Clarence Dart, ninety-one year-old Tuskegee Airman, passed away last week in Saratoga Springs, New York. Those of you who attended our 2001 Survivors Reunion in Scotia, New York, will recall that, as our guest speaker, Dart held us spellbound for well over an hour with remembrances of his World War II exploits.
The Tuskegee Airmen was a squadron of Black pilots chosen to escort bomber groups over Europe. Eager to prove themselves, they quickly gained respect, and a reputation for willing and successful engagement with the enemy. The Hollywood movie, "Red Tails," currently playing in theaters, is a story about these extraordinary men. It was reported that Dart was able to see the movie before its release. He flew ninety-five missions and was shot down twice during the war. This link will take you to a nice article about Clarence Dart:
September 9, 2010
I was pleased to receive a copy of a document from the Alaska State Legislature honoring Cliff Hudson. It was forwarded to me by Ollie Hudson, Cliff’s widow. The words on the document are as follows:
THE ALASKA LEGISLATURE
*CLIFFORD LOWELL HUDSON*
The Twenty-sixth Alaska State Legislature joins the family, friends, and neighbors of Clifford Lowell Hudson in mourning his passing and celebrating his life.
Cliff was born to Charles and Mina Hudson on October 27, 1925, in Malott, Washington. After graduating from high school, he honorably served his country in the United States Army during World War II. Cliff eventually made his way to Talkeetna to join his brother Glenn and family, who owned and operated Hudson Air Service. He went to work for the Alaska Railroad, first as a section hand, then in the roundhouse, and later as a crane operator in the power plant. After the tragic loss of his brother in an airplane accident, Cliff took over Hudson Air Service. Some of his adventures included piloting popular author James Michener who was doing research for his book, Alaska, and flying a crew from "Good Morning America".
One of Cliff's most heralded achievements was his involvement in a rescue of six airmen whose C-47 disintegrated in midair and crashed near Kesugi Ridge in February 1956 [Actual date was February 5,1954]. Cliff was the first pilot to look for them and was later honored with the U.S. Air Force's highest civilian honor, the Exceptional Service Award, the equivalent of the military's Distinguished Service Medal for his heroic actions that helped save the lives of those six airmen.
Cliff epitomized the expression "there are no old and bold pilots". His flying record consisted of thousands upon thousands of hours of take-offs and landings in the most extreme flying conditions. Yet, he was renowned among the world's mountain climbers, hunters, trappers, miners, and locals for a sterling record of safety and accomplishment without seeking fame. Cliff always got you home.
It would be impossible to summarize the amazing life story of Clifford Lowell Hudson in a few short paragraphs. He was a much beloved and cherished member of the community, and leaves behind his wife, Ollie; sons, Bruce, Chuck and Scott; two grandsons, Dustin and Clifford; nieces and nephews, and many good friends. His eldest son Jay, who followed Cliff in piloting the family flying business, preceded him in an untimely death.
The members of the Twenty-sixth Alaska State Legislature extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Cliff Hudson.
* * *
This document, dated March 23, 2010, was signed by the following persons: Mike Chenault, Speaker of the House; Gary Stevens, President of the Senate; Sen. Charlie Huggins, Prime Sponsor; Rep. Mark Neuman, Prime Sponso
March 17, 2010
Happy St. Patrick's Day! Many people have Irish blood in their veins, but some have to go back a few gererations to find it. For no particular reason except that it's interesting to me and perhaps to my genealogical friends, here's my bloodline to the Irish. Ellen Keenan (1854-1933), my maternal grandfather's mother was the daughter of David Keenan (1829-?). David was the son of Patrick Keenan (1784-1863), who was the son of Edward Keenan (1742 in Ireland-1826).
Edward and his wife, Nancy Donally settled in Greenbrier County, Virginia (now West Virginia.) Patrick moved to Cabell County where he married Griselda ? . Edward and Nancy are buried near the Rehoboth Church which has become a historic site.
On Edward's headstone, it says, “He built Reaboth Chappel and gave the lot of ground." Edward converted from Catholic to Methodist during the days when Francis Asbury was riding the western circuits. The story, somewhat dramatized, was told in a long-running pageant called “Honey in the Rock” in southern West Virginia.
March 11, 2010
The words come hard. Cliff passed over on March 5. Many mourn his loss. There are numerous stories about Cliff Hudson, some heroic, some funny, some inspiring, but a common thread runs through them. He was a man who went out of his way to be helpful, even to the extent of putting himself in danger.
