by, April 8th, 2010 at 01:32 AM (559 Views)
I wonder sometimes, whether I'd have had the same courage my father showed, faced with the constant threat of death. I really can't say for sure, it's one of those things, I strongly suspect you can only discover through experience.
When I say my father is my hero, I mean it, cliched or not... he IS a hero.
Allow me to elaborate...
It was September 10, 1939, and the country was debating the use of conscription as a recruiting method for the war that had been declared that day. My father was due to turn 18 in 4 days, and then eligible to join the armed forces. Instead, he falsified his age and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, while still 17. He chose to join early so he would be able to choose which branch he would be joining, his main concern being not being in the army, not out of fear mind you, but because he hated killing, and didn't want to have to actually see the person he was fighting because he knew he would have to.
And so, my father became a tailgunner in the Royal Air Force, flying in Wellingtons and Lancasters and the like. Tail gunners had the highest mortality rate on bomber crews, which were already considered excessively dangerous in the first place.
To better avoid detection, most runs were made at night and making more than 10 consecutive trips without being shotdown was still considered an achievement. Have you watched any movies with WW2 era bombers being flown with fairly cozy looking crew chatting away? Yeah... that's bullshit. Those beasts were LOUD, deafeningly, its hard to chat when your voice is even mute to you. Crew members communicated using headsets, part of which I still have. They also had no internal climate control, and were flying iceboxes while on mission. The tailgunner was positioned in a turret on the tail of the plane, in a small glass bubble, barely large enough for 1 man. It was entered directly through the bubble and, once in, you were trapped, isolated until the plane was on the ground again. With no light, you hang suspended in the biting cold, waiting, watching, alone. If it is cloudy, the enemy can come from anywhere and nowhere, drifting into view unexpectedly, and you are going to be their first target. Your only protection is two machine guns... against fighter planes and bombers. And you are your entire crew's only protection, be it by firing the guns, or advising the pilot of approaching enemy aircraft. So you wait, for the inevitable attack, you wait, not knowing if this will be your last flight. Each flight you take, the odds of your surviving gets lower and lower, and if you survive, will you make it back to friendly territory?