A SERIES OF SHORT BIOGRAPHIES

By: Russ Felt

 

 

 

 

 

 

            Somewhere in the past came an awareness of relatives and others who have been involved in unique events and experiences.  This project is intended to bring attention to some of those people.  They may be appropriately called UNSUNG heroes.  They should not be forgotten. This is an attempt to preserve something of their stories.  These biographies include Felt/Paesani relatives and friends.  There are lessons to be learned from each of these people.  The biographies are brief and there is much more that could be told about each life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

INDEX

 

Francis Herron

Sister Mary Kenny

Rae Marie Campbell

Gino Paesani

Dave Poller

Wilfred Norman Maxfield

Clayton Brainerd

 

 

Note:  Random House Publishing (9/2/2008) gave approval (in binders for family and friends) for using Chapter Seven in the McCain book in the biography of Francis Herron

Note:  Sterling Lloyd Literistic Inc. (10/6/2008) gave approval to use Chapter Seven in the McCain book in the biography on Feltonline.com website

Approvals on file with Russ Felt-  This is for the Herron biography

 

 

Francis ‘Josh’ Herron  (Felt line)

 

Charles and Nina Felt Herron married and lived in Lehi, Utah, at 564 West Main Street.  Their home was designed by the Architect of the LDS Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The two storied home is now neglected and in disrepair but one can still readily see its beautiful potential.  Charles and Nina Herron had three sons, Mark, Max, and Francis.  This short biography is about Francis who was born in Lehi, Utah, 5 Mar 1913.

 

Francis enlisted in the United States Navy as a Seaman Apprentice on 15 Aug 1934 in Salt Lake City, Utah.  During his Navy experience he held various ratings and served on several Submarines (14 to be exact).  He was transferred to Fleet Reserve 1 Feb 1957 after 22 yrs of service.  He was honorably released from Active Duty with the designation of Torpedoman Chief.

Francis Herron

 

 

 

Current Congressman and Presidential Candidate John McCain wrote a book about his father, John Sidney McCain, ‘Faith of My Fathers’.  He wrote of World War II and his father’s role in the submarine service.  Francis Herron served under John Sidney McCain

aboard the USS Gunnel from May of 1942 to June of 1944.  Chapter Seven of the book offers insights of what Francis Herron experienced.

 

“The USS Gunnel served as a reconnaissance and beacon ship for Operation Torch, the American invasion of North Africa.’  The Gunnel operated near Casablanca and arrived in advance of the invasion.  Its mission was to remain undetected and to reconnoiter and photograph the beaches to seek the best landing sites.  At dawn of the invasion, the Gunnel was to fly its flag on the surface and leave for the Canary Islands.  Friendly fire was a concern and an allied plane started a turn and bomb run at the Gunnel.  A crash dive was ordered and the bomb landed closely enough that crew members were struck by ‘flying paint chips’ from the Conning Tower from the blast.”  Francis Herron was there.

 

Off the Canary Islands the Gunnel was hunted by German submarines.  The Gunnel was ordered to Scotland and was ‘spotted and chased’ by a U-Boat.  During that time and a long way from Scotland, the engines of the Gunnel failed (Apparently those engines were faulty in several submarines).  Auxiliary engines used for lights and air conditioning were used for very slow propulsion.  The Gunnel was redirected to Falmouth, England.  During the voyage three ships of unknown origin were spotted and as they approached, the Gunnel prepared to fight.  At the very last moment, the ships were determined to be Allied and a catastrophe was averted.  The Gunnel made Falmouth and after repairs, went to Scotland and then to New Hampshire where it was outfitted for combat duty in the Pacific.  Francis ‘Josh’ Herron was on that voyage.

 

John McCain was loved by his men who referred to him as ‘Captain Jack’.  “It is said that he made a point of knowing all about the personal lives of the men under his command.”  The Gunnel had eight officers and 72 enlisted men on board and John McCain knew each one by first name.  It was said that ‘Captain Jack’ knew who was married and how many children each had and who was single.  He knew whose wife was expecting a child and which gender they hoped to have. It is reasonable that he knew all about Francis Herron and his life.  He would even have known about Francis’ life back home. 

 

After a night partying in Fremantle, Australia, the crew was called together.  The Commander said to them, “Fellows, we’re going to fight the ****** Japanese.  We’re gonna fight these ******, and we we’re going to lick’em.  We’re not gonna let these J…s hide from us.  We’ll fight’em even if we have to go into their harbors to find them, and they’re gonna be ****** sorry we did.  I’ll tell you that.  Now, every man who wants to go with me, take one step forward, and anyone who doesn’t, stay right where you are.”  With roaring approval every man stepped forward.  Francis Herron stepped forward.

 

It is said that John Sidney McCain never lost the respect of the men who sailed under his command.  He taught them their duty, as they taught him his, and he made them proud to carry out their duties. He looked after his crew.  Francis Herron was one of those men.

 

On return from a patrol to Fremantle, Australia, an Allied Bomber mistakenly made a bomb run at the Gunnel and the bombs narrowly missed but shook the submarine.  At dock the Commander called for the two largest men on board.  After determining the proper signal was given to the Bomber and that it was ignored, the commander told the two, “Men, I want you to go find the ***** who did this to us, and take care of them.  You got that?”  They did not find the Bomber crew. 

 

The Gunnel patrolled between Midway and Nagaski.  On 18 Jun, near Korea, they sighted seven large Japanese freighters and two smaller vessels.  The ships were at full speed and they changed course every ten minutes.  The Navigation Officer determined they were headed to Shanghai.  The Gunnel surfaced to increase its speed to get ahead of the convoy during the night.  The Gunnel submerged near dawn and stayed at periscope depth until close to the convoy.  Torpedoes were fired and freighters were sunk.  The Gunnel dove and depth charges were dropped to attack it.  The click of the detonator could be heard in the Gunnel at first.  “But the explosion was the worst.”   Crew members bent their knees to absorb the shock of the depth charges.  It was said that other crews had men with broken legs who stood too rigidly.  One of the ships dropped a grapnel, trying to ‘hook’ the Gunnel, but it dragged along the port side ‘rattling slowly and excruciatingly.’  The Commander later said, “The chains of Marley’s ghost sounded much like that to old Scrooge.”  The Gunnel submerged to 300 ft and ran at that depth for several hours.  Nearby Destroyers were sent to attack the Gunnel.  Water was allowed to flood the submarine tanks to keep it submerged at those great depths.  The air was foul and religious men worshipped.  During the night, the Gunnel surfaced.  A Destroyer was spotted and the Gunnel was turned astern and the order given to fire the stern torpedoes.  The Destroyer was firing and the order given to submerge.  The Destroyer was hit but depth charges were released to hit the Gunnel.  “The awesome sounds of exploding depth charges and collapsing bulkheads as the warship rapidly sank close astern of the Gunnel was an unforgettable experience for all hands.”  Francis Herron was on board.  Would he have been the torpedoman to fire the torpedoes?

 

The Gunnel submerged to 300 ft and remained on the bottom for some 18 hours.  On 20 Jun this was the experience of the crew with everything being done to reduce the need for failing oxygen levels.  Some men wept and some become delirious and one had to be strapped down.  The crew grew toward ‘frantic desperation.’  “Now they were sweating out endless hours, fathoms down, exhausted, slowly suffocating while their sub faced the imminent prospect of lying dead in the water.”  The temperature reached 120 degrees and the humidity was 100 %.

 

The decision was made to slowly surface and fight it out with whomever and try to run as the batteries were re-charged.  The other option was to surface, destroy classified materials, scuttle the Gunnel and put the men overboard to be captured.

 

Upon surfacing, the Gunnel spotted a Destroyer but was not detected and the Gunnel ran for safety.

 

The Gunnel reached Midway some ten days later and the commander said, ”I suspect the  men…were never so happy to see that dull uninteresting island.”

 

Francis Herron was there for that experience.

 

 

Norine Fox and friends vacationed in Hawaii and were given a tour of a submarine as given by Francis.  Norine lived across the street from the Herron family in Lehi, Utah

 

USS Cobbler (courtesy Art Stapleton)

Captain William Holman’s Inspection Photograph

Francis is front left

 

 

(Follow-up email from Art received 3 May 2008 explaining the photograph above)

 

“Russ, the dress inspection was dockside at Key West and it was the Cobbler. Aft of the boat, across the water is a quay, or sea barrier. On the website, there's a picture of Cobbler at dockside, across from the ODAX, SS 484 which had just been reconstructed for guppy air supply, the 5 inch cannons removed. Memorial Day, 1947. The quay is seen again aft. Cobbler, later, was reworked, too, as was the Odax.

 

I was not there at the time of the dress inspection, but I know the Captain and several others in the picture, including Lt. Clarke, the Electronics Officer as the first person directly across from Josh. It was taken just before I arrived on board about July 1946.

 

You are doing a very nice thing to save remembrances of people worthy of such attention. Josh was calm under stress when things would go wrong. He stood up for crewmen who probably needed harsh treatment. A man's man, he did not tattle to the officers when we had infractions to deal with.”

 

(Courtesy of Art Stapleton)

 

 

Francis married Marjorie Mooney.  Marjorie served in the military for five years.  She has referred to Francis.” as a wonderful man” and that he was “the dearest of men.”  Marjorie also said that Francis held the now Senator John McCain (Presidential Candidate in 2008) and then a child, on his lap at a ship party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                   

Francis kept in contact with his widowed mother, Nina Felt Herron.  He sent her a photo of the first Pan American Clipper airliner to return to continental United States from Hawaii.  Francis was stationed there and managed to get his letter and the photographs on the aircraft.  He instructed his Mother to keep it all and that it might be of value sometime in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Francis was a gifted artist.  As a boy he would paint on the walls of his bedroom, upstairs in the Lehi, Utah home.  This writer saw those paintings from time to time.  Recently, the current owners were asked if the paintings still exist upstairs but they said no.

 

Francis Herron did heroic things by virtue of his enlistment in the Navy as a Torpedoman.  He did not receive the accolades given to others in public, but never-the-less he was a hero and an example to others.

 

 

 Marjorie J. Mooney was Chief Yeoman, USNR.  She served five years, four months, 18 days.  Marjorie and Francis were very happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DD 214

Separation Document

 

 

 

 

 

Discharge Document

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Francis Herron designed and drew these three logos.  Current internet sites of the USS Cobbler and the USS Toro use his Logo designs.  He had artist ability.

 

USS Cobbler Plank Owner Crew

(Crew that first sailed the Cobbler)

(Josh is in the 5th row from the bottom, 4th person from the left)

 

Down The Ways

Francis Herron was on the Cobbler this day

(From Art Stapleton, Cobbler crew 1946 - 1948:))

 

“Josh was the Chief of the Boat when I first arrived at Key West at age 19.

He certainly was an extremely confidant man, an excellent teacher, and he would wag his finger under our noses when we came back from liberty ashore with a bit too much on our breath.

 

My most memorable item for Josh was his artistic talent for sculpting. One item I recall was a sculpture of female form, like a small manniquin made of "Plastic Wood". In those days Plastic Wood, other than clay, was used to form all kinds of things because as it hardened, it resembled wood, but hard as a rock. It came in cans which had to be kept closed or it would harden.

Plastic Wood consisted of sawsust and and varnish-like liquid which hardened after being exposed to air.  Josh was proud of his sculpture which seems now to have been about 12 inches tall. Off duty, he would knead a bit of the plastic into position, let it harden, then carve and sand it to his requirements.

 

Josh asked me to photograph himself and the sculpture, which I did, and gave him the print. I thought I had a copy, too, but could not find it among my memorabilia.

 

In both ship's party pictures (attached), Josh is at top left, with glass raised in response to a toast, and getting a big smooch from unknown, and the first at left in Captain William Holman's Inspection photo.

 

We were all sorry to see Josh leave us sometime in late 1947, I recall.

Great guy, but he never talked with me about himself or family.”

 

Art S.

 

Received this email 3 May 2008 from Art Stapleton

 

Marjorie Troy also provided a large bound book, Submarine Operations in World War II that belonged to Francis.  In the book is a photograph of the Crew of the USS Cobbler (Francis designed the Logo).  Mark Maynard, a crew member and in the photograph, said that it was taken in June or July of 1946 and he provided many names of those in the photograph

 

 

Front Row, kneeling, left to right:

Mark ‘Jack’ Maynard,  J.E. Storm, Bill Sether, J. Kurht, Geroge Bodrog, ?, Guy Matthews, Frank Minick

 

Second Row, left to right:

Henry Trembly, Robert Kutzlub, Roy Platz, ?, ?, Leo Feeny

 

Third Row, kneeling, left to right:

A.N. Glennon, ?, ?, ?

