Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Greatest Generation

The Greatest Generation:

90-year-old veteran a Black Mountain Hero

Published in Black Mountain News, February 20, 2014

     Howard Pinner, Jr., who celebrated his ninetieth birthday in January, lives a peaceful family life in Black Mountain, yet is one of America’s war heroes, a much-decorated veteran of World War II.

A tall, handsome, and quiet-spoken man, Howard and his wife, Jo, have lived on a tranquil, green-lawned Black Mountain street for more than thirty years, raising two sons and two daughters, and enjoying the growth of their family with seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

You might not guess from meeting Howard that he was a courageous, determined bomber pilot who, at age 19, flew 26 perilous missions over Germany from 1943 - 1945.

 He was an 18-year-old student at Mars Hill College when he decided to become a pilot. 

“I’d wanted to be a pilot since I was a kid, hooked on the adventures of ‘Tailspin Tommy’ and ‘Smilin’ Jack’ in the comic strips,” he said. “I was in love with the idea of flying, and once I was old enough, I enlisted in the United States Army Air Force, on October 22, 1943.”

Pinner recalls the many phases of his pilot training.  On February 24, 1944, he reported for Army basic training in Miami Beach, Fla.

Earlier in February of that year, the Army’s Eighth Air Force was activated as a bomber command unit, under which Howard would come to serve after completing his pilot training on many U.S. Army bases around the country. Eventually, he was assigned to Maxwell Field, Alabama; then on to Lafayette, La.; to Walnut Ridge and Blythe Field, Ark., where he became a commissioned officer. At Drew Field, Tampa, Fla., Howard was assigned to the 10-member crew with whom he would serve for the remainder of his tour.

His rigorous pilot training included the Fairchild PT-23 trainer; Vultee BT-13 Valiant trainer; and the B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber.

The crew was as close as brothers, having spent months living and training together. Barely out of their teens, the young men had already developed the maturity and determined attitude to fiercely protect each other.

“When you’re 19, you don’t think of dying, only competing, and winning,” Pinner, the youngest of his crew, said. “And beating the enemy.”

The crew’s home base was at Nuthampstead, formerly used by England’s Royal Air Force. Howard’s unit was known as the 398th Bombardment Group (Triangle-W). The group consisted of four units of thirty-six planes each.

“We were assigned to three or five a.m. briefings,” Howard said. “It took an hour for each unit of 36 planes to assemble into V-formation. Imagine the impact of seven units – more than a thousand planes – flying one after another over Berlin and other parts of Germany and occupied Europe to undermine the pinnings of the German war machine.”

The offensive air forces of the USAAF and the RAF came to be classified as strategic or tactical. Strategic maneuvers comprised attacks beyond the enemy’s front-line forces, to destroy production and supply sites. Tactical maneuvers were designed to cover and support the men on the ground in fighting campaigns.

“Our missions were strategic,” Howard said. “I flew 26 missions as part of the invasion of Continental Europe from Britain. We carried out bombing raids on Berlin factories, Munich warehouses, Kiel shipping facilities, oil refineries, marshalling yards, and aircraft plants in other cities.”

The 398th Bombardment Group was part of the Invasion of Normandy, which Tom Brokaw later memorialized. They attacked coastal defenses and enemy troops.

From Nuthampstead, the USAAF group flew 195 combat missions between 1943-1945. According to USAAF records, it was the largest company of deployed combat Army Air Forces in numbers of aircraft, personnel, and equipment during the war.

Pinner recalled his crew would fly three days in a row in clear weather, bombing targets from 25,000 to 35,000 feet, where they were safe from ground fire and flack.

On one mission, his plane caught fire, when a plane above his in the formation blew up.

“My only option was to ditch the plane in the North Sea,” he said. “Our aircraft broke in two. We put on our Mae Wests before the plane went under water. Luckily, we were able to salvage our emergency radio and life raft. Not so lucky, we lost three men.”

Pinner said the radio engineer hooked up the radio and cranked out an SOS. The RAF in a Flying Dutchman found them and dropped parachutes, a boat, and ropes in all directions so the men could hoist themselves onto the life boat.

“It was a cold eight hours in the North Sea,” he said.

On another mission, which proved to be his last, Howard and crew were ordered to bomb an ordnance plant 20 miles from Berlin. But they were pursued and the B-17 badly damaged.

“The plane had 200 gunfire holes, only two functioning engines left, and an emptied gas tank,” Howard said. “I followed a railroad line into Kutno, Poland. The area looked deserted, but we knew there was a Russian base nearby.”

