Frank Mansfield: September 12, 1921- August 1, 2017
Below, a tribute and letter I was asked to write to my friend and former neighbor back in April 2011. Frank passed away yesterday but I would not change a thing I wrote about him back in 2011.
"Old men forget; all shall be forgot, but he'll remember with advantages what feats he did that day... gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here and hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks who fought with us..." Wm Shakespeare --Henry V;; act 4;; scene 3 --King Henry V addresses the army on the day of Agincourt.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011, is a Veterans' Day of sorts for my friend and neighbor on Furches Street, Frank Mansfield and 99 other Triangle area WWII veterans.
I am honored to have been invited to write a letter of thanks to Frank.
Tomorrow, he and the other World War II veterans will be taken to Washington DC to view the very long overdue memorial to the men and women who served in WWII. Triangle Flight of Honor sponsors accompanying the remaining WWII veterans, providing each a "guardian" to assist with wheel chairs or other needs. Charter flights take about 100 veterans at a time.
The "Greatest Generation" is now all over 80. If you would like to help as a sponsor, a guardian, or enroll a veteran for one of the flights this Spring, please visit www.triangleflightofhonor.com . And, if nothing else, you can simply publicize the project, or volunteer to do as I have done, to write a letter of thanks to one of the veterans which is given to them on the flight up to Washington, DC.
Those of you who are familiar with my two and half years of work project managing the North Carolina WWI, WWII, and Korean War Veterans' Memorial on Capitol Square in Raleigh, and later, my designing and supervising the installation of the "REQUIEM," exhibition, a history of combat photographers in southeast Asia put together by Horst Faas, Tim Page, and the Eastman Kodak Museum, will not be surprised to find the Flight of Honor Project is of interest to me.
About Frank: he'll be 90 this September 12. "No getting around it, that's old," he told me earlier this year. He's never felt old before--and I doubt he will at 90. It was only 2 years ago I vociferously dissuaded him from driving to Boston in the winter. He works daily in his small but neat wood shop, making unbelievably detailed models from wood; his steam engines and road scrapers in which all the rivets, hydraulics, and wheels are made of varieties of wood.I append a few photos of the hundreds of models he's made--remember, most of the parts work, even though made of wood. He's active in his church; he visits the elderly and shut ins (he visited me when I was in the hospital in January) still cuts his grass, gardens and --until I fussed at him last Spring when he fell off a ladder cleaning gutters--even climbed on top of his tool shed, just to make sure the shingles were clean and "squared away."
Frank's an old Marine. He's the real thing.
There is no machismo boast in him; no super patriot in him; no manhood wannabe in him. He has a small USMC sticker on his car; a two inch USMC sticker on his front door, and he flies the American flag from his front porch every day the weather's good.
He has survived the Boston Home for Abandoned Children ("My first memory," he told me, "is at about age 9 standing in the great entry hall of the orphanage. I have no idea what came before.") After passing through several kind foster homes, at age 20, he joined the United States Marine Corps in early 1942. With a new trade school diploma in drafting blue prints for light aircraft and a slight build, a recruiting officer thought he'd be perfect for the Marine Air Corps. Frank was trained as a radio man/rear gunner in a Dauntless Dive Bomber.
Discharged after the war in Cherry Point, NC, he was one of two men in his original training company to survive the war without a wound or worse. In wartime, the training companies numbered nearly 300 men. The Imperial Japanese Army and Navy had its chance at him during the entire Solomon's Campaign and beyond.
One Thursday night last August, I looked in on Frank. He'd become quite the opera buff it seems. We watched a lavish production of "Turandot" on PBS. "Come back next week," Frank invited, "The program is "South Pacific" live from Lincoln Center."
It was a terrific production of "South Pacific" and Frank commented he'd know a lot of those types of guys. What really excited him, though, was the set. The entire back of the stage was covered with gigantic map of the Solomon Islands, with Guadalcanal in the Southeast corner. "I served, there, there, and there! I think I was there, too." Frank excitedly indicated each new island as his service and US forces moved northwest.