 

Fourth Row, Standing, left to right:

Wayne Ramay,?, Al Henderson, Tommy Ploy, Gus Krause, Browning, Josh Herron, W.G. Holman, Vic Howell, G.W. Clark, Cy Bracht, W. Wright, R.B. Poage

 

Fifth Row, (on the cigarette deck ladder):

C.K. Moore, Herman, Coleman, Glendening (standing on cigarette deck ladder with his torso behind the rail)

 

1st row on cigarette deck:

Schumaker, ?, Mike Garret, ? (sitting), Jesse Mason, Bill Medinger, Ray Downen, Harry Todnem

 

2nd row on cigarette deck:

?, ?

 

Top Row:

?, ?, Bill Rieneke, ?, Hugh Doran

 

Note:  the question marks represent shipmates that I know, but I can’t remember their names.

 

Mark states: “I reported aboard in December 1945 in Staten Island (New York) and in January we were home ported in Key West until the major overhaul in November 1948 to about September 1949 in EB Groton.  Then we shifted home port to Norfolk.  I was detached to shore duty in San Diego in April 1950 (about 4 years and 4 months in Cobbler).  She was a fun boat until the Snorkel was installed; after that it was miserable due to a sinus infection aggravated by the fluctuations in air pressure while snorkeling.”

 

Note:  this identification of the crew and the note following courtesy Mark Maynard in email 4 Nov 1968.

 

SISTER MARY KENNY OF THE ORDER OF RELIGIOUS OF JESUS AND MARY AND A  FRIEND

(She lives in semi-retirement in Highland Mills, New York.  She still teaches Poetry at the Order’s Montessori School in Highland Mills and lives in the Convent next door)

 

 

The video interview in possession of Russ Felt was converted into a tape recording for transcription and is written as a dialogue between Sister Mary Kenny, Sister Norene Costa, Rita Felt and Russ Felt at lunch in Highland Mills in August 2007.  Sister Mary is extremely well read and well educated and has influenced many, many lives.  She is an extraordinary person.

 

 

M = Sister Mary Kenny

N = Sister Norene Costa

Ri = Rita Felt

R = Russ Felt

 

 

 

 

R:  I am trying to write some short biographies of people I admire and you are one of them.  I want to bind the biographies for my family to read and for positive influence upon them..

 

M:  My first inclination is to say I haven’t done anything.  It reminds me of Sister Rosemary who just left here and went back to Rome.  She is a former pupil and now in the general government in Rome.  The lesson is to be good to your pupils.  She brought wonderful pictures of Sisters from around the world, India, Pakistan, and she said in their first meeting in Rome everyone was kind of tense.  She was trying to put them at ease.  She asked them about family and other general things and did they have any questions.  She showed the picture of an Indian Sister who asked Rosemary, what were her own talents?  Rosemary was taken back and could not think of one.  When one applied for the community, they were often asked that question. 

 

R:  For this, please state your full name and where you were raised and when you were born.. 

M:  My name is Mary Margaret Kenny and I was born in East Orange, New Jersey on 28 Oct 1913.  On the day I was six months old my parents moved to Mountain Lakes, New Jersey where I lived until I entered the religious community.  I came to school here in Highland Mills in the 8th grade and stayed here through high school until I graduated in 1931 and left here to attend college at St Elizabeth in Convent Station, New Jersey.  I graduated from there in 1935, in the middle of the Depression, and it was hard to find work.   Our professors in the Education Department told us to not accept a position unless for a certain amount of money so not to lower the standard of the profession.  And all of us knew we would take any position and I worked six months as a volunteer for experience in an Episcopalian private school and I taught Latin there.  And then I got a position with the WPA.  WPA was one of those alphabet things.  I worked in a county library and finally after two years, I got a position in the Newark, New Jersey school system in North New Jersey.  And because it was the Depression they did not give tenure.  You worked for two years and then were out.  It was a terrible school, inter-city, terrible discipline problems and I was just out of college with all those ideals.  It was very difficult.

 

 

R:  How did you get into a religious order and what were you accepted into?

M:  I was in that school for two years and then I got a regular position in Boonton, New Jersey.  I had gone to school here in Highland Mills and I knew about the community and my sister had entered but I wasn’t thinking about it at all but then I did.  My mother died in 1945 and I entered the community in 1946. 

 

 

 

R:  What training did you do?

M:  I had a B.A. and a B.S.A and I got them in four years.  The next year the requirement was five years for those two degrees.  In my senior year I did five weeks of practice teaching. 

 

R:  Where did you learn Latin that you taught?

M:  I had four years in high school.  My Latin was very elementary and I taught first year Latin.  I taught in the public school here in a program in junior high school where students were exposed to Latin, French and Spanish with six weeks in each and I taught Latin.  That was interesting.  At the same time I taught Montessori just down the road.  There was no opening the next year and I realized how that one period of Latin tied me down.  There was an opening the following year and I didn’t want it but that I would do Latin for the one period.

 

R:  Then you taught English most of your career

M:  I taught English and History.  I had almost a double major.  I majored in History and had more than a minor in English.  There was an English requirement to write a short story and I am not good at writing short stories.  I can do some kinds of writing but not creative.  I had wonderful literature courses and enjoy teaching. 

 

R:  You named some of the places where you served, where else have you been?

M:  I taught in New Jersey, Highland Mills, and in 1954 Sister Conselotta and I went to Rome for one year to study.  And when we came back I went to Hyattville, Maryland.

 

R:  In Rome what did you do? 

M:  It was all spirituality.  We had a thirty day retreat.  We had classes in scripture, theology, and one day per week we did excursions in Rome and surrounding places.  That was a wonderful year.  We went by ship and on the way back we had a month in Spain and visited all our houses.  There was a shipping strike and we flew Air France back.  It was my first time flying. 

 

N:  Tell them about the Divine Family

M:  I had three summers in Europe in 1936, 37, 38.  We visited England, Ireland, Germany, France but not to Rome.  We planned on going to Europe in 1939 and didn’t.  We would have been caught if we had.

 

N:  Who were the Divines?

M:  They were a family who were good friends.  Chris Divine was a poor young man and he was parking cars at the Newark Athletic Club and some man left very valuable papers in his car and Chris took those papers to him.  The man hired Chris to be a runner on Wall Street. He became a wonderful Bond trader. He made millions of dollars. 

M:  The Divines had a large family.  Mrs. Divine attributed their success to taking in a sister’s children when their mother died and that blessings came to them as a result.  They had a beautiful home in Llewellyn, New Jersey.  They had a mansion.  They had nine children.  One summer I was teaching summer school nearby in Newark and the Divines wanted my mother and me to stay in their home with their children while the parents travelled.  We did.  Chris said not to spoil the children.  They were not spoiled.  I took them for a ride and we stopped for ice cream and the children were excited since they were not used to doing that and they were in heaven.  Mrs. Divine said she had more help than her husband did at his office.

 

R:  What is your favorite piece of literature and a favorite author?

M:  I don’t read much fiction so I like to read essays, memoirs, and biographies.  A favorite author is Percy.  Sister Rosemary should be here.  She has a million favorite authors. 

 

Ri:  Russell’s favorite author is Joseph Conrad

M:  I like biographies.  I recently read of Sidney Poitier who acted in Guess Who Is Coming to Dinner.  Sidney was poor and you wonder how he got into movies.  He never felt discriminated against.  On Cat Island with few whites he never felt discrimination and then he was old enough to not let that bother him.  He went to the bus station in Florida and wanted to get far away from the discrimination there.

 

Ri:  Sister Mary, you were a principal?

M:  Yes, at Regina at the high school for 10 years.  And I was principal of the Montessori school too. 

 

R:  You had to have administrative endorsements to be principal?

M:  I took some courses at the University of Maryland and also at Georgetown in the summers to get Board certification for Administration. 

 

N:  What about your grandparents?

M:  I don’t have many relatives named Kenny.  I am the oldest of four children and the only one left. 

 

R:  What do you know of the origins of your family?

M:  My mother’s maiden name was Delaney and that is Irish.  My father was Irish.  I never got into my Irish roots.  I did write to my father’s relatives in Ireland. 

M: My father ran an insurance agency and died young.  My mother took over the business and I went to the Boarding school.  My father died in his 39th year.  He died of a mastoid that developed into a brain abscess that would not be a problem today.  I was the oldest.

 

R:  If you had it all to do over, would you do anything differently?

M:  One thing I regret is not learning another language.  I really, really regret that.

 

 

R:  You have a fluency in Latin….?

M:  I have an understanding of Latin and I can read French.  Everything in Rome that year was in French. 

 

R: What language would you pick?

M:  French.  I read the other day that French is coming back into the schools of New York.  Enough people really wanted it. 

M:  Arabic was another language that was wanted but there was objection and that was too bad.  We need it.  People are so short sighted.  West Point teaches it.  Mother wanted to send my sister and me to Canada one summer and the Sisters here talked against it because the girls would come back with a Canadian accent.  That was too bad.  Rosemary has many gifts and language is not one of them.  She is trying to learn Spanish and she said her Spanish is abysmal.  She was happy to be here to speak English.

 

R:  Is there a favorite country or place you have visited?

M:  I enjoyed England maybe because of language

 

R:  Where were you in England?

M:  We stayed in London and Mrs. Divine had a sister living in Edgeware and we travelled there to see her.  We went to Oxford, Hampton Court, and others of the usual places. We went to the plays too.

M:  One child said to me, don’t you speak any English at all?  I said I tried.  If you cleared your throat they knew you were American.

 

R:  You have been in retirement then?

M:  I retired in 1993 but still work in the Montessori school. 

 

N:  Sister Mary teaches Poetry still, every day

R:  Do you have a favorite piece of poetry?

M:  I have many favorites.  I read with them poems I learned in high school.  Sea Fever, Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods’, House with Nobody in It by Joyce Kilmer, Road to Suffern along the Erie track, and this poem (she quoted this):

 

                                        Note:  See next page for the poem

 

 

Will there really be a morning

Is there such a thing as day

Could I see it from the mountains

If I were as tall as they

Has it feet like water lilies

Has it feathers like a bird

Is it come from famous countries

Of which I have never heard

Or some scholar, or some sailor

Or some wise man from the sky

For these to tell a little pilgrim

Where the place called morning lies

 

M:  It is beautiful and the children love it too

M:  I am after Norene to do more with music in the school.  One little one loved ‘Danny Boy; and of course I can’t sing but Sister Pauline taught the child the song and she said, ‘Danny Boy, I love you so’. 

 

Ri:  My favorite Frost poem is ‘The Road Not Taken’ and it is wonderful to sing.

 

R:  If you offered some advice about life, what would you say?

M:  I was thinking about college education and its expense and only the wealthy can afford it and those children are lucky.  The heart has to be trained and many are missing that.  We need to expand the heart as well as the mind.  There are so many educational requirements and how to do it all.  I was thinking of Newman’s essay where he said theology must be integrated into our technology.  Theology is the thing that pulls all education together.  Cardinal Newman wrote the essay.

 

N:  One of Mary’s brothers died from an athletic injury and the other, Jim, was Vice President of Fordham University. 

 

M:  In Ireland the Priests were not allowed to teach so they taught out in the ‘Hedges’ or wherever they could.  It was called a ‘Hedge School’ and that is what my Grandfather was, ‘A Hedge School Master’. 

 

 

R:  Do you remember your parents reading a lot?

M: Yes, I found a book my mother gave my father their first Easter.  Its title is, ‘Why God Loves the Irish’.  There were lots of magazines and newspapers to read.

 

 

Note:  Sister Mary Kenny is a remarkable person.  She is very well educated.  She loves literature and poetry.  She has dedicated her life to others and to their education.  She is an Unsung hero because of what she has humbly done with her life.  One wonders how many individuals have been positively affected by the influence and work of this person.  Sister Norene Costa is the same kind of person.  She is an Aunt of Rita Felt and operates a very fine Montessori school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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RAE MARIE CAMPBELL AND A RELATIVE IN THE FELT LINE (lives in Toronto, Canada and is an excellent Family History Researcher- interview from 2006. She is related in the Felt/Ferguson line)

 

 

 

Rae Marie Campbell in her Toronto home

 

 

R:  Tell me about you, where you were raised and how you got started in all this

RM:  I was raised in the country around Muskoka and that is north of here through Barry and on up. 

RM:  My Grandfather was a story teller.  I used to think he was part Indian because he worked in the lumber camps and his face was weather beaten and he lived to be 86 yrs.  I then got interested in the stories and we lived around cousins and we lived around the lakes.  We all owned land around the lakes because it was cheap.  At a young age we moved away. My maiden name was Rogers.  My father’s first name was Roy, Roy Rogers, and I used to tell everyone he was a cowboy and made movies.  Nobody ever challenged me.  To this day I don’t know why.  Anyway I was a blow hard as a kid; that is how I was.

RM:  In my first year of high school the teacher had us write about our favorite ancestor.  I wrote a story about John Hamilton Rogers and his wife Emily.  They lived in Quebec.  Well, it was very good and she was pleased.  Later on my Aunt asked where I got all the information I had written.  My heritage had lots to do with the beginnings of Quebec.  That interested me in finding more accurate information.

 

R:  The first Ferguson came from Scotland.

