Saturday, December 14, 2013

My encounter with a WW II P-47 Thunderbolt pilot


This past week a 90 year old World War II veteran found his way to my exam chair. I don’t know what it was—the way he carried himself, the deep wrinkles in his forehead, the twinkle in his eye—but I just knew he had some stories to tell. Not just any stories. True stories.
His flight jacket helped, but I would’ve guessed he was a pilot. He had it written all over. If you’ve ever met a World War II fighter pilot, you know what I mean.
“What did you fly?”
“Thunderbolt. P-47. In Europe. From D-day all the way through the Battle of the Bulge. You know what the P-47 Thunderbolt is?”
I nodded. “How many missions?”
“Fifty. Got shot down seven times but only lost two planes.”
Wow. A real life fighter-bomber pilot. These guys were in the thick of it. They weren’t at high altitudes escorting bombers and dogfighting the Luftwaffe; they were down low, dive-bombing German artillery, strafing railroads, taking on German tanks, and generally wreaking havoc behind enemy lines. I’m not certain, but I think something like only half of them made it home from the war.
“I bet you’ve got some stories to tell,” I said.  
“You bet. Took me a long time to decide to do it, but I wrote a book.”
“Really?”
“Yeah. It was hard. Hard to go back there. But I felt like the stories needed to be told. I only agreed to do it on one condition. I wanted to tell it like it really was. None of that edited crap. When the Smithsonian found out about my book, they said they wanted it, but then after they read it they wanted me to take out a lot of the stuff. Screw them! I refused to edit out anything.”
“So did it get published?”
“Yeah. MBI agreed to publish it. They only made me change one word.”
“Where can I find it?”
“On Amazon. But I’m warning you. I told it just like it was. It was war you know. Things happened. That’s just how it was.”
And so I whisked out my iphone and downloaded it on the spot. “Did you ever imagine you would see this day?” I said. “Here we are, talking about your past, and in less than twenty seconds I was able to download your stories onto a little computer/phone/electronic-book/GPS device that fits in my pocket.”
“It’s the damnedest thing ever.”
I read his stories that night. If you want to read them, you can find his book here. I must warn you, the writing is a bit crude, the narrative choppy, and some parts are quite disturbing, but it is one of the most important books I have read in some time. It is important because it is history. Raw history from the perspective of the man who lived it. And I am grateful he decided to share it.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I'll have to put it on my list - I'm reading "An Army at Dawn" right now.