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The Rookie:

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The Rookie:

524 pagine
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May 8, 2015


This is the third in the series of action-packed novels written by Cheryl Pula. These are exciting, spell-binding books about the young men who served in WWII in the Eighth Air Force. While the books are fictional, every story within is based on a true story that Cheryl obtained after extensive interviews with actual vets from WWII. Each of the eight books in the series follows the timeline of the actual war, providing readers with a unique insight into what life was like during World War II. You can obtain all eight books now and "binge read" to your heart' s content. Each book in the series ends with a cliffhanger, leaving readers wondering if any of our heroes will survive.
BOOK REVIEWS: Cheryl Pula has done it again. This is the third in her series about the Eigth Air Force. Beginning with her first book in the series she has continued to paint excellent pictures that give us a glimpse of what these men and women went through during World War II. The discriptions of the scenes of war leave you on the edge of your seat while the building of the characters makes you feel you know and care about them. You need to start with Book One and read through them all to get the full impact and to get to know the characters. I anxiously await the release of Book Four.
By Dennis
"Hello Mr. & Mrs. America and all the ships at sea!" Yeah, yeah, I know Cheryl Pula's book series involves the brave young heroes of the Eighth Air Force Heavy Bomber Squadrons but these three volumes are so marvelously researched that I'm able to get such a "feel" for World War II and a taste of what it must've been like to be a part of a B-17 combat crew in England that Walter Winchell's memorable phrase from back then popped into my head.
I recently finished Pula's third volume, "The Rookie", and had the urge to review. So here goes!
Once again, book three of Pula's series resumes the experiences of the men of the PRETTY BABY, a B-17 heavy bomber from the 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy) engaged in routine, and often deadly, daring daylight bombing raids into Axis territory in Europe from Bassingbourn, England during 1943. This volume covers the events from July 15 to September 19, 1943 and the book begins by resolving the cliffhanger from book two: Did the FULL HOUSE's new rookie Bombardier, Jesse Nowakowski, succeed in completing his bomb run as Lead Bombardier on his very first combat mission with his crew? Well, I'm not gonna tell! You'll have to read it yourself and find out.
As was unfortunately the case with piloting a B-17 into enemy territory, the FULL HOUSE soon encounters flak and German fighters and young Jesse Nowakowski quickly finds himself in a true "trial by fire" while still on his very first mission as part of the FULL HOUSE crew and his was the LEAD plane on the mission. Pula ramps up the action and drama ... don't forget, ALL of these incidents actually happened to real B-17 crews during the war. Jesse's first hellish combat mission makes for a truly engrossing read and the book continues to deliver as the events of book three unfold.
Cheryl Pula has done it again. This is the third in her series about the Eigth Air Force. Beginning with her first book in the series she has continued to paint excellent pictures that give us a glimpse of what these men and women went through during World War II. The discriptions of the scenes of war leave you on the edge of your seat while the building of the characters makes you feel you know and care about them. You need to start with Book One and read through them all to get the full impact and to get to know the characters. I anxiously await the release of Book Four.
Looking forward to sequels

May 8, 2015

Informazioni sull'autore

Biography: A native of New York Mills, New York, Cheryl Pula is a retired Reference Librarian with a B.A. degree in Russian Language and a minor in German. Though officially retired in August 2011, she now works part-time at the New York Mills Public Library in New York Mills, NY. Cheryl also does extensive speaking engagements throughout New York and is available to speak at your next event. For more information, e-mail or visit her website at She has taught courses on unsolved historical mysteries; the American Civil War; World War II; The Titanic and several other topics. A founding member of the New York Mills Historical Society. She is also the founder, current secretary and newsletter editor of the General Daniel Butterfield Civil War Round Table in New York Mills. She is an honorary member of the Memphis Belle Memorial Association of Memphis, Tennessee. Cheryl is also a charter member of the Writer’s Club of Bridgeport, New York. She is known around central New York for presenting a number of historical lectures (90 to be exact!) on topics from the Titanic to the first moon landing in July 1969. Cheryl was elected “Historian of the Year” by the Oneida County Historian’s Association in 2006. In 2010, she was listed in Who’s Who In America. She is also the author of the series of novels about Eighth Air Force B-17 bomber crews in World War II England. The first book in the series is, The Children’s Crusade, published by Whitehall Publishing. This is the seventh in the series. She has also compiled a series of books that bring together some of the most compelling and interesting mysteries in our history. The series is called, It’s A Mystery with the first and second volumes already published and more to follow. Cheryl is also a national speaker. To learn more about Cheryl Pula or to schedule her to speak at your next event, we invite you to visit her website at: http://8thmilitary.comTo arrange to have Cheryl at your next event as a Keynote Speaker, e-mail or visit her website at:

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The Rookie: - Cheryl Pula

The Rookie:

The Eighth Air Force Series,

Book Three

Written By:

