Two Days in the Life of a B-24 Crew
Take a fantasy flight in a real, live Liberator.
- By Stephen Joiner
- Photographs by Chad Slattery
- Air & Space magazine, July 2011
(Page 4 of 4)
Chris Connor is manning the ball turret, pulling 360-degree rotations and inclining the guns vertically. Fantasize this: You’re crammed inside a Christmas ornament suspended from the bomber’s belly while arcing Bf 109s fire 20-mm cannon at you.
We’ve banked repeatedly, dropping altitude in increments. Now we level into an arrow-straight path, with only slight deviations. Up in the bombardier’s compartment, Ramey feeds corrections to the cockpit as the Norden figures the path and calculates the release point. The bomb bay bell jangles, and doors retract. Nearly a quarter-ton of cement heads for the target.
After two more bombing runs (no plume of flour noted), we head for base. After we land, mission two, hauling six more campers, departs. A second P-51 is scrambled to serve as a target stand-in.
When everyone’s back on the ground, there’s a graduation ceremony outside the Stockton Field museum’s hangar. Ribbons are awarded at attention and the class guidon retired. Sergeant Murphy, in full dress uniform, barks his final order: “Dismissed for chow and inebriation.”
Later, the campers enjoy cold beers and grilled steaks. Tim Murphy is wearing a flowered shirt. Bill Gaston is smiling. Jamie Stowell now knows something of her father’s experience “and the astonishing level of courage it took to do it.”
Craig Connor leaves with a connection to his own service in C-130s: “Could we follow in those guys’ footsteps? I don’t think so. But the crew camaraderie and the mission—all of that still exists today. I’ll be back on duty Tuesday.”
Mo Levich’s years of research have a first-hand dimension now. “For me, there’s no more imagining what those men did for us and what we owe them. We owe them....” His voice trails off and he shakes his head. “I can’t fill in the rest.”
As the class of 2010 checks out of Fantasy Camp, reality looms in the silent silhouette of a B-24 in the day’s fading twilight, and the spirit of those who flew it 65 years ago.
Stephen Joiner is a frequent Air & Space/Smithsonian contributor.