Joe climbed into a B-17 flying fortress. He moved to the bombardiers position and went through his part of preflight.
The signal is given and the airplane starts to taxi. Soon it is in position for roll out and take off. Joe tenses as he starts another flight over enemy territory.
His air craft joins up with others and soon the sky is filled with 100s of aircraft. Soon they are over the channel and shortly thereafter they pass over the coast heading towards Germany. Huge contrails tell the enemy exactly where they are. 88mm AA open up and soon have the altitude. Bombers are flying into flack and flack is hitting different bombers.
Planes are exploding or damaged to the point they can no longer fly.
JOe clutches his hands tightly, wishing he could wipe the sweat from his palms. His gear stops him. It is cold at altitude and yet he sweats and wishes he was as brave as the other men in the plane with him
The flack comes closer, but they push on. They have over an hour to go before they reach the target yet the Germans are throwing everything at them. He prays that they will make it home again.
There is a sound of a huge explosion and the plane seems to stop for a second in midair. Joe feels something hit him on the back and turns to see what is left of his friend sitting in the navigators position, his chest missing, splattered over Joe and the cabin.
The left engine is out. The co-pilot orders everybody to bail out. Joe can’t get to his exit without pushing his friends body out first. He watches it tumble downwards, he counts chutes, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7… His friend makes eight and he is about to go up when he sees a body falling, no chute. That’s 9. Joe forces himself out of the dying aircraft.
The wind whips past, tearing at him. He opens his chute and floats towards the ground. It is quiet while above him the ugly black explosions continues. More of his friends dying. More aircraft falling from the sky.
The ground rushes up to meet him and he lands. There is a terrible pain as he hits. His right hip is shattered. He passes out.
He wakes as he is carried into the hospital. Not a POW camp or a POW hospital. The faces looking down at him speak in German.
Joe is one of the lucky ones. He lives. A German found him and instead of turning him in to the army, he got Joe to the hospital. WHere the POW camp would have cut his leg off and Joe would have likely died, the doctors operate and save the leg. They have to fuse the hip.
At the end of the war, Joe is returned to America. He becomes a high school teacher and coach. He gets into local politics and is elected to mayor. He writes a book.
He interviewed ever survivor that he could find. His book is full of the heroes of that day. And he names them. All of them did so much more than Joe.
Joe was a hero. He was my great uncle. He never considered himself a hero. Heroes were what those other people did. He spoke to me only once of that day. And when his tears filled his eyes his sister in law stopped him. My mother stopped me for asking and listening.
Joe, the hero, never finished his own story. Another veteran that knew that the horrors of war were not for the gentle folk that stayed behind.
I grieved for my uncle Joe that day. I grieve for him today as I write this.
This song is for him.