Cheryl Pula


After reading book #1 The Children's Crusade, I have now completed book #2 The Ragged Irregulars and book #3 The Rookie. The author is to be commended; she spent a lot of time to research and document some of the action of B-17 crews of the 8th Army Air Force during WWII in Germany. I look forward to more sequels. Ken VanDyke, Oklahoma City, OK – Retired U.S. Air Force

Historical fiction gives literary license for an author to go where the historian" cannot. Those familiar with Beirne Lay and Sy Bartlett’s 12 O’clock High! Or Len Deighton’s Goodbye Mickey Mouse will appreciate Cheryl Pula’s grasping of the life and times experienced by the boys of yesterday who in 1943 called Bassingbourn their home away from home. With a compelling literary style and absorbing dialogue, the reader develops an understanding of the air war from the individual’s perspective. Make room on your book shelf for this and forthcoming volumes in this series. Paul Andrews, Virginia – Eighth Air Force Researcher, Author of We Are Poor Little Lambs"

"I couldn’t wait to read Cheryl’s third book, The Rookie, and I wasn’t disappointed. It is one of those that can’t be put down. It’s fast paced and action filled. You get a sense of what it was like being on a bomber’s crew in World War II. The characters both old and new become a part of you. Cheryl has hit the mark with this again. Can’t wait to read book 4!" Steve Rowlands, Oneida, NY – Retired U.S. Air Force

The Rookie:

Cheryl Pula

Copyright Cheryl Pula 2015

Published by Whitehall Publishing at Smashwords

For More Information Contact:

Whitehall Publishing

P.O. Box 548

Yellville, Arkansas 72687

Cheryl Pula

Cover Design:

Ascender Graphix

Table of Contents



S/Sergeant Frank Stolar,

Starboard Waist Gunner

Thursday, 15 July 1943

Ochersleben, Germany

United States Army Air Force Station #121

R.A.F. Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire,

2200 Hours (10:00 PM)

Sunday, 18 July 1943

Monday, 19 July 1943

American Red Cross Center

Thursday, 22 July 1943

United States Military Hospital

1900 hours (7:00 PM)

Sunday, 25 July 1943

United States Military Hospital

Monday, 26 July 1943

Near Kiel, Germany

Bassingbourn 1200

Hours (12:00 noon)


1208 Hours (12:08 PM)


1520 Hours (3:20 PM)

Over East Anglia

1600 Hours (4:00 PM)


1900 Hours (7:00 PM)


2200 HRS (10:00 PM)

Sunday, 22 August 1943

United States Military Hospital

Sunday, 19 September 1943

United States Military Hospital

Author’s Note

S/Sergeant Frank Stolar,

Starboard Waist Gunner

Other Books by Cheryl Pula


To Mike, Jen, Kaitlyn and Stella

"The Navy can lose us the war, but only the Air Force can win it.

Therefore our supreme effort must be to gain overwhelming mastery of

the Air. The Fighters are our salvation…but the Bombers alone provide

the means of victory…In no other way at present visible can we hope to

overcome the immense power of Germany."

—Winston Churchill


The Rookie is the third book in

The Eighth Air Force Series.

All events in this series are based on actual occurrences

experienced by people I personally interviewed

while conducting my research.

It was my privilege to spend time with these

Veterans, and my honor to share their stories

in this fictional work.

S/Sergeant Frank Stolar,

Starboard Waist Gunner

Our author, Cheryl Pula based all the stories within this series on the true stories she was fortunate to document during her many hours of interviews with actual survivors of WWII. As Cheryl does speaking engagements and book signings, she is discovering more and more proud families of those who served.

The author would like to acknowledge the family of S/Sergeant Frank Stolar. Ms. Pula was honored to meet the grandson of S/Sergeant Stolar at a recent book signing. Franz Stolar, accompanied by his parents, wore his grandfather’s Air Force uniform to the book signing to honor Sgt. Stolar and all the young men who flew with the Mighty Eighth. During the event, the Stolar family was kind enough to share their family’s story with the audience. It was an evening no one will soon forget!

We are including two photos to honor the Stolar family. S/Sergeant Frank Stolar wearing the actual uniform in his photograph from 1942 is on the right and Franz’s photo wearing his grandfather’s uniform today is on the left. Franz is just over twenty, which is the same age his grandfather was when he served. The uniform fit grandson Franz fairly well, however, his grandfather’s hat was a bit too big, but did not diminish the family’s pride in the sacrifices made by S/Sergeant Frank Stolar. Learn more about the S/Sergeant Stolar later in this book.

