The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle: Memoir of a WWII Bomber Pilot

( 11 )

Overview


As a young man growing up in Asheville, North Carolina, Robert Morgan was a fast-driving party boy—a hell-raiser. But when his mother committed suicide upon learning she had inoperable brain cancer, Morgan's life changed dramatically. He was no longer a carefree playboy; he was a man searching for meaning.

He found that meaning at the controls of an airplane, and in the flak-and fighter-filled skies over Occupied France and Nazi Germany. The plane was a Boeing B-17 Flying ...

See more details below
Available through our Marketplace sellers.
Other sellers (Audiobook)
  • All (9) from $4.98   
  • New (2) from $65.00   
  • Used (7) from $4.98   
Close
Sort by
Page 1 of 1
Showing 1 – 1 of 2
Note: Marketplace items are not eligible for any BN.com coupons and promotions
$65.00
Seller since 2014

Feedback rating:

(164)

Condition:

New — never opened or used in original packaging.

Like New — packaging may have been opened. A "Like New" item is suitable to give as a gift.

Very Good — may have minor signs of wear on packaging but item works perfectly and has no damage.

Good — item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Acceptable — item is in working order but may show signs of wear such as scratches or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Used — An item that has been opened and may show signs of wear. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Refurbished — A used item that has been renewed or updated and verified to be in proper working condition. Not necessarily completed by the original manufacturer.

New
Brand new.

Ships from: acton, MA

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
Page 1 of 1
Showing 1 – 1 of 2
Close
Sort by
The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle: Memoir of a WWII Bomber Pilot

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$12.99
BN.com price
This digital version does not exactly match the physical book displayed here.

Overview


As a young man growing up in Asheville, North Carolina, Robert Morgan was a fast-driving party boy—a hell-raiser. But when his mother committed suicide upon learning she had inoperable brain cancer, Morgan's life changed dramatically. He was no longer a carefree playboy; he was a man searching for meaning.

He found that meaning at the controls of an airplane, and in the flak-and fighter-filled skies over Occupied France and Nazi Germany. The plane was a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Morgan named her the Memphis Belle in honor of his fiancée, a Memphis beauty named Margaret Polk. He and his crew flew 25 successful daylight missions over Europe in the Belle, and were immortalized by Hollywood director William Wyler in a 1944 documentary called The Memphis Belle. In those 25 harrowing missions, Morgan never lost a crew member. The only casualty associated with the Belle was Morgan's engagement to the plane's namesake; it simply couldn't survive the War Department's publicity demands.

