“Tieton From Hatton Road Looking Northeast”

Kevin Shepherd
The Unpretentious Man

When I was a young boy of twelve at the time my mother died, I meant a man among men who never gave evidence that he was anyone special, but special he was.

I grew up in a small village in Central Eastern Washington State called Cowiche. My family was more or less migrate farm family working the fields and orchards up and down the west coast of the United State. When my mother died, we found ourselves living across Livingood Road from the family of Joy and Kevin Shepherd on an orchard ranch which they owned. They lived in the house shown below. The house as now viewed reflects the nearly seventy years since we were neighbors. To see their home at this time still brings back the mystery of the man.

The community consisted of land owners and non-land owners, like all others, but in my experience Kevin Shepherd was the one and only land owner in that community who did not treat me as a subordinate which often I was for I worked for him off and on for about seven year both in his orchards and his fields of a cattle ranch he also owned.

My first recollection I have of him was commenting on my cooking. My mother on her death bed had designated me at age twelve as the family cook if she were to die. She had taught me the bare essentials of household duties including cooking. One thing she had attempted was to teach me was how to make baking powder biscuits.

People seldom entered our rat-infested house, but Kevin did as I was finishing up a batch of biscuits one morning. Taking one to taste he quietly comment, “Well these are pretty good, soft enough to eat yet hard enough to be used as a weapon!” I never had any idea at the time of his knowledge of weaponry, but we both had a laugh over his comment.

Over the years working for Kevin he put up with a lot form my inexperience and rather stubborn conduct. In the end I quit him for bailing hay too heavy to carry thirteen high to store in his barn in the Nile Country of Washington State. When I went into his house to collect my last paycheck his comment was, “Someday you will grow up!” Although I never saw the man again, I never forgot him and I made a point to attend his funeral services. He was right, I had grown to the point that I recognized I had known a true American hero who had nearly given his life numerous times for his country but never once made a comment about it.

We use to be working in the orchards or fields and military aircraft would go over head and someone would ask “I wonder what type of plane that is”, and he would say, “It sounds like…” and he would call out a model of aircraft. It was in the 1950s and the State of Washington was the location for a number of Strategic Air Command Air Force Bases so there were many times for him to check his ability to call out aircraft models simply from the sound of their engine’s high overhead.

Kevin Shepard was born July 9, 1921 to Byron Von Shepherd and Gertrude Lucinda Luff Shepherd. His mother died when he was approximately twenty in 1941. He was one of two sons born to the couple. He was a graduate of Davis Highschool in Yakima, Washington. He married Joy Louise Willard Shepherd in 1943 while stationed in Oklahoma. He died May 6, 2002 at age eighty only a year or so following his wife’s death. They were bound in love from the start to the finish. They had one child, a girl by the name of Patricia.

The two of them enjoyed life on the farm and lived in various location including Cowiche, Wenas Valley, Nile Valley and Ellensburg all in the State of Washington. Perhaps they were most at home in the foothills of the Cascades in the Nile Valley. There they could on a short ride by horse view beaver at work making their dams, elk and deer in the pasture along with their livestock and large salmon in the irrigation canal that fed water to their field of hay and pasture. The ranch bordered on the Naches River on the Northeast.

Kevin’s grave rests next to Joy at Terrace Heights Memorial Park, in Yakima, Washington. The head stone that marks that grave comes nowhere near telling the story of the man beneath. One would be wise to remember the poem by Ms. Linda Ellis, “The Dash” for there was a special soul that lived the Dash of Kevin Shepherd. (For those not familiar with Ms. Ellis’ poem a copy is printed at the end of this article.)

Besides being an attentive father and a dedicated husband Kevin Shepherd was an American hero in war and in peace-time.

When he passed away two papers with his favorite quotes were found in his wallet. The one that described him perfectly was the one by football quarterback Drew Bledso of the National Football League’s New England Patriots presented below.

The man was a natural leader and when he asked of you it was always your desire to do the ‘right thing’.

I had worked for Kevin many years by the time I found myself bucking hay for him the summer of 1958 at what he called ‘The Coffin Ranch’ in Wenas Valley.

