Posted in B-17, History, WWII

Ye Olde Pub B-17

The B-17 Ye Olde Pub was in Jacksonville last weekend. We didn’t get to ride this time but we went over to Craig Field to have a look. Our six-year-old grandson went with us and he had a ball.

The plane is owned by the Liberty Foundation. Along with the B-17, they also brought a P-51 fighter. We didn’t get to see the P-51 up close because it taxied away and took off on a far runway. The P-51 had its tail painted red to honor the Tuskegee Airmen or “Red Tails.” You can see the P-51 in the background of my picture in front of the B-17.

My grandson and I toured inside the old bird while my husband waited outside. We climbed into the nose through a tight passageway. Once inside the nose you can stand up and look out through the Plexiglas surrounding the bombardier’s seat. The navigator also sat in the nose at a make-shift desk where he plotted the course.  The hero in my novel, Kitty’s War, was the navigator on a B-17 similar to this one.

Back through the narrow passageway, on your knees or, like me, scooting on your behind, we climbed up into the area behind the pilots. In the picture you can see the numerous gauges and controls the pilots had to monitor. No wonder it took two to fly the bomber. The flight engineer stood behind the pilots and fired the top turret guns.

From there we walked across the narrow bridge through the bomb bay. My grandson loved this part. It was like walking the balance beam on his playground. I was busy taking pictures and pointing out the fake bombs. For the walk-through the bomb bay doors were open and we could see the pavement below. I’m not sure my grandson fully understood how the bombing worked.

In the rear of the B-17 we saw the radio room, the top of the ball turret and the positions of the two waist gunners. In this model the gunners were staggered so they wouldn’t bump into each other while firing at attacking fighters. The 50 caliber machine guns were mounted in place with the belts loaded with bullets. Very realistic.

Outside we walked around, inspecting the tail gun from the rear of the plane. We saw the ball turret hanging down from the belly of the plane. With it open we could see how small the space was for the gunner to sit. Definitely had to be a smaller airman.

The stop in Jacksonville was the first on the Liberty Foundation’s 2020 tour. Visit their website at https://www.libertyfoundation.org/schedule  to see the schedule. If they are in your area you should definitely go see the vintage airplanes. If you can afford it, I highly recommend taking a ride. It is an unforgettable experience.

Posted in Family, WWII

New Year’s Eve 1941

What was it like on New Year’s Eve 1941? Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor just three weeks before, followed by attacks on the Philippines, Guam and many other places in the Pacific. Germany and Italy had declared war on us. Prospects for the new year looked bleak.

It wasn’t as though we weren’t aware of the wars raging in Asia and Europe but strong pacifist sentiment fueled the belief by many that the United States could stay out of these wars. Until December 7th, 1941. Then everything changed.

Vernon Knight with his mother, Bessie, and his nephew, Norman.

My father had just turned twenty-seven, was married but had no children. I imagine he was debating whether to enlist or wait until he was drafted. I doubt my parents did much celebrating that New Year’s Eve.

My father’s younger brother, was in the National Guard. He’d joined a Calvary Unit to make some extra money and ride horses on the weekends. The National Guard was nationalized in 1940 so by New Year’s Eve 1941 he was already in the Army and stationed in far from home.

My father-in-law, who would later fight his way across Europe, was still in high school in 1941. I imagine he and his family worried about whether the war would last long enough for him to have to serve. Of course, it did.

Paul Whitaker in high school.

My mother’s sister and cousins lived in Sitka, Alaska, at the time. I remember reading a letter her cousin wrote in early 1942 which gave some insight into their thinking early in the war. She was concerned that they may not be able to travel home to Tennessee that year. She mentioned the possibility of an invasion by the Japanese but didn’t sound too worried.

No one knew what would come in 1942. So many lives would change and change rapidly. Although many celebrated the end of 1941 and the beginning of 1942, there must have been a lot of apprehension about the future. We know what came next. They were still in the precipice staring into the unknown.

Posted in Uncategorized

Thanksgiving and Sugar Rationing during World War II

With Thanksgiving only a few days away, many of us are planning our menus. An important part of the annual feast is the dessert and that means pies. Pumpkin pie, as well as apple, pecan, and even mince meat, are absolutely essential for the meal to be complete. So have any of you ever wondered how the homemaker managed to provide those pies for their World War II Thanksgiving table without using sugar?

