It is strange what the impact of war — with all the massive forces that it brings to bear on the participants –can have on the men who are involved. Friendships developed during the deadly combat that was a major part of our lives were as if magnified by a scale of 10 compared to peacetime friendships. When death is a part of your life more than living is a part of your life, you find yourself drawn to those men who share your incomprehensible existence.
So it was with my friendship with Johnny Bathurst, who shared space with me in our tent which we had named “Duffy’s Tavern.” Johnny and I had been through flight training together, but it was only after we got into combat that we became such close friends. There were missions during which we each – without hesitation – threw ourselves into great personal danger in order to help our buddy who was bracketed in by German flak guns. We flew down the gun barrels of those flak guns to give our buddy a chance to break away.
One night we were in the Officer’s Club at Laon, France, after a brutal day of strafing and dive bombing German strong points in our front. We had both had a couple of drinks as we tried to put that day out of our mind, when Johnny pulled something out of his pocket, and told me he wanted to give it to me. It was a St. Christopher Medal, and Johnny tied it to the metal pull tab on the zipper of my flight jacket. With great sincerity he told me it would keep me safe on future missions. Just before every future mission – as a part of my ritual– I touched the St. Christopher Medal as I swung into the cockpit.
Strangely, when I went back to the States on leave a few months later, the medal fell off my flight jacket and was lost. It deeply saddened me, but I took solace in the fact that it had fully served its purpose.
When the war was over, our lives went down different roads. Johnny stayed in the Air Force, and I went back to finish college, then went into a career in the business world. We kept track of each other by letter and telephone calls for a number of years, then I lost track of him. In the early 70s I got word through a mutual friend that he had been killed while testing a high-performance spy plane at high altitude. It was not until 1992 that I found out he had survived the disintegration of this plane, and was living in Seattle, Washington. We arranged to meet at the next reunion of our old Fighter Group, and renewed our friendship of those dramatic days so long ago. We had many good conversations and meetings during the next few years, but on December 6, 1999, my good buddy, John Forrest Bathurst, died after a long illness. But I will never forget him, and I will never forget how our friendship during those brutal days of combat during World War II helped both of us hang on to our sanity.