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They Never Saw Me Then

This book is the story of my flying experiences during World War II. It covers primarily the period from February 1943 to April 1945. At the beginning I explain why and how I got into the Army Air Corps, as it was then called, and at the end I include an account of my partial convalescence in a U.S. Army hospital in England. Otherwise, I stick closely to my actual flying experiences and the events of that era. I omit all but a trivial amount of personal experiences outside of flying. I have compiled this account from several sources: (1) my memory and my official flight record; (2) the letters I wrote to my immediate family while I was in the Air Corps, which I repossessed after my parents died; (3) official Eighth Air Force records of bombing missions; (4) accounts written by former crew members, Larry Locker, John R. Wingfield, and Fred Stoker; and (5) the book, The 388th at War, by Edward Huntzinger. During the war, I had a diary in which I kept brief accounts of day-to-day events. However, some eager lackey, who must have known that diaries were officially forbidden, removed it from my belongings in March 1945 when he transferred them from my bomber unit to the Army hospital where I was convalescing. Fortunately, I could verify the dates and events that I include in this account by means of these other sources. Long ago, I determined to write this chronicle if I survived my combat tour. I felt that it would be the least I could do for those who will never grow old and can never speak for themselves. I do not pretend to speak for them. Nevertheless, if my account is only one among many that bears witness to the trauma and agony of politically organized human conflict, it will have served its purpose. The title I have chosen derives from the common thought many of us have when we are suddenly enveloped in Big Events, such as, for example, World War II. "Boy, if they could see me now," we think, as we imagine all the people--family, friends, and "enemies"--who might gasp in awe and admiration at our exploits. But . . .They Never Saw Me Then. Since "they" did not see me then, I decided to tell this story myself. I was a young man--a boy, really, 21-22 years old--during 1943 and 1944. I was one among millions of young men fighting millions of other young men, all of whom might have been friends if not for the circumstances of time and place in which they happened to live. All my fellow airmen and I knew that Hitler and his henchmen were atrocious and loathsome examples of the human race. Yet, any U.S. soldier or airman, who thought even briefly about his job of trying to kill and destroy "the enemy," knew that he was not within range of damaging Hitler and other Nazi leaders. We could not reach their personal environments or influence their decisions; our activities were many magnitudes removed from hurting them. We could only chip away at the peripheries of their domain and hope that our efforts would destroy their capability to continue. To do so, we had to try and kill our enemy counterparts with whom we had no personal quarrel at all. We aimed our bombs at their strategic war-making industries and infrastructure, but in the process we knew we could not avoid hitting churches, schools, and innocent people. Many of us thought that a better way must exist. Fifty-six years later, I still think so. The first section of this book describes my experiences as an aviation cadet. I began flying in August 1943, and advanced through the three phases of the Air Corps flight instruction program--Primary, Basic, and Advanced. I received my silver Pilot Wings in February 1944, which meant I was in the pilot class of 44-B. Air Corps orders then assigned me to the role of copilot on a B-17. I was placed on a crew for operational training at Drew Field near Tampa, Florida. Upon completion of that training, my crew and I were shipped to Sco

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