A powerful chronicle of loyalty, love, and astonishing bravery, The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle takes you into the heart of the war above 20,000 feet, and into the unforgettable life of one of America's greatest World War II heroes.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The exploits of Colonel Robert Morgan, the first B-17 pilot, was the basis of a 1944 William Wyler documentary and the 1990 film Memphis Belle. His memoir details his 26 missions in the Pacific, including a B-29 attack on Tokyo. Coauthor Ron Powers is a Pulitzer Prize winner who collaborated on Flags of Our Fathers.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Made famous in a 1944 William Wyler documentary and inspiring a 1990 movie starring Matthew Modine, Harry Conick Jr. and Eric Stolz Morgan, a B17F "Flying Fortress" pilot, here fleshes out his own story, together with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Powers (Flags of Our Fathers). Morgan's depression-era childhood in Asheville, N.C., was cushioned by his mother's friendship with Cornelia Vanderbilt, who stepped in when the family went bust. Fond of fast cars and women, a grown-up Morgan joined the Army Air Corps in late 1940 and found that he had a natural talent for flying. In spite of less than perfect eyesight, he was chosen to pilot the newly developed Flying Fortress, designed to take flak and keep flying. When he met Memphis-born Margaret Polk, the two fell in love and planned to marry. On every mission over Germany and France, Morgan flew the Memphis Belle with a photo of Polk taped to the instrument panel (16 pages of photos here in all), which made for great publicity. After 25 harrowing daylight missions, the crew endured an exhausting 31-city U.S. tour, which ruined Morgan's marriage plans and led to his assignment as a B-29 Superfortress squadron commander. He flew 26 missions over Japan in 1944 and early 1945 before being rotated home. His search for the woman to replace his deceased mother led him through several marriages and engagements, which he chronicles in detail. Morgan also recounts (with the aid of 16 pages of photos) the tale of the Memphis Belle itself, which went from being a vandalized and forgotten plane to a national treasure. (On-sale: May 7) Forecast: Fans of military memoirs will like the first-person straight talk and action, but few outside the subject will come along for the ride through Morgan's personal life, though it is presented with ease and relative candor. And with Memphis Belle the movie 10 years in the can, there's little hope of the book being swept along in its breeze, despite Morgan's heroics. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
To quote KLIATT's September 2001 review of the HighBridge audiobook edition: In 1941 Robert Morgan, 23, a privileged North Carolinian, had little idea of what air warfare might mean when he joined the U.S. Army Air Force. As a bomber pilot, he flew a total of 51 missions. Twenty-five of these, in the flying fortess Memphis Belle, were against German targets. The Belle was "a Stradivarius of an airplane," decorated with scantily clad women and a picture of a bomb for each successful foray. Crowds and media frenzy greeted Memphis Belle and the crew's return to the United States. Later, in Dauntless Dotty, Morgan flew another 26 missions during which he bombed Iwo Jima and led the first strike against Tokyo. During the missions, he felt forever dogged by the possibility of death, a reasonable fear because many planes and their men were lost. Macho in tone, he injects asides about his multiple marriages and relationships with women. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, Penguin Putnam, New American Library, 390p. illus. bibliog., Boardman
Library Journal
Flying ace Morgan explains that his B-17 was named for his fiance. Although the headline romance from World War II did not last, William Wyler's 1944 documentary about the Belle's 25th bombing mission over Europe captivated the nation. Here is Colonel Morgan's personal story of his training, his skilled USAF crew, his wives, and his flying another bomber in the Pacific campaign. He deplores war's death toll and property loss but is justifiably proud of his contribution to the Allied victory. The archival film on the Belle and the Flying Fortress itself were almost lost; their preservation concludes one of World War II's best memoirs. Narrator Ron McLarty has the right American voice, expressing the many dramatic shifts in mood. Enthusiastically recommended. Gordon Blackwell, Eastchester, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565114845
  • Publisher: HighBridge Company
  • Publication date: 5/17/2001
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Abridged, 4 Cassettes
  • Pages: 660
  • Product dimensions: 4.58 (w) x 1.33 (h) x 7.36 (d)

Meet the Author


COL. ROBERT MORGAN (USAF, Ret.) was the first 8th Air Force pilot to successfully complete 25 bombing missions over Europe. He completed 26 more missions in the Pacific and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Today, at 82, Col. Morgan still flies and is a popular fixture at air shows all over the world. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.
Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One


First thing you do is, you sit there. You sit there.

    You don't move. You let it wash over you for two, or three, or four, or five minutes. You've come through it again. You've got at least one more night of poker ahead of you. One more morning when you won't wake up dead. Maybe one more red-hot date in London.

    It doesn't matter if it's the first time or the twenty-fourth, which this one was. What matters is that you're down out of the sky. Your wheels are on the tarmac. You've brought your crew back safe.

    You take a big deep breath. You feel the sweat that has soaked through your long underwear and your tunic and lubricated the fleece lining of your leather jacket, plastering it to your shoulders and back and chest. Maybe you clench and unclench your hands a few times. Man, it feels good to have turned loose of that yoke. You've held on to it for maybe six, eight hours, knuckles white, keeping thirty-two tons of bomber steady at 25,000 feet, your hands wrapped around that shuddering yoke, your feet tensing against the rudder pedals. Your margin of error is down to feet, from the wingtips of the bomber on your left and the bomber on your right. All this with deadly antiaircraft fire and cannon and machinegun rounds from hostile fighter planes and the smoke and debris from your comrades' planes around you cracking your universe apart just as the trip started to get dull.

    Now maybe you start to slide your feet off those pedals, let your legs go limp a little, and here comes the pain from those relaxing muscles, shooting all the way up yourcalves and thighs clear to your hips. Feels good, that pain. It means you're still alive.

    You sit there for your two or three or four or five minutes. They say DiMaggio liked to do that in the Yankee clubhouse before a game, just sit there by himself with his cup of coffee. But this is after the game, if "game" is the word for what went on up there over Germany and was going to keep going on for God knew how long.

    You let the rest of the crew get out ahead of you. Luxury. You've heard about "luxury" all your life. Thought you'd seen it firsthand, even. How come nobody ever told you what real luxury is? It's sitting in your cockpit for a little while after the big Wright Cyclone engines have shut down and the propellers have stopped turning. Just sitting there looking out through your scarred and milky Plexiglas windshield at the airfield and the English countryside beyond it, at the fine rain that always seems to be falling, at the wind sock on the control tower, at those black English bicycles strewn everywhere. Now the other planes come droning in, some of them shot up and wobbling over on one wing, their pilots fighting for control with their yokes and rudders. Seems like always a few less coming in than went out that morning.

