Del Hayes Press

“…the bravest of the brave…”

On this Memorial Day, 2024, as the nation pauses to remember the sacrifices made by so many, so we could remain a free nation, Eugene Peck, a cousin I never really got to know, came to mind. Napoléon Bonaparte once referred to one of his troops, one who had served valiantly, as “the bravest of the brave.” That phrase has been aptly applied to many others, through the ages, but none deserve it more than those who served our country, and died doing so, during World War II. And my cousin, Eugene, was one of those.

On July 6, 1944, exactly one month after the famed D-Day invasion at the Normandy beaches of France, Sergeant Eugene Peck of the 527th Bomb Squadron, climbed aboard The Wish Bone, a B-17 bomber, and took his position as tail-gunner in the cramped tail of the bomber. Soon thereafter, the bomber climbed to take its place in a formation of B-17s, assigned to bomb selected targets in France.

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The mission report after the flight stated that flak was “intense, and accurate,” causing bombing accuracy to be “fair.” The “tail gunner, Sgt. Eugene Peck,” the report stated, was “killed in action from a flak burst.”

I was only five years old, at the start of that war, ten when it ended, so memories from then are vague, at best. But one memory is seared in my mind, that being the day all the relatives gathered in my home town to comfort and support my Uncle Ray and Aunt May, parents of Eugene, the day that telegram arrived from the War Department informing them that their son would not be coming home.

After the war, Eugene’s body was reinterred in the Veterans Memorial Section of the cemetery in Iola, my hometown in Kansas. I had occasion in recent years to stand close to his headstone, now quite weathered with lettering somewhat difficult to read, reflecting on his life, short as it was, and those war years.

For approximately three months, in 1940, the handful of pilots of the British Air Force fought off all attempts by the overwhelming number of fighters in Herman Goering’s vaunted Luftwaffe, in what came to be known as the Battle of Britain. After Hitler had called off his planned invasion of England, as a result of that defeat, Winston Churchill, said of those brave pilots, “Never in the course of human conflict has so much been owed by so many, to so few.”

And that, I think, is what I felt the most as I stood there before the headstone of a cousin I never really had a chance to know. There were so many “Eugenes,” who never came home from that war, and all the others that the country has been forced to confront. And never has America owed so much to what now seems, in so many ways, so few. It is often said of them, as we remember them on these Memorial Days, “Lest we forget.” Indeed, we don’t dare forget.

Perhaps it was because such memories were so much a part of my early years that World War II, the planes, the battles, the people and their many stories that derived from it, has always loomed large in my life. Thus, when my publishing company, Del Hayes Press, was approached to publish a book series titled Bravest of the Brave, my son and partner in the company, Clint Hayes, and I enthusiastically welcomed the opportunity.

Mr. Joe Bowman, author of the book, has devoted over thirty years of his life to exhaustively researching the lives and service records of every single one of the sixty-two recipients of America’s highest honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, who served in the United States Air Force, from the first ones so honored in World War I, to the present day.

Based on his research, Mr. Bowman has developed exhaustive biographies of every one of those Medal of Honor recipients. Del Hayes Press, working closely with Mr. Bowman, is in the final stages of preparing a museum-quality series of books containing all sixty-two of those biographies, along with numerous other items of information about each of those individuals.

As the title of the series attests, they were truly the “Bravest of the Brave.” In many ways, I’ve long believed that although my cousin Eugene is not included in that group, he and every other guy who wore, or wears, the uniforms of our military services are indeed, among that bravest of the brave. And on this Memorial Day, lest we forget, we must always recognize how “so many owe so much, to so few.”

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