Cliff & Ollie in 1996
I know about his bravery. I am one of six men who owes his life to Cliff. He flew through a snow storm on February 5, 1954 to locate our downed Air Force C-47 on Kesugi Ridge west of Gold Creek, Alaska. I will never forget the man in wire-rimmed glasses carrying snowshoes to us who said, “By golly, it looks like you could use some help!"
We became good friends in later years. He shared his stories, his photo albums, and his history. When I was gathering material for the book that would tell the story of our wilderness ordeal and his heroic part in it, I showed him segments I was preparing. Humbly, Cliff would say, "The weather wasn't that bad," or "They might have found you, anyway," always downplaying his part.
Cliff has been away for several years, somewhere behind the hateful wall of Alzheimer's. Now that he has actually made that last flight, we can take pleasure in knowing he has made a safe landing in a bright new place. I can just imagine him strolling up to St. Peter and saying, “By golly, it looks like you could use some help!"
Obit in the Anchorage Daily News: Check out the Guest Book at the bottom of the obit to see what others have to say about Cliff.
December 13, 2009
It was with sadness that I learned last week of the passing of Jay Hudson of Talkeetna, Alaska. Jay is the son of Cliff and Ollie Hudson. Cliff is the bush pilot who spotted the wreckage of our C-47 in the Susitna Valley back in 1954 in time to make a difference in whether or not we survived.
Jay followed in his father's footsteps, learning to fly at an early age and eventually establishing his own reputation for excellence. The wall at Hudson Air in Talkeetna holds citations testifying to Jay's skill and bravery.
In 2004, my son Jonathan and I sat with Jay at a table alongside Main Street in front of the Hudson family house. Jay entertained us for over an hour with a lesson on the unique politics of the little Alaskan village. It was a side of him I had not experienced, and one that I remember. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Cliff and Ollie, and to the entire the Hudson family and Jay's many friends in South Central Alaska.
The link below is to the obit, and a chance to sign the guest book for the Hudson family:
August 23, 2009
Friends die. It's a fact and we know it's going to happen sooner or later. But, it's never easy to accept. I've recorded several deaths in this journal. Nevertheless, the passing of Ed Olson on August 15 brings it home to me in a special way.
Our friendship had two phases. The first began on February 5, 1954 when we huddled together with Ed Fox on Alaska's Kesugi Ridge after being dumped from a disintegrating Air Force C-47. That bonding experience continued during our hospital stay. Then, we went our separate ways for many years.
The second phase began in 1996 when the six survivors of the C-47 crash decided to get together for a reunion. That led to other reunions, visits, and unbroken communication with the survivors bonding in a more mature and meaningful way.
I wrote in this journal last fall about the trip to Elkader that Millie and I took to visit with the Olsons. I'm glad we made that trip, for it was the last time we would see Ed. His health declined all this spring and summer. Millie and I were in West Virginia visiting relatives when Melissa, Ed's daughter informed us of his death. We drove to Elkader again, this time to attend a celebration of his life.
Ed Olson's life was one of service. The people of Elkader, Iowa turned out to show their love and appreciation. Millie summed it up pretty well when she said, "Ed made good use of his second chance."
I thought some of you would want to see the following:
May 11, 2009
Recently, I learned of the passing of my friend, John Papp, of Fairbanks, Alaska. I spoke of John in an article on this website in 2007. Millie and I were in Fairbanks that summer and John, who had a booth at the Tanana Valley Farmers Market, let me occupy the space in front of his booth to sell my books. John and his wife, Jo visited with us in Scotia in the fall of 2007. Our friendship continued after that with phone calls and letters.
A geophysicist, John went to Alaska in 1958 to work for the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey, and stayed. John and Jo carved out a special place for themselves in the Fairbanks community, among other things challenging themselves to farm in the harsh climate. Jo has even co-authored a book about farming there. The title is, "Like a Tree to the Soil: A History of Farming in Alaska’s Tanana Valley, 1903 to 1940."
I have to admit that most of my friendships are, and have been, long-term ones, with people I have known for years. Occasionally, however, I've met someone whose presence made me feel as though I had known them forever. John is one of those.
September 30, 2008
Millie and I drove to Elkader, Iowa earlier this month to visit our friends, Ed and Ruth Mary Olson. We had not seen them since 1999. Ed is one of my fellow survivors of the 1954 crash of an Air Force C-47 in Alaska.
The fact that we arrived in Elkader on 9-11 was accidental, but that “by chance” occurrence turned out to be fortunate for us. It was a day of Peace Celebration in the town, culminating in a dinner at Schera's Restaurant that evening. Featured guest speakers after the dinner were Bill and Joe Aossey from Cedar Rapids. The Aosseys are third generation Americans, and Muslims.