    Yes, you're just sitting there with nothing more on your mind than, Oh boy, I'm lucky again.

    Finally you unstrap yourself and swing down through the hatch, and you feel the built-up tension shooting through your joints again as you amble over to where the boys are standing huddled around the fuselage: Quinlan the tailgunner and Harold Loch the serious-minded flight engineer and the rest. It's always kind of an awkward moment. You're all standing there in a little knot, feeling as though there ought to be something to say, but at the same time knowing that to say anything would be to ruin it. Hard to describe those emotions, exhilarated and sad at the same time, and sometimes a little angry too, although it's tough to know at what, exactly. Maybe at anybody who's not a part of your little circle just then, maybe at the people who decided there had to be a war.

    Here comes the ground crew already, on the run, primed to jump in and start caulking up the bullet holes in the wings and tailfin and the body of the Belle. They all want to know what it was like, what happened up there today. The crew chief is up on a stepladder with his paintbrush, slapping the next cartoon bomb at the end of the row with all the others. Number 24.

    There's nothing left to do out there, so you turn and start the long ambling walk across the shiny tarmac toward the Interrogation Room. The boys fall into stride around you—Robert Hanson the radio man, and waistgunner Tony Nastal and the rest of that great crew. They're the best in the business, individually and as a team, but they look up to you. Hell, you're the pilot, the one that has to do his job before any of them can do theirs. They've come to believe in you absolutely. They believe that you will get them to the target and then get them back here safely every time. That's something to live up to. You've done it twenty-four times and there's one more mission left to go, one more round-trip in the Belle, and if you make it, you can all go home.

    No pilot and full crew have done that yet—survived twenty-five missions and been sent home with their bomber—in the eight months that the hundreds of American B-17 bombers of the Eighth Bomber Command, taking off without fighter-plane escorts from bases carved out of the English countryside, have been rumbling and droning across the Channel and over the fortified fields of occupied France, and Belgium, and later on over the Fatherland itself—Adolf Hitler's Germany. The first Allied force of any kind to carry the hellfire of World War II into the Führer's own territory.

    In the first three months of that great offensive, beginning in November 1942, you've seen a loss rate of more than 80 percent from your Bomb Group, the 91st. You know that other groups are catching the same kind of hell from those slashing Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs and the endless square miles of bursting flak. You know you and your crew could catch it at any instant of any day you're up there. You know you haven't flown one mission yet without taking some kind of hit. A few weeks back they damn near took your whole tail-section off, and Quinlan with it.

    Hell, look at today, as far as that went. You'd hit a heavily fortified target, so you came back a little beat up. A few holes in the right wing, some damage to the underpart of the bomb bay over the target—luckily, Vince Evans, your ice-cool bombardier, had got the bombs away before the flak hit. Your group as a whole had lost three planes. Three crews, thirty-odd boys you'd had breakfast with and wouldn't see for dinner.

    You know all this. And still you go up there every day they tell you to.

    The attrition rate got so high so fast, and the horror of it grew so haunting for each crew that survived a run, that before long the generals decided to build in a little incentive, sort of like the Fuller Brush Company did for its salesmen. Twenty-five missions, and your war is over.

    And now, on this day, this fifteenth of May 1943—this time of year when the dogwood and the redbud would be out in full force through the Blue Ridge Mountains above Asheville, North Carolina—you and your boys are one workday shy of that goal: the only bomber crew in the Mighty Eighth within reach of finishing their twenty-five and being sent home with their airplane.

    What does a fellow think about at a moment like that, ambling across the tarmac toward Interrogation?


    I was that fellow. I was thinking a lot of things, and I'd continue to think about them that afternoon when I took a pass on having the customary few beers with some of my crew members in the lounge at Bassingbourn air base, and I'd think about them on into that night, and the next day, and right up to the moment when I swung back up through that hatch to rev up the engines on the Memphis Belle and point her toward the continent and our twenty-fifth mission.

    I thought about a lot of things. But here is one damn thing I knew for sure. I knew I was a long way from Beaucatcher Mountain.


