[This is an original story based on the characters created by Sy Bartlett and Beirnie Lay, Jr., in their 1948 book "Twelve O'clock High," (Harper & Brothers) and the 1965 Quinn Martin Productions Television Series of the same name.]
ABOVE AND BEYOND
At 0730, twenty-one B-17s, three squadrons of the 918th Bomb Group, 1st Bombardment Wing, 8th Air Force, took off from Archbury, England, heading for Hamburg, Germany. The lead plane was piloted by the Group's Commander, Brigadier General Frank Savage. His call sign was 'Ramrod', and the lead, high, and low squadrons were his 'Flankers'.
General Savage's plane, 'Piccadilly Lily', was out of commission, so Savage was flying Captain Herb Phillips' plane, 'Lucky Lady', with Phillips' crew. He had picked Captain Phillips' plane primarily because the crewmen were experienced - this would be their fifteenth mission - and because their bombardier, Lieutenant Jack Walker, had a very high bombing accuracy rate. Another factor was that Phillips' regular co-pilot was in the hospital recovering from a burst appendix.
'Crewmen'. Savage thought, shaking his head. 'The average age of this crew was twenty; they were still boys. But the Air Force calls them men... and they had been proving it.'
The target today was to be the Shipyards at Hamburg. Their flight plan would take them diagonally across England, over the North Sea to a point south of Denmark and then southeast down the Elbe River to Hamburg.
After takeoff, the squadrons assembled over the field, then the formation flew at very low level, to keep German radar from detecting them, to Margate on the southeastern tip of England. At Margate they joined up with their P-47 fighter escort. They would provide protection for them most of the way across the North Sea, then due to fuel constraints, they would have to return home... from that point on the bombers were on their own.
Once they had departed the English coast and headed into the North Sea, they began the climb to their operational altitude of 29,000 feet, and the gunners were given permission to test fire their guns. As they climbed above 10,000, Savage got on the interphone, "Pilot to crew. Ten Thousand feet. Go on oxygen." then put on his own mask and continued to climb. Once they attained altitude, the crews donned their electrically heated suits and heavy gloves to provided some protection against the cold, which could go as low as 60 degrees below zero.
With the help of strong tail winds, they made good time crossing the North Sea. As they approached Denmark, they turned south to follow the coast toward Germany, and Savage heard the call he had been dreading, "Radio operator to pilot. Sky Cap is on channel 3."
Switching to the designated channel, "Ramrod to Sky Cap Leader. Go ahead."
"Sky Cap Leader to Ramrod. Sorry, sir. We have to leave you here. We are bingo fuel. Good luck."
"Understood, Sky Cap Leader. Sorry to see you go, but appreciated your company. Ramrod out."
Switching back to channel one, Savage radioed, "Ramrod to all Flankers. Keep alert. We lose our fighter escort here, and we'll be within range of their fighters in a few minutes. Gunners keep alert, and everyone keep the radio chatter down. We don't want to tell them any more than we have to."
On the interphone again, Savage called, "Pilot to navigator. Check in."
"Navigator to pilot. Approaching Cuxhaven. On course, on time, sir. Three minutes to next heading."
The Luftwaffe was also aware of the range limitations of the P-47s, and fighters would delay their attacks until the escort turned back. As the formation made their course change at Cuxhaven and headed inland along the Elbe River, they found the fighters - Me-109's - waiting.
'Lucky Lady's' interphone immediately came alive as gunners called out 'bandits', first at 12 o'clock, then at every position on the clock - high and low. Although it wasn't necessary, the other gunners had eyes too, Savage passed the warning on to the Group. "Ramrod to all Flankers. On your toes, here they come. Fighters all over the clock. Fighters all over the clock. Keep it tight. Don't let'em split you."
The fighters came in swarms like angry bees, darting in and out at top speed. They liked to attack the Forts head-on, where they had the least firepower and were most vulnerable. But other favorite targets were the 'tail-end charlies', the last planes in the high and low squadrons, because they had the least protection; and the lead plane, because if they could knock it out, there would be a few minutes of confusion while the Group reformed on a new leader, and they were more vulnerable to attack.
It was unnerving to sit there and watch a fighter come straight at you, guns blazing. Every fifth bullet was a tracer so the enemy pilot could watch the bullets leaving the plane and adjust his aim. Even in the daylight you could see the line of bullets that seemed to be coming right at you, and though it would do no good, you'd instinctively duck. The 'Flying Fortress' , or 'Forts', as they were called, positively bristled with their own machine guns - thirteen .50-caliber Browning machine guns - and generally gave as good as they got; if not, better. But it was always an uneven trade: one fighter plane and one pilot in exchange for a B-17 with a crew of ten.
The 109's continued to press the attack for over 30 minutes before they finally turned away. They had been bloodied and left with fewer fighters than they had arrived with.
But the Group had been hurt, too. Several planes had been damaged and had taken wounded, including 'Lucky Lady', whose right waist gunner, Sergeant 'Johnny' Johnston, had been hit when bullets from the ME-109's 7.9mm machine guns ripped into the fuselage along the waist. One of the bullets creased Johnston's skull, and he collapsed in a heap unconscious.
They had also lost a Fort from the low 'Green Flanker' squadron. As they continued up the Elbe River toward their target, crews watched as Green Flanker Four, plummeted down in flames, and they counted nine chutes as the crew bailed out... and were glad that it hadn't been them.
"Ramrod to Green Flanker One. Close it up. Fill in the gaps."
With the fighters gone, the squadrons reassembled into a tight formation and cared for their wounded. Some of the inexperienced crews congratulated themselves, thinking that they had beaten the fighters back, but that was short lived.
Up ahead they could see the real reason... 'flak', a several thousand foot barrier of deadly little black puffs laid out ahead of them as far as they could see, a barrier through which the bombers had to fly, and they were still over fifteen minutes from the target.
'Flak' was the result of the detonation of anti-aircraft shells, their fuses set to explode at different altitudes. The little black puffs marked the shells' detonation, which then spewed thousands of metal splinters in every direction; splinters which when they hit, destroyed engines, blew up fuel tanks, and cut through a B-17s unarmored aluminum skin... and human flesh... like it was paper. Everyone hated and feared 'flak'.
You could do something about the fighters, take some evasive action, defend yourself, but with flak you had to just sit there and take it. The Forts had to maintain their positions to ensure bombing accuracy - because you didn't want to have to come back and do it again - but also to be able to provide the most effective defensive fire should fighters attack through their own flak... it was rare, but it did happen if the target was important enough. The experienced crews knew few airplanes could make it through these flak barrages without some kind of damage.
As expected, the flak was thick, brutal and appeared endless. 'Lucky Lady' shuddered and shook as the flak burst all around them. It was all Savage could do to maintain his coarse and altitude as they bounced around. Checking the formation, Savage looked up at the high 'Blue Flanker' squadron just as Blue Flanker One, piloted by Major Peterson, the Squadron Commander, blew up and fell from the sky, and there was nothing he could do but radio Blue Flanker Two to take over as squadron lead... and close it up. For the next few minutes the formation flew through not only the shrapnel of bursting flak, but pieces of airplane... and other things they didn't want to think about.
Then Savage's tail gunner, Sergeant Tom Williams, reported over the interphone that Green Flanker Three of the low squadron had dropped out of formation and was trailing below and behind.
Looking out through his side window, Savage located the damaged 'Fort' and radioed, "Ramrod to Green Flanker Three. You've left the formation. State your trouble. Over."
"Green Flanker Three to Ramrod. I've lost my number one engine, and my number three is running hot. Losing speed and altitude. Will try to stay with the Group as long as possible. Over."
"Ramrod to Green Flanker Three. OK. If you can't keep up, try to find some clouds to hide in and make your way home as best you can. If you have to bail out, or crash land, your radio operator has the code to contact the Resistance. They'll be able to tell you where it'll be safest for you to jump, or set down. Be sure to destroy your bomb site and code books. Good Luck. Ramrod out."
Savage knew they would try to make the bomb run, and stay with the formation as long as they could for protection, but as he watched, they fell further behind. Their chances weren't good; if the flak didn't get them, the fighters would be waiting outside the flak area to pick off any stragglers.
Ahead in the distance, Savage could see the outline of Hanskalbsand Island, the final turning point before the start of the bomb run. "Pilot to navigator. How long to the IP, Gardiner?"
"Navigator to pilot. Initial Point in two minutes, sir."
"Pilot to bombardier. Coming on the IP, Walker. Center your PDI."
After a minute, "PDI centered, sir."
"All...right. You've got it." Savage said as he engaged the autopilot, and released control of the airplane to the bombardier.
The Pilot's Directional Indicator, or PDI, was part of the Norden Bombsite System. When the PDI was centered and the autopilot engaged, as the Bombardier set his sight on the target, the autopilot would automatically make the necessary course corrections. In essence, the Bombardier was flying the plane.
Savage could feel the bomb bay doors open, then shortly, "Bombs away!" and he felt the airplane lift as the string of thousand-pounders left the bomb bay and fell earthward toward the target.
"It's your airplane, sir" said Walker as he released control back to the pilot.
When the other bombardiers saw bombs drop from the lead plane, they immediately toggled their own bombs. As the bombs began to strike their targets, Hamburg's shipyards erupted in explosions and flames, and the ships in the harbor, and those tied up at the piers, began to explode and to sink.
Savage closed the bomb bay doors and pulled back slightly on the yoke. "Pilot to navigator. How's it look?" he said into the interphone.
Lieutenant Gardiner, whose job it was to record where the bombs struck for Intelligence, reported back, "Navigator to pilot. Looks good, skipper. Nothing down there but fire, explosions and sinking ships. We got some good pictures; they'll tell the story."
The group had made their run over the target and got their bombs away; they'd done their job. Now it was time to go home. Their return flight plan called for them to angle over Germany, on a southwesterly course, then out over Holland, across the Channel, and home.
"Ramrod leader to all Flankers. Starting a ninety degree turn to the right. I say again, a niner-zero degree turn to the right. Close it up. Let's go ho..."
Suddenly the plane was rocked by violent explosions. Two flak bursts detonated almost on top of them: one near the nose and the other just in front of the left waist. Shrapnel riddled the cockpit, and its occupants. Both left engines were on fire, and the right inboard propeller was windmilling. Most of the Plexiglas nose was missing, and all that remained was a smashed tangle of metal and melted plastic. The ball turret was gone too, along with its gunner, and the tail was severely damaged. The plane should not still be flying, but it was... at least for a moment, then it began to dive.
The top turret gunner in Red Flanker One, the Group's alternate lead, and the plane to the right and slightly behind 'Lucky Lady' in the lead squadron, saw Savage's plane get hit and reported on the interphone, "Top turret to pilot. Top turret to pilot. Lucky Lady's been hit. She's on fire and going down."
The pilot, Major Joe Cobb, responded, "See any chutes?"
"Just one. The ball turret gunner." the gunner replied. "The turret just exploded, and blew him out, but I think his chute opened." He paused, then whispered, mostly to himself, "Come on, you guys, get out of there! Bail out!"
Major Cobb knew there was nothing he could do to help the General; he would either make it, or he wouldn't. That's just the way it was. "Pilot to crew. Everybody keep looking and report any chutes."
Then switching from interphone to radio, "Red Flanker One to all Flankers. Red Flanker One to all Flankers. Ramrod has been hit. Keep your eyes open for chutes. I am continuing a niner-zero degree turn to the right. All Flankers rally on me... and close it up. The fighters will be waiting as soon as we lose the flak."
As the Group turned away for home, Cobb saw Red Flanker Two off his left wing trailing smoke. She seemed to stagger for a moment, then plunged downward with one of her wings breaking off. As he watched, the plane, barely missing Green Flanker One of the low squadron, spiraled earthward in a ball of flame. There hadn't been a chance for anyone to get out.
"Red Flanker One to Red Flankers. Close it up. Close it up. Let's get out of here."
Cobb hoped they'd done a good job today; hoped the mission had been worth it. It had been a costly trip. They'd lost four airplanes, so far, and he didn't know how many killed and wounded...and they'd lost Ramrod.
'Lucky Lady' was out of control. Savage had been badly hit, and had lost consciousness for a few moments. As he came around, he found the plane on fire and in a steep dive. He tried to pull back on the control column, but he couldn't move his right arm. There was no pain; his arm just wouldn't work. He pulled back on the yoke with his left hand, but didn't have enough strength with just the one arm. He looked over to his co-pilot for help, but one glance told him Phillips was dead. Then his top turret gunner, Technical Sergeant Wells, was in the cockpit, pulling Phillips back out of the way and hauling back on the co-pilot's yoke.
Savage had lost his oxygen mask and headset when he was hit, so he yelled over the noise in the cockpit, "Help me pull her out of this!" They both struggled to pull the plane out of the dive, but they continued to rapidly lose altitude. After what seemed an eternity, the dive slowed, and they were finally able to level her off just below 18,000 feet. In those few endless minutes, they had dropped over 11,000 feet. The dive had put out the fire in the wing, but they were still flying with only one engine, and Number three, was still windmilling, creating a considerable drag on the airplane.
"Fuel shut-off and Fire Bottles on one and two." Savage ordered. "Feather one, two and three."