When Howard finally spotted a place he felt was safe to land, he guided the plane down. Suddenly, people appeared from everywhere, surrounding the plane.

“Although I knew a little German, I had been advised during training not to speak the language if ever caught,” he said. “Pilots who spoke German were known to have been shot at sight by those aligned with the Allies. Lucky for me, I greeted the welcoming committee in English!”

It took more than a month for Howard and his crew to leave Poland and reach safe haven, to return home. They were smuggled through Russia, Iran, Egypt, Italy, France, and finally to England.

“We arrived home – our real home in the U.S. - on V-E Day, aboard the Ile de France,” Howard added.

Some months later, Howard returned to school, enrolling at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry, and met and married Jo Mathis, his wife of 60 years.

For many years, Howard was a chemical textile colorist and plant manager for some of the nation’s largest textile manufacturers and dye plants, including Graniteville, Greenwood Mills, and Reeves Brothers. When the last plant in Old Fort closed in 1983, he and Jo decided to stay on [in Black Mountain], loving their home, the town, and the place where their family had blossomed and grown.

 “I loved flying and have no regrets about my war experience, but I wouldn’t want to do it again.” 

Today, Pinner points to the test pilots of stealth planes as the real heroes. “And those men re-upping for their fifth, sixth, and tenth missions on the ground and in the air. Like them, we fought to protect our brothers on either side of us. And that’s what American soldiers do: protect and serve our families.”

The end

Myra Schoen

Tuesday, February 4, 2014





Clip - cover story - The Greatest Generation

Cover Story

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Clip - cover story: FIRST at Blue Ridge

FIRST at Blue Ridge

FIRST at Blue Ridge:

Breaking Bad . . . Habits

Published in Black Mountain News:
February 6, 2014 

     Spread across three wooded acres in Ridgecrest, FIRST at Blue Ridge is a long-term residential community for chronic substance abuse treatment.

With no institutional signage to identify it or walls to surround it, FIRST’s quiet collection of buildings looks much like its mountain neighbors, with only an occasional bear to disturb the peace. It’s an idyllic setting conducive to introspection, fellowship, healing, and recovery for people who need a second chance.

Under the leadership, since 2003, of Executive Director Joseph A. Martinez, J.D., FIRST at Blue Ridge had its early beginnings in 1991 in Winston-Salem, moving to Ridgecrest in 1998. It grew from an all-male program to a community with a capacity of 160, including the recent addition of a specialized component for women, pregnant women, and soon, women with children.

A private, nonprofit charitable 501(c)(3)organization, FIRST at Blue Ridge was named a licensed Therapeutic Community by the State of North Carolina in 2005, only the second facility so named in the state at that time. Of the six current Therapeutic Community licenses in the state, FIRST holds two of them.

Martinez, a graduate of Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad Law Center, is rightfully proud of the achievement, which he shares with his staff of 26, many of whom are themselves graduates of the residential program.   

 FIRST at Blue Ridge clients are mostly young men and women, ages 18 and up, who have entered the residential program voluntarily. While some may be on probation for minor offenses, such as DUI, none have been convicted of violent crimes, sexual offenses, or arson.

Clients many be self-referred or referred by hospitals and clinics, courts, homeless shelters, and social service agencies. FIRST also maintains contracts with the Cherokee Hospital Authority for short-term, 90-day programs for members of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee; with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs; and with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety for 90-day Transitional Housing, which includes substance abuse treatment and employment assistance and placement.

FIRST offers the “Vets FIRST,” program, partially funded by Veterans Affairs. Currently, treatment, housing, and case management is provided for 30 veterans – 20 men and 10 women - with chronic substance abuse issues, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), or homelessness. According to Martinez, resident vets have served in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and represent all branches of the military and many ranks.

Martinez said, “The disease of addiction makes no distinction between officer or enlisted person, fighter pilot, surgeon, or drill sergeant. 

The core 12- to 24-month residential programs offer vocational training, work opportunities, and mandatory 12-Step participation.  Programs are highly structured, disciplined, and individualized to include parenting skills, anger management, and relapse prevention.

 “Our aim is to reintegrate clients into the community and to prepare them to make the right choices for a healthy life,” Martinez said.

Since education is essential to maintaining independence and building self-esteem and confidence, clients are encouraged to complete a GED high school degree, and can attend community colleges, universities, and technical vocational schools.

 “Clients must learn marketable skills while they’re in the program,” Martinez said. “Consistency eliminates chaos.”

At the start of their residency, clients are assigned to internal work crews, learning both teamwork and new skills. Staff is onsite 24 hours a day, seven days a week to mentor, monitor, and “ensure program compliance.”

