We attended a funeral a week ago last Saturday. Another WWII veteran has left us. This was Pat D____, one of our airline
pilots, long since retired. He was one of the good guys. Pat was a ball turret gunner in WWII, and flew 35 or more missions
over Germany. After the war he learned to fly and eventually became an airline pilot, retiring after many years plying the
skies in DC-3s, F-27s, DC-9s, and (I think) 727s. Every time I think of Patrick, I have to think of one of the most stark
of WWII poems, The Death Of The Ball Turret Gunner:
The Death of the Ball
By Randall Jarrell
my mother's sleep, I fell into the state
And I hunched in its belly till my
wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dreams of life
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters,
when I died, they washed me from the turret with a hose.
heard the poem in an English class many years ago, and it has always stayed with me, as, before, and after I met Pat, it reminded
of my uncle, mentioned here in an earlier entry. My Unk always told me of much courage it must have taken to screw oneself
into a ball and wriggle into that turret, sans parachute, exposed to the withering blasts from Focke-Wulfs and Messerschmitts.He
once had to remove a young airman from flying status and consign him to ground duty because he had, frozen with fear, refused
to get into the turret. Unk said that it was not a case of cowardice, but just paralyzing fear. The guy physically could not
do it any more, and Pete gave him a break, and got him transferred on some excuse that avoided exposing him as a "coward"
in the face of the enemy. Pete said that he understood fear, and that he dealt with it every mission. He said that he was
scared, as scared as any of them, but he was the aircraft commander, and he could not show that fear. He had to be the standard
that set the example for the rest of the crew.
It brings to mind that still outstanding war movie Twelve
O'Clock High. If you have never seen it, get it on Netflix or however you can, and watch it. If you have seen it, watch
it again: especially look for the scene when Gregory Peck " (General Savage) is about to climb into his B-17 for a mission,
and is overcome with "the shakes." It is gripping, and gives us armchair soldiers and airment a faint idea of what
these men faced every day. The Eighth Air Force in England in WWII had 20,000 casualties, most of which were KIA. That is
a stunning number, ranking right up there with the German U-Boat casualties or those of other very high risk wartime specialties.
So, Pat is gone, but not forgotten. He was one of the best, one of the WWII generation that is shrinking rapidly,
to be replaced by another "Greatest Generation," as we continue to pursue wars, whether as justifiable as WWII or
It is people like Pat, my uncle, and many thousands of other combat veterans of all our wars that
make me wonder just what the military authorities are thinking when they award combat medals to UAV pilots who operate their
machines from a base thousands of miles from danger. What have these people done to warrant badges for heroic or sacrificial
acts? Does this in any way cheapen the awards given for real risk? Just asking... I also understand that these drone pilots
receive combat (hazardous duty) pay.