"One and two, Fuel Switches OFF; Fire bottles ON. One and three feathered. Two not responding." replied Wells.
For the moment, the emergency had passed. They were flying, albeit with only one engine, but they were flying. They were also well below the flak and heading out of range. Savage's major concern now was fighters, and seeing a large bank of clouds off to the right, banked the plane and headed into it to hide. Then he passed out.
Savage came to with Wells shaking him. "General! General Savage! General! Are you alright, sir?"
"You passed out, sir."
"Not very long. A few minutes... but you scared the hell out of me. Please don't do that again."
"I'll try not to." Savage said with a weak smile, as Wells helped him on with his oxygen mask and headset. "I'm hit." he said painfully. "Chest and right shoulder, and I can't use my right arm."
As Wells went to retrieve the cockpit First Aid Kit, Savage tried to assess their situation. The plane shook and vibrated more than usual, but seemed to be flying straight and level and responded to the controls. Checking his instruments, however, he could see they were slowly losing airspeed, and consequently, altitude. As he looked ahead out the windscreen, he saw the Plexiglas nose of the plane was gone, replaced by a mass of crumpled aluminum fuselage with the navigator's cheek-mounted .50-caliber machine gun pointing up and back at the cockpit. 'God!' he thought, 'No wonder we're losing airspeed with the drag that hole is creating."
Wells had returned with the First Aid Kit and was about to start on the General's wounds, when Savage stopped him. "That can wait." he said. Then nodding toward the windscreen said, "We're not going to stay in the air very long with just one engine, Wells, not with the drag that hole in the nose is creating. See what you can do with number three."
Seeing the nose for the first time, Wells opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out as he stared at the empty space where the nose had been... then, "Yes, sir."
Wells was the flight engineer, as well as the top turret gunner, and he knew his engines. He un-feathered Number Three's prop, then ran through the restart procedures; at first with no success. Checking the gages again, he adjusted the throttle and mixture controls, then cranked the engine over again, and this time, it roared to life and with a little tweaking, came back to full power.
"All right!" Savage exclaimed. "All right!" They had two engines again. They were still losing airspeed, and altitude, but not as fast. Now he needed to find out how badly they'd been hurt.
"Pilot to crew. Check in and report damage." he called over the interphone.
"It's no go, sir." Wells said, shaking his head. "Smitty's dead and the radio and interphone are both out."
"OK. Take an oxygen bottle and go check on the crew and the damage."
"I want to patch you up first, sir. If you pass out again, it won't matter what shape we're in."
Recognizing the truth to what Wells had said, Savage nodded 'OK'.
Helping Savage out of his flight jacket, Wells opened his flight coveralls and shirt to get at his wounds. Savage's chest, right shoulder and neck had been peppered with flak. Some of them looked pretty deep, and they were all bleeding freely.
"God!" said Wells, his face reflecting the damage he saw.
"Just do what you can to stop the bleeding."
Wells tried to wipe away the blood, but a lot of it came back as fast as he wiped, so he sprinkled Sulfur powder over the wounds, then bandaged them as best he could. Savage's right arm was still numb and virtually useless, but he couldn't find any wound to explain it. The best he could do was immobilize it in a tight bandage across his chest to keep it out of the way and to put pressure on Savage's other wounds to help stop the bleeding. Then he helped Savage back into his jacket, zipped it, and raised his collar to keep him warm. Although the B-17 had a heating system that provided warm air to the cockpit, at their altitude the temperature was still well below zero.
"That's better, thanks. Now go check on the crew and see how bad we were hit."
As Wells made his way back through the cabin, 'Lucky Lady' shuddered and shook from the air turbulence rushing through the nose. The thrust of the two right engines, without a balancing thrust from the left engines, tried to push the Fort to the right, and it took everything Savage had to compensate with the yoke and rudder pedals to keep her flying straight, if not level. Despite his efforts to keep the nose up, 'Lucky Lady' maintained a slightly nose down attitude and continued to gradually lose airspeed and altitude. He didn't have the horsepower he needed to stop, or slow down, their descent. He needed another engine.
Looking out his cockpit window to see what shape the left engines were in, Savage could see there was no hope for the inboard engine; it was a blackened twisted lump...'and that explains why the prop wouldn't feather', he thought. 'There's no prop'.
The number one outboard engine, however, looked promising. It was black from the fire, but he couldn't see any actual penetrating or fire damage to the cowling or engine. He wondered if the engine had cooled off enough to try a restart, and if he had the strength to try it.
The lack of pain that came with the initial shock of being hit was fading, and Savage was starting to hurt like hell. He was cold, and tired, and was having a hard time staying conscious. He didn't know how much longer he could keep going, but he knew one thing for certain... he was going to need some help in the cockpit.
Then Wells was back.
"General, I have no idea why we are still in the air. We have more flak holes than fuselage. With the nose gone, besides the drag, that cold wind howling back through the fuselage makes it almost impossible to hear or stand up back there.
Lieutenants Walker and Gardiner are OK. When the nose exploded, Gardiner was blown back out of the compartment, and knocked cold. He was just coming around when I got to him. He has a piece of shrapnel in his arm... and I think it's broken. But believe it or not, sir," he said shaking his head with disbelief, "he stuffed his arm in his coveralls, then went back into the nose, grabbed whatever maps and instruments that hadn't been blown or sucked out, and has set up shop in the radio compartment... said he had to get a fix on our position and get you a heading for home.
Walker is OK, too. He wasn't in the nose when it was hit... If you remember, sir, Johnston, the right waist, was wounded during the fighter attack. Sergeant Ballard, the left waist, fixed him up the best he could, but Johnston's still unconscious... Anyway, after Lieutenant Walker pickled his bombs, he went back to take over Johnston's guns. But when we caught that flak burst, he was hit in the leg. He got a bandage on it, then..."
Wells was talking fast, trying to get it all out as quick as he could, but he was working himself into a panic.
"Wells!" Savage said cutting him off, "Stop. Take a breath... Now take your time. What else?"
"Yes, sir.' he said, then gathered himself, and started again. "That flak burst threw some hot shrapnel into the waist, and it landed in one of the ammunition lockers and started a fire. Ballard tried putting it out with his hands, but the fire was so hot it burned right through his gloves; he got burned bad. Sergeant Williams heard him screaming and came out of the tail to help just as the ammo starting cooking off. He and Lieutenant Walker threw a flak jacket over the locker and pushed the whole thing out the hole where the ball turret had been. Walker gave Ballard some morphine for the pain and is trying to patch up his burns now. Williams is manning both waist guns.
"Wait a minute. Wait a minute. What do you mean 'where the ball turret had been'?" asked Savage.
"I was just getting to that, sir. The ball turret is gone."
"What do you mean 'gone'?"
"Gone. Flak must have sheared it off. There's nothing there but a big hole in the floor. Michaels must have been blown out with it, anyway William's said he thought he saw a chute open.
"The tail took a hit, too. The top of the vertical stabilizer and a piece of the rudder are gone."
"Well," said Savage, tiredly wiping his left hand over his face, "that explains why the rudder pedals are so stiff and seem to have little effect."
"That burst took a big bite out of the top of it, sir. But there's enough left that it should still function. The problem could be a control cable, I'll check it out as soon as I can."
Wells paused a moment to gather his thoughts again, then continued, "As I said, Smith's dead and the radio compartment is a wreck with a hole the size of a basketball on the left side. The radio is trashed, but I think I can get the interphone working. Also, shrapnel in the bomb bay severed the hydraulic lines for the landing gear, and the hand crank was sheared off, too, so whatever landing we make, it will be wheels up."
"Is that all of it?" Savage asked.
"All that I've found, so far, sir. As far as casualties go: Captain Phillips, Smith, and maybe Michaels, are dead. Walker, Gardiner, Johnson, and Ballard are wounded. Williams and I appear to be the only ones OK... so far.
Savage took a moment to let all that sink in and to prioritize in his mind the things that needed to be done, then, "OK. Here's what I need you to do. As soon as you can, take a look at the left outboard engine; see if you can get it restarted. We need more horsepower to compensate for that drag in the nose. And get that interphone working so we can communicate."
"Also, we need that rudder, so trace the rudder cables back and see what the problem is. Last, make sure the gun positions are covered and have sufficient ammo. You'll still man the top turret if we're attacked, and with Gardiner, Ballard, Johnston wounded, Williams will have to alternate between both waist guns. Have you got all that?"
"I think so, sir... Yes. What about Lieutenant Walker?"
"I have other plans for Walker."
"Alright. Now get on it, and send Walker to me." Savage thought for a second, then said, "Wells, wait. Before you go, get some help and move Phillips and Smith back to the bomb bay."
Wells disappeared, then returned with Lieutenant Gardiner, his left arm in a sling, and somehow the two of them managed to pull Phillips from his seat and half-carry half-drag him through the narrow aisle between the seats, back through the cockpit door and into the bomb bay. As they left, Gardiner said, "General, as soon as we come out of the clouds, I'll try to get a position and heading for you."
"Thank you, Lieutenant."
Savage was feeling more and more drained, and though he was almost numb with the cold, he found he was sweating. He was also beginning to feel light-headed. He knew it was just a matter of time before he passed out again. He wondered, would the autopilot engage with just two engines? He'd never tried it before, but there was no time like the present. Flipping the autopilot switch to the ON position, he continued to grip the yoke while he waited to see what would happen. After a few minutes without the plane making any erratic movements, or trying to go into a dive, he carefully took his hands from the control column. The autopilot held. 'Thank God'.
Savage had lost track of time; he thought it had been at least thirty minutes, maybe forty-five, since they'd been hit. They had flown from cloud bank to cloud bank, hiding from any fighters that might still be looking for stragglers. That tactic had worked so far, but he'd lost his directional awareness and didn't know where they were. Before they'd been hit, he had started a ninety degree turn to the south, but he didn't know where they had ended up. Sooner or later they would have to come out of the clouds, if for no other reason than to find out where they were.
Savage's chest and shoulder had become very painful, and every breath was an effort. He still felt light-headed and leaned back in his seat to rest; he quickly drifted off. A few minutes later, Lieutenant Walker appeared behind Savage's seat.
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
Savage jerked awake. "Yes, Lieutenant. Take a seat." indicating the co-pilot's seat. Walker had seen Phillips' body laid out in the bomb bay, with Smith, and saw the blood and gore on the back of what had been Phillips' seat; he hesitated a second, then sat down.
Savage got right to it, "Your records indicated that you've had some flight training, Lieutenant."
"Yes, sir. I made it almost all the way through Pilot Training before I washed out. Then they sent me to Bombardier School."
"Did you have any multi-engine time?"
"How much do you remember?"
"Quite a bit, actually, General. Herb.., that is, Captain Phillips used to let me fly right seat whenever he could. He even let me try a landing on a training day a few months ago. It was a terrible landing... but Herb... Captain Phillips, said it was OK, any landing you can walk away from is a good landing."
"I remember that landing; he bounced all the way down the runway," Savage said shaking his head. "I had him on the carpet for that. That was you? He never said a word."
"No, sir, I mean, Yes, sir. He knew it was against regulations, General, but said he wanted me to keep my hand in... just in case there was ever an emergency, and he needed help."
Savage leaned back against his seat, and shook his head to clear it. He was having a hard time concentrating...
"Well, this is certainly an emergency, Walker," he said finally with a weak smile... "and I definitely need some help. Do you think you're up to it?"
"Yes, sir. I think I am. Anyway, I'd like to try."
"OK. Strap in. You'll fly right seat. I'll bring you up to speed, then take a little time to familiarize yourself with the controls. When you're ready, you can take over. I'll be right here to help."
While Walker got the feel of the controls and checked the instruments, Savage filled him in on the damage they had sustained. He was about to disengage the autopilot and turn the controls over to Walker, when his headset came alive, "Engineer to pilot. I've got the interphone working again, sir, on all locations. And I found the problem with the rudder cable. A piece of flak had wedged itself between the cable and one of the fuselage ribs. It's clear now."
Touching his throat mike, Savage replied, "Good work, Wells. Now come back to the cockpit. I want to get number one back on line."
"On my way."
"Walker are you familiar with engine restart procedures?"
"Yes, sir, pretty much."
"OK. Help Wells. We need that engine."
Wells came back into the cockpit and stood between the seats, and as Walker called off the procedures for restart, Wells responded as they completed each item. Then came the moment of truth, and out of the corner of his eye, Savage saw Walker cross his fingers as he selected the START switch, then primed the engine until it fired. After a few coughs the engine restarted, and they felt a surge of power as the 'Lucky Lady' suddenly lived up to its name.
"Good job, you two."
They were flying with three engines, had a functioning rudder, the interphone was working, and he had a co-pilot. Their situation had greatly improved, Savage thought. They just might actually make it... if they had enough fuel, that is.
"Wells." Savage said. "With the drag from the nose, we have to be consuming a lot more fuel. Check the tanks. Let me know how much we have left, and your best guess, with our current rate of consumption, how long before we go dry."
After Wells left, Savage turned to Walker, "All right, Lieutenant. Are you ready to take over?"
"Yes, sir." Walker replied, a little nervously.
"OK. Disengage the Autopilot."
Walker flipped the bank of switches off, and replied, "Autopilot Disengaged, sir."
The plane jerked slightly, then droned on as before. Walker had the controls and was gripping the yoke tightly with both hands.
"Gently, Walker. Relax a little. You want to have a firm grip on the yoke, but don't over control it. Now, what's your air speed and altitude?"
"Air Speed one-five-five. Altitude fifteen thousand."
"Check your trim, Walker. Remember, with the nose gone, that hole down there is a big air scoop slowing us down. It'll affect trim, speed and altitude. So pay attention...
OK. Let's try a little maneuvering. What's your heading?"
"Heading is one-five-zero, sir."
"South-southeast." Savage thought aloud. "If we stay on this heading we'll come too close to Hanover and its flak batteries. We need to get out of these clouds and see where we are. Come right to two-zero-five."
"Coming right to two-zero-five, sir... Open sky ahead."
"Alright. Let see if we can figure out where we are."
"Pilot to Navigator. We're out of the clouds, Gardiner. See if you can get a fix on our position. Current heading is two-zero-five; airspeed, one-five-five. Altitude, one-five-thousand."
"Navigator to Pilot. I'm on it, sir. Give me a few minutes to find a landmark."
"We'll stay on this heading, Walker, until Gardiner get us a position." Looking at the blood soaked bandage on Walker's left leg, he said, "How's your leg doing?"
"It'll be 'OK'. Hurts a little, but the bleeding has stopped." he replied. Then glancing over at the General with concern, "How are YOU doing, sir?"
"I've been better, but I can still fly... for the moment, anyway."
In truth, he wasn't doing very well at all... and he knew it. His head was splitting, his heart pounding, and even though he had increased his oxygen flow, he felt short of breath. And he still couldn't feel anything in his right arm. He was having a hard time focusing, his mind wandered, and he was becoming more and more concerned about the arm. What if he lost it? With only one arm, he'd never be able to fly again...
Savage was struggling to stay alert, when Gardiner came back on the interphone. "Navigator to Pilot. I've got a fix on our position, sir.
"Go ahead, Lieutenant."
"I've been following the terrain below, sir, comparing it with my maps and looking for landmarks, and I'm pretty sure I've found one... There are only two good sized lakes in this part of Germany, General, Lake Dümmer and Lake Steinhuder. We just passed between both of them, one east of us, the other west.
"Get to the point, Lieutenant." Savage said tiredly.
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. I believe that's the city of Lubbecke below us now. If I'm right, and I'm pretty confident I am, we're about a hundred miles southwest of Hamburg... south of both Bremen and Hannover. We must have slipped right between them while we were in the clouds. I calculate we're about three hundred and fifty miles from the Channel.
Recommend a course change to heading two-four-zero. That'll take us across the rest of Germany without passing over any known heavily-defended cities. Then over Holland, south of Rotterdam, across the low-lying areas - shouldn't run into too many Flak batteries there... too wet. But there's a good chance we'll come close to a couple of fighter bases in that area. We should pass between them, but we could run into some Focke-Wulf fighters.
If we can get past them and over to the coast, then it's across the Channel to Dover, and home. At our current air speed and altitude, I estimate another two and a half hours flight time; three max should our speed and altitude appreciably change."
"Good work, Lieutenant. Plot it out, and let me know when we are out of Germany, and as we pass other major checkpoints until we make the Channel."
"Walker, come to a new heading, two-four-zero."
"Two-four-zero. Yes, sir."
"Pilot to Engineer. Have you figured our fuel status, Wells? Lieutenant Gardiner estimates we have about three hundred fifty to miles to go; two to three hours flight time. Do we have enough fuel to make it?"
"Engineer to Pilot. Working on it, sir. I just transferred the fuel from number two to the other tanks, and I'm calculating the fuel remaining in all tanks now. Give me ten minutes."
Ten minutes later, Wells was back on the interphone. "Best I can figure with the Tokyo Tanks, sir, we have a little under 1,200 gallons left. With our current rate of consumption - adding a little for the engineer, and the unforeseen - I estimate we need about 1,250 gallons to make it back. There's a little slop in there, sir, but not much. It's going to be real tight."
"Well, we'll just have to hope it's enough. If we can at least make it to the Channel, there's a chance Air Sea Rescue will pick us up."
"OK, check to see that the waist guns are covered, then come on back up and take the top turret. We need to keep alert for fighters."
As the 'Lucky Lady' flew on, Savage continued to fade in and out, but somehow maintained a semi-conscious awareness of what was going on. He thought it had been a couple of hours since Walker took over, and he could see he had loosened up and was more comfortable with the controls. He seemed to be a natural flyer, and didn't appear to be having any trouble with the instruments.
In one of his more lucid periods, he'd had Walker drop down to 5,000 feet. The warmer, lower altitude helped make the air rushing through the fuselage more tolerable in the waist. However, it didn't seem to help him, as he felt colder, and the pounding in his head continued relentlessly. He just wanted to let go, but he kept being dragged back to a painful consciousness by someone calling him on the interphone.
This time it had been Gardiner informing him that they had left German air space and were in Holland. Savage breathed a little easier. Now, if they can just slip past those fighter bases.
Savage woke suddenly, disoriented, to the sound of cannon fire. He had passed out again. It was all he could do to lift his head, and as he looked around, he saw Walker fighting for control of the airplane as it shuddered from repeated hits. Scanning the sky, he saw two Focke-Wulf 190s diving at them from eleven o'clock high. The FWs split, one going wide to their right, then coming back around to attack the waist; the other breaking off to their left and going high.
Williams, on the right waist, had charged his twin .50-caliber Brownings and was waiting as the first fighter, thinking the crippled B-17 an easy kill, flew straight at him, firing as he came on. Williams had opened fire, too. As the fighter's 20mm shells tore through the Fort's skin to the right of his gun port, he kept firing, and the FW continued recklessly on until it suddenly burst into flames and exploded.
The second FW had circled high and around and was coming back at them again from the right side. Walker banked left and put the Fort in a dive for the deck so the FW couldn't get under them. But over his shoulder, he could see the bright streaks of tracers as the pilot opened fire. He felt the plane shudder as the shells ripped into the underside of the right wing and fuselage, sending shrapnel into their number three engine and the cockpit. Suddenly, Walker felt a sharp pain in his hip. He knew he had been hit, but doggedly held on.
The damaged right engine began to stream oil and smoke and the engine began to run away, the propeller turning about three times faster than it should, causing the plane to shake violently.
Savage called out hoarsely, "Feather three... Fuel shut-off on three."
But Walker was already on it. He had pulled the throttle back and shut off the fuel to the engine, but when he pushed the feather button, nothing happened, and the propeller continued to runaway. He pushed it again... and again... finally, on the fourth try, the propeller blades finally rotated parallel to the airflow and stopped. Walker leveled off below 600 feet and was trying to take evasive action keep out of the FW's line of fire. But they only had two engines again, and the plane was slow to respond.
The FW was still after them, determined to bring them down, and on this pass Walker was pretty sure he'd do it. Then unexpectedly, the fighter broke off the attack and headed away a full speed. They barely had time to breathe a sigh of relief, before they heard over the interphone, "Bandits, four FWs at twelve o'clock high."
'That should just about do it.' Savage thought, knowing they had no chance against four fighters. As Savage strained to see the attackers that would finish them off, Wells rotated the top turret to the front, elevating the barrels as far as he could, and began to fire. Then Savage's vision came into focus, and with all the strength he had left, he called into the interphone, "Cease fire! Cease fire! They're ours. They're P-47s."
The P-47s screamed past, chasing the fleeing FW and, with four against one, made short work of him. Coming back, they circled the 'Lucky Lady', looking her over. Then the leader came along side and motioned to his headset, obviously wanting to communicate. Savage pointed to his headset and shook his head, indicating his radio was out. The pilot gave him an 'OK' sign, then the P-47s took up positions on either side and slightly behind to escort them home.
Turning to Walker, Savage said, "You did good, Lieutenant."
As the crippled Fort flew over the Channel, the P-47 leader radioed the 918th control tower. "Groundhog Leader to Archbury Control. Groundhog Leader to Archbury Control."
"Archbury to Groundhog Leader. What is your traffic? Over. "
"Groundhog Leader to Archbury. We are a flight of P-47s heading home and are escorting a crippled B-17 over the Channel. By the 'Triangle-A' markings on her tail, she's one of yours. Over."
"Groundhog Leader, do you have a tail number? Over."
"Archbury, tail number is 30137. Over."
"Groundhog Leader, that's one of ours alright. What's her condition? Over."
"Archbury, she's on two engines and has been shot to pieces. She low and slow, but if she can get enough altitude to get over the cliffs, I think she can make it home. I've notified Air Sea Rescue, just in case. We will continue to escort. Over."
"Thank you, Groundhog Leader. Do you have an ETA? Over."
"I estimate 30 minutes, Archbury. I'll call again when we get closer. Groundhog Leader, Out."
The flight over the Channel was uneventful until they approached the cliffs at Dover. 'Lucky Lady' was flying only 250 feet above the water now, and Walker knew they needed at least another hundred feet to make it over the cliffs, "Walker to crew. We're too low. Strip your stations; throw out everything we don't need to stay in the air."
The P-47s watched as the injured B-17 tried to lighten ship... guns, ammo boxes, life rafts, anything and everything of any weight was thrown out, and slowly the Fort began to gain altitude. They were close enough to the cliffs now to see seagulls roosting in the rocks. Walker pulled back on the control column with everything he had to bring the nose up and held his breath as they skimmed over the top of the cliffs and continued to gain altitude. As they sped across the English countryside heading for home, Walker let out the breath he had been holding and looked over at Savage, who was conscious again. Savage met his eyes, nodded his head slightly and smiled.
They were just under 800 feet now, and while they were still marginally high enough, Savage ordered everyone who was able to bail out. A few minutes later, Wells came on the interphone, "General, the only ones that can pull a ripcord are Williams and myself. We'd like to stay to help you and look after the wounded."
"Negative. I gave you an order, Wells." Savage said. "Both of you get going... and don't wait to pull those ripcords."
"No, sir. I'm sorry. You can't land this thing in your condition, and Lieutenant Walker isn't in much better shape. He'll need help, and somebody needs to get the wounded out as soon as we land. We're staying."
"Disobeying a direct order, Sergeant, is a serious breach of Air Discipline."
"Yes, sir, we know, but we're staying. You can court martial us later... if we make it."
Too tired and without the strength to argue further, Savage relented, "Alright, Wells. Get the wounded into their crash positions in the radio compartment, then come forward and help Lieutenant Walker."
Amazed that the cripple B-17 had made it over the cliff, the lead P-47 pilot radioed the base again. "Groundhog Leader to Archbury. Over."
"Groundhog, this is Archbury. Go ahead. Over."
"Archbury, your straggler made it over the cliffs and is heading your way. You should be able to see him in about ten minutes. I don't know who that pilot is, but he's good. Over."
"Thank you, Groundhog. Pilot is niner-one-eight Actual, and you're right; he's very good. Over."
"Copy that, Archbury. We'll follow him until he touches down, then head home. Over."
"Roger, Groundhog. Thank you again for your assistance. Archbury, out."
'Lucky Lady' was only a few minutes from the base now, but looking at the fuel gauges, Walker wasn't sure they had a few minutes... the needles had fallen past their red lines, and the warning lights were blinking. They had to be flying on fumes.
He pressed his hand against his wounded hip; it felt like it was on fire. He could still fly. He had to; there was no one else. But he was worried about the landing; he didn't know if he could do it.
Savage could see uncertainty and fear growing in Walker's face and knew he was in trouble. Then Walker said, "General, I don't think I can do this."
"Yes, you can." Savage said weakly, wondering how to give the boy enough confidence. He certainly didn't want to tell him that a crash landing wasn't just a wheels-up landing. If it isn't done right, you could flip over, break up, or catch fire... or all of the above.
"Listen to me, Jack." Savage said, his voice was little more than a whisper now, and Walker had to strain to hear him. "You've got a good feel for the controls, and you've got us this far; you CAN do this...
Start your approach early. Go straight in. Then flaps down and gradually reduce your airspeed to 120 until you're ready to touch down. Wells will call out airspeed and altitude for you. You just need to concentrate on landing as straight and level as possible. Just before you touch, pull all the throttles back to idle and cut the engine and master switches, then let the plane do the rest."
The field was in sight. "Walker to crew. We're coming in. Brace for impact. As soon as we stop, open all emergency doors and get out and away from the plane as fast as you can."
As if from far away, Savage could hear Wells calling out, "... airspeed 1-3-5, altitude 100; ...airspeed 1-2-0, altitude 75; ...airspeed 9-0, altitude 50..."
Then, "Take your crash position with the others, Wells."
Then he heard no more.
"There they are!" shouted someone on the Control Tower and pointing, and everyone turned to look in that direction. Major General Wiley Crowe, 1st Bombardment Wing Commander, Savage's superior officer and long time friend, focused his glasses past the end of the runaway at the black speck coming toward the field in a shallow glide. As it got closer, he could see they were flying on only two engines and their landing gear wasn't down. The Fort had been badly shot up and was coming in for a crash landing. Leaning over the top rail of the Control Tower, Crowe yelled to the emergency vehicles waiting below. "They're going to crash land! Go! Go! Go!"
Crowe continued to watch for a moment, unable to tear himself away, as the mangled B-17 glided by. Then he grabbed Major Stovall, Savage's adjutant, by the arm and said, "Come on, Harvey; let's get down there." They ran down the stairs, and made for Crowe's staff car, just as 'Lucky Lady' was about to touch down. Then they piled into the car and joined the other emergency vehicles chasing the crippled airplane down the runway.
Just before 'Lucky Lady' passed the tower, the left engine had coughed and sputtered for a moment then quit, quickly followed by the right engine. They had run out of fuel, but Walker followed Savage's instructions anyway and pulled the throttles to IDLE and cut all switches. As they made contact with the runway, there was a bone-jarring impact. Savage, unconscious and limp in his seat, was thrown forward, his head slamming against the control column. Walker was also thrown forward, his seat belt cutting into his hip, but was able to maintain his grip on the yoke and his feet stood on the rudder pedals to keep her straight. The plane skidded along the runway, the tips of her propellers curling under as they impacted the tarmac. Ambulances, fire trucks, and crash vehicles chased 'Lucky Lady' as she kept going past the end of the runway and out into the field beyond, where it gradually came to a stop.
The plane had finally stopped moving, and Walker unbuckled his seat belt. He stood up, his hip complaining, and tried to pull Savage back away from the control column and out of his seat. But the effort was too much, his legs wouldn't hold him, and he collapsed unconscious between the seats.
Even before the plane had fully stopped moving, Sergeant Williams had jettisoned the crew door. Wells was helping Gardiner towards the rear of the plane, with Ballard following right behind, his bandaged hands in the air. There could not have been much fuel left, if any, but there was always the fear of fire, and Wells wanted to get everyone out and away from the wreckage as soon as possible. As soon as Gardiner was out, he went back to help Williams with Johnston.
By then the ambulances and other vehicles had arrived. The firemen in protective gear began to spray foam on the smoking engines, and corpsmen rushed in to help the crew. Wells and Williams were carrying Johnston toward the door, when the corpsmen asked, "Any others in here?"
"In the cockpit." answered Wells, as the corpsmen made their way forward. "Lieutenant Walker and the General. Everyone else is either already out... or dead."
The corpsmen performed their duties quickly. Those with minor or no wounds - Ballard, Wells and Williams - were already on their way to the hospital in one of the ambulances.
As the first ambulance sped away, corpsmen carried Walker out and placed him on the ground. Savage was brought out next and placed on the grass next to Walker to await the attention of the corpsmen.
Johnston, still unconscious, had already been examined by Doc Kaiser and was being loaded into another ambulance. Kaiser was examining Gardiner's shoulder, when he heard one of the corpsmen calling him, almost in a panic. He looked up and frowned, then said, "Let's get you in the ambulance, Lieutenant." He called to another corpsman to help Gardiner, then grabbed his bag and ran over to the corpsman who had called.
"It's General Savage, Doctor. I can't get a pulse."
Kaiser looked at the unconscious figure on the ground. Pushing past the corpsman, he knelt and tried to find a pulse... but if there was one, he couldn't detect it either. He took his stethoscope and was about to check for a heartbeat, when he noticed a trickle of blood seeping from a wound on Savage's forehead.
"Dead men don't bleed, Harris!" he said to the corpsman, relieved. Then he stood and shouted to no one in particular, "Plasma, STAT!... and get a stretcher over here!"
Kneeling down again, he could see the General's face was almost drained of color, and his skin felt clammy to his touch. He found a pulse through his carotid artery, but it was very weak and thready, and his breathing was rapid and shallow... the man was barely alive. Removing Savage's jacket so they could start the Plasma, he found his chest, bandages, clothes, everything soaked in blood, and his jacket was so saturated, it dripped. As Kaiser cut away the blood-soaked bandages so he could locate the source of the bleeding, Savage weakly opened his eyes and in an almost inaudible whisper asked, "... my crew..." Then he was gone again.
"Hurry up with that stretcher." Kaiser shouted, and began to clean the blood from Savage's wounds. Most had stopped bleeding; only one, the one on the side of his neck, continued to drip blood. Kaiser was applying pressure to his neck, when a corpsman finally appeared with a stretcher.
"OK. Let's get him on the stretcher and into the ambulance." Kaiser walked beside the stretcher, keeping pressure on Savage's neck wound, and as they slid the stretcher onto one of the benches, Kaiser climbed in with it, then turned to one of the corpsman and said, "I'm going with the General. Have Nurse Kelly take over."
General Crowe's staff car had arrived at the scene just as Savage was being carried out. He had started to get out, but Major Stovall stopped him, "There's nothing you can do to help, General, and you might get in the way."
"You're right, of course, Major." Crowe said and had sat back in his seat. They had continued to watch as Doc Kaiser worked on Savage, then saw him loaded into an ambulance. When the ambulance sped off, Crowe told his driver to follow.
General Crowe rushed through the hospital door just as a gurney bearing Savage was being pushed through the double doors leading to Surgery. Kaiser was about to follow when Crowe called out, "Doctor!"
Seeing the General, Kaiser said, "I don't have time, General." He turned to go after the gurney, then hesitated and turned back, "He's alive, that's all I can say right now... I'll send word when I know more." Then followed after his patient.
An hour later Doc Kaiser came out of the double doors, wiping his hands on his surgical gown, and saw General Crowe and Harvey Stovall still waiting. He walked over to them, as Crowe stood and asked, "How is he, Doctor?"
"He's alive, but just barely. He's taken a lot of shrapnel, but I won't know how bad it is until I can operate, and I won't be able to operate until I can get him stabilized."
"Why? What's the problem?" asked Harvey Stovall.
"Yes," echoed Crowe. "Why can't you operate now?"
"The General has lost a massive amount of blood, more than he can afford. His vital signs are all way too low. If I tried to operate now, I'd kill him. I'm giving him blood as fast as his body will take it, but I've only got four units of AB whole blood."
Turning to Stovall, Kaiser said. "Harvey, check your personnel records and have anyone with AB blood report to the hospital as soon as possible. The only match I know of is Sergeant Hershel Aronson; is he still on station?"
"Sorry, Doc. Aronson rotated last month. I'll check the files to see if there any others and let you know asap."
Turning back to Crowe, Kaiser went on, "General, even if we find a compatible donor, I'm still going to need at least another four units, maybe more, of AB blood. If I go through the normal emergency channels to get it, it could take hours... and frankly, General Savage doesn't have that long."
"You tell me what you need, and how soon, Doctor," said Crowe, "and you'll get it!"
"I need four... no, make that six, just to be safe, units of Type AB whole blood, and I need it by the time I run out of the units I have... that's no more than an hour, an hour and a half from now. The closest source likely to have that many units on hand is the Churchill Hospital, in Headington, near Oxford."
Kaiser paused for a moment, then continued, "General, if I can't replace his blood volume, and get his vitals back up quickly, he'll go into hemorrhagic shock. His circulatory system will collapse, his organs will shutdown, and he will die."
"You'll have your blood, Doctor, even if I have get it myself... Harvey get on the phone to the Churchill Hospital. I think it's 8th Air Force designation is the Second General Hospital. I want to speak to their commander."
As Stovall went off to find a phone, Crowe asked, "What about the rest of the crew?"
"Two were dead before they landed, the co-pilot and radio operator. The ball turret gunner was apparently blown out of his turret over the target; his status is unknown. Two have no injuries, but I'm keeping them overnight for observation. The others have superficial or minor wounds, with the exception of Sergeant Johnston and Lieutenant Walker. A bullet creased Johnston's skull during the fighter attack on the way to the target, and he's been unconscious since. We're taking x-rays now to determine the extent of the damage. Walker has steel fragments in his left leg and right hip. He's lost a lot of blood, too, but not as much as the General. He's Type O, and we're giving him blood now. When he's stable, we'll operate... Now, if you'll excuse me, sir, I need to get back to my patients."
"Thank you, doctor. Please keep me informed on General Savage's condition."
"Of course, sir."
Kaiser had only been gone a few minutes when Stovall returned. "I have Colonel Crawford, Churchill's commander, on the phone in Doc Kaiser's office, General."
"Thanks, Harvey. Let's see if the Colonel can help us."
"Colonel Crawford, this is General Crowe... Yes, that's right... Thank you, I will, but right now I have an emergency need for six units of Type AB whole blood, and I'm told you might have it ... You do, good! How soon can you get it to the 918th Bomb Group hospital in Archbury?... No! That's not soon enough... I understand that, Colonel, but this blood is needed for General Savage, Commander of the 918th. He was badly wounded on a mission today, and if he doesn't get this blood within the hour, he won't make it. Is there an airfield near you?... There is? Good. Have them fly the blood here. If you need me to call them... Excellent! Please call me at this number as soon as they're in the air, and let me know their estimated time of arrival. Can you do that?... Thank you, Colonel. I can't thank you enough; I won't forget your assistance... Yes. Goodbye."
"They're going to fly it down to us, Harvey. He'll call back with their ETA, but he said they should be here within the hour."
"Have you had a chance to check personnel records?"
"Yes, sir. I had my clerk, Corporal Ross, go through our records. We only have two personnel with type AB blood. One is already in the hospital recovering from wounds, so he's out. The other, Lieutenant Knox, is somewhere in London on a forty-eight hour pass. I have the MPs out looking for him now, sir, but I'm not hopeful that we'll find him in time, or if we do, what condition he'll be in. I think our best hope is the Churchill blood."
"OK, Harvey. Take a seat. I think we're going to be here a while."
They'd been sitting there for about thirty minutes, quietly staring at the floor, each lost in his own thoughts, when Major Joe Cobb rushed in and approached Major Stovall. "I've been in Mission Debriefing, Harvey, and just got the word. I can't believe it. How is he?" Then seeing General Crowe, saluted, and said, "Excuse me, sir, I didn't see you there."
Crowe returned his salute, and said, "That's alright, Major. General Savage is alive; but that's all we know right now. We're waiting for news from Doctor Kaiser. You might as well join us."
"Thank you, sir."
A few minutes later, an orderly came over to Crowe and told him he had a phone call in Doctor Kaiser's office. "Take that for me, will you, Harvey?"
"Certainly, sir." and Stovall followed the orderly toward Kaiser's office.
"Have you been to the crash site, Major?" Crowe asked Cobb.
"No, sir, I came straight over as soon as I heard."
"You should go take a look, when you have a chance." Crowe said, shaking his head. "I know the B-17 has a reputation of being able to take a lot of damage and make it home, but I've never seen anything as bad as that."
Then Stovall returned and said, "The blood is in the air, General! It should be landing in the next fifteen minutes. The orderly notified Doc Kaiser, and an ambulance is on the way to pick it up as soon as they land."
"Good! said Crowe, "Very Good!" then continued, "Find out who Crawford's commanding officer is, will you, Harvey? I'll want to drop him a line thanking him for the timely and critical assistance of his personnel."
It was another thirty minutes of silence before Kaiser came out again and gave them an update. "He's doing better. The blood arrived about fifteen minutes ago, and I've already have another unit in him. His vitals are looking better, and if they keep improving, I think I'll be able to operate in another hour or so."
He started to leave again, then stopped and said as an afterthought. "We found the major cause of his blood loss. A tiny sliver of steel nicked his external jugular vein. Veins don't spurt, they drain, so even with a bandage on it, it continued to seep the entire flight back, over four hours. Fortunately it was a slow bleeder. That and the cold probably kept him from bleeding out. But it was a near thing."
"My God!" exclaimed Crowe. "With the co-pilot dead, and him wounded that badly, how could he possibly have kept that mangled Fort in the air, much less brought it back and landed?!"
"He couldn't!" replied Kaiser. "and he didn't! I don't have the whole story yet, but according to Sergeant Wells, the flight engineer, besides being all shot up and in and out of consciousness, the General couldn't use his right arm. It was the bombardier, Lieutenant Walker, who did most of the flying and brought her in."
As Crowe and the others absorbed this information, Kaiser turned to leave, "I'll let you know when I take him into surgery."
"Thank you, Doctor." Crowe said, distracted. Crowe thought for a moment, then he turned and said, "Harvey, I'm taking command of the 918th until further notice. Both of you come with me to General Savage's office. I have a few calls to make, then I have some things I want you to do."
Finishing his calls, Crowe summoned Majors Stovall and Cobb into Savage's, now temporarily his, office. "First," he said, "Major Cobb, do you think you can take over Air Operations until General Savage comes back?"
"All right. Your mission for tomorrow has been scrubbed, and the 918th will stand down for the next five days. Unit morale is at a low right now, and the Group needs a rest. But you will maintain Group readiness and be prepared to resume operations at the end of that time. Is that understood?"
"Good, that's settled. Now, the reason we're here. Gentlemen, it is obvious to me that something extraordinary happened up there on that mission today, actions clearly above and beyond the call of duty, and I want to document it for appropriate recognition. So, here's what I want you to do.
Major Cobb, unless it is a hazard to operations, I want you to see that the 'Lucky Lady' is not moved or touched. I want pictures taken, inside and out, of all battle damage, and I want a complete record of all the damage sustained. Have you got that?"
