Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Meet the Crew

My father’s WWII bomber crew reunion took place in eastern Tennessee, in a town called Sevierville (the birthplace of Dolly Parton), which is just north of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. It’s nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains, but if you think it’s quaint and picturesque, you’d be wrong.

I suppose at some point in the past it was a bucolic little farming community, but thanks to Dollywood, it’s now a giant traffic jam of restaurants, motels, musical theaters and souvenir stands. We had plenty of time to suffer through it, because my brother-in-law, who had been appointed Navigator and Trash Officer for the trip, had directions to the wrong hotel.

We were the last to arrive, and found the crew in the parking lot of the hotel, getting ready to leave for dinner. Here’s my dad and Tail Gunner Bob O*, who occupied opposite ends of the B-29 during the war:


And here’s my dad and Co-Pilot Hank B*, who were roommates in the officer’s quarters on the island of Saipan:


I won’t name the major chain restaurant we visited, but if you think we received prompt, professional service, you’d be wrong. My father’s meal didn’t arrive until everyone else had finished. The orders were wrong, the checks were wrong, the wait staff was struggling. And this was on Wednesday, an otherwise slow night. But if you think anyone in my father’s bomber crew cared about the crappy service, you’d be wrong.

They hadn’t seen each other for 4 years, but they gabbed like magpies the whole time, enjoying the charge of reliving their glory days. Here’s the whole crew (left to right: Radio Operator Jim G*, my dad, Tail Gunner Bob O*, Co-Pilot Hank B*, and our host, Radar Operator Dean B*):


Here’s Radio Operator Jim G* and my dad, enjoying a few laughs:


Here’s Tail Gunner Bob O* and Co-Pilot Hank B*.


At 92, Hank is the oldest crew member. He has to carry an oxygen tank around, but if you think he’s falling apart, you’d be wrong. His daughter told me he has 20/15 vision, which has degraded from the 20/5 he had during his flying years. Hank trained to fly the P-51 Mustang fighter, the performance sports car of the aviation world at the time. But when it came time for combat assignments, he was turned down because he was 2 pounds heavier than the maximum allowable weight. If you think he’s still upset about it, you’d be right.

Hank showed up with the largest entourage, consisting of his three kids and their families. They were a terrific bunch of people, enjoying the party as much as the crew.



All of the crew showed up with family members, but there was one exception. Ed S*, the Chief Gunner of the Black Magic, had passed away in the sixties. Here he is, on the right, in front of the Black Magic:


His son Joe followed in his footsteps, becoming an Air Force officer. He eventually retired from the Air Force while working in the Pentagon, and now holds the same job as a civilian in the Department of Defense. Joe showed up at the first Black Magic reunion in his father’s place, and he came to this one as well.


He’s a cheerful, funny guy, but he can’t talk about his military history or his current job. If you try to guess what he does for a living, you might be right, but keep an eye out for unmarked cars on the way home.


Chris said...

Cool year, go for the Air & Space Museum in DC. They even have crappy restaurants downtown!

Anonymous said...

Tim- you can see the joy in Dad's face from these pics, as well as the other men. I wish I could have been there! As for Joe S*, he might need you to remove his picture from the web sight. That could be a security risk....

Anonymous said...

We were not in full attendance at the reunion, because our Navigator Wally was physically incapacitated. We really missed him.