There Is A Big Square J Tattooed On My Heart
It is Veteran’s Day and I can’t go throughout the day without thinking of my Dad.
During WWII, Dad was a combat crewman on a B-17 called “The Bad Egg”, which was assigned at the time to the 570th Bomb Squadron, 390th Bomb Group, a part of the 8th Air Force stationed at Framlingham, England. He flew 32 missions between June and September 1944.
Dad joined the USAAF (United States Army Air Force) in 1942. For nearly two years, he trained stateside in engineering and in-flight aircraft mechanics along with his required gunnery and aerial combat training. By June of 1944, he was shipped overseas with the crew and the plane that he trained with. As soon as they got there, they were reassigned another plane, aircraft number 42-31229S “The Bad Egg”.
Dad arrived in England on June 3, 1944. He was not a part of the D-Day invasion three days later, but he recalls the day:
“The planes flying overhead were too many to count. The wingtips were almost touching each
other. They blotted out the sun so completely, it was like night. I had never seen so many planes in the sky at once, and I have never seen anything like it since.”
Dad flew the majority of his missions on the Egg, but not every plane went up on every mission. When another plane needed a crewmember to fill in, they called on members of the grounded crews to fill the spots. This gave Dad quite a good resume` of planes that he flew on, some of which became famous such as “Bombay Ann”, “Bomboogie”, “GI Wonder”, “Cocaine Bill”, “Geronimo” “Bundles of Trouble”, “Ole Blood n’ Guts” and “Cabin in the Sky”. He flew nearly every position on the plane, including tail gunner, top turret gunner/engineer, waist gunner and radio operator. During one particularly hazardous mission to Schweinfurt, Germany, the pilot and co-pilot were unable to land the plane due to injuries, and Dad was awarded a medal for landing the plane safely at the Framlingham airfield.
On September 9th, 1944, the 570th was flying through a particularly heavy flak field during their initial approach to the target, a small arms and tank factory in Dusseldorf, Germany. Several planes were knocked out of the sky that day. My dad described it to me as follows:
“The flak was so heavy, you felt like you could get out and walk on it. We had several pieces hit our plane; there were holes everywhere in the fuselage. I put my helmet on, and before I could take my hand off of the brim, a piece of shrapnel dented it and punched a small hole in it. You wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t put it on! (He smiled). There was nothing that we could do, we just watched the other planes as they took hit after hit, but kept heading for the target. As soon as we got into our AP (attack position), the bombardier took over and he opened the bombay doors as he lined us up for the release. We were sitting ducks with our door open.
I looked up at the other planes. They were all ready to drop. I looked at Hobbie’s plane, the “Bundles of Trouble” as a flak shell hit him directly in the bombay. It was horrible, it was a brilliant flash of bright white light followed by an ear splitting boom. The plane and its crew just vaporized. You could almost see the shockwave coming at us, and it bounced us around like a cork on the ocean. I watched as several other planes went down with it; one of them was “The Bad Egg”. Two of the Egg’s engines were on fire as it turned out of formation and headed for France. The plane right in front and above of Hobbie’s plane, “GI Wonder” was still flying forward, but at a 90° angle to the ground. She eventually righted herself and was able to drop her bombs. We lost 9 planes that day. That was the most devastating thing that I had ever seen during the war.”
Dad flew his last few missions on “Ole Blood n’ Guts” and on “Bomboogie”. Before he went home, he volunteered for two food drop missions to Holland, part of “Operation Chowhound”. He arrived home in mid-October 1944, just in time to celebrate two years of marriage to my mother. Dad lived to be 77 years old before he passed away in 1999; just 14 years after my mom had passed. Dad was buried next to mother on October 29th, 1999, just a day before their 57th wedding anniversary.
All of the planes of the 570th Bomb Squadron had a big “J” with a square around it painted on their tails, giving them the nickname “The Square J’s”. The 570th Bomber Squadron doesn’t exist anymore except in the hearts and minds of the still existing crewmembers and their families, and at the 390th museum at the Pima Air Base in Arizona. It is well worth the trip to visit there.
Happy Veteran’s Day to all of you who have served in the military in the defense of our country. We owe you our lives.
I bid you Peace
©2012 By Del Banks.