RM:  As far as I know the Fergusons we deal with came over here as soldiers to Connecticut.  They came from Connecticut to Rensselaer County near Albany.  (Rae Marie got a book from her extensive file)

RM:  I think the Fergusons came from Germany (she was absolutely right)

 

R:  Richard Ferguson is an interesting man, not only in War but with regards to the English influence in Canada.

RM:  Richard the son was in uniform but not Richard the father.  Richard was a mercenary with Butler’s Rangers.  Richard spied on troop movements and was given a large area of land for his efforts.  Women were also given land.

 

R:  Daniel and John Ferguson were in Wellington

RM:  Yes, they built many buildings including the Methodist Church. 

 

R:  Fergusons came from Scotland (redundant question and they came from Germany)?

RM:  I don’t know that, I am not back that far.  ‘Ferguson Family Roots’ begins with John Ferguson in 1638. 

 

R:  Richard was captured, escaped. He was taken to be held at Diamond Point (New York)

RM:  Diamond Point was a prison camp.  I don’t know if the place is there to see today. 

 

 

 

R:  You are in a Loyalist Organization?

RM:  Yes.  I have certificates of membership.  They do newsletters chapter by chapter and now they are associated with DAR in the United States.  I will give you a copy of a newsletter.  Richard Ferguson went to Cataract first.  He took his wife there.  Here is a copy of the Kings Ranger history that is authentic.  Some Kings Rangers were taken prisoner near Diamond Point.  It is near Lake George.  Richard escaped before going there.  It is surprising he was not executed.  Some Loyalists were upset at taxation. 

RM:  Fergusons got land grants later in Wellington area. 

 

R:  Your connection to Richard Ferguson is what?

RM:  Israel Ferguson, Richard’s son.  Israel had a David and David had an Israel.  That Israel was a Justice of the Peace.  Israel died young.  He had a fur trading post.  He died of the fever in 1792 but he left a son and a daughter and the son was named David.  David was the Justice of the Peace of Haldeman Township, not the county, but the Township.  That David’s son Israel took his family down to Belleville and was Sheriff and Justice of the Peace.  Israel, David, Israel, David was the order of my relatives.

 

R:  Connect that order to Rachel Matilda Ferguson my Great Grandmother

RM:  Daniel Ferguson was the son of Rozel Ferguson and Rozel was my Israel’s youngest brother.  He was the youngest child of Richard.  We are kissing cousins.  My Mother used to say, 1st cousin, 2nd cousin, 3rd cousin, kissing cousin after that. 

 

R:  You used the Archives for your research

RM:  Once you get back so far, the information I got by word of mouth was in error and the Archives had the correct information.  I wanted to make sure of accuracy.  Word of mouth has surnames correct but not Christian names.  It was sad about their inaccuracy.  There was a lot of intermarriage, not morally bad, but for example, a wife died young and left several children and the husband married her sister, to care for the kids. 

 

R:  He was shown the cabinets of her work and it is very large.

RM:  My children have given their word to preserve all this in the future.

 

R:  I am getting to know Richard Ferguson based upon what you have written

RM:  That is wonderful because it is sad the way our children don’t know their history.  Canadian kids know more about U.S. history than our own.

R:  It is the same in the U.S. with only one year required in history in high school

 

R:  I wanted to come and meet you and spend a few minutes with you. 

RM:  I have spent my life researching my heritage.  Our children don’t know their families.  We slept six in a bed crosswise.  We knew each other.

 

Note:  Rae Marie Campbell is a remarkable person who has spent her life researching her heritage and has volumes of information.  She lives in Toronto and was so very generous in visiting with me and with the sharing of information about our common heritage.  I don’t suppose many people will ever know about her and what she has done, but I do and I believe her to be one of those Unsung heroes whom I admire.  Rae Marie had health issues during our visit in 2006 and I have occasional email contact with her up to now, in 2008.

 

 

Daniel Ferguson Home in Wellington, Ontario

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Place in Wellington where Jim and Ed Ferguson learned the Telegraph Trade that they brought to Camp Floyd, Utah and then to Ibapah (Deep Creek), Utah

 

 

 

 

               Drusilla File Ferguson Headstone in Wellington, Ontario, Canada

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gino Luigi Paesani  (Paesani line)

 

 

Gino was born in Vallerano, Italy, 12 Jan 1921, to Angelina Loser and Giuseppi Paesani.  They met after World War I in Moristica, Northern Italy.  Moristica is approximately 60-70 miles south of Venice, Italy.  Giuseppi Paesani had been in the war.  He was born in Vallerano, Viterbo that was the original seat of the Roman Catholic Church.  It is in Etruscan country.  The Etruscans were the early people of Italy and among their many contributions was the concept of the Arch.  The Paesani family has Etruscan heritage.

 

Giuseppi Paesani had a vineyard and olive grove and grew hazel nuts.  He produced wine and had a cave on his property for the curing in vats of his wine.

 

Giuseppi and Angelina had two boys (Gino, Curzio, Pietro) and several girls.  When Gino was a couple of years old, the family immigrated to America.  There were family visits to the north of Italy to visit Angelina’s sister.  Adele’s family lived nearby which meant Gino and Adele really met when she was two years old.

 

The United States Navy sent Gino to the RCA Institute in New York on assignment and while there, he visited Adele’s family and even assisted with washing the dishes after dinner one evening.

 

Gino was too young to recall the immigration trip across but knows that they landed at Ellis Island, New York.  His brother was ill at the time and there was fear they would be sent back to Italy.  It was common that ill immigrants had their clothing marked for their return to their native country.  They were quarantined but finally allowed to leave by train for Nokomis, Illinois.

 

Angelina had a sister, Zia Maria Costa, who had immigrated to Nokomis, Illinois.  Adele even had an Aunt Zia Margarita Slaviero living there in 1923.  Gino’s father drove bus and also worked in the mines in Nokomis.  He died in his 30s in a mine accident one evening.  Angeline learned of his death at an auxiliary meeting that evening.  The family lived in several different homes in Nokomis and they lived comfortably and finally in a home across the street from Hap’s Bar.  Giuseppi bought it for $2,000 cash.  Pietro was born there Colton in that home.

 

Life changed for Gino’s family with the death of his father.  Angeline had to care for three boys.  She had been given a pension that was either $45 or $75 per month.  The boys Gino, Curzio (Cooch), and Pietro (Peter) collected coal from the sides of the railroad tracks and cut wood to heat their home.  A garden sustained them with vegetables and Angeline canned food for their use.  Life was not easy but they made it work.

 

Gino enjoyed radios and photography as hobbies.  He was nicknamed ‘Marconi’ and his mechanical abilities began then.  The boys tangled with each other and on one occasion Gino hit ‘Cooch’ in the head with a hammer.  But, there were fierce loyalties too and Gino was much like a father with his brothers.

 

Joseph Paesani had made ‘moonshine’ and even after his death, people came to buy his product.  Gino, as a boy, drove the Model A Ford to town to sell the stockpiled ‘booze’.

 

Even though the family was poor, they would not accept public relief.  Gino wore overalls with patches to school and lived through that ridicule from fellow students.  He was told by his Mother to tell others that his clothes were ‘clean, neat, and paid for.’

 

Gino graduated from Nokomis HS in 1938 and then went to Chicago where he worked for White Castle Hamburger Chain doing anything and everything for them.  He also attended a conservatory on Michigan Avenue to learn to play the violin.  He also worked as a ‘bus boy’ at Marty’s on Diversy Parkway on the North side.  This area of Chicago was where ‘gangsters’ hung out and Bugs Moran and others were killed nearby on St. Valentine Day.  He also worked for Bill Bennett Restaurant in Chicago in 1941.

 

Gino learned the violin because he wanted too.  Music had been part of growing up and he played in the high school orchestra where he was second violin.

 

In 1942 Gino joined the United States Navy as World War II began.  He was 20 yrs old.  After Boot Camp at the Great Lakes Naval Air Station in Chicago, Gino took exams and did well enough in electronics to qualify for Naval Air School.

 

He went to Jacksonville, Florida for school and was there one year.  It was on a pass that Gino returned home and he and Adele got engaged.  He bought her a ring on Broadway in New York City and brought to her home.  Finding her asleep, he had to wait until the next day (Palm Sunday).  Rita recalls that Adele’s mother would not awaken her so she could be given the ring that day but had to wait a day.

 

Gino and Adele were married 11 July 1943 in St Paul’s, New York City

 

 

 

 

Pietro Costa, Adele Paesani, Gino Paesani

Norma Costa, Libera Margerita, Norene Costa

 

                                                    

 

 

Gino returned to Jacksonville and boarded the ‘New York’.  It headed to Norfolk,Virginia where Adele joined him.  That first Christmas as Gino prepared for active duty, Adele decided to get gifts for everyone. Adele had $40 and spent that on gifts.  Gino had a pay problem and they had to borrow $50 from home.  That was their start in a marriage that lasted 62 years.  After Gino was assigned Adele returned to 61st Street in New York City to live with her parents.

 

Gino sailed on the Battleship New York, BB34, bound for Casablanca.  His assignment was as an Observer aboard the OS2U ‘Kingfisher’ aircraft that observed and plotted targets in the war.  The Kingfisher was catapulted into the air at full throttle from a destroyer and then landed following its mission on its pontoon landing gear on the water and was hoisted back on to the catapult.  The ship would turn to provide calm water for the landing.  Equipped Destroyers could fire off three Kingfisher aircraft within minutes.  The Kingfisher also carried two bombs.  The bombs were used to attack spotted submarines.

 

 

Kingfisher aircraft also directed battleship cannon fire using radio coordinates.  There was an occasion when the identification equipment aboard Gino’s Kingfisher failed and friendly fire was directed at them fortunately not hitting the airplane.

 

Kingfisher aircrews were assigned together and Gino’s first pilot crew member was T.J. Walker from Maryland.  T.J. became a ship’s captain in the 1960s.  During their time together their ship was damaged in an attack and returned to Bayonne, New Jersey, for repair.  Gino was assigned at Floyd Bennett Field on Long Island, New York during repairs.  With Gino as a crew member, a three airplane formation flew under Rockaway Bridge spanning from Brooklyn to the Rockaways.  He said they caught ‘hell’ for that effort.

Following that assignment near home, Gino and the others traveled to Portland, Maine and then on to the Panama Canal.  At that time Gino and Adele were expecting their first child, Rita.  From the Canal the ship went to Hawaii and then on to Anawetoc Island (site of Atomic bomb tests in later years) and on toward Leyete Gulf and Okinawa Island in the Phillipine Islands.

 

 

                                

Kingfisher landing along side New York

 

 

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Kingfisher on catapult launch

 

 

 

 

 

 

               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       Gino and an unkown friend on an island near the Phillipines

 

 

 

Missions were dangerous.  The Kingfisher aircraft flew at 100-500 feet picking targets.  Small arms fire and anti-aircraft fire were aimed at them.  They were told that some armament was just fake, Gino radioed back, “Dumbies, my ass, they are firing real guns at us.”  It was during this time that T.J. Walker was transferred and another pilot assigned.  His name is not remembered.  P-38 aircraft were sometimes assigned to fly cover for the Kingfisher aircraft.  There was an occasion when they were directed to fire on a ‘troop’ movement.  Gino observed that they were civilians but his observation was discounted and the civilians were attacked.

 

On another occasion, over Iwo Jima, Gino thought he was speaking to just his pilot, but the system was open back to the fleet and Gino was heard to observe, “The Bastards are shooting at us.”  Gino assisted in providing coordinates for the Mt. Suribachi attacks.

 

Of his pilot crewmembers, one was being flown with a physician back for treatment and they were forced to land on an island.  The Doctor was instantly killed and the pilot finished the war as a prisoner.  Some of his pilot friends were named, Keller, Nintz and Jones.

 

It was during this time that Gino was sent back to San Francisco and the Atomic Bombs were dropped on Japan and the war ended. Gino had accumulated over 1,000 hours (according to his log) of flying time in an airplane that flew low and slow and was so vulnerable to attack.  It is remarkable that he lived through the war flying in an airplane that flew so low and slow and was such an easy target.  Gino was awarded the Air Medal with at least five clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross with several clusters.  These medals are among the top medals awarded by the United States.

 

It is worth mentioning that Gino said very little of those medals.  It was a family tradition to marinate cherries in Brandy for use during the Christmas Holidays.  On one occasion, Gino had some of this concoction to excess and he was speaking more freely than usual and he mentioned the medals.  His children had played with them, not knowing what they represented.  A son in law quizzed him about the medals and a daughter went to another room and found them.  They are now framed and on the wall of his living room.  He had been awarded some of highest decorations given by our military and his family had never been told the story of them.

 

Some other observations about the war are as follows:

 

On the Pacific Islands native women were forced to strip and walk the beaches enticing United States airmen to fly low and slow to observe thus drawing enemy gunfire.

