Friday evening there was a Veterans Day program in our little town. About four to five hundred people filled our auditorium. The reason they all came, was to witness a production of Bob Brodersons Diary. Bob is a highly regarded local farmer, who by the way, has had to reside in a 'care home' for the past couple of years, and who had piloted 37 missions over enemy territory in World War II. The Brodersons, (pronounced as broaderson)are an old Burt County family and you'll not find their enemies here. There aren't any that I know of.
The show consisted of period songs sung by a quartet, mixed with readings from the diary he kept during the war. An actor played his part. They carried on five or six large black and white photos of him from the combat zone, during the show.
When he went over, he was promised that all he had to do was fly twenty five missions, and he could go home. When he was more that half way to that number, they extended the number to thirty. At about the twenty five mark they extended the missions to thirty three. When he got over thirty missions flown, his commanding officer 'asked' him if he would fly four more missions out of Russia. "No hard feelings if you won't". Part of his crew were to finish with him, and part needed the flights out of Russia to finish. His crew begged him to fly with them so they could all get done together. They had no desire to fly with someone else. So he did. They finished.
There is no bravado in the diaries. There is none in Bob's life. He is plain spoken, quiet, and if you'd ever talked with him you'd get the idea he hadn't done anything in particular worthy of note in his life except to raise a fine family and become a good farmer. In my book, both worthy of note in these times.
The diary just told of the struggle of keeping a B-17 bomber in the air that was continually being shot at and hit. It told of the planes from his squadron they lost nearly everytime they went out. Of constantly being under attack as they flew. Of one of his buddies who began as the pilot but had a sort of mental melt down and couldn't take-off or land the plane anymore.
Of he and his buddies who had a job to do and just did it. Of the first plane they lost. "She was a good ship" Bob said. Of some humorous things that happened like the night he and buddy won a lot of money playing poker and bought a horse and buggy to take back to the base. These same two dated a couple of local gals from near the base in England. Only to find out they were dating a mother-daughter combo.
We laughed with him as he tried to divert his mind while off duty, we struggled with him to endure all of those missions he detailed so eloquently, and we cheered and cried for joy when the plane crossed the channel into English territory after the thirty seventh mission. He described the jubilation in the plane as they shook up a bottle of beer and sprayed it around. He wrote that it was the end of what he knew would be a part of his life he would never forget.
In the end he simply wanted to come home to Burt County and farm. He did.
A lot of his friends never made it back to America alive.
The frail little man was there in a wheelchair. I'm not sure he knew why he was there, but we did. He represents the men from Burt County, from Nebraska, and our Nation,who went to battle, in this war and others. Without these plain spoken heros, America doesn't survive. Thanks to you Bob, and to all the others. We too must never forget that part of Bob's life.