Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Starring the B-17 Flying Fortress

Continuing to focus on the B-17 Flying Fortress, here’s a list of books, movies, and a song you may find entertaining:


Ghosts of the Skies:  Aviation in the Second World War
Phillip Makanna

B-17 Fortress at War
Roger A. Freeman

One Last Look: A Sentimental Journal to the Eighth Air Force Heavy Bomber Bases of WW II in England
Philip Kaplan and Rex Alan Smith


Twelve O’Clock High (Gregory Peck, Dean Jagger
 Command Decision (Clark Gable)

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (Spencer Tracy)

A Song You Won’t Forget

"Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer"

Additional Documentary

B-17 YouTube Documentary

Addendum to Monday's Blog
Statistics can vary, depending on the source. Monday I used the number 46,000+ as the tragic death toll of daylight bombing. I’ve stumbled on another number arrived at by the statistic that over 5000 bombers were lost. With a crew of 10 each, the number rises to 50-55,000.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Mighty Eighth

Ruthann’s War (awaiting release from The Wild Rose Press) unfolds in a small town’s school community in 1945-46. Though World War II has officially ended, most people still feel the effects of the four-year conflict in one way or another.
Ruthann Cooper, the new third-grade teacher in Camden, brings with her conflicting emotions about her fiancĂ© Jack, a pilot whose B-17 didn’t return from it’s ninth mission over Hitler’s Europe. She doesn’t want to admit it was a whirlwind wartime romance--the young college student and the handsome 1st Lieutenant with his wings shining from the lapel of his uniform. She mourned him as long as she could and hid her shameful guilt for forgetting him and moving on. 

But this blog--while it stems from the novel--isn’t about the novel. It’s about all the Jacks who climbed into the Flying Fortresses and soared into the skies on their daylight bombing missions, early deemed the only way to win the war. It’s about all the men who died to ensure the right too many of this sad world to show contempt for the country which has given them everything.
Long before the United States entered the war, the stubborn RAF flew doggedly onward to repel Hitler’s destruction of England. They deserve mention here because, as Winston Churchill once said, “Never have so many owed so much to so few.”

The United States Eighth Air Force sprang to life in 1942. Known as the United States Army Air Corps/Force, its task was to take the war to the skies. Though many kinds of planes--fighters as well as bombers--flew the missions, the focus today is on the B-17 or Flying Fortress. With a wing span of just over 103 feet, it could fly at speeds up to 287 mph and as high as 35,600 feet with a range of 3,400 miles.

Ten men formed the crew of each plane:  pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, navigator, flight engineer (who usually manned the top turret), radio operator, two waist gunners, tail gunner and a ball turret gunner. The bombardier assigned to the “lead” plane bore the heavy responsibility of using the top-secret Norden bomb site to toggle his bombs exactly on target because the the other planes bombed at his command.

Five men commanded the Eighth Air Force, including Lt. General James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle of the 1942 Tokyo raid. Some 46,456 combat crews and fighter pilots (in all theatres), became casualties in this massive endeavor launched from airfields all over England and the Pacific. Ground crews often worked through the night and worked miracles to keep the big birds flying--and sweated out each mission from below though part of each one had gone with the crews.

The average age of a pilot was 21. Men of 25 were often referred to as “old men”. Conditions aboard the plane were uncomfortable with heavy clothing, oxygen masks, parachutes, and the real probability of death as the plane approached the flak fields of the enemy coast. Twenty-five missions could earn a flier a trip home--but it wasn’t certain or even probable. 

Fourteen medals of honor and thousands of other decorations were awarded to the crews who risked it all. Wednesday I’ll tell you about one young man who received his MOH posthumously. His picture--and that of his brother who also died on a mission over Europe--hangs in the airport of my hometown.
Also on Wednesday, I’ll recommend some books and films for anyone interested in learning more about the men and planes which gave up all their tomorrows for our todays.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

"You lived for today. . .there might not be a tomorrow."

Back in the day…
Though I never lived through the Depression, its effects shaped my childhood because those lean years affected my parents’ impressionable adolescence. I was born during World War II but don’t remember it. What I do remember is growing up in the late forties and early fifties when the war wasn’t history but rather something which affected our everyday lives. The rationing had disappeared--and so had fathers, brothers, sons, and husbands. 
The Cold War had replaced the “hot” ones in Europe and the Pacific, and fear of “the bomb” manifested itself in regular “air raid drills” during which we crawled under our school desks and covered our heads, as well as in the proliferation of bomb/aka storm shelters which sprang up in various backyards.