    I go by a lot of names. I was "Morgan!" to various redfaced colonels and majors who wanted to chew me out about not bothering to wear my uniform cap, or about my incurable taste for buzzing airstrips and swanky beaches where the top brass were having their cocktail parties. Some of my fellow pilots knew me as Floorboard Freddie, which I guess must have had something to do with my style of landing a Flying Fortress. I was Dennis in a 1990 movie made about me and the crew. My family and closest pals back in North Carolina used to call me Bobby, at least until I told them to stop. Sounded a little sissy to me. My official designation in the U.S. Air Force Reserve lists is Col. Robert K. Morgan, USAFR/Ret.

    To the crew of the Memphis Belle I was The Chief, and that handle has meant more to me than any other. And to a certain other belle, one Margaret Polk of Memphis, Tennessee, I was "Jug Head." That meant quite a bit as well.

    But in May of 1943, to tell the truth, I was essentially a serial number, and proud of it. The same was true of all the nearly two and one-half million men and women who wore the uniform of the United States Army Air Corps—as combatants, but also as ground crew and mechanics, clerk-typists, bookkeepers, instructors. We were serial numbers, but we were special serial numbers.

    The world war that had swept us all out of our ordinary lives, the most terrible ever fought in human history, was far from being decided. In the spring of that year, near the war's midpoint as far as America was concerned, the Axis Powers dominated Europe, Nazi U-boats terrorized shipping convoys in the North Atlantic, and German industrial cities poured out an unending supply of tanks, planes, weaponry and ammunition. On the other side of the world most of the southwestern Pacific islands still lay heavily fortified in the hands of their Japanese conquerors, defiantly awaiting the massive Allied—and mostly American—counteroffensive just then gaining momentum under Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Adm. William F. Halsey.

    The huge tide of Axis aggression had begun to buckle against its outer limits by that year. Allied air power had played its part in the turning. The battle of Midway in May 1942 was decided at the last moment when a gallant squadron of Dauntless dive-bombers closed in on three Japanese carriers and incinerated them, finally turning back the slashing advance of the Rising Sun through the Pacific. Just a little more than a year before that, the outnumbered Royal Air Force had destroyed Hitler's plans for invading England in the historic Battle of Britain, shooting down nearly 1,400 Luftwaffe fighters and bombers in four hellish months of dogfighting, while taking more than 800 fighter-losses itself.

    In February 1943 Hitler's reckless invasion of the Soviet Union collapsed at Stalingrad with the surrender of the German Sixth Army and what was left of its 1.5 million troops. Just two days before the Memphis Belle touched down from its twenty-fourth mission, the Allies won a great victory in North Africa, accepting the surrender of 275,000 German and Italian troops and paving the way for an Allied invasion of Sicily. Heavy bomber groups, two of them diverted to Africa from the Eighth, played a prominent role in that breakthrough.

    Yet it was far from over. The great Channel-based invasion of the European continent, just now beginning to form its mass in England, was more than a year in the future. The final subjugation of Imperial Japan by nuclear explosion was two years away. Even the missions we crewmen of the Eighth Air Force had been flying over Europe these past six months were but a prelude, an opening phase. The first of the Eighth's B-17s had touched down on British soil less than a year earlier, in July 1942. Only eighteen Fortresses participated in the first raid, some railroad marshaling yards near Rouen on August 17. Through that fall and winter—the bulk of the Belle's career—a mission at peak force might amount to some 90 planes.

    The size and strength of the Eighth were still increasing in those months, and the great massed missions were still to come—the famous "Little Blitz Week" of July 1943, when it struck at sixteen industrial targets; the buildup to twenty-two bombardment groups in the British Isles by the end of that year; the 600-bomber run of January 1944; the formations of 1,000 and then 2,000 planes shortly afterward.


    What a stupendous thing it was to have been a part of all that.

    Those of us who were there lived through our share of pain and loss and sacrifice. But we had this knowledge to help us through—we represented a kind of fighting force that the great armies of the past could never have comprehended. Those warriors who fought under the banners of Hannibal, and Genghis Khan, and Napoleon, and Robert E. Lee, and even General Pershing—how could they have predicted a time when thousands of men would launch massive offensives ands fight titanic battles in machines soaring five miles above the surface of the earth?

    We were participants in a style of warfare that had been made technically feasible less than half a century before it took form in the skies over Europe and the Pacific Ocean. We, and our enemies, were still improvising rules and tactics every time we left the ground for a new day of confrontation above the clouds. The air war demanded skills that even its best surviving practitioners found hard to communicate to their families, friends, and historians—levels of competence, concentration, physical endurance, discipline, and teamwork bordering on brotherhood. Over it all was the constant grim prospect of a sudden helpless spiraling descent to violent death that was simply beyond the range of experience available to most people who had ever lived.

