Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Wonderful Afternoon with a B-17, B-24 and a couple of the Greatest Generation

Les Poitras here again today. Thank you Rob, as always, for allowing me to post in your blog. I KNOW you'll like this one!

Today was a very, very special day for me. The Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom tour has stopped by the Plymouth Municipal Airport in Plymouth, MA., from Sept. 12th - 15th. My family and I had an opportunity to join Maurice Rockett and his wife Grace to see a B-17 and B-24 up close and personal. This was my first such experience.
Maurice was a B-17 bombardier with the 95th bomb group during WWII, lost one of his eyes during combat, received the Distinquished Flying Cross and Purple Heart, among many other medals for his valor. Maurice is one of the heroes to which Rob's book "Untold Valor" is dedicated. I encourage the reader to search Rob's blog for more info about Maurice. Fortunately, Maurice and his wife Grace live but 45 minutes from my home. Rob brought this to my attention at one point and I have since had the privilege of meeting Maurice and Grace on several occasions. What more can I say, but what wonderful people. I am happy to know them! Thanks for the introduction Rob!

We arrived at Plymouth Municipal Airport at about 11:00 AM. Immediately, I was overhwelmed by the presence of three, well kept WWII aircraft that are of the utmost importance in American aviation history. The aircraft and those who manned them are true pioneers of aviation and freedom as America knows to this day. These planes and the young men who flew them know the meaning of the word "fight" in a way that most will never understand.

Here is Maurice just after meeting my wife and kids. Note the two young gentlemen standing behind my wife Sumio eager to say hello to Maurice and ask questions:

Two young men, having their questions answered by a man who knows and understands the meaning of the B-17:

Of course, one of the first features of the B-17 to grab my attention was the ball-turret, as that is the position in which my grandfather served. I could hardly believe how small that space was! How could anyone stay in there for 6 hrs or more at a time, let alone being separate from the crew and shot at! The ball-turret is even smaller and more cramped in real-life than I imagined by looking at photographs:

Maurice's wife Grace arrives at the scene:

Shortly after Maurice and Grace's arrival, Maurice took my daughter Sarah and I on a tour through the B-17. My first impression: "CLAUSTROPHOBIA!" How did 10 men manage to fit inside and control this complex aircraft? Maneuvering inside of it seemed an impossibility and, as Maurice pointed out, try doing so in sub-zero temperatures in full gear! Stepping inside a B-17 has changed my whole perspective on the challenge of WWII aerial combat. Walking through the plane makes it seem even more difficult than what I had ever imagined. Here is a video of Maurice walking Sarah and I through the B-17 (Nine-O-Nine):

Maurice and pilot Frank Tedesco of the 15th Air Force that flew out of Italy strike up a conversation:

Front view of B-17 "Nine-O-Nine":

After touring the B-17, Maurice takes Sumio, the kids and I for a walk through the B-24 "Witchcraft". There is a bit more elbow room in this plane. I had the opportunity to view the position which Dan Culler (written about in this blog, Rob's book and Dan's own book, "Black Hole of Wauwilermoos") manned. More than just the top-turret, however, Dan was responsible for keeping the aircraft running smoothly. From every angle, there seems to be more responsibility on these aircraft than any young man should be required to handle, for such perilous circumstances. Here is a video of a walk-through of the B-24, led by Maurice:

At the end of our tour, I had the opportunity to pose for a photo with my friend and hero, Maurice. We stood in front of the B-24 (in honor of our friend Dan) and I held my grandfather's A-2 jacket to honor him. For as long as I live, I will never forget his, Maurice, Dan's and the many other young men who fought in the air during WWII to preserver our nation's freedom and I will do my best to help others remember. God bless you men for your courage and sacrifice! You are greatly appreciated!

Maurice (lower right) with the three other officers in his original crew in 1943:

Dan Culler (bottom row, 2nd from left) and crew of B-24 "Hell's Kitten" in 1943:


Richard Havers said...

