I met my sister bright and early at 8 a.m. at Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport for our first ever Sister’s Week in Georgia. She left Southern Illinois, her
husband and two sons at 5 a.m. and we were setting out on a fun adventure together. We planned to drive directly from the Atlanta airport to Savannah to sightsee a bit and to visit the Mighty 8th Air Force Museum to try to figure out what our father had done when he served in the 8th Air Force during WWII. The normally quick trip (4 hours) turned into a 6-hour trip since we were behind a gigantic traffic jam that delayed our plan to get to Savannah for a lunch on the beach! We grabbed a very late lunch but had no time for sightseeing. We had a dinner invitation with Sally and Eric Robyn (https://thedaysforward.com/colonel-eric-robyn/ and https://thedaysforward.com/sally-robyn/ ) which was the highlight for that day.
The next morning, we set out for Tybee Island for a quick sunrise walk on the beach which offered special surprises for us – being alone on the beach, we found lots of shells, some amazingly colorful seaweed (orange and pink – we first thought it was tangled electrical wire trashed on the seashore) and a gigantic horseshoe crab shell. She would take these jewels of the sea back to Illinois to show her students in the Fall.
We brushed off the sand and headed to the Museum. We went directly to the Museum Research Library to which I had been before looking for information. I knew that our Dad had been in Africa and ultimately stationed at Hethel Air Field in Norwich, England – I had even taken a trip to England as a graduation present to myself in 1969 to see where my father had been and to try to find some of the English people that had been so kind to him. He had put me to sleep as a small child with stories of some of his adventures in England and Scotland, but he never told me what his job was – was it still secret?
The staff at the Research Library is always delighted when family members come to share stories or memorabilia, so we had a wonderful visit with them and they brought out books and did some research for us. They directed us back downstairs into the museum to read and look over some displays that might help us figure out what our Dad did. Our uncle and our brother had differing ideas about what Tech Sergeant Smith had been doing at Hethel in the 389th Bomb Group, “The Sky Scorpions” – besides the fact that our Dad said he stowed away on an Air Force plane that made 5 flights over the over France on D-Day; he wanted to be a part of the epic invasion. Was that possible?
We made a second trip back up to the Research Library to try to make sense of what we had seen in the museum. We were in the midst of that conversation when a man in a flowered Hawaiian shirt came strolling into the library. My sister and I assumed he was just another tourist like us. Instead, the research librarian whispered to my sister that he had been POW in Iran in 1979 and was a volunteer historian at the museum – perhaps, he could answer some of our questions. She called him over to introduce us. Memories came flooding back to my mind.
As soon as the introductions between us and Bill Daugherty were done, I blurted out that his first step back on U. S. soil was at Stewart Army Air Field on 26 January 1981. Surprised, he agreed. I, then, said that he had taken a bus drive to West Point. Again, he agreed.
By this time, he was wondering about me – I had been there. He was, then, delighted (or so it seemed) to hear the rest of my story.
Like all Americans, the Rice family had been watching the Iran hostage crisis since November 1979 and praying for the hostages. It was with the same delight as all Americans that we learned the news that the hostages had been released on January 20, 1981 and were coming home! We were more delighted when we learned that West Point had been selected as the place to which the hostages and their families would come for a week of reunions and recuperation. Bill was a “P” (teacher at West Point) in the Math Department at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Could we get a glimpse of them?
West Point is 50 miles from New York City, even so, somewhat isolated in the Hudson Highlands of Orange County. This is one of the reasons that West Point was chosen for the family reunions and privacy the hostages needed. They would be flown into Stewart Field in Newburgh, board buses to cross Storm King Mountain and arrive at West Point where they could rest and relax in the quiet of the beauty of West Point. The local community wanted to do something to welcome them, so crowds of people lined the streets with signs, flags and banners.
The Rice family took off from our quarters in Grey Ghost on the morning of their return to find the best place to see the buses as they drove past. We were looking for a place where we could have room and safety for our four-year-old and sixteen-month-old daughters. As we drove 9W across the mountain, we saw people everywhere with flags, large and small, and signs of welcome, but no place likely to keep the girls occupied or safe on a cold, but sunny January day. Instead, we drove back to Highland Falls to find a place on the street where we could duck into a shop or restaurant if the girls got cold or the hostages were late.
It was exciting to get a glimpse of the buses when the hostages arrived in Highland Falls, but it was over in a second! It was still an amazing experience to be a tiny part of that historical event for our Country. And even more amazing to meet one of the brave hostages so many years later. What an honor.
We never did figure out exactly what our Dad did in Hethel – he had been trained as an Air Force radio operator, but when it was discovered that he could type, he was whisked into a different position, maybe a cryptographer. We didn’t figure out if it was even possible for him to have stowed away on D-Day (From the information we learned from Bill Daugherty, we believe he may have been on board, not officially on a roster, but not a secret from the pilot and crew). Little did we know that the Sister Week held more surprises for us. After a few days with me in Peachtree City, my sister was to go to see our brother in Marietta. She did just that, but on the first day of their visit, she got a call from home – her husband, a carpenter, was at work that Monday when he fell off the roof he was working on and had been life-flighted to the hospital in St. Louis. He might have broken his neck, head injuries, other broken bones???? How fast could we get there? We worried the whole time we were driving, but by the time we got to St. Louis University Hospital, all the worst of the outcomes had been ruled out. He had a broken pelvis and 5 broken ribs and would recover – he was home recovering for over six months, but he is now back to work – avoiding roofs as much as possible. Thank the good Lord.
In 1981, we were so delighted with our little brush with history that Bill wanted to preserve the flags that the girls waved on January 26 at West Point, so he attached them together and they have been hanging in our home ever since.
If you would like to know more about Bill Daugherty, Third Secretary of the U. S. Mission in Iran (CIA officer), you can check out his book: In the Shadow of the Ayatollah: A CIA Hostage in Iran.
This story is directly connected to “Birth of the Night Stalkers”. Click the button to read that story.