News: A legacy of valor: McConnell Reserve unit honors WWII veteran, Air Force heritage
Story by 1st Lt. Zachary Anderson
WICHITA, Kan. - A routine trip to a local grocery store turned into a brush with living Air Force history for the commander of McConnell's Air Force Reserve unit last month. Col. Mark S. Larson, commander of the 931st Air Refueling Group, was searching the store aisles for snacks before heading home to watch a football game. But among the pretzels, chips and soda, the colonel ended up discovering a living part of Air Force heritage.
"I was walking through the store and noticed an older gentleman wearing a World War II veteran hat," said Larson. "Whenever I see one of those guys, I try to talk to them because there are fewer and fewer of them left and they all have a story to tell about their time in the service."
Larson made his way over to the gentleman, introduced himself, and asked the man about his experience in the war.
"Like most of those guys, he didn't talk much at first. That is just how that generation was," said Larson. "Those guys went over, did their job, and then came back home and reintegrated with their communities without thinking much about it. That's exactly how he was. But I kept asking him questions because I really wanted to hear his story."
After a few more questions, Larson said he finally began to get a bit more information from the individual.
"He shared with me that he had been a member of the Army Air Corps," said Larson. "That really piqued my interest, because that meant he was one of my own and a part of Air Force heritage."
As it turned out, the individual to whom Larson was speaking, Mr. Adrian Marlin, had an incredible story of air combat and service to country.
According to newspaper records, Marlin enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943 and soon thereafter was sent overseas to England where he served as a tail gunner on a B-17 flying fortress. He and his aircrew were part of a massive Allied offensive, flying bombing missions over targets in Germany throughout the war. In all, Marlin completed 35 combat missions.
It was on one of these missions that Marlin survived one of the most harrowing experiences an aircrew member can endure when he and his crew were shot down during a bombing run in Nov. 1944.
According newspaper accounts from the time, Marlin's B-17, the "Dallas Dottie," was on its way to bomb oil targets at Meresburg, Germany, when its number two engine was knocked out by anti-aircraft flak. Despite this, the crew tried to carry on with their mission by flying on only three engines, until the plane's number one engine began sputtering. At that point, the pilot, 2nd Lt. Sam Schwab, made the decision to turn around and fly back to friendly territory.
After flying for more than two hours on only two engines, the plane's number four engine began failing as well. The pilot made the decision to attempt a crash landing in a field in Belgium. As the crippled aircraft descended into the field, the left wing struck a post in the ground. On impact, the plane ripped through a fence and came to rest in a ditch. The left wing caught fire and the plane broke in two.
Quoted in a newspaper account of the incident, a then 20-year-old Marlin said, "The concussion and shock when we hit was almost unbelievable. We were thrown all around the radio room. We immediately took inventory see that we were all alright."
Luckily, the entire crew survived the incident. Within minutes of the crash landing, the crew was assisted by Belgians, who helped them make their way to a first-aid post, from which they were eventually sent back to their home base in England.
After hearing Marlin's story, Larson said he wanted to find a way to say thank you to the veteran for his service and sacrifice.
"I immediately thought of our military awards banquet," said Larson. "I asked him if he and his wife would be interested in attending the banquet as my guests of honor."
On the night of the banquet, Larson introduced Marlin and his wife of 67 years, Neveline, and shared Marlin's story with the audience.
"Adrian Marlin is a part of the heritage of the Air Force," said Larson. "What we have today grew out of the Army Air Corps. When we think of who the pioneers of aviation were and we look back at the people we look up to, it's him and the men like him."
Larson then presented Marlin with a trophy as a token of appreciation for his service, and Marlin received a long standing ovation from the more than 350 airmen and guests in attendance.
Marlin said he was truly touched by the gesture and the opportunity to interact with the current generation of airmen.
"It was real nice," said Marlin. "It was something new for me, and I really, really appreciated it. I think the Air Force is in very good hands. We have a lot of good airmen out there."
"It made me feel good to see how much people appreciated that," said Larson. "They don't know him, but they have a sense of where we came from as an Air Force, and hold an appreciation for the history and the sacrifice that is there, and they are proud of that heritage. The whole reason I brought him here was to honor him and his service, and to rekindle in our own minds that sense of honor, duty, and dedication."
Larson said it's that appreciation of history and heritage that first prompted him to speak to Marlin.
"We in the Air Force may not have a 200-year history, but we do have history," said Larson. "One of the most important things we need our airmen to understand is that we are the Air Force we are today because of the people who had some foresight, took risks, established the Army Air Corps and eventually the Air Force. Today we all benefit from their hard work and sacrifice."
He continued, "Remembering the past gives you pride in your heritage, and I think it helps motivate you to do good things, to take pride in your duty and try to do it even better. It inspires you to take what you were given and leave it even better."
It's rare a rare occasion that a chance encounter in such an ordinary place, a grocery store, will lead to meeting such an extraordinary individual with such a remarkable story. Larson said it's a lesson that airmen should always take advantage of the opportunity to speak with and learn from those who have served before.
"Never, ever pass up that opportunity," said Larson. "At the very minimum, anytime we see a veteran, we at least owe them a thank you for their service. Ten years from now, we won't have our World War II veterans around anymore. Never let the opportunity go by to talk with someone who can give you that perspective."
This work, A legacy of valor: McConnell Reserve unit honors WWII veteran, Air Force heritage, by Capt. Zachary Anderson, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.