Tribute to SGT Francis Perkins and the crew of the Daisy Mae…
My friend, Jim Hawkins pays his respects to SGT Francis Perkins and the crew of the Daisy Mae on Veterans Day, 2016. Jim is a Vietnam Veteran and Korea Defense Veteran. Taking a trip to Bushnell National Cemetery in Florida, Jim hoisted a glass of Mogen David Wine.
This tribute means so much to me because during the Last Flight of the Daisy Mae, when Fran Perkins lay blind and wounded aboard the Daisy Mae, and the ship’s odds of returning safely were nil, Navigator Benjamin I Weiss, ordered nineteen year old Fran Perkins to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner 10 years into the future.
Ten years later, on Thanksgiving Day, Fran Perkins carried out the command of his superior officer, Lt. Benjamin I. Weiss. Fran and Ben made it back from the War, alive. Ben brought a bottle of Mogen David wine and had a silent toast to the ship and crew of the Daisy Mae. Every year since, Mogen David Wine and Thanksgiving go hand in hand in the remaining Perkins family.
Jim Hawkins, in October 2016, sent me an email asking if it would be okay to salute my Dad and his shipmates.
What an honor for my Dad and an honor for me. Jim placed my book The Last Flight of the Daisy Mae, and a bottle of Ben Weiss’s favorite wine, Mogen David, beside Fran’s marker at Bushnell Florida National Cemetery.
It took me three years to research and write the book about Fran, Ben and his buddies. Many times I would close my eyes at my keyboard and I could almost see the now deceased 11 heroes of the Daisy Maeas much younger versions of themselves, talking, laughing, and trading “Joe Lewis,” jabs in jest.
Right now I see these young men, standing by a younger version of Daisy Mae, saluting Jim Hawkins and his family. Navigator Ben Weiss is pouring Mogen David wine for the brave, young crew in a return salute to my friend, Jim Hawkins.
Completely surrounded by 15 of the best fighter planes Japan has to offer, bullets and cannon rounds smother the B-24 Bomber called the “ Daisy Mae.” Bloody wounded and dying men are everywhere on board. There is no place to hide. Even if there were, the eleven men on board today, will fight to the death if need be, to save each other and to save their ship. They are desperately trying to pay life forward for their buddies.
Flying and fighting at 17, 000 feet, and at 300 miles per hour, the B-24 Bomber, is struggling to fly with jagged edge metal pushing against the wind, leaking fuel, and the fire power of the enemy. Illuminating tracer rounds are starting fires throughout the doomed ship.
From his ball-turret gunnery position, located beneath the 10 man crew and the largest bomber in the world at the time, Sergeant Fran Perkins, lay wounded after shooting down two Japanese Zeroes and taking two more Zeros, out of the fight. He is totally blind, Fran’s front gun sight from his machine guns, was driven into his forehead by the second exploding warplane directly in front of Fran’s deadly aim. He lay bleeding from massive wounds and is completely blind.
The remaining Japanese fighter planes begin to turn around and head back to their base on Wake Island. Perhaps it is because they lost too many aircraft to the fierce fighters aboard the Daisy Mae or perhaps they are straying too far from their airbase on Wake Island. If they run out of fuel, they will have to crash land in the shark infested waters of the Pacific Ocean. If the severely damaged Daisy Mae, falls apart or her engines dies out, she and all aboard will receive a similar fate.
The valiant ship and crew are still 1200 miles from home, their base on Midway Island, with very few instruments that are operational and nothing but miles and miles of ocean and a severe storm they must fly through as well. This is the worst tropical storm in ten years. The wounded and dying ship will have to give everything she’s got to weather the storm and land safely.
Aboard the Daisy Mae, men are wounded and some are dying. Fran Perkins struggles to move his wounded body and crippled gun turret back into the belly of the ship. He knows his tour of duty is over, since he is blind. Perkins feels he is only dead weight on the ship and is now worthless in saving his crew from the deadly high speed battle raging at 17,000 feet of above the sea.
Lt. Benjamin I. Weiss, the Navigator on board, studies his maps on the Navigator’s table set up in the cabin directly behind Pilot Joe Gall, and his trusty Co-pilot, John Van Horn.
