As I have researched the infantry soldiers of World War II, my thought was that I was really thankful that my dad, Allen Spencer was not one of those men on the ground during the fighting. I felt bad for those men who were on the ground, fighting from the foxholes. I still do, because they were in constant danger. Bombs fall from the sky, and bullets fly from across the battlefield. If those things didn’t kill a soldier, the freezing cold, trench foot, or dysentery from the horribly unsanitary conditions could. It seemed that my dad’s situation was by far safer, but now, I’m not so sure that’s true.
The book I had been listening to, that took in World War II from D-Day to The Battle of the Bulge, talked mostly about the ground war, but then at the end, the reader said something that really struck me. It was about the look that crossed the face of a bomber crew’s faces before certain missions…those that would inevitably find the plane flying through flak. The look was one of fear. I knew flak was dangerous, but somehow I didn’t really connect flak with bringing down a plane, or seriously injuring its occupants. Nevertheless, it is quite dangerous for them.
As I researched the dangers of flak, a shocking revelation made itself known. I had written a story about the life expectancy of the ball turret gunner. My findings were that that life expectancy was about 12 seconds. That may be true when one is talking about the prospect of being shot, but when it comes to flak, that cannot be said. Apparently, where flak is concerned, the best place to be is in the plexiglass structure of the ball turret. Plexiglass holds up better against flak than other areas of the plane, so the ball turret gunner is much more protected…at least from flak. The same cannot be said for the bullets flying through the area. I was thankful that my dad was not a ball turret gunner, and that he only filled in as a waist gunner periodically. The waist gunners were in the open, where protection from bullets, and from flak was minimal…at best, non-existent at worst. I can’t imagine how those memories must have affected my dad, but in the book I listened to, the main reason many of the men didn’t want to talk about their experiences in World War II, or any war, was because talking about it brought those memories flooding in again.
After researching flak, and how it works, I can see why the men would get a look of fear on their faces as they prepared to go through areas anti-aircraft weapons shooting flak into the air. Some men said that they could see the red hot glow in the center of the flak, if it was very close. That tells me that it was like a small explosive devise. No wonder it could bring so much damage to a plane. I had known that flak could put holes in the fuselage, but somehow I hadn’t tied that with bringing down a plane. I surmise that it was the B-17 bomber top turret gunner’s daughter in me that wouldn’t allow me to place that danger around my dad. I didn’t want to think about the dangers of his every mission in World War II. My mind seems to have placed his plane in a bubble or a force field, so that no danger could come near him. I think every veteran wonders why they were spared, when others didn’t make it back home. I don’t think anyone can answer that question. As a Christian, I have to credit God for bringing my future dad home.
Yesterday, while Bob and I were on a walk, I heard a small plane overhead. Both Bob and I looked up and searched the sky until we found it. It occurred to me that it doesn’t matter if it is a bird, a small plane, a jet, or especially a hot air balloon, we always look up. It’s funny, because we hear cars, kids, dogs, trains, and even music around us all the time, but we don’t always look. We might look if the car or motorcycle is really loud, but just as often, it makes no difference to us. We aren’t really very interested.
I don’t think that it is because the things we see and hear on the ground are any more common than the things we see and hear in the sky are. Maybe we just feel the freedom of the air, when we watch something soaring across the sky. I personally love to fly, and I would love to ride in a hot air balloon too. Birds fascinate me …especially the pigeons that circle the downtown Casper area. When I feel like I am tied down with responsibility, all it takes it to sit and watch the birds awhile, and I feel better. The birds lift some of the weight of responsibility and I feel lighter. Now I can’t say for sure that feeling free is the reason that we look up when we hear a noise in the sky, but it could be one reason.
I suppose that if we lived in a big city, I would not think so much about planes in the air, since there are probably far more of them than we get in Casper, Wyoming. Still, I have to wonder if they would get excited about seeing a bunch of hot air balloons over their city, the way we do here. Or maybe it’s just me. I suppose that it is entirely possible that other people don’t look up when a plane, balloon, or bird fly over. I have been known to think a little bit differently about things, so maybe other people don’t give it a second thought. Nevertheless, I love to watch the planes fly overhead, look with wonder when a hot air balloon goes over, and even wonder where the birds are headed when I see them flying above me.
And just in case I didn’t look enough like I live in a dream world, I will tell you that I also look at the clouds. I love to see what pictures God might have painted in the sky with them. The moon and stars are also attention grabbers, because of the beauty they have been given. I like to look for satellites at night, or shooting stars, when the sky isn’t to light. The blood moon that is coming in a couple of days will be the second one this year and I am making plans to be up and watching the sky. Maybe it is just me, but I have a tendency to think that it’s not. I think a lot of people are curious about the things that happen in the sky and in space. I have a feeling that we are a bit like little kids in that way. When we hear a sound in the sky, we always look up.