"Harvey, I want you - personally - to interview and get a written statement from every member of the crew... as Doctor Kaiser will allow, of course. I want to know exactly what happened up there, and when; what everyone saw; what they did. I also want statements from anyone in the Group that saw the 'Lucky Lady' get hit; from the P-47 pilots who escorted them; from everyone in the Control Tower, or on the field, that saw them come in; from the corpsmen who responded to the crash site; and anyone else you can think of that might have something to add. It's a big task, I know, but I want to get this down while it's still fresh in everyone's minds."
"Yes, sir. I'll have Corporal Ross give me a hand."
"Either of you have any questions, or don't know what I'm looking for?"
"No sir," they said almost in unison.
"Good. Get on it."
After they left, Crowe stared out the window for a while, then sat and tried to keep busy, keep from thinking about his friend and how close to death he was. He had known Frank Savage since the day he joined the Army Air Corps: a tall, gangling, awkward kid right off the farm. He liked the boy from the start, and over the years, as he graduated from West Point, learned to fly, got his Army Air Corps commission and his first assignment, he'd watched him grow and mature into the man and officer he was now. He was more than a friend; he was the younger brother he never had.
But all he could think about right now was how many times this had happened before; about how many times he had tried to get him to stop flying every mission. But the man was so stubborn! Said it wasn't time; said he would know when it was time. Well, this is it! Never again! He'd ground him if he had to, but he wasn't going through this again! Crowe was afraid. It had never been this bad before; he was afraid he would lose his friend this time...
Then the phone rang.
Harvey Stovall answered it from the outer office, then buzzed Crowe on the intercom: That was the hospital, sir. They've just taken the General into surgery."
Grabbing his hat, Crowe headed out the door, with Stovall right behind, then crossed the road, and entered the hospital. Cobb arrived shortly after them, and the three of them took the same chairs as before and settled in to wait.
By seven-thirty, they had emptied the coffee urn three times. The Mess Hall sent over sandwiches, but no one was hungry. They tried small talk, but that quickly dried up, and they gradually just settled into silence. Every now and then, someone from one of the squadrons would come in and ask how the General was doing. They had nothing new to tell them, but at least, it broke up the silence for a while.
By eleven o'clock, there had still been no word. General Crowe tried reminding Stovall and Cobb that there was still a war on, and that they should go and get some rest, but they both declined, saying they'd rather wait and wouldn't be able to sleep anyway.
Not ten minutes later, their heads snapped up, and turned, as they heard the double doors leading to Surgery opening, and Doc Kaiser slowly walked out. They had been waiting almost five hours for him to come out, but now they were almost afraid of what he would say.
Kaiser stopped for a moment as he stretched and wiped the sweat from his face with his surgical mask, then continued toward them. They could tell nothing from his face, and their anxiety grew. Kaiser stopped in front of General Crowe. "I've said it before," he said, "and I'll say it again: the man has more lives than a cat... He'll live."
There was an audible sigh of relief, and they all started talking at once, then immediately deferred to General Crowe.
"He'll live... Yes, of course he will. Thank you, Doctor." Crowe said hoarsely. The look of pain and relief on his face was almost palpable, and both Stovall and Cobb looked away. Then composed, Crowe asked, "He'll recover... fully?"
"He's still got a long way to go; it was a near thing. But, yes, I believe - barring the unforeseen - he'll make a full recovery."
"How badly was he hit, Doc?" asked Stovall.
"His loss of blood was the most serious, but I also removed enough pieces of steel to fill a small mason jar. He was lucky that none of the shrapnel hit any major organs, or did any permanent damage. They'll heal. He had a gash on his forehead which took a couple of stitches, and he could have a slight concussion. The only other injury of concern is his right arm. Sergeant Wells said that after they were hit, the General couldn't move his right arm; had no feeling in it. I haven't been able to identify a specific cause yet, but I have an idea what happened and don't think it's permanent... I'll be able to tell more when he wakes up."
"If you'll excuse me now, General, I have to check on my other patients."
"Yes... Certainly. Thank you, Doctor. Thank you very much."
After Kaiser left, the others stood and talked for a few minutes, then went their separate ways: Crowe to make more phone calls - war was a 24/7 operation; Cobb, to the Officer's Club to have a drink and pass on the good news; and Stovall, to go to bed.
It was well after mid-night and Major Kaiser was settling his patient into his bed. He looked up as General Crowe entered the room. "You're still here, General? You should get some rest."
"I will shortly, Doctor. How is he?"
"Good, considering. His vitals are stable, and he's responding well."
Savage had an assortment of IV tubes attached to his left arm, an oxygen cannula under his nose and a drainage tube running from his chest to a plastic bag attached to the side of his bed.
Seeing Crowe staring at the tubes, Kaiser said, "I've decided to keep General Savage sedated for a few days to give his injuries a chance to start healing. The IV's are providing saline to prevent dehydration, nutrients, some pain meds, and a sedative."
"He's going to be in a lot of pain when he wakes up, General, and the amount of morphine it would take to dull the pain would either make him dependant, or kill him. This way, he'll sleep through the worst of it. I'm hoping to give him a chance to start healing before he has to deal with it."
Crowe nodded... then slowly smiled. "It's also one way to make sure he rests and doesn't try to get up too soon... right?"
Kaiser grinned. "There is that. He can be a very troublesome patient."
"Do you mind if I sit with him for a while? Crowe asked as Kaiser finished tucking his patient in.
"No, sir. Stay as long as you like. If you need me, I'll be in my office."
"Late hours for you, too, Doctor?"
Yes, I'm afraid so. We're usually very busy after a mission. I keep a cot in my office for such days... Good night, General."
After the doctor left, Crowe just sat for a while, looking at his friend laying there... and remembering how many times he had sat in a room just like this one, waiting to see if his friend would live or die. At thirty-six, Frank was young for a general officer, but he was bordering on too old to be flying combat missions. He was lucky this time, but what about the next time. He sat there a little while longer, then got up and left, quietly closing the door behind him.
"I'm still alive." Savage said in amazement, the words barely audible, as he groggily opened his eyes.
"I should hope so, after all the trouble I've gone through." responded Kaiser, as he finished reviewing Savage's chart. He had kept the General sedated for four days, monitoring his vitals and how his wounds were healing. Savage was recovering quickly; he usually did, so yesterday, he had decided to let him wake up. "How do you feel?"
Savage had moved slightly to turn his head toward the sound of Kaiser's voice, and his body responded with a wave of severe pain.
"Pain," he whispered, "...chest ...hurts."
Kaiser quickly adjusted the pain medication in his IV. "I've increased your pain meds." he said. "You should feel better in a few minutes."
"What about my crew?" Savage said, his face continuing to reflect the pain.
"Except for the three killed during the mission, they all made it."
Savage nodded, then as the medication began to take effect, faded and went back to sleep.
Savage slept through the day and well into the next before he came around again. A little more alert this time, and cautiously massaging his chest, he asked Kaiser, "How bad is it? What's the damage?"
"I took eleven fragments from your right chest, shoulder and neck. One of those, a very small piece, no bigger than a toothpick, nicked the external jugular vein in your neck just above your shoulder. It was a slow-bleeder; but for that and the cold, and the pressure on your neck from your bandages, you would have bled to death. As it was, you lost more blood than you could afford. It took over six units to replace what you'd lost and bring your vital signs back up."
"What about my arm? Will I lose it?" he asked hesitantly, as slowly, dragging his IV lines, he groped for his right arm, and was relieved to find it was still there. He still couldn't move it, but there was a little feeling in the arm now, a tingling, and he thought he could feel his fingers.
"No. Your arm will be fine." Kaiser replied. "My best guess - and it's usually pretty good - is that one of the pieces of steel in your shoulder traumatized the brachial plexus, the nerve bundle that controls the nerves to your arm and hand. It wasn't damaged, but the concussive shock caused your entire arm to go numb.
In layman's terms, it's like your arm was asleep, and it's slowly waking up. You'll regain full use of it, but it'll take some time.
You also hit your head pretty hard on the control column when you landed. You have some stitches in your forehead and a slight concussion."
Savage waited for a moment, then asked, "That all of it?"
"Isn't that enough?... You were very lucky this time, General. I almost lost you."
Savage smiled faintly, then closed his eyes and went back to sleep.
Early on the morning of the ninth day, Savage awoke fully alert... and hungry. The IV lines, oxygen cannula, and other tubes, were gone, and he was about to try getting out of bed, when an orderly came in to check and record his vital signs.
When the orderly had finished, Savage carefully threw his covers off and began to try to stand. But his legs wouldn't support him. He almost fell, but the orderly steadied him and helped him back down onto the bed. "You're not supposed to be out of bed yet, General. Doctor Kaiser won't like it."
"Well, Doctor Kaiser isn't here is he, and I need to go."
"I'll get you a pan, sir."
"No, you'll help me over to the bathroom."
Just as Savage was settling back into bed, Doc Kaiser came in. Taking in the situation with a glance, "I see the General is feeling better today." Kaiser dismissed the Orderly, with instructions to see him later, and the hapless man fled the room.
"Don't be too hard on him, Doc." Savage grinned and said. "I pulled rank on him."
"You should know better!... Well, how DO you feel today?"
"Pretty good, Doc. There's some pain, but it's not that bad, and while my arm's still a little numb and tingly, it's at least working. And I'm as hungry as a horse!"
"That's Good. I'll have some breakfast sent in."
How long have I been here, by the way?" he asked.
"This is the ninth day."
"Nine days! I don't remember."
"You wouldn't. You were unconscious for most of it. This is the first day you've been alert and awake for more than a few minutes." Then assessing Savage's condition, Kaiser asked, " Are you up for a visitor?"
"Who is it?"
"General Crowe. It really too soon for visitors, but he's been haunting the hospital for days, waiting to see you, and I'd like to get him out of my hair. I'll send him in, then get you some breakfast."
Kaiser was barely out the door before Crowe came in. He quickly crossed over to Savage's bed, reached out to take his hand, then remembering his bad arm, pulled his hand back.
"It's OK, Wiley, it's working now." he said, and held out his hand. Crowe encompassed Savage's hand in both of his, and held it firmly. "God, Frank, but you scared me. Don't ever do that again!"
Savage laughed, then immediately regretted it as he felt a sharp pain in his chest. "That's the second time someone has said that to me recently." he said painfully.
"What do you mean?"
"After we were hit, and I passed out, Sergeant Wells said something very similar."
"You've got to stop doing this, Frank; my nerves can't take it anymore. You've got to stop flying every mission!"
"Oh, come on, Wiley! Don't start. I'm wounded, remember?"
"No, Frank! You very nearly died this time."
"I know that, Wiley." Savage replied somberly. "I was there."
"That's not funny, Frank." said Crowe, working himself up. "I can't afford to lose my best Group Commander, and if you won't do it voluntarily, I'll..."
"General, there's a war on, remember?" Savage said with some annoyance. "Yes, I could have died up there, but I could just as easily get killed during an air raid, or hit by a bus crossing Piccadilly Circus, or choking on a peanut at the Officer's Club... Now stop upsetting the patient.
"That's not the same thing, and you know it! ...OK, Frank," Crowe said calming down - he knew he wasn't going to win this one; not now, anyway. "I'll let it drop for now, but we WILL have this discussion again."
"Thank you! ...Now, who's running my Group?"
"I am, temporarily. I have Joe Cobb running Air Operations, and Harvey Stovall taking care of everything else."
Savage nodded and said, "Cobb's a good man; he would have been my choice."
Then Crowe continued, "The 918th has been standing down since the Hamburg mission. They needed a rest. When you were hit, the entire Group's morale just fell apart. That's another reason you need to stop flying, Frank; they're too dependent on you."
"Don't start again, Wiley."
"OK, OK... Anyway, they're alerted for tomorrow. A milk run... the sub pens at St. Nazaire again."
Just then, Doc Kaiser knocked and entered the room. "I think that's enough for a first visit, General. It's time for the patient's breakfast. Then he's scheduled for a bath and a shave later ... and, if he behaves, I'll think about exchanging his hospital gown for something with pants. You can come back later this afternoon."
"Of course, Doctor." Then to Savage, "I'll see you this afternoon, Frank. There's something I want to talk to you about, regarding the Hamburg mission."
Harvey Stovall had been waiting in the hall, and when General Crowe and Doc Kaiser left, he knocked and opened the door. "General?" he asked, "Do you feel well enough for another visitor?"
"Harvey! Come on in. Pull up a chair."
As Stovall dragged over a chair and sat, "You gave us all a pretty good scare this time, Frank. Doc says, and I quote, 'the man has more lives than a cat.' But even a cat runs out of lives sooner or later. You really should think about spending more time on the ground, let some of your squadron commanders ..."
"Oh, not you too, Harvey!" Savage said, then changing the subject, "General Crowe says we've been standing down for a few days?"
"Yes, sir. The crews were pretty shaken after the Hamburg mission. We were hit pretty badly. We lost seven aircraft, and..."
"Seven! Seven out of twenty-two! That's a thirty percent loss!"
"...and eight planes that made it back were badly shot up. That mission really shook everyone up... especially when they saw your plane on fire, and going down. I think everyone thought you were indestructible, General, and I guess they began to think, if the Germans could get you, what chance did they have... Irrational, I know, but they're young.
I have to admit, I was a little shaken, too. But when the 'Lucky Lady' came back, and then Doc Kaiser said you'd make it, their morale picked up; they seemed to get their confidence back. Anyway, that's the way it seems to me."
"Thanks, Harvey... Maybe you and General Crowe are right." he said. "Maybe they are too dependent on me. Maybe I should let Joe Cobb and the others lead some missions, and spend more time behind my desk. But that's a lot of 'maybes', I'll have to think on it."
Changing the subject again, Savage asked, "What's the story with the crew, Harvey? Kaiser said they survived, but that's all. How are they doing?"
Stovall thought a minute, then began to go over the injuries and current status of each crewmember, one-by-one.
"As far as I know, Sergeants Wells and Williams are off somewhere in Scotland on two weeks survivor's leave... fly-fishing, I believe. Lieutenant Gardiner had a piece of shrapnel in his left arm and a broken shoulder. He's wandering around the hospital with his arm and shoulder in a half body cast. Doc says he'll be released in another week if the bones in his shoulder continue to knit."
"Ballard has some third-degree burns on his hands and arms, but Kaiser says they should heal all right; although, there'll be scarring. He was released a couple of days ago, but comes in every day to have his bandages changed. The last I heard, he was caging drinks at the NCO Club, recounting his harrowing return from Hamburg with you on the 'Lucky Lady'."
"Sergeant Johnston isn't doing so well. He's not regained consciousness yet. Kaiser said the X-rays show some intracranial bleeding pressing on the brain, and thinks he's going to need an operation to relieve the pressure. I thinks he's called in a specialist."
"What about Walker?" Savage asked.
"Lieutenant Walker had a piece of shrapnel in his left leg from that flak after the bomb run, and then another when you were attacked by those FWs... went in his right hip and out his buttock. The shrapnel, however, chipped his pelvis on the way through. It isn't broken, but Doc says there's a slight possibility of nerve damage."
"Will he be alright?"
"Kaiser says it's too soon to say. He'll have to wait until Walker is up and around to tell for sure. Right now, he's spending a lot of time on his stomach.
"Can he have visitors?"
"Not yet. I don't think Kaiser's going to let you out of bed for a while anyway."
"Any word from the International Red Cross about Sergeant Jones, the ball turret gunner?"
"Nothing yet, sir."
"Keep checking will you, Harvey?"
"Of course, sir."
Just then the door opened and Doc Kaiser came in with a breakfast tray. "Here you go, General: black coffee, soft boiled eggs, melba toast and apple sauce."
"I was thinking more of a rare beef steak and some fried eggs, Doc."
"Sorry, General, you've been on a liquids for over a week. We'll have to start you off on a soft diet and see what your system will tolerate."
Harvey Stovall, not wanting to get in the middle of this, "I'd better get going, sir. General Crowe is keeping me pretty busy. I'll come back tomorrow, if that's alright with the Doctor."
"OK, Harvey, thanks." Savage said, then glaring at Kaiser continued his tirade, "Kaiser, take this stuff away, and bring me some real food!"
"No, this is all you're going to get, General, that's final; so eat your breakfast... Doctor's orders." and followed Stovall out of the room. As they stood in the hall by the door, they heard Savage grumble loudly, "I hate applesauce!" They both laughed, then went their separate ways.
In the days Savage had been kept sedated, Harvey Stovall HAD been busy. Following General Crowe's instructions, he'd interviewed, and had statements, from all but a few of those on Crowe's list, and he'd be able to interview the rest in the next day or two. From what he'd heard repeated by various crewmembers, he had no doubt there would be several medals awarded to this crew, including General Savage himself... but knowing Savage as he did, he knew he would squash any recognition for himself.
By Wednesday afternoon, after his visit with General Savage, he had gathered all of the statements, and then condensed them into a single multi-page narrative and attached Joe Cobb's pictures. Then he made some recommendations for General Crowe's consideration. Finally he put it all together - narrative, statements, pictures, and recommendations - in a tabbed package with a cover sheet and left it on the General's desk for him to read.
After seeing Savage, Gen. Crowe had driven back to Wing Headquarters at Wycombe Abbey (code name, 'Pinetree' ), formerly a girl's school located about fifty miles west of London. He caught up on some reports, attended a meeting, then had some lunch. When he returned to Savage's office at the 918th, he found Stovall's report on his desk, and began to read.
Three hours later he finished reading the report, for the second time, and going through Joe Cobb's pictures of the wreckage of the 'Lucky Lady', then sat back and tried to imagine what it had been like in that B-17, that day over Germany. He reviewed Stovall's medal recommendations and found he agreed with all of them... especially the recommendation that one First Lieutenant John Robert Walker, Bombardier, be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Looking at his watch, he saw it was eighteen hundred (six o'clock); too late to return to the hospital to discuss this with Frank. He would have to take it up with him in the morning. With that thought, he got up, grabbed his hat, turned off the light and headed out the door... only to find Major Stovall still at his desk in the outer office, catching up on his paperwork.
" 'All work and no play', Harvey. That'll still be there in the morning. Come on, I'll buy you a beer."
"Yes, sir." and together they headed for the Officer's Club.
The following morning General Crowe went to visit Savage early, arriving just as Savage was finishing his breakfast.
"Morning, Frank. Sorry I couldn't make it back yesterday; got held up in meetings at Pinetree."
"I'm not surprised. I'm amazed General Pritchard has let you stay down here as long as he has."
"I know, I know... by the way, he sends his best and says for you get well soon."
"Thanks. You know, Wiley, we lost over thirty percent on the Hamburg mission. When is the Old Man going to do something about getting us better fighter support?"
"He's seriously considering that new idea about belly tanks on the P-47s, Frank, but you know new ideas take time."
"At the rate we're losing airplanes... "
"I know, Frank, I know. Just give it a little more time."
Crowe stared at the folder he had in his hands for a moment, then said, "Frank, how much of the Hamburg mission do you remember after you were hit?
"Not a lot; it's pretty hazy. I was in and out of consciousness for most of it. Why?"
Crowe pulled up a chair next to the bed and sat down, holding the folder in his lap. "From things that the crew said when they got back, and the condition of your airplane, it was pretty obvious that something extraordinary happened up there. I had Harvey interview, and get statements from, everyone involved, and after reading them, I think some decorations are in order."
Crowe took the folder and placed it on the bed near Savage's hand. "This is an awards package Harvey put together; it has the original statements, pictures, and a condensed summary with recommendations. I'd like you to read it and give me your opinion."
Crowe stood and replaced the chair against the wall. "I'll be in my... your office. Call me when you're finished, and we'll talk. Take your time."
Savage looked at the file Wiley had left. How much did he remember? He remembered the pain and the cold - he never wanted to be that cold again - and he remembered the fear: fear of dying, fear of losing his arm and never being able to fly again, and the fear of failing his crew. He picked up the folder and asked himself 'do I really want to go through that again'? He hesitated a moment, then opened the folder and began to read.
As he read, the bits and pieces came rushing back, and the statements of the crew began to fill in the gaps. He looked at the pictures as he read, and he became more and more immersed in their accounts, until soon it was as if he were there, reliving it. He could hear the wind howling through the nose, and feel the vibration of the engines, and, once again he felt the cold and pain, and the fear... but he kept reading, it was something he knew he had to do.
When he finally finished hours later, his face was pale and his forehead moist with perspiration. He laid the folder down onto the bed to wipe the sweat from his face and saw that his hand was shaking, and he felt his heart racing.
Pulling himself together, he thought about what he had just read, about the extraordinary acts of courage of his crew: Ballard, who tried to put out the fire with his hands; Williams, who helped push an ammo locker that was on fire and cooking off out a hole in the floor, and who destroyed that last FW before it could destroy them; Gardiner, who, with a wounded arm and busted shoulder, went back into the mangled nose to get his maps and instruments so he could plot a course home; Wells, who helped him pull out of that dive, who managed to restart the crippled engines, who repaired the interphone and did so much more; and finally Walker, who had saved them all.
Wiley was right, what they did up there that day was remarkable, and they each deserved recognition for their bravery. Savage sorted through the pages of the folder until he found Stovall's list of recommendations, and going over them, found he concurred with all but one, and he crossed it out.
Recommendations for Decoration
Name Rank Position Decoration
Walker, John R. 1LT Bombardier Medal of Honor; Purple Heart
Savage, Franklin L. BGen Pilot Silver Star (1 olc); Purple Heart (3 olc)
Wells, Joseph J. TSgt Flt Engr/Gunner Silver Star
Gardiner, Harold P. 2LT Navigator Distinguished Flying Cross; Purple Heart
Ballard, Kurt J. SSgt Waist Gunner Air Medal (1 olc); Purple Heart
Williams, Thomas A. SSgt Tail Gunner Air Medal
Johnston, John L. SSgt Waist Gunner Purple Heart
Phillips, Herbert K. Capt Co-Pilot Purple Heart (posthumous)
Smith, Robert D. SSgt Radio Op/Gunner Purple Heart (posthumous)
Jones, Timothy M. SSgt Ball Turret Gunner Purple Heart (MIA)
Savage was tired, and was about to settle down into his bed for a nap, when Doc Kaiser knocked and entered. Taking one look at Savage's face, he immediately went over to his bed, and as he took his pulse and blood pressure, asked, "General, are you all right? Your blood pressure and heart rate are way up and you don't look..."
"It's all right, Doc." he interrupted. "I was just reliving a bad memory."
Kaiser didn't understand, but Savage's vitals and color were returning to normal, so he let it go.
After a short nap and lunch, Savage called Crowe, and he came right over.
"You were right, Wiley. It was a little difficult reading that file, having to relive the mission, but I'm glad I did. Those pictures are incredible; I'd like to go out there when Kaiser lets me out of here.
Wiley, every member of that crew deserves recognition for what they did up there that day, and I agree with all of Harvey's medal recommendations... except that one for me. I don't rate a medal for just sitting there, virtually unable to move, and unconscious most of the time."
Crowe started to object, but Savage cut him off. "No, Wiley, I don't want to hear anymore about it."
"Ok, I'll drop it... for now. I'll have Harvey start working on the medal packages today. The hardest one to sell will be Walker's medal. It's going to have to be approved all the way up to General Arnold. I'm sure it will be approved, but it's probably going to take months."
"I know, but he deserves it... Wiley, that boy really stood up. He's only 20 years old, did you know that?... and he saved all our lives. He was already wounded when I called him up to the cockpit. I could see he was scared to death, but he took the controls, and under the circumstances, did some remarkable flying. Even after he'd been wounded again, and almost out himself from loss of blood, he was able to bring us home in one piece... I have a hard time understanding why he washed out of flight training."
"I had the same questions, Frank, so I looked into it a little. It seems one of his instructor pilots, a Major Jake Turner, is over here now, stationed with the 306th at Thurleigh. I gave him a call, and met with him yesterday.
Strangely enough, among all the cadets he taught, he remembered Walker. Said he seemed a natural pilot; had good grades and high marks from all his instructors. Then, about a couple of months before he was due to graduate, his grades fell, and he made stupid mistakes in the air; his instructors said he seemed distracted and wasn't concentrating on what he was doing. As a result, he fell below the bar, and they washed him out. Turner tried to get him sent back to repeat the last Block of the course, but with the rush to turn out pilots, it didn't pan out, and Walker just slipped through the cracks."
"And," Savage finished, "the Army Air Force lost a good pilot."
"Turner said he couldn't understand what had happened to the boy, either, so he dug a little deeper himself and found out that about the time Walkers' grades started dropping, his father had a heart attack and was unable to work. There were money problems, and Walker sent every check he got home to his mother to help her make ends meet. It's no wonder he was distracted with that worrying him. His father recovered and was able to go back to work, but by that time, Walker had washed out."
"There has to be something we can do to correct this, Wiley." Savage said. "Isn't there some way we could get him another chance? Especially if he is awarded the Medal? Don't you have any contacts you could ask?"
"Possibly." replied Crowe, thinking. "Let me look into it."
Since he had been allowed to wake up, Savage had been confined to bed for another five days, and he was about ready to rebel. Every day he got a little stronger. He was slowly being weaned off his pain medication, and his x-rays and lab work looked good, so, before Savage could take matters into his own hands, Doc Kaiser had allowed him out of bed for short walks up and down the halls. He wouldn't let him go far, but he would allow him to move about in a wheelchair with an orderly following, and Savage took the first opportunity to head for the wards to visit to the wounded. His arm was almost back to normal now and wheeling the chair around was helping to strengthen it further.
The first he visited was Jack Walker. He found him in his room laying on his left side reading a book. Telling the orderly to wait outside, Savage rolled himself in.
"What are you reading, Lieutenant?"
Walker looked up, startled by the General's presence, and started to rise.
"As you were, Jack. Relax. Doc Kaiser's finally let me out of bed, and this is the first chance I've had to visit. I just wanted to see how you were doing."
"Herman Melville, sir,'Moby Dick'."
"You asked what I was reading. It's Herman Melville's 'Moby Dick'."