On 13 July 1943, twenty-one-year-old Second Lieutenant Jesse Nowakowski of Niagara Falls, New York, a recent graduate of bombardier training school, found himself at United States Army Air Force station #121, R.A.F. Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire, England. Upon arrival, he felt both anticipation and apprehension at the prospect of going to war. He was assigned to the 324th Squadron, 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy) of the United States Eighth Air Force, more specifically to a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber named Full House. Jesse was a replacement for the plane’s original bombardier, twenty-two-year-old First Lieutenant Kenny Donnelly, who was killed on a mission to Bremen, Germany ten days before. Jesse thought he would have time to become acclimated to unfamiliar surroundings, to work with his new crew and learn their routine, but it was not to be.

Just two days after his arrival, with only one practice flight under his belt, he embarked on his first combat mission. At the pre-flight briefing that morning, he learned his plane was to lead the entire strike force of 127 bombers to the aircraft ordnance factories at Ochersleben, Germany. That meant he was the Lead Bombardier, responsible for telling all the other planes when to drop their bombs. While his new crew had no argument with that, many others did have a problem because they did not believe he was capable of doing the job. That was how the 91st currently found itself on 15 July 1943, in Jesse’s hands, the entire success of the mission the sole responsibility of a rookie. Just a little before noon, Jesse pushed the bomb release switch and dropped his ordnance for the first time. Sitting behind the clear Plexiglas nose of Full House, he waited apprehensively for the strike report, to learn if his first mission was a success or a miserable failure…

Thursday, 15 July 1943

Ochersleben, Germany

For good reason, nineteen-year-old First Lieutenant Kelly Davenport was considered the best bombardier of the 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy) at Bassingbourn, England. He was making his own calculations on the bomb run in his position in the transparent nose of the B-17 Flying Fortress Pretty Baby even though he was not the Lead on this mission. Another bombardier, rookie Second Lieutenant Jesse Nowakowski was the Lead, and just made his first combat ordnance drop. Since Kelly wasn’t lead but wing to Jesse’s plane, Full House, his job was to drop his bombs when Jesse did, and he did his job.

Though it was only a few seconds since he pushed the bomb release switch and the ordnance was still in the air on the way to the target, Kelly was such a phenomenal bombardier that he already knew the results of Jesse’s efforts without even seeing the impact. Once he returned control of Pretty Baby to the pilot, twenty-five-year-old Captain Pete Kirkland, Kelly leaned back in his chair and sat quietly, waiting for confirmation of his assessment.

Only a couple feet behind at his navigator’s station, twenty-five-year-old Second Lieutenant Don Weiss asked seriously, Kelly, did he drop at the right time? Did Jesse hit the target or not? He paused for a second, then realization came. You don’t need to hear the report. You already know, don’t you? You knew the minute he hit that switch.

Kelly turned in his seat, facing Don, his expression serious, intent, almost concerned. He nodded. Yes, I know…and this is a day Jesse is never going to forget.

Just fifty feet away to port, Full House’s twenty-one-year-old tail gunner, Sergeant Joe Angelino, located the ordnance factory buildings below just as they exploded in a fireball of orange-red flame and began to belch thick, evil looking black smoke. More reddish fireballs blossomed all over the target, obscuring it from view as the smoke intensified and billowed toward the sky.

Tail to bombardier. You got ‘em, sir! Angelino exulted happily. Both of ‘em! Plastered them good! Everybody’s right on target.

Look at those suckers burn! Fantastic job, Lieutenant! Sergeant Jim Robinson, the twenty-year-old ball turret gunner added for emphasis.

Thanks tail, Jesse acknowledged Angelino’s confirmation of his strike, surprising himself at how calm he sounded. His first bomb run was over. He hit the targets and because he did, 127 other planes in the strike force did, too. He felt an unbearable weight lifted from his rookie shoulders. The worst part of the mission was over, his primary obligation as Full House’s bombardier finished. Now he could return to his secondary responsibility, being a gunner on the flight back to Bassingbourn. He heaved a silent sigh of profound relief.

Hearing the comments over his headphones the pilot, twenty-three-year-old Captain Jack Harrington was pleased, too. After Kenny Donnelly, his original bombardier died twelve days before, he handpicked Jesse to replace him. He could have chosen an experienced bombardier, but opted instead for the rookie based on his impeccable training records at Midland, Texas, where Jesse graduated first in his class. Though initially unsure about choosing an inexperienced man over a veteran, Jack now knew his assessment was correct. His trust in Jesse and his abilities had not been misplaced. He looked to his right.

Without saying anything, First Lieutenant Matt Moore, his twenty-two-year-old copilot gave him an encouraging thumbs-up gesture.

Aboard Pretty Baby, Kelly was about to ask for the results of the strike to confirm what he already knew, when he heard a jubilant voice over the interphones.

Yahoo! We got them! Everybody’s right on target. Jesus, it’s beautiful! Sergeant Steve Camponari, the twenty-year-old tail gunner exulted.

