"For My Kids"
Airman Bill Wilson (front row, second from left) enlisted as an aviation cadet in 1942 at the age of 19. He flew 23 bomber missions and was lucky enough to make it home. I had the opportunity to sit down with three of his six children as they showed me Bill’s original WWII service records. His son Mike has safely stored stacks of his father’s papers and now the family wants to make sure the papers were preserved .
As we gently separated pages and decided which ones we wanted to scan, I found a small envelope tucked in a folder. The envelope just said, “For my kids”. I held up the envelope to see if anyone recognized it, but their expressions were blank.
I carefully opened the envelope and found a letter from Bill. “We took off from our bomber base on December 3, 1944 and the target was Berlin, “ he began simply. As I read the letter aloud, the room grew still. It was as if Bill, who had died in 1992, had come back to tell us a story.
"The way to Berlin is loaded with flak when you get near. Radar guided flak is extremely accurate. As we approached the target, the flak became intense. Tremendous explosions all around. You thank God for the black puffs that you fly through because they have spent their fury…
Suddenly a new flak barrage comes up at the squadron leader and his number two [plane]. Both explode. Literally explode. No chance for anyone to get out. My co-pilot and I were so busy that all this was a dream. We had lost 2 engines in that same barrage, and naturally lost air speed and fell behind the rest of the squadron."
Bill and his crew could not follow the rest of the squadron on their longer, northerly route back to base. He turned west to take the most direct path back to England and hoped the Germans were too busy to notice the crippled plane that had been separated from the squadron.
Out of German airspace and now over the North Sea, the crew began to let down their guard. The plane was moving slowly, but it was holding together. As they neared the coast of England, Bill looked out his port window. He spotted another damaged B-17 not far away. He was glad to see he had company until the other plane slowly descended into the sea. Shaken, Bill pushed the image out of his mind.
Bill Wilson landed his plane and his crew safely back at Thurleigh Airbase before the main bomber stream got back to the base. After a 10-hour mission, Bill collapsed in his bunk, happy to be alive.
About an hour later, the other pilots made it back to the barracks.
“We really had the shit kicked out of us today,” one said
Another airman nodded and added “ Wilson and his crew will be missed.”
Just then, Bill leaned out of his bunk and yelled, “Quiet down, will you? I’m trying to sleep!” His buddies nearly smothered him in their relief.
When I finished reading Bill’s letter, we sat quietly for a moment. We all knew we had been given a gift. A story. Part of this family’s – and this nation’s – history.