 

Landing the Kingfisher meant that the Destroyer would turn 90 degrees producing a smooth slick for landings.  The airplane then taxied on to a slip and was hoisted back on to the catapult.  Some airplanes ran into the ships.  On one occasion a Kingfisher was catapulted into the air with the Destroyer sliding down a wave.  The Kingfisher scrapped the water level but made it into the air.  The idea was to catapult as the Destroyer moved up the wave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gino’s  Log Book

 

 

                                          

 

Log Book

 (note: ‘under fire’- that notation was made on several pages)

 

 

 

Gino was on leave to New York for the birth of Rita, their first child.  Eventually Adele and Gino had five children (Rita Angeline, Gene Louise, Joseph, Mary Ellen, and Andrea).  He was sent to Lido Beach, Long Island, New York where he was mustered out of the service

 

They stayed in New York living at 61st Street.  Gino went to work in a radio store for two months.  He quit there because an older person was about to be cheated on a radio she had purchased.  That night Gino took a tube to her home and got the radio working, all without charge.  He then quit.  That ethic has remained throughout Gino’s successful professional career.

 

Gino made enough to pay for higher education and weddings of his children.  He sold Baldwin music products at his Sunrise Highway store (South Shore Music Company).  After 21 years he sold his business to Baldwin and worked for them in New York City from 1977 to 1993.  That store was on 7th Avenue and 59th Street in New York City.  His commute was more than an hour in each direction, using the railroad to Penn Station and the Subway to 59th St.

 

Gino, at age 87 years, still works selling musical instruments on Long Island.  He remains Frank and Camile’s top salesman.  He has never retired.

 

Gino would advise his children and grandchildren to never quit but to keep trying and to keep working.  He gave Adele credit for raising the children and for managing their home.  When asked what he would do over in his life, he said he would want to be more

prosperous for his family but that he had no regrets.  Gino’s family does love one another even from their early days on long trips to Illinois and his occasional reminder, “If I have to stop again.”

 

Education was important to Gino’s Mother.  As a result, Gino helped his brothers with their higher educations.

 

The loss of their Father early in their lives caused the three boys to band together and to help one another.  There was a step father, Charles Vendor, and they had a good relationship with him.  Charles is buried next to Angeline and Giuseppi.  Charles and Angeline were married more than 15 years.

 

With that wry smile, Gino said of this writing, “He hoped all his viewers will enjoy it.”

 

One must add some of the qualities of Gino Paesani.  He is completely honest.  He knows how to work hard and has done that his entire life.  He loves his wife and children and his extended family.  He is a loyal citizen who was prepared to give his life for his country and was in harms way in World War II.  He has a sense of humor and enjoys life.  He is an excellent salesman.

 

                                              

Gino Paesani

 

 

                                                

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Poller  (Gene and Jerry Poller)

 

David Poller was born 26 Jul 1919 at Lower East Side, New York City.  He lived in 13 locations in 12 yrs and lived in every borough but Staten Island.  His father was Russian from Odessa who immigrated to New York.  He was a hat maker by trade.  David’s Mother was from Poland.  She went to New York at 17 yrs of age.  She lived with an uncle who met her upon arrival.  David Poller’s Father had a variety of other occupations including operating a grocery store and selling insurance.

 

Dave went to public schools in Brooklyn graduating from Erasmus Hall High School.  He then went to Stewart Technical School studying aircraft mechanics.  He loved the prospect of flying but had not flown.  David’s eyesight prevented him from going to pilot training.  20-20 vision was required and he did not qualify.

 

 

Erasmus High School

 

 

In 1935 or 1936 Dave worked at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn moving small aircraft and fueling aircraft.  He said at the end of the day, often, he would be given a half hour to 45 minute airplane rides that increased his interest in flying.

 

 

 

 

In 1940 Dave worked for Reynolds-Martin in Baltimore, Maryland, where he built aircraft.  He worked on the United States Navy R seaplane.  It was the largest seaplane of that time.  Dave then worked on the B-26 Bomber.  He worked there nine months riveting and cutting sheet metal.  He desired a license for aircraft maintenance but was unable to get the varied experience with this employer.

 

B-26

 

              

 

Dave returned to Brooklyn, New York.  He sought employment at LaGuardia Airport.  He applied to all the major airlines and finally Pan American Airways hired him.  His starting salary was $.40 per hour.  Dave pointed out that was not an adequate salary but they countered with his working six days per week and he accepted.  In four months he received a salary increase to $.50 cents per hour.  He was a mechanic on Pan American Aircraft that at that time was a Boeing 314 Seaplane.  B-314 was a four engine Seaplane with two decks connected by a spiral staircase.  It carried 40 passengers.

 

 

 

 

 

Pan American flew several routes to Europe.  The Northern route flew from New York to Canada to New Foundland to Foyns, Ireland.  Another route was South to Bermuda and to the Azore Islands.  These routes were used in seasons of calm sea swells.  The Southern route was used in the season when calm seas were needed and included flying to Bermuda, to Venezuela, to Trinidad, to British Guinea, to Belem, to Natal, to Fisherman Lake and to Liberia to Lisbon.  David was located at Fisherman Lake, Liberia in 1943.  He said there was no dock there and they landed in the middle of the Lake tying up to a barge.

 

David was able to become a Flight Engineer and flew all the routes.  On one flight to Foyns, Ireland, the un-pressurized aircraft began to ice and lose altitude.  At 500 ft the crew threw out objects to lighten the weight and at the same time most of the de-icing fluid was gone.  The icing problem stopped with the aircraft at 25 ft to the water.  The incident caused Pan American to put 25 gallons of de-icer on the aircraft rather than the normal 10 gallons.

 

David next served on a DC-4 aircraft (military version was a C-54).  The typical route was New York to Gander to Shannon to Heathrow in London.  As Flight Engineer, David was responsible for all aircraft systems including aircraft power, full power to cruise power.  The DC-4 carried 70 passengers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DC 4

 

 

David then served on the Lockheed Constellation (O-69) that flew the same routes already described.  The aircraft was pressurized allowing it to fly up to 21,000 ft.  He said that the aircraft had a notorious bad right engine.  David was called ‘Feather Merchant’ because he feathered that right engine 13 times on flights.  Feathering included shutting down the engine and rotating the propeller so it would not create drag on the aircraft.  The O-69 was a regular Lockheed Constellation.  The ‘Super Constellation’ aircraft were the O-69 and O-749 modified aircraft that could fly non-stop from New York to London.  David was not a crew member on these two aircraft.

 

Pan American Airway purchased DC-6 aircraft that were pressurized and flew up to 21,000 ft.  All Pan American aircraft were called ‘Clippers’.  The DC series were land planes.  Pan American added DC-7, 7B, 7C modified aircraft.  David served as Flight Engineer on these aircraft.

 

David flew the Africa routes that included New York to Bermuda to the Azores, to Aackar to Leopoldville to Johannesberg.  He also flew the other European routes.

 

In 1956 the Boeing 707 was purchased by Pan American.  Pam American had a round the world route that included New York to Calcutta to San Francisco.  David flew the New York to Calcutta route only.

 

 

 

Pan American then added DC-8 aircraft that David flew.  On one occasion in the Azores he was invited to sit in the co-pilot seat on the tarmac.  He was about to go to his Engineer seat when the pilot invited him to engage his seat belt.  David then was told to take the aircraft off and at 15,000 ft, leveled off and set Cruise Control.  A Purser came forward asking if the pilot could do something about level flight since passengers were getting ill at up and down movement.

 

In 1961 David had a heart problem and was grounded from flying.  Prior to the health issues he was part of a crew flying President Sukarno of Indonesia.  The heart problem was not due to that flight.

 

David was allowed to resume flying but only on cargo aircraft.  He joked with crews that Pan American would allow him to kill Cargo crews but not passengers. His last flight was in 1964 or 1965 when the flight physical grounded him for good.  He accumulated more than 20,000 hours of flying time.  He did not keep all his log books but 20,000 hours is equivalent to about three years of flying 24 hrs per day, as Flight Engineer.

 

When asked about a memorable experience David recalled being on a DC-6 flying from Scandanavia to Iceland to New York.  Any flight required enough fuel for the destination plus 45 minutes additional fuel.  Weather was not good and the crew explored other destinations but the only reasonable solution was back to Iceland and the weather meant a GCA approach that safely enabled them to land.  A bang was heard.  The next day they were preparing a flight, Dave had raised a question about aileron movement and as they were near time to load the passengers, Dave investigated an access panel, saw nothing, but something he said, “caused him to study more closely”, and he found a sheared piece on the Gust Lock, a device to keep the aircraft stable in gusting winds.  Dave grounded the aircraft, the passengers were transferred to other airlines, and the problem was addressed and fixed.  The pilot asked him what would have happened had they flown that day and Dave replied that the aileron would have stuck causing that aircraft to crash.  Dave acknowledged that a ‘higher power’ provoked him to look more closely and ground the aircraft.

 

After flying, David spent 17 yrs as an Assistant Administrative Chief for New York Pan American aircraft.  He retired at 65 yrs of age.

 

David and Loretta Chernin Poller had twin sons, Jerry and Larry.  Loretta passed away several years before this writing.   Dave currently lives in Florida.

 

David Poller has lived an interesting and productive life.  He is another unsung hero due to his flying experiences.

 

 

 

Dave and Loretta Poller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A former Active Duty Air Force Officer and friend of the writer exchanges photos of military aircraft and sent these photos of Clipper aircraft.  The photos may all be all from the Islands.  There is no indication where or when they were taken.  I have included them to better illustrate this unique aircraft that Dave Poller flew on as an aircrew member

 

 

 

 

 

David Poller and son Jerry in Ireland visiting a Clipper aircraft

(Courtesy Jerry Poller, May 2008)

(Jerry states that his Father had not seen a Clipper aircraft in many years; Dave flew as flight engineer)

 

 

NOTE:  Dave Poller’s son was visiting his Dad in Florida in 2008 and found some interesting documents that are now being added to this biography

 

Pan American Memorandum dated 22 September 1950 signed by J.L. Blaylock

 

“It is with sincere appreciation that we transmit to you a report received from Captain Avary of LAD,  Needless to say, it is gratifying to see reports of this kind, as it is this alertness, devotion to duty, and maintenance responsibility that will tip the scale in securing Flight Engineering as a profession.

 

Boeing Stratocruiser Clipper N 10335, trip 202, landed at Galeao Airport, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil at 0240 CCT September 2, 1950.  Immediately following touchdown, the aircraft showed a strong tendency to pull to the left.  At first it was thought that this was due to possible unequal reversing of the inboard engine.  An immediate check showed this impossible.  The port yawing tendency increased and strong counter-directional movement was applied to the nose-wheel steering mechanism.  Approximately 1000 feet after touchdown, both left main gear tires blew and the accompanying rollout roughness indicated left main gear difficulty.  Aircraft was brought to a stop in the center of the runway, some 2500 feet from point of touchdown.

 

At this time a fire of considerable proportions had developed in the left main gear through conflagaration of tires.  Switches were cut at this point, and in a miraculously short time, with flames enshrouding the left underside of the aircraft, Flight Engineers, J. Cross and D. Poller had opened the forward lower cargo hatch and, armed with ship’s CO2 Extinguishers, were fighting the blaze.  Passengers were immediately evacuated through the starboard rear cargo hatch.  Acting in relays, Engineers Cross and Poller fought the sizeable flames and rushed inside the aircraft to get new, undischarged hand extinguishers.  By the time ground airport fire-fighting equipment arrived on the scene, Engineers Cross and Poller had not only controlled the aircraft fire, but had reduced it to the point where ground extinguishing equipment easily eliminated the residue of the landing-gear fire.

 

I firmly believe that Flight Engineers, J. Cross and D. Poller, through their prompt, efficient, and intelligent actions, saved a major part of the aircraft if not its entirety.  Moreover, their devotion to duty and their interest in protection of company equipment, as well as the safeguarding of passengers’ lives, was without concern for their personal safety, in the presence of a fire and fire hazard of no mean proportions.  It is with great pleasure and professional pride that I respectfully submit this commendation of Flight Engineers Cross and Poller, whose actions in time of emergency lived up to the highest standards of Pan American Airway’s safe airline operations.

It is only appropriate, as a footnote to this report, that the referenced engineer stayed, after 24 hours on duty, with the aircraft, and with the assistance of the Galeao maintenance staff, determined the cause of the locked brake eondition on landing – namely, brake metering valve failure.”

 

 

NOTE:  Dave Poller’s sons had no awareness of this event prior to finding the memorandum.

 

 

Jerry Poller further found a document of interest involving his Father.  It is dated 29 November 1950

 

“A Pan American World Airways flight crew reported today in Rio de Janeiro that a bright, flaming, green ball or flare had dived down on their giant ‘Stratocruisor Clipper’  plane Tuesday morning (November 28) just west of Georgetown, British Guiana.

 

The crew captain said that the strange sight fitted exactly the descriptions contained in several report of similar incidents gathered by the United States Air Force during their ‘Project Saucer’ investigation last year.

 

The three crew members said that the ‘gadget’ had lighted up their moonlight flooded cockpit to the vivid intensity of stage spotlights.