Kelly knew his pilot, Pete Kirkland, heard the report in the cockpit. He wanted to make sure, though, because after the morning briefing prior to the mission, he and Pete became embroiled in a nasty argument about whether rookie Jesse should be allowed to lead the strike. Kelly argued Jesse was qualified, and would not have been chosen to replace Kenny Donnelly unless he was capable of doing the job. Pete argued otherwise, and the disagreement became so acrimonious, that the pilot threatened to charge Kelly with insubordination once the mission was over. Then the pilot actually went to Colonel Clemens Wurzbach, the base commander, to persuade him to remove Jesse from the lead. Luckily, the Colonel did not agree. Now, their crew, as well as the entire Group, knew Kelly was correct. Jesse was more than simply capable of doing the job. He was perfect.

I didn’t quite get that. Repeat please, Kelly requested, wanting to make sure Pete heard the report.

Dead on target! Dead on! They’re burning like hell! Camponari reported excitedly.

Thanks Steve, Kelly looked at Full House, which was flying slightly below, to the left and ahead of them. He wished he could talk to Jesse, to tell him what a fine job he did.

In the cockpit, Pete heard the report over his headphones the first time Camponari said it. He knew full well Kelly asked the gunner to repeat what he said to lend emphasis to his assertion that morning that Jesse was qualified to lead, while Pete maintained he wasn’t. The pilot could feel his cheeks getting warm, and knew his face was becoming flushed, even with the forty-below zero temperature in the cockpit. When they got back to base, Pete knew he would have a confrontation with his bombardier, if only because the entire crew knew why Kelly asked Camponari to repeat his report. He was rubbing it in.

That pissed Pete off more than anything. He was proven wrong about the rookie. Everybody made mistakes, nobody was perfect. The pilot was glad to be wrong, if only because it meant their mission was a success and the new bombardier hit the target. But it was no reason for his own bombardier to rub it in his face in front of their crew, especially because Pete knew Kelly wasn’t the type to say, Ha, ha, I told you so. Normally, Kelly was quiet, unassuming and non-confrontational. But for some reason that morning, the bombardier felt it necessary to start an argument over the rookie. Initiating arguments was also very uncharacteristic for Kelly. Pete knew there had to be a reason why he argued and felt the need to have their tail gunner repeat the strike report. Thinking about it made Pete even angrier. He wanted nothing better than to go down into the nose, grab Kelly and smack him in the face several times, but luckily for the bombardier, they were in the middle of a mission, so he was safe for the time being.

In Full House’s cockpit, Matt silently counted off the seconds on his watch until he knew enough time elapsed for the rest of the planes to pass the target. They should be clear, he reported after what seemed an interminable length of time.

Jack put the plane into a right-hand turn. Those planes that just cleared the target area would make a shallow, banking turn to enable them to fall in behind, still in formation, as he headed for home on a course given to him before they even began the bomb run by his navigator, twenty-three-year-old First Lieutenant Dale Kennedy. Full House completed the bank to the right as Jack turned onto their new course. Now that the bomb run was complete and the other planes were clear of the target, they could take evasive action if needed.

Greg, Jack called. Strike report. Results excellent. On target. Right in the pickle barrel. Send it. Now that the run was over, Jack did not have to worry about radio silence protocol.

Roger, Sergeant Greg Cerminaro, his nineteen-year-old radio operator acknowledged.

Bandit, six o’clock, came Angelino’s voice from the tail, all business now.

Two bandits, eight o’clock, from Sergeant Al Schulze, the twenty-year-old port side waist gunner.

The report broke into Jesse’s reverie, reminding him he was once again gunnery officer and starboard side cheek gunner. He heaved himself out of the bombardier’s chair and took up his station behind his gun. Pulling his aching hands from his pockets, he cocked the Browning, then gripped the twin handles of the .50, scanning the sky for enemy fighters.

Jesse’s hands ached not just because the temperature inside the plane’s un-pressurized fuselage hovered at forty degrees below zero, though that was a major contributing factor, they ached for another reason. Just before beginning his bomb run, Jesse was grazed by a sharp piece of flak that crashed through the nose Plexiglas. It hit him in the forehead, tearing a bloody, raw gash just above his left eye. At the time, he was wearing light, thin silk gloves that a bombardier used during the bomb run to feel the minute adjustments he needed to make to the bombsight, rather than thicker, warmer leather gloves he wore for the remainder of the flight. When the flak hit him, out of reflex, Jesse clamped his hands to his face, and before the blood had a chance to freeze from the sub-zero temperatures, his hands and fingers became saturated with the wetness. At these low temperatures, exposed flesh was susceptible to frostbite, but wet flesh was a certain victim to it. Since becoming wet, Jesse’s hands went from aching to being ice cold and incredibly painful. While he immediately donned his leather gloves after the bomb run, it did not help much once his hands were freezing. Now, even clad in the thicker gloves, his fingers hurt badly. Manning his gun, Jesse tried to ignore the pain and concentrate on watching for enemy aircraft.

