The article titled “B-17 to ‘Fly’ Again at Museum” by Danny Monteverde (Dec. 13) was a wonderful story and of special interest to me and my family.
My dad, Oscar Richard, wrote to his mother during his basic training in Ephrata, Wash., that she should not worry about his assignment as a bombardier on a B-17 because “the flying fortress is a very safe plane.”
Her concern was well-placed. His B-17 was shot down over France on Jan. 24, 1944.
When the crew realized they were going down, my dad, guided by the Norden bombsight he was operating in the nose of the plane, opened the bomb bay doors and dropped his payload onto the mission’s target before rolling out into the void and pulling the ripcord on his parachute. Only 22 years old, he was captured by the Germans as soon as he hit the ground. He spent the next 18 months in Stalag Luft I in northern Germany, near the Baltic Sea. His fellow crew members were all also captured, with the exception of the navigator, who hid behind a haystack and later made his way back to their 8th Air Force Base in Grafton Underwood, England, with the help of the French Resistance.
Despite the fact that the B-17 was designed to withstand heavy combat, the 8th Air Force had a casualty rate of approximately 60 percent, validating my grandmother’s apprehension.
My dad is now the only surviving member of his B-17 bomber crew and he just celebrated his 91st birthday on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day. He kept in close touch with his fellow crew members throughout their lives, all of whom lived to an advanced age. My siblings and I have learned so much about WWII and his fellow members of the Greatest Generation by listening to the many stories and seeing the many photos about that time in history that he has shared with us during his long life. He finally chronicled those memories and photos in a book titled “Kriegie: An American POW in Germany” published by the LSU Press in 2000, but now out of print.
Those who enjoy stories about the Greatest Generation should not only visit the WWII Museum in New Orleans, currently featuring an exhibit on German prison camps, “Guests of the Third Reich,” (http://www.guestsofthethirdreich.org/home/), but also make a short trip across the I-10 bridge to Port Allen to visit the West Baton Rouge Parish Museum, currently presenting a national touring exhibition sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities titled, “Our Lives, Our Stories, America’s Greatest Generation.” (http://www.westbatonrougemuseum.com/). Visits to both exhibits and the museums hosting them are well worth one’s time.