Miles From Fenway

Long Overdue
October 10, 2006, 8:16 pm
Filed under: family

A massive B29 Bomber sits on the tarmac. Across the concrete comes a soldier carrying a brown paper bag containing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an orange. My grandfather’s lunch. As he begins to eat his meager meal he shouts to his crewmates. He is sectioned off in the plane’s tail. The Peggy B, named after the pilot’s wife.

“What are you guys having today?”

The crew answers, detailing the hot meals they were provided. Being a tailgunner, Papa’s meals were dictated by what could be fit through the tiny window in the plane’s tail.

This story doesn’t matter to you. None of the stories I heard from my Papa the weekend we took him to the World War II memorial would really matter to any of us that didn’t know him. Papa never actually flew a mission. During the majority of the war he was in training – preparing to drop bombs on Japan. The Enola Gay, “Little Boy“, Bockscar, and “Fat Man” got there first. He then spent a year as a member of the occupying force in Germany.

It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things that the only plane my grandfather ever shot down was that of his instructor during a training exercise. Or that he did so with a few errant clay bullets. It doesn’t matter that he only weighed about 130lbs when he enlisted at 18, and that’s why he could fit in the ridiculously small space in which a tailgunner is confined. Or that the oldest person on the plane, the pilot was only 24. None of it really matters.

Except to those of us who want to know the stories. Those of us who want to retell the stories to our kids. Those of us that are proud of him. Proud of him for serving his country. Proud of him for coming home. Proud of him for the life he’s made. Proud of him for the wonderful family he’s raised.

It’s not an easy sentiment to convey to him. The answer to countless questions that weekend was “We just did it”. That was it. It was what the men of his generation did. You went to war. You came home. You didn’t talk about it. You didn’t hold on.

Papa doesn’t have his flight jacket anymore, though he described it to me while we looked at a fake plastic one in the gift shop of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center where the Enola Gay is housed. He described everything to us. What the meals were like, how complicated it was to actually get into the tail, the “death switch” that the top gunner was to operate should Papa or the gunner underneath the plane be shot.

61 years after the war ended, Papa’s stories were still captivating. From when he enlisted while living in Boston to how he met my grandmother just after returning home. He had driven to Providence to visit some friends and when he arrived they informed him they were going to a dance at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet. Not being much of a dancer, Papa declined, but being the only one with a car, finally agreed after his friends insisted. They’d have no way to get there without him. And it was there that he first saw my grandma. Apparently she had a great set of legs on her, honed from hours and hours on roller skates. Two dates in, and that was it – Papa knew.

Fifty-plus years later I walked with the two of them through the crowds at the World War II memorial and marveled at how lucky I am to have these two people in my life. How grateful I am to be able to hear their stories. To see the looks on their faces as they remember. Papa met a lot of people that day. They all thanked him for his service. Now it’s my turn. Thank you, Papa.


6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

That was incredible…far and away my favorite thing I’ve read on your blog, and that says a lot since there’s a lot of good stuff here…

Comment by Cope

Great post FINY, Glad to hear stories that makes me so proud to be an american and just be here in the time when great people like your grandpa are still living to tell the stories. Thanks so much for sharing a great weekend of DC and History

Comment by Ari

Great story FINY.

Comment by edmund dantes

That was really a great telling of a small part of your Papa’s story.

Comment by Esther

Beautiful post. I’m so very glad for you that you have this time with your Papa.

Hug him tight and hold on 5 seconds longer than you mean to.

Comment by Lushy

I’ve read a few good stuff here. Definitely
worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how so much effort you
place to make one of these magnificent informative website.

Comment by turnkey profit

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