During the bomb run on the way to the target, the German fighters stayed away, hovering outside the flak barrage. Now that the B-17’s were beyond range of the anti-aircraft batteries, the fighters swarmed after the Americans, using any opportunity to bag one of the big, slow moving B-17’s.

Full House droned on a few more minutes when Jesse thought he saw a flash of sunlight on glass. He peered intently through the transparent Plexiglas nose.

Simultaneously, he and Sergeant Keith McNeil, the twenty-four-year-old top turret gunner/flight engineer called out, Two 190’s, one o’clock.

The one o’clock position was slightly to the right of the cockpit. In the copilot’s seat, Matt picked up the planes first. They were coming in fast, one ahead of the other. He looked down at his instruments, knowing Jesse and McNeil could cover that area. After a moment he looked up again. He had a feeling, a strange foreboding he never felt before. He caught another glimpse of the fighters. Somehow, in that instant, he knew neither McNeil nor Jesse would get them.

Jack saw the planes, too. They were coming very fast, headed straight for them. Get them! he called to the forward gunners.

McNeil was trying, firing as fast as he could from the top turret behind the cockpit.

Jesse was firing too, since he and McNeil had the only chance of getting the 190’s. Jesse fervently wished he was a better gunner.

Matt wanted to jump out of his seat, to vanish, to disappear into the metal deck. He could do none of those things. He had been on eighteen missions, but was never as scared as he was now. The armor of the B-17’s cockpit would slow the enemy bullets, but not stop them. All he could do was watch the fighters bearing down on him.

Oh, God… he whispered, his voice carrying a helpless, fatal resignation and something else. A plea, a prayer, an entreaty. It was the voice of someone who knew he was going to die.

Pete had Pretty Baby tucked in only a few yards off the starboard wingtip of Full House. They were also aware of the fighter and just as much aware that the Germans were not after them, but the Lead Plane. Sergeant Jim Mallory, the twenty-one-year-old top turret gunner was firing, trying to help the gunners aboard Full House.

First Lieutenant Ray Howell, the twenty-six year-old copilot, watched with wide eyes as the tracers from both bombers flanked the fighters but failed to score a hit. Get him, you guys! he urged.

The lead fighter opened up. The German bullets slammed into Full House, tearing up the starboard side of the plane beneath the forward section of the cockpit at the copilot’s position.

Matt wanted to close his eyes and turn away, but he was transfixed by the onrushing enemy plane. He saw the flash from the first fighter’s wings as it fired, and felt the bullets slam into the side of the plane. The first bullet to enter the cockpit tore through the lower part of the instrument panel and caught Matt low and a little to the right of center, plowed a slightly diagonal path through his body below his right rib cage and lodged against his spine.

At the sound of the first bullet cracking through the cockpit, Jack turned toward him, knowing his copilot must have been hit.

Matt knew he was hit. The impact took his breath away. He felt as though he had been kicked in the gut by an Army mule. The force of impact should have made him double up, but he could only bend a little way since he was held up in the seat by his shoulder harness. He gasped, trying to breathe. He had never been wounded before, not even so much as a scratch or cut finger. Somehow, this was not what he thought it would be like. He expected pain. There was supposed to be pain. There was none. In that millisecond, he was puzzled. Why couldn’t he feel anything? Matt looked down, trying to see the wound. There was a very large, ragged hole in his yellow Mae West life vest, low and slightly to the right of dead center.

The first fighter flashed past, diving beneath Full House. The second German plane followed only a scant second behind. As soon as the lead plane was out of his field of fire, the pilot opened up, his bullets riddling the side of the B-17.

Another bullet hit Matt just a fraction of a second after that. It came through the upper part of the control panel and ripped into his chest, slamming him back against his seat. There was pain this time, excruciating, horrendous pain as the bullet entered, cracked through his ribs, just missed his heart, tore through his left lung and exited out his back. In reflex, Matt jerked his hands up to his chest, a cry of pure agony torn from his throat.

Matt! Jack cried in anguish when he saw his friend grab the left side of his chest.

Amid the agony, Matt heard Jack’s anguished cry and started to turn his head toward him, a look of numbed disbelief on his face. Jack…? he breathed uncertainly, his brown eyes pleading for help.

A third bullet crashed through the copilot’s side of the windshield. It missed Matt, tore through the small space between the pilot’s seats and hit McNeil’s left leg, going cleanly through his calf. It embedded itself into the rear cockpit floor a few feet behind him. McNeil cried out, grabbed his leg and fell heavily to the deck. Even though the bullet missed Matt, it hit with the force of a freight train, obliterating the copilot’s windshield. The window exploded, sending thick shards of sharp glass slashing into the cockpit.

Matt’s reflexes were working on pure instinct and adrenalin. Even badly wounded, he managed to duck his head down and throw his right arm up, shielding and protecting his eyes from the shower of sharp, lethal pieces.

