I am glad my four children were able to hear their Grandfather..called “Buppy” tell them about his service in the Army Air Force as it was called back in the early 1940’s.
Veterans Day is special to me because of his service and the fact two older brothers are Vietnam era veterans too.
On the way home from a trip downstate in Maine, as a kid I remember in the winter when we were driving a little slower during falling snow stories about my dad’s service in World War Two. It was not that Dad did not talk about the war…it just seemed the stories were told more while driving back from some where to pass the time or on porches on summer evenings, depending on the audience.
My Dad served in the 15th Army – Air Force as it was called at the time.
In the 882nd bombardment wing and his job? He wanted to be a pilot of a bomber but they had plenty of those so due to being pretty wiry and skinny, he was able to squeeze into the rear of a B-24 bomber to run the two rear 50mm machine guns.
Imagine sitting for hours, feeling fear, anxiety. Jammed in the rear of a four engine noisy plane.
Or as a waist gunner with open plane side causing a chill in the frosty high altitude. The drab green plane that smelled like a latrine, without a pressurized cabin. You wearing an oxygen mask in sub zero winter weather. Getting word on the sqauwk box. Approaching the enemy target you were briefed on before the sun came up this morning. Not knowing if the mission would happen or not due to the weather patterns as you tried to sleep the night before.
Thinking of his girlfriend, my mom back home that he wrote to every day.
(It’s fun to read the letters now between the two and realize mom and dad had another name…John and Marylou. )
Serving in the war effort with ten other 19, 20 year olds and being superstitious to keep your flight crew in tact. Sleeping together in a tent with a gas heater in a field back in Italy. Playing cards, talking about home. A curvy not over clothed young lady painted on the nose of that bomber you flew in the back of.
You got pretty close to the others you depended on to make the bomb run.
Then to high tail it out of harms way in a sky filled with the smell of cordite from shells exploding at your altitude. All around you. That’s if the German 88 anti aircraft gun operators were doing their job with the help of radar.
To mess up that radar, my Dad has a small chute to stuff tinsel, small metal strips into the air space behind him, beneath the Liberator plane they flew in. It confused, jammed that radar and bought them time to open the bomb bay doors to drop the 500, 1000 pound incendiary or percussion or whatever bomb type was needed for this mission. Bombs that had the pins to make them live pulled a few minutes before being over the target.
The bombardier having a new Norden bomb sight that made more precision, accurate bombing possible later in the war.
You had P-47, P-51 “little friends” Dad called them fighter planes to escort you like a date to the prom around the flying formations of B-17 and B-24 American bombers. But they bugged out close to the IP zone and are helpful to rid you of the raiding German ME 109’s or whatever other planes the German’s were putting in to production at the time.
But you suddenly were by yourself without the fighter plane protection with enemy winged wonders buzzing like Maine black flies. Speedy, deadly accurate planes trying their best to blow you out of the sky. Before you dropped your present, the payload you were paid to leave behind, deliver. The whole country in America, England and the free world were behind the war effort after Pearl Harbor’s fleet surprise Sunday morning boat stinking sinking.
They grew victory gardens, recycled copper for bullet casings, rationed gas, watched news reels about “Loose Lips Sink Ships” back home.
In Houlton Maine, the local potato farmers benefited from German prisoner of war spud pickers at the local airbase where there were rows and rows of barracks.
My Dad said the chatter on the intercom stopped as the target, a ball bearing factory or oil refinery outside Germany, the target of choice n today’s war menu approached.
Secondary targets in mind and planned on depending on cloud cover that might roll in. And the most dangerous place in the plane? The ball turret operator underneath in a plexiglass bubble. He had two 50 mm guns too that hopefully did not jam and that bubble swiveled to track fighter planes. But it was not a good place to be when hydraulics were shot out and the lift mechanism stopped working.
Getting that crew member out of there if he was still alive was one of the biggest concerns. As a crippled plane on less than the four engines hobbled back to the friendly Italian airfield that it had taken off from earlier that day. One or both landing gears not operational now. The warranty from the factory void. And that ball turret operator bleeding, not talking. As the pilot, co pilot discussed how to land on the belly of that plane. But where is the can opener, how to get a valuable, injured crew member out of that trapped hole. Before running out of plane fuel and that ditched, forced belly landing caused all those sparks, dug up field before coming to a rest. Hopefully not engulfed in flames.
Dad said every 55 minutes the Ford plant in Detroit rolled another Vulcan B-24 off the assembly line when production of cars shifted to airplanes.
I have a 1941 Cadillac that a fellow stores winters at a farm I own. He told me that car his grandfather bought after the war and it was the last Cadillac rolled off the assembly line when production shifted to making tanks out of that GM facility. So on veterans day, I think of my Dad in a rattling plane, in an electric flight suit and with a survival kit for a crash landing or parachute jump in hostile lands.
That kit having an ampule of morphine, some silk thread, a chocolate bar, a map of the area for that mission on that day.
And silver certificate currency in case the Germans, or whatever country folks worried if the money was any good or not.
I am sure a bible verse was in there to remind you to stay strong, to fear not that God was protecting you (Isaiah 41:10) in the fight for freedom and the American way of life.
Have two brothers too that were Vietnam era Amy soldiers…but one was in intelligence in Germany, the other in the corp of engineers in California toward the tail end of the war as it wound down. They were lucky to have missed the recon walks thru a rice paddy with a gun over their head to keep it dry and all the worries of being “out of country” at a time when their efforts were not nearly as popular state side as the attitude during world war two my dad enjoyed.
Thank a veteran, say a prayer for those in harms way around the country now.
Men and woman, parents of children, sons and daughters of other veterans, civillians that know the risks. That are in danger and need our thoughts, prayers, support every day. Not just on Veterans Day.
I am proud of my dad, brothers and some day before I die, want to squeeze in to the back of a B 24 when the Confederate Air Force flies thru and hopefully go up in flight. I want to sit where my dad did during the early 1940’s and imagine what it was like and how lucky my family is that he made it home alive, safe to raise a family of four boys on a farm with my mom.