Lately I have been trying to get an idea of who my dad was when he was in the service…what he went through, what his thoughts might have been, what his life was like. My dad was a top turret gunner and flight engineer on a B-17 Bomber during World War II. He was stationed at Great Ashfield in Suffolk, England, which was located North West of Elmswell. Little is visible of the Army Air Base now, unless you know what to look for. The area has been converted to farmland, but subtle memories remain…a tribute to those brave men who fought and really, saved England from a hostile takeover by the Nazis. It was World War II, and the United States had come in to stand up for what is right…freedom.
My dad was just 17 when he joined the Army Air Force in 1942. He has always had a deep sense of duty, and standing up for what is right. He fought in the European Theatre, serving as the flight engineer and the top turret gunner on a B-17G Bomber. He participated in 35 bombing missions, was accredited with shooting down 4 German planes and provided air cover over the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. When the war was over, he was honorably discharged and he returned home with the Distinguished Flying Cross, an Air medal with 4 oak leaf clusters, one for each plane he shot down, and 2 gold stars signifying that he had taken part in two major aerial engagements.
That is a story I have heard many times now, but really it is just a summary of what went on. I have often wondered just what a flight engineer is, so I did some research on that position on a B-17G Bomber in World War II. What I found is this. The flight engineer knew the all equipment on the B-17 better than any other crew member, including the pilot, from the engines to the radio equipment to the armament to the engines to the electrical system and to anything else. He may have served as maintenance crew chiefs before moving to the position of a B-17 flight engineer. The flight engineer was also the top turret gunner.
It amazes me that my dad…who was never one to brag…would have such an intricate knowledge of such a magnificent plane as the B-17G…”The Flying Fortress”…but that is exactly what he did. He was the man they turned to if things went wrong…the one they depended on in a crisis to get them down safely, which he did beautifully on at least one occasion. I guess that is why me dad always seemed to know what to do t solve any problem we might have had in life. To him I’m sure they seemed very small by comparison.
Dad was a man of deep thoughts and few words. He considered well what he might say about a situation, before he gave an opinion. He was slow to anger, and always cool in a crisis. He was a problem solver, who always put his sense of duty before his own desires. He loved his family and his country, and would have died defending any of them, had that been required if him. He was a man to be proud of and the one I am proud to call Daddy. I miss him a lot, but I know I will see him again in Heaven. Today I say, “Thank you Dad, for all you did in your life to make life better for those who were around you, and loved you.”