Tenderly Rose Bosworth Estrada
I recently lost my best friend of over sixty years. She apparently died in her sleep leaving all of us who loved her dearly in complete shock and grief. I include Dona in my family history because she was as much a part of my family and in some cases more like family to me all my life. Dona Elise Sanders Richmond became my friend when she was born a year after I was. Our mothers were best friends, having attended Perkinston Jr. College together in the year of 1955-56. The photo below shows my mother, Janie Morris seated on the left and Dona’s mother, Shirley Reeves, seated on the right. This is the only photo I have of the two friends together, although, I believe there were quite a few others in my mother’s photo collection.
The earliest memories I have of Dona and me together were probably preserved by the many times our mothers discussed our early history with us as we grew up. We were told about the times we were just little toddlers when we would accompany our mommas to the beach and we played in the sand while they caught each other up on their lives after college. I seem to remember those trips to the beach – the beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast – with our mothers. But, do I really, or are they from my imagination? Time has taken its toll on my memory after so many years, but, suffice it to say when Dona joked with me about being friends since she was “in utero” I readily agreed, and we would smile really big.
Dona grew up in the Orange Grove area of Gulfport – what I called “the country”. We didn’t get to see each other as much as we wanted because it required our mothers to navigate Highway 49 to get to our respective homes. There were some miles between us and we didn’t attend the same schools. So, if we got to spend the night with each other it was a big deal. We mainly saw each other when our mothers got together for various functions and life events.
Our mothers raised us in the Southern tradition of calling our elders by somewhat formal names. Dona’s mother was “Miss Shirley” or “Miss Sanders” to me as deemed appropriate by my mother and Dona called my mother “Miss Janie”. Her home was kept neat and clean, unlike my mother’s home (complete disarray). A trip to Dona’s home was like a breath of fresh country air to me. A trip to my house provided Dona with a bit of the city life, although Gulfport was not a big city, it still lent a sophistication Dona seemed to crave. I went to church with Dona every time I spent the night at her house. It was the law. It was always fun for me to hang out with Dona, thought, because she and I knew each other better than anyone else in our lives. We held secrets, dreams and heartaches deep in our souls that were shared forever.
When our dog, Hustler, a pedigreed boxer sired an “unofficial” batch of puppies with the neighbor’s mixed breed dog, Dona’s family adopted one of the puppies. Her daddy named him Cassius. Dona and I recently had a conversation about Cassius and how sweet he was. Loyal and fun to play with, just like his dad, Hustler. We loved that we had dogs that came from the same family. We loved out dogs. Cassius was the first dog I remember Dona’s family having.
The day I learned Donald Sanders, Dona’s daddy, died momma picked me up from West Ward Elementary school and we cried so hard I thought our eyeballs would fall out. He built our playhouse in Mamaw’s yard, as well as the house Dona grew up in. I knew him as a loving father to his kids, devoted husband to “Miss Shirley” and dedicated friend of our family. I remember being so shocked that Dona’s daddy had died, just as mine had a few years earlier. It just could not be. I don’t really think Dona was the same after that. She was so sad most of the time during our childhood. But, we laughed a lot, too, in spite of the sorrow. I enjoyed going to Dona’s to spend the night and play Barbies. Dona had her own room with a canape bed – white French Provincial and she had a great collection of Barbies that did not have their leg chewed off by her dog, like mine so often did.
Perkinston Homecomings through the years meant Dona and I accompanied our mothers to the gatherings and football games. We met all her mother’s friends and my mother’s friends, the administration of the college and the families associated with the college. It was homecoming for me and Dona, too. I don’t remember any of our siblings attending the festivities – just me and Dona and Janie and Shirley (Reeves). We loved the bulldog mascot out on the field at the football games and would laugh so hard at him. He just sat there, not moving, like he just was concentrating so hard on the games. We vowed to have bulldogs in our future lives.
There were photos take of us when we were growing up that I remember seeing in our mothers’ photo collections. I have none of those photos now, and Dona did not have any of them in our possession, either when we discussed this earlier this year. She told me she was going to go threw her mother’s stuff and see if she could find any. My mother’s stuff went through numerous hurricanes, so, I don’t know what she ended up with when she passed, but, they are as good as gone to me now. I do have this one photo of me, seated on the right side of the photo looking on as Dona blew out the candles on her 18th birthday cake.
