To a Hero

2009 March 17
by Pat DiGeorge

While Herman was out of commission with the ruptured eardrum, his crew flew seven missions. At the end of each flight day those not flying would wait in anticipation for the B-17′s to return, counting each one as they appeared in the sky.

Not so on January 11, 1944, his fourth day off flying duty. Thurleigh was closed due to fog. Charles W. “Smithy” Smith, the pilot of Herman’s crew described what happened that night as the crew’s B-17 “Weary Bones” limped home.

… By the time the surviving bombers reached England many of the bases, including Thurleigh, were closed due to heavy fog. The 306th pilots made landings anywhere they could find an open airfield. They were so scattered, and the weather remained so poor, that it took three days to get most of the planes back home. Several had to be repaired before they could be flown and some had to be scrapped. The crew of Weary Bones and the crews of seven other B-17s of the 306th managed to find another bomber base, near the coast at Hethel, England, and landed there just before darkness fell and the fog closed in. Before landing, the Weary Bones crew fired double red flares to signify wounded aboard, so that Weary Bones would be met by the medics. As a cold damp wind blew in from the North Sea, the medics lowered the body of Lt. Charles L. Stevenson, Navigator, out of the nose hatch of Weary Bones. The nine tired crewmen watched and silently wept.

The mission from Thurleigh to Halberstadt, showing where the crew had to land, at Hethel airfield, 84 miles away.

The mission on January 11, 1944, from Thurleigh to Halberstadt, Germany and showing (in red) where the crew had to land, at Hethel airfield, 84 miles away.

Herman was back at Thurleigh, fogged in, waiting anxiously to hear from his crew. The 8th Air Force flew 500 heavy bombers on that day. They met fierce opposition from approximately 500 Luftwaffe fighters, and 60 bombers were lost. Who knows how long it took for word to get back to Thurleigh that although his crew was able to land at Hethel, Herman’s good friend, Steve, was gone.

The crew’s waist gunner Donald S. “Don” Courson, told me that as a matter of course one right after another of their friends … in the squadron … in the barracks … would not return.

Herman has written poetry all his life. We don’t have exact dates for most of his early poems, but we know this one was written between 1941 and 1944. Since his “hero” is an airman, I like to think that he wrote it during that long long month in early 1944 when he was grounded.

He was having too much time to think.

The control tower at Thurleigh ... waiting for the planes to come in
The control tower at Thurleigh … waiting for the planes to come in. (Not so on January 11th however; Thurleigh was fogged in and the returning bombers had to land elsewhere.)

TO A HERO

What is the price
Of glory
When Death knocks
At your barricade?
Beneath the shroud
You cannot answer
To the acclaim
Of an idolizing nation
For your deed of valor
In the sky.

They shout,
But their cries
Echo back,
Resounding
To their own
Shrieking ears,
Perhaps
To drown out
The thought
That maybe the fault
Was theirs …

But you,
You have the satisfaction
Of knowing
That in death
You won your spurs,
That in death
Your name will be remembered
Through all the years.

Is that
Worth the price of living …
I wonder …

 Herman F. Allen

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. 2009 March 17
    Barbara Ann permalink

    WOW

  2. 2009 March 18
    Johnny permalink

    It’s so nice to read Herman’s poetry in context…

  3. 2009 May 22
    Rowdy permalink

    Wonder if your Dad had been reading Yeats?

    An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

    I know that I shall meet my fate
    Somewhere among the clouds above;
    Those that I fight I do not hate,
    Those that I guard I do not love;
    My country is Kiltartan Cross,
    My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
    No likely end could bring them loss
    Or leave them happier than before.
    Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
    Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
    A lonely impulse of delight
    Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
    I balanced all, brought all to mind,
    The years to come seemed waste of breath,
    A waste of breath the years behind
    In balance with this life, this death.

  4. 2013 December 20
    Clarence Gilbert permalink

    I was friends with Walter Keilt, the pilot of Weary Bones. I used to spend hours soaking up what he was saying, like a sponge.

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