Picture yourself looking over Ben’s shoulder as he studies his maps. Today, if you could study a world map, you will see exactly what Navigator Weiss is looking at on July 24, 1943. You and Ben are looking at the clear blue Pacific Ocean with no land masses between Wake Island, the site of the battle and Midway Island, the airfield where they must land. There are over four hours of open sea, and now possibly five or six because of the damaged aircraft engines. The only ships at sea they may encounter along the way if they ditch the massive bomber in the ocean, are two enemy submarines that are tracking Daisy Mae by radar. The Japanese submarines will not take survivors. They will take no prisoners.
Convinced to stay on his new course adjustment, Weiss leaves his table and runs to the rear of the ship. There, Flight Engineer Arvid B. Ambur, after saving the hydraulics, is now administering first aid to the wounded and dying aboard the struggling ship. Weiss can do nothing more as a Navigator but just maybe he can help as a healer.
“Fran, Do you have a girl back home?…
Fran Perkins lays between wounded Myron Jensen, the Bombardier, and Joe “Pop” Evans, the wounded Aerial Photographer. Since Perkins is the only man conscious, Weiss asks the blind airman;
“Sergeant, Do you have a girl back home?”
Nineteen-year old Perkins, nods, “Yes, her name is Elaine.” He hesitates and looks downcast. “I’m blind now, Elaine won’t want me anymore.”
Lt. Weiss thinks for a moment, and then responds as a much older and wiser man, although Ben Weiss was only a few years older than Fran.
Smiling, yet assuming the role of a superior officer, Ben orders boldly, “Sergeant Perkins, ten years from now, after this War is over, I want to have Thanksgiving Dinner at your home and I want Elaine to cook for us.”
“Yes Sir, “Fran responds loudly, as he is trained to respond when communicating with a superior officer.
Then the Navigator kneels down, his voice softens as he says, “we will make it back safely, I swear to you we will.”
After a long pause, Perkins asks softly, “Sir, can you navigate by the stars?” Perkins is thinking of his life long dream of piloting his own plane from Midway Island at night and navigating by the stars. He is also fully aware that now he will never achieve that dream.
Ben Weiss responds, “ I need to get back to the cabin and keep Daisy Mae on course for Midway. We will talk later, I promise.”
Ben stares at his blind and helpless,comrade who is bleeding and lying on the floor. Ben states boldly, “Never underestimate the power of hope.”
Ten Years Later…
It is Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1953, ten years after Fran’s last mission on his beloved, Daisy Mae. After a few miracles, most of the crew made it back to Midway, and a brilliant Australian eye surgeon working in Hawaii, was able to restore one of Fran’s eyes. Both eyes move together, however blindness in Fran’s left eye remains. Fran is very grateful this Thanksgiving, as he is able to accomplish his goals without a one eye handicap.
Fran’s wife is preparing Thanksgiving dinner. The holiday aroma of Turkey, stuffing and baked pies fills the small apartment in Evergreen Park, Illinois near the tough South-side of Chicago.
There is a knock on the door. My Dad, Francis J. Perkins, former gunner on the B-24, Daisy Mae, springs like a Jack-In-The-Box, from his dining room chair. The door opens and standing there is a man, a few years older than my Dad, with the biggest smile I have ever seen in my life.
“Come in and meet my family,” Fran beams.
“Ben, this is my wife, Elaine, my Lady Elaine. This is my daughter Linda and my son Wayne. Family, this is your Uncle Ben.”
Navigator Weiss smiles as he replies, “I have waited ten years, to meet you, again and I am especially happy to meet Elaine. I had a strong feeling we would all meet someday.”
Ben opens his bottle of Mogen David wine and begins a Thanksgiving tradition in the Perkins home lasting long after our new visitor was gone and even after three more baby girls are born to Fran and Elaine Perkins, years later.
The Thanksgiving dinner is wonderful and the conversation is lively, but conspicuously absent of talk about the War. This is a silent tribute to the friends and family they lost during World War II. Fran and Ben are living their lives because of those friends. Their friends sacrificed and payed life forward to the two young men enjoying a grateful Thanksgiving that only they can fully understand and appreciate. Somewhere, the rest of the silent crew must be smiling.
After dinner, Ben has a surprise for the Perkins family. Weiss commands, “Saddle up everyone, we have a mission to complete. We must complete our mission.”
Within, two minutes, we find ourselves loading into Ben’s rental car. He takes us to an airport in Chicago as he has a surprise for the Fran’s family. During World War II, the airport was called CIT or Chicago International Airport. Today, Chicago International Airport, has had a recent name change. It is now named after the most significant battle of the Pacific Front during World War II. It carries the famous name of the battle that restored hope in every living American in the summer of 1942. It was the same name as the airfield that the Daisy Mae took off from and crash landed during her famous battle at 17,000 feet above Wake Island.
The airport Ben, Fran and the family are traveling to is now called “Midway.”
At Midway, Ben unloads the car and quickly and efficiently loads the family onto a small single engine airplane. Fran in the front passenger seat, Linda and Wayne in the rear seat. As Ben was lifting up Fran’s six year old son, little Wayne asks the World War II hero, “Uncle Ben, do you have a name for your airplane?”
“Yes, I do as he winks at my Dad. I call her the Daisy Mae.”
The Last Flight of the Daisy Mae…
The autumn sun is setting as Ben’s Daisy Mae is taking off from Midway. Soon, they are flying over Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park, Soldier Field, and all of the venues that the Perkins family will enjoy over their lifetimes because of the heroics of the two young men sitting in the front seats and the brave sacrifices of the other nine crew members on one hellish day in the summer of 1943.
Fran and Ben fly as two brothers, flying, talking, laughing and just having fun. This time there is no rank or decorum separating them. In place of bullets and bombs, there are heroes and hope.
Ben turns the plane around and heads out to the darkest regions of Chicago’s Lake Michigan. Soon Ben turns over controls to Fran and is teaching him how to fly for the very first time. Fran cannot believe it. With his young family as witness, Fran Perkins obeys every command Ben gives him and enjoys every moment he is sharing with his family.
“Fran, I remember the last time we were on the bomber together. You asked me if I ever navigated by the stars. Do you want to learn how?
Fran Perkins can barely speak. An emotional lump fills his throat. Fran nods “yes” and Ben points to the star filled November skies.
Fran Perkins is now learning how to fly and navigate by the best damned navigator in the whole damned Army Air Corps. Ben Weiss delivers on a dream and a promise he made ten years earlier in a desperate battle, when the odds were neither Ben nor Fran would survive.
Ben instructs Fran to look out the window into the star filled black skies over Lake Michigan, and says, “Fran the secret to navigating at night involves mastering two tools.”
“What are the tools I need to master. I’m ready,” Fran replies determined.
Fran is feeling the same excitement he felt many years ago , when he was just nineteen climbing aboard his very first B-24 bomber with his buddies.
Ben points to the windshield and then to his right and says, “first you need to find the North Star which is located near that frying pan formation over there and then you need to master the most important tool of all.”
“OK, what tool is that, Ben?”
Ben smiles, “You need hope. Never underestimate the power of hope.”
The Silver Star is the third highest award presented to our heroes in combat. The Congressional Medal of Honor is number one and the Distinguished Service Cross, is number two. I first learned of how Ron Egan received his Silver Star for Valor and other decorations after I arrived home from the Army. In fact it was around February or March of 1969 while I was living in Golfview Apartments in Carpentersville, along with Jack Reese and Greg Pederson, that Ron Egan re-entered my life in Illinois. I originally met him in high school in my Junior Year.
I was over at John Olsen’s home in Dundee, where he lived with his wife Linda and his son, Todd. They were such a beautiful family and included me in all of their activities. We were standing in his living room when John told me the story. He and Ron Egan were very good friends growing up, and played basketball and softball quite a bit while in school. The following story is the only version I know. Perhaps his friends, Tom Hagen and Jim Hawkins have better versions, but this is one I have carried around for over forty six years. ( Tom Hagen occupied the same living room I was standing in with John Olsen, a few years later when John and his family moved to Kentucky and Tom bought the former Olsen home.
John, said, “Ron Egan just received a Silver Star for saving the lives of his platoon over in Viet Nam.” The first thing I said to John forty six years ago was, “Do you mean Ron Edin or Ron Egan?” Ron would be laughing right now if he could read this because that was a running point of confusion in high school where Ron Edin and Ron Egan where in the same class of 1965.
