When the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor raced across the land at the speed of radio, my Old Man was poised to make a killing. He had recently graduated from a fancy New England college—not bad for a dirt poor youth from rural Mississippi—and was living in Richmond, VA. He was set to apply his new engineering skills to the wiring of a large Army base in Virginia, a plum that had fallen into his lap. It would make him rich. Plus, he was in love. Then came the news. There wouldn’t be time now for the job before he would be drafted. His chance at a fortune gone, he signed up with the Army Air Corp, with the hopes of becoming a fighter pilot.

The Army decided he was too large for a fighter cockpit and trained him to pilot the B-17. Faded photostats of his Individual Flight Record show that he flew no fewer than six models of two light planes and five models of the B-17 Flying Fortress. In the Midwest, his bombardier practiced dropping 50lb. black powder bombs on a bullseye from low altitude. One bomb went astray and hit a barn. The farmer ran outside and shook his fist at the plane.

Tragedy struck when his plane caught fire during a training flight and not all of his crew bailed out safely. Later, in the Southwest, he took his gunners out in a jeep to hone their defensive skills by hunting jack rabbits with Thompson submachine guns. In Spring, 1943, he shipped out with the newly formed 379th Heavy Bombardment Group, piloting his $200,000 B17F to Iceland, to refuel. With his Tokyo wing tanks bulging with aviation fuel, he barely cleared the ice cliff at the end of the runway. He and his crew touched down in Kimbolton, England, his home away from home until Spring of ’44.

He settled into barracks life, preparing for the task ahead, writing to his war bride back home nearly every day. He told her how much he missed her and complained about the prevalence of Brussels sprouts on the menu.

By Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.

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