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Heroes of the Second World War: Reflections of a Tailgunner

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 23, 2023 3:03 am

Heroes of the Second World War: Reflections of a Tailgunner

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 23, 2023 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Harold E Nelson shares a poem he wrote about his experience as a tailgunner on a bomber crew in the US Army Air Corps.

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This is our American Stories and now it's time for our series Heroes of the Second World War and this is one of my favorites. And it's brought to us by Rishi Sharma, a young man that has spent his life traveling the world interviewing over a thousand Allied soldiers of World War II. In this series, we bring you their stories in their own words.

Here is Rishi. Between 1939 and 1945, the nations of the world entered the bloodiest war history has ever seen. 16 million Americans served in World War II to fight the Axis powers. Some of these men, the true heroes of the Second World War, are still with us today, but are dying at an alarming rate. By 2018, fewer than half a million were still alive.

Today, the youngest are in their mid to late 90s. Since my junior year of high school, I set out to find these men and capture their stories to preserve and honor their memories before they fade away. My name is Harold E. Nelson. They say if your initials spell something, it's a sign you're going to be wealthy.

My initials spells HEN, H-E-N, so I wait for my wealth. One time while I was in the service, I wrote this poem. It was an expression of some feelings I felt at that time when I was a tail gunner at a B-17 stationed in Foggia, Italy, and flying 22 missions over Europe. Good night, O Lord, as I lay in bed and think of the task of tomorrow I dread. I pray that Thy shall grant me peace and help me forget the job I detest. And so, O Lord, as we prepare to take off to do our job up there aloft, may Thou give me courage to see it through and accomplish the task that I am asked to do. And then, O Lord, when we reach the spot where the flack seems so clear and hot, I pray that by my faith in You I'll be able to stick it out till it's through. And then, O Lord, I ask for a safe return. Of course it is something I always yearn, but no matter what Thou would have it be, my faith shall always remain in Thee. When the war ended in Europe, there was a lot of celebration, but I just went back to my barracks, laid back on the bed, and just shed tears of relief.

I've had enough. Harold returned from the war and entered a seminary in New Jersey where he graduated and then returned to his home state to serve as a pastor at the First United Methodist Church in McPherson, Kansas. A kid living across the street from me was asked to interview a veteran. Well, he knew I was a veteran, so he come to talk to me. And so he made the comment, you consider yourself a Christian, don't you? I said yes. He said, you're a Christian? He said, how could you as a Christian go out there and do things to kill other people? And I said, well, we have police departments, don't we?

Yeah. So what do they have to do? Sometimes they've got to go out and kill people in order to save other people.

And I'm sure that I would unwind my missions. We missed our targets. Sometimes we hit our targets, but there's a lot of dead people afterwards. But that's just the reality of war. You know, there's a little book came out called 1945, and it deals with the development of the atom bomb. And the thousands of hours that were put in developing that atom bomb and how destructive it was and how many innocent people were killed. I think that the way the Japanese were, that if we were to try to invade Japanese, first of all, they had on the island, I think 400 some mostly American prisoners. They'd be the first ones they'd wipe out. And a lot of them would fight to the death before they give up.

So there's no easy answers. I just felt it was my duty. I didn't volunteer for the army. I let them draft me. I made some choices as to how I'd function. I went to gunnery school and went to bombardier school.

Changes took place and decided that just be the airman. Harold now lives an hour and a half away from McPherson and receives a list from his parish of birthdays and anniversaries and also a list of those who are sick and have passed away. He has found meaning in calling these people to say happy birthday, happy anniversary, and that he's thinking about them if they are sick or if their loved ones have passed. That seems to mean a lot to a lot of people. Probably does me more good than it does them. That's probably the reason I'm still alive.

I feel they still have some purpose. And my goodness, what a voice you just heard. Harold Nelson, tail gunner, veteran, World War II. And he didn't get into the specifics. And it was interesting that he didn't. But that prayer said it all in the end.

And why write a prayer for yourself like that unless what you're about to do, well, it's dangerous. And as he confessed, sometimes he knew his bombs missed their targets. And even when they hit, he was responsible for taking a life. And it's a choice he made and it's something that cops have to do and soldiers have to do.

But it doesn't mean there's not a price. That's why we know a lot about PTSD now and so much more. They called it shell shock back in the day. And so what terrific storytelling. And by the way, being a part of a bomber crew was one of the most deadly occupations during the war.

71% were reported either killed or missing in action. And by the way, we also have more stories in our Heroes of the Second World War series. A love story of a Mississippi farmer who would fight in Italy and France and would meet a military nurse who we'd spend the rest of his life with. And the second is a firsthand account of surviving Pearl Harbor. And there are and will be many, many more. The story of Harold Nelson, our heroes of the Second World War series here on our American story.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-23 04:42:50 / 2023-05-23 04:45:49 / 3

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