No, the Thanksgiving celebration was not cancelled due to the war. It continued both at home and overseas, but with rationing of many food stuffs, it became more difficult to plan the menu. Desserts were especially hard because of sugar rationing, which continued even after the war ended. Cooks had to get creative. They often substituted honey and molasses for sugar. In my novel, Kitty’s War, Kitty’s mother made pies for her boarding house tenants using honey. In my story the family bee hives insured a steady supply of the sweet substance. The inspiration for this detail came from a family story about my grandfather keeping bees.

Since apples were in abundant supply in the early 1940’s, the government suggested apple pies for Thanksgiving. The Louisville Times published a recipe for apple pie using honey. Sure sounds good.

The Office of Price Administration put out a documentary film explaining the need for sugar rationing. I had no idea that sugar was used in so many ways during the war. Watch the video for an education on life during World War II and how our elders dealt with sugar rationing.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted in History, WWII

Veterans Day

In 1954, November 11 was designated as a national holiday to honor all our veterans. Originally the holiday was called Armistice Day. It commemorated the armistice that ended World War I which was signed in 1918 on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In 1926 Armistice Day became an official holiday to honor the veterans of the “Great War.”

Later, after World War II, Congress decided to change Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor all of our veterans.

So, a big “Thank You” to Veterans of all ages for your service to our country.

 

Posted in B-17, WWII

In Memory of the Nine-0-Nine

My husband and I flew on the Nine-0-Nine on Feb 23, 2018, at Cecil Field near Jacksonville, Florida. The flight was amazing. I was thrilled to be on board the B-17 and to share a tiny bit of the experience the men had who flew in it during World War II. As a writer of historical romance set during World War II, I’ve done a lot of research on the B-17. My first published novel, Kitty’s War, features a hero who is a navigator with a B-17 crew flying bombing missions over Europe. Since both the B-17 and the B-24 flew from England to Europe during that time, I researched both, finally selecting the B-17 for my novel. So getting to see a B-17 in person was incredible, but getting to fly in one was a spectacular event in my life.

I’m writing this post to honor the crew and passengers of the Nine-0-Nine who were on board when it crashed in Connecticut on October 2, 2019. Both pilots and five of the ten passengers died that day. Seven others had severe injuries and are still recovering. The crash was such a tragedy, especially for the families and friends of those who were killed and injured. It was also a tragedy for the Collings Foundation and for all of us history buffs who yearn to have the first hand experiences these flights offer.

I am posting here some of the pictures I took the day we flew in the Nine-0-Nine. Some I have posted before and some I have not.

The pictures above show where we entered the plane for our flight, the seats in the waist gun area and the exit door from the inside.

These are pictures of the crew while in flight. We weren’t supposed to bother the pilots. Note that the co-pilot on our flight was a woman. The nice guy standing was the “flight attendant.” He got us all situated and told us what we could and could not do.

During the flight we were allowed to unbuckle our seat belts and walk around in the plane.

I walked around the ball turret and through the radio room.

 

Then I walked through the bomb bay, alongside the fake bombs, on a very narrow metal bridge with only ropes as hand holds. When the B-17 is in flight there is more motion in the plane than on a modern commercial jet. The motion made it more difficult to walk around. These two pictures show the view as I started through the bomb bay and one that didn’t get quite focused due to the motion of the plane.

 

I stood in the Flight Engineer’s position behind the pilots before dropping down to the “tunnel” leading to the nose. I had to crawl so I was glad to have the polished wood for my knees.

The bombardier and the navigator sat in the nose. They had quite a view.

 

 

 

I started back to my seat in the waist. Here is a view through the bomb bay toward the waist.

 

Back in the waist area we looked out the windows.  As you can see we weren’t very high.  Nothing like the flights at 20,000 feet requiring oxygen.

After a smooth landing we were back on the ground safe and sound.

It was an incredible flight. Every time I talked about the flight I said I would do it again in a minute. And I would, still, after the crash. It was so sad to lose the Nine-0-Nine, but all the other historic military planes should keep flying and keep taking people like me for the ride of their lives.

