When I was a kid, I noticed that my grandmother always read the obituaries first. I later found out that it was because she was looking for people she knew there.
Fortunately, I'm not at that point in my life yet. My reading of the obituaries first started even before I was in a Celebrity Dead Pool. I started reading the obits because often it was the first I'd heard of many interesting people. Today was no exception.
The New York Times had the obit of Nolan Herndon. He was the navigator of one of the B-25's that flew the Doolittle Raid. The raid, which was meant to bolster American morale after the Pearl Harbor raid, was amazing. The pilots took off of the carrier Hornet in B-25 bombers, which were not designed to be taken off of aircraft carriers.
Mr. Herndon scoffed at being called a "hero," stating "We were just doing our job." Against his wishes, I'll still call him a hero.
Herndon's crew landed in the Soviet Union. Since the Soviet Union was not at war with Japan at that point, Herndon and his crew were detained, and escaped to Iran a year later, where they made it to the British consulate and were repatriated to the United States.
The damage to Japanese military and industry was negliable, but the raid may have in fact had a part in the ultimate U.S. victory. The Japanese did not know that the raiders were on a one-way trip (they were to land in China), assuming the United States had developed a new long-range bomber. The Japanese military hastily redeployed carriers and aircraft to be nearer Japan to protect against such a threat. The reduced strength in the Pacific had a big role in the U.S.' shattering victory in the Battle of Midway, which was the beginning of the end for the Japanese in World War II.
The other cool-guy obit was for Bud Ekins, a stunt cyclist in the movies.
Ekins was responsible for two of the great stunts in the movies, and played two parts in one of them.
One was Steve McQueen's famous motorcycle chase in The Great Escape. Contrary to popular belief, McQueen didn't do all of his own stunt work. The part where "The Cooler King" took a 65 foot leap over a 12 foot barb-wire fence was actually done by Ekins. I've included the Youtube clip of the chase, including the jump, for any of you youngsters who have never seen it (and for us old folks who just love seeing the clip).
Ekins was paid $1000 for the jump, an exorbitant sum for a stunt those days. When asked about the landing, according to the obit, he simply responded "Hard!"
Ekins had not one, but two parts in the legendary chase scene in Bullitt, one of my top ten favorite movies. Many film buffs rate this as the greatest chase scene ever.
Ekins alternated driving the Dodge Charger with stuntman/actor Bill Hickman, who is actually shown driving the car in the movie. Ekins did the motorcycle stunt-- dropping the motorcycle to the road when McQueen's Ford Mustang and the mob hitmen's Charger nearly hit him. I've included this legendary scene too.
Notice that Detective Bullitt pauses for a moment to make sure the motorcyclist is okay, before resuming the chase. Ever the good guy.
Just for fun, watch the scene and count two things: One, how many times they pass the green Volkswagon, and two, how many hubcaps the Charger loses. Hint: it's more than four. The chase scene, done in parts, is still harrowing, no matter how many times I've seen it, and runs through some of my favorite parts of the Bay area.
Ekins did stunts in Animal House, the Blues Brothers, Diamonds Are Forever and many other movies. He also shared a birthday with me, May 11.