1. B-17
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For those who don’t know, a B-17 is a four-engine heavy bomber that was used extensively in World War 2. My dad was a farm boy from a small town in Southern Idaho. He knew about growing potatoes, alfalfa, and cows. He graduated from high school and was soon a part of the US Army Air Corps. There was no actual US Air Force yet. He flew 35 missions over France and Germany as a ball turret gunner—that’s the round glass ball that hangs under the belly of the plane. He squeezed himself in there without a parachute and fired two 50-caliber machine guns at attacking fighters. That’s all we ever knew. He never talked about it. Not. One. Word.

My Dad passed suddenly at the tender age of 55. Maybe 20 years later I came on an 8 x 10 photo of him, and the rest of the crew posed in front of a B-17. On the back were the names and hometowns of all of the men in the photo. We had this marvelous new thing called the “Internet”, so I started looking up the names. Amazingly I found the pilot and I talked to him for a very long time. His memories were very clear and what’s even more amazing is that he had hand-written notes and copies of military records of their entire combat history. He sent me copies of all of it. I learned so much about how terrifying it was for them. They expected to die. Every time. That’s when I saw from the records that on his 19th birthday in August of 1944, he was in that B-17 miles up in the air. How different that was from my 19th birthday. I was in college. My friends celebrated by dunking me in a bathtub filled with millions of chads from computer punch cards. Like drowning in paper oatmeal. But my life was never in danger. Not for one second. I can’t say the same for my Dad on his 19th. He is still my hero.


© 2022 by Craig Mecham

Coaxing crops from the stubborn soil
Was what he'd always done
They called his number, and he chose wings
He wanted to touch the sun

It's a long, long road from Idaho
To skies where death awaits
Five miles high and 40 below
And the devil is at the gate

He turned 19 in a B-17
Curled up in a tiny glass ball
Spitting fire left and right
He answered his country's call

35 times he climbed aboard.
35 times terrified.
Hanging there in the frozen air,
He was sure he was gonna die

In quiet strength, he did his part
Like so many of that age
When the job was done, he left his guns
And turned a fresh new page

He turned 19 in a B-17
Curled up in a tiny glass ball
Spitting fire left and right
He was ready to give his all

He came home and he raised some kids
But he never said a word
No one knew what he'd been through
His hell was left unheard

But we knew the unspoken truth
He had served a noble cause
To him it was sacred duty
He expected no applause

He turned 19 in a B-17
But he kept it locked inside
Silent stories of blood and fear
Went with him when he died
Silent stories of blood and tears
Went with him when he died