal with is not what most 40 or 50 year olds have to deal with.
It’s a ripple effect,” Angela said. “The veteran has PTSD, but the family is getting the secondary effects,” she said.
Those secondary effects can create a mirrored environment for the family.
Filled with hidden emotion, daily experiences can escalate into ugly moments.
Friends bailing out
“It was all while I was getting settled down in that school,” Kristin said of her elementary school experience when she and Kaili first became aware of the far reaching effects of PTSD.
Steve’s moods would often be mirrored by the family.
“It really was a chain effect,” Kristin said. The mood at home could turn angry. The anger could become contagious in the house.
“It got to the point I started shutting myself off from my family,” Kristin said. I excluded myself.”
“Then my friends started bailing out on me because I was too much drama because of what was going on here,” Kristin said still sobbing. “No one really wanted to talk to me. It got to the point when I would just stay quiet about it, then would burst into tears whenever I got home. It got to the point when me and my sister were crying in the middle of the night.”
One emotionally sad night would turn things onto a positive path. Despite her own emotions, Kaili came into her younger sisters room and tried to console her. She told Kristin that “everything seemed to be going wrong a the moment, but it would be ok.”
Kaili realized, as would Kristin that “there was something I was not feeling and needed to go get help with,” Kristin said. Later, talking it over with Angela it become clear that effects of PTSD did not belong to only a veteran and his wife. The Stowers would get help, begin to talk, as a family, about what was going on in their home. It proved the right thing to do. With work and talk, the girls began to get their father back, Angela her husband, .
“We have good days and bad days, but for us, as long as we know we are a family, we can get through the day.”
To help other children whose parent has military related PTSD, Kristin Stowers composed an essay on the subject. Those thoughts and feelings were entered into the Kansas Congressional Record.
She has also won first place at the Kansas State Fair poster competition. Entrants were required to design a poster on how the community could help others.
As with the rest of the Stowers family, Kristin has transformed from a victim to an advocate taking positive action to get the word out and educate others they have alternative positive options other than passive despair.
“The VA has help for the veteran,” Angela said. “They do not have help for families. They do not have help for children.”
“I think what my sister did was very good,” Kaili Stowers told a reporter in her hometown, of Hutchinson, KS. “She’s letting everyone know what’s happening. Kaili also praises her father for setting a good example and getting treatment. “I think this is a good start for everyone,” she said.
Steve summed things up about the positive path the family is on, working together to keep their bonds strong.
“Now I have PTSD,” he said. “PTSD does not have me.
U.S. Marine Steve Stowers FIRE, SMOKE, DARKNESS, COMBAT
When the air campaign begin in Operation Desert Storm U.S. Marine Steve Stowers unit crossed into Kuwait City into combat. He would leave the area six months later a changed man.
Perhaps the number one psychological threat at the time was the fear of anticipated poison gas attack. Media reports about that possibility in the U.S. had dominated the news. The military had been preparing for it. Steve’s unit spent time in Saudi Arabia training to prepare for a gas attack prior to advancing into combat. When a suspected gas attack warning sounded, Marines donned their ever present gas masks.
The supposed probability only added another dimension of fear in a theater of war already looking eerie and surreal with smoke and fire from burning oil fields.
“It was the gas warnings, it was the incoming fire that was coming on,” Steve said. “We had mortars coming in on us. Right before the ground war actually started, we did a raid across the border and took out an Iraqi unit, an artillery unit. We took out their headquarters, their fire direction center and their firing batteries. So, that’s how it started with us. It was kind of surreal. We’re in this. We just killed some people.
Most locals know the story of how a television segment on the CBS news show 60 Minutes helped propel Branson into the national spotlight. Few have probably considered the rest of the story. Prior to that telecast, what else contributed to bringing national entertainment and other companies to Branson?
Consider an often overlooked area general aviation jewel –M. Graham Clark Airport, the foresight of College of the Ozarks, and dedicated supporters such as Mark and Lea Trimble.
Many residents driving down Hwy 65, past the end of the runway, don’t realize the important contributions that strip of Pt. Lookout ground has made, and continues to make to the Branson area’s economic health.
What they may notice is the variety of planes, private, corporate and military flying overhead after taking off or approaching for a landing. What they might not consider is the money that the airport brings into Taney County, either directly or indirectly.
When Branson exploded from a regional to national attraction, the airport played a key role.
College of the Ozarks built M. Graham Clark Airport. It opened the airport in 1970 and utilized it for their aviation program, but, did not keep its use to themselves. Of the many contributions Hardwork U has made to the area, the airport is another that keeps on giving.
“The most important thing they did when the college opened the airport was to keep it opened to the public,” Airport Manager Mark Parent said. The aviation pro has a long history with the airport, both as a manager and an aviation instructor with the college.