 

Posted in Research, WWII

English War Brides during WWII

Growing up I remember this tiny English woman who lived in our town. She had hair so blonde that it was almost white and her daughter had that same blonde hair. As a child I didn’t think too much about it. Later I learned that the lady was an English war bride. She had married an American soldier while he was stationed in England. I wish I had talked to her about it. Unfortunately I didn’t become interested in these English women who followed their hearts and left their homes across the ocean until later in life.

In 1946 English war brides began arriving in the U.S. They scattered across the country, some to big cities and others to small towns like my hometown. In the outlying areas the war brides were truly alone, except for their husbands. They had no family of their own nearby and, despite a common language, there were many cultural differences. In areas where there were larger numbers, brides formed groups or clubs which gave them a sense of comradeship and shared experiences.

The English girls who married American servicemen far outnumbered all the other nationalities of war brides. This is not surprising given the fact that American servicemen arrived in England in early 1942 and remained in the country until after the Japanese surrender in 1945. Three years was plenty of time for romance to develop between lonely soldiers, sailors and airmen and the local female population. An added incentive was the lack of competition from Englishmen who had been conscripted into the Royal services and sent to the far reaches of the British Empire.

I have a number of books, both compilations of stories and individual memoirs, about war brides. I recently purchased one that delves into the media coverage of the war bride phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic. “From the Battlefront to the Bridal Suite” by Barbara G. Friedman is proving to be quite interesting and I’ve only read the beginning.

Other books about WWII War Brides in my collection include “War Brides and Memories of World War II” by Elizabeth Hawthorne, “War Brides of World War II” by Elfrieda Berthiaume Shukert and Barbara Smith Scibetta, “Promise You’ll Take Care of my Daughter” by Ben Wicks, “Memoir of a French War Bride” by Jeannine Ricou-Allunis, “Entangling Alliances” by Susan Zeiger and “Bittersweet Decision” by Helene R. Lee.

At one time I thought I might write a series of novels about World War II War Brides. The subject fascinated me and still does. These women fell in love with men from another country that they barely knew. They left their own families and the only homes they had ever know to move to a foreign country across the ocean. At that time the only communications would have been by letter, with the occasional, very expensive and very inconvenient long distance telephone call which few of these women could afford. A trip back home meant either traveling by ocean liner or by airplane, both of which were very expensive at the time. So many of the war brides never saw their families and friends again. They started a new life with only one person they knew, their soldier-turned-civilian husband. Most of the marriages lasted. Some didn’t.

You cannot deny that these young women made a leap of faith and a statement about the strength of love when they made the decision to marry an American serviceman.

 

 

Posted in My Novels, Research, WWII

French War Brides

Years ago I was researching the idea of writing a novel about a French war bride from World War II. (A war bride is a woman who marries a soldier stationed overseas during a war.) In looking for memoirs I found most were written by English war brides. This made sense since the majority of foreign brides were from Great Britain where American troops were stationed for a number of years. The Americans landed in France in June 1944 so there was less time for the soldiers and the local French women to get to know each other.

I came across a book called “Des Amours de GI’s” by Hilary Kaiser published in 2004. Unfortunately this book was only available in French. I took French in high school and in college so I thought, “How hard could it be to translate this book?” I ordered “Des Amours de GI’s” and, when it came, I got out my French-English dictionary and went to work.

Needless to say, the translation went slowly, very slowly. What kept me going was my fascination with the content. Oral histories of French women who married American men in uniform filled the pages. Some of the stories went back to World War I but most were about relationships from World War II.

Hilary Kaiser did an amazing job interviewing French women who had married American servicemen and immigrated to the United States. Their stories not only involved how the couple met and became romantically involved but also the woman’s journey to the United States and how they settled into American life.

Thankfully, in 2007, Hilary Kaiser’s book was translated into English and made available as “French War Brides in America.” By this time I had translated less than half the French version. I gladly abandoned my translation exercise and read it in English. The same book has since been re-released in English both in paperback and e-book with the title French War Brides: Mademoiselle and the American Soldier.”

I did write a novel about a French girl and an American soldier who fell in love and married. The book has never been published but I still love the story…so maybe…someday…