Our friendship was anchored on the Gulfport shores to be sure, but, our friendship stretched thousands of miles as I left Mississippi in 1976, when I was 19 years old, to live in Wisconsin.
In 1977, I was preparing for my wedding to begin in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, when the florist entered the area of the church where the bride and bridesmaids had gathered to help each other get dressed. She was carrying one long-stemmed red rose. She told me her instructions were to present the rose to me just before I went down the aisle. I opened the card that was attached to the rose. It read, “I gave you the first rose when you were born, now, I am giving you a rose when you get married.” It was one of the more amazing moments of my life. Miss Shirley had sent a message from thousands of miles away that she loved me all my life and always would. She was there with me even though she was unable to be.
I was down on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1982 visiting my mother when I got a chance to talk to Dona. She told me she wanted me to come to her baby shower. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time. I was so honored to be at her baby shower and we pledged to betroth our two unborn children to each other and laughed! We kind of meant it, though. The photo below is from Dona’s shower.
When my grandmother, Rosie Smith Morris, died Dona was there when I came home to Hungry Hill for the funeral. I made sure I took photos of Dona and her sisters were in the ones I took of my family because they were my family in my heart, too. While momma and Miss Shirley were in the house, we young adults gathered outside to socialize a bit. The Sanders family were as much a part of our family as anyone born to our family. They were there to help us through the tough times of life as well as the good. Dona is seated in front of the hutch in my mother’s dining room at Hungry Hill in the following photo.
Memories have flooded into my mind and heart the past few weeks. Dona was my chosen sister and I’ll miss her like crazy for the rest of my life. She was one of the better angels of our world. Someone who supported and loved me all my life. I feel lost without her. My soul mate.
I’ll probably have to add stuff and update this post many times as I think of things to share. I know I’ve probably been repetitious in some respects, but, my mind feels foggy from the mental and heartfelt pain. I can’t imagine what her husband, kids, grandkids and friends are going through at this time. I am selfish and quite alone in my emotions right now. I just feel this huge void and little else. If I wanted to share my feelings with, it would be Dona. And now, she’s gone. I’m all alone with this grief because I live far, far away from the Gulf Coast and her loved ones.
This blog post has been sort of rambling and I know it is long, but I find the writing difficult because I find it hard to focus. How do you write about such an icon in your life and narrow it down to one blog post? So, I wrote about Dona here on my blog. She loved the written word ever bit as much as I did. Our favorite book was To Kill A Mockingbird and our favorite movie was “Gone With the Wind” — she called me “Mellie” for the character Melanie, and she called herself “Scarlet”. We shared so much about literary works and wrote our feelings out in journals all our lives. Writing is therapy for some folks and that is just another way of coping Dona and I shared.
Peace be with us all…
I’ll end this by providing a link to Dona’s Blog so you can read for yourself what a special gift she was to our world:
And just a few old photos I have to share…
“If there ever comes a day
when we can’t be together,
keep me in your heart,
I’ll stay there forever.”
(from Winnie the Pooh)
And that’s what Dona and I did…
Submitted by Tenderly Rose-Robin Melissa Bosworth-Estrada Reininger
The 1962 Death of My Daddy Jim – a Strategic Air Command B-58 Hustler Pilot in the 364th Bomb Squadron of the 305th Bomb Wing at Bunker Hill Air Force Base
This first newspaper article was sent to me a couple of years ago from the wife of one of the pilots, John T. Burch, who was in the plane when the accident occurred.
I have no copy of Page 11, Column 5…
July 17, 1962
The Anderson Herald – Anderson, Indiana
Bomber Blast Kills Crewman
PERU, Ind. (AP)—An explosion described as minor and unexplained killed a crewman on a B-58 Hustler bomber Monday as the supersonic craft flew a test mission about 35,000 feet.
The incident occurred after the bomber attached to the 364th Bomb Squadron of the 305th Bomb Wing at Bunker Hill Air Force Base had been in flight an hour.
