I vividly recall April 6, 1942, a Monday. I was in grade school, but I stayed home to join our Chicago family to say goodbye to my brother, Warren, who turned 21 in January and had enlisted in the Army Air Corps for pilot training. Warren was my mentor, best friend, role model and ―my big brother. We shared a bedroom, and almost every night at bedtime, he told me a made-up story in which I was always the hero! His departure affected all of us, including his fiancé, Alice.
A year later, Warren became an Army Air Corps second lieutenant and received his pilot wings that Alice pinned onto the green blouse of his pinks and greens. In June 1943 he qualified in the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, joined his 10-man crew as copilot of the Blind Date, and they flew to England to join the 8th Air Force.
Soon he completed the first of his 25 combat missions over occupied Europe; all were without fighter escorts. Warren recalls that after the B-17 formations crossed the English Channel, swarms of enemy Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf fighters were waiting over France. They made continuous cannon-firing passes that were devastatingly effective. When the fighters disengaged, the anti-aircraft fire would send bursts of large puffs of lethal black-smoke explosives within the bomber formations. Many B-17s were lost. After Warren flew his 21st mission, another pilot took his place on a mission over Germany. As fate would have it, the Blind Date was shot down, and none of the crew survived.
Bomber losses were high until early 1944 when P-51 Mustang fighters began escorting the bombers to and from their targets. Our own Merle Allen flew P-51s, and Barbara Freedman's husband, Ross, also flew fighters from England; Frank Riggs had 11 B-24 Liberator combat missions. Interestingly, post-war statistics showed that the 8th Air Force suffered more casualties during World War II than the entire U.S. Marine Corps!
In early August 1944, I attended a two-week Boy Scout camp in Michigan, but I returned early. Warren, then a captain, was coming home to Chicago!
He and Alice were married on August 12, 1944, and he was discharged after the war ended. I attended their 70 wedding anniversary in 2014, just before they moved to an assisted living facility. Alice passed away in late 2015.
Warren celebrated his 96th birthday in January as chairman of his facility's welcoming committee. He has retained all his faculties, and his memory is as sharp as ever. In June 2015, he flew to Dulles on one of Chicago's USO-sponsored Honor Flights, had told the person in charge about my Vietnam War combat missions as a fighter pilot, and I was invited to join him for the entire day, a time I'll never forget. He's still my big brother!
If you have a memory you'd like to share, please contact Bebe Rice.