The US Eighth Air Force could now put up a force of over 1000 heavy bombers when called upon. Tens of thousands of young men in the air crews were now living a surprisingly regular existence on their bases in England. For a raid on Germany they would be off after 7 in the morning and back around 5 in the afternoon. Death was never far away, there would be few missions when they did not see some of their comrades lost.
The diary of Harley Tuck, a radio operator/gunner on a B-17 tells a story that would be familiar to many at the time:
Sometimes you stumble upon a story that has never been told because veterans didn’t talk much about the war.
They keep their war memories buried deep inside. Then when they die, someone finds all about their war memories…
This is not related to the last posts about POWs. But it could have been…
Kermit David Wooldridge, born in 1917 in Lawton Oklahoma to deaf-mute parents, was incorrigible as a youth (his own words). A constant run-away, he had no use for school and would rather ride cross-country on trains. He enlisted in the Army in 1934. The United States Army would soon whip him into shape.
When WWII broke out the need for pilots was critical and the young Wooldridge, uneducated but smart, volunteered to learn to fly. My dad, a man with very little future when he got out of high school would soon find himself in the midst of the most important war America would ever fight. In just over 100 hours of training in the B-17 Flying Fortress he would begin his first mission.My father did make it back from 25 missions as the pilot of the B-17 over Nazi-occupied Europe. The cost was extremely high. His entire squadron was wiped out four times in eight months. He was the only pilot in his squadron to survive those eight months of combat.
As unlikely as it seemed in 1934, my father would go on to distinguish himself in the war and have a 24-year military career, retiring as a Lt. Colonel in 1958. He died in 1994. Regrettably, during my life we never talked much about the war. The reasons become clear as you read his diary. How do you talk about seeing five planes in your squadron blown out of the sky by enemy aircraft ? (See Raid 18, Schweinfurt, below).
Many veterans never discuss those experiences, but my dad documented each of his 25 missions over Europe. I hope that by sharing some of what he wrote I can honor his memory better in his death than I did in his life. When you click on each raid below you will be reading the actual diary pages typed after each raid upon return to the base in England. These words are those of a 26 year old pilot who was facing the very real possibility of death. This website is dedicated to those Veterans who fought and survived and to the enormous courage of those who did not make it back.
Frances Wooldridge Bekafigo
The 5th mission over Kassel is here.
There were 24 other missions.