This is an updated version of a blog I wrote in 2014.
I really enjoy learning about history and especially World War II history. With today being Veterans Day I wish I could somehow respectfully relate Star Wars to all that our veterans have done for us and all that our current military men and women still do for us today. Yes, the Empire and First Order can be compared to Nazi Germany and Emperor Palpatine to Adolf Hitler, both being bent on complete domination and destruction of their enemies. The Rebel Alliance can be compared to the Allied forces, because both were fighting for something greater than themselves. But our veterans do and have done so much more that is never talked about or known. So the best way for me to incorporate Star Wars is to say that without these veterans we would not have the freedoms and opportunities that make it possible to enjoy our favorite saga.
On December 14, 2017, I will go see Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and I will completely take for granted how easy it is to buy movie tickets online, go to the movie and sit in my assigned seat, and be able to safely have my own opinion on the movie no matter what anyone else thinks. This is almost all because of the freedoms our veterans have helped protect and our current military members still protect today.
My grandpa, Charles, was one of these humble heroes. He was a ball turret gunner on a B-17 bomber during World War II, a member of the 603rd Bomb Squadron and the 398th Bomb Group in the US Eighth Air Force. On July 7, 1944, my grandpa and his crew were flying only their third mission and their target was Leipzig, Germany. At 11:30 am, while over Gera, Germany, their plane was shot down by Nazi forces forcing the crew to bail out. According to some of the crew, the right wing was blown off and the plane began to spin. The last thing my grandpa remembered before being shot down was asking the navigator, “How much longer until target?” and the navigator answering, “Thirty minutes”.
July 14, 1944, was the first day my grandpa remembered after being shot down. That day he found himself in a German hospital with a broken femur and a fractured skull, and he was the only American in that hospital. He stayed there until September 25, and then was moved to another hospital. In all he spent a total of 10 months in three German hospitals before being liberated in April 1945, due to Germany’s surrender.
My grandpa never knew how he got out of the B-17 the day it got shot down. Two of the crew were killed, and of the six other survivors none could remember helping him get out of the ball turret. The only thing all six knew for sure was that my grandpa was blown out of the plane without a parachute. There just wasn’t enough room in the ball turret for a parachute. While in the hospital he was told that Nazi soldiers captured him after he landed in a tree, which may have caused his injuries and almost surely saved his life.
When he left Meinigen hospital in Germany he was eventually flown back to Hill Air Force Base in Utah and received further treatment for his injuries at a nearby hospital. For his courageous efforts in World War II my grandpa received the Purple Heart, Silver Star, and Prisoner of War medals.
My grandpa has been dead for over 18 years now, but when he was alive he would rarely talk about his experiences during World War II. He definitely never bragged about his service and I hope I don’t come across as bragging about him today. He always downplayed it and acted like what he did was no big deal. In reality he was a hero and a walking history book. There aren’t many generations who can say they lived through things like the Great Depression, a World War, a president’s assassination, and the invention of the internet. It wasn’t until almost 50 years after the end of World War II when he and his fellow surviving crew members met for a reunion that he actually started opening up about what he went through and I got to hear his stories.
According to Veterans Administration statistics there are only about 558,000 living US World War II veterans and they are dying at a rate of approximately 372 a day. By 2036 it is estimated that there will be no more living WWII veterans to recount their experiences so hopefully we’ll appreciate them while we have them and all veterans.
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