    Ironically—given how futuristic this style of warfare seemed in its time—it is a mode that today seems as enshrouded in the mists of the past as the jousting of knights in the courtyard of some medieval castle. Propellers! Leather helmets!

    The breakthroughs in science and engineering that created the means for long-range strategic bombing and fighter-plane combat in World War II didn't stop with our Allied victories in 1945. Chuck Yeager test-flew his Bell X-1 faster than the speed of sound just two years after that, and my era was ready for the museum crowds. Within another four years, American F-86 Sabrejets were battling it out against Russian-made MiG-15s over Korea. The Vietnam War, the "Living-Room War," brought high-tech Delta Daggers and Super Sabres and Stratojet bombers.

    I heard once that some Hollywood producer had compressed the entire Vietnam War into a music video. Well, by 1991, it was all starting to look like a video game. We were punching up smart bombs against Iraqi forces in the Persian Gulf and reducing the fourth-largest army in the world to the second-largest army in Iraq within forty-eight hours. How could we old-time warriors have predicted a computerized mode of combat that could inflict 100,000 casualties while losing just 148 of our own, and only 458 wounded? Hell, some of our pilots of the '40s honed their skills by sitting on back porches swiveling broomsticks around between their knees!

    Still and all, the surviving airmen of my generation are proud of what we accomplished. Our technology was the very best that America could produce at the time, and besides, nobody has invented a piece of technology yet that's any more advanced than the human heart. I flew with men whose hearts were the finest kind. We must have done something right, in the end. We won.

    So who were we, this motley, exhausted little knot of serial numbers ambling across the wet tarmac on this day in mid-May 1943, a time when the whole world seemed to be engulfed in orange flames and billowing black smoke? That was the question that had started to play at the corners of my mind.

    Individually we were about as unlikely a gaggle of warriors as you were liable to come across in a week's time—a business-administration student at the University of Connecticut, a chemistry student at Ohio Wesleyan, a stevedore from Wisconsin, a kid who ran a fleet of trucks in Texas, a North Carolina good-time Charlie (me), a Spokane construction worker, an employee in a Yonkers carpet company, a washing-machine repairman from Detroit, a pressman at a rubber company in New Jersey, a chemist for a paint company in Chicago. Not the sort of crowd you might think would cause Herr Hitler to lose any sleep.

    As a unit, though—well, that was something different. As a unit I have to confess that we raised a little hell.

    As a unit, in the space of ten months from November 7, 1942 until May 15, 1943, the crew of the Memphis Belle flew about 20,000 miles and dropped some sixty tons of bombs on military and industrial targets in France, Belgium, and Germany. Flying in tight formation with clusters of our sister Fortresses, we droned heavily above the clouds to pulverize airplane-assembly installations, railway centers, docks and shipbuilding plants, submarine pens, naval shipyards and power-generating factories. To reach these targets we had to survive skyfulls of lethal bursting metal flung at us from above, below, and to either side. Vast carpets of exploding flak were calibrated with demonic precision by the Germans four and five miles below us, to burst within yards of our exposed fuselages. If we survived the flak—no small feat, as thousands of American widows and fatherless children could attest—we still had to contend with the furious swarms of attacking fighter planes, which could swell from tiny dots in the distance to giant hulks of bullet-spraying intruders in the space of two or three seconds, then vanish just as suddenly. Our gunners managed to shoot down at least eight of these banshees and probably five others, and damage about a dozen. It was harder than I've just made it sound.

    For our trouble we received sixty-one decorations. Every man in that crew took home a Distinguished Flying Cross, an Air Medal and four Oak Leaf Clusters. However, I don't think you can measure our accomplishment in decorations, or even in the total miles we flew or the tonnage of bombs we dropped. What made the Belle crew special—I'm sure this could apply to the many hundreds of bomber crews who made it through that war, as well as the many hundreds of crews that didn't make it—was a quality of brotherhood.

    Or something that went even beyond brotherhood. I don't know that anybody has ever invented a word that fits what I'm trying to say. Our crew sure as hell never tried to describe it. It was too sacred to have a name, so we played poker and drank whiskey instead. I mean it was something that took us over when we first came together as a bunch of young strangers and began our training, and that had us firmly in its spell by the time we took off on our first mission to Brest, France, on November 7, 1942, and that continued to grow in us on every new sortie afterward, something that melted down our individual personalities and differences of upbringing and education and temperament, something that flowed through us as surely as our voices flowed through our headphones, something that blended all our different skills and duties. Whatever it was turned us into a single functioning organism of war up there in those clouds.

