By Jill Tekel
Splasher Six, Spring 2006, Vol. 37, No. 1
Cindy Goodman, Editor
As Veteran’s Day 2005 approached and I recalled this past 100th Bomb Group reunion in Pittsburgh, all of a sudden I had a sinking feeling, you know, that feeling deep down in the pit of your stomach. It was that moment that made me realize just how quickly the years are flying by and there’s no way to catch them. Yup, within the next few years there’s going to be a lot of changes.
As the country celebrated November 11th, President Bush spoke out and recounted the days and events leading up to this country’s participation in the restructuring of Iraq and the responsibility we endure as we send troops all over the world in the name of democracy. Was this the same US that sent our boys over seas during WWII?
Prior to this Veteran’s day I noticed a few articles appearing in our local papers reaching out to our servicemen that had returned from previous wars and conflicts to fill the empty chairs and tables at the local VFW Halls. Where are all the veterans? Are the WWII Vets the only ones, the proud few that remain, that are certain their buddies gave their lives for the prize of democracy?
This group, the “Bloody Hundredth”, as they were known back in ’44, were no more than 22 years old and the center of the Army Air Corp’s efforts, the fighters, the pilots, the gunners, the mechanics, the cooks, coming from all corners of the US, now based in England over there at the Thorpe Abbotts air base. This day they came with canes, walkers and hearing aids gazing at each display table assembled with the loving care of each exhibitor. As we all walked around glancing at the aged bomber jackets and assorted memorabilia, medals of bravery and other artifacts, all remnants of a long ago era, reminiscing about the 8 odd months they spent flying over, Berlin, Brunswick, Leipzig and Strasbourg among other German held areas, personal stories abounded.
The ‘Lucky Bastards Club” is the certificate you earned when you made it back alive from the missions you flew. Each time you returned another bomb was painted on the back of your Army issued leather jacket and if by chance you actually hit your target, a Nazi plane or installation a swastika was painted on that bomb. Hooray for those brave young men, now most over 80. There were plenty of stories to go around and even as the details faded their pride in their mission was clear. It was the 8th Air force, the 100th Bomb Group and my Dad’s squadron #351. 35 missions, flying day and night for almost 4 straight months, Sergeant Louis Tekel, ball turret gunner in Glenn Rake’s crew, locked into a metal ball attached to the underbelly of the B17 fighter plane, knees to his chin looking through the clear plastic with guns ready. There was no heat, only heated uniforms that lost their warmth most often before the plane returned to its base. Keen eyesight and a steady hand were characteristic of the fighting men in the Army Air Corp, now no longer evident. As the veterans entered the opening night dinner, they walked around shaking hands and reintroducing themselves, their spouses and their children. To the best of their recollection they spoke about the past reunions and talked about the others, the ones no longer with us.
I know that the next reunion will be in Nashville and as we will all be there, the ones that remain to retell the personal stories, the stories of the tragedy they witnessed as bombs rained down relentlessly upon the historic cities of Europe and joy they recalled as they returned home from this, the people’s war, fought by citizen soldiers demonstrating their democratic values, uniting this country through their sheer patriotism.
We’re so proud of you dad, our hero. We will always remember.