Revisiting their World War II base after 40 years
|My late husband was a twenty-five year military retiree. He began his career in 1942, during World War II. Since he was only 17 years old, his mother had to vouch for his age. So, he attended his high school graduation one day and left for war on
the next day.
Jim chose to join the United States Army Air Corps, taking his basic training in Florida. There was no Air Force at that time,
it was not until the war was over that they made a separation between the Army and the new Air Force. Those men choosing
to make a career in the military were given the choice of which
branch they wanted to serve. Jim chose the new Air Force.
After taking a battery of tests, about 200 men were selected to attend Officers Training School at the University of Louisiana to be a pilot. To make a long story short he flunked the advanced math classes and had to choose a different career. Jim selected airplane mechanics. It was what he did for twenty-five years in the military and seventeen years for a civilian airline, Northwest Airlines, until he was medically retired.
After boot camp and mechanic classes, Jim and his entire crew were sent to a B-17 base in Chelveston, England. They were the
395th Bombardment Group (Heavy) and the 364th Squad. When
they left the base on a bombing mission, RAF fighters were their
escorts because the B-17 planes were unable to maneuver quickly like the smaller fighters. They remained at this base through out the war. The base had be a large farm that now had runways, hangers and quarters.
The 305th Bomb Group held a reunion in 1980 in Chelveston and, it was planned entirely by the men of the group, they refused all assistance from the wives. So, needless to say, they made absolutely no plans to entertain the wives, only the men. Because they had paid in advance for the entire trip, the wives could do nothing but threaten dire retaliation when they were home. There were no tours of London, no shopping in Londan, Nothing to entertain the women at all on their first, and probably only, trip to Europe. Heads were going to roll as soon as they got their husbands home again. Can you imagine the anger of more than 200 women? I'd run for the hills and hide.
There was one redeeming feature. The RAF flew in a B-17 so the wives could see it up close. They were encouraged to climb aboard and explore. The B-17 is actually very small when you compare it to the modern planes. They carried a 10-man crew and a load of bombs. There was a pilot, co-pilot, radio operator, bombardier, nose, top and belly gunners; right and left side gunners and the tail gunner. Jim was a tail gunner, and his wife wondered how he scrunched up enough that his 6'2 frame would fit in shch a small space. He reminded her he was just 18 at the time able to bend.
During the war the men had to either walk to the town or ride a
bicycle. Of course, the men turned up at the local pub for pints of beer. And, I am told, they drank so much they had several accidents on the way back to base. Most of them would crash into the huge hedges lining the roadway and would have scratches the next day. At this reunion, the residents of the town came to the church for a special program honoring the G.I.'s.
They had donated enough money the 12th century church cold
be repaired. The church placed a plaque beside the door listing
the groups name and unit and what they had done for the church.
Following the chruch service, everyone gathered for the food that had been prepared and to visit. One elderly man looked up, called Jim by name, and started a conversation. I was told he
was the owner of the local pub and he knew every man's name that day. It had been over forty years since they last saw one another, yet, they remembered them all.
Unfortunately, the majority of the men who fought this war have passed away. There is an old saying that applies here, "Gone
But Not Forgotten".