Kevin was always around the work always participating. Dick Conrad a life time friend of mine and I were raking hay in the fields that Kevin had been cutting. One day at the lunch break Dick and I saw a car load of teenage girls go by headed we presumed to Wenas Lake. It was Dick who suggested that we jump in his car and follow them to ‘check them out’ which we did. However it was after the 1:00 p. m. starting time when we returned and Kevin was in the shop riveting teeth in a mowing blade. When we entered he said to me, “Where have you been?” When I explained he said, “Bill you know better than that, don’t you?” And of course he knew I did, but it was all he had to say to cause me never to forget my obligations (duties). He never raised his voice or was threatening he was just reminding me of “The right thing to do.”

Kevin Shepherd never talked much about his service to the nation. Why, perhaps he was ashamed of all the people lives he took in the performance of his duty, perhaps he felt others had contribute far more than he with their live, but knowing him he likely simply didn’t want to relive the experience. Most of what follows here he never told his family not even his wife Joy.

The Second World War broke out in December 1941 and by May of 1942 Kevin had enlisted in the Army Aircorp in Seattle, Washington. He went off to flying school then to advance flying school where he graduated a Second Lt. as a pilot of the B-24 long range boomer similar to the one photographed below.

In February 1943 Kevin left Charleston South Carolina for Michell Field in Wisconsin, he had received his orders to fly fifty missions into enemy territory. Kevin was to fly many missions over enemy territory in Europe how many are unknown but a couple are of special note.

On August 1, 1943 the United States Army Air Force conducted one of the most daring raids of World War II, called ‘Operation Tidal Wave’. The purpose was the destruction of seven Romanian oil refineries at Ploesti, Romanian to interrupt the flow of fuel needed by the Nazi German forces. The refineries provide nearly one third of the Nazi needs for petroleum at the time.

The plan was to fly out of Benghazi, Libya with one hundred seventy seven B-24 aircraft thirteen hundred miles to Ploesti across the Mediterranean and the Balkans. The two formations of over eighty B-24 each were to come in low one after the other and supposedly surprise the enemy.

German code breakers had deciphered communications regarding the attack so unknown to the Americans the only surprise would be the increased fortifications. In addition to more than fifty heavy flak guns and hundreds of lighter caliber anti-aircraft guns the Germans also placed barrage balloons on steel cables and floated them around the refineries and deployed large smoke pots to help obscure the targets. In addition the German Luftwaffe and Romanian Air Force greatly increased the number of fighters stationed near Ploesti. The targets were some of the most heavily defended air spaces in the war theater.

The raid on Ploesti would be costly for the Americans. Of the 177 B-24s involved only 88 of them would return to Libya. Three hundred ten US airmen would be killed in the raid, 108 capatured by the Axis Powers and another 78 landed in neutral Turkey. The raid had damaged about forty percent of the capacity but within weeks the Nazis were producing more petroleum than before the raid.

Kevin Shepherd was the captain of one of the hundred seventy seven aircraft that had left Benghazi, Libya that never returned. What follows is his report to his commanding officer.

(Words in brackets are added for emphasis and or clarity.) “Our raid on Ploesti of April 15th, 1944 progressed well up until target time. The flak was intense, heavy but not too accurate. Apparently it was radar controlled, for although course platting was had the flak had our altitude. There was complete underscast (undercast) over the target and chaff was used which undoubtedly accounted for the flak inaccuracy. Bombing on pathfinders, we made a comparatively short bomb run and it was just after bombs away that we were hit by a near burst, doing considerable damage to the aft part of the ship. Extra trim was necessary, but the plane was definitely not out of control and we had no trouble staying with the formation. All engines were running smoothly with full output of power available. The return went as smoothly as could be expected for two and one half hours of which time it (was) quiet evident that we had been hit in other places besides the tail. Our electrical system went out simultaneously with no. 3 engine catching fire. At this time we were just crossing the Yugoslavian Coast at 11,000’. So immediately we left formation and put the airplane into a dive in an attempt to blow out the fire. Our electrical system being out we could not shut off the gas coming from the tank to the engine, also feathering was impossible for a like reason. With the mixture control in idle cut off the engine continued to burn. Diving at an lAS of approximately 260 MPH we tried a sharp out in an attempt to jettison the engine along with the dive. Fortunately both things were nearly accomplished. The engine, nacelle and all tearing off of the wing back to the bucket wheel of the super charger, taking with it the fire and also a load from our minds. It took the combined effort of all Lt. Simon and myself to control the badly out of balance plane, we soon had it on a more or less even keel with an air speed of 115 at an altitude of approximately 100’. We had a very definite tail flutter evidently caused by the gaping hole left by the absents of No. 3 engine. When our engine parted company with the plane it must have destroyed the cables between the control pedestal and No. 4 prop governor and throttle controls of the engine. Automatically the prop governor went to a set position of 1950 RPMs and the miles per hour remained at 29”HG. The crew started throwing all available equipment, other than emergency, overboard to lighten the ship. The action was spontaneously (spontaneous) as a command from Lt. Simon and myself was impossible, interphone being out. We cruised this way for approximately 1 hour and 20 min., heading for Allied territory at which time No. 2 ran out of gas. It was now evident that we must ditch immediately. Even had the trip (landing strip) to land been possible, a successful landing would have been doubtful. Our right wheel hung out of what was left of the nacelle (and it) would have, in all probability drug our left wing, causing added danger to personnel involved, the plane already being a complete loss. The ditching was accomplished about 15 miles off the coast of Ortona, Italy in a calm sea. We landed at an indicated air speed of 90 miles per hour with no flaps, tail trim drawing approximately power on one and 4 engines, with a full boost of power as the tail drug in the water. No body lost their head and things seemed to come natural. The radio operator pulled the air rafts each man got his assigned positions equipment and we were out of the ship into the rafts in 45 seconds. We remained in the life rafts for 20 min. when we were picked up by Italian fishing boats. The plane floated 50 min. finally sinking nose first.