The craft was en route from Nashville, Tenn., to Lafayette.
Bunker Hill authorities said the victim was 1st Lt. James P. Estrada, 28, the planes’ defensive systems operator. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. James Estrada, Houston, Tex.
Base officials gave this account:
Maj. Leonard V. Sullivan, Fresno, Calif., commander and pilot, sensed a loud report, felt a yaw to the right and detected depressurization trouble in the tandem seated craft’s three chambers.
He checked with the other two crew members and received acknowledgement from Capt. John T. Burch, Cleveland, Tenn., navigator, but none from Estrada.
Sullivan returned to Bunker Hill and landed.
He and Burch found Estrada unconscious and rushed him to the base hospital where he was dead on arrival.
The Vidette Messenger
July 17, 1962
Plane Explosion Investigated by AF Officials
PERU, Ind. (AP) – The Air Force was trying today to determine the cause of an explosion that killed a crewman as a B58 Hustler bomber was flying a test mission.
First Lt. James P. Estrada 28, Houston, Tex., defensive systems operator on the supersonic bomber, was killed Monday as the plane flew above 35,000 feet enroute from Nashville, Tenn., to Lafayatte.
Base officials said the plane had been in flight an hour when Maj. Leonard V. Sullivan of Fesno, Calif., commander and pilot, sensed a loud report, felt a yaw to the right and detected depressurization trouble.
Checks With Crew
The plane carried a three-man crew. Sullivan checked with the others, received acknowledgement from Capt. John T. Burch of Cleveland, Tenn., navigator, but not from Estrada. He headed for Bunker Hill Air Force Base and landed.
Sullivan and Burch found Estrada unconscious and rushed him to the base hospital, where he was declared dead on arrival.
The plane is attached to the 364th Bomb Squadron of the 305 Bomb Wing at Bunker Hill. Base officials said it had undergone major modification prior to the flight and had passed all tests.
Estrada had been in the Air Force almost five years. His wife and their three daughters have been living in the base housing area.
July 17, 1962
Star-News, Pasadena, California
Blast Death Probed
BUNKER HILL, Ind.—UPI—Air force [sic] officials today began an investigation into a “minor explosion and depressurization” which caused the death of a crew member aboard a B-58 Hustler jet bomber enroute to Lafayette.
It was believed the explosion occurred yesterday in the right inboard engine, part of which ripped off and tore through the plane as it flew at 35,000 feet on a test run from Nashville, Tenn.
Bunker Hill information officer Maj. Glen A. Proffitt said the engine piece hit and killed 1st Lt. James P. Estrada, 28, defense systems operator of the jet.
August 05, 1962
Nevada State Journal – Reno, Nevada
Jet Explosion Inquiry Starts
BUNKER HILL, Ind. (UPI)—Air Force officials Saturday began an investigation into a “minor explosion and depressurization” which caused the death of a crew member aboard a B-58 Hustler jet bomber en route to Lafayette.
It was believed the explosion occurred in the right inboard engine, part of which ripped off and tore through the plane as it flew at 35,000 feet on a test run from Nashville, Tenn.
Bunker Hill information officer Maj. Glen A. Proffitt said the engine piece hit and killed 1st Lt. James P. Estrada, 28, defensive systems operator of the jet.
KOKOMO (Ind.) TRIBUNE
Sunday, Dec. 30, 1962
Bunker Hill AFB Airmen Killed in Accidents
B-58 Tragedies Took Costly Toll; Value of All Property on Base Rises to Nearly Billion Dollars
Three accidents, which took the lives of five Air Force officers, involved B-68 Hustler bombers at the Bunker Hill Air Force Base near Kokomo during the year now closing.
On April 12 one of the powerful Hustlers lifted on a normal take-off from the south runway, then suddenly yawed to the left and plummeted groundward, exploding into a fiery ball.
Miraculously, two of the crewmen, Capt. William F. Hale and Lt. George P. O’Connor, were uninjured after landing with only partially-opened parachutes.
Capt. Duane D. Dickey, 29, Orosi, Calif., was not so fortunate and perished with the aircraft.
In an investigation of the crash, searchers found the cause to be a defect in the flight control system. All aircraft were grounded until the Hustlers could be modified, further insuring the safety of their crews.
