The 354th Fighter Group - continue
“In November, my departure time came. I bid a fond good-bye to my comrades whose wings and tails I had faithfully covered through many an ordeal. I had clung to their wings flying through thousands of feet of foul weather, caught heavy flak over the Rurh Industrial Space, had ground fire lace through our formations (at times the shells looking like snowballs, a strange and hard to believe phenomenon, usually occurring on a dive bombing run), our mortal bodies hurtling through a melee of planes, protecting my lead pilots' tails as they cavorted after a bandit. All of us drank of this cup of peril. To paraphrase a line from our Air Corps song, "How we lived? God only knew."
Mustangs of 356th Fighter Squadron preparing for the group's "open house" to the French populace. The Mustang in the foreground "The Verna Q", belongs to Frank O'Conner. As squadron CO on 5 Nov 1944, he became a POW when his plane sustained ground fire while dive-bombing a German airfield near Schwäbisch Hall.
“During my tour I had just one abort. While forming up for a Berlin mission, my canopy sprung loose. I had to circle the base until the group cleared the runway. When I landed, the maintenance officer confirmed the cause of my abort."
“When I parted company of my ground crew and flying comrades that I had known for the past year it was with mixed emotions. Glad to be going home and sad to be leaving these good friends. As Robert Brooks bid me good-bye, he told me that I would be submitted for a Distinguished Flying Cross."
“On Christmas Eve 1944, I stepped off a Chicago streetcar and knocked on the door of my parents' home. There was a happy reunion with my parents, brothers, sister, relatives and friends. One of the topics of conversation was the 13 air medals I had been awarded. I told my brothers and others that I was also being considered for the Distinguished Flying Cross.”
Our Dad courting Mom.
Update: Distinguish Flying Cross - 60 Years After
1st Lt. Alfred B. Styrsky is awarded the Distinguish Flying Cross posthumously on May 29, 2004.
Dad has distinguished himself in many other heroic ways. In 1945, he became a member of the 82nd Fighter Group, 62nd Fighter Squadron, and went on TDY for six months at Ladd AFB, Alaska, where they tested the new model P-51H Mustang (later designated F-51H) under Arctic conditions.
“We experienced freezing weather from zero to sixty-below zero. Flying the Mustang under these conditions proved to be more hazardous then that of the balmy skies of the ETO. On some takeoffs, when we pushed the throttle forward the engine would buck and kick as it inhaled the frigid fuel/air mixture that would not fire well and the partially congealed engine oil spat out of the exhaust stacks. The power would eventually stabilize as we became airborne and the mixture was reduced. This flip of the coin of uncertainty added a touch of excitement for flyers who like that sort of thing."
“The iced-over runways and heaped up snow banks provided a challenge to our flying skills. Taking off and landing a frisky Mustang required application of surgically precise handling of controls, brakes and power. We departed Ladd AFB leaving behind a few tons of scrap aluminum at the end of our tour of duty.”
In 1951, dad participated in the top secret project, Operation Greenhouse, involving atomic weapon tests on Enewetok Atoll in the south Pacific:
“The first nuclear detonation was scheduled for April 8th, 1951. Volunteers were called for to fly an Air Force officer over the blast site for him to monitor the extent of radiation and pick up exposed film badges. I was chosen for the first shot, the monitoring flight to be made less than an hour after the blast. At the request of the monitor, I guided our L-13 over the crater site at which point the monitor, alarmed by the sudden extreme readings on his hand-held radiation counter, shouted for us to get out of the area. At no time were we advised of our accumulative radiation exposure of the film badges we had on our person.”
Dad received a documented radiation exposure of 6.530 rems during that two-month period, the federal standards of which are a maximum of 5 rems per 12-month period, though the film badges were not required to be worn at all times. In the years since, dad had many health problems which could likely be attributed to his service during Operation Greenhouse.
After leaving the service, dad went on to perform more heroic deeds, like being a Department of Motor Vehicles driver’s license examiner for the state of California for 19 years, and with his wife Ella, they continued to raise a family of five children, all of whom still live in or near Sacramento.
Our father had a great love for animals and nature and had often returned those “no postage required” junk mail envelopes filled with blank donation forms for animal welfare organizations. He especially enjoyed bringing apples from his backyard tree to the elephants at the Performing Animal Welfare Society in Galt, California.
On November 26th, 2002, dad passed away from acute leukemia, the final stages of a rare disorder of the blood called polycythemia, possibly caused by the radiation over exposure during Operation Greenhouse. Though we miss him dearly, we know he is with his savior, Jesus Christ, and is no longer in pain. We love you, dad. This dedication was created on the anniversary of our father's passing that we, the family, could commemorate the day by sharing a small part of our Dad's life with the world.
From his children Kate, Victor, Lou Anne, Karl, and Al.