Remember and honor
Time had not robbed everything from 87-year-old Wellington Goddin as he flew through Texas skies six years ago in an old C-47 military transport plane.
More than 60 years after he piloted C-47s in the South Pacific during World War II, some memories of those days were vague, others gone altogether. He wasn’t at all the same physically as the strong, healthy young man who answered the call to serve.
Now, however, his wrinkled hands were on the controls once again, clenched a little tighter when he first slid into the pilot’s seat, but now relaxed. A glint in his aged eyes was a clue that this C-47 was as much a time machine as anything. A man in his 80s was at the controls, but a man in his 20s was flying the plane.
Sitting next to Goddin in the co-pilot’s seat was a younger man, the son of a pilot who served with him in the “Thirsty 13th” Troop Carrier Squadron.
That would be me. Suffice it to say it was the flight of a lifetime.
I wouldn’t have been there if not for a serendipitous find in my Mom’s attic and an Internet search for information that led me to Seth Washburne, son of Thirsty 13th navigator John Washburne.
Seth was working on a book about the unit, and I became his editor. Three years of full-time research by Seth became an 800-page book that is likely the most detailed single account of any unit in World War II. It’s the most remarkable tribute to a father and the men he served with that I’ve ever seen.
What’s even more remarkable is that Seth has kept at it. You’d think an 800-page book would be enough.
Every month we Thirsty 13th kinfolk get a newsletter detailing Seth’s latest contacts with family members and the newest gems of history he’s unearthed. He’s put thousands of miles on his car driving throughout the country to meet with Thirsty 13th members and their families, to research dusty archives, and to promote the unit.
There aren’t many Thirsty 13th veterans still living, and it won’t be long before there are none. Seth’s discoveries increasingly come from children, grandchildren, and younger relatives of unit members.
What strikes me from my experience with Seth and his ongoing work is this: the greatest honor comes from having one’s story truly remembered.
I remember the faces of Dad’s fellow unit members as we listened to their stories at the reunion six years ago, as they autographed copies of Seth’s book, as we flew through the skies together. They were sharing some of the most important experiences of their lives, and it meant the world to them that people clearly treasured the gift of their stories.
Seth’s newsletter includes stories of people who have discovered his book and have been thrilled to learn things they couldn’t have known without it. They wouldn’t have this connection if someone hadn’t taken the time to listen to the veterans.
With our World War II veterans in particular, we’ve reached the point where the phrase, “It’s up to the living to give meaning to the lives of the dead” applies to a generation of veterans who proudly and honorably served. It’s gradually becoming that way for Korean War and Vietnam War veterans as well.
Veterans Day was established for all of us to pay tribute to those who have served in our armed forces, and we’ll do so Saturday in many ways.
No act of recognition for Veterans Day is too small, but the most meaningful could well be those moments in which lives are touched by memories shared by veterans themselves. Taking five minutes of your time to talk with a veteran from any era about their service creates a legacy that will endure well beyond just thanking them.
There’s no greater honor than to be truly heard and remembered, and that’s one we all can bestow upon our veterans this weekend. And here’s to the men of the Thirsty 13th, particularly those who have shared so graciously that we children know how great their service was.
— david colburn
Last modified Nov. 8, 2017