Remembering Hickory Area Heroes
This is Homer Wellborn. Homer came to our July Veterans gathering with grandson Marcus and family. If you look closely, his hat is from the 8th FS of the 49th FG. They were known as the Black Sheep. The 49th produced America's Ace of Aces, Richard Bong. Homer was a S/Sgt and brought a host of photographs. He was at Darwin, Australia where George Preddy was before heading to the 352nd FG in the UK. He actually went to school with George!! Homer joined the AAC on 12 May 1941 and his date of separation was 28 Aug 1945. He was in prior to US hostilities and served up until the end. It is amazing how much our guys in the Pacific Theatre had to suffer after priority had been given to the European Theatre of Operations. Homer's pictures sure proved how primitive some of their 'homes' were. As they went island hopping as the US advanced they fought off monsoons, malaria, snakes, and other nasty critters as well as the Japanese. This didn't even include scavaging parts, fuel and other items to keep their war machine running!!! Homer's favorite aircraft is the P-38 Lightning as you might very well guess. It served the 49th FG brilliantly!!! We hope to see Homer again very soon as he was part of a unique piece of WW II history. I wish I could have spoken with him more.
We recently celebrated Homer Wellborn's 91st birthday at the museum. Grandson Marcus called me and we threw it together!! Homer served with the 49th FG from start to finish and it was a very fun day!! Homer actually attended Guilford Community College with George Preddy, who wound up in the 49th as well!! Homer and family came all the way from Wilkeboro!!
Some of the museum cast at Homer's birthday party! Bob Morgan donated an excellent grill and we have made fine use of it this summer!!
Homer also brought in the menu from Thanksgiving Dinner in 1941. He has several items that he has saved from his history.
Art is a former P-47 and P-51 driver. He has become a great friend as well as his family members who bring him out everytime we do something. His enthusiasm is fantastic. We call him Rooster because he looks so much like John Wayne!! When he wears his eyepatch he is a natural for Rooster Cogburn.
Here is Warren Shook!! Humanitarian, friend, and unbelievable witness to history!!! Warren was a paratrooper with the 101st 502nd PIR I company in WW II. He was in the first three planes that flew over DDAY on the Eurpean Continent. He was in the left C-47 in the FIRST wave!!! His aircraft was hit and the aircrew were killed. They jumped at 300 feet at over 225mph as the a/c began to crash!!!! Warren went through a small tree as his parachute opened. He landed flat on his back and bounced a time or two!!! The mines strapped to his shins and canteen were ripped from his body in the ensuing violent landing. Upon landing, he saw tracers flashing 8 inches in front of his face. He took out the machine gun nest moments later and continued fighting. On June 11th they came to Carentan. Warren single-handedly wiped out two German companies with his trusty Thompson under the direction of Lt. Col. Robert Cole and was later wounded on Purple Heart Lane. He was placed on a sretcher and fell asleep. He awoke at a hospital in Great Britain!!! He estimates he had one hour sleep in the five days prior to his injury!!!! After healing he rejoined his troops and saw Marketgarden, survived the Battle of the Bulge at Bastogne, and overran concentration camps. He finally wound up at the Eagle's Nest and searching for SS troops hidng in the woods. If you have seen Band of Brothers, then you have witnessed through film what Warren actually experienced!! After Carentan, Cole literally walked Warren directly up to Ike and personally recommended him for the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions!!! Cole won it for Carentan after he was killed in Holland. Warren may be the most decorated soldier in NC or the whole Southeast!!! He is nothing short of awesome and is a national treasure. Nowadays at age 85, he takes care of 70 something people in Lenoir. If you see this man grace our facility, PLEASE talk to him and let him know you appreciate him. He was a Special Forces machine and expert on all of their weapons. It is a miracle he is still here to share his amazing story with us. The amazing thing is his humility which most warriors share that have been at the VERY TIP OF THE SPEAR!!! I can only imagine all of the things this man has seen!!! Ever wonder why we are the greatest nation ever? Look in his eyes in this photograph and you'll see it!!!!!!!
Pete was on a LST at D-Day and continued up to the end of the war all over the European coast. He is our comedian and is a hoot!! Bus risked life and limb in the Merchant Marine as well. Above on the right is Pete Lail's LST-506.
