This collection of personal histories was inspired by Ashley Ahearn’s reporting on the history of the B-17 in Seattle. Her grandfather, Joe Ahearn Sr. (third from left) was a radio man on a B-17 during World War II.
Of 210 men in his bombardment group, only 15 survived.
Joe Ahearn Sr.
“Getting on that plane, every day had to have been — ” my father, Joe Ahearn Jr. paused, remembering his father, my grandfather. “He said it was eight hours of boredom, interrupted by ten minutes of terror. That was when they would hit the Belgian coast and the [German] fighters would try to knock them out of the sky before they could get to their targets.” — Ashley Ahearn, environment reporter. Read her full story here.
My grandfather-in-law, Jiro Todo, worked in military intelligence in the U.S. Army during the war. He was a member of the famed 442nd, a segregated Japanese-American unit. With 20 Congressional Medals of Honor, it is the most decorated unit in WWII. He joined the Army from the Minidoka Internment Camp in Idaho, where he and his family were interned at the start of the war. — Elizabeth Hovance, KUOW director of research
Russell Vernon Ayers
My grandfather was a B-17 pilot. He died before my mom and her twin sister were born. After he died, [my grandmother] destroyed her letters but couldn’t bear to destroy his, so she put them in a suitcase.
My mom and three aunts (they were two sets of twins separated by about seven years) helped compile and self-published a book of the letters, titled “The Suitcase Letters.” — Melissa Leone
Transcript of the letter shown at left: “Hello sweetheart: It seems almost too good to be true seeing you again this week but it will be wonderful won’t it? Seeing you one day honey is worth almost anything and maybe this week I can see you and tell you how much I really love and miss you. Good night darling, sweet dreams, and remember who is forever yours. Love Bud. p.s. I love/just/want/need/miss/always/adore you”
Dr. Knute E. Berger
My father was Seattle born and bred. He went back east to medical school, and after Pearl Harbor, enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He was a doctor with the rank of captain and had been through Reserved Officers’ Training Corps at the University of Washington. He enlisted on the East Coast, thus the Army immediately sent him to the West Coast: McChord Field in Tacoma, in other words, home to Puget Sound.
He worked at Madigan and was later sent to what became Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave desert where he spent much of the war cleaning up after airplane training accidents. His tales of plane-wreck trauma were harrowing.
This is my mother, Margi, and my dad in his spiffy new uniform, newlyweds just arrived in Seattle after my father’s transfer here. WWII was partly responsible for my parents getting married (and my existence). And it was my mother’s first introduction to Seattle, where she still lives (she turns 99 this November). She worked as a civilian nurse during the war and in fact attended the great singer/activist/actor Paul Robeson when he was sick at St. Joseph’s hospital in Tacoma in 1943. She said he was very handsome. — Knute Berger, regular KUOW guest commentator
Martin “Red” Hennigan
My grandfather, “Red,” was a Screaming Eagle; he parachuted onto Utah Beach in Normandy to clear the way for U.S. soldiers for the D-Day invasion. He rarely talked about his time in the war, but he told my cousin Sarah that watching the opening scene (Omaha Beach invasion on D-Day) in the film “Saving Private Ryan” was hard because it was so accurate.
One of Red’s favorite meals was chipped beef on toast, an Army cooking staple. I’m pretty sure none of his five kids felt the same way about that meal. I know my mom hates it. — Jeannie Yandel, KUOW producer
F. King Goodrich
My grandpa — he never went by the name “Ferrall,” always by “King” — flew B-17s over Europe during the war. His plane (shown above with its racy artwork) was “Bachelor’s Bride.” He had to crash land it in Spain. — Katy Christopulos
This is my grandmother. She operated a switchboard in the Royal Signal Corps during the war. She worked somewhere near Slough, England, where she eventually met my grandfather, Julian “Tiny” Huberman, a New Yorker “wiseguy” who crossed the Atlantic with the Canadian army. I’m so glad they met. — Bond Huberman, KUOW social media producer
This doctor’s helmet belonged to Suzanne Repussard, a young doctor in Cherbourg, in Normandy, France, during World War II. Her great-nephews and nieces often played with the helmet at her home in Urville just outside of Cherbourg. When she died, the helmet went to her great-nephew, Finn Raftery, who lives in Seattle. — Isolde Raftery, KUOW online editor
“While he might have been terrified about what he was getting into, this was also the most grand adventure he’d ever been on…”
On his eighteenth birthday, just before his senior year of high school (he contracted Scarlett fever his junior year and was bed-ridden for a year, causing him to miss his actual senior year), my father received his draft notice from the U.S. Government.
He shipped out after watching other men from his neighborhood, his friends and schoolmates, leave and never come back. He shipped out leaving behind his single mother, their home in New Jersey, and everything he had ever known. Prior to the military, he’d never been on an airplane. He was a Depression kid, so I imagine that while he might have been terrified about what he was getting into, this was also the most grand adventure he’d ever been on, which also would have made him excited.
He entered the United States Army and shipped out to the Pacific front where he would actually fight a different kind of enemy. While in the South Pacific he contracted Dengue fever and Malaria simultaneously. He didn’t experience the horrific jungle warfare, but he did experience horrific physical pain from the diseases and loss as he watched other helpless soldiers die. I also believe that he would have felt grief knowing how terribly his mother missed him. — Meghan Ragsdale
After Pearl Harbor my father Harry Clancy enlisted in the Navy and was shipped from his hometown, Detroit, to the small island of Talaga in the Solomon Islands.
Once there, he and his Irish Catholic chums felt awkward in the presence of topless Solomon Island maidens. Accordingly, they gave their t-shirts to the young women for the sake of modesty. However, their effort was soon thwarted: The women cut holes in the front of the shirts, freeing their breasts for feeding their infants.
My father, now residing in the North Pacific in Port Angeles, still enjoys talking about his war service, but rarely touches on the hardships. The Greatest Generation? I’m not certain. But he’s sure a great dad! — Jennifer Clancy, KUOW listener, Seattle
Listen to the story that inspired this collection of personal stories:
Having moved to the Pacific Northwest in the middle of World War Two, Grandma Vera was just another Rosie. She was proud to be with Boeing working for the war effort.
When I was young staying with my grandparents for the weekend, I often watched WWII documentary footage from the war. I was always intrigued to watch the Flying Fortress. Grandma would always leave the room with a tear in her eye if I pressed her or she tried watching the film with me.
She was a little Irish girl maybe a buck ten if you pulled her out of the creek with all her clothes on. Yet, she could make all her six-foot-plus-tall grandsons cry if they made her ask twice to stop roughhousing. Her hands were incredibly strong for a small person. She must have shot a ‘guzzillion’ rivets during her tenure. — Tod Filbert
Henry R. Aegerter
1st Lt. Henry R. Aegerter, known as Hank, was blown out of his plane in the crash. He went on to participate in an epic dogfight over Germany in which he shot down an Me-109. Dad 1, Nazis 1. — Gil Aegerter, KUOW web staff
All photos and artifacts shared here with permission from the families. If you’d like to add to this post, email email@example.com