September 17, 2006 in City

Flyboys reunite, maintain bond for a little longer

By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photo

Andy Tignanelli, of New Cumberland, Pa., offers a pen to Cecil Brown, of Macon, Ga., to sign the book “Missions Accomplished,” the story of the 62nd Troop Carrier Group of the Army Air Corps from 1941-45 by James Wham, of Centralia, Ill., right. The 62nd held a reunion Saturday in Spokane.
(Full-size photo)

Like many World War II veterans groups, the numbers of the 62nd Troop Carrier Group are dwindling but the memories are strong.

The bond developed some 60 years ago, among men in their late teens and twenties, who stood together and protected each other as they flew missions over North Africa, Palestine, the Himalayas, the Balkans, Sicily, Italy and, finally, southern France. They left for the Mediterranean in 1942, and returned to the United States in 1945.

“We’re not wild anymore,” said John Rodkey, of Spokane, a former radio man who serves as the group’s secretary-treasurer. “The big issue with getting together is camaraderie.”

The unit flew C-47s, a military version of the DC-3, dropping paratroopers and hauling gliders, delivering cargo to the front and ferrying the wounded to the rear.

“They won’t admit it, but they’re heroes,” said Jim Wham, who served in the group’s headquarters, and has written a book about the unit. “I’m not. I was on the ground. But they were flying unarmed, unarmored planes into fighters and flak, landing them on fields that were too small. Tell them about that field in Salerno.”

“It was a cow pasture,” said Brown McGaughey, of Wichita Falls, a pilot who is on his second stint as the association’s president.

They did their jobs without flinching or questioning, but not without thinking.

“You do the duty you’re told to do,” Rodkey said. “But you think about it all the time.”

After the war, most members of the unit returned to civilian life. Rodkey became a high school principal in Spokane and Wham an attorney in Illinois. McGaughey stayed in the Air Force Reserves until he could retire, worked as a claims adjustor until he retired again, and still ranches in Texas.

The 62nd came back to the United States, was based at Larson Air Force Base near Moses Lake for a while, then moved to McChord, where it still exists as the 62nd Airlift Wing.

Those pilots fly the C-17, the biggest, most modern transport jet in the U.S. fleet.

There are still some twin-prop C-47s around, hauling cargo in Latin America or passengers on short hops in the Caribbean.

There are fewer and fewer members of the 62nd Troop Carrier Group around. The group once numbered about 1,000, but about three-fourths of them have passed away. Some 210 members of the group are still alive, but only 21 made it to Spokane for the reunion. That’s five fewer than the members who died since the last reunion.

This was supposed to be the group’s last reunion, because with the youngest members at least 82, and the oldest in their mid-90s, it’s getting harder and harder to travel to the gatherings. But the members voted to meet one more time, next year, in Texas.

No telling how many people will make it. After that, who knows?

“We’re on the tail end of our reunions,” said Rodkey. “It’s getting very iffy.”

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