Source: Sherman Publications

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Tribute on two wheels

by David Fleet

November 02, 2011

Vietnam era veteran Dan Cole with his father Ernest Cole’s 1951 Harley- Davidson motorcycle. Ernest was a World War II Air Force veteran. Veterans Day is Nov. 11. Photo by David Fleet.
A tri-folded American flag. A few black and white photos. Stories of combat and foreign countries.

Those who served in the military are remembered in a variety of ways; however, Dan Cole—a Goodrich resident and Vietnam era veteran— recently completed a rather unique tribute to his father Ernest Cole, who served in the Air Force during World War II.

"Several years after dad returned to the states, he bought a 1951 Harley- Davidson motorcycle," said Dan. "He said riding a motorcycle on a winding road was similar to flying in a plane."

In February 1945, Staff Sergeant Ernest Cole was assigned to the 392nd bomb group based in Wendling, England. The group flew B24 Liberator heavy bombers directly over Germany. According to military records, 21 percent of the 392nd combat airmen lost their lives, another 11 percent became prisoners of war and 2 percent were interned in neutral countries. Ernest and his crew completed 13 missions in Europe over the next few months. Ernest, a waist gunner and engineer known as "Chief" among the crew, went through three aircraft to complete those missions.

Ernest returned home after the war and in 1951 purchased a Harley- Davidson motorcycle.

"Dad would tell us that riding a motorcycle on a winding road was similar to flying a plane," said Dan. "He kept it in the family until 2000 when I bought the bike and rode it. He took his last ride on the Harley, from Warren to Goodrich, at the age of 79."

Ernest died in February at the age of 87 and Dan decided to pay tribute to the 392nd bombing group by making the Harley into a tribute to his father.

Several unique features of the Harley included no electric start, so it must be kick-started. A solid frame—no shocks or springs, make a rough ride. Unlike modern motorcycles which feature a hand clutch, the 1951 Harley's clutch is on the floorboard, similar to that of a car. Also unique is a shifting lever mounted on the gas tank.

"I have to let go of the left handle bar to shift the bike," laughed Dan.

"Most of the parts are original and have been refurbished," he said. "The bike has 30,000 original miles and the engine has never been out of the frame. I tried to keep the bike's appearance similar to the 1950s nostalgia era."

Dan hoped to keep the artwork and pin-striping on the Harley "hand-done," reflective of the 1950s, rather than air- brushed. Artist "Tub Welch" painted the 392nd Bomb Group logo on the oil tank and painted 13 bombs for each mission on the oil tank.

"I'll pass the bike on to my two sons," said Dan.

"Both know how to ride modern motorcycles, but will have to learn how to ride a 'real' kick-start, hard-tail Harley just like Grandpa's."