My father was a quiet man. Especially when it came to speaking of his service during World War II. In fact, most men — our fathers and grandfathers and uncles — pretty much did not talk about WWII if they had fought in it. My dad was no exception.
I saw his Army Air Corps uniform the few times that he took me down in the black-widow-infested, dirt walled basement of the ranch house we inhabited rent-free. I was three or four. He met my persistent questions with silence and a funny half-smile.
But after we moved off the ranch and down south to sunny Palm Desert, he did not remain silent about the War. His comments, however, were oblique; indirect. For example, he would suddenly say to me, a ten-year-old, “I used to go to town [London] with these guys: J.D. King, Darius Christie, Kenneth D. McCool. They were good boys.”I wish you could see the way he lit up when he talked about these guys. At the time, I had no idea what he was talking about.
I know now. In aerial combat, my dad, George Krikorian, was 28 years old — eight or ten years older than everybody else on the B-17G crew. So these young gunners looked up to my dad as their chief enlisted man; would even give him their wallets to hold in case they “got it” — which made no sense because he was on the same plane anyway!
It is not the oblique war story I’m trying to tell you; it is the obliqueness, the odd way of telling it. I realize now, that his crowning achievement of his war experience was to bring all these young enlisted men home alive; which he did. You see, my dad was the Flight Engineer and Top Turret Gunner. If he could not repair the plane, everybody died.
My father, and the entire 486th Bombardment Group, spent their war time years living on a base just outside Sudbury, England – a small British “Market Town” in Suffolk County. The people of the town were so appreciative of “Our Boys’” efforts to push the Nazi’s back to Berlin that every 4th of July since the war ended they lay a wreath on the memorial in the new churchyard.
This year—on the 70th anniversary of D-Day — my wife and I made a pilgrimage to Sudbury on what would have been my dad’s 98th birthday. We were there for a memorial service to honor the 486th Bombardment Group (Heavy)—my dad’s Group. One of the first things we saw upon our arrival —there over the Town Hall flew “Old Glory” to honor the former residents of the town.
A five-minute walk out the back of our Inn took us to a modern church building and its yard, where a big monument stands. The Air Force, the Royal Air Force, the Mayor of Sudbury, and the town Anglican Priest, conducted a brief, moving ceremony. We boarded a bus with six elderly veterans of my dad’s Group – ranging in age from a mere 89 to 96 – who had traveled to Sudbury specifically for this occasion. We drove about three blocks to the Town Hall and its 486th Museum.
More ceremony. My wife and I found ourselves seated with four of the six veterans; most of the women folk had gone shopping, but my wife stuck with me, and we had a delightful talk with the nonagenarians.
One more quick bus trip up the hill to an auditorium in a private high school. In walks a group of elementary schoolers, too. Many, many young people listen to two of the veterans share their WW II stories. And the students are asking probing questions like “Were you scared?”The men reply, “Sure. But once you’re in combat, there’s little time for fear; you’ve got too much to do.”A couple other vets get up out of wheelchairs and take the microphone, but they keep not holding it right so not getting amplification. That’s alright: everybody is listening intently to the “living history.”
While in Sudbury, of course I thought an awful lot about my dad. He was not very articulate, but he repeated throughout his life his delight in those three men on his bomber crew: two gunners and the radio operator. Again, I now know what dad was trying to tell me.
I asked my father once, “Why did you join the Air Force?” And I repeated the question, thinking dad would respond, “I always wanted to get up in an airplane.” Nothing doing. My dad said straight: “They had the best food — steak, real eggs, everything.”
We owe an incredible debt to all vets, no matter which war they fought in — especially those who now share harrowing stories to high school students and elementary schoolers. To which I say, “Bless, bless them all, the long and the short and the tall.”
With special thanks to John Flynn.