As I mentioned in the June 23, blog, https://www.doctoraviation.com/world-war-ii-veterans-living-legends-frank-buschmeier/ It is not often that you get to meet a living legend. I consider any man who fought in World War II and is still walking this earth to be a living legend, heroes if you will. There are not many of them left, but there are a few. My Dad, sons and I got the privilege of meeting second and I would like you to meet him too.
As we watched the excellent air show prior to the 13th Annual Gala at the Tri-State Warbird Museum, we were wowed by the AT-6 formations (see the pictures at https://www.facebook.com/pg/doctoraviation/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1940155189595847 ) and the sleek P-40 Warhawk chasing a Japanese Zero. Between passes I looked over and saw a man in a wheelchair. He was wearing a baseball cap that said, “World War II Veteran”
I pointed him out to my boys. We approached him. “Excuse me sir, did you really serve in World War II”? Yes, I did was the reply. “What did you do,” was our next question. I served in the Navy on a minesweeper was his reply.
We introduced ourselves. His name is Don Baechle. As we chatted, his son, who was pushing the wheelchair, said, “Tell them about your field trip”.
This is when it got really interesting.
“What field trip was that,” we asked. My jaw dropped at the response. As it turns out, Don and his crew had a day off after the Japanese surrender on August 15. Instead of staying onboard the minesweeper floating in Japanese waters, the Navy decided to let the boys go on a field trip. The destination: Nagasaki.
Yes, that Nagasaki.
Nagasaki: the target of the second atomic bomb dropped by the Americans in an effort to end the bloody war. I discussed that decision and the ethical dilemma in a previous blog (https://www.doctoraviation.com/hiroshima-nagasaki-the-aircrews-atomic-dilemma/ ).
They brought the sailors to port. Put them on a bus, gave them a box lunch and took them to Nagasaki. I asked him if everything was flat. He said that there was an arch standing. While bulldozers pushed aside the few other objects that remained in piles. I asked if he had felt any effects from being in an area of high radiation. No, he wasn’t aware of any, he replied. He son jokingly piped in, “Sometimes we wonder”.
Don returned to the US and raised a family. His son Andy was with him this day — Clearly very proud of his Dad. There is a website dedicated to Don and other WWII veterans, you can view it at http://ourgreatestgeneration.blogspot.com/2009/12/don-baechle-us-navy.html . Thank you for serving Don and protecting our freedom! You are a hero!
But Don said one more thing that I don’t think that I will soon forget. “We had to drop the bomb. That was the only way to end it, they would have never surrounded, the Japanese would have fought us to their last broomstick”.