The journey to today began almost 50 years ago. My father was a successful businessman in Odessa, Texas, having started a photo finishing business with his wife, Jeanne (Mom). Since he had flown during World War 2, his love of flying led to the purchase of a Piper Tri-pacer in 1954. On weekends, Dad and I would go flying around the Midland-Odessa area in West Texas. We would take off from Midland Air Field (then called Midland Army Air Field). He showed me the bombing training ranges with outlines of ships and other targets on the desert floor. We flew over to Pecos to see Pyote Army Air Field (deserted) which they called Rattlesnake Bomber Base. Dad never talked much about his time in service. I saw a few pictures of him in uniform and that was it. All I knew was that he flew in B-24s and was in the same outfit as the actor James Stewart. Dad passed away Jan. 15, 1967 in Medical Center Hospital, watching a TV set that was sent to his room by the local RCA dealer who was a family friend. Dad, being an avid football fan, wanted to watch the first Super Bowl football game. He died early that morning with Mom there with him.
Now fast-forward to the start of the 21st Century. It's March, 2000 and I'm returning from El Paso where I was on a recruiting trip for Lockheed Martin at the University of Texas at El Paso (where I graduated). I stopped in Odessa to take a walk down memory lane; go by the photo finishing plant (now a deserted building); and go out to the Midland Airport where the Confederate (now Commemorative) Air Force (CAF) has it's headquarters. I toured the museum and talked to some of the volunteers working there. I told them that I thought my dad had been an instructor there some time during the war. I was informed that the American Airpower Heritage Museum had records dating back to before the war started. I asked the museum staff if I could look at some of their records to see if I could find my Dad's name and maybe a picture or two (late on a Friday afternoon). I was told to come back in the morning and check with the staff.
I went back to my hotel room and tried to recall as much as I could of what my mother and father had told me of dad's service time. A quick call back to Grand Prairie, Texas to my wife Deborah to let her know I would be a day late getting back. She knew immediately how important this would be to me and said to take whatever time I needed. What a wonderful woman!
Saturday morning I arrived about 30 minutes before the museum opened, so I went over and joined the CAF and got a junior membership for my son. I waited and waited and finally it came time for the museum to open. I talked with the staff and explained what I wanted to do and they were extremely helpful. Not having an exact date when I thought dad was there, we started towards the late war years, but didn't have any luck. Evidently the word went out about what I was trying to do as more volunteers came in and helped in my search.
We didn't find what I was looking for, but a couple of folks suggested checking on the internet. Little did they know what that suggestion would result in. When I got back to Grand Prairie that evening, I immediately went online and started searching for anything related to B-24's. I found a site called the Best B-24 Web and posted a message looking for information on what units Jimmy Stewart served with, thinking that might be a quicker search. A reply came in and listed the 445th and 453rd Bomb Groups. Then the bomb dropped! I got a reply from Richard Gelvin of Mesa, Arizona who said he had my dad's name on the overseas movement orders of the 445th Bomb Group as the Group Bombardier. I was ecstatic, to say the least. Dick offered to put together a personal mission history of my dad for a nominal fee and I said to please do so. About a week later I got a package in the mail. Inside was a white, 3-ring binder with a cover sheet marked with my dad's name, 703rd Bomb Squadron. Inside was the data that Dick had prepared; an introductory letter, a map of the airfield and a short history; crew listing by position with my dad's name highlighted; and a summary of the 10 missions he had flown.
It was the 10 missions that really got me interested because of the time gaps in between each mission. So, with a lot of questioning on my part and a lot of digging on Dick's part, we started going through his data. Since dad was part of the headquarters staff, he didn't fly with a particular crew. Since I worked with computers, it made sense for me to work with Dick and see about restructuring his 'database'. Me being in Texas and him in Arizona made things a little difficult. I started looking for a way to move out to Arizona. An invitation to interview with Raytheon Missile System in Tucson came at an opportune moment. While waiting to hear back from Raytheon, I got an invitation to interview in San Jose, California with another defense contractor. The offer from Raytheon came in and Deb and I prepared for the move out West.
