My Middle Name is Killer

Sitting around the table with my wife, daughter and some of her friends I joked my middle name is “killer” so watch out. Of course my middle name isn’t killer, but it is Keeler. The name is taken from the family name of family friends, the illustrator Jack Keeler.

I honestly have no recollection of him, only of his wonderful illustrations of my grandfather Hal. They often had a dark side as I explained to my daughter and her friends. Like the illustration where Hal is opening a gift box and inside are his three missing fingers.

And that led to a discussion of how Hal lost three fingers. “Was he born missing the fingers” our daughter’s friend Molly asked? No, actually he was shot down in a plane over Yugoslavia, the bullet went through his hand. The story goes that it stopped in his lucky silver dollar without which he would have lost his leg.

And as it happens I noticed my dad had posted the story on Facebook for Memorial Day, so I stole it. It’s pasted below for your reading pleasure. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find any copies of the fingers in a gift box illustration. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find any copies of the fingers in a gift box illustration.

——– Stolen from the Facebook feed of my father Hans: ——–

Seventy one years ago, at 1005hrs on April 4th, 1944, the B-24 “Texas Ranger”
approached the IP for its bombing run, straight and level at 10,000ft above Mostar, Yugoslavia. The crew included Dave Abner‘s father Fred and my father, “Hal” Halberstadt, the navigator. My father was the least superstitious guy in the world but in his pocket was a lucky silver dollar. There’s a tradition in the US Army that, when a newly commissioned officer receives his first salute from an enlisted soldier, the officer gives that soldier a silver dollar, a tradition maintained today. “Keep it, lieutenant, for luck,” the sergeant said and my father, who never believed in luck, kept it for luck.

When the German 88mm flack round hit the Number Two engine of Texas Ranger, it failed to explode but the nose of the fuse section deflected into the fuselage where it collided with the lucky silver dollar in my father’s right pants pocket. The dollar was mangled but provided just enough armor in just the right place so the fuse cover bounced off in yet another direction. It shattered Hal’s hip and took off three fingers of his right hand. Texas Ranger lost altitude till all the guns, bombs, gear, and most of the crew went over the side. One of the crew stayed aboard to tend to Hal. Somehow or other, Hal provided a return compass bearing to get the aircraft back to Italy. He was so loaded with morphine that at one point over the Adriatic, according to a report, he was singing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.” Jeff Laszewski nursed the sagging Liberator all the way back to Italy and got it on the ground where it came from more or less in one ragged piece.

Dave’s father Fred was captured along with five others and were prisoners for a year. Hal spent a year in hospitals, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for figuring out the return bearing despite his wounds. I always wondered what Jeff Laszewski was awarded — the only reason he didn’t jump with the others was to save my wounded father.

That’s what I am thinking about for Memorial Day 2015. Here’s the lucky silver dollar and the unlucky 88mm fuse that hit it.