 

To give further significance to the report, one of the crew, Flight Engineer David Poller, of New York City, said that he had seen a similar phenomenon in approximately the same area nine days before.

 

The double decked luxury plane, with 50 passengers aboard, was roaring over the northeastern coast of South America on a hop from Port of Spain, Trinidad, to Rio, at an altitude of 13,500 feet when the incident occurred at about 1:15 a.m. Tuesday, Rio de Janeiro time.

 

Captain Edwin D. Avery of San Francisco, California, wrote in his report: ‘A strange celestial phenomenon was observed from the cockpit by myself, First Officer Laurence E. Clark, 2nd Flight Engineer David Poller.’  The phenomenon appeared as a huge, luminous, bright flaming green ball or flare with an elongated green-blue solid tail.  It appeared dead ahead of the aircraft and about 6,000 feet above our path.  The distance from the aircraft was impossible to determine.  The flare, or ball, dived vertically to approximately our altitude and disappeared.  The intensity of the light was so great as to illuminate the forward section of the cockpit.  The weather was clear and cloudless with moonlight.  The phenomenon did not have the characteristics of the average meteor or falling star.  All observers agreed on this and were at a loss to identify the flare or ball.

 

And Avary wound uip his report with the remark, ‘What next’

 

The veteran PAA pilot who has been flying South American routes from Rio de Janeiro base for more than ten years said that the ‘scrowy thing lasted about three to five seconds and then suddenly disappeared from our level.’

 

The pilot said he would normally be inclined to write the strange phenomenon off a meteor, ‘except that I never heard or read of a meteor that looked like this.’

 

‘Several of the reports check exactly with what we saw’, he said.

 

Flight Engineer Poller said that he had seen a ‘white flare’ exactly like the one spotted yesterday while in the same area, just west of Georgetown, while he was on a northbound flight the night of November 19.

 

None of the plane passengers reported seeing the strange object. The Clipper crew said that the object was out of the line of sight of the passengers, even had any of them been awake at the early morning hour.”

 

NOTE:  The above report was issued by PAA Public Relations, Latin American Division.  It was entitled “Mystery, Flaming Ball misses Rio-bound Clipper in Guianas”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wilfred Norman Maxfied’s experience as compiled by a daughter, Cheryl Stone in Australia, from Wilfred’s handwritten notes, and further condensed for this short Biography-He was known as Norman)

 

 

 

Norman traveled throughout the world including back to his native England.  He took the ashes of his beloved wife Marjorie on his first trip back.  Norman succumbed to cancer.

 

At the age of 14 yrs Norman was an apprentice at the local railway plant.  He worked through several positions including painting the under carriages of coal trucks for the ‘princely’ sum of 14 shillings per week (in 1931)

 

After the painting firm went out of business Norman worked for a retail and wholesale butcher shop where he worked 60 hrs per week and some over time.  He then was sent to Thuerscoe to manage their shop (he was 17 yrs old at the time).  Prospects for that company were not good and that led Norman to a military recruiting station where he signed on as a butcher.

 

Wilfred Norman Maxfield

(Courtesy Cheryl Stone)

 

Norman went to Sheffield where he met a life long friend Ronal Foers.  They were together through the Middle East and East Africa.  Ron was a great influence; he was ‘rock steady’ under pressure.  They were together for 14 yrs.

 

Norman was transferred to the ‘Services Company’.  It was in this assignment in 1935 that he became acquainted with the famous ‘Bren’ gun.

 

On 20 Dec 1935 Norman was transferred to Cairo, Egypt.  He took the train to Gym Barracks, part of the old ‘Turkish Citadel at Albassea’.  That place was just a short walk from the ‘Dead City’.  Dead bodies were laid upon the gratings with Kites being allowed to pick the bones clean.  That Christmas Eve with Ron Foers and others, they viewed the pyramids and the Sphinx.  Their exploration of the ‘Dead City’ left them with an uncanny feeling.

 

Norman was posted to Palestine traveling by the Egyptian Railway to the Suez Canal and after crossing the canal he took the Palestine Railway to Lydda to his station.  One of his commanders was A.F. Devereset, referred to as, ‘Bastard by name and nature’.  A.F. was later shot by an Egyptian soldier for refusing to stop when challenged.

 

In 1936 trouble broke out between the Jews and the Arabs and the English got involved.  Norman said his outfit was like ‘meat in a sandwich.’  Norman was involved in a number of skirmishes.  One was at Tulkaram when the escort of Seaforth Highlanders fixed bayonets and charged.  He was a witness in murder charges leveled by the Arabs against an R.A.F. wireless operator, the verdict was not guilty.

 

While at Sarafand his first great journey was escorting Aero Engines on a Crossy flat top to Armein in Trans Jordan.  Their journey was interrupted at Es Swale, the last of the old Urassion race mentioned in the Bible.  The area was notorious as being infested with ‘brigands’ and night was falling.  The 14 Squadron knew their estimated time of arrival and sent a three ton Leyland truck with solid tires to tow them.  Norman felt he caused a certain amount of confusion in Ammon and at the air base since he was possibly the first British soldier in uniform and with rifle and ammunition since the end of the 1914-18 war.  Norman was flown to Ramtech in a ‘Fairy Gordon’.

 

Norman’s second trip, some months later, was with the R.A.F. Armored Car Squadron, joining them in Ramtech and bound for Iraq.  British forces were there to guard the oil pipeline running to the Port of Haifa.  Everyone was issued a ‘goolie chit’ in case captured and then handed back by the bribe payment.

 

While at Beyroath, Norman witnessed a public hanging.  At one time he had a photograph of the execution.  During this time he was promoted to Corporal and given more responsibilities.  He and others explored Jericho, Elisha’s Well, the River Jordan, and Jaffa.  He said of Jaffa, ‘now there is an interesting place.’   They also explored Jerusalem, Bethlehem, The Sea of Gallilea, and they respectfully visited homes of Arab laborers and Mosques.

 

In March of 1938, Norman returned to the U.K. arriving in Southampton and then on to Doncaster on his Disembarkation Leave.  On the 10th of Aug 1939 he was recalled to the Army and mobilized.

 

Norman was sent to Devonport to open and stock the four prisoner of war camps; Davlish, Teignmouth, Paigation, Marton Abott.  He then was to open and stock the Supply Depot at Topsham Barracks in Exeter.  He turned this over to a Reserve Lieutenant when the war was declared against Germany.

 

He was sent to the Mobilization Center 9 and arrived in Cherborg in France 9 Jun 1939.  He was there loaded on a French Army rail truck that included 60 men, 8 horses, and proceeded to the Brittany Seaport and Naval Depot of Brest.  It was slow going through Normandy.  At Brest they were ordered to supply petrol to everything on wheels.  The group was without food and money and an officer had to borrow money from Norman which was, in those days, almost a court marital offense.  Norman taught others how to drill, weapon training, and passive air defense.  He also fitted respirators with a device to deal with the new German gas that they named ‘Arthur’.  It was Sarical (nerve gas).

 

During that time Norman was advised he was recommended for a commission by Col Goldney.  A Brigadier informed him that he would be in the next officer course in England and that made him feel very proud.

 

Also during that time, the Germans invaded Poland and there were the issues of the Siegfried Line and the Maginot Line.  The British then became trapped at Dunkirk.  Winston Churchill told the world that the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated.  Norman and others were feeding retreating continental forces until the Depot was abandoned and they picked up Canadian trucks toward Brest.  They walked the last 20 miles having burned all wheeled and tracked vehicles at Landeoneau.  One of that number, who was left behind, was with a group who commandeered a boat and at high speed crossed the Channel to safety.  Norman crossed the Channel with others from Chesterfield to Wencoe and to Cardiff where they defended the airport.  Three men, including Norman, were called into the office of Col Goldney and told they would not be sent to Officer Candidate School but would be given ‘Field Commissions’.  Norman declined and walked out of the room as a Corporal and the two others, who presumably accepted, were killed within six months. 

 

After several more moves, Norman was promoted to Sergeant (in Portsmouth).  They were bombed periodically and many died there. 

 

Norman became acquainted with a Captain Lord who had been taken prisoner at Dunkerque (Dunkirk) and moved to the Austrian border where he escaped from a P.O.W. Camp.  He dressed himself as a deaf and dumb Belgium farm worker, and walked nearly all the way through Germany, France, Spain, to Gibraltar.  He wrote a book, ‘I Stood Alone’ that was banned for 50 yrs.

 

At Fareham the Rev Basil Daniels married Marjorie and Norman.  Marjorie was a Sergeant ATS in charge of Radar in the Heavy Anti-Aircraft, 485 Battery of the Royal Artillery.

 

During that time Ptc Wolfe, a dedicated communist, started talking about a new bomb the Germans were developing.  It was as the same time that ‘Heavy Water’ installations in Norway were being raided.  Ptc Wolfe was talking about the ‘Atomic Bomb’.  A piece of the explosive, the size of the exposed lead, in a newly sharpened pencil, would be equivalent of 1,000 tons of TNT.  One day an unescorted car came to camp.  Norman was told to make himself scarce and Ptc Wolfe was picked up and never seen nor heard of again.

 

A second experience there was Norman being talked to by Lieut. I.A. Inglis (a distant relative of the Queen Mother).  Norman was invited to become part of the security organization.  Commando raids were being made on both sides of the Channel and Norman was involved in a security plan for the coast of England.

 

The plan was good enough that the Germans made no invasion of England but did mount a mini invasion.  Norman did not dare tell that three British Destroyers were lost in the mini invasion and the Gas Works on Hayling Island spent many hours disposing of countless drowned and killed German servicemen.

 

Norman observed that older men began to replace younger men along the coast.  He and Marjorie had a couple of days leave together at Guildford and then he was equipped with gear for the tropics.  They did not know for sure where they were going until they got there, from Liverpool to Gowrock to South America to Freetown, Sierra Leone, Africa.  A torpedo missed their stern half way across by 10 feet.  Finally they arrived at Mombassa.

 

After disembarking they were put on a Keya and Uganda Railway bound for Nairobi.  Vehicles took them to Mbagerthi, a huge staging, transit, and training camp with as many as 10,000 Askaris and Europeans there.  Norman met again his old friend Ron Foers, and they helped one another wherever possible.

 

In order to get a local leave or to be promoted, one had to have some command of the language, ‘KiSwahili’ and Norman learned very quickly.  He said he learned quickly because he was given 40 Askaris needing his help.  In five days he had the area ready for occupation.  He said he learned the language quickly including, ‘their particular swear word.’

 

Life at Mbagarthi was a never ending grind.  Once he was given a train load of locals who had returned from Burma and Norman, with the help of others, kept them together in a staging and transit camp rather than running off in every direction to their homes and families.  Getting the troops back, by Norman, meant other Officers, who had let them go, were disciplined.  He had merely done his duty and was not liked by the several disciplined Officers for some time.

 

He went on one occasion to Lake Magadi for soda.  Rhinoceros also were there and with their acute sense of smell would immediately attack.  One day the vehicle was on a steep road with a cliff on the right and a 100 ft drop on the left and three Rhinos in front of them.  Fortunately the wind was blowing from them away from the vehicle and Norman and his companions were past the Rhinos before being detected and attacked.  Norman said of the occasion, ‘Whew!’.  Another problem was Lions.  Lt Col Cowie, an East African, went out into the game reserve and shot an antelope, slung it over his shoulder and walked up to a pride of Lions, dropped it in front of them, turned and walked home.  He had done that for years and that pride waited for him to provide dinner.

 

An Askavi was missing, a search found an Army boot, with a foot in a sock in the boot.  A hungry Lion had found the missing soldier.  Norman said the Askavi’s parents were informed, ‘Sorry but a Lion ate him.’

 

While there, an outbreak of Bubonic Plague occurred.  The Plague was rat borne and acres and acres were burned with two rings of fire to trap all the rats.  Everyone was inoculated and confined until the plague was over.

 

They moved to Bardara crossing the river Juba.  A few hand grenades in the river drove the crocodiles away from the crossing.  There were many moves from there ending in Addis Abbaba.  Norman was by then a Staff Sergeant.  He recalled a junior officer being charged with murder.  Norman and others helped him to be found not guilty and they were successful in other Courts Martial.

 

Norman had the privilege of carrying Haile Selassie’s 500,000 pounds (of money) as a last payment from England.  That area had a large amount of natural rubber developed by the U.K.C.C. (Unite Kingdom Commercial Corporation) that was formed with 5,000,000 pounds.

 

Norman was interviewed by Col Leland and accepted as a candidate for O.C.T.U.  Norman was first to learn to be proficient with infantry weapons and was detached to the 5/6 Bn K.A.R. until he was proficient.  Back in his unit it was discovered that no action had been taken to reconcile transactions pertaining to the U.K.C.C.  Norman said, ‘some bright character told the powers that be that I was the person to sort it all out.’  Norman was given a vehicle, a personal servant, an escort, a rifle, a Beretta .38 pistol, and his bed roll.  At Dogato he settled in and started sorting out all documents that had been dumped in a large timber box.  It was terribly hot there.  The ‘kamseum’ was blowing.  He never did finish the job but was recalled eventually and sent by Air France to Mombassa.  At Mobadicio awaiting the aircraft, he was reunited again with Ron Foers.  The flight to Mombassa was uneventful except the pilot got off course and had to make a quick correction to avoid anti aircraft fire.  He was stationed at 7350 ft above sea level.  He observed that, ‘in that rarefied atmosphere, everything was damned hard work, mentally and physically.’

