The Last Mission
April 24, 1944
At first a whine, a sputter then a roar;
The pre-dawn mist fanned through the spinning blades.
Our crew had done this twenty times before;
Begun the count-down of remaining raids.
The seconds ticked towards time to taxi out.
More light revealed tall silhouetted trees.
All ten men sought control of fears and doubt,
And hoped and prayed this day would pass with ease.
After the lead squadron had passed us by,
We trailed behind them on the taxi strip
Toward the runway and our time to fly;
Embarking on a most ill-fated trip.
When the plane ahead vanished out of sight,
I held the brakes, applied full take-off pow'r,
Expectantly waiting for the green light,
Then raced ahead beyond our control tow'r.
We lifted off and climbed on instruments,
To join our group assembling in the clear,
Which later headed toward the continent,
In line with other groups both front and rear.
Some scattered flack over the coast of France,
But then we welcomed back tranquility.
Hundreds of bombers steadily advanced;
Entered German air with impunity.
How beautiful the clouds and azure sky!
How peaceful! Could this be a scene for war?
Not yet. Just wait for soon airmen would die.
That moment, though, I thrilled at what I saw.
After a while a voice on intercom,
"Fighters at nine o'clock going our way."
"If they should turn on us, give the alarm,"
I ordered with a feeling of dismay.
I'd not seen that many fighters before.
They were too far away for me to tell
Whether, or not, if they were friend or foe,
As they passed by us flying in parallel.
We did not have to wait for long to know.
What happened next was all so very fast,
No words can capture the scenario;
Wave after wave of fighters flying past.
They were Messerschmitts in a deadly hunt,
Approaching widely abreast in small flights,
Just out of firing range of friends in front,
Aligning Flying Forts in their gun sights.
They quickly closed on us from dead ahead,
Firing their weapons before darting away;
Some breaking over, most below instead,
Doing their damage and leaving the fray.
Our gunners responded to these attacks.
I heard the top turret's firing cadence
From above and behind the pilots' backs;
But failed to notice its later silence.
And then we had a welcomed interlude,
Providing time to breathe easy again;
To check our craft and crew, now quite subdued.
Our engineer was wounded and in pain.
I asked the copilot to check on him.
A morphine shot and then full oxygen.
Our flight engineer's condition was grim
Due to bleeding wounds in his abdomen.
The other gunners had mixed news to tell;
Our total numbers had become quite thin.
Though they, themselves, were all healthy and well,
There was empty space where ten ships had been.
One aircraft in our second element
Had been seen exploding during the fight.
Another's fate was just as violent;
It spun into the ground, no chutes in sight.
The third ship did make it to Switzerland,
Only to blow up over Baltenswil.
We were to learn this later second hand.
Thirty men's lives, hopes and dreams unfulfilled.
The high squadron was nowhere to be seen.
One ship was missing from the lead squadron.
We were now eight where there had been eighteen.
We'd not fared too well in the confrontation.
The group made a u-turn around Munich.
"Fighters at six o'clock," was called, but then;
They left us when ack ack fire became thick
On the run to Oberpfaffenhofen.
Our target, the Dornier aircraft plant
On that field with the funny sounding name.
With bombs away the leader turned aslant,
And added power, and then we did the same.
Then next we heard a shrill, ear piercing hum;
A propellor's out of sync rotation.
A runaway spinning at maximum
Gave rise to uncontrolled breaking action.
I was unable to feather the prop.
The others flew off leaving us alone.
Another engine, an oil pressure drop;
We shut this one down, our problems had grown.
Seventy or so miles to Switzerland,
Five hundred and fifty to Podington,
A badly wounded engineer on hand;
I quickly opted the much shorter run.
At briefing we'd been told use Altenrhein
If we had to in an emergency.
The grass field on Lake Constance's shoreline,
Was promised relief to our urgency.
Before we moved out over the water,
A German fighter approached from behind.
We felt like lambs awaiting the slaughter.
Tell me, could fate be so cruelly unkind?
We had almost made it, now this devil
Appeared to be our final tormentor.
What would deliver us from this evil;
Stay the hand of our executioner?
Odds in his favor were prohibitive,
Yet he failed to deliver the death blow.
Was my evasive action effective?
There is no way for us to ever know.
We were there for this enemy to take.
Did he withhold his fire, let us survive?
He made his last pass as we crossed the lake.
God must have intervened, kept us alive.
The landing came as a climatic close
To an already precarious flight;
After a short roll, we stood on our nose,
Before the aircraft slammed back down upright.
A tire had been punctured during the fight;
On landing the rim dug into the ground.
While we all got out of the wreck all right,
Our gallant ship was to remain earthbound.
Three men were taken to the hospital;
The engineer for a prolonged stay.
The rest were taken to a Swiss hotel;
Later joined by the two released that day.
Internment was a boring aftermath;
Our escape a less exciting story.
We did not miss the war's fury and wrath.
Gave thanks to God in all of His glory.
William 'Woody' Parramore