By Lauren O'Hare
My grandfather was born in 1924 in Astoria, New York. As a teenager, he had his heart set on flying. He grew up in Queens and was able to enroll in an aviation program for airplane mechanics at a technical high school. When World War two broke out, he enlisted in the army air force. He trained at Chanute air base in Illinois as a flight engineer for B-17's called the flying fortress.
Air Force in England
After training he was sent to the Eighth Air Force in England, to an air base north of London. From there he flew thirty three air combat missions over France and Germany. During his tour of duty during 1943-1944, combat was very intense and dangerous. Over the course
of his thirty five missions sixty five percent of his bomber group of thirty six planes were shot down. Fifty percent of flight personnel were killed during the missions, with another thirty five percent wounded.
My grandfather and his crew had great respect for the German fighters. During an attack, German fighters would fly through their own flak to try and shoot down the bombers. The B-17s were very heavily armed with 50 caliber machine guns which were used to defend themselves. The difficulty is unmeasurable as they only had a few seconds to fire at a fighter coming toward the plane.
It is hard to imagine the fear of flying in the air and not knowing if you are going to be shot down or if you are going to die. Up at 30,000 feet in the air it was freezing. They had to wear heavy leather coats to stay warm. They would drop bombs at about 24,000 feet, but it was risky because you had to know the exact time to drop the bombs, and in the flak the Germans would try to shoot down their planes. The crew of a B-17 contains a pilot, copilot, bombardier, navigator, Flight engineer, Belly gunner, Radio man, 2 side gunners, and a tail gunner.
B-17 Airplane model
The flak, which was cannon fire from the ground, was just as deadly as on the bombing run. The planes flew in a straight formation. After almost every mission, there would be damage to the plane from the flak. The mechanics on the ground worked around the clock to get the plane in the air again.
Europe in World War two
On my grandfathers 21st mission over Germany, they were bombing ball bearing factories vital to the German war effort and heavily defended. His plane was hit repeatedly with flak. The pilot, copilot, and my grandfather (the flight Engineer) were all wounded, the bombardier who sits in the back of the plane was killed. The plane was badly shot up. On the return flight they couldn't make it back to their air base. They crash landed on a beach in Southampton, England. The pilot was awarded a silver star for keeping the plane in the air. Also, the four members of the crew were awarded purple hearts.
After six weeks in the hospital, my grandfather returned and finished his army missions. After the war, he joined American Airlines and flew for forty five years. It was a lot less fearful flying for American Airlines compared to fighting in the war.
2/28:pic 1- B-17 airplanes.
Pic3- The Ancient Mariner- http://store.yahoo.com/seagifts/b17flyinform2.html