Those of us who have known and loved members of what Tom Brokaw so aptly described as our Greatest Generation have seen what I believe is the very best in our American Spirit. These were the men and women who grew up in the Depression and took their hard-earned lessons into the service of our country during WWII and led us to victory.
Not only were they physically and mentally tough, they understood what a rare and invaluable treasure our America truly is. They knew this country was worth fighting and dying for and they were willing to make this choice at a very tender age.
We owe this generation a debt we can never pay, but one thing we can do is honor their memory by respecting the dream they fought for and bearing witness to their lives which were indeed so very well-lived.
I want to take a few moments to tell you about one of these heroes—a quiet, dignified man who embodied and personified all that was good and true in this Greatest Generation.
Frank “Tot” Tothill believed in serving and giving, even at the expense of one’s own comfort and wellbeing. Like the late President Bush he understood that, “How we live is as important as what we achieve.” This past November 2nd Frank departed from this life to join his buddies from the 507th Fighter Group at what must be one most amazing airfields in heaven.
During WWII Frank joined what was then called the US Army Air Corps, the precursor to US Air Force. He trained as a pilot at Hicks Field andMajors Field in Texas and later in Bruning, Nebraska. He was like so many of those young men whose love of country and devotion to duty made them anxious to get their wings and move into the fight. Flight school was not for the timid, but Frank was a natural and took it to heart when flight Instructor told him, “When you get into the cockpit – you strap the plane to your body and fly where you want to go!”
After graduation he was assigned to duty in the Pacific and was soon leading his squadron into combat over Japan. In fact, he and the 507th had the singularly historic privilege of escorting the Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I can still remember seeing the awe in Frank’s eyes when he described the blinding flash of light that rocked the sky that day and changed our world forever. He flew P-47 Thunderbolts which carried eight 50 caliber machine guns across the wings and a bomb load of over 2500 lbs.
Frank and his squadron saved thousands of American lives in their work over Japan and their legacy of courage followed them for the rest of their lives. Men like Frank not only served our nation in time of war, they also came home and stepped into key leadership roles in the civilian world. Frank became a well-known and respected leader in the chemical business;specifically developing coatings for the furniture industry which is what eventually brought him to High Point. He built an extraordinary career as an advisor and consultant for manufacturing companies in NC, SC and VA. He and his wife, Margaret, raised three children and as a family were very committed to the Home Moravian Church. When Margaret passed away in 1966 Frank carried on as a single parent as he continued to grow his career. In 1981 he met and married the beautiful Nancye Matheson and together they journeyed into the latter passage of their lives.
Frank stayed loyal to the 507th his entire adult life and, working with Nancye, wrote and published the 507th Fighter Group Association newsletter, “Poop of the Group.” The first 10 years of the newsletter were later consolidated into a book that even now proudly resides on the shelves of the Library of Congress and in a place of honor at our High Point CommunityFoundation office. On October 3rd 2009 Frank was honored by his inclusion on the first Flight of Honor Trip toWashington, DC.
Perhaps most revealing of Frank’s heart and spirit, as well as impacting to the men of the 507th was the role he would later play as a mentor and minister to his comrades as they aged and passed. Like the good squadron commander, he was always there nurturing, supporting and eventually bringing his comrades home. This is what good men,faithful friends and true leaders do… they serve and that, my friends, was the very special gift of our Greatest Generation.