Thank you

If you get the chance today, make sure you thank a veteran.  Whether or not you like the policies they enforce, they serve and have served in various and sundry hell holes around the world on our behalf.

Digging through my archives, I think these shots are quite fitting.  They were taken at the Frontiers of Flight Museum and given a treatment of retro-ness via the wonder that is Lightroom.


The 8th Air Force flew its first bombing mission of WWII on July 4, 1942 and continued to bomb “fortress Europe” through the end of the war.   Over the course of the war, they lost more men than did the Marine Corps in the Pacific.  The air war was absolutely brutal and conditions for the men on both sides of the fight were hideous.  Between the extreme cold and the terribly long missions – even when someone wasn’t trying their best to kill you – the conditions were atrocious. Exposed skin would easily get frostbite and breathing the air would kill you.

Every time I have the opportunity to get inside one of these time machines I am struck with just how small the working space is inside.

B17 catwalk

See that narrow space at the bottom center of the image?  That’s the catwalk that connects the front of a B17 to the back.  It was not uncommon for members of the crew to pass back and forth via the catwalk during the mission, untethered!  I’ve read accounts of crewmen who would have to go out on the catwalk and knock stuck bombs loose – can you imagine?  Not only are you flying over occupied territory with guys on the other side trying to knock you out of the sky, but you’re fighting turbulence as well – all the while trying not to fall out of the bomb bay.  For someone like me who doesn’t really enjoy flying to begin with, just thinking about this is petrifying.

The interior of the B17’s sister, the B24 wasn’t much better.


Notice the silver sphere at the center of the image?  That’s the top of the ball turret.  It’s TINY.  I don’t know that I could fit one of my legs in there.  On the B24, the ball turret was raised and lowered hydraulically into the belly of the beast during takeoff and landing.  The bad part about that was that sometimes the hydraulics of the plane would sustain battle damage, locking the ball turret in place, with no way to get the ball turret gunner back safely into the aircraft.  The area shown above was fighting space for 3 men.  I’m fairly sure that these 3 guys would be pretty close – as close as men can get who fought and survived together.  Imagine what that would have been like to know that your buddy down in the ball turret was going to be crushed to death when the plane landed and that you were helpless to do anything about it?

Oxygen - 24

Again inside the 24, you get a good feeling of just how tight this space is.


I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to interview a B17 pilot for an oral history.  The above picture is a shot of his working space – think your cube at work sucks???  He flew 35 missions over Europe and Germany during the war and had seen the elephant on many occasions.  I asked him how he and his crew coped with the stress of flying mission after mission over Germany, knowing there was no end in sight.

After thinking a bit, he told me that their ground crew met them after

“every mission with a bottle of whiskey and cups for each man.  We’d each have a shot or two, depending on how bad it was, and stumble our way back to our beds where we would drink some more before being able to sleep.  We would never have made it off the plane without the whiskey.”

So, while you’re out there hitting the sales and perhaps enjoying a 3 day weekend, give some thanks to a veteran.  They’ve earned it.


~ by Derrick Birdsall on November 11, 2011.

8 Responses to “Thank you”

  1. This is such a great post, Derrick. I’ll have to show Dirck when he returns. He did a blog about a B17 he photographed years ago – We get hundreds of people a year looking at it (nobody comments :-)). I really like your vintage treatment of these photographs.


  2. My great uncle flew 54 missions over Europe in B-17’s in ’43 and ’44. He also flew in Korea and Vietnam before retiring a Colonel from the USAF in ’73 or ’74 and raised Black Angus cattle for most of the rest of his days. He passed in ’96 and I sure do miss him.

    Enjoyed the photos, Derrick. Thanks.

  3. Awesome post, Mr. B –
    (I still remember the first time I walked through a B17 with my dad at a USAF Friends and Family Day… (I think I was in first grade at the time). A truly incredible sight (even at that age I could sense something of the history of it all…)

    • Thanks Inky! The B17s are pretty dang cool as a grown up, I can’t imagine how neat that would be to a little kid. Thanks much for sharing the story. 😉

  4. This is a fantastic post, Derrick. Your next book ought to be about old airplanes or motorcycles, one of the two. My father, Sgt. Philip Hyde, was a gunnery trainer during WW II stateside. He trained crews mainly in B-17s, some B-24s and near the end of the War B-29s. When I spoke about Dad and his photography at the 2007 NANPA Summit in Palm Springs, I also went out to the Palm Springs airport and museum to pay homage to the still flyable B-17 they have. It was a great thrill to climb on board to see all my dad’s old stories come to life. The interior of the plane was extremely small and looked very uncomfortable as you point out. Imagine those boys flew most of the day in those thin skinned contraptions over hostile German territory. Thank you doesn’t even begin to cover it. When I looked up where they still have B-17s, I remember noticing that there was one somewhere in Texas. Apparently this is it. Very cool. Thank you for all the detail.

  5. I’m glad this touched a nerve for you! This particular plane is from the Collings Foundation, I believe they are based in Massachusetts; they make an annual pilgrimage to Dallas each year.

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