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EP297: Making Peace with My Sister’s Killer and The First B-17 To Bomb Berlin During WW2

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 9, 2022 3:00 am

EP297: Making Peace with My Sister’s Killer and The First B-17 To Bomb Berlin During WW2

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 9, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories,  Jeanne Bishop tells us the story of the brutal murders of her beloved family member and how a change of heart changed her life and so many others. John O'Neil, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, tells us how Lt. Bill Owen's crew managed to become the first B-17 crew to drop bombs in the heart of the Third Reich.

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Time Codes: 

00:00 - Making Peace with My Sister’s Killer

37:00 - The First B-17 To Bomb Berlin During WW2

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Light, comfy, good to go to. This is Jem. And Em. From In Our Own World Podcast. La Cutura Podcast Network and Coca-Cola celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with incredible content creators like Patty Rodriguez. I was born in East LA, and I remember growing up, there was a small little shack in the apartment we lived at. And I would make that shack into a television studio. And there I would play pretend. I would pretend that I was a news reporter. And that's how I would spend most of my afternoons, pretending and imagining that one day I would be able to tell our own stories. Listen to Out of the Shadows, hosted by Patty Rodriguez and Eric Galindo on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. Brought to you by Coca-Cola, proud sponsor of the My Cultura Podcast Network.

Hispanic heritage is magic. And up next, we bring you a story from Jean Bishop. It's the story of a loving family shattered by gruesome violence.

Here's Jean Bishop. I grew up in Oklahoma City with a mom and a dad and two sisters. I'm the middle child of three.

I have an older sister, Jennifer, and a younger sister, Nancy, who's five years younger than me. And we had this kind of idyllic childhood, you know, nice neighborhood, great friends, great school. And so when we all grew up and ended up moving back to Chicago, where I was born, where my sisters and I were born, we all kind of stayed together as a close family. Nancy got married to the love of her life, Richard, at the age of 23. And they started right away trying to have kids. They wanted to have a big, happy family. Even though Nancy was the youngest of us three sisters, she was the first of us to get pregnant.

She was the first who was going to be a mom. When she announced the news of this to me and my older sister, my mom and dad, we were all just over the moon with joy and happiness. We went out to dinner to celebrate the great news. We went to this Italian restaurant on Clark Street in Chicago, and I brought a little baby gift, a little baby sweater from a trip I'd just been on. And we ordered pasta, and we were laughing, and my parents were so thrilled. This would have been their first grandchild.

This would have been my first little niece or nephew. It was a Saturday night, the night before Palm Sunday. We all had goodbye in the parking lot that night. My mom and dad went back to their big house in the suburbs. I went back to my apartment in Chicago, and Nancy and Richard went back to this townhouse they were living in, in Winnetka, Illinois. And Winnetka is the place I live now.

It's one of the safest, most affluent communities in the country. When they walked through the door of their townhouse, the killer was waiting for them. He had used a glass cutter to break in the glass sliding door in the back because he knew that breaking the glass would have alerted the neighbors, and they would have called the police. He had a.357 Magnum revolver.

He pointed it at them. He handcuffed my brother-in-law, Richard. And Richard was this gentle giant.

He was this six-foot-three, 230-pound former athlete. But he was completely disabled when he was handcuffed. He forced them down into the basement. They begged for their lives. Nancy and Richard both told him that she was pregnant, asked him not to hurt her. First he put the gun to Richard's head, and he killed him execution-style with one gunshot.

And I can't describe how awful that must have been for Nancy, how surreal it must have been to see this man she loved and wanted to have a family with and grow old with just assassinated in that moment. So then the gun was turned on her. She covered up her own head with her hands just because of what she'd just seen and kind of huddled in a corner. The killer fired twice instead into her pregnant side and abdomen. And then he left her there to die.