Martinez pointed out that FIRST’s internal work crews constructed much of the women’s residential building themselves. The building includes semi-private rooms, class and meeting rooms, recreation areas, dining room, and a commercial kitchen with donated equipment from Ingles, Hoodmart, and several others.

As clients progress in their treatment, they join supervised work crews that serve the Asheville area.   FIRST operates its own businesses, which help support treatment programs while providing vocational and job skills training.

Martinez has negotiated contracts with The Town of Black Mountain, The Town of Montreat, The City of Asheville, The Asheville Civic Center, Warren Wilson College and others for “commercial and residential landscaping, moving and delivery, painting, labor and handyman services, janitorial and construction cleanup.”

According to Martinez, “We’re creating tax payers, not tax burdens.”

FIRST has a ladder of progress as an incentive for individual growth and development: Residents can step up from client status to peer leader, then house manager, and even a certified staff member.

“We graduate about fifty residents each year and help them find employment and stability,” he said.

Graduates are awarded specially designed FIRST class rings, the same type as traditional rings of other educational institutions, their certificate of completion, and the knowledge that they have taken the first step to having a successful, healthy, drug-free lifestyle.    

On the last Sunday of every month, FIRST’s alumni group come together, meeting to celebrate their independence and the fellowship that brought them from recovery to discovery.


For more information, go to or call 828.669.0011.



Sunday, February 16, 2014

Black Mountain College Alumna Returns" - 
Published in Black Mountain News: January 23, 2014 

On Friday, January 24, the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center welcomes a distinguished alumna, the multi-talented Cynthia Homire, whose artistic work will be showcased in a new exhibition entitled “Cynthia Homire: Vision Quest.”

The public is invited to the free opening reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Museum, 56 Broadway, Asheville. The exhibition, featuring Homire’s drawings, paintings, pottery and writings, will be on display through May 17, 2014.

Now in her 80s, Homire retains the same enthusiasm, liveliness, and creative spirit that have infused her life and art since her student years at Black Mountain College.

In the introduction to Homire’s new collection of poetry, entitled “Vision Quest,” which will be available for sale at the Museum, Connie Bostic describes an early photo of the artist and poet as a “most attractive . . . girl with the same look of freshness, buoyancy, mischievousness and quiet curiosity found in the woman she is today.”

Attracted to the College’s avant-garde reputation for artistic expression, Homire attended the College from 1950-1954, and first studied with writers Charles Olson, M.C. Richards, and Robert Creeley.

She recalled what Charles Olson said to his students in class: “No one is writing. If you don’t write, don’t come to my class.” When Homire showed him one of her first stories, he said, “You’ll be good, if you’ll write one hundred more of these.”  

Ever the explorer, Homire took a pottery seminar at the College, and soon became enamored with the work of potters David Weinrib and Karen Karnes, and was awarded a ceramics scholarship.

“Pottery became my life’s work,” Homire said from her home in New Mexico.

In 1964, she and fellow BMC alumnus, the painter Jorge Fick, married, and settled in Santa Fe. In 1972, they opened the Fickery, where Homire crafted utilitarian stoneware that Fick glazed. Together, they also held life drawing classes, until her vision began to fade.

Diagnosed with macular degeneration in 1990, Homire’s creative spirit was undaunted. She continued to draw and write poetry, always seeking a fresh perspective, and expressing it with clarity, truth, and humor.

“Once, a friend of mine was having trouble writing about the Grand Canyon,” Homire said. “So I wrote a piece claiming the Grand Canyon didn’t exist and showed it to her. Well, that got her to write that it certainly did exist.”

Asked how she keeps inspiration alive, Homire said, “I’m inspired by something the artist Paul Klee said: ‘Take a line for a walk.’ That’s what I do. I often go from room to room, thinking. I grab out what is good about it, and work with that.”

In one of her poems, Homire writes:

     I had a fine poem

          this morning

     I took it for a walk

          as I usually do

     It’s healthy for them

     Walked it round a

          cup of tea

     A good breakfast

     Green chili cheese grits

          With an egg on top

     Took it round the

     Cleaning of dishes

     Making of bed

     Gathered up what

     was needed for a walk to

          the studio

     Picked purslane along the

          way, it’s truly abundant now.

Homire believes that the creative traditions established at Black Mountain College should be encouraged and play a significant part in everyone’s life.    

“I’m glad the Museum carries on the message that the teaching and practice of art is important. It can save the world.” 

For more information, click on, or call 828.350.8484.


By Myra Schoen


Clip - Cynthia Homire