Magazine article America in WWII

My Own Tags

Magazine article America in WWII

My Own Tags

Article excerpt

THE FIRST TIME I FLEW IN A PLANE, I was headed to Spain with my mom and dad. We were going to live outside Madrid for three years while my dad helped keep a detachment of US Air Force rescue helicopters running. It was the mid-1960s, and corporate America seemed to think that making stuff fun for kids was the way to open parents' pocketbooks. A stewardess gave me a sky-blue nylon shoulder bag with the Pan-Am logo printed on it, and a set of wings to pin on my shirt. That was almost as cool as the secret I wore under my shirt: real dog tags. With those around my neck, I was practically in uniform, a junior airman.

Only years later did I realize I was wearing dog tags so the authorities could identify my body if we crashed. This was something a six-year-old shouldn't know, and my parents never mentioned the tags' grim purpose.

The young men who piloted and crewed America's bombers in World War II wore tags much like mine, but they knew what they were for. Their no-frills flights had very serious risks. On a raid over enemy territory, flak and machine-gun bullets tore through the very structure that was keeping you afloat, but you couldn't go hide somewhere. Bomber men learned morbid things; at high altitudes, for instance, blood turns into little icy red balls that roll around on the floor.

Everything about flying in WWII bombers was dangerous. During the war, my dad was part of a team that moved from squadron to squadron in the Ninth Army Air Force in England and then France, training ground and flight crews to maintain and operate new Douglas A-26 Invaders. …

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