by Fred Becchetti (35 Missions, 445th BG, May-Sept. 1944)
The bomb-run exhibit at the 8th Air Force Heritage Museum in Savannah, Georgia is a simple exhibit, but it made me cry.
The exhibit consists of a film of a bomber flying its bomb run through flak, dropping its bombs on a target and pulling away.
I sat on a bench and watched the film while all my senses were assaulted by flak bursting around the ship and by the unforgettable rattling sound of shrapnel striking the fuselage and bouncing off the plexiglass of my gun turret.
“Bombs Away!” and the ship leaps several hundred feet in altitude from the lightening of its load. The ship makes a sharp turn with the formation that lasts an eternity, as the flak explosions continue, with shrapnel pinging against the ship’s skin as the bombers head for home.
The screened bomb run ends, the flak stops exploding, there is no rattle of shrapnel and I sit in silence on the museum bench and cry.
My tears flowed from the memory of the waist gunner leaping out of a burning bomber over St. Lo without a parachute and falling, falling, falling 11,000 feet to the ground and eternity.
I wept at the thought of the wounded B-17 in the smoke and fire over Berlin as it swooped below us in a long helpless glide while parachutes popped out “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6… Can’t see any more of them.”
The tears were for our own flight engineer, who at the advanced age of 26 experienced a deterioration of mind, nerves and body after only fifteen missions until he was grounded and sent home.
I wept bitter tears for my best buddy, Vince Hamilton, who flew his quota of 35 missions and then, at the request of the 8th Air Force, remained in England to lend his skills in navigation, only to die in an explosion over Liverpool in a malfunctioning bomber.
Above all, I wept for the tens of thousands of young men just out of their teens who had three to five years ripped out of their lives by the war, not to mention the tens of thousands who never came home.
Yes, strong men do cry, and the war was something to cry about.
“Freddie” Becchetti, a Liberator bombardier, flew 35 bombing missions into Nazi Europe out of Tibenham, Norfolk in summer 1944, earning the Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross.
Thank you, Fred, for continuing to share your memories with our blog readers.