Thursday, November 14, 2013

Among other things: Remembering a courageous pilot

Posted: Thursday, November 14, 2013 3:02 pm

Column by Paul Fugleberg

Among the many thousands of war heroes honored during Veterans Day, Nov. 11, was the late Harry Lee Shryock of Polson.  He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II and then in the US Air Force in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.

A native of Elyria, Ohio, Shryock enlisted in the air corps, received flight training at Barksdale Field where he earned his wings and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in February 1942 and was assigned to the 44th heavy bombardment group. In July he was sent to North Africa and saw action right away.

As a B-24 Liberator bomber pilot, he and his crew pounded Rommel’s forces from Egypt to Tunisia over the next eight months. His plane was called “Stinger” and survived 35 dangerous bombing missions. Although his plane was riddled with machine gun bullets and anti-aircraft flak, neither Shryock nor his crew were wounded.

He received the Distinguished Flying Cross, was promoted to captain and at the end of eight months, returned to the U.S. and was assigned as assistant operations officer to the bomb group.

He remained in the Air Force and retired as a lieutenant colonel and he and his wife Deola settled in Polson.

He didn’t hang up his wings, though. He occasionally flew charter flights for Phil Timm from the Polson airport. One of those flights included me and my daughter Ruth, who was trying out for a Boise State University women’s basketball scholarship. Also flying with us was a Bigfork high school girls’ basketball team member who came along for moral support for Ruth.

The weather was poor enough that commercial airlines between Missoula and Boise weren’t flying that day. The Boise tryouts were set for 2 p.m. But small planes were permitted to fly. Phil asked Lee if he wanted to take trip and he agreed. So, off we went in Timm’s Cessna 180.

Initial plan was to cross the mountains near Stanley, Idaho, and go direct to Boise. But weather obscured the pass. Lee decided to head to Mountain Home and then to Boise. That route was weathered in too. Looked like we’d have to back track. As we got back near Stanley again, the weather had lifted and we could go straight to Boise.

Ruth got there just as tryouts were starting. And she was successful and received a tuition scholarship. Bad weather prevented flying the Boise-Stanley-Polson route for the return trip. It was flyable from Boise to Dillon.  When we reached Dillon, weather was too stormy in the Missoula-Polson area. So we landed at Dillon, got a couple motel rooms for the night, and flew home the next day in bright sunshine.

During the challenging trip, Lee told me, “I’ve flown a lot of planes, some pretty big ones, but in a small plane, I really feel like I’m flying. It’s the best!”

A few years later, Lee again showed that his wartime courage was still unbroken. In January 1984, 27-year old David Cameron Keith robbed a Missoula pharmacy at gunpoint and got away with some 500 prescription drugs including Dilaudid, a synthetic heroin. The robber drove north on US 93 to the Post Creek store where he stopped, dashed into the store and grabbed a 13-year-old boy as a hostage, and took him in the family’s pickup truck after firing a shot at the boy’s father, and fled north until being stopped at a roadblock near the top of Polson hill.

With gun pointed at the hostage’s head, Keith demanded an airplane and pilot.

Shryock volunteered to be the pilot. In his patrol car, Sheriff Glenn Frame led Keith and the hostage to the airport where Shryock was at the controls of a Beechcraft Bonanza single engine plane. The hostage was released and Keith got into plane.

After attempts were made to start the airplane’s engine, Keith shot and killed the pilot and deputies shot and wounded the robber.

Following a trial the killer was sentenced to die by lethal injection on Jan. 20, 1989.

However, on Jan. 2, 1989, outgoing Governor Ted Schwinden granted clemency to Keith, and accepted the Board of Pardons recommendation to commute the sentence to life in prison without parole. The governor said his decision was based on his review of Keith’s life, a meeting with Keith at the prison, and a phone conversation with the family of Harry Lee Shryock.

Original article: