Serenade to the Big Bird
So I’d watch the 51′s and think about flying one, and think about wishing for one … I wanted one so bad. (Bert Stiles)
How do I decide what I’m going to write about? Since January of this year I’ve been blogging my research on the World War II adventures of my parents, in chronological order. In the process I’ve read books, watched films, seen television documentaries … all about that era.
Sometimes I just know I have to write about a particular subject because I “can’t put it down.”
Last month I watched (and recorded on my television when possible) the History Channel’s remarkable series – World War II in HD. If you go to their website you can read about how they found the never-before-seen footage, much of it in color.
I fell in love with the story of Bert Stiles, the B-17 co-pilot who, by the time he had enlisted in the Army Air Force, was already a published author of short stories. It reminded me of my Dad and his writings. I could picture them both isolating themselves after a mission and writing page after page on what had happened that day.
What I didn’t realize until the last minutes of the program was after Bert flew 35 missions with the 91st bomb group, he finally realized his dream of becoming a fighter pilot. He had always wished he could fly a P-51 Mustang instead of the Big Bird, and rather than head home, that is what he signed up to do. However, (Oh, no!) on November 26, 1944, after an aerial fight with a Luftwaffe FW-190 his plane crashed to the ground. Bert Stiles was 24 years old when he died. He is buried in Belgium.
Bert’s mother published her son’s book, “Serenade to the Big Bird” in 1947. I immediately ordered a copy from one of the Atlanta libraries and began to read an obviously vintage book, probably one of those originally published in the early 1950′s. The words are so real … you know he wrote them right at the very moments that the war was happening all around him.
Then my friend Bob Prior, out of the blue, sent an email suggesting that I might want to read this book. Believe it or not, I met Bob on Twitter because of our mutual interest in B-17′s. Bob is a B-17 Flight Mechanic who travels with the historic B-17 Aluminum Overcast. (Is that a dream job or what?) In October he gave me a personal and detailed tour of this beautiful airplane when it was here in Atlanta.
Bob had read on one of his message boards that “Serenade to the Big Bird” is “the definitive text on going to war in a B-17. It’s a shame (the author) was killed as he would have been another Hemmingway. Such a good author on every aspect of life. You go from laughs to tears.”
I picked up the book again and finished reading it.
I’m still in love with the story of Bert.
Serenade to the Big Bird (Schiffer Military History) on amazon.com