And when we got the coroner's report later, we saw that she lived for about ten minutes after that. And the blood marks on the basement and the marks on her body showed what she did. She tried to call for help by banging on this metal shelf with a tool that was in the basement. She was too weak to stand, and so she was trying to make a noise that someone would hear. And I just imagine that at some point she must have known that no help was coming and that she was dying and that the darkness was kind of closing in around her and her baby was dying inside her. So she dragged herself by her elbows over to where Richard's body was, and before she died she did this incredible thing that the police told us about later. She had drawn in her own blood on the floor next to Richard the shape of a heart and the letter U.

Love you. It's how she used to sign her her cards and letters to him. And when I learned that, I was with my mom, and my mom burst into tears, and she said, It's true, isn't it? Love is stronger than death. And when I heard it, I thought, What?

But this incredible presence of God could explain the kind of serenity and love and luminous grace that could explain her being able to do those in her last moments. This young woman who knew she was dying to have this be her last word on her life. And that changed everything for me. I was working at a big law firm at the time doing corporate law and doing a terrible job of it because I wasn't putting my heart into it. I didn't love it. It wasn't deeply meaningful to me. And I was cheating my employer as a result.

I wasn't giving it my best. And I realized when Nancy died at age 25, four years younger than me, that life is short, and it can be taken from us at any moment. And we have to spend our lives doing things that are deeply meaningful, that do require our whole heart, and that do some good for the world. And so I left the corporate firm to be a public defender within months.

And it's a job that I've been doing ever since, a job that I still do. So after Nancy was killed, for six months, the crime went unsolved. No one could explain who would kill this happy young couple with no enemies, with everything in the world to live for. And I was just stunned at the theories that were being floated, that maybe it was the drug runners that were trying to disguise drugs in the coffee warehouse where Richard worked. And maybe he saw something he shouldn't have seen and they killed him. Maybe it was some jealous ex-boyfriend of Nancy's.

I mean, all these crazy things that didn't make any sense and that led to nowhere. And you're listening to Jean Bishop, and what a story she's telling us when we come back. More of Jean Bishop's story here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the great American stories we tell and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation. A monthly gift of $17.76 is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to OurAmericanStories.com now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming.

That's OurAmericanStories.com. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year, and UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

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Purchase all free clear mega packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. And we're back with our American stories and with Jean Bishop's story about her sister Nancy and her sister's husband Richard's tragic death. Now let's return to more of Jean Bishop and her story. One day I got a phone call in my apartment from the local CBS reporter who wanted to know my reaction to the arrest in my sister's murder case. And I said, you know, what, what arrest? And he said, there's a teenage boy in custody in the Winnetka police station. And I was shocked it was the last thing in the world I expected to find out that it was this skinny 16 year old who lived a few blocks away from them that had been the one who killed them.

He had bragged to his friends and nobody believed him. They thought he was joking when he said that he had done it, until one friend finally did believe him, because by this time the trail had grown so cold that the killer felt confident enough to show the gun to his friend, to show the handcuffs like the ones he'd used to tell him in detail how he'd done it. And the friend wasn't going to turn him in at first, didn't turn him in. And then when he was afraid that this young man might kill again, and that he'd be a kind of a accomplice to it if he do, finally walked into the Winnetka police station and turned him in. So the police had gotten a warrant, had gone to this young man's home, had found the gun under his bed, tested the ballistics, found it a perfect match to the bullets that killed my family members. Found the glass cutter he'd used, found this notebook he kept about killing them with all the press clippings about the murders.

We even found out that he had gone to Nancy and Richard's funeral. So he was arrested, he was held without bond in the Cook County Jail, and he went to trial about a year later. And he took the stand and denied the crime. Tried to blame it on someone else that he hadn't done it, that a friend of his had come to his door the night of the murder and knocked on it and handed in the gun and said, here, hide this, I just killed two people with it. The jury didn't buy it.

It contradicted all the physical evidence, it contradicted the details of the crime scene, only he would have known about his own confessions to the crime. And so they found him guilty. And when he was sentenced, he got the mandatory sentence that you got at that time in the state of Illinois for a multiple homicide.