 

After completing the O.C.T.U. course successfully Norman became a 2nd Lieutenant.  He was assigned to the Southern Command in 1940-41 and was given night duty in the command office.  He immediately was faced with a situation.  He had been told the orders and a telephone call came ordering him to do what he had just been ordered not to do.  Norman told the caller that he should be ashamed then, trying to countermand written orders.  He had just ‘fronted’ a Major General but survived that ordeal.

 

Norman was promoted to Lieutenant and assigned to the 7/2 Btn and the commander was delighted to have ‘another officer.’  Norman was assigned to take over ‘C’ Company.  The commander then added for him to take over ’D’ company as well.  Norman spoke Ki-Swahili and a smattering of Arabic as spoken in Palestine.  He dealt mostly with an African Sergeant who spoke English, Swahili, and Somali.  The Sergeant was an ‘old soldier’ who had reached the pinnacle and Norman liked him and the man was of enormous help.  Some of the Somali rebelled, were court martialled and imprisoned for ten years and the situation returned to normal.  Later the Somali Battalion was disbanded for causing too much trouble.

 

Norman was called to see the Colonel and informed to prepare himself for a General Court Martial.  A grove of bamboo had been cut down (for antenna for the General’s communications) and the men Norman dispatched to get the bamboo had cut down a special grove brought from China as an experiment at the time of the Boxer Rebellion.  Norman pointed out that he was ordered to get the bamboo and the cutting of it and possible court marital was only a way for the General to cover his own tracks.  The matter was dropped and Norman’s reaction was, ‘Whew!’

 

V.E. Day had come and gone and V.J. Day was nearing and all anticipated the end of the war.  Training of Africans continued as reinforcement for the 14th Army in Burma and Malaya and even India.  Marjorie was looking forward to a release since Anti-Aircraft-Artillery was no longer needed.  Orders came through that age and service groups 21, 22, 23 were to be sent back to England and demobilized.  Norman was called into the Brigadier and thanked for all the undercover work he had one during the war years.  Nothing had been put in writing and would not be and the 50 years of silence remained in effect.

 

Norman and Marjorie, both having been returned to England, bought a small house in the village of Fishlake.  He was employed on Production Control at the Kirtz Sandall Glass Works.  It was a good place to work with a salary higher than in surrounding Districts.  There was danger of being hurt and Norman began to look for something else to do.

 

Norman had applied and was approved to immigrate to Australia.  In the meantime a job Norman wanted opened and his response was, ‘Damn, too late!’  In 1952 they arrived in Perth, Australia via Liverpool, Port Said, Suez Canal, down the Red Sea to Aden, then to Ceylon, Freemantle, Perth and finally Melbourne.  George Hobson, their sponsor, met them in Melbourne.

 

Norman looked for work and found eight jobs in the same day.  They lived in Pascoe Vale and he ended up working for Neon Electric Signs and Marjorie found employment two or three nights per week at the Austin Hospital where she completed her Nurse training.  Norman changed employment to International Harvesters at Dandenong where he was Pay Clerk.

 

They purchased eight acres at Cranbourne where they lived and farmed.  Norman applied to work with Cranbourne Shire Council and was there over 20 yrs and then became a ‘golf addict’.  Marjorie worked at Containers P/L.

 

Wilfred Norman Maxfield and Marjorie Maxfield lived unique lives.  He was an Unsung Hero and she was too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MAXFIELD FAMILY IN FIRST PHOTO

SUSAN, WILFRED, MARJORIE, JENNIFER

(left to right)

 

 

 

THE LARGER MAXFIELD TEXT IS CONTAINED IN WEBSITE WWW.FELTONLINE.COM UNDER W.N. MAXFIELD IN THE FOX LINE HEADING

 

 

Photograph courtesy Cheryl Stone 8 May 2008

Maxfield family on board the ship as they immigrated to Australia

(SUSAN, WILFRED, MARJORIE, JENNIFER)

 

 

Immigration of the Maxfield family to Australia

(Photograph courtesy of Cheryl Stone)

 

 

 

Note:  Wilfred Norman Maxfield is a relative through the Fox line out of Yorkshire

 

 

 

Clayton Brainerd

 

 

The discussion with Clayton Brainerd occurred 19 March 2008 in Salt Lake City.  Clayton was here to perform with the Tabernacle Choir and Robert Cundick’s ‘Redeemer’.  We had also been to Lincoln, Nebraska the week before, listening to him in ‘St Matthew Passion’.  Clayton has a very unique life story and from where he has been in his youth to where he is now is truly remarkable.  He is a very articulate and deep thinking man.  His experience is an example of what drive and determination can help us to do. We can learn from his example.  He is our respected friend.

 

 

Clayton Brainerd

 

C:  Clayton Brainerd

R:  Russ

Ri; Rita

 

R:  Say your full name?

C:  Clayton Lee Brainerd

 

 

 

R:  Where were you born and raised?

C:  I was born in Portland, Oregon, 10 Mar 1958 and grew up in Portland in the neighborhood of Sellwood. That was a lovely place to grow up and our home was across the street from a baseball field.  As my brother and I discovered, we had great baseball talent and early on I thought that might be my path.  It seemed like destiny to grow up with a field just across the street.

 

 

 

R:  How many in your family?

C:  I have two older brothers and one sister.  Our sister was adopted when I was six years old.

 

 

R:  And you have contact with them now?

C:  Yes.

 

Ri:  Your mom lives with your oldest brother?

C:   Yes with Randy who is 57 yrs old now and Brian who is 51 now lives in Arizona where he drives a bus for the disabled.

 

 

Ri:  And your sister?

C:  Honestly, I don’t know exactly where she lives.  I see her occasionally when she visits my Mother.

 

R:  Where did you go to school?

C:  I went to Sellwood grade school which was just across the street.  That is where the ball field was there too.  My brother Brian was a straight A student in all levels of school.  I would come up behind him the next year, since I am one year younger and the teachers would often say, why you can’t be like your brother, and there it would be, the gauntlet was thrown down and I would make them pay.  My mom intervened one year, when she heard that, and challenged those kinds of comments with ‘How could you do that, Brian is quiet, hard working, and Clayton isn’t at all like that.’  I was rowdy, always causing trouble and all that.  That behavior led me into the wrong group in the 7th Grade.  The Beatles were big and Marijuana was known to us.  I was looking for my identity and latched on to those negative friends because they were interesting in those times.  Doing the wrong thing was exciting.

 

 

 

R:  What was the high school?

C:  I went to Cleveland High School.  I will say that in Grade School, there was a music program and I played viola in that school under a teacher who taught what I think is a version of the Suzuki Method where we didn’t read music, we just played.  I even took a series of lessons on the viola but I didn’t pursue that for long because I realized you had to practice to make any progress.  It was easier to pick up the bat and hit home runs than having to practice viola.

 

R:  What caused you to start in music?

C:  My oldest brother played the violin and set an expectation.  I also think it was the norm at that time as a kid as it was accepted and available.  I can’t say beyond that.  I don’t remember what role my parents played in encouraging music because they didn’t have a strong background in music.  My brother and I sang in the children’s choir at our Methodist church, but I didn’t take that so seriously.

 

 

R:  Was your involvement in music due to friends then?

C:  I didn’t care for the teacher in Grade School so I can’t remember how long I was involved in that music program.

 

 

 

Ri:  Did the whole class play then?

C:  It seems like that.  But what I do recall is how bad the quality of music was at the concerts we played at and I couldn’t take it wondering why I was doing it when it was so bad.  I think I had a sensitive ear even then.  When I got to High School, I met someone from a well to do family, early on, and we struck up a friendship.  I met him at a restaurant where I worked.  His family was very much into music and he introduced me to Barbershop Quartets and I loved that music.  His father was a great jazz fan and they had a wonderful collection of music and finally he introduced me to classical music.  We would skip school and play snooker in his basement.  It was in part due to this friend that I decided to sing in the choir in High School.  That is where I met the choral teacher who had the most beautiful tenor voice.  When he would demonstrate sounds, I was amazed at his ability.  To hear beautiful singing live is a totally different experience than any other music experience.

 

Ri:  Do you remember his name?

C:  Bruce Johnson.  I maintained friendship with him until his death several years ago.  I did join the main choir and also a smaller group, ‘The Clevelandaires’. They were a swing pop group in polyester suits.  I was doing drugs at the time and I would come to class stoned out of my mind, stumbling around.  I don’t know how he put up with it.

 

 

 

R:  At some point you stopped those behaviors and the drugs, what caused you to stop?

C:  I kept indulging in drugs in high school and beyond.  I got a job in a lumber mill after high school and injured my knee on the job.  While I was recovering my friend gave me the complete Beethoven Nine Symphonies for Christmas.  As soon as I put the needle in the groove for that first symphony, it felt like the hand of God came down and said to me, “You Will Do This”.  At that moment I thought it was an LSD flash back because LSD gives you this sense of other worldly and unusual things can happen, and if you take a lot of it, it can simply re-immerge and so I thought it was one of those moments, but I realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t.  Of course I was smoking a ‘joint’ at the time so I put the joint out and that was simply the end of doing drugs.  As soon as I got back on my feet several months later, I took steps and applied to Portland State University, just in time to enroll in summer courses, because as you can imagine, I was woefully unprepared for academic life.  I could barely read and write.

 

Ri:  How old were you at the time?

R:  And how did you pay for college?

C:  Yes, I was 21 yrs old and I had jobs.  I worked all through college waiting tables.

 

 

 

R:  Your music experience in college, describe that?

C:  I had another great mentor, Bruce Browne, who was charismatic, very smart, very progressive and we did a lot of contemporary music which I loved and hated.  In that first summer session of college, I took typing, reading, and fundamental math and discovered that I was pretty smart when I applied myself and I had very good teachers that summer.  It gave me a leg up when I started that fall.  In the fall, I took on a major load of 20 or so hours.  I didn’t know what I was doing exactly and it was extremely tough and I realized I was very industrious and I was able to get it done.

 

Ri:  Did you know where you were going academically, or were you feeling your way through the curriculum?

C:  I was as ignorant as a stone didn’t know how I was going to apply my studies to making money; all I know was that I had to study voice.  I knew because of that teacher in high school who said, ‘My God, you have such an instrument, you need to study and get away from drugs.’  At that time I could hear the message but was not able to act on it, in part because it was coming from an authority figure, even though it was someone whom I respected and I realized he was serious.

 

 

R:  Is that the circumstance that caused you drop those other behaviors?

C:  The moment of the Beethoven Nine Symphonies is what really made the turn.  It was in that instance.

 

Ri:  You knew it was Music but did you think of conducting or something other than voice?

C:  No, I knew it was singing that I needed to pursue.

 

R:  And you immediately dropped those other behaviors?

C:  I stopped immediately.  I was burned out.  Doing drugs is really hard on you.  You are lethargic and sluggish and I am sure that had something to do with the injury at work in part because of sleep deprivation.

 

R:  Not only did you drop the drugs, but the friends too?

C:  Absolutely, instantly.  I remember actually, I shattered my knee cap so as part of the settlement they gave me a $9,000.  That was a Godsend because it took the money pressure off and gave me some money for school.  It meant that I didn’t have to work the first year of college.

 

R:  Was your university major Voice?

C:  Yes, the first year there are basic music courses to take.  One instance I do remember vividly was there were listening tapes that we were required to study for our music history class and some of that music was of Wagner and I thought at the time, that this was hideous, how could anyone find this beautiful?  That I ended up singing Wagner is really ironic when I think back to this moment.  I was totally ignorant where the major led, could I make money?  I knew I had to do this even though I didn’t know where it led.  I could only see that this is what I had to do right now.  Much later in my junior and senior year with vocal juries that are more serious and you have to do more and more and I realized much better what I could do with a life as a singer.  Although when I came in contact with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and other big stars and I wondered how I am ever possibly going to get there.  I remember thinking about that at the Conservatory in Germany and was so privileged to hear Dieskau sing several times.  I thought, ‘My God will I ever get there’.  His singing is perfection.

 

 

 

R:  Beyond the university experience, you did many other kinds of training then?

C:  I had a fantastic German teacher at Portland State, Loren Nussbaum, who took an interest in me.  She was instrumental in helping me get into the exchange program that existed between Oregon and Baden Württemberg, a Southern State in Germany.  It was well organized and there was money support for people in my situation.  I qualified and in my fifth year I went to the University of Stuttgart to finish my Bachelor Degree in music.  After that I auditioned at the Conservatory and despite my unbelievably poor performance in the written entrance examination where we were asked us to analyze Schoenberg, write a three part Fugue, etc. I sang for them and they accepted me. That was simply another small miracle in a long line of small miracles.  I am sure the professors correcting the exams must have laughed out loud when they looked at my written exam.  I just couldn’t do it even though I had studied, I really didn’t know the intricacies of the theory of music, and still don’t.  My piano teacher at PSU was thankful to get rid of me in college because I had no composition or piano talent whatsoever.  That is in part of the fact that I was such a bad student in grade and high school that I have been playing catch up for the past twenty years.

