Job description from a WWII B-17 coaching handbook, “The inflight Armorer-Gunner inspects, repairs, maintains machine weapons, cannons, bomb launch mechanisms, bomb racks, aerial gun websites, the auxiliary gear and chemical carrying launch mechanisms, and flare racks. He fuses and locations the bombs in racks, discipline strips machine weapons to restore as vital, oils and cleans, mans a gun place throughout fight.”
His B-17 was named “Barr Fly” after the pilot, Lt. Tom Barr. On Feb. 25, 1944, inflight Armorer-Gunner Robert John Zekowski took off with the crew of “Barr Fly” from the Lucera airfield close to Foggia in northern Italy. After finishing a precarious airborne ‘grouping’, 289 B-17 heavy bombers started their flight to their targets in Aschersleben, Bernburg, Halberstadt, and the important Bf-109 fighter manufacturing plant in Regensburg, Germany. The raid misplaced 38 bombers, four shot-up past restore, and one other 141 acquired broken. Zekowski’s bravery underneath hearth would earn him the Distinguished Flying Cross. A Brooklyn native born on Oct 9, 1921, Zekowski said earlier than the interview, “You’ll should bear with me, as a result of at my age I’ve forgotten rather a lot however not my Brooklyn accent.” He was booted out of highschool. When describing a convention between the college principal and his mom, he recalled, “I keep in mind the phrase ‘incorrigible’ was used a number of instances. Unhappy factor is, they had been proper.”
Incorrigible at school maybe, however younger Zekowski knew find out how to make a buck. “I labored odd jobs however my favourite was washing and cleansing the seaplanes on the airport in Brooklyn. My work impressed the pilots a lot they’d give me free ‘hops’ on the seaplanes. They’d let me maintain the stick often. Airplanes turned my life.” Notice: The more than likely airport/seaport Zekowski talked about was Floyd Bennett Area, full with all kinds of out-of-date seaplanes together with the Savoia Marcheirri S-56 and Loening Flying Boat.
As a teen, Zekowski discovered a good-paying vocation as an auctioneer. He mentioned, “I auctioned tremendous arts and high-end oriental rugs. My private assortment of tremendous artwork numbers about 150.”
The Japanese sneak assault on Pearl Harbor enraged Zekowski. “I enlisted the following day on Dec 8, 1941. In fact I most popular the Military Air Corps and shot my hand within the air after they requested for pilot trainees.” Zekowski had no issues with the oral, written, or bodily exams. He had no issues with take-offs or landings behind the controls of the legendary “Yellow Peril” Boeing Steerman bi-plane. Spins and stalls? Once more, no issues. Zekowski said, “In the future my teacher mentioned, ‘Okay, return to base’, and I mentioned, ‘Sure, sir,’ then he repeated, ‘Return to base’, and I stored saying, ‘Sure, sir,’ and he finally indicated, ‘We’re going to finish up in Paris.” That’s once we realized yours actually had a slight drawback with my directional aptitude. In fact, the phrase ‘incorrigible’ was tossed in my route, once more.”
Booted out of pilot coaching, Zekowski skilled as and have become one of many Military Air Corps highly-skilled inflight B-17 bomber Armorer/Gunners. “I liked the B-17,” he mentioned. “And I liked flying on it. As soon as airborne, nonetheless, it acquired fairly chilly at excessive altitude. Should you spit contained in the bomber your spit would bounce off the ground, frozen strong.” The 15th Air Power, 301st Bomb Group, 419th Squadron served as Zekowski’s ‘dwelling’. A ‘Lacking Air Crew Report” indicated between September, ’42 and April,’45, the unit misplaced 126 heavy bombers. Zekowski recalled the lethal raid on Regensburg. “Flak was everywhere in the sky,” he said. “Our tail gunner had his head blown off.” Regensburg was foremost in Zekowski’s reminiscence, however on-line analysis by yours actually found the person’s excellent struggle report. Amongst many awards, he acquired the Europe/Africa/ Center East Medal, indicating a multi-missioned function in WWII. Zekowski admitted, “I weighed 155 lbs and was nasty as might be.” Maybe, however being ‘incorrigible’ didn’t hold Zekowski from receiving the Good Conduct Medal.
The Distinguished Flying Cross was earned over Regensburg. The ‘new’ bombs, smaller and novel to his crew, apparently malfunctioned because the bomb bay opened over Regenburg. The bomb’s nostril propellers started spinning, which indicated the bombs had been ‘arming’. No one knew if the ‘arming’ was actual or a fluke. Zekowski didn’t care. He hustled contained in the open bomb bay in danger to life and limb and one way or the other neutralized the bombs from arming too early. “Don’t actually recall what the heck I did,” he mentioned. “However they known as me a hero. I had a pleasant excessive altitude view of Regenburg, too.”Missions included targets in Greece, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and the Balkans. Wounded by flak on one mission, Zekowski frolicked within the hospital earlier than returning to responsibility. Right here the fog of struggle intervenes with an incorrect paper path.
He by no means acquired a Purple Coronary heart and has tried for years to right the error. One drawback is official Military discharge paperwork indicating Zekowski flew on B-24 Liberators, not B-17s, and with a wholly completely different crew. Much more annoying, the reality regarding his service to his nation is listed within the formal unit historical past of the 301st Bomb Group that particularly exhibits his accomplishments as a B-17 Armorer/Gunner with the aforementioned identical missions and citations. His crew photograph in entrance of their B-17 apparently has no bearings on the stubbornness of federal bureaucrats. Satirically, Zekowski mentioned of the crew photograph, “None of us airmen preferred these group photographs in entrance of our planes, not less than our group didn’t. Superstition, I suppose, however too many teams photographs had been taken of crews that by no means returned.”
Zekowski lives on Jackson Lake. “It’s peaceable,” he mentioned. “It’s a pleasant view of a pleasant lake.” He and his spouse bought 500 of the 800 heaps on Turtle Cove. Of the brand new tattoo on his proper triceps, he mentioned, “It’s the Distinguished Flying Cross. Younger individuals ask me questions on it. That offers me the possibility to elucidate the true price of freedom.” Amazingly, I used to be proven his not too long ago renewed pilot’s license, circa 2011. “Yep,” he mentioned with a smile. “The identical of us that declare I fought the struggle on the unsuitable bomber with the unsuitable crew declare I’m nonetheless capable of pilot a non-public aircraft. Offers of us the impression that bureaucrats could be a bit incorrigible, don’t you assume?”
Mr. Incorrigible reported for his remaining inspection in 2016.
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran. For story consideration go to his web site at VETERANSARTICLE.COM and click on on “contact us.”