“The reason I say it was important is because without a general aviation airport to support a community, what you usually end up with are locally owned businesses,” Parent said, “and that’s what Branson was for a long time. The Presleys, the Baldknobbers, Silver Dollar City, Englers Block.
“After 1989, we saw significant growth in Branson from outside companies coming to town like Dixie Stampede, Ozark Mountain Bank. All these companies that came here flew in once a month to tend to their businesses. They were able to do that because the college kept this airport open to the public. It was very significant to the growth of our community” Parent said.
National influences land
Graham Clark Airport’s adequate runway and easy access to Branson facilitated influential outsiders to check out Branson’s business potential, then helped maintain their business once established.
“In 1989, I think, Roy Clark came in that year,” Parent said. “I remember that he flew in his own Cessna 206. It was a significant day. That is when growth started here when he came to town.”
One thing lead to another.
Influential Branson businessman Jim Thomas brought Mickey Gilley to town to play Roy Clark’s Theater, reports a 2004 magazine story. Gilley did the show, saw the potential of Branson.
After Gilley, a pilot, opened his own Branson theater, he told the interviewer that had he not been able to fly his plane out of Branson on weekend’s to tend to his business in Texas, he could not have kept his Branson Theater open.
Parent recalls another outside company that utilized M.Graham Clark Airport to establish itself in Branson.
A few moments into a conversation about M. Graham Clark Airport and Mark Parent’s knowledge and passion for the place transmits loud and clear. It’s no wonder. When it comes to work-a-day knowledge of the place, Parent has been there, done that. He knows general aviation operations from the ground up, aircraft literally from the inside out.
He has served as the airport’s manager since 2005, but Parent’s resume goes back to the College of the Ozarks’ nationally respected aviation training programs. He was employed by the college as a flight training and aviation maintenance instructor.
“I think it is a sad thing that they ended the flight training and maintenance program because the industry is still full of people who came from the college with aviation degrees,” he said. The college ended the program almost a decade ago.
When the college ended that program, the school donated the airport to Taney County.
Parent then went on to teach aircraft maintenance at Kansas State University at Salina. The university has nine campuses across the state. Salina is where where the university’s school of aviation and technology is located.
After College of the Ozarks donated their airport to Taney County, an Airport Board of Directors was established.
At that time, Parent was contacted about taking over the airport manager position. Parent said he loved working at Kansas State University, but he and his wife also loved the Ozarks. They had kept their home on Table Rock Lake. He accepted the position. He had spent two years as an associate professor at Kansas State,
“It was an opportunity to come back home, and it’s been wonderful move,” he said. “I get to stay at this airport that has always been home to me since 1993, but also because the airport board is made up of business leaders in our community who are whole-heartedly focused on supporting the economic opportunities of having a general aviation airport.
Jan Hoynacki is well experienced in understanding the Tri-Lakes economy and also general aviation. She is a local tourist industry pioneer having operated a marina and dive shop on Table Rock Lake for many years (BSB, May 2007). A veteran commercial pilot, she was an early manager of M. Graham Clark Airport.. Hoynacki has seen how a general aviation airport can draw clean industry and year around jobs to our area. We visited with her in 2007 (BSB, July 2007) . Her comments were addressed toward a general aviation airport planned for Stone County, and GA airports across the U.S. Here is her insightful explanation of the difference between commercial and general aviation airports.
General Aviation Hauls It All
“Only about five percent of the airports in the United States are utilized by commercial aircraft,” Jan Hoynacki said. “Although businesses do not locate and operate at those airports, a commercial airport’s primary function is to transport passengers on commercial airlines.
“The other airports out there are accessed and used by general aviation,” Hoynacki said. “That means businesses can locate at those airports because they get their people and products and their services to any airport.”
As airline travelers know all too well, commercial airline carriers do not fly into all cities and towns, and making connecting flights on existing routes can sometimes be challenging.
“Those larger airports, where the commercial service predominates, also have business co-located at them, but if you go to a commercial airport, you are limited to places you can fly to,” Hoynacki said. “If you go to a general aviation airport, you can go to just about anyplace in the country.
“General aviation is funded by fuel taxes that we all pay, a per passenger fee if you buy a commercial airline ticket,” Hoynacki said..”That helps buy the federal portion of airport construction and maintenance. Part of that money goes to match local funds and state funds for building airports. It has varied by percentage over the years depending on who is funding it.
“Everything that is not military or commercially scheduled is general aviation.,”Hoynacki said.
Like surface roads that come alive with long haul truckers in the night, many general aviation planes and pilots ferry gargantuan amounts of good and services through the night skies.
Hoynacki spins off a few examples: Banking checks fly at night, all sorts of packages, FedEx is general aviation, medical transports, helicopter and air evac, human organs for transport fly out 24 hours a day, all types of business goods and services.
“Most people don’t realize what it means to our economy, what is being provided by planes that come into a (GA) airport that benefit them,” Hoynacki said.