On Veterans Day each year, I remember my hero, Uncle Eddie.
On occasion Capt. Edward Promberger was called a terrorist by some, even himself.
I notice now that business leaders are often referred to as something less than heroes, and worse, some even doubt if they have a higher purpose in their call.
My uncle piloted more than 50 missions in a B-17 bomber in Europe. On several occasions he and his nine crew members were called back from a mission, but when hope was not lost Capt. Promberger would ask every one of his men if they were willing to complete the mission.
Eddie always thought about the fact that many of the men were married and some even had children. He looked at piloting that plane as if he had nine families he was caring for, not just nine men. Only if every man said yes, would he press on with these missions aborted by central command. On more than one occasion their plane would be the only one to complete the mission and then they would attempt a lonely return to home base.
A crew had a one in four chance of completing a tour—25 missions. So, it wasn’t often for a crew to re-up once let alone twice, but this crew stuck together for three tours. Throughout the war and their 57 missions, not one man was lost.
On one mission, my uncle’s plane was hit by flak and his co-pilot and he were injured. My uncle’s vision blurred with blood, but he never considered retreat. Among many other medals, my uncle was awarded two distinguished flying crosses and a purple heart.
Uncle Eddie never married. I heard that he didn’t want to put someone through his frequent nightmares. He would wake up seeing a mission where bombs he dropped hit what he later found out to be an orphanage, a target he was ordered to bomb. He lived with those visions until his seventies. When he returned home, his first and only love, the woman who promised to marry him, was already engaged.
My mom told me one of my uncle’s happiest moments was seeing my three-year-old son and holding his hand. It was on that occasion that in a very quiet voice he shared several of his war stories that he had never shared before. One was of a particularly rough mission where three engines were hit. He ordered the crew to drop all the bombs and guns into the sea and then to jump to safety on an island well before getting to the home base. He so respected the Boeing plane he flew. He was able to land that plane and walk away. Later after the war when the Memphis Bell was touring the U.S. he drove out to see it. He asked the general if he could fly it. The general said, “Capt. Promberger you can fly any g**damn plane you want!”
Events of late have caused some business leaders to consider retreat. To just give up, retire, sell out or whatever, rather than completing the mission. How many families count on you and your leadership? Are you even giving a hint of thought to retreat?
The scars of that war are still felt today, but one joy for my uncle though was that in the last year of his life he met up with his first and only true love. She was a widow. In fact during his last waking hour, as he lay in the bed of the VA hospital, the hand of his true love was in his, and he died with a smile on his face.
Never, never, never give up.