Les, fabulous post. What a treat you had. I loved your comment - "CLAUSTROPHOBIA!"

That's what I've always thought about WW2 bombers. Having been lucky enough to have been inside several, including a Flying Fort and a Lancaster. It immediately made me realise just how brave these men were; most people today would be quoting 'Health and Safety' regulations if they were asked to fly off to fight like that.

Thanks again for what you've written.

r morris said...

Les, my friend, this is an absolutely SUPERB post in every way. The story, the photos, and the videos---WOW!!!
I continue to be mightily impressed with how spry Maurice is for a man 80-some years young. Watching the video, I could pick up his wonderful dry humor. Man, I wish I could have been there with you.
The few times I've been in a B-17, my reaction was the same as yours--it's so incredibly small and tight inside. How these young men could work and fight in this environment, at fifty below zero, hooked up to oxygen, is beyond me.
I hope one day to get back to Boston again and our three families can sit down and break bread and talk about these great men and their machines.

This is the BEST post we've had on this blog in ages.

Your little daughter is incredibly cute. I'll bet she really enjoyed Maurice and Grace.


Les said...

Thank you Richard and Rob. Yesterday was indeed one of the better afternoons of my life. I only wish it lasted longer.

My first reaction when looking up into the B-17 was: how on earth was it going to be possible to move around in here? Unfortunately it was difficult to get any kind of a quality video due to the tight space and I was concentrating my effort on moving through the plane rather than filming.

Grace especially enjoyed the little ones. The afternoon really couldn't have gone better except for my unfortunate choice of a restaurant afterward, but we will have more opportunities to dine with Grace and Maurice.

Both of them are in such great shape and seem young for their ages. Maurice will be 88 this year, the same age my grandfather would be. At one point when he thought I was going to fall backward in the B-24, he grabbed me by the arm to stop the perceived fall. What a grip! They are taking good care of themselves. Sumio and the kids enjoyed their company as well.

Hughes said...

r. morris - As a result of your post of the Hells Kitten picture you have given me the most memorable of experiences. Earlier this evening I returned from my mother’s house with a small binder of unknown military memorabilia from my father’s days in WWII.

One of the pictures in this collection is of the very same one you posted with the Hells Kitten crew. Dan Culler - who you reference in the picture is next to my father – third from the left. John J. Hughes.

As a first time visitor to this site you can only imagine the amazement upon seeing on the website the same picture I hold in my hand for the very first time this day.

On the back of the picture is the date – February 9, 1944.

R – morris are you suggesting that Dan is still alive in your notes? I am eager to hear more about information about Dan or anything else related to this picture.

Hughes said...

r morris - in addition to me last post I have found that I may have at least one and perhaps two additional photos of Dan.

Articles from the paper show that my father was reported missing on Monday May 1, 1944 after the plane went down somewhere over Europe

I hope to hear from you r morris.

r morris said...

Dear Hughes.
What a surprise!
And a big thank you to Richard Havers who noticed your posting and notified me.
Dan Culler is very much alive and would most likely love to hear from you,as would I.
By the way, Dan and I email almost every day.
I am going to break ranks and give you my personal email:
Please email me and we can arrange more contact.
~rob morris

Hughes said...

Rob - I have left a message on your machine at the number I tracked down for you. I hope it is your number anyway. MY thanks to Richard for giving you a heads up to my post. I feared that it would go unnoticed given the time since that September post of yours.

Thank you so much for providing Dan's email. I will compose it as soon as I complete this. I have learned more about my fathers contribution to the war in the last 24 hours than I had previous. My father pasted in 1992 and would only give hints of the work he did.

I hope to connect with you Rob. My email is I look forward to hearing from you at anytime.

This is remarkable.


Richard Havers said...

David, so good this is all working out. Rob knows more about American airmen who fought in Britain for the 8th and 9th airforces than almost anyone alive. He does an amazing job in keeping their memories alive and things like this make his efforts even more rewarding.