F. William Broome
TONY’S BRAVERY GOT USED UP ON HIS 29TH MISSION
– OVER WILHELMSHAVEN
Tony’s story is a composite of the stress and hell experienced by thousands of small town and big city “boys” who served in the air over Europe to bring Nazi Germany to its knees in 1943-1945.
Some of us stayed together after we learned to operate the thing in the school teaching all about the Norden Bomb Sight, the finest instrument of death anywhere in Europe, and Anthony Silvio was as good as they came – after he got his commission while the math was just too much for me.
From bombing theory classes to practicing over desert fields, our skills got real good, and nerves calmed enough that a New York City Italian boy, who never so much as shot a gun before, could help kill a few thousand German people on moonlit nights.
‘Course, he had a lot of gettin’ ready from the crew and the guys who put up there in a great airplane, but it was Tony who got all the numbers together, and when he had the target in the crosshairs, we’d drop all the bombs on that night’s target.
Tony kept goin’ on missions; kept puttin’ them bombs exactly where they could do bad things to German war makin’ targets, “of strategic importance.” And it was Tony who became quieter, and no fun to be with, after each bombing run we made, past that required, 25th one.
We got rotated for a week’s rest, and enjoyed the sun and water on that North African beach, and we got to meet some WAC girls, who drank beer with us like normal people for a change, but Tony and some others never did relax much stayin’ to themselves a lot.
Mission number 26 was mostly a failure, since the bombs fell on farms and not railroad yards and factories, like we was suppose to make ‘em do, and afterward Tony never said a word all the way back to England.
It was the 29th mission; the one I started tellin’ about, that Tony refused to operate, “Old Nellie,” the name he’d given to, “Miss Norden,” as he’d named his helpmate and fine instrument for tearin’ apart buildings and killin’ people.
Somewhere between takeoff and the port city of Wilhelmshaven, in North Germany, Tony went into another world – where we couldn’t find him, with the pilot and co-pilot talking soft like to him and all, but Tony wasn’t listenin’ ‘cause he’d smile and seemed to be enjoying it.
About ten minutes from the target, our pilot sent for me, and I went up to the cockpit to be told that I was the backup bombardier, and would be dating Miss Nellie Norden tonight, and that was an order.
Tony took my news with a funny laugh, tellin’ me he had had a goddamn ‘nuff of this shit – and was goin’ to bail out on the way back so he could sleep forever on the clouds protectin’ our plane from German flack.
A few minutes later we got closer to the target and the trainin’ I had before I flunked out, paid off ‘cause I’d watched Tony so many times, and knowing all about how to operate the old bombardier’s gal friend.
Tonight, our target center was two German U-Boats tied up and camouflaged to resemble dock platforms, according to Intelligence, but I found the suckers and helped the pilot guide that big airplane right to ‘em.
I’ll never forget the way I held my breath as we inched up on the subs, and in seconds the bomb bay doors opened at just the right time for me to press that little black button and take out both subs and their hidin’ place.
Tony already had all the medals he could get, but I wanted him to have the one they gave me, “For outstanding performance of duty under grave conditions,” or some such bullshit, but underneath, I was real proud.
Tony’s bravery got used up on his 29th mission bombing Wilhelmshaven, and when we landed that tired old B-17 in the still-dark mornin’ in England, the Medics met him with a doctor, and we heard later that they had shipped him back to New York City so he could learn how to live again.
©Copyright July 2005 by F. William Broome
Author’s Note: Remembering my friend Bill Pace of Atlanta GA – a navigator/bombardier who lost his life in 1944 during a bombing raid over a major oil refinery in southern Europe.