 

I was at “Die Hochschule für Musik and Darstellende Kunst” (The Conservatory for Music and Representational Art) in Stuttgart for two and half years.  At the point that I was preparing for my senior recital to complete my Masters Degree in Vocal Performance, I vocally crashed and burned and from one day to the next I could not make a sound.  I could hardly talk.  Part of the reason for the crash is that my Professors at the Conservatory thought I was a Verdi baritone and during those years, I had been ‘ramping up’ my voice to sing those difficult Verdi roles.  Learning to sing opera in the beginning can be quite challenging for anyone, but some of the heavier opera categories are particularly difficult to master.  So that I was having difficulty with my technique is not unusual!  Also, the situation was compounded the last year at the Conservatory, because I was starting to sing concerts throughout Germany and as it would happen, the Opera season at the State Theater was producing a number of big chorus operas including Götterdämmerung, Othello, and Fidelio and needed extra male voices.  They paid me a ton of money to sing in the extra chorus for these opera and even though I thought I was unstoppable, I was not and from one moment to the next I crashed.  I had to drop everything and go back to America with my tail between my legs feeling like I had not accomplished anything.

 

R:  What went through your mind?

C:  I was incredibly mad and discouraged

 

Ri:  Did you realize you were not in the right place?

C:  It was always hard for me to learn how to sing but I thought I just had to work through it.  Learning to sing opera is incredibly difficult and there is no room for error.  I didn’t think the problem I was encountering was anything out of the ordinary.

 

R:  Is there a way to describe that demand in learning to sing Opera?

C:  Over the years, you develop very slowly and methodically, the tools necessary to create a singing technique that allows you to make any sound on any pitch and on any vowel within your prescribed range.  Once the technique is reliable enough, then are able to apply that technique to music.  You see the note on the page and acknowledge what is required to create that tone and then you open your mouth and produce the expected results.  But what do you do when you are not able to do what is expected?  What if the particular demand of a phrase is beyond your physical ability somehow?  The coordination is not quite right and the adjustments you have to make are so small.  On top of that, there is practically no feeling in the voice itself; you can’t really feel anything – except some soreness or fatigue.  That is why visualizations are used such as imagining: such as your head is empty or that your mouth is where your eyes are or imagine that a column is coming out of the top of your head down to your pelvic area where your support is.  This kind of imagery is used because you can’t say, move this muscle here, half a centimeter or tighten a little here or push back.  The entire process is through these visualizations and not through anatomy – except for breath support.  That is the one thing that we have 100% control of.  Most of the teachers in the world who have tried to use anatomy have not had much success as far as I am concerned.  When you know you have all the tools in your heart, but you can’t produce the sound because something is out of alignment, it is a very frustrating feeling.  Some people have an easier time getting it in line. Lyric voices for example, tend to get their voices in line easier and they come into the right music earlier. Lyric voices tend to do that.  They are required to get techniques sooner because their careers tend to be much shorter.  I have a dramatic voice and the muscles are less willing to change.  Plus, a main problem was that I was determined to change the muscles with blood and guts and you can’t do that.  The muscles need to be coerced and progress needs to go slow; you have to be patience and you have to commit to loving the exercises even though you do them a billion times.  La, La, La, a billion times in every circumstance and color and without music.  Music adds another dimension that make the process of creating sound more complicated because you add emotion to the mix.

 

R:  Describe that getting to where you needed to be?

C:  Before I crashed, I met through a friend a teacher in Munich who had had a big career as a Tenor singing Operetta throughout Europe.  He heard me sing and gave me some pointers and showed me a unique way of handling the technique.  He saw I was having trouble with my technique.  When I crashed and burned, I moved to Munich.  And then when he moved back to America, I followed him to of all places, Pe Ell, Washington, a town of 300 people and a town where my wife to be grew up.  He moved back to settle down, buy a farm, and I followed him there and committed to a year’s study with him.  I remodeled his house, built a studio for him and worked in a shingle mill to pay for things.  I tried to apply his technique but I determined that his ‘goof ball’ ideas were simply not going to help my situation.  But I had spent 10 years studying and I couldn’t bear the thought of that coming to naught.  So I had been prepared to do what it took.

 

R:  How does one get that drive and focus?

C:  You are born with it and I am not sure you can learn it.  I don’t think you can learn musicianship, I don’t think you can learn true industry.  You can be taught to some extent but you are either born with it or not.  There is a number assigned to your intelligence, you can push it and expand it, but I think you come with a gift.  I say this because you spend your life in music with giants like Bach.  If you are not a genius yourself it is very difficult to imagine what all the levels are in the music, the numerology, the skill of writing and the depth of genius.  You then look at yourself and there is a difference between your intelligence and theirs.  There are many things you are born with and it is your job to put those gifts and skills together to benefit the world the best you can.

 

R:  At some point, you had your first professional job?

C:  (Long thoughtful pause) – I waited tables at a restaurant called the Rhinelander in Portland.  They had an accordion player and we sang songs.  We also did a combined “Schunkle” where a group of us sang folksongs together.  The accordion player was a nice guy and had a wide repertoire and from that I was slated for the banquet room where I would wait and sing for 30 people.  That was my first serious singing job.  Really, the first significant gig was St John Passion with Robert Shaw.  This came after my crash and after five years vocal training in Tacoma, two lessons per week, painstakingly getting my voice back.  Bruce Browne at Portland State and I remained in contact and I was hired to sing the ‘Jesus’ and that was the first serious gig and then in Montreal with the ‘Solemnis’ with Robert Shaw and then ‘Elijah’ in Atlanta, Georgia but Shaw had a heart attack and that was cancelled.  I lost contact with Robert Shaw after that and I never connected with him again.  It was tragic to lose contact with him.

 

R:  You have what I would describe as a humble air of self-confidence; can you describe what you feel about you?

C:  One of the reasons I crashed is because I did not have control of my arrogance.  I didn’t know I was arrogant but I thought it was necessary to overcome my background and lack of support in music.  I was always overcoming my perceived shortcomings which translated into arrogance as a protective measure perhaps to keep me going.

 

Only after I crashed and burned, tail between my legs, never going to sing again, and the pain that that caused did I come in contact with this demon – being arrogant.  From the start, my wife (Toni) was absolutely instrumental in pointing that out that there was this “air of arrogance” about me and helped me to overcome it.  The first time she saw me sing, I came out on stage with this little attitude, ‘you are so privileged to see me perform’.  She asked what I doing and I wanted to know what she was talking about.   She said you looked really arrogant when you came out on stage.  What are you thinking when you do that?  I was not even aware of it, but with her help, I was able to come in contact with this part of me and release it.  That has allowed me to become who I am today.  I cannot stress this enough that this is one of the important parts of a relationship between a man and a woman that you care enough about the other, that when something important is said, that you listen, and you believe and you rely on you partner.  Physical pain has humbled me too.  When you struggle with pain, it humbles you in a different way.

 

 

 

Ri:  Toni is a marvelous woman and how did you meet her?

C:   Studying with the teacher in Pe Ell, I was also working in a shingle mill.  When I tore my jeans at work one day I asked another student of my voice teacher if I could borrow her sewing machine and when I went to pick it up she said her sister Toni had it and was bringing it back.  When she came in with the sewing machine I saw her and my jaw dropped to the floor and I couldn’t say anything but just stared at her.  She became very uncomfortable, dropped the machine off, and got out of there.  It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I heard this experience told from her side of the story that I realized what had happened in that moment.  I took several weeks to get up the courage to ask her out.  She did agree but only after some strong persuasion.  The really interesting part of this story is that Toni had moved away 20 yrs ago and had just moved back, maybe six months before to help her parents with their new restaurant in Pe Ell.  Talk about synchronicity!

 

 

 

R:  How did you propose to her?

C:  I am not happy about that.  We had a circle of three other couples that we hung out with together and one day they all decided to renew their vows.  They looked at Toni and I and in that moment and I asked if Toni would marry me.  I would have liked it to have been special moment and maybe it was.  For the ceremony, all eight of us were together with the minister outside in a yard with beautiful flowers and roses blooming and it was just the nine of us (the four couples and the minister).  It was the most spiritual experience I have ever had.  The minister read the vows that Toni and I wrote and all I had to do was nod – which was good because I was a complete emotional wreck and would not have been able to say the vows myself in that moment – believe me!  I was shocked and surprised how moved by the experience I was.  After the ceremony we had a reception with friends and family.

 

 

R:  What are your goals now?

C:  (long pause) -- To lose weight!  The weight has been a source of pain for many years!  Not being able to control this has made me feel like a failure!  If I had simply controlled the food intake through the years, I would not be in this predicament now.  I am not prepared for that question relative to music and singing.

 

 

R:  What advice would you give to young people?

C:  I would say that I am in the middle of my mid life crisis and these questions are hard for me.  Six months ago I was with the Met and they continually offered me jobs.  I was climbing the ladder to success.  But the physical cost in terms of pain during my stint at the Met working on ‘Die Meistersinger’ was difficult.  Those were long days with long hours.  I realized that just couldn’t take the pain anymore.  I love singing concerts but you have to sing Opera to become famous.  I hope I can continue with highest level concerts with great ensembles because I love that literature.  I want to continue to be happy at home and in love with Toni and Zeke the Cat.

 

Young people need to learn to focus and find their gifts and passions early and to pursue them with all their passion and be prepared to make sacrifices.  I waited tables at the Holiday Inn in Seattle to make it all work.  Make whatever sacrifices necessary to fulfill you destiny.  I was lucky because I was shown what I needed to do in a very special way and I have worked to fulfill that opportunity.  I give my mother tremendous credit for not pushing me.  I smoked pot in the basement and bless her heart, she could have said you have to stop this, but that would have caused me to be out on the street.  She had self control to endure that.

 

Note:  There are many valuable lessons regarding life to be learned from Clayton Brainerd, from Toni, and their experience.  Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from Zeke, the cat too.

 

Note:  We had a stimulating conversation about the word Destiny as it applies to these gifts and talents we are given.  He is a deep thinker.

 

 

Clayton as Walküre

 

There were two newspaper interviews with Clayton that were done years earlier.  They are included here and confirm what he said in this interview and they do add more information about this unique man.

 

From the Scotsman in 2003

 

The Scotsman
Sat 20 Dec 2003

The full force of destiny

Susan Mansfield

 

You can’t help but look up to Clayton Brainerd. The six-foot-five opera singer has a way of making everything around him look small. Chairs and tables become Lilliputian, coffee cups tinkle in his big hands. He has a handshake like a grizzly bear and a voice which, even in normal conversation, is at the far end of "deep".

 

Brainerd is appearing in Scottish Opera’s Aïda, described by one critic as "a big bruiser of an Amonasro", singing opposite Latvian soprano Inessa Galante and Matthew Best, whom he understudied in the last three Ring operas. He performed just once, as Wotan in Die Walküre in the 2001 Edinburgh Festival, but his performance won him an award.

 

He talks about what he does with a persistent sense of disbelief. At 44, the Seattle-based singer is in demand all over the world. His formidable bass-baritone can be heard on a live recording of Tristan and Isolde made in Carnegie Hall, and he has sung Wotan in Ring cycles from Arizona to New Zealand.

 

Yet he is, in his own words, "the most unlikely candidate to do what I do". As a teenage drug-dealer in Portland, Oregon, he could not have imagined a future as an opera star. His life changed dramatically following a Damascene-style conversion to classical music. Yet his promising career almost ended before it began when he lost his voice due to burnout in training. He says his career to date is nothing short of miraculous.

 

Brainerd was "about 15" when he smoked his first joint. It gave him a taste for rebellion. Within a year he was dealing drugs. "I remember selling a pound at a time for a while, and a pound of marijuana is a big pile. It was very lucrative. I went down that road with all the zeal I now have for classical music and did all the drugs that came along."

 

He was "a disgrace" to his parents, hard-working church people. His father was an appraiser for Portland city, who lost his job when Clayton was ten. His parents divorced when he was 16, and his mother took a series of office jobs. Growing up opposite a baseball field, he showed early talent in the sport, but quickly moved on to more dangerous pursuits.

 

Always tall for his age, and with more than a hint of the imposing presence he now commands on stage, he quickly became a respected figure among his peers. "I was into fighting. People would challenge me, because of my size, to prove myself. And I was good at it. What it means to win a fight when there’s a group of people around and you’re the winner, it’s a big drug in itself.

 

"I was a ned (hood). I had hair down to my shoulder blades and wore black leather, had a fast car and did a whole list of drugs. It’s amazing I didn’t end up in jail. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve driven home completely drunk, out of my mind. That I didn’t end up dead or in jail is a miracle."

