Pete Mecca shares veterans’ stories with the North Georgia Veterans.
North Georgia Veterans hear stories of valor
By David Howe
If you’re a veteran, you have a story and if you don’t tell that story to someone now, someone else may later tell it for you in a way you wouldn’t want it told.
This was the central message from Pete Mecca, speaker at the January 16 lunch meeting of the North Georgia Veterans.
Mecca used his appearance to share stories from his book, “VETERANS: Stories from America’s Best,” a compendium of anecdotes of both known as well as not-so-well-known veterans of wars of the mid-20th century.
Mecca communicates a sense of urgency about his subject, noting in his book’s foreword that in 2018, veterans of WWII were slipping away at the rate of 500 per day, taking with them precious memories of their experiences that historians are eager to capture. “VETERANS:…” is an effort to preserve those stories.
Mecca’s love of working with veterans of all wars derives from his individual experience in Air Force intelligence during the Vietnam War. Writer and broadcast consultant, Mecca conducts symposiums, lectures and panel discussions on veteran’s affairs throughout the State of Georgia.
Of the 35 narratives from his book, Mecca shared several interesting examples with NGV members.
Major Elizabeth “Bubba” McClain was a doctor’s daughter in Pelham, Ala. She lived through the depression with memories of WWI. During WWII, McClain trained in Atlanta as a nurse and had several Georgia assignments through the end of the war. After war’s end, she served an 18-month stint on Okinawa where the Pacific typhoons left her longing for the U.S. “Major Bubba,” as she became known, saw service in New Jersey, Arkansas, Virginia and Germany, retiring in 1962. She died in 2011, 73 days short of her 100th birthday.
Completing a 15-hour flight from San Francisco, 2nd Lieutenant Roy Reid was piloting a four-engine B-17 on approach to Hickam Field near Pearl Harbor at 8 a.m. on December 7, 1941. He noted pillars of dense black smoke rising from the harbor, and as he got closer to the field realized that five aircraft on the tarmac were on fire.
Six hundred feet from the ground—unarmed and low on fuel—he was strafed by two Japanese aircraft whose tracer bullets ignited fire on his aircraft. His only choice was to land. His airplane collapsed on the runway and broke in half. Three of the four men on the plane survived the crash.
Denis Payne was a British aviator when the air war with Germany broke out. He was sent to Montgomery, Ala. for flight training, gaining a newfound love of Southern cooking. He met and married Mary, a Tennessee girl, and returned with her to England for the duration of the war. He both instructed and flew combat missions, surviving a D-Day crash of a brand-new Wellington bomber. At the same time, Mary’s secretarial skills got the attention of an American general there and during the same period she served as his administrative assistant.
Denis and Mary returned to the U.S. after the war. Payne eventually worked for and retired from the British Consulate in Atlanta, passing away in June 2013.
Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole—102-years-old—is the last surviving member of Jimmy Doolittle’s famous 1942 raid on Tokyo. Growing up near Wright Field near Dayton, Ohio, he developed an early interest in aviation. Enlisting just a month before the attack on Pearl Harbor, he began training in the B-25. Months later, he volunteered for a secret mission that became the raid. In the process, he became co-pilot for Doolittle himself. Nine hours after dropping bombs on Tokyo, 180 miles short of his destination in China and out of fuel, he and his crew bailed out. All survived.
Gerald Hipps, USMC was born near Miami in extreme poverty. Joining the Marines at 16, he was landing on Iwo Jima in February 1945 and was promptly wounded by shrapnel in his legs, arms, neck and shoulders. Treated and refusing to leave his comrades, he eventually joined the group that scaled Mt. Suribachi and while on guard at the summit witnessed the famous raising of the American flag there. One of those flag-raisers was John Bradley, the corpsman who treated his shrapnel wounds earlier on the beach.
After more weeks of brutal combat, Hipps was one of only 27 out of the 240 in his landing group to survive. After the war and lacking documentation, Hipps was denied benefits for his injuries received on Iwo Jima. After his death, his wife June refiled Hipp’s claim when shrapnel was found in the ashes after his cremation.
Mecca concluded his presentation with the account of Tommy Clack, a Vietnam survivor of horrendous injuries inflicted by a rocket-propelled grenade. Tommy visited the North Georgia veterans in 2018 and told his story in person.
These stories, along with many other poignant, moving accounts, fill Mecca’s book. His message is a reminder to us that history is made of the sacrifices of individuals whose stories deserve to be captured and remembered.
“VETERANS: Stories from America’s Best” is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.
The North Georgia Veterans is open to all individuals who honorably served in any branch of the armed services. They meet for lunch monthly at 11:30 a.m. on the third Wednesday; watch for announcements in regular POA emails.