The second fighter followed the first, rolling over and diving beneath Full House, escaping totally unharmed. The entire incident, from the moment the first bullet entered the cockpit until the end, took less than ten seconds.

Aboard Pretty Baby, they watched helplessly as the fighters raked the other plane’s cockpit. When the bullets hit, Full House seemed to shudder. There was an explosion of glass from the right side windshield. Pieces of pulverized glass cascaded over the cockpit roof, the nose and inward into the cockpit interior. Fragments of the copilot’s roof window tore up, bounced off the top turret, and disappeared over the port side. The bullets slammed into the roof just forward of the turret, then the fighters were gone, flashing by past the left wing.

Jesus Christ! Half the cockpit’s gone! Ray blurted in shock.

Pete kept his eyes glued on Full House. He fully expected to have to take evasive action. If Jack and Matt were dead, the plane would be slewing into her death throes and he wanted to get out of the way in one hell of a hurry. He watched tensely, expecting Full House to start falling away. She did not. She kept flying straight and level.

Maybe they missed… Ray speculated hopefully.

Jack maybe, Pete said, but they got Matt. They had to…

The pilot felt something decidedly strange then: worry, concern and dread, the deep consuming dread one felt for someone who was a friend, a very good friend, who was hurt...or dead. Pete felt it when Kenny Donnelly died almost two weeks before. It was understandable. Kenny had been a good friend. Now it was Matt, about whom Pete was ambivalent at best because Matt Moore was a half-breed, half white, half Cheyenne Indian.

Pete was from the Deep South and had forebears who fought in the Civil War. His branch of the family were poor farmers, but he did have relatives who were well-to-do slave owners. That did not matter, because rich or poor, his family was still fighting the War and held very definite views and opinions about people with colored skin, whether it was black, yellow, red or whatever. They weren’t too overly thrilled by anyone who wasn’t Anglo-Saxon Protestant, either. Several were members of the Ku Klux Klan and openly boasted about it. Pete was inundated with their opinions his entire life, so indoctrinated that he actually believed most of what they said.

When Pete and his officers were assigned to billet with the Full House crew, he was not overjoyed. It was difficult enough dealing with the fact that two of his enlisted crew and his bombardier were Roman Catholic and his navigator and ball turret gunner were Jewish. Pete’s family taught him Catholics and Jews were anathema. Then he was expected to live with someone who was not only Catholic, but had red skin and Indian blood. He knew it would take some getting used to, but it took more than Pete thought it would. He met Matt in April, and resigned himself to the fact he had to live in the same barracks with him. Over the next three months, he got to know Matt, and now Pete had to grudgingly admit, Matt was nothing like the stereotypes his family described of the dirty, filthy, lying, drunken, illiterate heathens Indians were supposed to be. Matt certainly was no thief, nor did Pete ever hear him say anything remotely untrue. Matt was also one of the neatest, cleanest, most fastidious people Pete knew. If anything, the copilot was too neat at times. His clothes, his bunk, his area of the hut was always spotless and in perfect order. Matt was not a drunk, one of the few men Pete knew in the Army who didn’t drink at all. He wasn’t illiterate, either, far from it. Matt usually sounded more like an English professor than an illiterate savage. His diction was perfect. Pete hated to admit it, but it was better than his own. Matt was also fluent in three languages: Cheyenne, Spanish and German, while Pete didn’t know any foreign languages. It was only now, when he knew Matt was badly wounded or dead, that Pete realized the other pilot actually had become a friend. That was why he felt the same as when Kenny died, and it completely surprised him.

To the port, Full House reeled from the shock. The crew felt the impact as well as heard the results. As the bullets tore into the cockpit, the interphones erupted with the sound of their passage: shattering glass, tearing metal. An agonized, pain filled cry.

Jesse looked at Dale, the navigator, who sat at his position behind the bombardier. They heard it all. The cry paralyzed them both and sent icy chills down Jesse’s spine. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. Jesse never heard anything like it. He dearly hoped he would never hear anything like it again.

Dale had heard it before, when Kenny died. It was just as bad now as it was then. He was only a foot or so behind the previous bombardier when he was fatally wounded. Dale spent the next twenty horrific minutes holding Kenny in his arms, listening to his pain-filled crying, until he died.

Call in, Jack ordered, though he knew there was only one person who would not answer.

Tail, Angelino reported instantly.

Right waist, from Sergeant Tad Furmanski, their nineteen-year-old starboard gunner, his voice carrying a heavy Polish accent.

Left waist, Schulze said.

Ball turret, Robinson acknowledged.

Radio, Cerminaro checked in.

Top turret, McNeil gasped.


Dale listened and held his breath. Matt was supposed to check in next, but there was nothing, just silence that spoke volumes. Hoping against hope, he waited another few seconds. Navigator, he finally said, an empty feeling inside.

