23 June, 2011

{this memory} 5

In its literal content, this photo from Tuesday's post shows the crew of 10 (four officers, six enlisted) that it typically took to fly the B-24 Liberator bomber behind them. This image was taken just after they were assigned to their new plane (note no markings on her yet), and they joined the 8th Army Air Force, 93rd Bombardment Group (the Traveling Circus), 330th Squadron in 1944, flying out of Hardwick Airfield just south of Norwich, England.

They flew "long-range strategic bombardment raids on Occupied Europe and Nazi Germany, attacking enemy military and industrial targets as part of the United States' air offensive. The squadron was one of the most highly decorated units in the Mighty Eighth, continuing offensive attacks until the German capitulation in May, 1945."

But, Thom, your dad was an officer in the Navy. True, but the gentleman kneeling on the left was my uncle - actually my wife's uncle but close enough. Uncle Bill McAleese. He was in that highly decorated group mentioned above, and I saw at least one Distinguished Flying Cross and a whole passel of Air Medals in his collection.

 As with most of that generation, he didn't say a lot
       about those experiences. He did tell us about
          the time he screwed up. He was the navigator,
           and told them where to go as they crossed
            the English Channel. Unfortunately, he was
         homing on the wrong signal and led them
     right into a whole lot of enemy fire they didn't
want to be in. Although they collected more than a few holes they didn't need, they corrected course, dropped their bombs, and made it back to Hardwick.

We met only a few years after my dad died, and Uncle Bill became my second dad. He never had children of his own. We golfed together. He helped me build my home. He was there when I was sick and when my girls were born. We laughed often, and he taught me not to bother to put my coat on until the ladies were at the open door. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago.

In spite of all of that, what I remember most was that he was not Italian. My wife is Italian, and her family is Italian. I love 'em all, and they love me. When the entire extended family of about 50 would gather, however, Uncle Bill and I were the only two who were not Italian. He taught me how to fit in, and I knew he always had my back - whether it was needed or not.