On July 16 at about 35,000 feet over southwestern Indiana the freak disintegration of a starter on another B-58 sent a small fragment of metal hurling through the fuselage of the plane, taking the life of First Lieutenant James P. Estrada.
Estrada, the 28-year-old defensive systems operator of the aircraft, was pronounced dead on arrival at the Bunker Hill AFB hospital. The bomber, piloted by Maj. Leonard V. Sullivan and navigated by Capt. John T. Burtch, was able to put down at Bunker Hill without further mishap.
The third and most tragic crash occurred on Sept. 14 near Butlerville, taking the lives of three crewmen. Found in the mangled wreckage of the plane were Lt. Col. John J. Trevisani, Capt. Arthur I Freed and Capt. Reinardo P. Moure. Trevisani was commander of the 366th Bomb Squadron.
Flying at supersonic speeds greater than Mach II (twice the speed of sound), the Hustler literally disintegrated, strewing wreckage over about a 16-square-mile area. Since the Butlerville crash the 58’s have been grounded from any supersonic fight.
While the loss of five officers was a tragic chapter in the history of the base, the big military installation continued to grow. Its total value rose to $906,405,000 during the year.
Land, facilities and added aircraft, represent a $156,000,000 increase since June. Most of this figure is accounted for by the additional aircraft, although security does not allow disclosure of the exact number added.
Military personnel on the base number 5,000 with 300 civilian employes [sic] and about 5,000 dependants [sic]. Last year the base payroll was $5,557,000.
The year’s fiscal expenditures for food, maintenance and military purchases were approximately $34,000,000.
Among new construction were the refinishing, inside and out, of airmen’s dormitories and the personnel building; a revamping of the swimming pool; addition of 14 “Hustler Huts” to house B-58 bombers; new banks of runway lights; a blast ramp at the end of one runway; and repair to the concrete work of the runways.
Officials and personnel at the base continued to show a friendliness and co-operation with residents in the communities surrounding the base and recently exemplified this feeling in the large donations presented to the United Fund campaign in the area. Howard County’s share was $1,815.
Thursday, June 15, 1967
The Kokomo Tribune – Kokomo, Indiana
Vol. 117—No 286 Page One
Jet Was Stationed at BHAFB
Inquiry Begun in Crash of B-58 And Death of Plane’s Navigator
DARROUZETT, Tex.—The crash of a B-58 Hustler from Bunker Hill Air Force Base and the death of the plane’s navigator were being probed Thursday by a board of inquiry from Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base.
The board from Clinton-Sherman, the Strategic Air Command’s nearest facility, was called to the crash scene near the Texas Oklahoma border after the 305th Bomb Wing plane plummeted to the ground about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The supersonic bomber crashed west of Darrouzett in the northeastern corner of the Texas, Panhandle. Cause of the crash was not known.
Officials at Bunker Hill identified the dead crewman as the navigator, Capt. William R. Bennett, 31, Lakeland, Fla.
The survivors were identified as the aircraft commander, Maj. Clinton R. Briesendine, 38, Dallas, Tex., and Capt. Gary M. Cecchett, 26, the defense systems operator of Irmwin, Pa.
Bunker Hill spokesmen said the aircraft was on a routine mission and carried no nuclear weapons.
A witness to the crash, James Cook, who farms the land where the plane went down, said the bomber completed an air refueling with a tanker when the crash occurred.
An Air Force spokesman at Clinton-Sherman, AFB, Clinton, Okla., said he doubted the report of a refueling, however.
The Clinton-Sherman spokesman said the inquiry could take two months.
Cook said the plane crashed about a mile from where he was standing, and he helped the pilot from his ejection capsule.
“He (the pilot) had a little scratch on his head and the other one didn’t have anything.” Cook said.
“We hunted for more than an hour for the other (third) guy—his ‘chute didn’t open,” Cook said, adding the body was about 200 yards from the wreckage.
Last radio contact with the bomber was with the Federal Aviation Administration office at Gage, Okla. A spokesman there said the pilot reported a flameout and was trying to land at Gage, but then told the FAA the crew was ejecting.