Some suggestions I make and seem to be very important are, be sure upper turret guns are pointed forward, otherwise the pilot and co-pilot have nothing with which to pull themselves out of the ship. Each crew member should have a definite position in which to be and definite article which he alone is responsible. In this way each man, knowing what he is to do, and where he is to be regardless of who he was flying with. In many cases so called crews do not fly together. If each man knows his responsibility, complete cooperation may be achieved even in a mixed crew. Signed Lt. K. Shepherd”

What follows is a portion of a letter of May 9, 1944 found years after Kevin death that he had written to his sister Helen about the raid. It adds a bit of color to the report Kevin gave his commanding officer.

“… We were on a mission over Plosesti, Rumania and the opposition was pretty rough. The flak was so heavy it looked like you could taxi across it. Of course, old Lucky Shep had to be right in the middle of it. We got shot up pretty badly, but none of the crew was hit. I managed to keep in formation until we reached the coast of Yugoslavia on the Adriatic Sea. At that time we were flying at 11,000’ and my #3 engine started to burn, at the same time all the electrical went out. I dove the plane from that altitude right down to about 1,000’ and it was still burning badly. That was no good so I had one trick left, make a sharp pull which would either tear off what was left of the tail or throw off the badly burning engine. Well I guess I just live right cause the engine fire and all went ripping off the wing. There I was about 300’ off the water with only about half an airplane and two good engines because number 4 was damaged when a part of a wing fell off. Say isn’t this a screwy deal? I have to laugh every time I think of it; of course it wasn’t very funny at the time. Anyway I managed to keep it flying until I was within 15 miles of the coast of Italy, when #2 engine ran out of gas. Well that was the pay off. Now there was nothing to do but ditch it. I had the crew all braced up in the back end of the plane, and I let her down in the drink. I crawled out on top as soon as she stopped and we started getting the crew and the life raft out. Boy! you never have seen a bunch guys move so fast. We had everything and everybody in the life raft in 40 seconds. We were still north of the line and in enemy territory. Pretty soon we were picked up by some native fishing boats. Well they were a bit hard to convince at first, in fact engineer, bombardier and myself got some skinned knuckles out of it, but then they decided they would have to head south (with) us or get tossed in the drink. It wasn’t long before a Canadian Rescue launch picked us up and took us to an allied post. I got the crew home the next day…”

To commemorate their survival the crew apparently had the photo shown above made along side another B-24.
B-17It appears that Kevin only shared his experience of that day over Ploesti, Romania with his Sister. His daughter, Patricia knew nothing of the incident and it is believed he told no other family member not even his wife, Joy.

The Distinguished Flyer Cross is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity with the Army of The United States, distinguished then by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial (flight).

Kevin Shepherd was to fly numerous bombing operations over Europe during the war and was to be decorated many times for his exploits. Most of his metals of valor are shown below in the display his daughter Patricia put together years after her father’s death. The medals include the Distinguished Flying Cross awarded to him June 12, 1944 by Major General Twining for what appears to be a second heroing flight. Following is the commendation Kevin Shepherd received from General Twining for his service in the raid of a railroad center in Romania.