And that's life in prison without the possibility of parole. And when he got that sentence, my mom was sitting next to me on these hard wooden benches where you sit in the courtroom as a spectator. And she said to me, we'll never see him again.

And when she told me that, I was glad. I thought, good, you know, I'll never have to think about him again. I had decided very early on that whoever had done it, I was not going to hate him or her. Because I knew that if I had hate in my heart over the murders of my family members that there wouldn't be enough hate in the world.

It'd be this vast, endless ocean of hate that I would drift into. And so I had to forgive that person. But the forgiveness that I had given to him wasn't directed directly to him.

I didn't tell him. It was a forgiveness in my own mind and heart just to unchain myself from him. And it was a forgiveness that wasn't really supposed to be about him or for him in any way.

It was really for God because my faith teaches me that we have to forgive as we've been forgiven. And it was for Nancy because I knew her. She was generous and loving and kind and funny and warm. And she loved life. She loved people.

She was carrying life in her body when she was killed. So that's when I decided to work in her memory against gun violence, against the death penalty, against anything that shed more blood. And I forgave for me because of this saying I love. I write about it in my book that hating another person is like drinking poison and expecting that other person to die. And I knew that if I harbored bitterness in my heart towards him, it wouldn't affect him at all. In fact, he might even want my hate.

But it would eat me alive. And so I vowed not to do that. So he was sentenced to life.

He was taken to Menard Prison, this dungeon-like fortress in downstate Illinois. And for 20 years, I went on my way not thinking of him at all, but just trying to live my life in a way that honored God and this gift of life that I still had been given and that honored Nancy and her memory. So I did a lot of speaking against the death penalty all over the country and the world from my perspective as a murder victims family member. In the course of doing that, I met this law professor named Mark Osler. Mark Osler is, like me, a really unlikely opponent of the death penalty.

He is a former prosecutor who doesn't believe in it. And he had written a book about faith and the death penalty. And I met him at this conference down in Atlanta, Georgia, at Martin Luther King Jr.'s church, Ebenezer Baptist. And he gave me his book, and later he gave me another one, one chapter written by a colleague of his from where he used to teach. And this chapter is written by Randall O'Brien.

So Randall is this guy who grew up in Macomb, Mississippi, veteran of the army in Vietnam, first a teacher of religion at Baylor and then a college university president in Tennessee. And he wrote this chapter about forgiveness, which I was really interested in. And in that chapter, he wrote this, that no Christian man or woman is relieved of the obligation to work to reconcile with those who've wronged them. And when I read that sentence, I was so affronted. I was just completely indignant. And I thought, you're telling me that even though this killer of my sister is not sorry and hasn't apologized and showed no remorse whatsoever, that it's my job to walk out to him, hand outstretched, and say, let's make peace, you and I. And I was so angry that I actually called Mark Gossler to yell at him for giving me this book.

And he said, you know, don't be mad at me. I didn't write this. Call the author. Call Randall O'Brien.

Tell him what you think. And so I did. I called the president of Carson Newman University and I left a message that Jean Bishop wanted to speak to him. And I thought, oh, gosh, he'll never call me back. I'm this stranger calling out of the blue.

But he did. I was sitting in my car waiting to pick up someone from O'Hare Airport. It was one of those freezing cold Chicago nights.

And the snow was swirling around and the heat was on full blast. And I get this phone call from this guy who sounds just like Jimmy Carter. He says, Jean Bishop?

And it was Randall. And I told him this story about my sister and the murder and this unrepentant murderer and this thing he'd written that so upset me. And I said to him, you know, reconciling with this remorseless person, what would this even look like? And he said it would look like Jesus on the cross. And I know that I'm speaking to an audience of people of many faiths or maybe no faith at all.

But my Christian faith is how I was raised. And so I know what he meant by that when he said that the Gospels record that when Jesus was dying, being crucified by people who are not sorry, who haven't apologized to him, who showed no remorse, that he was praying for them, that he said, Father, forgive them. Forgive them.

