Thursday, June 25, 2009

WWII United States Army Air Force

One of the many good things about present day computer technology is the ability it provides to explore an infinite number of subjects in which you might have an interest. One of those many things I have explored is my father’s service during WWII. He was a member of an aircrew based in England and although I had seen his mementoes over the span of our half-century life together, I had little notion of the true nature of his service. He rarely talked about it.

Dad didn’t really measure up to the war heroes portrayed by Gregory Peck or Clark Gable in their post war films…you remember them, don’t you? They were the films broadcast on early 1950’s late night TV, unmercifully cut up and smothered with commercials. As the years went on, those films were cut even more until their storylines became unrecognizable. But even then, Dad still didn’t really look like the same kind of warrior portrayed by those actors.

Of course, it was unfair to compare our fathers with the actors in those films, who themselves had not served, or who like Gable had served in token roles. After my father’s passing and his mementoes coming to me which coincided with the arrival of the Internet and much more capable computers, I began to develop his story in a fashion he never could…and what a story it was!

I mention this as a suggestion and example for you to consider with regard to potential uses of the Internet as you venture into geezerhood with me. To date, through use of the Internet as a communication tool, I have made contact with offspring of about half the men who flew with my father. I never knew these offspring nor did I know anything about their fathers beyond their names on a list my father kept. Their fathers’ images are forever captured in my memory from a crew picture showing them standing with my Dad.

The crew picture used to illustrate this piece is typical of tens of thousands of others that were taken of the Army Air Force bomber crews as they were assembled during WWII. Dad was pictured in two of them. In researching the details of his service, I discovered that a lot of these pictures didn’t represent quite the same story told by Dad’s pictures…a story of 9 or 10 very lucky young men.

The picture accompanying this piece is of a crew taken just before they left for service in the ETO. Their plane was lost at sea during the Atlantic crossing and no trace was ever found of them. So, in this picture you are looking at a group of young men, age 18-26, who never got the opportunity to live a full life

As people with a common interest in our fathers’ service, we have been able to share some pictures and stories some of us had never before seen or heard. Our class was born in the years 1944-45, meaning that we were conceived during the war. By fact of our birth, we know what Dad and Mom were doing at one point during the war…a natural follow-up question might be, how is it that Dad was home at the time?

For me, the answer was kind of amusing…Dad was home on leave between tours. He had volunteered for a second tour of duty, which in itself is a fairly extraordinary story, since the average bomber crew flew only 15-missions before being shot down, against a 30-35 mission obligation. Dad had made his 30 and earned the right to be assigned to safer duty, but he volunteered for a second combat tour. While he was home, he and mom made me and while he was doing that, the crew he was destined to join when he returned was shot down and ditched in the North Sea. All of the crew survived and by the time Dad got back into it, he joined what was by then, a very experienced crew.

It’s said that the good die young and considering the losses already suffered by our class, it would seem that there is some truth in the saying. It is also said that another description for an old man or woman is lucky. And by the way, Dad now holds a place of distinction in my mind that dwarfs Clark and Gregory.


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