Capt. Robert Uhrig (Source: Invasion Stripes by Brian Duddy)
C47 plane maintained by Uhrig and his crew (Source: Brian Duddy)
We know the stories of World War II told by the politicians and the generals. But the wartime diary of a man from rural Ohio and his letters home to his wife offer insight beyond the battles, maneuvers and strategy.
"A lot of veterans' stories were written after the war, or in some cases, many years after the war, so they were called upon to recall events that happened 30,40,60 years ago," said Retired Air Force Lt. Col Brian Duddy. "Bob's story was written, as it happened, by him each day. So the memories were fresh in his mind."
Duddy is referring to Capt. Robert Uhrig, whose wartime diary and letters he compiled into a book called Invasion Stripes, the Wartime Diary of Capt. Robert Uhrig, ASAAF and the Dawn of American Military Airlift.
"Very soon I was appreciative of how important this diary was and how detailed it was," said Duddy.
Starting in 1936 as a maintenance mechanic on planes at the Army's Patterson Field in Ohio, Uhrig personally chronicles the development of the US Army Air Corps and Airborne operations.
"It shows quite a large panorama of the development of the Air Force from being just a support arm of the Army to a point where it could become a separate service," said Duddy. "He saw the buildup of the Air Corps from the first early days when they had just a few transport aircraft, right up until the Normandy invasion when they had more of these airplanes then they had pilots and crews for."
In 1938 Uhrig married his high school sweetheart, Ivea Nelle Fultz, known as "Toots." But they spent the early years of their marriage separated by war. Unlike pilots and air crews, who were cycled into and out of active duty, Uhrig and his ground crews were overseas for the duration, moving from North Africa to Sicily to England along with their planes and gear.
"It really tells a good story of how they were able to train people quickly, get them into the field quickly and get the mission done with a minimal amount of losses," said Duddy.
Before heading overseas, Uhrig and his carrier group provided the planes to train paratroopers at the Airborne School at Fort Benning and Shaw Field in October and November of 1941. Shaw Field, or Sumter, as Bob called it, later became Shaw Air Force Base.
"This was a pretty large pre-war exercise designed to get the army trained in a large force and see where some of the deficiencies lied with the equipment and organization," said Duddy.
"I was impressed with how much Bob knew as each day would go by about what was actually happening in the war in both the European theatre and other places," said Duddy. "This was all captured in real time."
Uhrig's diary describes his days leading up to D-Day, and the day itself. Hours before the mission was to begin, Uhrig and his crews were ordered to paint black and white "Invasion Stripes" on the planes so they could be recognized and would not draw friendly fire. They worked through the night to paint stripes on close to 100 planes, only to have the mission delayed a day because of weather.
Uhrig also kept records of the planes he was responsible for, or "ships," as he called them. One entry in the log, for C47 42-18529 flown by "Przybylski" and named "Sleepy McGoon," has a note added that reads "Crashed March 5, 1944 + killed entire crew."
As if by the hand of providence, one of Uhrig's ships survives to this day. C47 43-30652 is at the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo New York. Coincidentally, Geneseo is about 30 miles from where Uhrig's daughter, Jan Wiseley, lives and keeps his diary, letters and other war mementos. That connection is a story unto itself.
The National Warplane Museum is raising money to fly the C47 back to Normandy and drop paratroopers on the 70th commemoration of D-Day in June. Wiseley shared her father's diaries with crews working on the C47 so they could return it to its original condition.
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