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This WWII Airman Gave Me the Freedom I Enjoy Today

Spielberg-Hanks TV miniseries will immortalize story of CNN reporter’s brave grandfather

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Frank Murphy's B-17 Flying Fortress (bottom left) above the Rhine Valley during a bombing mission over Germany in August 1943.
Courtesy of the 100th Bomb Group Foundation
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Getty Images/AARP

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

CNN entertainment correspondent Chloe Melas believes that she lives the life she does because of the sacrifice of veterans like her grandfather Frank Murphy, a World War II hero, who wrote about his experiences before he died at 85 in 2007. Melas and her mother, Elizabeth Murphy, have teamed up to write a foreword to his memoir Luck of the Draw: My Story of the Air War in Europe, which will be published on Feb. 28.

Murphy will be one of the characters in Masters of the Air, produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks and starring Austin Butler, which will begin streaming on Apple TV+ later this year. The miniseries highlighting American exploits in the skies over Europe during WWII follows the blockbuster successes Band of Brothers and The Pacific.

Although Masters of the Air is based principally on the Donald L. Miller book of the same name, the makers of the miniseries used Luck of the Draw to help create historical authenticity and to understand what U.S. airmen went through in defeating Nazi Germany.

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Chloe Melas talked to AARP’s Shelley Emling about what her grandfather and his comrades mean to her.

SE: What’s unique about your grandfather’s story?

CM: My grandfather flew 21 missions over Nazi-occupied Europe before his luck quite literally ran out when he was shot down over Germany. He parachuted out of his B-17 airplane, which was engulfed in flames, plummeting towards the earth. Two members of his crew did not survive. When my grandfather landed in a German farmer’s field, he was captured and went on to serve 18 months as a prisoner of war in horrific conditions. Decades later my grandfather put pen to paper and recounted his experience with such detail that you feel as though it was just yesterday. 

SE: Why has it been so important to get your grandfather’s story out there?

CM: He did so much to support me in achieving my goals throughout my life that it feels only right to pay it forward and champion his book. I want to shout from the rooftops the incredible heroism my grandfather and his fellow men went through to protect our country. Our lives were in the hands of these barely 18-year-old men; we owe so much to them for the freedoms we have today. 

SE: What did you always admire most about your grandfather?

CM: My grandfather always managed to keep his cool under the toughest of circumstances. In hindsight, I believe his wartime experiences helped put everything else into perspective.

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Aviation cadet Frank standing with his mother, Maxwell Field, February 1942.
Murphy Collection

SE: What do you hope people take away from the book?

CM: Being able to tell the world about his incredible story as a prisoner of war during WWII I hope will inspire others to stay resilient when you’re faced with life’s seemingly insurmountable challenges. 

SE: Why is it so key to share these kinds of stories with younger generations?

CM: We can learn so much from those that came before us. They do say history repeats itself. These young men faced evil every day as they took to the skies in broad daylight to fight the Nazis.

SE: What prompted your grandfather to talk about his experiences?

CM: When my mother and her siblings were growing up, he spoke very little about the war. It wasn’t until my cousins and I came along that he would regale us with stories about his missions, but a very PG version. I honestly think that it took him decades to process what had happened and learn to let go of the guilt he carried for living when so many of his men died. 

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SE: What has it been like to have your grandfather’s story be part of the upcoming Apple TV+ series Masters of the Air? Were you involved in that process?

CM: I began attending WWII reunions nearly a decade ago and forged close bonds with the children and grandchildren of men who knew my grandfather. During those reunions, I met members of Tom Hanks’ production company and eventually learned that they had decided to include my grandfather as a character in the series. The highlight was visiting the set in England during the pandemic. What Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have created is unbelievable. I’m forever thankful that they are immortalizing my grandfather’s story.

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Elizabeth Murphy, Chloe Melas and Ann Murphy.
Murphy Collection

SE: Beyond the veteran experience, tell us about your grandfather as, well, a grandfather.

CM: My grandfather was a soft-spoken, Southern gentleman. He was an incredible listener and always had wise advice. He held doors, did not like to fight, never raised his voice and was the ultimate problem solver. He loved to cook and watch the Food Network, writing recipes down on his notepad to whip up for my grandmother.

He faced quite a bit of hardship after the war, losing two of his children to cancer and the sudden death of one of his grandchildren. I think in many ways those experiences had an even more profound effect on him than the war did.

The only time I heard him cry was when I went to visit his Air Force base, Thorpe Abbotts, when I was in college studying abroad in England. I called him on my prepaid phone from one of the overgrown runways and he was overcome with emotion that I had taken such an interest in his wartime experience.

My grandfather really was one of the great ones, and it brings me such joy to be able to shine a light on his remarkable story. Proceeds from the sale of every book will go to the Mighty Eighth Museum in Savannah, Georgia, and the 100th Bomb Group Foundation — helping to keep alive the memories of these great Americans so that future generations can learn from them.

Luck of the Draw: My Story of the Air War in Europe can be ordered here.

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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