    It was intelligence, and it was instinct, and it was alertness, and it was technical prowess, and it was superhuman concentration, and it was a way of setting fear aside, and it was interdependence—a way of knowing at every instant under extreme duress what the other fellow's function was, and how he was handling it—and it was faith, if you will pardon that particular expression. It was all those things, and yet all those things don't begin to describe it.

    I'm not much of a mystic, but maybe it was history itself that had called us beyond ourselves. They say that most great works of science and music and literature get produced at the beginning of an epoch, before the rules have been set in stone and all the tricks and secrets of the process have been studied and analyzed and made apparent for any fool to see. Maybe war works that way too. Here we were, ten boys from an America that still relied on horse-drawn ploughs and buttermilk churns, thrust into a kind of warfare that ran on tachometers and super-turbochargers and Norden bombsights and ball-turrets and VHF transmissions. It was a war that left no doubt as to which side was fighting for the good of mankind and which side was fighting for evil.

    There was one more element—one more personality—in this mystical mix that melded all of us into one seamless entity. That was the bomber itself, the Memphis Belle. That magnificent specimen of a B-17, the F model, the Flying Fortress, was perhaps pound for pound and bolt for bolt the most elegant war machine ever designed.

    You couldn't walk past a B-17F on the ground, if you were like I was, and not want to get in her and fly her right on the spot. She was a Stradivarius of an airplane, a masterpiece of balance and range and response and survivability in combat. She was pure geometry in motion with her great wide slices of wing and tailfin, her four thousand-horsepower engines capable of keeping her aloft for four thousand four hundred miles at a maximum ceiling of thirty-seven thousand feet—more than seven miles above the ground—at a maximum speed of 325 miles an hour. Here was a big plane built so well that she was almost a liability to herself. Early in the war she could out-distance her fighter escorts, and so she had to approach enemy territory naked, utterly exposed to fire.

    Plenty of B-17s went down. Too many times my crew and I had to look on while flak or cannon rounds took one of these beautiful planes in our vicinity, riddled a wing or pierced the fuel line, and turned her fuselage into an incinerator for our buddies. How awful it was to see one of them begin that dreaded downward spiral, hear one of my crewmen urging helplessly over the phones, "Get out! Get out!" and then—if they were able—to watch those parachutes blossom through the smoke.

    Many more of these aircraft, including the Belle, took heavy damage and survived, getting back to base riddled with holes or with so many missing parts that she seemed outside the laws of gravity. Although she was mostly unescorted by fighters until later in 1943, the B-17 was not exactly easy prey. She bristled with guns. Half my crew were gunners; top turret, ball-turret, tailgunner, two at the waist, back to back. They fired 50-caliber machineguns, one or two muzzles apiece, in every direction, and that close formation we pilots had to maintain, flying in clusters of four planes nearly wingtip to wingtip, created a concentrated source of fire that made many hundreds of enemy fighter pilots pay with their lives for homing in.

    No wonder those bombers became like living extensions of their crews. No wonder we gave them sweetheart names and had beautiful, leggy women painted on their noses. They were everything to the young airmen inside them. They were hope, they were victory, they were nothing less than life and death.


    Just nine years before this day—at a time when I was tooling around the Great Smokies in my father's Buick, dreaming about nothing more warlike than how fast I could get to my girlfriend's house—the B-17 had not even existed. Nothing like it had. In military terms, America then was in the final stages of its ancient history.

    Strategists had started speculating about the combat uses of flying machines almost before Wilbur and Orville Wright had stripped off their goggles at Kitty Hawk in my home state in 1903. Sure enough, by the advent of World War I a decade later, both sides had managed to throw several thousand machinegun-armed monoplanes, biplanes and triplanes, even some multi-engine bombers, into the European skies—German and British planes mostly with some French and Italian planes mixed in, Fokkers going up against Sopwith Camels. A few folk-heroes emerged—Manfred von Richthofen, the legendary Red Baron from the German side and stylish Eddie Rickenbacker among the Americans—but personal glamour aside, air combat had almost no effect on the outcome of the Great War.

    Nor would it ever, if some of the greatest military minds of the era had their way. The preeminent American General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing stoutly declared that the battleship, not the airplane, would remain the great bulwark of national defense. Second to the Army, of course.

