First-hand details & photos from 1946 Veterans Air Line crew members.
Two weeks and four days ago today, I launched on my second-ever trip to meet Veterans Air crew members face-to-face. I flew 3,945 air miles and drove 650 land miles — to, from and within New Mexico, South Carolina and New Jersey for some first-hand, unbelievable meet-and-greets.
70 years ago, Broughton and Martz and Cowart were there! Together! On the same first crew to Prague.
On my most recent trip, I met two of these terrific men. 1946 Veterans Air Line crew Flight Engineer Thomas Cowart and Navigator Ed Martz. And, during the same time period, I acquired some way-cool Veterans Air photographs via email from Pilot and 1st Officer Dick Broughton’s two sons, Craig and Bob. Broughton, Cowart and Martz are all in this photo captioned Clearing Customs, along with their flight Captain Cooper Walker. (Thomas Cowart will tell us about him later in another Post.)
The photo-feature ran in The Newark Evening News. Fortunately, it was clipped out by Dick Broughton’s grandmother. She cut off the masthead, but we still know what day the photo was taken, even if we don’t know the exact publication date of the story. While rummaging through Ancestry.com in search of a totally different type of document, I found a Crew Manifest. It reveals the men responsible for the first of three known Veterans Air Line UNRRA flights to Prague. And it gives us the date of their return to Newark Airport — 23 April 1946.
These men lived this history with my Dad.
They were there, making it happen. Sometimes together as part of the same crew. And, now, 70 years later, I was there…in South Carolina listening to Thomas Cowart and in New Jersey listening to Ed Martz tell me about their roles in this great adventure. Thomas’ two daughters, Angie & Joy, are hearing these stories for the first time. So are Ed’s wife Marie and two of their four daughters, Sue and Marie. The information and stories are amazing!
Oh! so much better than my usual solo research…
See how wondrously different this is from visualizing the internet searches I normally conduct by myself!
However…not a natural investigative reporter.
My notes from my trip are only semi-copious and sometimes illegible. And, only a few of any photographs taken were snapped by me! Try as I might, I’m not a natural investigative reporter. I am truly there to meet and share stories. I get involved in listening and absorbing the person – and I forget to write or click. You’ll just have to forgive me for missing some of the facts. But, ah! these faces and the accompanying laughter! I hope I captured even an n-th degree of this to share with you.
Thomas Cowart with Gaye Lyn, daughter of Veterans Air founder, Saunie Gravely, doing some research together.
Edward Martz and Gaye Lyn during her New Jersey visit to meet this man who crewed for her Dad in 1946.
Thomas Cowart and daughter Angie Cowart-Cheek on 11 Nov 2015 in South Carolina.
Marie Martz, Ed’s wife, with Gaye Lyn during November 2015 visit to New Jersey.
I’ve found ten 1945 and 1946 Veterans Air crew families since April.
Actually, so far, I’ve been in contact with ten families of Veterans who joined Veterans Air and I’ve met three of our crew members. You may recall my first “road trip” was in August (2015) to Florida to meet Pilot and Operations man Jack Stettner and all of Jack’s “kids,” Ellen, Al and Scott. On the same trip, I reveled in anecdotes from the spirited Marilyn Gries, sadly now the widow of Robert Gries, VAE General Manager. All the families have wonderfully (if not suspiciously, at first) greeted and welcomed me.
Here’s my List, in the order of my finding them: Bernard Shmanske, John Noll, Charles Eason, Robert Gries, Jack Stettner, John Greenleaf, Frederick Foster, Richard Broughton, Thomas Cowart, and Edward Martz.
Duration of the company pales compared to the size of its accomplishments!
I’m so honored. So delighted. So touched. I promise I appreciate to my core the reality of being in their company and/or talking to their families. I kept and keep saying to myself these men knew my Dad, crewed for him, helped him found the air line. All of them, not just the three I’ve met, all of them brought invaluable aviation experience to this endeavor, yes. And now I’m witnessing as well, repeatedly, first hand, the character and spirit they all brought. The “real stuff” that materialized Saunie’s dream. The duration of the company’s existence is of little consequence compared to the accomplishment that it existed at all!
I never expected such an emotional, rewarding experience when I started my research in late April this year (2015).