(This is my father's story, in his own words, of his time flying 50 missions, as a tail gunner, in a B-24 Liberator during WWII. This is from an interview he did for an exhibit at the Jewish Museum in downtown New York in 2003. My father passed away at the end of January and I am posting this as an homage to him, and to all the others who sacrificed so much for me and my country. The quiet courage on diplay is awe inspiring.
From time to time I will add some comments in parentheses and italics; all the rest is my father's voice. I can hear him still.
The B-24 Liberator: With a carrying capacity of 8,800 pounds of bombs, a top speed of 300 miles per hour, and a range of just over 2,000 miles, the B-24 Liberator was flown in more theaters of war than any other four-engine bomber in World Was II. By the end of the war, more than 18,000 had been built.
The gunner's job was never to shoot enemy planes down. You only fired at the planes as they were firing at you because you only had just so much ammo. You had to fire in three-second bursts. If you held it long, you were finished with your ammo. So your job was really to make sure to throw them off, because they were just as scared, I realize now, to come in at you. But your job was to basically shoot and make sure they don't get your plane. And that was basically your job.
We were up at Westover Field, Massachusetts. We'd spent a few days there talking and learning to be together and what about you and what about you? And of course as soon as I said the name Abramson, they gave me the Abie name—I didn't change my name till later. And we just got along well. We liked each other. We got along—it was all first-name basis. There were no officers, no enlisted men. It was just a bunch of guys who liked each other. We all learned in phase training how to fly the plane, how to do every other person’s job, because it was important if anybody got hit somebody should be able to do what you had to do. And so we practiced. We went down to Chatham Field, Georgia. This was still in 1943, around the end of 1943. We went to Chatham Filed, Georgia, where we spent months in training. Then one time we went down to Cuba and flew for ten days out of Cuba, a ten-day antisubmarine patrol, just to keep the crew knowing how the crew works.
I think most crews go along. Most crews, because that's what the air force wanted. If you got along together, you worked as a team. I mean, there was no, no safe place to hide. And I can just say for myself, I left with thirty-nine crews. That's 390 men. And 7 men came home when I came home. You'd make friends with a crew, and they were gone the next day. And all you knew was that every day you would check to see if you were flying.
(I used to marvel at that bit of information. My father went over with 390 men and 7 came home. I don't really know if he ever thought much about what that actually meant. But I know I thought about it, a lot. If he had been the 391st victim, or if we had lost the war, I wouldn’t be here. My father became a Psychoanalyst after the war and studied with Kurt and Alexandra Adler, Alfred Adler's son and daughter. He treated patients who were victims of trauma but I don't know if it ever occurred to him that his trauma [7 out of 390!] was as extreme as any of the civilians he treated for so many years. Maybe his sensitivity to his traumatized patients reflected an intuitive sense of kinship. I don't know. He told the stories in a matter of fact way; it is impossible to appreciate what it means to have gone over with so many and come home with so few, or at least it was impossible for me to appreciate on a deep level what that must have meant and been like to experience. I remember at the end of Saving Private Ryan, a note appeared on the screen to the effect that out of the first 5000 who landed at Normandy, only 15 survived the war, and I thought to myself, that was the same order of magnitude as my father faced. You could only have done that by not thinking too much; you would just do your job, ignore as much as possible the risks, and, perhaps, pray.)
We went overseas around April, 1944. My group, I realized, started in February. So I got there in April and started to fly my missions in May. The group we were assigned to had already been there in February. We were like a replacement crew at the time. To make a long story short, we were a lead crew after five missions. That was it. And when I was shot down, they made us come back and fly because they had no lead crews.
Nobody was prepared to fly. You knew you had to do it so you did it. I mean, that was all. There was always a fear, a terror inside. When we got there, a before we got there, a colonel spoke to us and he told us, “Look to the right of you, look to the left of you. Take a good look, because two out of three of you are not coming back.” I remember saying to myself, “I'm going to miss you guys.” Don't ask me why I said that. And that was what happened basically. In fact, worse. You get the idea—I think there was a feeling that I wouldn't get through. I wouldn’t make fifty. Now I honestly had that feeling. I can't even describe it. You know it's going to happen and you know you have to do your job, so you do your job and that’s what happened.
When we got to the base, they asked all the Jewish fliers to stay behind.
To be further explained, and continued...Part III