“He left an impression”

 Jonesborough resident plans trip to France for dad’s WWII honors

Published in Herald & Tribune Sept. 3, 2014 issue

A Jonesborough resident will travel to France the second week of September to attend a special ceremony for his father who served in the U.S. Army in World War II.

“It is really an honor to have a street named after your dad,” Bill Chapman said.

Chapman will leave for France with his youngest son, brother and his wife and two children, on Sept. 7. The following Sunday, Sept. 14, the ceremony will take place in honor of his father, Robert Chapman.

“He left an impression and a lot of memorabilia behind,” he said of his father. The memorabilia included such items as his wallet and flight jacket.

Chapman said a group of WWII historians who dig up wreckages found the memorabilia left behind, which will be used for the presentation.

His father was raised in central California, attended San Jose State University on a basketball scholarship before leaving school in 1942 when he decided he wanted to serve his country and be a part of the war effort.

Chapman said his father had wanted to fly his whole life, but results from a physical showed that he was color blind. That prohibited him from flying an airplane.

“He wanted to stay in the Army Air Corps and become a radio operator,” Chapman said, adding that his father was assigned to a B-26 Mark Marauder named Pistol Packing Mama that held a crew of six.

The crew had a year of training before they were sent overseas. By Aug. 6, 1944, Chapman said, they had lost their bombardier, and a new man was assigned to the plane.

“They were supposed to have flown a mission on the sixth,” he said.

The new guy had only been trained on a B-17, Chapman said, so his father who had become a bit of jack of all trades, spent an hour the they were waiting for clearance to fly because of the weather to teach the new man how to drop bombs out of the B-26.

The crew flew the mission without a hitch, but on Aug. 9, 1944, the tables turned even though the sky was crystal blue that day. The airplane took a hit right behind where Robert was sitting. The airplane began to spin slowly as the pilot gave a signal to evacuate the airplane.

Robert and another crew member exited the airplane.

“My dad was parachuting down towards the French countryside,” Chapman said. Bullets bullets being shot by the Germans were going past him. “He managed to get down without being shot.”

Robert landed in a farmer’s field in a little town in France, Gui Pavas.

Chapman said some French farmers picked up his father and took him back to the farmhouse and hid him there for a better part of a week while the Germans were looking for him.

The other gentleman who exited the plane broke his leg upon landing. The Germans picked him up and took him to hospital to reset the leg before abandoning him at the hospital.

Robert was turned over to the French underground and was kept for a period of a week. Chapman said once you were taken by the French underground you were released from the service after returning to the states.

His father spent two more weeks in the region, however, because he did not want to miss any of the war.

In November 1944, Robert was released of his duty. In 1974, he died of a massive coronary.

“When I heard some of the stories, I was too young to really comprehend exactly what he was saying,” Chapman said. “I never really got a chance to probe in great detail.”

Fortunately, Chapman had the opportunity to connect with the man who was the bombardier on the airplane. He said he written a book about the events.

“Being able to talk to one of the guys in the flight crew was particularly gratifying,” Chapman said.

He said he heard that his father was the happy-go-lucky jokester of the crew, which is how he lived most of his life.

While Chapman is in France, he will have the opportunity to visit with the farmer’s family, Abily, who took in his father.

Although this will be the first time meeting the family, he said his son visited the family in France three years ago.

“They had 200 people turn out to welcome him,” he said.

A re-creation was done while his son was in France of his grandfather in the back of a jeep when he got picked up. Chapman said they took an Army surplus jeep and painted it with the same numbers as the one his father was in all those years ago.

He said his son also received a key to the town. The son is named Robert, after his grandfather.

When Chapman’s father was shot down, there was a woman on the farm, who was 17 years old at the time, who was also present when his son visited three years ago.

“The Abily family said he really loved wine and eggs,” Chapman said.

‘We believe in our country’

I was excited when my editor assigned me this article a few weeks ago. Due to my involvement in the nonprofit organization, Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc., I have a very special place in my heart for all the men and women who have served this country. I say this because I have talked with many veterans because of my involvement with the organization and have a better understanding of what they have gone through, as well as what their family has gone through.