John Olsen Continues…
“Ron was a point man on a recon mission in Viet Nam. I believe it was on the Cambodian border. Ron was walking far out in front of his platoon when he heard a noise behind him, back toward where his platoon was walking. Quietly walking back to the point where he heard the noise Ron witnessed the enemy setting up an ambush toward Ron’s approaching platoon.”
“Without forethought or any regard for his own life, Ron began, yelling and firing at the enemy from behind. As the enemy soldiers turned, they fired and struck Ron at least four times. Ron’s platoon was now on alert and they turned the tide on the ambush, recovering Ron and getting him to a field hospital. If Ron hadn’t acted as he did, many if not all of his platoon would have been killed.”
Ron received a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and four Purple Hearts for his bravery and sacrifice in that battle.
When my Dad, Fran Perkins was only seventeen, his potential Mother in Law, Mae Birmingham told Fran about American heroism in World War I. Now it was December 7, 1941 and the very beginning of World War II for America. Mae explained that Americans would act exactly the way Ron Egan proved to act, many, many, years later. She told young Fran, “Heroes act without any forethought. They give their lives and pay their lives forward in order to save their friends and their brothers in arms.” The same heroism that was so prevalent by the “Greatest Generation,” was also exhibited by Ron Egan, and so many others during the Korean War, Vietnam and so many other conflicts, years later.
Ron’s life was the result of a gift from the “Greatest Generation” presented to the “Baby Boomer Generation.” The Greatest Generation paid their lives forward to create the lives of Ron Egan and all of the other Baby Boomers who live now and who have past. The words of Mae Birmingham back on December 7, 1941 were heard and acted upon, on Egan’s infamous day decades later when Ron Egan earned his Silver Star.
Ron is and will always be our “Silver Star.”
Story #2. Ron Does a “Bob Hayes”
This tale comes from a story, Ron told me in his apartment in Carpentersville, in the early Seventies. Just as most veterans will only tell stories of some of the funny things that happened when death did not take place, Ron was no exception. He never told me about his “Silver Star,” adventure. He did tell me however, about another patrol that could have been his last.
“The World’s Fastest Human,”
A few weeks, prior to the ambush, Ron was on a reconnaissance patrol with the 101st Airborne Division, again either inside or outside of the Cambodian border with Viet Nam, when he found himself up front and alone. Ron stumbled across a land line cable buried just about an inch under the topsoil. He bent down to pick up the telephone cable, and as he lifted it up, more topsoil and land line was uncovered, so he decided to keep pulling up the cable, exposing it, and then following it to see where it would take him.
As he was pulling up the cable Ron came up to an opening in the jungle. As he was one tree away from entering the clearing Ron could see he was entering a large camp of North Vietnamese soldiers. Ron, then stop talking for a few long seconds. I asked , “What did you do then?”
Ron said, “ I dropped the cable in my hand and my weapon and did a Bob Hayes all the way back to my unit.” ( “Bullet “ Bob Hayes, refers to a track star who played Wide Receiver for the Dallas Cowboys NFL football team. Bob was labeled, “The World’s Fastest Human, back then)
We both laughed together at that moment but I always wondered how I would feel when the flight or fight reaction takes place under those conditions That day, Ron let his “flight” response take charge.
A few weeks later, Ron Egan chose a different reaction that saved lives and paid life forward for the members of his platoon and their descendants….
Story #3 The Phone Call, the U-Haul Van and Other Things…
The Phone Call…
It was about two o’clock in the Morning on a Tuesday when my phone began ringing in my Apartment in Carpentersville back in 1970. A familiar voice from the past. began with, “Hey Wayne, my car broke down and I am at Red’s Gas Station in Algonquin. Can you give me a lift.” I lived far from Algonquin now, but I was half dressed, when the voice in my ear and another voice that sounded like Ron Egan, began to laugh.
My friend from high school, Paul Shepanek who was a Green Beret at the time and Ron Egan who was with the 101st Airborne were not in Algonquin, Illinois. They were laughing from an Army barracks at Fort Lewis, Washington, enjoying a few beers and calling to share friendship.
I laughed and told, “Wahoo,” AKA Paul Shepanek, and Ron, they are welcome when they get a pass, over to my new apartment in Carpentersville. This began a new barrage of phone calls in the middle of the night, while waking me out of a deep sleep. The calls were always welcome and helped me get off to a good start in the morning.
