Interview for "Kipling's Error III" author Brooks Mitchell
edited: Monday, June 12, 2006
By Irene Watson
Not "rated" by the Author.
Posted: Monday, June 12, 2006
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From Hollis, Oklahoma, Lt. Lloyd Brooks Mitchell, navigator of Kipling's Error III, tells his story as a young man dealing with life in the Oklahoma "dust bowl" and subsequent service to his country. This book is the touching, riveting story straight from the diaries of Lt. Mitchell and four of his crew members. It describes their twenty-five successful raids over enemy-occupied Europe from their base in Snetterton-Heath, England. Their stories reveal every possible human emotion, from bravery to terror, from duty to patriotism, from love to hate. They were, indeed, Good Americans.
Reader Views would like to welcome Dr. Brooks Mitchell, author of “Kipling’s Error III: They Were Good Americans,” a touching and unforgettable account of his father’s B-17 Crew during the early days of WWII. Brooks is being interviewed by Juanita Watson for Reader Views.
Juanita: Thank you for joining us today Dr. Mitchell. Your book, “Kipling’s Error III: They Were Good Americans,” is a honest and riveting story based on the oral history and diary of your father Captain Lloyd Mitchell and four diaries of his crewmates. Please tell us why you decided to write your book at this time.
Dr. Mitchell: I am the oldest of Capt. Mitchell and received his diary as well as those of four of his crewmates on the B-17 bomber, Kipling’s Error III. I realized that fate had delivered me an obligation and a responsibility to compile these diaries not only as a historical document, but also as a tribute to the bravery of my father and his crewmates.
Juanita: Give us a little insight into the context of “Kipling’s Error III,” including timeline, and locations.
Dr. Mitchell: Kipling’s Error III flew out of Snetterton Heath with the 8th Air Force, 96th Bombardment Group from May through September, 1943.
Juanita: Tell us the process you went through in gathering all of the diaries, letters, photographs, and oral histories, and how long was your book in the making?
Dr. Mitchell: The book took approximately six years to complete. I originally intended to publish just my dad’s diary as a gift to family members, however as I began getting into the process, more and more diaries showed up. To date, we have five, all of which are included in this book. There is still a possibility that one or two more might be out there and maybe we will be able to include them later.
The diaries were surprisingly consistent and yet different. It was reasonably easy to segment them into a chronological series of events and to integrate their observations with newspaper articles, for example, the raid to Ragensburg has been well-documented as one of the great military raids of WWII.
Juanita: What is the meaning behind the name of the plane Kipling’s Error III?
Dr. Mitchell: All the B-17 bomber planes had nose art. Perhaps the most famous is Memphis Belle. This crew realized that of their ten-man crew, half of the men were from east of the Mississippi and half were from west of the Mississippi. Hence they realized that Rudyard Kipling had made an error in his poem when he said “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.” Obviously, in this case, East had met West and their nose art reflected a symbol from everyone’s state.
Juanita: Tell us a little about who your father was, and his background with the military.
Dr. Mitchell: My father was a young man when Pearl Harbor was bombed. The winds of war had already been blowing for several months and he knew clearly that he would have to go in. He had a pilot’s license and felt that the Air Force would be the most suitable place for him to serve. He did not initially become a pilot, but a navigator. Later on, he was being trained as a B-29 pilot when the atom bomb was dropped on Japan and the war was over. He never actually flew a B-29 in combat.
Juanita: What drove his personal choice to enter the military?
Dr. Mitchell: My father, like millions of others, felt a duty to his country and a need to serve. Most of these men never questioned for a moment they idea of not serving. That would have been treasonous to them.
Juanita: Part of the title of your book is “They Were Good Americans.” Please tell us the significance of this statement.
Dr. Mitchell: My father wrote these haunting words in his diary after he had helped clean up the remains of several of his friends from a plane cockpit. He lamented their passing and commented that they “were good Americans, God bless their souls.”
Juanita: What do you remember most about your father?
Dr. Mitchell: He was a good, honorable, and decent man who instilled values in me and my two brothers and two sisters.
Juanita: Where do you think the bravery and ‘drive to defend’ came from in the hearts of these men?
Dr. Mitchell: These men were not particularly brave, they were typical Americans. They had a duty to serve their country and all did so willingly. The bravery was instilled in them from the moment they were born as American citizens.
Juanita: Did any of your research lend any insight into realizations the men may have had regarding life and death?
Dr. Mitchell: Yes, clearly. These men had to survive 25 missions. Sometimes the casualties on a particular raid were as high as 25%. Over 60% of these men did not survive the war. They clearly knew that each day they went up could be their last day. They referred to this many times in their diaries. If there were any question about their peril, it was confirmed by the daily empty bunks reflecting their friends who did not return and by the fact that they lost two airplanes that were shot up so badly that they couldn’t fly them again.
Juanita: How was it for the survivors trying to integrate back into post-war America?
Dr. Mitchell: My father (and I think most of the others) was able to segment his war experiences and not think about them. Thus, he was able to quickly get back to the task of completing school (GI bill), get a job and raise a family. He didn’t talk much about his war experience until 10 years ago.
Juanita: The crew of Kipling’s Error III have been applauded by the military for decades due to their unflinching bravery and determination. Your book really allows the world hear their story. What can we learn from the veterans of WWII, and in particular the crewmen of Kipling’s Error III?
Dr. Mitchell: These men in the end were Americans and were certainly answering their call to service. However, it is very clear to me that in the end they were fighting for each other. They were in a unique situation, in most cases either all would live or all would die. They each had a job to do and throughout the diaries there is a persistent revelation of their fear that they might not be able to perform their job and hence put it extreme peril the rest of their crewmates.
Juanita: Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that more than 1,000 WWII veterans are dying each day. This is an alarming rate. Why is it so important to preserve the memory and stories of these brave men?
Dr. Mitchell: Like so many millions of people who served in WWII and other American conflicts, many of these stories have been recorded via diaries and journals, but they have been lost and their stories will never be told. In this case, I was lucky enough to be presented with five diaries of the B- 17 crew who survived. I feel privileged to be able to pass this along for generations of people who would like to understand firsthand what it was like to face death on 25 separate occasions.
Juanita: This story is one that we will definitely not forget. The bravery and mission of these Americans will leave a mark on the hearts of anyone who hears about them. Thank you for talking with us today Dr. Mitchell. Where can we find out more about your book, and what last words do you have for your readers?
Dr. Mitchell: The men and women who served in WWII were truly great Americans. I feel honored to be the Son of one of them. It has been a life calling and privilege to be the one to compile the 5 diaries of this B-17 crew and weave their personal stories into this book. If you want to know how it would have been to serve on a “flying fortress” in the war, you will know after reading this book. To learn more, you can go to www.kiplingserror.com
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