I really enjoyed talking with Councilwoman Nora Ellen about Operation Welcome Home, a program she brough to Chandler, Arizona. I was shocked and excited when she sent me this email:

“I want to express my deep heart-felt gratitude for the outstanding article you have written about Operation Welcome Home. I appreciate the article was on the front page and so well written in your description of the purpose of the program. I know we had people come to the ceremony Monday because of your timely article.
I am cc-ing Rep. J.D. Mesnard in this email to thank you for giving him the credit due of encouraging me to bring this program to Chandler. We are both very grateful to you.”
She left me speechless . . .

Operation Welcome Home honors Chandler veterans

Published in April 19, 2014 SanTan Sun News

U.S. Army Reserves Maj. Rob Polston has left Chandler once since he moved to the area 10 years ago. It was for a 15-month activation that included six months in Afghanistan for Operation Joint Endeavor.

Chandler resident Maj. Rob Polston spent six months in Afghanistan with Operation Joint Endeavor in 2012.

Chandler resident Maj. Rob Polston
spent six months in Afghanistan with
Operation Joint Endeavor in 2012.

“It was tough to leave my wife and kids,” he says of the experience in 2012. “My son was 2 years old and my daughter was 3 months old. That was a little challenging.”

Polston is among the handful of veterans who have been honored by Operation Welcome Home, an initiative introduced by the City of Chandler last year.

When Councilwoman Nora Ellen took office in January 2013, her goal was to bring the program to Chandler. Her son, Rep. J.D. Mesnard, brought the program to her attention. She says the program is important because veterans and their families sacrifice so much for Americans’ lives and freedoms.

“I want to honor and recognize that,” Ellen says.

She says some of the soldiers do not make it back home, while others see their friends die or get injured, and face traumatic situations themselves.

“They are our heroes,” Ellen says.

The program has a special place in Ellen’s heart. There is a long line of veterans in her family, including her father, who served in World War II. Five nieces and nephews as well as a brother-in-law served in the military at the same time.

Debuting initiative

The first Operation Welcome Home took place on Nov. 4, 2013, honoring four veterans, including Polston, attracting about 300 onlookers.

“It was overwhelming,” Polston says.

He heard about the program through the Chandler Veterans Memorial; he sits on its fundraising board.

“I found out through the board that Chandler was looking for veterans who have returned from overseas,” Polston says.

Nominees for Operation Welcome Home must be a Chandler resident and a veteran who served away from home during the last two or three years or are leaving soon. Four veterans are honored during each ceremony.

“We want to make it very personalized for them, so it is not a mass ceremony,” Ellen says.

The evening was special to Polston.

On Nov. 4, he arrived at a meeting place, only to be greeted by a limo waiting for all of them. The Patriot Guard Riders said a prayer before the veterans were escorted to the Chandler City Council Chambers.

Polston was overwhelmed as he stepped out of the limo in uniform, seeing hundreds of people cheering them on and waving American flags.

“It’s something you never really expect; you don’t think you really deserve,” he explains. “No veteran chooses to go to a combat zone or deploy overseas because they think they are going to get the recognition. We go to serve our country and do something that we feel like we need to do. We believe in our country. We know we are going to leave family at home. You understand that and take that into account. To be appreciated for it publicly was humbling and unexpected.”

Once the crowd greeted the veterans, the ceremony continued inside the chambers.

Polston received more than $300 in gift cards and goodies before being treated to dinner at Floridino’s Pizza and Pasta.

“It is really cool to be honored in that way,” he says. “I want to thank the City of Chandler and the council members, especially Councilwoman Nora Ellen. I look forward to honoring more veterans for serving overseas, especially those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Ellen says the support the council receives from the community enables the governing body to provide gifts for the veterans.

“Some of them can really use the money,” she says. “They come back and some of them have a hard time finding a job.”

Polston works at Intel as the program manager in its efforts to recruit veterans. He still serves as a major in the Army reserves.

The next ceremony, which the community is invited to attend, will start outside the chambers at 6 p.m. Monday, April 21.

Nomination forms, as well as sponsorship forms, can be found at www. chandleraz.gov/patriotism.