“Kevin Shepherd, Second Lieutenant, Air Corps, 352nd Bombardment Squadron, 301st Bombardment Group, United States Army. For extraordinary achievement in aerial flight. On 15 April, 1944, Lt. Shepherd was the pilot of a B-17 type aircraft on a mission to bomb an enemy rail center in Rumania (Romania). While successfully bombing the target enemy antiaircraft fire damaged three engines and badly riddled the entire tail section of his plane. Displaying extraordinary airman-ship Lt. Shepherd and his co-pilot maintained formation and flew to the cost of Yugoslavia. There one engine caught fire, which disabled the electrical system, and two other engines began to malfunction. When a dive from 11,000 feet to 100 feet failed to extinguish the flames, Lt. Shepherd and his co-pilot by great effort pulled their plane out of the dive. The sharp pull out tore the burning number three engine and nacelle from the mounting, thereby saving the plane from destruction. Despite the unbalanced and almost unflyable condition of their plane, Lt. Shepherd and his crew were determined to reach friendly territory. By use of extraordinary flying ability the plane flew for 1 hour and twenty minutes until exhaustion of the fuel supply forest the water landing. Although the bomber was crippled and greatly under-powered a successful water landing was effected without injury to any crew member. Lt. Shepherd’s outstanding gallantry, extraordinary skill was a vital factor in the safe return of his entire crew. By his courage, leadership, and intense devotion to duty, Lt. Shepherd has reflected great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States of America.”

Kevin Shepherd’s crew was also awarded the Presidential Unit Citation twice. The Citation is awarded to units of the Armed Forces of the United States and co-belligerent nations for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy. The degree of heroism required is the same as that which warrants award of a Distinguished Service Cross to and individual.

It should be noted for clarity that the air operations involving the bombing of oil refineries of Ploesti, Romania occurring on August 1, 1943 is separate from bombing the railroad center in Romania on the 15th of April, 1944 even though much of the description to prevent the loss of the aircraft are similar in both operations.

Between November 20, 1945 and October 1, 1946 the International Military Tribunal (IMT) tried 21 of the most important surving leaders of Nazi Germany for war crimes at the Nuremberg Trials. Kevin remained in the Air Corp following the end of the Second World War and was assigned to transport dignitaries for the International Military Tribunal to and from Numemberg, Germany where they participated in the Numemberg Trials of the Nazis of World War II. We might assume he came to know various participants in the trials such as the American chief prosecutor Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson and others.

It was said that Kevin Shepherd flew more sorties in “Operation Vittles” when the Soviet Union blockaded Berlin in June 1948 than any other pilot. We find although he trained other pilots to fly the narrow corridor allowed by the Soviet Union into Berlin he did not start flying the route himself until February 1949. Although the blockaded was lifted earlier the flights continued into September 1949. It is said a plane landed with supplies in Germany every thirty seconds over that period. The allies logged over 300,000 Berlin Airlift flights often parachuting candies and other items to those behind the ‘iron current’. Certainly it was a part of Kevin Shepherd’s life that he had good reason to be proud of even though he had not been the pilot with the most flights.

He returned home to his wife Joy and years of farming with his feet firmly on the surface of the earth the rest of his life doing “the right thing.”

The narrative above is primarily about Kevin Shepherd but his story would not be complete without a comment he made of his wife, Joy, while rowing brush in his orchard one spring day in the 1950s. He certainly would not have wanted his story told without acknowledging his most important crew member.

Some how that sunny spring day the conversation turned to something about Joy Shepherd and Kevin repeated General W. T. Sherman’s quote from the Civil War about Mother Mary Bickerdyke. In his calm and unassuming manner he simply said, “She has more power than I – She ranks me.

The Dash
Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning to the end. He noted first came the date of the birth and spoke the following date with tears.

But he said what mattered most of all was the dash between the years.
For that dash represents all the time that they spent life on Earth.

And now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not how much we own, the cars, the house, the cash.
What matters is how we live and love, and how we spend our dash.
So, think about this long and hard. Are there things you’d like to change?

For you never know how much time is left that can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough to consider what’s true and real,
and always try to understand the way other people feel.
Be less quick to anger and show appreciation more,
and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile,
remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy is being read with your life’s actions to rehash,
would you be proud of the things they say about how you spent your dash?

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