Have you ever met a hero?

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I just did. I hadn’t planned on it, but it happened.  That’s the best way to meet heroes.

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I went to visit a toy store to gather material for a subsequent blog post. There are lots of toy stores all over the place, but this one was different. This toy store has been in operation for nearly 70 years and in its present location since 1956.  It might be the oldest continually operating toy store in the United States.

Kip’s Toyland is in the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market. The person who started it is Irvin “Kip” Kipper. He is the hero!

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I met with Kip’s son, Don, shortly before the toy store opened on Saturday, March 7th 2015. Don is also a leading edge baby boomer, and he now owns Kip’s Toyland that he operates with his daughter, Lily.

I was going to ask Don about the toys he carried and the store, but chose to first politely ask about his dad. Then I listened.

Irvin’s family moved from Texas to the Los Angeles area in the early 1920s. As a youngster, Kip remembers the interesting mechanized displays that were set up in the department stores during the Christmas season. The toys, that were so prominent in the windows, weren’t featured that way during the rest of the year.

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When America entered World War II, Kip became a B17 pilot. That airplane, a four-engine bomber with six defensive gun locations, was nicknamed the “Flying Fortress.” The B17 was unheated and unpressurized, so its crew needed oxygen and electrically heated flying suits to keep warm at altitude. B17s had a range of about thirteen hundred miles and flew at about two hundred miles per hour. B17s flew in tight group formations so that the combined firepower from all the formation’s guns might ward off the enemy fighter aircraft that regularly attacked the slow flying Fortresses. The phrase, “the whole nine yards” referred to the fifty- caliber ammunition that was linked together to be fed through its fifty caliber Browning machine guns.

On one particular bombing mission, Kip’s B17 was shot down over Italy. Kip was captured and became a Prisoner of War. He was held by the German army until being rescued and freed by soldiers commanded by General Patton.  In a curious coincidence, my father-in-law, another hero, was serving with General Patton and was the commanding officer of one of the soldiers that General Patton slapped in Sicily.  My father-in-law was seriously wounded in Italy, and he might have been nearby when Kip was rescued.

Kip told his family that he had determined to do something to make people happy when he was able.

When he returned to Los Angeles, Kip opened his store in 1945. It sold flags. The flag store was located directly across the street from where Kip’s Toyland presently stands. Following the end of WWII rationing, commodities otherwise unavailable to civilians, including rubber, permitted new products to be reintroduced, and Kip started to sell balloons. Kip’s young son, Don, tied strings to the balloons. Flags led to balloons, balloons led to toys, and the rest is history.

As I already said, Kip’s son, Don, is a leading edge baby boomer. On Don’s tenth birthday, in September 1956, Don celebrated by helping his father lay the new linoleum floor before Kip’s Toyland opened in its new location. It is still there, at 6333 W. 3rd St.

Don’s brother, Robert, brings their father to the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning to have breakfast with both sons and to meet customers. My wife and I coincidentally had eaten breakfast that morning at the Farmer’s Market with our son, daughter-in-law and grandson. I wanted my family to meet Don so we had walked back to the toy store at exactly the moment that Kip arrived.

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I got to meet a hero, shake his hand and thank him for his service.

What a great day!

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13 thoughts on “Have you ever met a hero?

  1. I wanted to comment about my Dad¹s service in B-17¹s He started off as a tail gunner and was eventually a bombardier. He was also an enlisted pilot. He was stationed at Clark in the PI before the War but was reassigned to Hickham where he was wounded during the Pearl Harbor attack. That was actually good luck in that he probably would have been in the Bataan Death March had he stayed in the PI.

    He served in B-17¹s and B-24¹s throughout the War in the Pacific Theater and survived several ditchings at sea as well as a lot of combat.

    Marshall

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  2. I wonder how many people we encounter each day who are every day heros, or special circumstances heros. How many times have we spoken to someone on the phone, sat next to a person on a bench, or bus, or have walked passed someone on the street —and —not knowing their “story”—missed a wonderful opportunity..

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  3. I passed heroes everyday when walking thru the halls of my high school in the sixties, but didn’t know it. After graduating high school and college many of the boys went to Vietnam and served with honor and courage. I am very proud to call them my friends.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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  4. In 1967-68 while working in Washington, DC as a reservations agent for Delta Air Lines I received a call early one morning from the Baltimore airport ticket counter (at that time they did not yet have computer terminals installed at the airport) asking me to confirm a passenger reservation for the agent. The agent gave me the flight number, date of travel, and passenger’s last name…”DOOLITTLE” first name “JAMES” After a moment in the fog I asked the agent “Is that THE Jimmy Doolittle??” He replied “It sure is!” After completing the agents request and before disconnecting the call I requested the agent to ask the General if he would be kind enough to let me have a brief word with him. I overheard the agent ask him and after hearing a reply of “Why certainly!” he came on the phone and I introduced myself. In the few words I spoke I thanked him for his service and sacrifice and also for the privilege to be able to do so in person. I do remember his reply… “Son, that was kind of you to say that. Thank you.” Even before that brief encounter I had admired him and what he did and all the men who served with him.

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    • One of the perks of my job as a photographer in the Air Force was the people I got to meet. One of them was Jimmy Doolittle at a Northrop aircraft introduction. A great day. Then when I worked at Penn State, one of my employees had photographed the testing and practice that Doolittle’s Raiders did before their mission. That was a truly amazing coincidence.

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  5. I’m crying like a baby reading all these wonderful stories about our heroes.

    Thank you for sharing and god bless you all.

    José

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  6. I knew three heroes. Two were in Vietnam. Maximo Yabes who was the First Sergeant of A Company and Lt. Ruppert Sargent who was the platoon leader of our 1st platoon in B company. Both threw their bodies on grenades to protect the lives of others and both received the Congressional Medal Of Honor for it. Lt. Sargent was from a small town in Virginia and they erected and named a building after him. Joseph Galloway, author of We Were Soldiers, gave the keynote address. Our Regiment is having a reunion there this September. My third hero is Keith Young. I admired him greatly as a person and knew the dangers of his many missions having been flown to and from the field many times in helicopters. I did not know how courageous he was until I read his obituary. God Bless the three of them.

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  7. He never told stories about it, but my uncle, Harry Horan, was a B-26 bombardier flying missions over Italy. I sure wish he had told the stories.

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