THE PEP TALK - (submitted by David Moody, 399th Sqn)
At the hardstand of Frisco Kid II of the 399th BS/88th BG, the crew is preparing for their next mission. Their pilot, Captain Moody, decides to address them.
“Men, today we're going to be leading the group over Pisa. That’s right, the whole DAMNED 88th friggin Bomb Group! We are the lead plane of the lead squadron. I don't need to tell you all how important that is. All the planes in the group will be laying their eggs on our command. So Joe, make sure your aim is good! And no using that leaning tower as an aiming point -- we may want to see it after the war is over! The rest of you, look sharp! I want the Colonel to see what manner of men are in this crew, and in this squadron. I want him to know what I already know, that we’re the best in the group! Hell, that we're the best in the whole g--d--ed 15th Air Force!”
Just as Moody finished his pep talk, a jeep drives up and the driver calls to Captain Moody. “Captain? Colonel Lamb wants to see you -- some last minute advice before takeoff.”
Moody turns around. “Understood. Coming.” He starts to climb into the jeep, and calls to his crew one last time. “Remember, men -- the eyes of the whole group will be on us today. See you in a bit.”
As the jeep drives off, and the men resume their preparations. The two waist gunners, Sergeants Sullivan and McNutt, are helping each other with their gear. “What’s with Skip today?” Sullivan asks McNutt.
McNutt laughs. “Ever since Major Kingsley bought it over Vrattsa, he’s been strutting around like he owns the place. Since he’s senior captain in the squadron, he’s in command now.”
“For real?” Sullivan questioned.
“So far,” McNutt confirmed. “Colonel hasn’t made it permanent yet. Maybe he will -- Skip’s been flying long enough to make Major. They might bring in someone with more experience though. I just wish he’d lighten up. Won’t even drink with us anymore. Gives speeches and stuff.”
Meanwhile, sitting in the jeep, Captain Moody reflects. Leading the group. How did I get myself into this? 'Join the Air Corps,' Dad said. 'Keep you from getting drafted and dying in some damned trench in the mud,' he said. Well, they can shoot you just as easily at 20,000 ft as on the ground, and it's further to fall. And now we’re lead plane. Jerry sometimes likes to line up on the lead plane. Flak sometimes likes to zero in on the lead plane. And the whole group WILL be watching us -- if we drop our bombs wrong, all nineteen B-17s in the group hit a church or hospital instead of the target. And then there’ll be hell to pay . . . And geez, what a corny pep talk! Not inspiring at all. Laid it on too thick. Maybe I should lighten up - -have a drink with the gunners after the mission, if we get back. If we get back . . .
O'Connor raises his glass, mumbles something throws back his shot. Sits up straight, or straighter than before, at least. The silence stretches. Wish someone would say something. He hates these things. He hates anything that points him out. He’s survived a baker’s dozen worth of missions without a scratch. Don't rock the boat. “Yeah, welcome, Clay,” he manages.
He thinks about Tieger, going home now, with a hole in his stomach. Only three guys left from the old crew. “You’re going to do great,” he says. It sounds like someone else is saying it. Like a voice from the bottom of a well. He regrets it immediately. It’s insincere. As if he had luck to give away.
He thinks about
the next mission, afraid that destiny is going to spear out like a spotlight and
illuminate him for a coward behind
the controls of his ship. His luck is going to run out. He’s going to be exposed.
He pushes his empty tumbler toward Amoore. Jesus, pour another drink, already.
TOWER RECEPTIONS: Mission 26
Over Pisa: (submitted by Jeff O'Handley, 318th Sqn)
The mission had been easy so far. Only a pair of German fighters had gotten through the P-38s to shoot at Eat At Joe's, and no damage had been taken, so far as Lt. Delany could tell. Flak so far had been even less than a minor nuisance, though he knew from talking to the 'old timers' that that could change in a hurry, with one lucky hit. Now Delany waited, heart in mouth, while Lieutenant Gross guided the Fortress to the target.
Lieutenant Gross called "Bombs away!" Delany could feel the lurch as 5,000 pounds of ordinance dropped out of the bomb bay and fell to earth, hopefully on target.
"Let's get out of here!" said Delany to his copilot, Verne Pike. As he and Pike pushed the great bomber away from the flak and towards the rally point, tail gunner Roger Burleson called in over the interphone: "Tail gunner to pilot: Bombs are on target! Repeat, bombs on target! Estimate 40% in the target area!"
Over the interphone came the cheers and whoops of the crew, and Delany smiled, just a little. After four missions of missing the target, he had felt a great pressure building on him. Now some of that pressure was off -- just a little, anyway. Now it was time to get the boys home safely.
"Roger that, Sergeant," acknowledged Delany. "Keep your eyes peeled, boys, we're likely to have company." Delany looked over at his copilot, who was grinning. "Let's get home, Verne," he said, even as the first calls of "Bandits, 10:30 high!" came over the interphone.
Approaching Sterparone Field:
(submitted by Lee van Camp, 399th Sqn)
"Buckeye Four to tower . . . Buckeye Four to tower . . . Be advised we are leaking fuel heavily from our starboard tanks . . . please have fire crews on alert . . . Buckeye Four out."
(submitted by Steve Williams, 318th Sqn)
"Fireball Four calling tower . . . Fireball Four calling tower . . . Have an ambulance standing by for wounded . . . Fireball Four out.
(submitted by David Moody, 399th Sqn)
"Buckeye Leader to Tower, Buckeye Leader to Tower . . . request emergency landing . . . we have wounded aboard . . . have the meat wagons stand ready . . ."