I love the smell of friendship in the morning…
One Saturday, around noon, the doorbell rang, along with frantic pounding on the door. My apartment was a one story four-plex, right on Golfview Drive in Carpentersville. I looked through my peep hole only to find an older looking man at the door, wearing an old man”s fedora hat, with a pale face as though he was in shock, and blood spurting out of his head where I saw a huge gash. He must have been in an accident, maybe out by the highway about a block away.
I quickly opened the door, and heard laughing beneath, what I figured out now was a mask. It was none other than my Green Beret, buddy and good friend since 8th grade, Wahoo, AKA “Paul Shepanek.” Wahoo, was a Medic with the Green Berets, and had access to some wound simulations. He wore an old man fedora hat to hide the elastic straps attaching the wound to his face.
I was horrified and happy at the same time. Wahoo told me that Ron Egan was coming home from Fort Lewis, very shortly, and wanted to make sure I gave him a welcome. Later that evening Wahoo came over to the apartment, along with Russ Jenkins, another friend from 8th grade friend, who served in the Marines, in Vietnam but was also on leave as well.
We had such a fun time after that grand entrance by Wahoo. Russ Jenkins and Paul Shepanek got me my first job as a caddy, at Barrington Hills Country Club, in Barrington, Illinois back in 8th grade and we picked up on our relationship where it left back in high school.
One of my roommates, Jack Reese, and the roommate who is my neighbor, Scott Kufeldt also worked at the Country Club back then and met with Wahoo and Jenkins, as well. During this time frame Jim Hawkins and Tom Hagen were out of the Army and living a few doors down in the same apartment complex. Both Hawkins and Hagen were combat veterans and eager to see their old buddies, and Airborne Brothers, Wahoo and Egan.
The U-haul Van
A few weeks after that wonderful reunion, Ron Egan, finally arrived, unannounced. He said, “Wahoo and Jenkins said that you are an okay guy, so here I am.” We talked for hours in my apartment, and soon my other roommate, Greg Pedersen, came home from his job at U-haul, and we continued the conversation. Although Greg was never in the military, he was impressed with Ron and wanted to help him out.
It was time to go and I asked Ron if he could use a ride home in my trusty white 64 Mustang, I called “Kemosabe.” Ron said “yes,” and as soon as he did, Greg threw him the keys to the U-haul, Econoline Van, he used for driving to and from work.”
Greg said to a startled Egan, “Use it for as long as you need it.” Greg reached into his wallet and also handed Ron a gas credit card, that Egan could use until he began his old job back at Revcor, in Carpentersville.
Ron turned to me and the look on his face was priceless. “Is he sh#tn me, Perkins?”
“I don’t think so,” I replied. Egan was shaking his head in disbelief and shook Greg’s hand in appreciation.
“I will take good care of the truck while I use it.”
Ron Egan was very appreciative of Greg’s gift to a local War Hero That, day, I think Greg felt he was an honorary brother of this amazing band of brothers, and my friends.
So as I mourn the loss the of Ron Egan and those special moments. Now I feel like remembering the moment presented by the movie characters, in the old Star Trek Movie, “The Wrath of Khan,” where they stuff Spock in that big black sunglasses case, push him out into space, and the character, McCoy, says…
“He is not really dead, as long as we remember him.”
I remember Egan driving around Carpentersville, in a Ford Econoline Van, “smoking cigarettes and watchin Captain Kangaroo.”
Ron Egan, from the Dundee High School Class of 1965, member of the famous 101st Airborne Division, U haul Econoline Van Driver, hero, and friend, I salute you…
Author: Specialist 4th Class Wayne Francis Perkins: US54805848 Company B, 3rd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, 7th Infantry Division and “Imjin Scout” from the Korean Demilitarized Zone, 1966-1967.
Note: This post may show up on Facebook but the link you follow will take you to the Last Flight of the Daisy Mae Special Features,Website, where you can post pictures, or comments about Ron Egan. They will not appear right away as I monitor each posting on my lazy schedule, but I will attend to them as they come in. Ron Egan is going to have a permanent home on my site, along with many heroes from World War II….Wayne F. Perkins
If you want to know more about the history Ron Egan helped create, view Part 2 of the story of the 101st Airborne Division during the Vietnam War. These are the band of brothers, so dear to the hearts of Ron Egan, and all of the men and women serving in the Armed Forces, then and now…