All three crewmen lived on the base at Bunker Hill.
Bennett was married and had two children, Briesendine is married and has three daughters, while Ceccett is single.
Wednesday’s crash marked (continued on Page 2, Col.1)
Inquiry (Continued from Page One)
The 13th fatality attributed to accidents involving B-58s deployed at Bunker Hill.
On Dec. 12, 1966 all three crewmen of a B-58 were killed as their aircraft crashed into a rocky hillside near Hustonville, Ky. Killed were the aircraft commander, Maj. Richard Blakeslee; navigator, Capt. Floyd Acker; and DSO, Capt. Clarence Lundt.
Capt. Manuel Cervantes Jr. was killed Dec. 9, 1964, when he ejected from a B-58 shortly before it crashed on a runway at Bunker Hill AFB. Two other members of the crew escaped the burning wreckage.
Two crewmen, Capt. William M. Bergsdail and Maj. William L. Berry, died of burns received when their aircraft caught fire while taxing along a Bunker Hill AFB runway. The incident, which occurred on Aug, 27, 1963, was the only B-58 on record involving an aircraft equipped with a nuclear device. Although some radiation reportedly contaminated the immediate area of the plane, base officials said there was no chance of a nuclear blast.
On July 16, 1962, 1st Lt. James P. Estrada, a defensive systems operator died when an engine broke loose from the plane and a portion of metal pierced the B-58’s fuselage.
On Sept, a B-58 disintegrated over Southern Indiana near Butlerville killing Lt. Col. John J. Trevisani, Capt. Arthur I. Freed and Capt. Reinardo P. Moure.
Capt. Duane D. Dickey, a navigator, crashed with his plane as it yawed and went down south of a Bunker Hill AFB runway April 13, 1966.
Airman Second Class William R. Gwilliam, died of head injuries after he was accidentally ejected from the cockpit of a B-58 being prepared for a training mission in a “Hustler Hut” on the Bunker Hill base. He was blown through the roof of the metal building.
Other B-58 mishaps, not involving the loss of life, included a B-58 which burned on the runway on July 22, 1965 after its three man crew escaped.
Gwilliam lost his life in the same cockpit seat from which Capt. Charles Nash had ejected on Nov. 15, 1955, after he lost radio contact with the other two crew members when the aircraft began to yaw. The pilot landed the aircraft safely at Bunker Hill and Nash was later found in a cornfield near Logansport, suffering only from a stiff neck.
To date, Nash, Briesendine and Ceccett are the only three Bunker Hill crewmen to eject uninjured using the B-58 ejection capsule, which completely encloses the pilot and his seat before it parachutes to the ground.
Two other incidents were recorded in 1953, when on April 23 and Aug. 14, B-58s veered off runways causing only slight damage to the aircraft.
Excerpt from “TALL MAN 55” – John T. Burch’s Account of the Accident…
The pictures shown below are of my crew being congratulated for accomplishing the “Best Score” during an Operations Readiness Inspection not too long before the incident that I’m about to describe.
PILOT – Len Sullivan
Navigator – John T. Burch
My pilot, Len Sullivan, Defensive Systems Operator Jim Estrada and myself had drawn the duty this day of a “test-hop” of an aircraft that had experienced heavy maintenance, including a routine change of all four engines. This was normally required to ensure that the aircraft was fully back together and functional, ready to perform it’s wartime mission. It was to be a short flight of only about two hours, during which we would put the aircraft through its paces, exercising all electrical and mechanical systems and documenting that it was airworthy. Because of the short duration of the flight, we carried no external fuel pod and made a very spectacular climb as we left the runway.
After takeoff, we had climbed to an intermediate altitude of about 10-15,000 feet and cycled the gear up and down several times while gently turning back and forth to check all of the flight controls. The pilot had flipped open the refueling slipway door and closed it successfully. We then climbed to about 28,000 feet and readied the aircraft for a supersonic flight that would take us to 50,000 feet and Mach 2 speed (about 1,350 mph).
