Checkertails: How the 325th FG got a documentary
Neil Pugh, "MysticPuma" thought he was retired from making internet movies. Here's what happened, in his own words:
In 2007 I had just finished a short movie about Robert S. Johnson's
survival against all the odds stacked against him when he was shot up
and trapped in a burning aircraft after his canopy jammed. That film was
called "Not my time to Die!" and was Narrated by Ralph Gimenez. He and I
became friends through our mutual interest in Flight Simulation, WW2
Aviation history and a passion to keep these great stories alive.
Ralph is a dedicated historian of B-25's that flew in the Mediterranean Theatre of operations and during one of our chats on Skype he mentioned that the B-25's would often be escorted by P-51's of the Checkertail Clan..........and that's when all my problems began!
My interest was hooked and I decided to make a short 5-minute film depicting one-battle fought by the 325th.
I sent a speculative email to Art Fiedler, a P-51 Ace who flew with the 325th and didn't really expect a reply. However, never under-estimate a Checkertail! Art replied and the detail and enthusiasm he went into regarding my questions made me realise that this could be more than just a fleeting 'action flick'. I steadily set about researching the 325th and through books and emails my knowledge soon grew and I became entranced by their history and the people who served with them. My search for more information led to me contacting the "Virtual325th" who take part in online historical battles using combat flight simulation software and from this I made contact with Ian MacDonald who had more contact for me to follow up. Steadily my emails became full of incredible stories and anecdotes and I realized I would need to meet these surviving members to record their memories so generations would be able to see and hear what these veterans did to preserve our freedom.
Along the way I have met many great people, in-fact too-many to mention but a few do stand out. Ian MacDonald hired an airplane and we flew from his home in New Hampshire to meet Jerry Edwards so I could film his memoirs, Ralph Gimenez arranged for groups of 'virtual' pilots to fly battle-scenes that were required to make some of the action scenes, as-well as making the paint-schemes that appear on the aircraft suing his knowledge of Photoshop. Frank Lawless who's Father-in-Law (Gordon McDaniel) became an 'Ace-in-a-day' replied to one of my many speculative emails and he paved the way for me to contact Gary Bullock who has appeared in many Hollywood productions and ultimately jumped at the chance to Narrate my project. With reference to Gary, he has been tireless in his dedication to create a professional Narrative which has seen him editing and re-writing my very amateur script and making it into a full-blown piece of art! As an aside, I should add that when I made the original edit of part 1, I had to record the Narration myself to 'time' the footage to, so that I could progress quickly with the project. This was great until Gary read it 'properly' like a Narrator should. Sadly I had talked like a typical 'natter-jack' and Gary was rock-solid and smooth, making sure each intonation was exactly as it should be read. This meant that once I got his Narration back and put it onto the timeline, what had taken me 10-seconds to say, took Gary 18-seconds to say! Cut to me pulling my hair out and having to re-edit my edit! However, it was worth every second of effort and Part 1 has currently been seen by nearly 500,000 viewers! I did say there were too-many to mention but I need to most-certainly add Kathy Evans-Cluff who now has taken the reins of the Checkertail Clan Organization and is dedicated to preserving their story. She (and her family too) has been a great inspiration , especially with her help (and Patrice Manget (Daughter of Jerry Edwards)) in organising the reunions and also making the effort to arrange flights for me to travel to the 65th reunion.
Everything that you see in Part 1 and Part 2 has been done for free. There is no agenda, no 'money-making', no profit. Everything has been created just because 'we can' and what greater motivation can there be, than to honor these great en who served for us and protected us and ultimately gave us the freedom we know take for granted. To quote from the opening of Part 1:
"The following is the story of one unsung group of Pilots, who stood up to be counted when the time came to fight back against the rising tide of tyranny. They were young men, who like us, all had hopes and dreams of what their future would bring. Yet when all hope seemed lost, they did not cower, they did not run, they stood firm and chose to fight. Many of them gave the ultimate sacrifice in that fight. This is our tribute to these men, who were feared and known by their enemies as ........Checkertails"
My name is Neil Pugh, my website is www.decisiveimaging.com and I am proud to have honoured "The Checkertail Clan"