They don't know what they're doing. And I was so convicted in that moment because I'd never once prayed for this young man who killed my family members. I'd never even said his name. I went through my life saying Nancy and Richard's name because I wanted their names to live and the name of this killer to die. And I realized that if I were going to pray for this young man, I needed to say his name because you kind of make him a non-person by not saying it. So the first thing I did when I started praying for him is to say his name. It's David Biro.

David Biro. He is a child of God. My faith teaches me that God loves him every bit as much as God loves me. And that I'm as flawed and fallen as he is and is in need of grace. And you are listening to Jean Bishop. What words to try and live by? Not easy. Hating that other person is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

This idea of how to reconcile with a remorseless person, how to forgive, how to not carry hate in our heart. More of Jean Bishop's story here on Our American Stories. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year, and UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit UHCMedicareHealthPlans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop. But for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot.

And I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. Doing household chores can already be time consuming and tedious. And there's nothing more daunting than facing piles and piles of laundry that need to be done.

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Purchase all free clear mega packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. And we return to Our American Stories and you've been listening to Jean Bishop's remarkable journey of forgiveness. Let's return to Jean and the remaining parts of this remarkable story. What I've done all those years is built this very convenient wall between me and him. And on one side of the wall was him, and you're the evil murderer. And the other side was me, the good innocent victim's family member. And I saw that God breaks down that wall and that instead of trying to shut him away, I should try to bring him back.

To bring him back into community, into fellowship, into the grace of God. So, I wrote him a letter and I said in that letter, I forgave you a long time ago and I never told you that that was wrong. And I'm sorry. And I've waited all these years for you to apologize to me. I'm going to go first. I am sorry.

And if you want me to come see you, I will. And I mailed that letter not knowing how he'd react. I put it in the mailbox to Pontiac prison where he was at that time. And I pictured him getting it and maybe crumpling it up and throwing it away or showing it to his cellmate and having a good laugh of it.

You know, over this woman and her lofty words about forgiveness. Or maybe getting back some, you know, smarmy, ingratiating letter trying to manipulate in some way. And so the last thing in the world I expected was to get a very thick envelope a few weeks later in my mailbox at the public defender's office with his name Biro up in the left-hand corner and the return address. And for two days I couldn't open it.

I was just afraid to see what it would be. And so I asked Mark Osler to open it instead and read it to me. And when he did, he said, it's good.

And he read me out the whole letter. And it started like this. You and your family waited so long to hear this. I am guilty. I did kill your family members. And I'm so sorry.

If I could take it back, I would. And in the next 15 pages, front and back in this letter, he traced his whole trajectory over those 20 plus years of how he'd gone from, you know, trying to get away with the crime to getting to prison and seeing the people around him and realizing that he didn't want to be like them. And yet he was, that he'd done this terrible thing, that he deserved to be there. When he'd see the news on TV of some horrific crime, like a baby being murdered or an old woman being raped, he'd think instinctively, oh, that person's an animal that did that. And then he thought, wait a second, that's me.

I shot a pregnant woman in the stomach. He started reading. He started self-teaching. He had a friend who had come to visit him and then one day she just vanished, never wrote him again, never called him again, never came to see him, never answered his letters to her. And he started just wondering why, you know, was it something he had done?

Was it something that happened to her? And then he started having great empathy for my family, thinking, gosh, I bet the Bishop family wishes they knew why. Like, why had I done this to them?

Why did I kill their family members? And so he became very remorseful and wanted to reach out to me, but didn't want to do that unbidden because he was afraid of how that would traumatize me or my family if we didn't want to see that name, Biro, on an envelope to us. So the minute I had written to him, he started writing back. And I did go to see him.

I'm seeing him still. It has been incredibly healing to hear about Nancy's last moments, to learn about things I didn't know. One thing I learned that I loved was this. Nancy was kind of like the chatty, talking one, and Richard was like the strong, silent type. And so I imagine that as they were talking to the person who killed them, begging for their lives, that she would have been the one doing the talking.