In the way of background, when Ed was mayor of Elkader he had, in 1984, made contact with Algerian officials concerning the fact that Elkader was named after Emir Abdel-Kader, the “George Washington” of Algeria. As I said in my book, Touching the Ancient One, the contact “ . . . led to a “sister city twinning, which in turn led to visits back and forth. It became an important public relations exchange . . . ”
Elkader is still a part of the Sister Cities organization and as such is one of the communities leading efforts to foster understanding between people of different religions. I’m convinced that tolerance and understanding is something we all need to practice in dealing with one another. Programs like the Sister Cities Organization promote that.
I was scheduled to give a talk and book signing in the Elkader Library the day after our arrival. Ed joined me there and, as I’d hoped, it turned out to be more of a “discussion” session than a talk. Ed added information about our 1954 ordeal in the mountains of Alaska, things I had forgotten and some things I never knew. Melissa Patrick, Ed and Ruth Mary’s daughter, brought her book club members to the library, adding greatly to the discussion. Many thanks to the Elkader Library for giving us that opportunity.
We were in Elkader three nights, staying at the Elkader Jailhouse Inn, owned and run by Julie Carlisle-Kane & Tim Kane along with their pup, Merlin. That, alone, was a wonderful experience. The former jail has been converted, with the administrative area now forming living quarters and the cellblock serving as a greatroom and dining area where guests can mingle. The Kanes are gracious hosts. You can visit their website by clicking here.
One last thing I feel compelled to say: Millie and I live in an area that’s spread out, both politically and geographically. It’s refreshing to see a community such as Elkader where everyone knows everyone, where elbows are rubbed, and where folks feel accountable to one another. Ed and Ruth Mary Olson are prominent in the mix. Someone (sorry, I don’t remember who) told me that Ed was “Mr. Elkader.” I’d like to suggest that it might be “Mr. and Mrs. Elkader” for the Olsons.
Click here to see a few more of our Elkader photographs.
I learned yesterday that, sadly, friend and rescuer Dr. Carl Russell passed away on August 18. “Russ,” as he was called by family and friends, was a central figure in my book, Touching the Ancient One–A True Story of Tragedy and Reunion. Major Russell was the Air Force flight surgeon who accompanied bush pilots Cliff Hudson and Don Sheldon in their rescue of crash survivors Ed Fox, Ed Olson, and me.
Our February 5, 1954 crash was not the only rescue mission on which Russ served. There were many. One earned him The Soldier's Medal for a rescue on the coast of South Korea where he had to be lowered by cable from a helicopter onto the deck of an LST. After his Air Force time, he went on to a brilliant civilian medical career in Virginia.
The survivors and rescuers of our crash didn't meet again until 1996, over forty years later. Although Don Sheldon had passed away, Dr. Russell and Cliff Hudson were at that reunion. We've kept in contact. Russ and Nancy attended another of our reunions in 2001.
A family member, Don Stoutamire, in reflecting on Russ’s interaction with our reunion group, said something that resonates with me. He said, “ . . . the paths that bring our lives together, then lead us off again, are never lost as long as our memories are shared with others.”
Click on this link to see obit for Dr. Russell:
I was delighted to see a July 30 Guestbook entry from Dave Hill, the nephew of Capt. James Hill, the highly decorated soldier who served our country during two wars. Capt Hill died in the Alaskan C-47 crash of 1954, the tragedy that is the central focus of my book, Touching the Ancient One–A True Story of Tragedy and Reunion.
Since our 1996 initial reunion of survivors and family members of victims of the crash, many more relatives and friends have surfaced, and continue to do so. Some of that happened as a result of the magazine article that appeared in the September 23, 1996 issue of People. The process continues as my book circulates. There is also a wonderful thing that happens as connections are made and strengthened in and among families that had known nothing of one another just a few years ago. To cite just one: Keith Betscher, son of the pilot, and David West-Watson, son of a British doctor were both too young to remember their fathers. Now, more than fifty years later, they are fast friends and visit each other across the Atlantic Ocean. Both have visited the crash site on Kesugi Ridge, which is now within the boundaries of Denali State Park.
Another young man, whom I’ll not name at this time since I don’t have permission to do so, is right now on his way to Alaska to hike to the site of the crash. He’s also a nephew of another of the victims. He’s promised me an account of his trek for this website. I look forward to that.
And thanks to Dave Hill for posting his letter.