"Oh, yes... Good book. I read it was I was a kid. How's your hip? Doc Kaiser said the shrapnel chipped your pelvis. Is it healing OK?"
"Yes, sir. It's still a mite tender to sit on, but I can get around just fine. I've got a little limp, but Doctor Kaiser says it'll eventually go away, and it shouldn't affect me going back on flight status... I think he's going to release me next week."
"That's great... Jack," Savage paused for a moment, thinking of what to say. "I want to thank you for what you did up there. None of us would be alive right now, but for what you did. I owe you a debt I can never repay."
Walker was embarrassed, and didn't know what to say. "Please, sir, I didn't do anything anybody else wouldn't have done. We all just did what we had to in order to get home."
"You did a LOT more than that, Jack." Savage held out his hand and Walker shook it.
There was a moment with nothing said, neither knew what to say to the other. Then Savage broke the silence. "Well, I'd better get going before that orderly out there comes in after me. Get well, and if there's anything you need, let me know." Then turned his wheelchair and rolled away.
When Savage returned to his room, he found Doc Kaiser waiting. "I thought you'd want to know, General. Sergeant Johnston has still not regained consciousness. The neurosurgeon I brought in operated, but there's been no improvement. Johnston is now in a coma, and I don't have a lot of hope that he'll ever come out of it. I'm sending him to a Convalescent Hospital at Kenilworth Manor, in Warwickshire, northeast of here, for long term care."
"Is there no chance at all, Doc?"
"There's always a chance, General, but in his case, it's very doubtful."
"Thanks, Doc. Let me know if there's any change, will you?"
"Of course, sir."
About the same time Kaiser let Savage go 'walk-about', he allowed him more visitors. But once the word was out, the hospital had been inundated. Some came singly, others in groups, and in no time at all the normal operation of the hospital was being affected.
Among his early visitors had been Joe Cobb and Gus Denver, two of his squadron commanders. His own crew from the 'Piccadilly Lily' came by to see that he was recovering all right, and that they were still 'his' crew. Then his 'Lucky Lady' crew. Sergeants Wells and Williams back from their leave came by, then Gardiner and Ballard.
He even had a visit from the Base Chaplain, Captain Twombley, he told Crowe laughing. "He said he came by to see how I was recuperating, and to let me know that he had 'put in a good word for me Upstairs'. He also told me he had written a wonderful eulogy, and he sounded so disappointed that he wasn't going to be able to give it that I almost felt like I should apologize for not dying."
After almost a week of tripping over people in the halls, Kaiser was on the verge of cutting back on Savage's visitation. Then the numbers dropped off, and those visits that still continued were mainly duty related. In no time, Savage's hospital room had become his office, a phone had been installed, and Major Stovall came and went with correspondence and documents for Savage to approve or sign, and stayed for hours as Savage carried on the operation of the Group from his bed.
Today they were going over the list of new replacements and reviewing squadron assignments. As it was approaching time for lunch, Savage started to wrap it up, "Anything else that can't wait, Harvey?"
"Just one, sir. You need to appoint a replacement for Major Peterson. Captain Corrigan, as senior officer, has been acting squadron commander since he was killed, but you need to appoint a permanent commander." As Stovall said the name, Savage brought his head up from what he had been reading and stared blankly out the window for a moment, as in his mind's eye he saw again Jim Peterson's plane exploding and the pieces falling toward Hamburg...
"What? Oh, yes, a replacement for Jim Peterson. Who'd you have in mind?"
"Well, as I said, Captain Corrigan has been acting squadron commander and doing a good job, but he's a newly promoted captain and doesn't have that much experience. There's also Captain Toller, in Major Denver's squadron. He's got the experience, and he's due for his majority."
"Who do you recommend, Harvey."
"Well, sir, I think I'd go with Captain Toller. It'll leave Gus Denver a little short handed, but you can give him his pick of the new replacements."
"I agree. Write up 'Change of Assignment' orders for Toller and a recommendation for his promotion to major... Anything else?"
"I think that's it for now, sir. I'd better leave, before Doc Kaiser throws me out; he's getting a little testy about the amount of time you've been spending in here working."
"Well, all he has to do is release me, and he won't have that problem anymore." he said dismissively.
"I HEARD that!" Kaiser said as he entered the room with General Crowe.
"Sorry, Doc," Savage said somewhat embarrassed. "But I've been locked up here for weeks. I'm perfectly fine. I hardly have any pain anymore. My strength is back, and I don't get as tired as I did. You say my tests are almost normal. So when are you going to let me out of here!?"
"Is tomorrow soon enough?" Kaiser asked. "You've been working in here for days, anyway, so I might as well let you go work in your own office, and get the room back for a patient who needs it."
"Tomorrow?" Savage exclaimed. "Yes, absolutely, that's great! Thank you!"
"BUT..." Kaiser continued, "I am releasing you to light, administrative duties only, General, not to include flying. Is that understood? And I want to see you once a week for the next month for a checkup."
"Anything you say, Doc."
"All right, then." Kaiser said as he headed for the door. "Harvey, if you will get the General some clothes from his quarters, I'll start the paperwork for his discharge tomorrow morning."
"And since you're being released," Crowe put in, "I guess it's time for me to go back to 'Pinetree' before Gen. Prichard fires me... General, I am officially returning command of the 918th to you; effective tomorrow."
"Thank you, sir."
After everyone had left, Savage was pleased and relieved at the thought of getting out of there and taking back his Group... and his life. Tomorrow morning couldn't come soon enough.
But tomorrow did arrive, and as he left the hospital, he was moved by the doctors, nurses and orderlies that came to see him off. Kaiser walked him over to his office, and as he settled into his chair, behind his desk, Kaiser checked his pulse and blood pressure one more time. "They're a little high, but considering the circumstances, they're within limits. Take it easy for a while, General, will you. Don't try to jump right in. I don't want to see you back. As patients go," he said with a smile, "I'm happy to see you gone."
Then he saluted and left.
Savage looked at his desk. It was covered with piles of paperwork. His In-Basket was overflowing; his Out-Basket, empty. "General Crowe wasn't in the office much, was he, Harvey?"
"I'm afraid not, General. He attempted to keep up with it, but 'Pinetree' kept him pretty busy. I tried to bring you those things that couldn't wait, but..."
Savage stood and rolled up his sleeves, then poured himself a cup of coffee. "Well, get your notepad, Harvey, and pull up a chair; this is going to take a while."
It took all morning and into the afternoon for them to clear his desk, then they broke for some lunch. When they returned, Savage found Wiley Crowe waiting for him.
"Remember that 'second chance' we talked about for Walker?" Crowe said.
Stovall started to leave, but Crowe stopped him, "No, stay, Major. This will involve you as well."
"That second chance, Frank. I think we can make that happen, with or without the Medal. I talked to an old friend at Air Staff, Bill Jacobs, Assistant Chief for Personnel. I explained what we wanted and the circumstances, and he thinks that it just might be possible.
With the 'bombing on the leader' concept becoming more accepted, and the belief that bombardiers will eventually be replaced by 'bomb togglers', there's going to be less need for bombardiers. But there's still going to be a need for good pilots. So Jacobs thinks there's a real chance, especially with Walker's record.
Harvey, I'll give you all the particulars, then I'd like you to call General Jacobs and see what he needs to start the ball rolling. If you need any help, let me know."
"Yes, sir. I'll get right on it."
After Stovall left the office, Crowe said, "Sorry about the mess I left for you, Frank, but Prichard has me working on a special project, and I wasn't able to spend as much time here as I'd planned. Fortunately, Major Cobb and Harvey Stovall kept the Group running smoothly."
"Not too smoothly, I hope," Savage said with a grin. "Now that I'm back, I'd hate to find I wasn't needed."
"Oh, I don't think you need to worry about that too much. But I do think it's a good idea to delegate occasionally. Let your squadron commanders lead every now and then; they have to get the experience some time."
"Wiley, give it a rest, will you!"
"OK, OK." He said. "I better get going, I have an medal ceremony to attend this afternoon." He started for the door, then paused and said, "About the delegating, Frank... Just think about it, will you?"
After Crowe left, Savage called Stovall into his office. Wiley Crowe's mention of a medal ceremony had reminded him, "Major, how are you coming with those medal recommendations for the 'Lucky Lady's' crew?"
"Ready for your signature, General; all except Lt. Walker's. His citation still needs to be finalized, but I have a draft ready if you'd like to see it."
"Yes. Bring it in, will you? I'll read it now."
Stovall left, then quickly returned with Walker's recommendation package, found the draft document, and handed it to Savage. "I've taken more time with this one, sir. With the Medal of Honor, the citation is all important, and I wanted to get it just right."
"Thank you, Harvey. Give me a few minutes while I go over this."
"Yes, sir." he said, and left, closing the office door behind him.
Then Savage laid the document on the desk and began to read:
TO ACCOMPANY THE AWARD
MEDAL OF HONOR
CAPTAIN JOHN ROBERT WALKER
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy above and beyond the call of duty while serving as bombardier on a heavy bombardment aircraft. The aircraft was subjected to intense enemy anti-aircraft fire while turning off the bomb run during a mission over Germany. The aircraft, which had been repeatedly hit by machine gun fire during an earlier fighter attack, was hit again several times by anti-aircraft fire, including two almost direct bursts, Two of the crew were killed; one, the ball turret gunner, was blown out of the aircraft; and all but two of the remaining crew, including himself, were seriously wounded. The damage to the aircraft was extensive: three of the aircraft's engines had shut down, the nose of the aircraft and ball turret had been blown away, the radio destroyed, a portion of the tail and rudder shot away, several vital hydraulic lines severed, and intense fires ignited in the waist sections.
Captain (then First Lieutenant) Walker, after a highly accurate bombing run, left his station to take the place of a waist gunner who had been badly wounded during the earlier fighter attack. While administering additional first aid to the wounded gunner, Captain Walker was himself hit by flak and wounded in the leg. This same flak ignited a fire in one of the ammunition lockers in the waist section, and the heat was so intense that the ammunition began to explode. When the other waist gunner burned his hands badly trying to put out the fire, Captain Walker, with the help of the tail gunner, pushed the exploding ammunition out of the plane through the hole where the ball turret had been. Captain Walker then proceeded to the cockpit to assist the critically wounded pilot in flying the plane. When the pilot became unconscious, Captain Walker took over and successfully flew the airplane across Germany to the coast of Holland where it was again attacked by enemy fighters. During this determined attack, the right inboard engine was damaged and had to be shut down, but Captain Walker was able to effectively evade the fighters flying with only two engines until help arrived in the form of a flight of P-47s. During this action, Captain Walker was seriously wounded a second time, but despite loss of blood was able to fly the airplane back to his base in England where he successfully crash landed, saving the lives of all on board.
This officer's gallantry in action, undaunted bravery, and loyalty to his aircraft and fellow crewmembers, without regard for his own personal safety, is an inspiration to the U.S. Armed Forces.
It was well written. Savage made a minor change to the citation, then called Stovall into his office. "Looks good, Harvey. Amend it for the change I've made, then type it up. When that's done, let me have all of them for signature. I want to get these out as soon as possible. It's been too long as it is."
"Yes, sir. I have some other correspondence for your signature. I'll bring that as well."
It's wasn't long before Stovall returned with the documents for Savage's signature. After he'd reviewed and signed them, he sat back in his chair and unconsciously massaged his chest and shoulder, a habit he had acquired during his recovery, then realizing what he was doing, stopped.
Checking his watch, he saw it was five o'clock. He rubbed his hand over his face, then squeezed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. It had been a long first day, and he was suddenly very tired.
"I think I've had enough for one day," he called to Harvey. "Let's pack it in and pick it back up tomorrow. As soon as you get those ready to go, I'll buy you a drink at the Club."
"Sorry, General, the drink will have to wait. That last call was 'Pinetree'. We've just been alerted for tomorrow."
"Calling it a little late aren't they... What's the target?"
"Amiens, France... Railroad junction and marshalling yards."
Savage thought for a moment. "How many planes can we put up?"
"OK. Notify Intell and Weather. Then get the maps for the area and armament requirements. Notify the usual players; mission planning in my office in..." he looked at his watch, "...forty-five minutes... and send for Major Cobb; he'll lead."
And so it went. Days, then weeks, went by, and Savage settled back into his old routine, except that he still couldn't fly, and as the Group launched, and returned, from mission after mission, he became more and more frustrated at being chained behind a desk. His regular weekly check-ups with Doc Kaiser confirmed that he had completely recovered, yet Kaiser still resisted signing him off to return to full duty. It was time for a showdown.
"Major, I'm going over to the hospital; it's time for my weekly visit with Kaiser. But I might be a while, Harvey," he said determinedly. "I'm not leaving this time until he signs me off to return to full duty."
After Kaiser examined, prodded and probed him, and took a 'sample' and more blood, Savage got dressed again, then waited in Kaiser's office for him to return so he could have his 'showdown'.
He didn't have to wait long. As Kaiser came in the door, he said, "Well, General, all of your tests came back normal, again. You're wounds have completely healed, and there's less scarring than I expected. You've regained the weight you lost, plus a few pounds... you might want to watch that. So I guess the bottom line is that you are in perfect health. I'm releasing you to full duty and flight status."