Intermission came and Frank went off to his home office. A few minutes later, he emerged with two books in hand. He dropped the first one in my lap. It was a King James New Testament, its red leather cover worn pliant as chamois cloth. "I carried that all through the service," he nodded. "Look at the back page." There, in a neat draftsman's hand, in ink so old it had faded to walnut brown, were listed dates and places Frank was stationed from the day of his enlistment.
"What do these numbers and odd words mean?" I asked as I worked my way down his list of dates.
"I don't know," Frank shrugged. "We were not always told where we were really flying out of. We just knew our own location and airfield by a code name. If the enemy captured us, we couldn't even be tortured to death to reveal useful information."
"After the war, you didn't go back, look those places up and fill them in?" I asked.
"I didn't see the point. 65, 67 years ago I didn't think I'd ever forget those places."
"Frank, you ever think about going back to visit some of those places? I hear Bougainville is a very comfortable resort area."
Frank smiled. "It sure wasn't last time I was there."
"I kept a diary," Frank dropped the larger book in my lap, a sturdy brown cardboard folder containing about 90 pages of single spaced typed pages. Frank lost several of his fingers years after the war in an industrial accident. With a mangled right hand, I had never thought of him as a typist. "The CO said if I wasn't on guard duty or flying and all the regular work was done I could come in after hours and type up my diary. I'm not much of a writer," he apologized, "I just tried to keep an accurate account of what happened."
I was stunned. This 20 year old product of an orphanage and foster homes, typed with near perfect precision, his simple, direct prose, so unadorned and honest it, luminous in its clarity and cadence.
Leafing through it rapidly, I saw stretches of dates missing. I asked about the gaps.
"We got ahead of ourselves in some places.' Frank explained. "The planes had a limited range, so new airbases were built practically on the front lines as we advanced. One place we flew out of, the Japanese held the end of our runway. Another place, we had no machine guns, infantry support, nothing! We slept in the planes so if the enemy attacked we could gun the engines, wag the rudders back and forth and use the planes' machine guns to defend ourselves. Places like that, CO's didn't worry about having typewriters."
After discharge, like most vets, Frank came back and uncomplainingly set to work building the second half of the twentieth century.
A Tarheel girl he'd met had an uncle with an industrial supply business. Despite a thick Boston accent he never lost, Frank was offered a job there, spending nearly 50 years becoming a top salesman in eastern North Carolina. After 30 years, the first marriage fell apart and a few years after that, Frank married the love of his life, Sara. Until cancer took her several years ago, they had 26 happy years together.
I stopped by Frank's tonight. I offered him a ride to RDU Airport for the 8AM departure to DC and to pick him up about 8PM when they return. No thanks, Frank told me. He is driving his Buick out to the airport and then drive home on his return. There was no point in arguing with him.
I left him a letter in his coat pocket. All the vets are to have letters of thanks to open and read on the flight to DC thanking them for their service and sacrifice.
I invite you to join me in wishing Frank well and thanking him in the letter below. If you have time and gratitude hanging a bit too heavy on your hands, I suggest you write a letter for a vet on a future flight.
You have been a great friend and support, a kind man who I have never heard curse or say a bad word about anybody.
You are as close to being a good man as any I know.
The Marines were looking for a few good men, and, well, there you were. This is not a thank you for the use of your shop or a trip to lunch. It is not a thank you for what you've done for me lately.
This is to thank you for what you did for me and millions of younger Americans, Japanese, Germans, Australians, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Norwegians and countless others before we were born, who are free today because America had a few good men.
There were no trumpets and drums—and still you went. You had lives ahead of you—and still you went
You would go places nobody had ever heard of—and still you went.
You were promised friendly fire, bombs, drowning, or a long plunge from the sky
—yet still you went.
You were promised boredom, terror, and confusion—yet still you went. You were promised a great unknown—yet still you went.
Frank, today, at the memorial, if you can think of some of the others, pilots, mechanics, sailors, you remember who went—and now are gone—please give them my heartfelt thanks as well.
Your grateful friend and neighbor, Joel Haas