Bombardier, Jesse reported, gripping the handles of his .50 tightly.

Jesse, get up here. Now! Jack called.

Jesse quickly unplugged his oxygen and interphone connections and dropped the headphones onto the floor. He grabbed a portable oxygen tank and put the mask on. Dale moved aside so he could get out of the compartment through the aft hatch. He crawled as quickly as he could through the passageway from the nose beneath the floor of the flight deck. It wasn’t easy, lugging the oxygen tank. He went up to the open rear of the cockpit. The first thing he saw was McNeil sitting on the bloodstained deck, holding his leg, the blood now oozing between his fingers.

Sergeant? Jesse called.

McNeil waved him away. I’m okay…Check on them…

Jesse moved up behind the flight deck seats. He looked into the front of the cockpit, his eyes wide. Broken glass lay all over the deck, the control panels. Gauges on the instrument panel were shattered and broken. Almost the entire copilot’s windshield was gone, along with a chunk of the cockpit roof window. A very frigid wind blasted through the gaping holes where the windows had been.

Jesse squeezed as far into the cockpit as he could and looked at Matt. The copilot’s head was down and his eyes were closed. There were large, ugly holes in the lower right center and upper left sides of his yellow Mae West life jacket.

Is he dead? Jack yelled over the howling wind.

Jesse leaned over and picked up Matt’s left arm. He felt for a pulse in the wrist. He could not feel anything with his gloves on. He took them off and stuffed them into his pockets, even though his fingers were numb. He tried again, thinking the vibration of the plane could be preventing him from finding the pulse. Still nothing. Jesse tried not to panic. He reached up and felt the left side of Matt’s neck. The pulse was there, but it was almost imperceptible.

He’s alive, he said in relief.

What? Jack asked, unable to hear over the roar of the wind.

He’s alive, Jesse yelled.

Get him out of here, Jack ordered, his voice unemotional.

Inside, he was in torment. Matt wasn’t just his copilot, he was his best friend. He was badly wounded and Jack could not help him. He had to think about the entire crew, not just one man. Right now, their safety, that of the plane and the rest of the strike force were more important than Matt.

Jesse reached over to unbuckle the copilot’s seat harness. He stopped instantly as he thought he saw a slight movement. Sir? he yelled over the wind. He bent closer. Sir?

Matt had not lost consciousness, and his torn chest burned with unbearable agony. Every ragged, erratic breath was pure, excruciating torture. Except for his arms, he could not move. He did not have the strength to even do that. He breathed painfully and only with the greatest effort. He could taste blood. He forced his eyes open. The view was unfocused, blurry.

Sir! Jesse called again.

He pushed Matt into an erect sitting position and held him up in the seat. Jesse put a hand under Matt’s chin and held his head up. Blood was running from beneath the oxygen mask where the copilot was bleeding from his mouth. The blood dripped down his chin and onto his torn clothes and Jesse’s sleeve.

Y…yeah, Matt forced out. He could not hear over the freezing wind that buffeted him. He was awfully cold. He could feel himself slipping away. Matt tried desperately to rouse himself. If he did not black out he would not die, he thought. He tried to focus on the blurry form leaning next to him.

Jesse found it unbelievable that Matt was still alive, let alone semiconscious and able to talk. He cleared Matt’s oxygen mask of blood and put it back on. I have to get you out of here. Can you help?

It took a long moment before the words registered with the copilot’s shock and pain numbed brain. C…can’t, he forced out, his voice groggy. The blood gurgled wetly in his throat. He coughed painfully.

Jesse tried to think. An ex-collegiate football player, Matt was six-feet-six and 225 pounds, a full foot taller and 105 pounds heavier than Jesse was himself. It would be a difficult task to get him out of the seat let alone the front of the cockpit. Jesse could not leave him there. He had to get Matt somewhere safer, if there was such a place.

Bandit, one o’clock, Dale’s voice reported over the interphone.

One o’clock, Jack thought. That was where the last two came from, the two that shot Matt. He could understand the German plan. Send in a couple planes to rake the cockpit and do what damage they could. While the crew was in disarray, trying to recover, send in another plane to finish the job. Kill the cockpit crew and get everyone else when the bomber went down. It was logical, methodical, and effective.

Jack glanced through the badly damaged windshield. He could see it coming, headed directly for him. He could take evasive action, but anything he tried now would be too late. The bomber was already in the fighter’s sights. He had another plane flying only a few yards off his starboard wingtip. If he made any sudden moves, it could easily result in disaster. But if he kept Pretty Baby nearby, there was the slightest chance the other plane’s gunners might be able to get the fighter before it could reach Full House. They had little protection up front now. Jesse was in the cockpit and McNeil was wounded. Only Dale could protect the cockpit, using Jesse’s gun. With almost superhuman effort, Jack tore his eyes away from the incoming fighter and kept his attention on flying the plane.

