2016 Nebraskans of World War II Scholarship Essay by Rachel Duden

A quiet and honorable man with a great sense of humor is how my mother would describe her father. Though my grandfather passed away over 15 years ago, he left a wealth of information for his family, both in his stories and description of his early life and an invaluable diary from his time in the service. It is from these resources I am writing my essay.

My grandfather, Cecil Plummer, was the second youngest of his rural Nebraska family. As his siblings had family and work obligations, Grandpa Plummer felt it was his duty to represent the family by enlisting as an Aviation Cadet in December 1942. He was called to active duty in March 1943. He trained in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Louisiana and Georgia and eventually shipped out from New York City on the Queen Elizabeth in August of 1944. He initially arrived in England but was soon stationed in France with the 397 Bomb Group/597 Squadron. He flew 40 missions between September 1944 and April 1945 as a Bombardier/Navigator in B-26 Marauder bombers. He celebrated V – E Day in the Netherlands, eventually flew back to the United States and was back in his hometown of Tekamah, NE in July 1945.

My grandfather’s diary reveals much about the monotony of daily life while on active duty. There were days of being prepared and ready to fly, only to have missions scrubbed due to weather, mechanical issues and other reasons. It also reveals his pride in successful missions and the value he placed on letters from home. Each entry notes the day’s activities, the meals if notably good or bad, and each piece of mail he received. One pivotal day, my Grandpa Plummer flew with a different crew than he normally was assigned to. His regular crew was scheduled to fly but crashed on take-off with no survivors. The diary shows my grandfather’s no nonsense, straight-forward manner in his entry that day.

Wednesday, February 14, 1945—On schedule to fly “Gee” operator with Capt. Ellis leading “C” Flight, 2nd box PFF. Quite a mess: three runs at target. Our flight finally dropped visual on “target of opportunity.” Quite a bit of flak. Ted, Steve & crew went down on takeoff. No Survivors. No Mail.

The only other reference to what had to be a tragic personal loss to my grandfather is that he attended a rosary for those lost in this crash on takeoff a few days later. This illustrates my grandpa’s strength and the quiet poise he possessed for the rest of his life. He suffered what had to be a great loss and yet was in no position to dwell on it or let it affect the remaining 18 missions he flew. He still was able to “get the job done.”

World War II was of great significance to our country and each individual American community. The U.S. was able to preserve our own freedoms and secure freedom to those oppressed by our enemies. However, WW II made smaller, more personal impacts on my grandfather’s family. His service to his country is a source of pride for his immediate family and his descendants. His enlistment and subsequent training meant my grandfather received some college education before he left for Europe, education that none of his siblings had. My grandmother had the opportunity to live and work outside the small community she grew up in while living with grandpa during his training. His absence had an impact on his parents, siblings and extended family. It gave them a personal connection to those fighting overseas. Writing letters and sending packages to him gave them a purpose in the war. The way he handled himself while in the service and forever after was easily described as “honorable”, making him a great example to all. He did not brag about his exploits but was always eager to share a bit of French or German or show you his silk navigation maps, if asked. His trips with my grandmother to 397 Bombardier reunions were something he looked forward to, and he stayed in touch with many of his fellow servicemen.

World War II impacted small town Nebraska, as well. Following the war, Grandpa Plummer was very active in the American Legion, first in Tekamah and especially in Emerson at the Legion Post #60. He continued his service through participating in the Honor Guard at military funerals, in parades and through countless other civic activities the Legion Post sponsored or participated in. My grandmother became active in the American Legion Auxiliary and so, then, did my mother and her siblings in the Jr. Auxiliary.

My grandfather’s dedication and duty, both during war time and back at home, served to inspire others to live honorably. Though my grandfather was a great man, he was not so very different from every other veteran who returned from World War II. They all truly were the Greatest Generation.