Here is an one from the archives! Standing in front of Hank Avery's mighty A-1E Skyraider preparing to head up to Oceana NAS for their open house, this was in the heyday of the Sabre Society! Kregg, Kyle, and Tommy put together the entire static warbird display for the show. These were the halcyon days where we were learning with each step we took and making awesome contacts in the process. From left to right, me (Kyle Kirby), Hank Avery, Tommy Hennessee, "Doc" Sinden, Kregg Kirby, and Greg Deal. The Skyraider was a brute and carried all six of us up to the show. The center seats in the "blue room" could be turned fore or aft!! We had them aft for this flight. Doc was a naval aviator and flew the A-1, FJ-3, and F-8 in service. He still hasn't lost his touch!! Kregg and I were in the aft facing row and some of Doc's "tricks" could really take you by surprise!!! You should have seen the maintenance guys run out from under the F-14s and F-18s when we arrived and folded the wings up!!! I just can't say enough about Hank Avery. This man flew SBDs and R4Ds in WW II. He and Paul Cash (B-24 driver) started Silver Creek airport in Morganton. When we were doing the airshow, Hank's aircraft were always there (and there were several including his equally awesome TBM) and he never charged us a dime! He was always behind us each step of the way and enough can't be said of his support and graciousness. He passed just after our F-14 arrived and I think he realized we were on our way! There are very few people you will ever meet in a lifetime of Hank Avery's stature. We miss you Hank. Our current facility at the terminal building is dedicated to him. It was also a wonderful opportunity to fly in his aircraft and he allowed it willingly. Also, he let a rookie like me mask off the numbers and markings that adorned the Skyraider. It is now at the Cavanaugh Museum and still wears Hank's colors! Also, I have to give great props to Greg Deal. He is literally a genius and kept all of Hank's birds in tip-top shape. He has helped us get several of our aircraft and I would put him up against anybody for skill!! He always pitched in and helped fix several aircraft that needed attention at our airshows!! Also, Kregg and Tommy were the principal 'plane-getters' for Warbirds Over Hickory. Those were just incredible days back then. To give you an idea of Greg's skill, he constructed "dummy" 5-inch rockets for the A-1 and they knocked off a lot of speed because of their drag. Current Museum Director Jeff Wofford flew Frank Drendel's T-28 up and beat us there! Many wonderful things lay ahead for us here at the museum, but many wonderful things also lurk in the not too distant past. Geez, I wish I still looked this young! I think this was in the late 90s when this shot was snapped. One night in our trailer, Hank, Paul Cash, Max Freeman, and a few other gathered to discuss the museum. This was in the early nineties. Max had trained pilots in WW II and flew B-29s in Korea. He and Korean ace Dolph Overton were nearly court-martialed together for breaking some pretty stupid rules. Paul Cash flew B-24s and was shot down to become a POW, where he had some very interesting cell-mates. It was pretty rarified air to be a part of this meeting and have their support!! These guys started talking about their experiences before they got in the war. I'll never forget Hank and Max talking about a guy named "Crab" Lail. He was the first local friend they new who was killed in action. He was lost in a B-17 in the Eighth Air Force. Our direct heritage with the museum includes some really influential locals who helped shape our very airport we call home. Max has passed too and leaves a great legacy behind. Our friend Joe Miller knew Max well through the Quiet Birdmen and he lived in Winston-Salem. We have a wonderful priviledge here in what we do, but we also have a lot of responsibilty. It has been a very fun ride thus far!!! Farewell Hank, I hope we can live up to the wonderful times you helped provide!
Joe Icard grew up just below the Pepsi plant on Duke Street in Granite Falls. Not only did Joe become an ace in WW II, he did it with one of the most famed outfits of the war. Joe flew with the 56th Fighter Group of the 8th Air Force in the United Kingdom. The group was known as "Zempke's Wolfpack" after their legendary CO "Hub" Zempke. The 56th was the first 8th AF unit to get the mighty P-47 Thunderbolt. Not only that, they were the only unit in the 8th to fly it throughout the war. After Gen. James Doolittle mandated a change to consolidate all 8th AF fighter units on the new P-51 Mustang, the 56th said they wanted to keep their P-47s. They finished the war flying the "hot-rod", 470+ mph P-47M. The unit shot down more enemy aircraft than any other 8th AF unit. Not only that, they produced the highest scoring aces in the ETO. Frances "Gabby" Gabreski and Robert Johnson lead the way with 28 kills apiece!!! These are just two of the legendary pilots of the unit. I encourage you to do a little further digging on your own to find out more. Now for Joe Icard.
Joe Walter Icard completed Army Air Forces pilot training on 1 Nov. 1942 and was warranted a flight officer. He transitioned into fighter aircraft and was assigned to the 62nd Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group, on 27 Aug. 1943. When Joe arrived in England, the unit was flying from Halesham. They flew their first "ramrod" to Germany on 3 Nov. They were escorting bombers to Wilhelmshaven. It took Joe eight days to get his first kill. On a withdrawal mission from Munster, his White Flight bounced four FW-190s. Three of the four enemy fighters were destroyed with Joe claiming one.
Joe was soon promoted to second lieutenant. It took a while to get his next kill although he flew consistently. Joe damaged a FW-190 near Albert, France on 6 Feb. 1944. Flying his assigned P-47, coded LM*I, he downed a Me-109 near Cambrai, and followed with another 109 downed near Bierset on the 11th. The period known as "Big Week" took place between Feb. 20th through the 25th. The plan was for the Allies to have a concentrated effort to destroy the Luftwaffe. The 56th "jugs" were fitted with 150 gallon drop tanks to extend their range. On Feb. 21st, Joe was escorting bombers back across the Zuider Zee. The 62nd claimed 10 enemy aircraft in a melee involving many aircraft. Icard claimed one of the ten.
Joe Icard reached ace status on March 6, 1944. He destroyed another FW-190 over Dummer Lake. On the 8th, the 56th was tasked with providing penetration aid for 400 B-17s and 200 B-24s assigned to to bomb the VKB ball bearing factory in Berlin. The 62nd Thunderbolts rendezvoused with the bombers near Dummer Lake at 12:42. At around 13:00, the P-47s engaged the first of three waves of over 20 German fighters. Near the spot where he became an ace, Joe was seen to engage the enemy. Everyone in the flight was very busy. Joe Icard from Granite Falls, NC was never seen again. He will always be remembered here at HAM.
Out of curiosity, I began a search to find Granite Falls ace Joe Icard's grave. With a tip from cousin Tom Whisnant, it didn't take me too long!! Here is Joe's resting place and I was flooded with emotion when I came upon it. Joe got 5 aerial victories with the mighty 56th FG under "Hub" Zempke!! He was lost over Dummer Lake on 8 March 44.