Honestly, I don’t know where my fascination with B-17 bombers comes from, but it’s been with me ever since I can remember. When I was growing up in the 1960s, I watched a TV show called “Twelve O’Clock High” that was about a squadron of B-17s on an airbase in England during World War II. That was probably my first exposure, even though I was too young to really understand the stories. Only later did I discover that the show was based on a movie of the same name, and when I first saw it, “Twelve O’Clock High” instantly became one of my favorite movies.
Then I saw “The Best Years of Our Lives,” another Academy Award winning movie about World War II in which one of the main characters was a bombardier on a B-17. There’s a famous scene in the movie of a huge airfield covered with hundreds of military planes in the process of being scrapped after the war, and the bombardier climbs into one of the B-17s and relives the nightmare of his war experiences. This is another wonderful movie that never fails to move me.
When I was in high school, I read a book called “The Lonely” by Paul Gallico. This is a beautiful love story set against the backdrop of B-17s, where an American bomber pilot falls in love with a British girl while stationed in England during World War II. This became my favorite book for many, many years.
The bottom line is that I’ve always felt a strange connection to B-17s. I went to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space museum to look at them on display, I bought books about them, and I watched TV shows and movies about them. I really don’t know why.
My late husband was well aware of this, and after he died in 2000 I took a short trip to Florida to decompress. While walking along the beach, a B-17, of which there are very few left and even fewer that actually fly, came flying towards me at low altitude, hugging the coastline. It was so surreal, I thought I was hallucinating. To me, it was a sign from my husband in Heaven saying, “Hey, I’m okay, and I’m sending a B-17 to let you know that.”
After 8 years of being a widow, I met another wonderful man and fell in love with him. He was an actor and writer, but I came to find out that he had actually helped build B-17s at the Boeing plant in Seattle, Washington, and later in Los Angeles during World War II. He was in college and already working at Boeing when he was drafted, and, due to a medical condition that disqualified him from combat, he was told to continue in defense work. And guess what? His favorite movie was “Twelve O’Clock High.”
Several years ago in California, he became friends with a young man who had actually helped restore a B-17 named “Aluminum Overcast”, which tours the country giving people rides and the opportunity to see and experience a real B-17. This young man surprised my friend by arranging for him to take a ride in “Aluminum Overcast” when it was in Oxnard. My friend was thrilled, because he had never had the chance to fly in the planes he had helped build. This was part of my inspiration for “A B-17 Christmas,” formerly “The Vessel”, a story about a boy and his grandfather and a B-17.
After my friend passed away, I read in “The Washington Post” that “Aluminum Overcast” was coming to Leesburg Airport in Virginia, so I drove out and watched as it took off and landed with a group of passengers, and I had the opportunity to get up close to it and look inside. As I touched the shining silver ship that helped us win the war, I felt the thrill that everyone associated with the B-17 must feel when in its presence. It was magical.