I woke this morning at 0530 and could not sleep any longer. I did not wish to disturb my wife, so I got up and started working. When I looked at the computer, I had forgotten to close Google Earth. I left the map program on in England.
There, I had inserted pushpins in many of the World War II bases occupied by the Eighth Air Force of the US Army Air Corps. There are so many! Bomber bases and fighter bases; they housed the B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers and the P-38s, P-47s, and P-51s of the fighter squadrons.
Today the old bases are crumbling. Some are still somewhat active, the Royal Air Force converted a few to modern day RAF bases, and many have returned to farm fields, tended to by English farmers who have probably worked the land since the first recorded member of their families.
Looking at the bases on a map gives one a feeling of history and what happened during the war years. However, unless you understand what really happened, you can miss the human significance of the events.
Ten men, typically four officers and six enlisted, manned each B-17 and B-24. One officer flew in each of the fighters. In the latter part of the war, the Eighth Air Force would launch more than 1000 airplanes on a single raid. That was 1000 bombers and more fighters. More than 10,000 men airborne on a single mission.
The tragedy of the missions was that 15 to 25 percent of the crews on any mission would fall as victims, either killed in action, wounded, captured, or missing. More than 1500 men, as many as 2500, lost on any one mission.
While we, in the modern world, tend to forget the sacrifice of the crews of the Eighth, the British have not. As close as they were to the evil of Hitler’s war effort, as many citizens they lost to the V-1 buzz bombs and V-2 rockets, they have an abiding and deep appreciation for the men and women of the Eighth Air Force. At many of the old Eighth bases, they have erected plaques and other tributes to what the young Americans accomplished.
Those young Americans who took on the Nazi’s Luftwaffe high over the skies of Europe, paid a great price. We, America, became a much poorer nation with their loss.
Tomorrow, I will profile Bert Stiles, one of those lost who would have contributed greatly to our modern nation.
©2011 J. Clark
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