But what David Biro told me is it wasn't her, it was Richard. That from the moment he saw a gun pointed at his wife and child, he never stopped begging, finding ways, trying to find any way that she would be let go, that he would stay behind, and that she would be let go and be able to live. And it was incredibly healing to speak to David because I got to have this one-on-one victim impact statement that I never got to do. When he was sentenced to life without parole, he didn't have these aggravation and mitigation proceedings that you usually have in a court case because the sentence was mandatory, so we never got to do a statement that we could read out in court about how his actions had hurt us, had hurt everyone who loved Nancy and Richard, my mom, my dad, my older sister, Nancy's neighbors, her coworkers, her classmates, everyone who loved them. And when I talk about Nancy to him, this kind of shadow comes across his face. He told me once, he said, the more I get to know her through you, the worse I feel about what I did. And that's the only justice he can give me.

He can't bring Nancy back or her baby or her husband, but he can do what he's done, which is to grasp the enormity of what he did and to feel great shame and remorse for it and to do everything he can now to live a quiet life in the prison where he's doing life because I told him that it's his job now to do every bit of good in the world that she can no longer do. So I sing in a choir at my church, and one day one of my choir members asked me, Jean, what is it like to go and see the person who killed your family members? What is it like to shake the hand that held that gun? And I told her, it's like frozen earth that used to be hard and barren where nothing would grow, becoming soft and moist where green shoots are springing up and life is coming out of the ground that used to be so barren. That's what it feels like. I feel like my heart had been frozen. And now it's a place where so many things can grow, this love, this forgiveness, this mercy, this reconciliation. It's so healing.

It's so helpful. And it isn't just for me. It's for everyone. It's for everyone within the sound of my voice, whether it's the coworker who undermined you or the business partner who betrayed you, the family member that wounded you and abused you, the neighbor, the friend, you name it. None of us have gotten through this life unscathed. Every single one of us has something that we have to forgive. And every one of us, I think, knows what it's like also to go to another and say, I am so sorry. I can't believe I did that.

I'm so ashamed of it. And I apologize. Will you take me back?

Will you let me back in? That's what I've learned from this tragedy, from the loss of my sister, from that message of love that she wrote in those last moments, that love is greater than our woundedness. Love is greater than hate or bitterness or vengeance. And love is the way out of this hurt that we're in. Love is greater than our woundedness.

It's the way out of the hurt we're in. You're listening to Jean Bishop on forgiving her sister's murderer. Her book, Change Your Heart, Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with My Sister's Killer is available on Amazon. Again, the book is Change of Heart.

Go to Amazon, get it, pass it to everyone you know. And by the way, what I loved about this piece is she wasn't asking that he not serve his time. And for anyone who's had a family member that was a victim of a crime, people need to be in jail and pay the price for what they did. But this beautiful way of dealing with it in the interpersonal level and through the reconciliation model, well, it's simply beautiful.

Jean Bishop's story, her sister's story, and her sister's husband's story, and David Buro's story too, here on Our American Stories. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year. And UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit UHCmedicarehealthplans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop. But for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot.

And I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. Doing household chores can already be time consuming and tedious. And there's nothing more daunting than facing piles and piles of laundry that need to be done.

I mean, that can be overwhelming for anyone. So, if you want to get those larger laundry loads done right and get back to your life, try All-Free Clear Mega Packs. All-Free Clear Mega Packs are bigger packs with two times the cleaning ingredients compared to a regular pack so that you can tackle any laundry load without the worry. All-Free Clear Mega Packs are also 100% free of perfumes and dyes and they're gentle on skin, which is great for any family's sensitive skin needs. My family, we definitely have sensitive skin. So, the next time the whole family gets home from long vacation or you get the kids back from summer camp or whatever the situation is that's caused this big pile of dirty clothes, just know that All-Free Clear Mega Packs, they have your back.

Purchase All-Free Clear Mega Packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. And we return to our American stories. And up next, an incredible story from John O'Neill at the National Museum of the mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler, Georgia, outside of Savannah. In 1943, John's father, John J. O'Neill, Jr., served as a tail and waist gunner on an experimental B-17 that became the first American plane to bomb Berlin, all by some extraordinary chance.