 

However, even in high school, teachers noted his special singing voice. "There was an extremely talented choir director who had a fantastic tenor voice. He told me that I had an instrument and tried to encourage me to pursue that, and I believed him because he obviously had one himself. He stuck his neck out to try to persuade me, even though I was a disruption in his class, coming in stoned with my eyes all glazy. Who wants to teach someone like that?"

 

Brainerd believes that his choir master’s encouragement planted a seed in him, even if he was more interested at the time in Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath than Rossini and Wagner. Music had never been part of his world, save for his family’s devotion to the American bandleader Lawrence Welk, who played "sort of elevator music, done with big smiles" on his television show every Sunday afternoon. He grimaces. "Gee, it was hard for me to watch that stuff."

 

The choir master’s seed of inspiration was to come to life unexpectedly some years later. Working in a lumber mill, Brainerd was laid up with a knee injury and listened, for the first time, to the records an old school friend had given him: a set of Beethoven’s symphonies.

 

"When I put the needle in the groove of that first symphony, it was like the hand of God came down and said: ‘You will do this.’ And I knew this meant ‘Sing’. At first I thought it was an LSD flashback; my body tingled. It was the most extraordinary thing. It wasn’t as if I had always wanted to be a singer, or had experiences that would point to that direction, but I had no doubts." That day he stubbed out his last joint and decided to become a singer.

‘When I put the needle in the groove of that first symphony, it was like the hand of God came down and said: ‘You will do this.’ And I knew it meant: Sing’

 

Brainerd talks about miracles a lot. He has worked out the odds of someone from his background becoming one of the tiny handful of people who make their living from classical music on an international platform. If he had known how long those odds were when he started out, he says, he might never have tried to become a singer. Ignorance was a blessing. "I went into the whole education end of it absolutely ignorant about what that decision meant, the sacrifices you have to make, the number of opportunities there are in the end. I just went at it like a horse with blinkers on, just took one step after another."

 

Again and again, he found himself on the receiving end of fortunate coincidences, serendipitous opportunities. "It was like there was a series of exceptions along the way. Endless examples of doors that should not have opened to me swung open and I walked through effortlessly. It was like it was predestined. I hesitate to use phrases like that but it felt like that."

 

He signed up almost immediately for summer school, then entered the University of Portland - "I don’t know how, they must have seen my high school records." In five years, working hard and "playing catch-up all the time", he completed his degree, spending the last year on an exchange programme to Stuttgart, where he worked on learning the languages he would need for an opera career. "Again, it was another exception. I was granted money for the programme which I didn’t know existed."

 

After graduating in 1986 he was given the opportunity to audition for the Conservatoire in Stuttgart. Again, despite the odds, the door opened. "There was an entrance exam, and what they wanted me to do was so far beyond my ability I can’t tell you. They wanted to me write a three-part fugue and analyze Stravinsky, that kind of thing. They must have had a big laugh when they read my paper because I gave it a whirl. But I sang for them, and that was enough."

 

Soon he was being noticed and was picking up concert work. Singing in Conservatoire productions, the Stuttgart opera chorus and practicing for his Masters recital meant he was using his voice for up to ten hours a day. The work was grueling and he felt uncomfortable in his studies. Teachers steered him towards the deceptively complex music of Verdi, believing he was too young for Wagner. "I was unprepared for it," he says.

 

Then disaster struck. "One day, I woke up and found that my voice had taken a nose-dive. I could hardly phonate. From one day to the next, almost, I stopped being able to make the sounds that were required. I couldn’t sing anymore. Can you imagine what that was like, after all that work? I had to come home to the US and just say, ‘Wasn’t that fun? Let’s do something else now.’ I just did odd jobs, making furniture, selling cars and waiting tables, thinking I would never sing again."

 

But providence wasn’t finished with Brainerd. He met Tacoma-based Bill Eddy, a legendary voice teacher, who believed he could nurse the big voice back to health. "He’s now 96 years old and looks and sounds exactly like Santa Claus. I have messages from him on my answer phone from ten years back; they’re so fabulous you can’t erase them.

 

"It took five painstaking years to get my voice back in shape. For the first two years I had two lessons a week doing nothing but vocal exercises. Progress was really slow. But I discovered I have an incredible capacity for stick-to-it-ness." He also discovered his true forte: Wagner. He pays tribute to Eddy and to his wife for standing by him, and helping him make his breakthrough performance, as Wotan in Das Rheingold at Arizona Opera in 1996.

 

More serendipity was to follow. One day he got a call offering him the role of Wotan in Die Walküre in Buenos Aires, taking over from Wagner master James Morris - provided he could be on stage in two days. "There were no musical rehearsals and no time on stage, and the stage was a death trap, really jagged, raked steps, and dark - oh God. And I had never sung the role. I can hardly believe I made the decision to do it." But he did and it was a great success. Then, two days later, under a new conductor, he did it again.

 

Due to the instability of the country’s currency at that time, they paid him $16,000 in cash. "I remember I went back to my hotel room and threw it up in the air and just wallowed in it for a long time. It took me a very long time to get it all back together; I had to count it about 20 times. I’ll never forget that."

 

Perhaps it’s no surprise that the man who is making a career out of playing the chief of the Norse gods believes in divine intervention. Nor does he object to it. "Divine intervention is fine by me." He booms a big, deep laugh. "Bring it on."

 

Aida is at the Theatre Royal tonight, and on 13, 16, 21 and 24 January; and at Edinburgh Festival Theatre on 28 and 30 January.

 

 

Interview with James Bash

 

Clayton Brainerd – a voice for all seasons

- by James Bash

 

 

At 6 feet 5 inches and with a double-wide chest, Brainerd is a big guy with a big voice, a voice perfectly suited for music played by large orchestras with a lot of French horns, trombones, trumpets, and tubas that would strip the gears off the larynxes of many of the best singers in the world.  Fortunately, Brainerd was born for this loud, complex music, and has built a career in which his declamatory and heroic bass-baritone embodies the characters he plays – especially Wotan, the chief of the Nordic gods, in Richard Wagner’s Ring operas.

 

In fact, Brainerd’s voice has been heard in these and other roles around the world on stages in New Zealand, Japan, Argentina, Spain, France, and England. His performance last summer in Scottish Opera’s new production of Die Walküre at the Edinburgh Festival earned him the coveted “Herald Angel Award," naming him as one of the most outstanding performers at the festival and he garnered a glowing review in the New York Times. Consequently, the 44-year old singer was reengaged for this year’s festival in Scottish Opera’s production of Siegfried and for the complete “Ring” next year and in Aida in December 2003.

 

“I feel blessed to live this truly fabulous life,” says Brainerd. “I love to work with these great conductors, musicians, stage directors, and all of the people involved to create world-class art.”

 

Brainerd has about 25 operatic roles under his belt. He has performed three quarters of them on stage and the others he has thoroughly prepared so that he will be ready when the opportunity to perform them arises.

 

“Each role that I take on involves a massive amount of work,” explains Brainerd. “I take the text out of the opera and translate it word for word. I recite the text over and over. I learn the music, the rhythms, the pitches, and put it all back together, interpreting the music.”

 

For Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, Brainerd took four months to learn the gigantic, complicated role of Golaud. He has learned many roles for each of the four Ring operas and it took him a couple of years to master each one. He intends to take ten years to study the music for Hans Sachs, the central character in Wagner’s Meistersinger, considered the one of the most demanding roles in opera literature.

 

Yet Brainerd didn’t grow up in a home steeped in Bach and Brahms. In fact, his parents watched Lawrence Welk every week, causing Brainerd to think that the tunes on that show were classical music. He later turned into a rebellious youth who was more interested in drugs than in learning.

 

“I was one of the high school drug dealers,” explains Brainerd. “I drank a lot, smoked marijuana, did LSD, and wasted school from 7th grade through high school. I think that I graduated with a 1.9 grade point average. I had a fast car. I was into fighting – just being a hoodlum. The teachers graduated me probably just to get me out of there.”

 

After high school Brainerd worked at a lumber mill on Columbia Boulevard in Portland until he was forced to take medical leave after becoming seriously injured on the job. During his recovery he first really heard classical music, an album of all the Beethoven symphonies that a friend had given him for Christmas.

 

“Up until that time I mostly listened to rock music like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath,” recalls Brainerd, ”but when I put the needle in the groove for the Beethoven, it was like the hand of God came down, and a voice said ‘You will do this’. I thought that I was experiencing an LSD flashback, because I was stoned at the time, but I put out the joint and from that moment on I’ve never touched drugs again. I decided to become a singer of classical music, and I was like a horse with blinders on, because that was the only thing that I wanted to do.”

 

Whether Brainerd is flying into San Francisco or Paris, he usually arrives at least six weeks before the opera opens. Rehearsals start right away with several hours of work in the morning and several hours in the afternoon. Often singers are given only one day off per week.

 

“The rehearsals can be grueling,” says Brainerd. “You can’t sing full blast every day. Singers typically mark their voices. That is, they hold back the volume but not the intensity. You have to watch your health, take your vitamins.”

 

Brainerd performed in Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust under the baton of Seiji Ozawa in Japan and in Paris. The first set of rehearsals for the principal singers took place for three weeks in Carnegie Hall. Then they traveled to Japan for more rehearsals and final performances for the Saito Kinen Festival.

 

“It was a fantastic production,” recalls Brainerd, “that involved some complex scaffolding with five runways, each of which were eight feet wide. The opera contains a great deal of ballet music, so members of Cirque du Soliel portrayed evil spirits by flying all over the place. They had worked for months on the choreography in Montreal where the scaffolding had been assembled.”

 

When Brainerd performed in the same production several months later in Paris, he needed only three weeks to rehearse all of the material again. During this period he had more free time to take in The Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, and many of the other famous sights.

 

Brainerd especially enjoys when his wife, Toni Lea, can take a break from her work as a graphic artist to accompany him, and he hopes that in the future they will be able to travel together most of the time.

 

“Thank God she isn’t a musician,” says Brainerd with a chuckle. “My ego is too fragile.”

 

As a young PSU student, Brainerd promptly connected with music professors Ruth Dobson and Bruce Browne who quickly recognized his talent.

 

“When I first met Clayton he was very much a black leather jacket guy,” recalls Dobson. “But his voice has a lot of personality, and he always had musical integrity – all of the nuts and bolts were there right away – the stuff of star quality.”

 

During his fifth year at PSU, Brainerd participated in an exchange program that sent him to Stuttgart, Germany where he matriculated to the Stuttgart Conservatory of Music. PSU helped by granting enough exceptions for him to stay in Germany for four years.

 

But in his final year, Brainerd was hired to sing with the Stuttgart Opera Chorus, and he began to overextend his voice.

 

“I was strong as an ox and could do it, but it ended up wrecking my voice,” says Brainerd. “I crashed and burned in the biggest way. What tipped it over was that I was singing the wrong opera literature. Verdi’s music is written for a higher vocal range. My voice became so muscle bound that I couldn’t even finish my senior recital, and I came back to the States with my tail between my legs.”

 

After investing another year in retraining his voice, Brainerd stopped singing. Instead he did some logging in the Cascades, worked at a furniture factory, sold cars, and quickly  began to lose hope for a career in opera.

 

“But I’d turn on the radio and hear a broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera and start drooling all over again,” recalls Brainerd.

 

Through a friend, Brainerd went to Tacoma and met Bill Eddy, the voice teacher of acclaimed Wagnerian tenor, Gary Lakes.  Over the next five years, Brainerd put his voice back together, and in January of 1996 he got his big break with Arizona Opera, where he

sang the role of Wotan in a production of Das Rheingold. Since then, Brainerd has been kept busy, singing operas and appearing in concert with symphony orchestras worldwide.

 

His performances have also included last minute heroics, such as when he flew to Buenos Aires on one day’s notice to replace an ailing James Morris, opera’s reigning king of Wotans’, in a production of Die Walküre.

 

“After I got to Buenos Aires, there wasn’t any time for a musical rehearsal,” recalls Brainerd. “They just gave me a general idea of what would happen on stage. There was going to be some flashes and a bonfire at the end of this 5½-hour opera. And this was the first time I had ever performed the role of Wotan on stage in this opera!” 

 

Brainerd’s performances were a complete success. Then, because the Argentina currency was unstable, the opera company handed him sixteen thousand dollars in American cash.  He went back to his hotel room, threw the money up in the air and swam in it for an hour.

 

Besides his stage appearances, Brainerd has recorded excerpts from Modest Mussorgsky’s Dream of Peasant Grishko with the New Jersey Symphony called “Heaven & Hell” and made a live recording from Carnegie Hall of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. 

 

“I’m not singing because I’m in love with the sound of my own voice,” says Brainerd. “I sing because I get to spend my life with these musical geniuses and their masterpieces. Creating art of this caliber releases me from my ego. I can be the vehicle for this great music, and I can’t envision doing anything else.”

 

Toni and Clayton Brainerd