The Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom Tour is now in progress. B-17 and B-24 bombers, joined in some locations by a B-25, are now visiting airports throughout the northeast and mid-atlantic states. You can visit the airplanes for a small donation, and for a substantially larger donation, you can actually take a ride! If the tour is coming to an airport near you, these planes are well worth seeing. Schedule here.
As a corrective to any excessive glamorization of WWII air combat, I recommend the air force poems of Randall Jarrell, a major American poet who served in the Army Air Forces during that conflict.
Here is Death of the Ball Turret Gunner:
From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
The above is probably Jarrell’s best-known work, but there are many more poems derived from his WWII experiences. One of the most haunting is A Front (as in “cold front”), which begins:
Fog over the base: the beams ranging
From the five towers pull home from the night
The crews cold in fur, the bombers banging
Like lost trucks down the levels of the ice.
(One of the bombers has lost half of its radio equipment: it can transmit, but cannot receive…and thereby, has lost its navigation as well as its communications, since it cannot receive the signals from the electronic navigation stations (“the beams ranging from the five towers”) which were to guide it home. Those on the ground can hear the bomber crew, but their attempts to help are lost in the void.)
And here’s an excerpt from Losses:
In bombers named for girls, we burned
The cities we had learned about in school–
Till our lives wore out; our bodies lay among
The people we had killed and never seen.
When we lasted long enough they gave us medals;
When we died they said, “Our casualties were low.”
They said, “Here are the maps”; we burned the cities.