Mary Ruth Memories of Mobile...We Still Remember

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The Eighth Air Force flew a total of 264,618 individual bomber sorties out of England during World War II. The 91st Bomb Group (Heavy), alone, flew 340 missions. Although many missions were routine, with little action, all too many were anything but routine. Formations often were subjected to continuous German fighter attacks, especially during the early months of the war. Anti-aircraft batteries sent up clouds of flak over most targets. Losses of planes and lives were severe. Many of the returning planes were so badly damaged that they barely were able to struggle back to their bases in England. Causalities among the crews were heavy. Even the "milk runs" were far from uneventful. Assembling the complex formations in the murky skies over England and flying the long distances at subzero temperatures to and from the target in aging, war weary planes was wrought with danger.

Each mission presented its own unique drama about which any number of stories could be told. Unfortunately, only a few accounts of the events transpiring on specific missions have been recorded. The trauma, the terror, the manner in which the airmen responded to the situations are disappearing with the participants. We owe these men such a debt of gratitude, however, that an attempt should be made to record as many of the incidents of the time as possible. It is only through such accounts that later generations will understand and appreciate the dedication and sacrifices of the men who flew in the Eighth Air Force.

In this short compilation of stories, I have put together just a sampling of the events of the time: those associated with an individual B-17 bomber as she "narrates" her own story; the tragic fate of those who flew on three planes bearing the name "Short Snorter", reference to a good luck talisman; the description of a mission during which one Squadron lost six of eight bombers it sent out, including all five of the Low Squadron; the dedication and devotion of one pilot, from his youth, through the war years, to his ultimate sacrifice 10 years later; the fate of the 20 bombers who flew the last mission with the "Memphis Belle" and who stayed on to fight the air war after the "Belle" and crew returned home; the diary of a pilot; the terror experienced by one squadron as six of its bombers were shot down during one 40-second encounter with German fighters; one squadron on its final mission--the chaos, the drama that occurred, through which the crews and planes endured; an account of a plane and her crew who flew only a few missions, brushed briefly with history, and was lost amongst the exploits of other planes and crews of the time who received notoriety. This crew, this plane, typify those thousands who flew and died in obscurity, but upon whose shoulders, and wings, was carried the brunt of the air war over "Fortress Europe."

In developing these stories I have located and interviewed crewmen involved in the missions and incidents recorded in the text. Although some have provided excerpts from diaries made at the time, most have relied on recall in providing the details that make up the stories. One must be circumspect in relying on memory of events of more than 50 years prior. Many have warned me to be careful " the years go by, the memory fades, but the stories get better." Accordingly, I have attempted to double-check all accounts by interviewing more than one crewman involved in each of the incidents. I have also relied heavily on official documents from the time in the National Archives and the Air Force Historical Research Agency. Still, there may be (hopefully, few) instances where the details do not correspond exactly to the events as they transpired. Even so, one has to keep in mind that no matter how much a crewman may have "embellished" the details, it is really not possible to make the events more traumatic than they actually were--only the details will differ. The danger, the stark terror, the dedication cannot be embellished upon. The errors are mine. The heroism is theirs.

Copyright © 2001 - Lowell L. Getz

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