Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Good-bye, Otis

Word reached me today that Otis passed away.  I never met Otis, but had exchanged a number of letters with him after my father died some years ago.  Otis told me a few stories about he and my father when they were young men; stories my father never told.

There was also Bud, Bob, and Jerry; Gene, Holly, and Harry; as well as Lee and John.  Dad didn’t start flying with them from the beginning of their tour in July 1944.  He joined them a couple of months after they had started...after they had ditched.  The picture above shows Dad with them shortly after the crew was re-formed following their latest brush with death in the North Sea.

As they were ditching in the North Sea, following a raid on Peenemünde, Dad was home on leave between his 2-tours of duty; there was an earlier crew with whom Dad had flown.  So, when he came home after WWII, he had about 18 guys to keep up with…for the remainder of his life.  Otis was the last surviving member of both those crews.

In addition to the ditching, they had also crash landed on 2 other occasions.  In none of their forced landings was anyone badly hurt or killed.  Credit for those feats of airmanship accrued to Bud, the young pilot, back row center.  Accordingly, he was singled out as a hot-shot B-17 driver and subsequently assigned to lead formations, a very dangerous place to be--that position was the most common target for Luftwaffe fighters and anti-aircraft gunners on the ground.  Dad, by now a 21-year old “experienced” man, joined them at that point—he, having returned for a second tour, was one of the few veterans in the Group.

Andy Rooney wrote far more eloquently than I ever could, that a bomber crew was a very close-knit unit.  Officers and enlisted men aboard a plane were much closer to one another than they ever were to their peers aboard other planes.  My father often said that they never got to know another crew very well…it was just too painful to lose friends.  So the crews kept to themselves.

When Dad passed away, his Army Air Force papers, records, and artifacts passed to me.  Among the mass of records was a typed listing of the men in his crews, with notations of who was still living and what jobs they had done after the war.  With the rise of the Internet about that time, I was able to bring his list current and continue Dad’s survivor watch.

After they had pummeled the Nazis into submission, reducing their cities to rubble, Otis and the crew went home.  One became an engineer, another an Air Force Command Pilot who flew early NASA missions, a postal worker, a County department manager, a fireman, a NYC ad agency owner, and Otis…a college professor. 

My father, the engineer, wrote of his experiences; but, as anyone who has spent much time around engineers would know, they generally don’t write very well.  However, in response to a late life appeal from his family, Otis wrote his memoir and it is a masterpiece.  Through his vivid words, I could finally learn what my father had seen and done; something he was unable to express himself with any real clarity. 

The plain clothes guys came to the base to collect Otis one day.  Seems he was flying in a top secret war machine and his paper work didn’t match the records back home.  Otis never had a middle name and found that the recruiter back home wouldn’t accept his enlistment without one.  So, Otis made one up.  Now, after having flown several missions into Germany, survived one North Sea ditching, and 2 forced landings, one of them in an English coastal minefield, Otis had to explain to the plain clothes cops, what was going on with his non-existent middle name!

There were other stories, lots of them….Foo Fighters, the big red globe, the Luftwaffe fighter pilot that didn’t kill them as they descended toward the North Sea…he came alongside instead and saluted them.  He knew they were done for and simply showed them the respect of another aviator.

Farewell my friend and thanks for looking after Dad so well.  May God bless you…I know He will.


1 comment:

Gus said...

The medieval Cologne Cathedral still standing was specifically saved by the Allied Air Forces. The photo accompanying this piece is a striking illustration of how well those young men carried out their orders. You can find it through a Google search shown as it is today.