When all checklists were complete, the pilot advanced the throttles to maximum afterburner. As the airspeed increased to 600 nautical miles an hour (described as “knots”) , the pilot pulled the nose up and began a steep climb, aiming toward our scheduled maximum altitude of 50,000 feet. All went normally until our speed reached 1.7 Mach as we passed through 47,000 feet. At that point, we couldn’t tell exactly what happened, but there was a loud explosion and the air in the cockpit suddenly “fogged”, indicating an explosive decompression. At the same time, there was a terribly loud whistling air noise that was coming over the intercom into our helmets.
This made it difficult to converse, but we each checked with the other over intercom to see if all were OK. Jim Estrada didn’t answer the call and we could hear a low, long groan, just once over the noise on the intercom .
The pilot had no other indications of trouble with either engines or airframe, but turned immediately toward home base as we decelerated to subsonic speed and dove toward the field. I told the pilot that I was going to slip out of my seat and crawl aft to Jim’s cockpit, about six feet behind me, but he told me that he needed me to help guide us to the runway. Fortunately, we were only about 100 miles from the base when the incident occurred and within ten minutes we were on the ground.
Fire and rescue crews were alerted within moments of our inflight explosion and had already positioned themselves by the runway to assist. As we rolled to a stop, still on the runway, firefighters immediately foamed the aircraft. We hadn’t known in the air, but the forward main fuel tank was streaming fuel like Niagara Falls.
The moment that we had stopped on the runway, I slipped out of my seat belt and crawled aft to see about Jim. What I found was that he had been killed almost instantly by a wedge of starter turbine blade that left the number three engine, came through the forward main fuel tank, penetrated the right side of Jim’s cockpit, pierced Jim’s heart and lodged in the left sidewall of the cockpit. Just as in the 43rd Bomb Wing’s incident, our starter turbine had engaged, oversped and disintegrated. This time, it resulted in a tragic fatality. The Air Force had lost a fine officer and each of us a good friend.
Since I had left my cockpit hatch closed as I went aft to see about Jim and I exited through his hatch, anyone looking at the damaged aircraft could see the navigator hatch closed and the first and third hatch open. The word got out initially that I had been the one killed. It was a sobering thought.
As we stood there, stunned at Jim’s death, it occurred to me that word might soon reach my wife, Betty, about the accident and I wanted to talk to her first. Since I normally called her immediately upon getting back from a flight, I used the Operations Officer’s car phone to give her a quick call, saying as I usually did, “Hi, Honey, I’m on the ground and will be home in a little while. ”
I expected to have the usual maintenance debriefing for about an hour and then get home to explain in person exactly all that had happened. Jim Estrada and his wife, Jane, were good friends and I didn’t want Betty to hear that news from others. What I didn’t know is that there is much more involved following an aircraft accident. Besides a much longer and more complex maintenance debriefing, the pilot and myself had to undergo a standard and complete flight physical. It was to be hours later that I finally got home.
In the meantime, friends who knew what had happened and also knew that Betty did not know, “dropped by” for a visit at home. It was Lee & Sarah Thomas and Gene & Melvene Wallace from church. Lee was in charge of the Flight Control maintenance shop and Gene was a crew chief on the B-58. Because of their Air Force duties, they knew all the details about the accident, but they didn’t say anything about it to Betty. They just engaged in “chit-chat”, while waiting for me to get home. All four of them knew that she would be quite upset if she got the word before I reached there and they wanted to protect her from that.
If Jim Estrada’s wife had been in town at the time, Betty would probably have known about the accident within a few minutes. As it was, Jane Estrada had been visiting her mother in Mississippi that week. The Air Force normally notifies the families of missing, injured or deceased members by personal visit… usually by a commanding officer, a chaplain and/or a casualty affairs officer. Because Jane was far from home and away from a military community, someone in the chain of command chose to notify her by phone. She got that shocking news that her husband had been killed, but very little information about what happened. She then had her brother call Betty for more news and to see if Sully (the pilot) and I were OK.
When the phone rang and Betty answered, it became clear immediately to Lee Thomas that this was Jane Estrada’s family asking if Sully and I were OK. Betty didn’t understand anything he was saying and was very flustered for a moment. Lee stepped in at once and took the phone from her, giving Jane’s brother the information that they wanted and letting them know that Betty did not yet know what had happened. It was a marvelous example of friends looking out for friends, but I was in the doghouse hours later when I finally dragged in from all of the official questions. It was also a good example of the choices we face daily. We try to shield those whom we love, but it doesn’t always work out like we plan.
