Every once in awhile, I'll leaf through my late father's papers from his military service in the 1940s. He went to flight school and ended up flying on B-17 bombers. Every time I look through his papers and look at his birth date and the dates of various milestones in his service time, I come away with these thoughts:
What were you doing when you were 21 years old?
What was I doing when I was 21?
Because Stuart W. McFeely and millions of Americans like him were fighting World War II so their children -- like me -- could be free.
Stuart was my dad. He was a bombardier on a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber and flew 30 missions over Nazi-occupied Europe.
On Feb. 25, 1944, when he was 21 years old, my dad wrote this entry into a brief diary he kept of his combat missions:
February 25, 1944That particular mission was part of what came to be known as "Big Week," when the 100th Bomb Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps' Eighth Air Force launched a massive attack against Germany's aircraft industry. The Messerschmitt factory in Regensburg to which my dad referred built German fighters such as the ME 109 referenced in the diary entry. Here was another diary entry:
Bombed Messerschmitt at Regensburg, Germany. ME 109 made pass at group on our right near Saarbrucken and shot (B-)17 down. Saw 8 chutes. Saw another 17 blow up in mid air. No chutes. Very heavy and accurate flak at target. B17 next to us had tail shot off and No. 4 engine shot out. FW's and Mess attacked stragglers all the way back to France. Shot down one in front of us, saw 6 chutes. One straggler got 3 fighters before he was shot down. Lost Sam McClain on this mission.
March 19And another (words in parentheses mine):
Bombed rocket installations between Calais and Boulogne. Intense and accurate flak and rockets got more holes on this one than any other. Graham saw a ship hit by flak and a couple minutes later the radio operators body fell out.
Briefed on FW (Focke-Wulf) assembly plant at Posen, Poland but bombed Rostock, Germany on PFF (Path Finder Force). Saw about 30 ME (Messerschmitt) 210 & 410's over Poland. Made several passes. Knocked down one 17. Saw about 50 FWs and 109's over Rostock. Knocked down about 5 17's. All of them falling in the Baltic. Intense flak but fairly inaccurate. P38s (U.S. fighters) came in and broke up E/A (enemy aircraft).
Stuart's first combat mission came on Jan. 4, 1944. His last was May 19, 1944. For his work in combat, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, as well as the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters.
He was a part of the Eighth Air Force, Eighth Bomber Command, Third Division Wing, 100th Bomb Group, 350th Bomb Squadron.
During the time he saw combat, he was stationed at U.S. Army Air Force Station 139, located at the Royal Air Force's Thorpe Abbotts airfield in Norfolk, England.
Stuart was promoted from 2nd Lieutenant to 1st Lieutenant in April 1944.
That's what my dad was doing when he was 21.
And that is my family's Veterans Day story.
Thank you to all veterans living and dead for serving our nation. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)