    Luckily, a few stubborn rebel visionaries thought otherwise. The most influential was Billy Mitchell. This outspoken aviator, who'd won a Distinguished Service Cross for his own exploits over France and later commanded all U.S. air units under Pershing, was the first to comprehend that air power could be a decisive offensive force in future wars. This was shocking heresy to the Army and Navy establishments. Mitchell shocked their sensibilities a little further by daring to sink a couple of former German battleships with a squad of eight biplanes, just to prove it could be done. When that failed to budge the tight-lipped Pershing and the others—after all, the damn ships weren't moving!—Mitchell turned himself into a one-man truth squad, railing to anybody who would listen that the U.S. was failing to exploit the most potent new weapon in all of warfare. He received a court-martial for his troubles and resigned the service in 1925, but his ideas echoed, and steadily gained credibility.

    Charles Lindbergh didn't harm the cause any when he flew the Atlantic in 1927. The country was all agog about pushing the limits of aviation. That pitch of excitement prompted a couple of air transport pioneers to tinker with a bigger, stronger, smoother model than Lindy's rig, one that might carry mail and passengers across the ocean routinely. Their names were Clair Egtvedt and Edward Hubbard, and you probably never heard of them. You've heard of their Seattle-based company—Boeing. Within a few short years they perfected a prototype design that would soon help save Western civilization from Fascist tyranny.

    That design took shape under peaceful intentions at first—Boeing test-flew a "Monomail" air transport in 1931—but its military contours were always just below the surface, waiting to be recognized. By 1934, when the Army was finally waking up to the need to repel an enemy invasion from overseas—maybe the reports of German throngs parading to the popular Nazi song, "When Blood Flows From Our Knives," had something to do with that—Boeing's fast-maturing prototype earned it a contract. Its product, labeled Model 299, would be the largest landplane yet built in America, all-metal, with a wingspan of over 100 feet, an unprecedented four engines and a 2,000-mile range. A Seattle newspaperman, beholding her sleek length for the first time, gave her the nickname that would quickly enter American folklore: "Why," he exclaimed, "it's a flying fortress!"

    Before the war was over, almost thirteen thousand Fortresses would be built, under steadily improving specifications. About a third of them—some 4,750—would be lost in action. But to say they made a difference would be an understatement. Billy Mitchell never lived to see his prophecy come true; he died in 1936. He would have relished the words of Gen. Carl A. Spaatz, commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces in the British Isles, when the greatest conflagration in history was finally over. "Without the B-17," the General said, "we might have lost the war."


    No such grandiose thoughts were on my mind as I left Interrogation after an hour or so of debriefing and headed thankfully to my quarters at Bassingbourn, the 91st Bomber Group's base fifty miles north of London. The fate of the world wasn't uppermost in my concerns just then. My thoughts were personal, and they clustered around a simple, yet gigantic fact: twenty-four missions down, one more mission to go. Then home. If we survived.

    Uncharacteristically, I wanted to be alone. I had a lot of thinking to do—about places like Beaucatcher Mountain and the other landmarks of the life I'd left behind.

    Bassingbourn was a long way from Beaucatcher, but it served pretty well as a home away from home. It was probably the cream of all the American bases in England, to tell the truth about it. To tell the honest and complete truth, the 91st didn't exactly belong at Bassingbourn, but as long as nobody was going to run us out—and it didn't seem like anybody was going to—we were staying put.

    A far cry from the usual dreary assemblage of Quonset huts and bare ground, Bassingbourn was a cluster of elegant, landscaped country manors. It had belonged to some members of the British aristocracy, but when the American Eighth Bomber Command began to spread itself across the English countryside in early 1942, the lines between British aristocracy and Allied military began to blur pretty quickly. Actually the British had thrown together a base for the 91st, but its runways proved inadequate, and we had to find a suitable replacement.

    Our commander, Col. Stanley Wray, took on the task of scouting out that replacement site, and when he beheld the baronial splendors of Bassingbourn he acted with dazzling dispatch. He hurried us onto the premises without even checking in with his superior, Gen. Ira Eaker, commanding general of the Eighth Bomber Command. When the General finally did learn of Colonel Wray's lightning strike, he sputtered, "You can't move into that base! That's a British base! That's not one that we can use without their permission."

    The Colonel proved cool under fire.

    "General, I'm sorry," he replied, "but we've already moved in."