There was a side story to this series of events. Jane Estrada had stayed in Mississippi and Jim’s body was flown there for burial. We knew that she would return to Bunker Hill AFB soon to take care of gathering her personal things before returning permanently to Mississippi, but we didn’t know when.
Betty and Sara Thomas had a pleasant shopping trip planned to nearby Indianapolis, some 60 miles south of the base. I had insisted that Betty go, because this would be good therapy for her. It was an event they enjoyed together several times a year and we often laughed about it becoming such a ritual that we could predict at any moment exactly which shop where they would be and the restaurant afterward .
Lee Thomas and I had been left to keep the children that day and there was a big outing planned to the park for a picnic and playtime. Then I got an unexpected phone call that Jane Estrada was planning to fly in to Indianapolis that afternoon. She asked if I might be able to pick her up at the airport.
Wanting to do everything that I could to help Jane, I immediately conferred with Lee Thomas and he volunteered to handle the park outing alone and to take care of our children, Sharon and John, who were about six and four years old. I then drove to Indianapolis to find Betty and get to the airport in time for Jane’s arrival.
Like clockwork, I walked into the usual restaurant where the wives ate and wound down before driving home, just in time to catch Betty and inform her of our change of plans. We made it to the airport just in time to meet Jane.
When we got home, I dropped Betty and Jane off at our house, then took Sara home. A few minutes later, when I stood at their door, Lee held our four-year old John in his arms and began to apologize profusely for letting him break his arm on the “jungle gym” at the park. Lee felt much worse than John did, I’m sure. John was sporting a brand-new cast that he was quite proud of at the time. I worked far harder at calming Lee Thomas than I did at soothing son, John.
Lee told us that it was heart-warming to see all of the commotion he had caused when he called the hospital late that day to get treatment for John’s arm .When the base doctors learned that it was the son of “Capt . John Burch who was a survivor of the B-58 accident,” they fell all over themselves to take care of them. Several of the doctors even left a formal dinner and still wore their formal mess dress uniforms while applying John’s cast. The Air Force truly does take care of it’s own! John couldn’t have gotten better care anywhere in the world !
Not wanting to worry Jane and certainly not wanting her to feel any responsibility that John’s injury was in any way her fault, we whisked John off to bed where he wouldn’t arouse any questions, at least for the night. As we tucked John into bed that night, he held up his little casted arm with the proud words, “the doctor told me that if it turned blue, the cast was too tight. ” Fortunately, the arm appeared normal for the trauma it had experienced. And John had the pride of a new badge of honor for his age group. In the days ahead, it was well-autographed and I’m sure he was glad when he at last was able to remove it, but for now, it was a prize. Now that I think about it, perhaps this was the first influence that led John to become the orthopedic surgeon that he is today. (A side story to the side story… We recently cleaned out a closet and found in a long-forgotten box… the very cast that John had worn then!)
I had no idea that the news of our accident would get outside of our little community, but I was surprised to find that it had made the national news. Something which meant a great deal to me at the time was a call from my college roommate, Myron Rogers from Tennessee, to see if I was OK. Myron and I had been through grade school, High School and College together. It was really good to hear from him. Though I thanked him at the time for his call, I don’t think he ever knew just how touched I was that he was concerned.
Copyright © 2001 by John T. Burch. All rights reserved.
And lastly, my commentary…
Lately, there has been much talk of nuclear missiles coming from the White House (“Fire and Fury”) and it just dredges up the past and places our future in question… I can’t bear to think of more fighting and war, more children and families losing loved ones. People in power must consider the costs to all of us as human beings. Most importantly to me personally is the cost of military actions on the children of our nation, and our planet, and the futures they may face. The reality for me is my father flew in a plane with a nuclear weapon, almost as large as the aircraft itself, attached to the fuselage of that plane.