"Finally!" Savage said. "Sorry, Doc, I don't mean to be ungrateful, but you sure took your time."
"I'm sorry, General. But with the amount of blood you lost, and the time it took to replace it, I've been worried about damage to your liver and kidneys. It takes time for that kind of damage to present itself, but your tests show that all of your systems have continued to function normally, so, as they say, 'you are free to go'."
"Thanks, Doc, I appreciate your thoroughness and concern. But no more checkups? I can fly again?"
"You're good to go, General. I'll sign the release paperwork this afternoon. Now, get out of here, and I don't want to see you back again as a patient anytime soon.
Savage returned to his office in a jubilant mood, and Major Stovall could tell immediately that he had been successful just from the look on his face.
"Looks like you won your battle with Doc Kaiser, General."
"That I did, Harvey. But it wasn't much of a battle. I hadn't even had a chance to really get into it, before he just turned me loose. So, you can erase that 'DNIF', Duty Not Including Flying, from beside my name on the Pilot Status Board."
Congratulations, General." Stovall said as he made the change to the chalk board. "And we've just received some other good news... from the International Red Cross, about Sergeant Jones. They report that he's badly wounded, but alive, in an hospital just outside of Hamburg. He is expected to live and be moved to a P.O.W. Camp, a Luft Stalag, when he's able. We'll be informed which Camp when they know."
"That's great, Harvey! Pass the word, would you, and put a notice on the bulletin board."
It had been several months since the Hamburg mission, and General Savage had been cleared to return to flying status a month ago. Since then, finally deferring to General Crowe, he had flown only three out of the six missions assigned. His original crew in the 'Piccadilly Lily' had been transferred to other aircrews while he had been grounded so he put together a new crew from the survivors of the 'Lucky Lady's' crew, and then filled it out from the pool of unassigned personnel.
He had just returned to his office after a mission to the marshalling yards at Saarbrücken, and was going over the strike photos, when Major Stovall knocked and came in holding a large manila envelope, "It's from Air Staff, General. I think this is what we've been waiting for!"
Savage took the envelope, tore it open, and quickly went through its contents. "Your right, Harvey. This is it; it's all in here. Send for Lieutenant Walker."
Savage spread the documents from the envelope across his desk and examined each one: Orders promoting First Lieutenant Walker, John R., to Captain. Orders for the same Captain Walker to report to Randolph Field, Texas, for Advanced Pilot Training. Lastly, and the most important, Orders and citation for the award of the Medal of Honor to Captain John R. Walker.
Major Stovall looked up as Lieutenant Walker entered the outer office. "Go on in, Lieutenant," he said. "He's expecting you."
"You wanted to see me, sir?" Walker asked as he knocked, then entered General Savage's office. He saluted, then stood at ease. Major Stovall had followed him into the office and stood quietly by the door.
Savage returned his salute, then said, "Stand at attention, Lieutenant."
Walker immediately came to a position of attention, uncertain of what he had done. General Savage rose and came around his desk to stand in front of the worried Lieutenant.
"Lieutenant, your promotion to Captain has just come through." Then handing the promotion order to Stovall, "Harvey, will you help me due the honors?"
As Major Stovall read out the promotion order, Savage removed Walker's First Lieutenant bars and replaced them with the 'railroad tracks' of a Captain. "Congratulations, Captain." Savage said smiling, and shook the hand of a much relieved and also smiling Walker. "Thank you, sir."
Savage walked back around his desk and sat down as Stovall left the office and closed the door behind him.
"Have a seat, Captain. I've been going over the pictures from today's mission, and once again you hit the target right on. You're the best bombardier in the Group, you know that. ... Do you like being a bombardier, Walker?"
"Yes, sir. It's something I'm good at, but..."
"But you'd rather be a pilot... ?"
"Yes, sir." he said with an embarrassed smile. "But I blew my chance for that when I washed out of Pilot Training."
"What would you say, if I told you, you could have another chance?"
"I have another set of orders here, directing you back the States, to Randolph Field, for Advanced Pilot Training. Do you want to go?"
"Hell, yes!" he said jumping to his feet. "Excuse me... I mean, yes , sir. I would very much like to go."
"Good! Then that's settled."
Walker stood there unable to believe what was happening. It was like he had won the Sweepstakes, or something. He almost pinched himself to see if he was dreaming. Then General Savage began speaking again, and he forced himself to pay attention to what he was saying.
"I have one more set of orders for you, Captain. You'd better sit down."
Walker sat, then Savage continued, "This was submitted soon after the mission, but it's taken this long to get through the chain of command for final approval and General Arnold's signature... Jack, You're being awarded the Medal of Honor for what you did on the Hamburg mission."
Walker just sat there for a moment uncomprehending. Then it hit him. "What? Medal of Honor? That has to be a mistake, sir! I don't deserve it. I was just trying to stay alive. I'm no hero!"
Savage smiled. "Yes, Jack, you are a hero, and you do deserve it! None of us would be alive today but for what you did up there. So just accept that the Army Air Force, and General Arnold, knew what they were doing when they approved your medal."
But what about Wells and Gardiner and the others?" Walker asked. "They did just as much to get us home. Don't they deserve something?"
"Yes, they do." Savage replied. "and they have each been awarded medals of their own; they just haven't been presented yet. But they will be very shortly."
This was all happening too fast, and Walker was having a hard time taking it in. He needed time to think.
"Your orders," Savage continued, "state that as soon as transportation can be arranged - probably in a week or two - you will be flown to the States, then on to Washington, where there will be a formal presentation by the President at the White House. If it can be arranged, your family will be flown out for the ceremony.
After that you'll tour the country raising money for the war effort. Then, you'll go on administrative leave, awaiting orders to join the first available class at the Advanced Pilot Training School at Randolph Field. It's not normally possible to join a class that has already started, much less one more than half way through, but you'll find that a lot of exceptions can be made for a Medal of Honor winner."
"I don't know what to say, sir." said Walker finally.
"You don't have to say anything."
Savage paused for a moment, trying to think what to say, how to prepare him for this life-changing event.
"Jack, I'm sure you know the Medal of Honor is awarded to very few individuals, and the powers that be are very selective in who they award it to. The Medal of Honor is a symbol larger than life, and right now this country needs symbols they can look up to.
But... You may find it harder to wear the Medal, Jack, than it was to win it. Like it or not, with that little blue ribbon with the white stars on your chest, you're going to become an instant celebrity. You'll be overwhelmed by public attention. Perfect strangers will want to shake your hand, buy you drinks, do you favors, be your friend, just to be near a Medal of Honor winner. There will be photographs, newspaper interviews, speaking tours; Hollywood may want to do a movie. Your life won't be your own.
Whether you want to make the Army Air Force a career after the war, - and that's your choice now - or return to civilian life, you'll find doors will be opened for you."
I'm not trying to scare you, Jack. I just want you to be prepared. The Medal will change your life as you know it... try not to let it change who you are."
"As of today, you have flown your last mission as a bombardier. You'll be taken off flight status and placed on 'casual status' until your departure."
Savage handed him copies of the documents changing his life forever, then said, "I know it's a lot to take in right now, Jack. Go back to your quarters and try to relax for a while; you've got a lot to think about. And prepare yourself." he said with a grin. "As fast as news leaks around here, your award of the Medal will be all over the base before you can get back to your hut."
Then General Savage rose from behind his desk and said, "There is a military tradition of saluting a Medal of Honor recipient, no matter the rank. I want to be the first to honor this tradition with you." then he raised his arm in salute. Walker automatically returned the salute, then stood there, overcome, not knowing what to say, or do.
Savage walked with him to the door, "Remember, Jack, if you want to talk, I'm available any time."
As Savage had forewarned, the news of Walker's Medal of Honor had spread across the base like wild fire. Once the word was out that the 918th had a certifiable hero in their midst, Jack Walker was never alone. Officers and enlisted personnel who barely knew he existed, and had always passed him by without a glance, now greeted him with a smile and 'How's it going, Captain' or 'Need a ride, Captain?' or 'Can I buy you a drink, Jack'? He hadn't yet been presented with the Medal, but superior officers started saluting him. The 'Stars and Stripes' and other Newspapers wanted to interview him. The last straw was when the local girls in Archbury, started paying attention to him, and getting very friendly. This was particularly embarrassing as he wasn't much of a ladies' man.
It took less than a week before he was back in Savage's outer office. Knocking on Savage's open door, he said, "You said I could come talk to you, sir... anytime."
"Yes, I did, Captain. Come on in and close the door."
Unburdening himself, Walker was almost frantic, "I can't do this, General! I haven't even got the damn Medal yet, and I have no privacy; they never leave me alone. Everybody wants to buy me a drink, or salute me, or fix me up with a girl. I'm afraid to leave the base; reporters are waiting outside the gate to interview me and take pictures... If it's this bad here, sir, what will it be like at home?"
"It's that bad?"
"Jack, I know it's hard right now, but it's only been a week. Give it a little more time. Everyone will tire of the novelty in a while, and you'll get more used to the attention. You will never be treated as you were before, but you'll be accepted in your new status, and things will go back to a 'new' normal.
The base is a microcosm of what it will be like at home. You'll be a celebrity for a period of time, but sooner or later people will become used to you, and you'll get used to them; eventually it'll all even out. But as I said earlier, things will never be the same. The Medal will always be a part of who you are; you'll just have to learn to accept that."
"What if I can't?"
Savage smiled, "Jack, do you think you would have ever thought you could do it, if you'd been told what it would be like flying heavy bombers over France and Germany? ...Of course not; no one would. Everyone does what they have to, Jack, to get along, to have a life, to survive.
There will be hard times ahead, yes, both with your adjustment to the Medal, and with what it will take to win this war. But I have no doubt that you can handle it.
Now, why don't you join me at the Officer's Club, and I'll buy you a beer."
Things did get better after a few more days, just as General Savage predicted, when the novelty of his celebrity status began to wear off. Personnel still smiled and said 'hello', but he was no longer hounded by well-wishers.
But just as he was settling down and getting used to his new status, his travel orders arrived. He was to pack and be ready to depart in two days. He would be flown out of RAF Lakenheath on a VIP flight to the East Coast, and then onto Washington, D.C.
The morning of the day he was to leave, he came by Headquarters to say 'goodbye' to General Savage. As he entered the outer office, he found Major Stovall talking on the phone. Not wanting to interrupt, he stood there in the doorway.
Finishing his call, Stovall looked up and saw him standing there, "Captain Walker, come on in. This is 'the day', isn't it?"
"Yes, sir. My transport is waiting for me outside. I just wanted to come to say goodbye and thank the General for everything."
At that moment, Savage, having heard the voices, came out of his office. "Jack." he said and held out his hand to shake Walker's. "I thought I heard you out here. You all ready to go?"
"Yes, sir. I just wanted to see you before I left to say 'thank you' for all that you've done for me." he said a little embarrassed.
"It's I that will always thank you, Jack," Savage said seriously. "...for what you did that day... for me and the other members of the crew."
Embarrassed again, and not knowing what to say, Walker said, "I guess I'd better get going, General. My transportation is waiting outside... would you believe it, they sent a staff car for me."
But before he could raise his arm, both Savage and Stovall had already raised theirs in salute. "Get used to it, Captain." Savage said softly. "You earned it. Now, go catch your ride."
It had been less than a week since Captain Walker departed for the States. Savage was in his office going over strike photos with Harvey Stovall when General Crowe entered.
Savage and Stovall both stood, and Stovall started to leave, but Crowe motioned him back down. "Stay. You'll be interested in this too, Major."
Then as Savage also sat back down, "I thought you'd like to know, Frank, that Captain Walker's Medal ceremony is set for next Monday. His family's being flown in from Ohio."
"That was quick." Savage said. "Any news on when he reports to Randolph Field?"
"Yes. He'll be joining a class at the end of the month. If all goes well, and I'm sure it will, he'll have his pilot's wings and be on his way back here a couple of months after that."
"He's going to be re-assigned to the 918th?"
"Yes, all things considered, I thought it only appropriate."
"You're welcome... Well, I'd better get going." he said looking at his watch. "Another planning session with the Old Man. I just wanted to come by to give you the news."
Walking Crowe out to his car, Savage said, "I appreciate all your help with Walker, Wiley. I think he wants to stay in after the war; make the Air Force his career. He's a good officer, and I think he has the potential to go all the way."
"I agree, and that Medal won't hurt his chances any." Crowe said as he returned Savage's salute and got into his staff car.
After Crowe had left, Savage started to return to his office when Stovall stopped him. "We have more good news, General. I was just on the phone with Doc Kaiser. He said he'd promised to keep you informed about Sergeant Johnston...
It's hard to believe, sir, after so long, but Kaiser said he'd just been notified that Johnston came out of his coma and woke up a few days ago. Apparently, his first words were to ask about his crew, and how the Hamburg mission went."
"Thanks great, Harvey. Get back to Kaiser and see if he knows when they think he can have visitors."
"Right away, sir.
Just then the phone rang. Stovall picked it up and listened for a moment. Then, "Yes, I've got it. Do you want to speak to the General? ... OK, I'll tell him." Then he placed the phone back in its cradle, and turning to the General Savage said,
"We're alerted for tomorrow... Hamburg."