Board member Jim Noles speaks in Jasper

by David Lazenby

Reprinted with permission from the Daily Mountain Eagle, Jasper, Ala.

A writer from Mountain Brook whose latest book has a central character who hails from west Walker County captivated his audience at Bevill Hill Auditorium Tuesday with the real-life war story of Bill Tune told in his tome, “Mighty By Sacrifice: The Destruction of an American Bomb Squadron August 29, 1944.”

James L. Noles Jr. was joined on the stage Tuesday by his father, with whom he co-wrote “Mighty By Sacrifice.” The authors’ presentation given on the Jasper Campus of Bevill State Community College was in conjunction with “Read Alabama,” a series that brings state authors to speak in Jasper.

The writers acknowledged that they may not have been able to tell the Carbon Hill native’s story had it not been for another Walker County man — Lester Brasfield of Jasper — who had preserved Tune’s flight log book.

The Noles said the records book, which provides painstaking details of all of Tune’s 48 military missions, was invaluable during the research portion of the book-writing process.

The senior Noles said Tune’s meticulous nature helped provide a blueprint of facts he and his son were able to utilize. He said it was this attention to details that made Tune well-suited for the career he chose after the war — architecture.

Some of Tunes’ story was told to the Noles by Tune himself. Noles, Sr. met Tune in Florence, Noles’ hometown, where Tune resided prior to his passing in October 2008. Before he died, Noles Sr. said he was able to provide the veteran with a manuscript of the book.

“Mighty By Sacrifice” which was published by the University of Alabama Press, tells the story of Tune’s heroic, yet ill-fated mission to Moravska Ostrava, Czechoslovakia during the war.

The tale not only focuses on Tune, but also brings to life other members of the 20th Squadron of the 2nd Bombardment Group that took part in an attack on an oil refinery and associated railroad yards in Czechoslovakian village during the summer of 1944.

During Tuesday’s program that was accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation, the junior Noles, a Birmingham attorney, told his audience that the auditorium reminded him of a scene from the book that takes place in a similar facility in which squadron members learned the specifics of their upcoming mission.

While on stage, Noles Jr. told of the young men who took part in the bomber offensive, some who didn’t survive the encounter.

Noles Jr. said two of the 10 soldiers who performed duties on Tune’s aircraft were killed when the plane was shot down. Miraculously, Tune, who was unconscious when he was tossed out of the airplane, managed to deploy his parachute and land safely.

Noles Sr. speculated that Tune may have regained consciousness when he was struck by the aircraft — a blow that broke the young man’s leg.

Tune and five other soldiers who escaped from the plane before it went down were captured by enemy combatants and kept as prisoners of war for nine months. One of the two soldiers who escaped capture did so by hiding out with area pig farmers until the end of the war.

Fifty years after the air battle, Moravska Ostrava, Czechoslovakia commemorated the American soldiers who participated in the conflict, inviting them to return to the country. Tune was one of those who made the trip.

Since then, many of the veterans involved in the battle — as well as Noles Sr. — have made trips to the village.

“He went in 2004,” Noles Jr. said about his father. “He accompanied Lloyd Dickenson, who was Bill Tune’s navigator.”

Noles Jr. added that the Czechoslovakian community has a mass each year to honor the airmen lost in the battle. Also he said the village has a special name for the field where they recovered the body of Russell Myrick, the bombardier on Tune’s aircraft who was not able to escape from the plane before it went down, exploding on impact.

“They call that field ‘America,’” he said.

Noles Jr. has written about eight other books, including “A Pocketful of History: Four Hundred Years of America-One State Quarter at a Time.” His father said “Mighty By Sacrifice” is his first — and last — book.

“It’s a long process,” he said. “It’s a lot of work.”

Despite the arduous task, Noles, 63, a retired brigadier general in the U.S. Army, said writing the book was “worth every minute of it.”

Noles Jr. said he enjoyed the experience of working with his father. “It was good to have a project spending time together,” he said, adding his father had “a great rapport” with the veterans interviewed for the book.

Noles Sr. said a highlight of the experience was presenting a copy of the book to Tune’s widow, Fran, who passed away in 2009. He added that he gained respect for Tunes’ parents while writing the story.

“I absolutely fell in love with the Tunes,” he said, pointing out that the matriarch of the family, Beulah Tune, insisted that each of her four children learn to play a musical instrument, and not attend the one-room school in Jagger, a now defunct Walker County community where they lived, but instead attend school in Carbon Hill, a town that was four miles away.

The Noles’ presentation was the second lecture in the “Read Alabama” series. Kathryn Tucker Windham was the first author featured in the 2010 series. She spoke at the auditorium on Feb. 16.

The Noles will be followed by Robert McCammon on March 16. The series will conclude on March 31 when Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Bragg comes to town. Unlike the previous presentations that have been on Tuesdays at Bevill Hill Auditorium, Bragg will speak at Rowland Auditorium on a Wednesday afternoon.

Noles, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and the University of Texas School of Law, facetiously thanked organizers for bringing him and his father to the stage to follow Windham, who attracted a standing-room-only audience during her Fat Tuesday appearance.

The author added he had high praise for the “Read Alabama” program.

“It is a first-rate operation and one of my favorite speaking engagements,” Noles Jr. said. “If anything is going to inspire me to do another book, it will be to have an excuse to come back to Jasper.”

After the speech, the Noles autographed copies of “Mighty By Sacrifice” and other books written by Noles Jr.

Noles Sr. said readers who opt to wait for the movie probably won’t see Tune’s tale told on the Silver Screen.

“It’s not likely to be a Hollywood movie,” he said. “There’s no embellishment in there.”