My work schedule with Raytheon allowed me to have every other Friday off, so those were the days when I drove up to Mesa and work with Dick and meet his lovely wife Jane. Very soon they became like a second family for me. We started finding more and more missions that dad flew. We found him flying with lead crews or with the Air Commander of a particular mission. While in Tucson, I met Elvin 'Buddy' Cook, a ball turret gunner with the 703rd. I was introduced to him via John H. (Robbie) Robinson who authored the book A Reason to Live which he was autographing for me. When I gave Robbie my address, he told me about Buddy. A phone call, short drive and I'm meeting with a man who had one of the most dangerous jobs in combat. When I about to leave, Buddy gave me an extra copy he had of Rudy Birsic amendment to his book on the 445th's history. That book, and many more that I've purchased, are now treasured possessions.
By November 2000, dad's mission total was up to 36, and the idea was forming to put together a web site to pay tribute to the men of the 445th. I came up with a preliminary design and started putting things together. I thought I had things pretty well organized, but as I started getting more and more data, I suddenly realized that to put everything out there that I wanted to was going to take a couple of lifetimes. People like Chuck Walker, Robbie Robinson, Dee Bourne, Dick Gelvin, Tom Brittan (from France), Bill Dewey and a host of others, they all dug into their personal albums, photo collections, memoirs, and personal papers and provided material. They gave a lot back during the war and still continue to provide new insights today.
New Years Day of 2001, the web site made it's first appearance. Almost immediately I started getting hits as more and more viewers started logging in. Since that date, the web site has undergone numerous trials and tribulations.
One unexpected turn of events - in the summer of 2001, I received an e-mail message from a young lady who was researching her Grandfather and found his picture on this web site. It turned out to be my Dad! Imagine the shock I went through finding out that I was not an 'only child' after all. It seems that Dad was stationed in Puerto Rico back before WW2 started. In doing some research, I found that he had been stationed at Langley Field, Virginia back in 1939. I remember Dad mentioning that in a conversation with BG Phillip Greasley at Randolph Air Force Base in the spring of 1966. He also mentioned flying in B-18's (known as Bolo's) and then B-24's. He married a local girl who was an English teacher there. They had three children (1 son and 2 daughters). Mary, the eldest, was born in Denver and baptized in Tucson.
What's really weird is that for many years I had a picture of my Mom and Dad taken shortly after WW2 and the table reservation card was labeled for Capt and Mrs. Leland Simpson Sr. As I was not named after Dad, why would there be a 'Senior' as part of his name? My half-brother is Leland Stanford Spike Simpson - named after our father. It was his daughter that contacted me. Glorimar and I met later that summer when she and her husband came to Scottsdale on a business trip. She stayed over and drove down to Tucson (I was working for Raytheon Missile Systems there) to meet me. As I was giving her directions to where we lived, I went outside to meet her. I hear this shriek over the phone and the following words: "Oh my God, you look just like my Dad!" Needless to say she saw me first. We spent two wonderful hours together and even called her Dad in Puerto Rico. Glorimar had to act as an interpreter as her Dad doesn't speak English and my Spanish is very limited.
Over the course of these past few years, as I worked on the web site, I began to form a bond with the men of the 445th. Dick Gelvin and I have attended 3 reunions together - one in Los Angeles, one in Dallas, and one in Baltimore. Several have stopped by on vacations; others have written and provided pictures and copies of keepsakes from their time with the 445th. I especially enjoy going to the reunions, to see the friendships renewed and to share in the honoring of all those who didn't make it home after the war.
Another web master sent me a link to his web site and I marveled at the opening sequence to his site. Set to very moving music, it set a tone of reverence that I wish I could invoke. He talked about having a 'calling' - a driving need to create his web site. As I looked through the various pages, I realized that I had gone through the same exact experience. I didn't really understand why I had the need to put this site together, other than to try and stay in touch with my Dad. I found that in doing so, I got closer to Dad, and not only him, but a host of others who, with shared experiences, became part of my extended family. As word comes in of the loss of another member of the 445th, it's like losing my Dad all over again. The sense of loss that is felt is no less than what I felt at age 18 when Dad passed away. That's what keeps me going and working on this site - to honor their memory. Earlier this month (April, 2005), I lost my 'second' Dad - Dick Gelvin passed away after a fall and the resulting complications.
If I got a little too maudlin in my explanation, I apologize. This too is part of the calling that needed to be expressed. Thank you for bearing with me and may I express my profound thanks for each and every visitor to this web site. Please come back often and this 'calling' will be going on for quite a while!
Michael S. Simpson
Webmaster & Unit Historian
Son of Captain Leland S. Simpson
445th Group Bombardier