Army Air Corps pilots hold final reunion at Lewis-McChord
October 8, 2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (Oct. 8, 2012) -- Roger Maraist was 7 days old when his father, 1st Lt. Roger Jamison, died in a bombing run over Tunisia during World War II. It wasn't until a 12th Bombardment Group reunion, Sept. 28, at McChord Field on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, that Maraist learned an interesting fact about his dad.
"I just found out today that my father flew out of McChord Field doing submarine patrols along the coast," Maraist said. "I didn't know he was up here."
The 12th Bombardment group was formed at McChord Field in January 1941 as part of the Army Air Corps, and included the 81st, 82nd, 83rd and 434th squadrons. The reunion welcomed back a few original members of the group, like 91-year-old retired Lt. Col. Jim Miller, a number of widows, friends and well-wishers.
Individuals from other affiliations and groups, like the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing Association, also attended.
Nicknamed "Beaver" for his eagerness to volunteer for combat missions, Miller flew 43 B-25 bombing missions in 11 months in the European Theater, mostly over North Africa.
He was also close friends with Jamison. The pair graduated from flight school together and received their wings March 16, 1942, the same day Jamison married Maraist's mother, Iola. By July 1942, Miller and Jamison were sailing to Egypt.
What Jamison didn't know was that his wife was pregnant. In letters Maraist recently found and transcribed, he learned how his mother and grandmother broke the news to Jamison that he was going to be a father. In the letters, Maraist also uncovered his father's feelings, trepidations and excitement about returning home from war.
"I've spent the last three months typing every letter into a journal, so I've been on this mental journey for over three months," Maraist said. "But I've learned so much in the last two days."
As the attendees traveled back into their memories, they took a brief bus tour of McChord Field, which passed by the 62nd Airlift Wing Headquarters and several hangars before stopping at Heritage Hill overlooking the flight line. As modern military aircraft took off and landed, 12th Bombardment Group members and their relatives and friends strolled through the static display of vintage aircraft. From there, the group headed to the McChord Air Museum before taking lunch at the McChord Field Collocated Club.
That's where Maraist shared the story of his dad, which included his unlikely connection to Miller. A cablegram notified the squadron that Jamison's son had been born, but he was buckled into his seat in the cockpit of a plane, about to take off on a mission.
Miller ran onto the flight line, shouting the news to Jamison over the propeller noise that his wife had given birth to a boy. Jamison died on that mission, steering his damaged plane into the Mediterranean Sea after saving the lives of three crew members who parachuted into an American convoy on the ground. He received a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.
"The same day he found out he was a father was the day he died," Maraist said.
His mother later married another Air Force pilot who adopted Maraist, and through the years there wasn't much talk of Jamison.
Maraist had no idea where his father had been killed until the reunion, when he picked up a copy of "The Earthquakers," a book that chronicles the 12th Bombardment Group. Nicknamed the Earthquakers by the Germans because their dropped bombs made the ground shake, the book included an account of the mission resulting in Jamison's death.
"I had never seen it in print before," Maraist said.
He called the reunion "emotionally overwhelming," and said he was hesitant to attend.
"I felt I would be out of place," Maraist said. "But I'm learning so much from other people who are on journeys themselves."
The event at McChord Field marked the last time the 12th Bombardment Group will officially reunite, ending a string of annual gatherings since 1966.
"There's just not that many surviving members anymore," explained Capt. Dustin Dere, 10th Airlift Squadron Mobility chief.
Retired Staff Sgt. Charles Tucker, an aerial gunner and navigator who fought in World War II and the Korean War, was the only 81st Squadron member to attend the reunion.
"It's kind of sobering for me to realize I'm the only one here, although there are some widows here, too," Tucker said.
Even though there will be no more reunions, Jim Miller will still return to his military roots every year in his hometown of Gilbert, Ariz., when he dresses in his uniform and rides in the Independence Day parade in an Army jeep. And he still has goals.
"My mom lived to be 96 and a half years old," Miller said. "I'm trying to beat her record."