The end result…
So it’s not surprising I write “vintage” fiction about people, places, and events which are all but forgotten today. Ruthann’s War, set in the immediate aftermath of the war, is pending release by The Wild Rose Press. Knowing what can’t be remembered often can’t be identified with, I’ll be doing a series of posts on that shadowy era in American history which my mother described as “We lived for the day, because we didn’t know if there would be a tomorrow.”

How another generation views World War II…
During the war, as today, movies were an escape from fear and loneliness on both the front lines and the home front. Most younger people today are familiar with the cinematic blockbusters “Pearl Harbor”, “Midway”, “The Enola Gay”, “The Longest Day”, and “Saving Private Ryan”. While they were staged for reality, the movies actually filmed from 1941 - 1945 provide a more touching--if dramatic--glimpse of what it was like for everyday folks living in those times. And it’s from those fleeting scenes I’ve gathered information and inspiration to craft my vintage characters and plot lines.

Recommended WW II Movies
These film will give you the feel of the era and the people who had no choice but to endure until it was over.

“Casablanca” (1942, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid)
“Mrs. Miniver” (1942) Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Teresa Wright
“This Is the Army” (1943) George Murphy, Ronald Regan, special appearance by Irving Berlin
“Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” (1944) Spencer Tracy, Van Johnson, Robert Walker
“The Fighting Sullivans” (1944) Thomas Mitchel, Anne Baxter, Selena Royle
“Since You Went Away” (1944) Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotton
“The White Cliffs of Dover” (1944) Irene Dunne, Alan Marshall, Roddy McDowell
“Tomorrow Is Forever” (1946) Claudette Colbert, Orson Welles, George Brent

Watch for Ruthann’s War coming soon!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Advice...sometimes it's worth something!

“You just have it to do.”
“I don’t want to do it.”
“You just have it to do.”
“You just have it to do. Now move.”

In 70+ years, I’ve had a lot of people give/try to give me advice. Some of it was worth listening to and considering. Other pearls of wisdom simply weren’t gems at all.
Personally, I don’t often give advice. If I’m asked, I’ll state my honest opinion, but that’s all. My philosophy is that adults (and those who pretend to be) are responsible for making their own decisions. If they make the wrong one, they have to take the consequences, backtrack, re-think, and try to do better next time. I’ve had to do it, and so--I expect--have you.
But the one piece of advice which has carried me through the years is the simple statement:

You just have it to do.

It came from a former Sunday School teacher with whom I became good friends as a teen and later as an adult. She left home early because she was part of a “first” family, and there were other half-siblings to feed during the Depression. So she boarded out, worked at anything she could find to do, and tried to stay in school.
Once the principal said to her, “If you don’t come to school more, you’re not going to graduate.”
She replied, “Then I guess I won’t graduate. I’ve got to eat.”
She managed to do both--survived an early unsuccessful marriage, raised a son on her own, and managed to always have at least one job and sometimes two. When she spoke of making it through the bad times, she’d say, “I just had it to do.” So she did.
Later, when I navigated stormy waters in my own life, she refused me any sympathy, nor did she offer me a way to smoother seas. “You just have it to do,” she’d say, gazing at me steadily. “You just have it to do.” So I did.
When I think of her words, I also think of Elisabeth Elliot, a missionary to Ecuador, who became a young widow with a ten-month-old child when her husband was killed by the Auca Indians in 1956. She stayed on, even living with the same tribe which had massacred her husband and four others. Then she returned to the United States and became a prolific writer and sought-after speaker. From her books and tapes, I gleaned some similar advice:

Do the next thing.

Cobbling the two pieces of advice together has seen me through much of a lifetime. If I have it to do, I can only begin by doing the next thing.
Life is too short to waste time kicking and screaming over its injustices and hardships. At some point, one has to do something. The next thing is always a good starting place.
We plan, we try, we fail, we try again, but we can’t escape the inevitable certainty that we just have it to do. So we do the next thing…and the next…and the next…
Writing is a lot like that, I think. Oh, I don’t have to do it, but once I begin, I’m carried through on the rising tide of needing to finish, one scene--one chapter--at a time. The task is there to be done. And so is the next task.