Here's John with the story. In 1943, the United States Air Force had one problem. Weather was hampering operations. The British came over and said, lookit, we need the real hardware, guns, boats, ammunition. We have some secrets that we're willing to trade for those. One of them was radar. The United States was so far behind in radar, the British were so far ahead.

So, when Roosevelt heard that, he said, give them what they want. We want their information because the Germans had radar. They knew when bombers were coming over and where they were crossing. So, MIT, 3,000 scientists took this information and built the first operational United States radar sets to be put in specially equipped B-17s, all top secret.

They could literally do navigation and bomb through overcast. My father's friend, Major Fred Rabo, was tasked with bringing these 12 B-17s from Boston to what's now Logan Airport with the first radar sets in them. So, they brought those over in 1943 and they formed a bomb group called the 482nd Bomb Group out of Alcanbury. They took crews from every one of the bomb groups and they trained them how to use radar. The very best navigators, the very best pilots, the very best crews were tasked with this. So, the first operational radar mission. So, these guys would get up the night before. They were told, you're going to lead the 100th bomb group. So, these special planes would fly the night before to a base, park there.

The next day, they would work with the lead ship who was doing dead reckoning navigation and provide them radar fixes. So, nobody knew. They couldn't name their planes.

Most did. You know, the guys would take a lot of pride in putting their nose art on. But there were these contraptions sticking out from underneath the plane, either under the nose if it was an H-2S set or underneath the ball turret or underneath the front of the nose if it was an H-2X Mickey set.

Very top secret. And they were called the Pathfinders, the 8th Air Force Pathfinders. My father's patch on his jacket is of a lightning bug with the light on the tail lit up holding a bomb. So, it was basically that the lightning bug would light the target and when they were over it, they would drop the bomb.

So, all the different four squadron patches had very similar type. Either it was an eagle holding a bomb with a flashlight, but they were called the Pathfinders. We wanted to reach Berlin going back to November of 43. And there were attempts to reach it because remember now we had the long range P-51. They also thought it was a great target of morale boost. Because remember, we hadn't landed on the beaches of Normandy yet.

So, they wanted to send a message that Hitler's capital could be reached. So, they tried six times starting in November of 1943. And each one of those missions was scrubbed.

Fast forward March 4th. My father's ship is sent to the 95th Bomb Group the night before at Horen. They were going to lead the 13th Combat Wing to Berlin. Maximum effort mission. 750 B-17 and B-24 bombers are to leave for Berlin. Fighter escort all the way to the target and back. The target is the Bosch Electrical Components Factory in Mein Klinkau, a suburb of Berlin just on the southeast. They're going to hit that target because they make the fuel injection systems for the Hinkle bomber and the Luftwaffe Messerschmitt and also the Focke-Wulf 190. They get up that day. They pull the curtain for the briefing and they see the map of Europe and they see the string which would take them to the target. Everybody sees Berlin. My father's waist gunner, a guy named Beans from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, leans to my father and goes, Well, we're dead.

Make sure you get everything to my parents back in Pittsburgh. Now, of course, Beans would say that if they were going on a training mission. He was like the Eeyore of the crew.

So, every time they were to go anywhere, but he says, No, this time I really mean it. They called my father Oni after O'Neill. It was like the short name Oni. They all had shortened names. The other waist gunner was Hoppy. The top turret gunner's name was Don White. It was Whitey. So, they all had these names.

So, Moffett was the ball turret gunner. So, Beans says, We're not going to come back from this. We're not going to come back from this. They take off for Berlin. Maximum effort. Entire eighth Air Force is going.

Weather's real bad. Delayed in takeoff. I mean, we could talk about formation flying and how long it took. Imagine 750 planes trying to get in formation with no anti-collision radar on their ships. It was all by sight. You'd get into clouds.

You couldn't see. There were so many collisions. And when you collide two B-17s or two B-24s together with 2,000 gallons of high-octane aviation fuel, 7,000 rounds of.50-caliber ammunition, and a 12,000-pound bomb load, they would just explode.