    "Well, you may get moved out again, too," fumed the General, who then bowed to the realities. "Until you hear from the British, you can go ahead and stay there." The 91st stayed there for the rest of the war. Bassingbourn became known as a showcase for VIP visitors. Well it should have, with its fine mess halls, its comfortable rooms, its workout facilities and ballfields and its comfortable bars for officers and enlisted men. Reporters, visiting politicians, visiting generals—everyone, it seemed, wanted to come to Bassingbourn.

    Normally after a mission, I looked forward to savoring Bassingbourn's delights to the maximum, especially the delights associated with good whiskey and good comrades, but not on this day. On this afternoon of May 15, 1943, I closed the door to my quarters and stretched out on my bed and began to daydream.

    How did I get here? How did my life ever take me from a carefree, even fabulous Southern boyhood in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a life with servants and fast touring cars and beautiful girls and adventures inside what was perhaps the most sumptuous mansion in the United States, to this reckoning, this point in which one upcoming airplane ride could change my whole life, or end my life?

    Bob Morgan? I kept asking myself, all that long afternoon and evening and into the night—Bob Morgan, who are you anyhow? And just what do you think you're doing flying a B-17 bomber in the middle of World War II?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 11 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(9)

4 Star

(1)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(1)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 – 12 of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2012

    FANTASTIC READ!!!!

    This is the best book I have read in a couple of years and I read constantly. I can't begin to give it enough praise to do it justice!!!! A must read!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 2, 2011

    Outstanding!

    A TRULY INSPIRING AND FASCINATING ACCOUNT OF HEROISM FROM A MAN WHO WAS THERE. tHIS BOOK IS A MUST READ FOR WWII BUFFS AS WELL AS ANYONE WHO APPRECIATES WHAT OUR MEN AND WOMEN IN UNIFORM DID FOR US DURING THOSE TURBULENT YEARS. HIGHLY RECCOMMEND.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    The Man Who Flew The Memphis Belle

    I only read non-fiction and this is one of my favorite books of all time. This tells the story of the late Col. Robert Morgan and the B-17 Memphis Belle. From his days of training to be an aviator to Memphis Belle's 25th mission, this book covers it all and includes a lot of great pictures. This is a very well written book written by the only man who COULD write it. Whether your an aviation buff, a WWII buff, or an action fan, this book is a must have.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2004

    Excellent doesn't say enough about this book.

    This book is the best book I have ever read, and I have read many books. It is amazing how much detail Mr. Morgan goes into and recalls about these missions. I have a hard enough time trying to remember what I had for dinner last night. He puts this book together in a beautiful fashion. You get the feeling that your sitting in the cockpit right next to him and he's telling you what to do. I cannot think of any words good enough to describe this book, it is a must if you love the history of WWII.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2003

    A Portion of WW II History at it's BEST

    I have read many, many books of WW II history and this one ranks right near the top. Personal accounts almost always add to the depth and this book is no exception. This book may even bring tears to your eyes at the end.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2002

    A truly exceptional memoir

    I have read scores of memoirs, almost all of them interesting in their own right. This one, however, is nothing short of exceptional. The topic matter is riveting enough, and both the honesty and style are gripping. It's an amazing testament to Col. Bob Morgan and the men of his crew, and anyone reading his memoir gets a great idea of the stresses and coping mechanisms of our bomber crews in England. The book is also a testimony to the importance of his family (despite the troubled relationships that rarely surface in most memoirs) and to the unique contribution of the country he and his comrades fought to keep free. I highly recommend this title to anyone interested in WWII aerial combat, especially the bomber campaigns over Europe and Japan. Additionally, anyone interested in America at war or the psychology of men in combat will get some real food for thought. Finally, the natural exuberance of Morgan and his fellow airmen resounds clearly across six decades, and some of the laughs are as hearty as they are unexpected. Find another bomber that took 'flak' hits from an outraged Maine fisherman!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2014

    Could someone please tell me...

    Could someone please tell me if this book is anything like the movie. The one with virgil virgin and the guy with the amazing voice.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2012

    very good account of what bomber crews went tru in ww2 bombing m

    very good account of what bomber crews went tru in ww2 bombing missions , however i could care less about the pilots sex life and it is interesting how the mephis bell got credit for first plane to complete 25 missions when a
    plane by the name hells angles did it from another bomb group 5 days earlier this can be found on the internet. type in hells angles firsy bomber to complet 25 missions and it should take you to the web site.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 – 12 of 11 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)