This New Year is off to a great start for me so far. Starting with a phone call that I received New Year Eve that was in regards to my Grandfather, Eldon F. Schwarz, he lived from May 13th, 1923 – Nov. 7, 1997. I was contacted because my Grandfather served in World War II in the US Army Air Core. He was in the Bomber Division, flying in the back of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress as the tail gunner, also referred to as the “Piss Gunner.” While many Americans flew in those airplanes during World War II, this guy had called me because his Uncle was flying on that very plane with my Grandfather.
Now, this is where the significant part of the story comes in, my Grandfather, is the sole survivor of that crew aboard that B17 Flying Fortress #44-6349, of the 483rd Bombardment Group, in the 840th Bomb Squadron. More particular to the reason of the phone call is because this guy is putting together a website on his Uncle, Staff Sargent Richard G “Dick” McNerney, which you can read at McNerney’s Journey. He also is considering putting together a book about his Uncle, and considering that my Grandfather is the sole survivor of that B17, he says that he would like to add a chapter, section, or something of some sort on my Grandfather.
But I have saved the best for in just a moment. I was about eight or nine when I asked my Grandfather about WWII. I found him to be particularly under detailed, very short, and generally refused to talk about it at all. In fact, he never comes off to me as if he did serve in a war, but just one time, I got him to tell me about his experience. I never got any details about his training, deployment, or friends and family while he served. While on Christmas vacation at his retirement home in Florida, he just told me this one short story about the B17 he was on.
I was flying over Germany on a bombing run to disrupt some manufacturing plants. (My memory is hazy, but I think he told me something about ball bearings.) When we neared the target area, we came under attack from the Germans. Being the tail gunner of B17 if anyone was to go, it was going to be me. The next thing I know an explosion went off and the airplane was split in half. I was knock unconscious and have no idea how I exited the plane or how my parachute opened. Maybe it was someone in the crew that saved me, but I think it was an Angel watching out for me that pulled me out of the plane and opened my chute. Once I regained consequence, I woke up, on the ground, with Germans pointing machine guns at me. I was taken prisoner, in Germany for an entire year (His burial flag lists the dates August 7, 1943 – November 5, 1945). I was treated very well as a prisoner because the German’s were scared of the American’s coming. And these Germans worried that if the American’s had found fellow Americans being tortured or starving that they would have been literally beaten to death.
And that was the story I was told by my Grandpa Schwarz. Now this guy that called me, tells me that there is more to this story written in his own words. I’m told that in a letter my Grandfather wrote, he mentions being blasted into his guns from the explosion and that the next moment he remembers, he is clinging to the outside of his airplane. This man also has this letter that I’m afraid to read, but I look forward to it, it is the letter my Grandpa wrote to explain his Uncle’s death. On the lighter side of things, he claims to have a photo of my Grandfather, letters from my Grandmother (I think he meant Great Grandma) to his Grandmother about what may have happened to his uncle and my Grandfather, and more.
So all in all, I look forward to diving deeper into what this man offers and that my Aunt will have some amazing possessions of my Grandfather’s to show me.