And bodies would just never be recovered. So, anyway, they get over the continent. There's a radio recall issue. Weather target obscured. Too much weather returned to base. My father said we had gotten a really good position in the formation. We were in the middle of the 750 bomber streams. So, there were squadrons in front, squadrons in back, and this whole armada is headed to Berlin. They're in the middle. Why the middle was important or why it was considered safer, the Luftwaffe would come up and try to wipe out the lead squadrons in front. Then they would have to go down and refuel. So, the front squadrons usually took the brunt and then the tail end squadrons, the low squadrons, would take the brunt. All of a sudden, they start seeing these B-17s turning around. My father's lieutenant gets on the radio.

He's the pathfinder ship. He's given the course corrections. He says, sir, radio recall, maintain radio silence.

We will continue that a target is briefed. That was it. And then crew conversations were, has the colonel gone mad?

So, he's a 95th colonel. Anyway, long story short, the mission commander, Griff Mumford's plane, was using dead reckoning. They were drifting further and further off course. So, they weren't taking the fixes that the radar ship was giving them. So, finally, they get on the radio and said, if you do not allow us to course correct, you're 49 miles off course right now, we're not going to have enough fuel, we're not going to hit the target, and we're not going to get home. So, at that point, Mumford says, take the lead. So, of the 750 bomber stream, 39 bombers continued to the target. It was the charge of the light brigade. They get to the target, the 51s are there, including Chuck Yeager, who had his first shoot down that day.

If the P-51s weren't there, 39 ships would have gone down, wiped out, no doubt about it. They get to the target. The colonel wanted to be the first one to bomb Berlin.

It was a huge prestige thing, going back to the States. He says, back off to the deputy lead position. So, he begins to back off. The colonel gets on the IP, or the final bomb run, can't open his bomb bay doors. They're frozen shut.

Bad weather. He says, take the lead, we'll bomb on the Pathfinder. They bomb, they shoot a flare, open the bomb bays. My father's crew is the first United States Army Air Force B-17 to reach, gets credited. They thought for sure that he was either going to get the Silver Star or court-martialed for disobeying on a radio recall order. Their explanation was that their radio man on the I'll Be Around B-17, that was the name of it, who was the lead ship, was interpreted as a false radio recall sent up by the Germans. My father's radio operator, who I had the opportunity to talk to, said, that radio recall was as real as they got. Because they had special codes they were given before every flight.

And he says, I verified that. But they stuck with, they didn't divert, they stuck with them all the way to Berlin. But the P-51 saved them, four 17s were lost over the target, 35 of the 39 got home. They flew over Horem, they landed, my father's crew went up to Altonbury, which was about another 25 minutes near Cambridge.

They got out of the plane, exhausted, it was like 12 hours in the air, combat, cold. And they were met by one press person. Meanwhile there was a huge Life magazine, Andy Rooney, Walter Cronkite, all these famous journalists were there at the base at the 95th. They got all the credit in the world of the newspapers.

Except for one guy from the New York Herald Tribune was at Altonbury. And he heard the story and he interviewed the crew. They were ordered to meet with this guy after their mission debrief. And he told them the story and he hands them a copy of a teletype. He's typing it out on a special typewriter because it went across a transatlantic cable back to New York and it was kind of in a code. And he hands it to my father's pilot and he says, hold on to this, this is the true story of the mission to Berlin. Because my father's pilot would only talk to them if he was allowed to tell them who the crew was. But the original transatlantic cable was sent to me by my dad's pilot and he said, hold on to this for history. And I have the original navigation maps that were in the B-17 that Al Engelhardt, the Mickey operator, had made all the times, the chart courses, how far off target they were and how they ended up being the first B-17 to bomb Berlin.

And a special thanks to Monty for the great job on the production. The story of John O'Neill as told by his son here on Our American Stories. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year. And UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-15 21:51:25 / 2023-02-15 22:09:16 / 18

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