Having had two fathers in my life, I grew up without either one. I was born to Capt. and Mrs. Frank Hunt Bosworth. My mother was Janie Morris. They divorced soon after I was born, and as the story was told to me, my mother met and married Jim Estrada. They were married when I was about two years old. I was raised as Jim Estrada’s child and he is the one I have the most cherished childhood memories any child could ever dream of. I have hung onto those memories-they are as clear as if they happened yesterday. My mother named our dog, a Boxer, “Mach Von Hustler” for my daddy’s plane.
At the age of six years old, my mother and my Daddy Jim had two little sisters for me and momma was pregnant with my little brother when the following tragedy occurred to our little family. We had been living in base housing at Bunker Hill Air Force Base in Indiana. This base is now called Grissom Air Force Base. At the time of Daddy Jim’s death, my mother, two sisters and I were staying with my grandmother, Rosie Smith Morris in Gulfport, Mississippi while daddy went on maneuvers. I was old enough to know that this was a regular part of my daddy’s job. I was a daddy’s girl. We were buddies and I missed him so much when he would go away. He always brought me a present, like strawberries from Tennessee, so it was fun when he came home.
So many happy times with my family in Indiana are crystalized in my soul. I went to kindergarten there and my mother taught school there. My Daddy Jim planted tulips in the flower bed in front of the little duplex we lived in. I spent so much time with my daddy while momma tended to my sisters at home. He took me everywhere with him–even onto one of the B-52s he flew before the B-58s. We watched drills together of the air force base airport emergency crew practicing for possible tragedies like the one my daddy had. To this day I am obsessed with those planes. I have vivid memories of life on the base, our family and the friends we’d made during our time there. About a year or so ago, I had the opportunity to reconnect with Mrs. Burch, one of our neighbors whose husband flew with my Daddy Jim. She sent me some newspaper clippings she had kept all these years of the tragic event that shocked and horrified all of us involved. I’ll share them with you, along with the ones I had saved over the years of research I’ve done about the event.
At the age of 60 years old, the day my family learned of Daddy Jim’s death is one forever fresh in my mind and heart. There has never been what folks call “closure” and there has never been healing. The wound is fresh. I share this episode in my life as a reminder to those who might not know the pain of the loss of a father to a six year old child when their father serves in the military. The wreckage left behind of a widow giving birth after her husband’s death, raising four children on her own having to fight the United States government to keep the benefits her husband paid for with his life just never gave any chance for healing of our family. As a Gold Star widow, my mother was brave, we all were brave. It seems hard to watch through the years as more and more children lose their daddies in the military. We never, ever, heal. We just go on.
I would ask that every time a daddy is lost in the military, special attention is given to those children left behind. There were no considerations for the kids in my family. We were supposed to be proud of our father’s service. We grew up without our fathers like it was expected of us. Sure, folks told us our daddies were heroes. I would have rather had a daddy than a dead hero. I always thought if someone ever asked me, I would have rather have my daddy back than to have lost him to our country. Nobody ever asked me. I needed my father. I used to cry standing in front of the oil painting we had of him in our living room. I would pretend his eyes followed me. That he was watching over me. If I was happy, I’d share that with the painting of Daddy Jim. If I was scared or sad, I talked to him. Always alone, when nobody else could see my private conversations. He has always been my own private angel. People didn’t used to consider the mental health of the widows and children left in the wake of military tragedies. I hope things have changed. Back then, the kids were lost in the shuffle of funeral preparations and coping mechanisms of their surviving parent. Much of it was not healthy or good.
Children can be proud of their parents’ service and loss of life to the country we live in. I was. The down side to that thinking is I tend to expect more of our country than it sometimes delivers. I could never express ungratefulness. I do admit to holding a higher standard when it comes to politicians and our government. After all, my frame of reference was always, in my mind, my father had paid for our country’s everything with his life, right?
Remember, the grown ups in life make the decisions we children have to live with our whole lives. Children have no choice. I think of this every time I hear of military kids losing parents in service. I wish everyone would. I think of this when more troops are deployed. I think of this when our President mentions use of weapons of mass destruction or dismisses national security issues as real and present dangers. My Daddy Jim’s plane was strapped to a nuclear bomb. This is real.
Daddy Jim was made a USAF Captain posthumously… In the Wild Blue Yonder…
I still miss my Daddy Jim…