My teenage son wrote the following post in honor of his grandpa by describing what this picture meant to him.
The sky is a light blue. Clouds sparsely decorate the top two-thirds of the picture; and the bottom third of the photo has almost what appears to be a blanket of clouds. The sky has a wonderful pleasant look to it; and it almost looks like something you would imagine to see in heaven, if it weren’t for the bomber planes. This could have been a beautiful day in Europe.
The first plane in the photo is right near the camera. You can only see about half of the plane which is a B-17 Bomber. The primary color of the plane is olive drab, which was the typical color of the U.S. military at the time, but the underbelly of the bomber is practically snow-white. The propeller turbines are just in sight of the photo and the propellers are spinning so fast that they are barely visible. The aircraft has multiple windows. Some are lower or in the middle of the plane and some of the windows contain machine guns poking out. The top part of the bomber has a cock-pit like area. This is where the pilot is controlling the bomber. Behind the pilots area there is a ball turret. You can see sparks and flashes coming from the gun’s mouth.
The second bomber is in the upper left hand quadrant of the photo. This plane is at a higher elevation than the first aircraft, so much so that you can actually see underneath one of the wings. This plane displays its different markings. For example, the tail has a blue “C” on a white square which presumably indicates that this plane belongs to Squadron C. You can also see a white star on a blue circular background obviously signifying that the bomber is American.
The third plane is in the upper right quadrant of the photo. Compared to the other two planes, this one is much more blurred out. You can’t make out any details, but it must be in the same squadron as the other two bombers.
This photo gets even more riveting. Near the bottom of the photo right above the “heavenly” clouds there is a disastrous scene. A plane, potentially American, has been shot and has caught fire. The pilot appears to have lost control and the plane is starting to make a nosedive, while nearly half of it is covered with fire. Yellow and orange fire explodes out from the back of the aircraft leaving behind a plume of black smoke. Furthermore, in the bottom left section of the photo you can see a number of other aircraft coming near the bombers. The planes look German based upon their shape and obscured insignia.
The most amazing thing about this photo happens to be what had been added to it more than 60 years later. On the left side of the photo there is a transparent almost ghostly looking figure of an older man. He is wearing church clothes and has a bald head. He has few wrinkles, but still retains the look of an experienced wise soul. He also is smiling and looks happy. This man is a WWII veteran who flew on one of those B-17 Bombers.
Why was this photo taken? One reason could have been to show how dangerous flying in these bombers was. The B-17 was called the ‘flying fortress”. In reality if bullets hit just the right spot on the plane the whole thing could explode. Airmen never knew for sure if they were going to survive that day’s mission. I think this photo is trying to convey that these airmen had to work together to survive. These B-17s were large targets; and if the German planes spotted one flying solo they could probably zone in on it and shoot it down quickly. This explains why the bombers were flying in a formation in the photograph. Also the way the photo is shot from the side view, makes the sky look more open. During the war you could be attacked at any angle at any time while in a plane. I think it is important that a plane is shown being shot down, and presumably it is to try to get the reader to think about how scary it would be to fall thousands of feet through the sky.
Another reason this photo may have been taken was to show us how aircraft have changed. In WWII most planes were powered by propellers. Jet engines were a thing of the future, and very few counties in the world had developed jets. Germany happened to be one of the first to do so; and therefore the German jets probably scared the living daylights out of the Allied airmen. Most war planes during WWII did not have proper heating, and the crew had to wear heavy wool clothing and jackets just to stay alive at higher altitudes. Another interesting thing is the manner in which this picture was taken. Presumably the camera had to be exposed from outside the plane to get this kind of shot. So imagine all the potential dangers of taking this photo back then. Taking all this into account, as well as the fact that planes were being shot at and blown up all around the photographer, it is amazing that this photograph was captured.
I think the main reason this photo was taken was to remind us what WWII veterans had to endure. The inclusion of the WWII veteran in the picture shows these brave men are still alive today. The photo also shows that veterans have not forgotten their wartime experiences; and it must be hard facing death in wartime and then live longer than all your comrades, only to spend days later in life with people who don’t truly understand what it was like. By the way this is my grandfather Roy McGinnis. He was a gunner on one of the B-17 bombers. On his fourth mission in Europe his plane was shot down. The whole ten man crew survived and they were all taken to Stalag 17 a German POW camp. My grandfather spent 19 months there. I think this photo is a reminder to him how close he came to death, and it is a reminder about how he served his country bravely. My grandfather doesn’t regret serving and he never will. This photo is a testament to the bravery of our armed forces and everything its men and women have gone through.