Giant pillars of smoke billowed up from the rails and buildings, and a smell like sulfur was in the air. Explosions rumbled up as the B-17's began to bank and turn back towards Britain.
"Yeehaw!" shouted Shorty from the tail. Rudy wasn't sure whether to cheer or weep. He craned his neck left as the plane turned her outspread wings towards home.
Some hours later, Catch radioed back.
"We're over England. You ready to come out of your bread basket, Rudy?"
"Well, I sure don't want to land in this thing," Rudy radioed back.
"Grimy, would you do the honors?" Catch said.
"Roger," Grimy said.
Rudy swung his turret to face rearward, and then aimed his guns straight down, putting all his body weight on his foot stirrups. The metal seat behind him was now the hatch back up into the plane. There was a creaking turn of a handle, and it swung open. Grimy's huge smile grinned down at him. Grease stains covered his face and jump suit, as usual. He held out a hand.
"Welcome back," he said.
Rudy snorted, and took his hand, and climbed back up into the plane's tail. Then he slammed the hatch back down and turned to find his seat.
"Don't forget to crank the guns up," Grimy said.
"Thanks," Rudy said fervently.
He had almost forgotten, and then the plane would have landed with its belly guns pointing straight down. He'd heard about one ball turret gunner in the 860th who'd forgotten to crank the guns up after he climbed out. It had torn the guns off and messed up the whole ball turret assembly. The plane had been grounded for a week and the gunner had almost been demoted to infantry. Instead he'd sat out his crew's missions for a month while a temporary gunner filled his spot.
Might not sound like punishment, but just try sitting in your barracks while the guys you care about most are out risking their lives. And when they get back with stories, you have to sit quiet while they roar with laughter or cry. No gunners since had forgotten to crank the ball turret guns to tuck up just beneath the tail assembly. And Rudy didn't want to be the next gunner to forget.
He sat on a jump seat and stared out the open slot in the side of the plane. Grimy's gun poked out through the slot, aiming out into the blue sky. Grimy scanned the skies through the long narrow slot with a casual eye. They were over England now, but occasionally a German straggler fighter might want to take some potshots before it fled back to England.
Poem © 2014 Daniel Routh