A History Lesson

time machineIf you had a souped-up DeLorean with a flux capacitor and the 1.21 gigawatts of power necessary to travel back to East Haven, CT in 1965 … and for some reason found your way into Mrs. Esposito’s American History class, you’d find approximately 21 smiling students.  Mrs. Esposito was a very popular teacher … everybody liked her.  Well, almost everybody.  I hated history and didn’t care much for Mrs. Esposito.  The feeling was mutual.  Once high school was over, I never took another history course, or for that matter, read another history book unless it was novelized history like Laura Hildebrand’s Unbroken.  So, upon your return to 2013, you’d certainly be surprised to find me reading Stephen E. Ambrose’s The Wild Blue, a straight up history of the pilots who flew the B-24 Liberator Bombers over GermanyTST during World War II.   As it turns, I had mentioned my father’s service in Italy during the war a ground crew supervisor for B-24s to my friend Ralph, a genuine history buff … and the next time I saw him, he handed me the book.  I took it wondering if I’d ever get around to reading it.  And on this Top Sites Tuesday #224, I’m here to tell you that I’m glad I did.

wild blueThe Wild Blue tells the story of how a diverse group of very young men with no aviation experience were recruited by the Army Air Corps, then trained in a very short time into the largest and most effective strategic bombing force in history.  It describes the training and the process by which the fight crews were chosen from the thousands that wanted to fly.  A primary focus of the book was pilot (and later Senator) George McGovern, who was married during his training then shipped off to Italy, just as my Dad was.  While Ambrose focused on the flight crews, he talked about the dedication of the ground crews as well.   I had no idea that the casualty rates for flyers was as high as 50%, orB24 that thousands of B-24s were lost during the war, many during training flights or accidents during take off and landing.   I suppose as a young man, knowing Dad had been on a ground crew, I wondered, How bad could it have been?  But reading The Wild Blue was like reading my Dad’s story and made me understand why he talked about his experience so little.   But I could also see how the experience shaped his character, particularly his penchant for always doing a job right.  He’d learned, after all, under genuine life and death conditions.

So, Thoughts on this Top Sites Tuesday?  Well … Thought Number One: Once you read The Wild Blue, you will fully appreciate what the flight and ground support crews endured to bring about victory over Germany … and what a price they paid.  It’s a great read.  And Thought Number TwoI wish I’d read The Wild Blue while Dad was alive so I could have talked to him about it.  Still, I have clearer picture of a part of his life because I read it … and even more respect for The Man.  Maybe I was wrong about history.

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7 Comments on “A History Lesson”

  1. cherperz Says:

    Interesting about not liking a teacher that most of the others did. Was it the subject matter that put you off? Or did she sense your dislike of her subject and treat you accordingly?

    As far as the book. I think it is great that you found a way to connect to your dad’s life and you’re right…it is a shame that you didn’t get a chance to discuss it with him.

    I find it interesting in general, as to the casualties of the various wars. It’s staggering at the lives lost world wide in WW II. I really like history and like reading about past events. It’s math that I didn’t enjoy. You probably aced all the math classes.


    • oldereyes Says:

      She came across to me as phony and she probably sensed that. I was never good at hiding things like that. What astonished me most about the bomb crews is how many were lost in training, flying in formation, and takeoff/landing. Sometimes, on would accidentally drop its bombs on another plane. My best subject was science, followed by English. I really didn’t hit my stride in math until graduate school, although I was good a calculus. So, no, I didn’t ace the math courses in high school.

  2. Wolfbernz Says:

    Hi Bud,

    I had a teacher once, Mrs. Donkey, I never understood why she didn’t like me. Not like I was mouthy or anything. I didn’t call her Mrs. Jack A**. Nope. Didn’t happen.

    History was never my favorite subject, but that really does sound like an interesting read.

    Great Thoughts,

  3. Coming East Says:

    I liked early American history but no other kind. And I hated reading history books, but like you, I found one that fascinated me and couldn’t put it down. I think I would like reading Wild Blue also as my dad was an engineer during WW II and was stationed in the South Pacific. He worked on the P38s, I believe they were. When you cvs find a connection to history, doesn’t it make it so much more interesting?

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