Vickroy: South Side WWII flyboy’s adventures now a book
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @dvickroy July 12, 2013 8:44PM
Ted Fahrenwald and his fighter plane, The Joker. | Supplied photo
Updated: August 15, 2013 6:50AM
Ted Fahrenwald was a fearless World War II pilot who saw the potential for adventure in every situation, even while being forced to bail over occupied France.
He also had a wry sense of humor that made wisecracking, practical joking and spinning terrific yarns come easy to him.
One of the first questions I asked his daughter, Madelaine Fahrenwald, who recently had her father’s memoirs published, was whether some of the material in the book might be a teensy-weensy bit embellished, like the part about how the 24-year-old South Side flyboy took a swig from his flask and then lit up a smoke while parachuting over a German airfield.
“That’s certainly possible,” she said, chuckling. “You had to know my dad. He was a true world-class character. All of his friends in Morgan Park and Beverly would second that.”
As evidence of her father’s larger-than-life personality, she told me about a photo she has of her uncle shooting a cigarette from her dad’s mouth when they were teens in the 1930s. Their dad, steel foundry founder Frank Fahrenwald, whom she calls “the first Indiana Jones,” had just invented a new scope for rifles and the boys wanted to try it out.
“So it’s quite possible the stories are not embellished,” she said.
We’ll never know for certain — Fahrenwald died in 2004 — but it doesn’t really matter. The book, “Bailout Over Normandy: A Flyboy’s Adventures with the French Resistance and Other Escapades in Occupied France,” is a brilliant snapshot of a terrifying, treacherous period in world history as told through the eyes of a daring young man who not only had the resourcefulness and smarts to survive for three months behind enemy lines, but had the foresight to write it all down, in splendid detail, as soon as he returned to his lifelong home at 115th Street and Longwood Drive in Chicago.
Madelaine said her father, who’d dreamed of being a journalist when he was young, submitted his manuscript to a few publishers during the late 1940s but was turned down because the industry had been inundated with war memoirs at the time.
So he threw it in a cabinet and left it there, she said. Eventually, other family members found it and read it.
“I read it in high school,” Madelaine said. Her cousin, Bill Fahrenwald, who owns James Street Associates advertising agency in Blue Island, didn’t read it until after his beloved uncle had passed.
“It was ironic that our family sometimes gathered in Ted’s house for a ‘picnic dinner’ served on the picnic table in his dining room, and he’d entertain and regale us all with his humor. What we didn’t realize was that the filing cabinets that lined the room contained his greatest storytelling effort of all,” Bill said.
Madelaine said after his memoirs, her father never wrote another thing, except for the many letters he exchanged with his French Resistance compatriots over the years.
After the war, when France’s economy tanked, Fahrenwald sent money and supplies, including precious American cigarettes, to the men and women who helped saved his life and who went on to become lifelong friends.
Madelaine recently had a collection of those letters published, as well. Both “Bailout Over Normandy” and “Wot a Way to Run a War” (Casemate Publishers) are available at amazon.com.
Though he’d always been an adventurer, having hiked, camped and traveled to such exotic places as South America with his brother and dad when he was a kid, Fahrenwald’s grand escapade began two days after the D-Day invasion along the coast of Normandy. He’d been on multiple bombing runs since the battle began but the prospect of going out for the 100th time spooked him — turned out he was right to be worried.
On a final run at a German convoy, Fahrenwald got too close to an ammunition-packed supply truck. When he hit it, it hit back. Hard. He was forced to jump from his burning P-51 Mustang called The Joker.
He immediately was picked up by members of the French Resistance, or Maquis. As they led him back to the British front along the northern coast of France, Fahrenwald returned the favor by assisting on many guerilla-led missions. Eventually, he was captured by the Wehrmacht (German armed forces) and interrogated as a spy. He made a daring escape and once again was forced to rely on his wits, his outdoorsman skills and his incredible luck to get back to his unit, the 486th Squadron.
The journey is peppered with daredevil acts of courage, nightly rounds of liquor and seemingly endless smoking. Through it all, Fahrenwald’s stoic sense of humor beams through his prose. So does the heroic work of the many resistance fighters he fought beside.
Fahrenwald attended Clissold School and Morgan Park Military Academy, now Morgan Park Academy. After he graduated, he studied journalism and earned a pilot’s license at Carlton College in Minnesota. But after two years of higher education, he decided to enlist in the Air Corps.
He was a revered pilot who was feared captured or killed until he was reunited with his fellow airmen after three months of being missing in action. Upon seeing them, he bellowed, “Ha, ha, ha! I ‘bin’ everywhere!”
That, too, was no exaggeration.
When he returned to Morgan Park, Fahrenwald began helping his brother run the family business. Their father, who’d been a lifelong explorer, mining engineer and inventor, had been killed at the beginning of the war, hit by a Rock Island train at 119th Street before there were guardrails. His sons took over at the helm of the foundry he’d started in Harvey.
Growing up, Madelaine said, “was like having a Boy Scout leader for a father.”
Her childhood, as well as her sister Roxanne’s, was filled with traveling, hiking and practical jokes.
“My dad was a real character and a fixture in his old South Side neighborhood, where he lived for most of his 83 years,” she said. Her parents, she said, had lots of friends and liked to have a good time, particularly when frequenting Paul’s Swiss Chalet.
Bill Fahrenwald said those who read the book will quickly realize Ted’s wit and his hard-drinking nature.
“Which brings me to his use of language to both disarm and charm his listeners. About 10 years ago, after I’d visited my father (Ted’s brother), who was dying of heart failure and emphysema on the East Coast, I returned to Chicago and went to Ted’s house,” Bill said. “Ted welcomed me to have a drink with him and we sat in his living room in chairs at the edge of a real bear skin rug. Ted asked me how my dad was doing, and I told him he seemed to be OK, but that he was now on oxygen all the time. Without hesitation, Ted looked at me with the characteristic twinkle in his eye, raised his glass and said, ‘Why that’s no big deal. I’ve been on Gordon’s Gin all my life.’
“Ted could make you laugh about absolutely anything,” Bill said. “I miss that.”
After he died, Madelaine cleaned up the punctuation and tweaked the structure of her father’s manuscript. Family friend Don McKibben, a member of the 486th Fighter Squadron in the famed 352nd Fighter Group, helped her. When author Jay Stout came across the book while researching the 352nd, he took it right to the publisher’s door, she said.
Casement Publishing liked the memoirs so much, Madelaine said, that when they learned there was a collection of letters, they quickly decided to publish the second, epistolary book, as well.
Both “Bailout Over Normandy: A Flyboy’s Adventures with the French Resistance and Other Escapades in Occupied France” and “Wot a Way to Run a War!: The World War II Exploits and Escapades of a Pilot in the 352nd Fighter Group” are available at amazon.com.