"Jesse! Get him out of here!" he ordered, his eyes straight ahead. Matt was a sitting duck. Another bullet would certainly kill him. As it was, Jack was amazed he was still alive.

Without hesitation, Jesse took a deep breath, pulled off his own oxygen mask and dropped it. The oxygen bottle would be in the way. Jesse could function without oxygen for a minute or so before the lack of it would begin to affect him. He unbuckled the copilot’s shoulder harness, took off Matt’s headphones, oxygen mask and hat and dropped them on the deck. He pulled the copilot to the left slightly. Getting as close to him as he could, Jesse leaned forward and put his hands beneath Matt’s arms. He hugged the copilot close. Pulling him from the seat would cause Matt agonizing pain, but Jesse tried not to think about that. He tensed himself.

Jesse pulled, all his strength behind it. He pulled Matt to the left and back, the momentum yanking him backwards from the seat. Jesse miscalculated how heavy the copilot would be, and it threw him off balance. He slipped on the blood slick deck and fell heavily on his back, still holding the copilot tightly. He almost ran into McNeil’s legs as he sat on the floor behind the copilot’s seat.

The pain scorched through Matt’s chest. He gritted his teeth and gasped, but did not cry out. It hurt so badly he wanted to scream from the torment, but kept it inside. The pain tore through him as he fell heavily to the deck behind and between the seats, face up. The impact was tempered by the fact that he fell on Jesse beneath him.

In spite of the cold, Jesse was sweating. He was panting too, both from the effort and lack of oxygen. At their current altitude of almost 26,000 feet, there was no oxygen in the air, and he couldn’t catch his breath. He reached over, grabbed the discarded oxygen mask, and inhaled deeply. Holding his breath, Jesse carefully pushed himself from beneath to copilot’s body, trying not to hurt him any further. He gently lowered the copilot to the cold deck, then knelt next to him. Matt was having a difficult time. The pain had to be horrendous. After taking another deep breath of oxygen, he put the mask on Matt.

Take cover! Jack yelled.

Jesse looked up. From where he was on the floor, slightly behind, between and below the pilot’s seats, he could just see out of what was left of the windshield. All he could see was the fighter. It was the biggest, deadliest thing he ever saw. It was coming straight toward him. Human nature told him to jump behind the armored back of the pilot’s seat for whatever protection it afforded. Where he was, kneeling on the rear cockpit floor with the badly wounded copilot lying before him, he was not safe. Jesse had no time to think about what to do. He did it automatically. He lay down on top of Matt, shielding as much of him as he could with his own body. He lay face down, put his arms over the back of his head for protection, held his breath, closed his eyes and waited for the end.

McNeil ducked further down behind the copilot’s seat, hunched over and hoped for the best. As he crouched there, he looked at Matt with Jesse lying on top of him, protecting him.

They’re dead men. Both of them. If they aren’t now, they soon will be, McNeil thought.

The fighter opened up, the deadly slugs tearing into the cockpit. Jack was hit with a bullet that came through the copilot’s side windshield. The slug tore through his right shoulder. Jack gasped as pain exploded through his body. As Matt had done, he instinctively grabbed his shoulder. As soon as he let go of the control yoke, the bomber began to fall off to the left. Miraculously, he was missed by the other bullets that scorched through the cockpit.

As soon as Jack took his hands from the controls, Full House fell off to the left, the nose suddenly dipping down. Dale grabbed the back of the bombardier’s seat to keep from being thrown forward through the Plexiglas. He slipped and ended up on his rear on the deck. Empty shell casings cascaded into the tip of the nose due to the B-17’s downward slant. The plane continued to nose down. Dale could see the ground. It changed places with the sky and it was still a long way off, but they were definitely headed for it.

Oh Jesus, we’re going down…the navigator thought in terror. Strangely, the one thought Dale had was that he did not want to bail out. He always hated the idea of jumping out of a plane. Now he might have no other choice.

Jack grabbed the control yoke and worked the rudder pedals, trying to right the plane. He was calling on reserves of strength he never suspected he had. Though his right shoulder pained incredibly, he gripped the control yoke tightly.

Jesse hugged Matt as the deck slanted beneath them. He stuck his right leg out, bracing it against the oxygen tanks lining the fuselage.

All over the plane, the crew braced themselves as best they could, holding their collective breaths, waiting to see if Full House would pull up or continue her downward slide.

Jack panted as he manhandled the bomber back onto an even keel. He pulled the controls back slightly, trying to get her level. Jack swallowed nervously. His mouth was dry. He felt awfully dizzy. He was in horrendous pain, and it took a great deal of muscle to pull the bomber up when she nosed down. He managed to correct, but the effort exacted a terrible price. He had almost no strength left. He did not know how bad his wound was, or how much longer he could tough it out. They were still three hours from base.


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