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World War II Veterans Of The Air War Speak More Than Half A Century Later
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Elizabeth D Cassen
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Mindful of the fact that over six hundred World War II veterans are passing away each day, according to recent figures from the Veterans Administration, I set out on a series of road trips across the United States and Canada to photograph, and hear the stories of some of the survivors.This project began on an impromptu basis. As a retired pilot from a major U.S. airline, I attended some of the final reunions of flying squadrons from the war, beginning with the seventieth anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, held at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. I talked with some of the airmen, including B17, B24 and B25 crewmembers who served over the European theater, and realized I must do my part to preserve their experiences. Conversations with one veteran would lead to referrals to others.The men and women of the Great Depression who came of age in World War II made lasting sacrifices in the war. When I walked the beaches of Normandy in the mid- 1990s and viewed the thousands of neat rows of white headstones spanning over miles, I realized how much I am indebted. The most humbling and emotional experience is to walk along their final resting place. It is written that 292,131 Americans were killed in action in the war, most young and far from home. They now rest in cemeteries all over the world, many in fields in unmarked graves. Often, their families and loved ones never learned what became of them.Each chapter relates the unique experience of an American or Canadian veteran, either serving as a pilot or crewmember on a bomber serving over Europe or the Pacific, or someone tied into the aviation aspect of the war. I wished to concentrate only two theaters of the war, maintaining a consistent subject matter. As the project progressed, by chance I was given the name of another airman I “should talk to”, and it took a life of its own. Interviewing these gentlemen was very enjoyable, with a feeling of familiarity, as I was talking with men who grew up in the same decades as my own parents. Some very unexpected stories came to light, tying into infamous events of the war, with surprises along the way. Included in the book are stories associated with the infamous events: bombing on D-Day; flying under the direction of the famed actor, Jimmy Stewart; one man’s story of being imprisoned in the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp with 167 other airmen; the story of Senator Robert Dole’s war injuries as told by one of the interviewees; an airman who dove head-first out of a burning B-17 only to be captured by the Germans; memories of flying with the Tuskegee Airmen, from the man then the oldest living member; and many other historical stories.I thank each gentleman I met in the course of this project for their service to their country. It is an honor to know them. They returned home, building the society we have today. All the gentleman interviewed for this project are true heroes, all with medals and honors that reflect their service. Some gentlemen were more forthcoming about their awards, some preferred not to mention them; therefore, for consistency, I have generally not listed each award or rank each serviceman received. They are all deserving of our appreciation and great respect. The quotation at the heading of each chapter is one that has special meaning for that particular gentleman. The afterword illustrates a living example of how we may remain involved today in carrying the history forward. Read the efforts of a dedicated group of veterans and volunteers, restoring a B-17 in a hangar at Grimes Field, Urbana, Ohio, a decade long project. Their efforts form a tight camaraderie among the team, leading to participation in many programs and events each year.And now, some amazing stories of courage, heroism and persistence…
AcknowledgementsIntroductionChapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter FourteenAfterword

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