Thomas McDonald: excerpt from the book “My Father’s War: Memories from Our Honored WWII Soldiers” by Charley Valera.
In 1944, 1st Lt. Thomas McDonald was the navigator in a B-17 named, “Why Worry?.”
In this short segment, we find McDonald writing a letter from his B-17 on their way to a bombing mission to Elaine, his newlywed of only a couple of months. McDonald’s letter shows the boredom and dangers of the mission, along with his acceptance of his fate while still holding onto his loving wife and life back home.
“My Sweet, I’m going up now. I’m up 8,000 ft., 9,000 ft. We’re going up 2000 [feet] a minute. I just put my mask on I’m now at 13,000. Here after I wrote a number it will be thousands, 14,000 now and I feel a crackling in my left ear. We’re going up 2,500 feet per minute now. Up 17,000 now. 18, 19, 20. I just turned my oxygen on full. There are twenty of us in here. Most of us have old type masks. The rest have new ones but it didn’t fit tight enough. 24. The crackling in my ear has practically stopped and I feel perfectly normal. I think this is going to be very boring— 26.5 27.5 I hope I can sit here for 3 hrs. 30.
They continued to thirty-eight thousand feet. All the while, Tom was writing to his wife about her clothes, about clicking his fingernails for signs of anoxia, which, he explained, could cause death. He wrote about her mother, Easter dinner, and how— if they lost their masks now— they would all be dead in forty-five seconds. He wrote again about his own mom and how he received information and regular letters from her. He went on about how his crew was getting the bends and starting to pass out. He still felt fine, by the way, but wanted to know who she was going dancing with. It was a tough flight for the crew; they were scared, knowing that “without oxygen at 28,000 feet for 6 minutes and you’re dead usually.”
At that point, Tom clearly had two things on his mind: staying alive and getting home to Elaine.
In the book, “My Father’s War: Memories from Our Honored WWII Soldiers” written by Charley Valera, there are many similar personal stories and photos by over a dozen different WWII veterans Valera had personally interviewed. Copies and more details are available here.