WWII B-17 Pilot Signs Historic Wing

WWII B-17 Pilot Signs Historic Wing

In 1943, Harvey went into a boots shop to find out what deposit he had to pay for a new pair. After the bootmaker’s shop owner told him there was no deposit and that he was supposed to pay the full amount of money for his boots, he was walked to a back room with 30 or 40 pairs of boots.

The owner told him that he accepted a deposit for those ones and that people who bought them, did not go back to pay the rest of the price. “Those boys had been shot down and wouldn’t be back to make the final payment,” Harvey said.

After he paid the owner the full amount for the boots, Harvey left the shop with a very clear head.

He first served as a B-17 pilot with the 384th Bomb Group and after the war he moved to the Jacksonville area.

The aerospace museum at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, will be housing a part of a B-17 wing in honor of the 384th Bomb Group. This Thursday, Harvey left his signature on a portion of the wing, The Florida Times-Union reports.

The 384th Bomber Group Next Generation Association has been traveling around the country with their wing, as they tried to find the last few remaining veterans of that group. Most of the members in the group are descendants of those who served with it, said Keith Ellefson, one of the members. For them, this is just a way of remembering them, a way of paying tribute and respect.

Just like most of the American bomber units of the Army Air Corps, the 384th group suffered enormous casualties during their service from 1943 to 1945. Harvey said that after their first mission, there were only 3 of them left out of 93.

After a few days, a 10-man unit returned as they got rid of their B-17 in the English Channel. At that point they weren’t three anymore, but thirteen. Soon, Harvey became some kind of an instructor pilot. Because most of the aircraft was being lost before they could complete their fifth mission, experienced pilots were forced to work with inexperienced crews.

It took the crews twenty five missions to make it back to the United States and only half managed to get through it.

On April 24, 1944, Harvey began his 25th mission to bomb an area located near Munich, Germany. His B-17 was caught in between German anti-aircraft, over France and the back of the cockpit set on fire.

“We had a bail system that alarmed the whole ship. So they knew it was time to get out, but I think they suspected it before that. We were really being hit,” said Harvey.

One morning, after months of hiding on farms, drinking wine and sampling cheese, the group was located in the woods by a German unit. One of the Englishmen that was with them, was killed.

When they were just outside Paris force, he and his group member Dick Rader spotted some American tanks. Harvey recalled yelling at them: ‘I’m Lt. Harvey and this is Lt. Rader. We were shot down. What’s taken you guys so long to get here?’ ” he said.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE