Three years ago, my wife and I visited the World War II Museum in New Orleans, and one quote remains stuck in my mind. World War II was “the fight for civilization itself.”
I was born in May 1946, almost one year to the day after the Nazis surrendered. As I grew up in the small West Texas town of Brady, Texas, surrounded by real heroes. Colonel Earl Rudder, who led the rangers up Point du Hoc on D-Day in defiance of almost impossible odds, was from Brady. After his return from the war, he became mayor. The father of one of my best friends had followed Colonel Rudder up those virtually unassailable cliffs. Two of my older cousins also served in the air war over Europe, one as a pilot of a B-24 bomber and the other as a bombardier. I have a picture of the B-24 flown by my cousin with hundreds of bullet holes in it after it safely landed at its base in England. At the WW II Museum I actually folded my 6 foot frame into the cockpit and sat there for less than a few minutes, much less than the 8 or more hours being attacked by anti-aircraft and Nazi Messerschmitts. Later I would learn that my father-in-law went to the outskirts of Berlin, and my wife’s uncle piloted a Higgins landing craft in the War of the Pacific.
So when I was asked to review a manuscript by Winifred Tappan relating Robert Boecking’s memories as a B 17 pilot, I jumped at the chance. A Pilot’s View of World War II, based on the hand-written journal of Robert’s memoirs, is an inspirational read. The pages in his diary, including descriptions of his 37 missions over France, Germany, and Czechoslovakia from September to December 1944, accurately reflect the incredible dangers, moments of terror, and unbelievable courage of those young men who flew those Flying Fortresses through ground flak and fighter planes to reach their target. A quote from Mission No. 4 illustrates how anti-aircraft fire could mean instant death: “Rough flak at target on I.P. accurate — ship in front blew up over target. No chutes came out. Minor flak to ship…” And there was Mission No. 21, the target being a synthetic oil plant in the Ruhr Valley of Germany: “Thick fog…almost got direct hit in nose. One large piece hit my right window…Number 1 gas tank hit…Rough Flak!! I’ve Had it.”
With this, the 70th anniversary year of the end of World War II, there are a wealth of books being written by scholars and historians to commemorate our victory over Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire. However, if you want to truly understand how the war looked from the cockpit of a Flying Fortress through the eyes of a 22-year-old Nebraskan, knowing that any mission could be his last, A Pilot’s View of World War IIis a real treasure.
One last note. I am personally in awe of those Tom Brokaw described as the “Greatest Generation,” and as a Vietnam Veteran, I would have to agree. Two summers ago my wife and I took our 10-year-old grandson to Washington D.C., to Arlington National Cemetery, to the changing of Guard Ceremony. As the Ceremony started, approximately 50 World War II veterans arrived in their wheel chairs, having been flown to Washington by one of the many “Honor Flights.” I have never heard a crowd so silent. I have to believe those watching on that hot June day understood that it was the sacrifice, bravery, and courage of these men and men like Robert Boecking of the 8th Air Force who won “the fight for civilization itself.”
~ Robert A. Floyd, Austin Texas
Vietnam Veteran, 101st Airborne Division