As an eloquent assessment of a participants feelings on completion of combat tour
305th Bomb Group pilot Saul Levines words are true to the event:
"As you progressed through your missions your attitude changed with time and
experience. First there was the apprehension of the early missions during which you tucked
the big bird in there and hoped you would be lucky. Then came the mid-missions and the
realization that somehow your luck was holding and you had gotten through the screw-ups
and now your chances were improving. After that came the grinding attrition of the later
missions in which the experience and hope was there, so you just kept plugging.
Suddenly the big one arrived; number 35. A milk run you hoped. Wesendorf- where the hell
was that; what would the weather be; the bomb load; the fighter cover? God, that red
string seemed endless. Number three slot, that felt comfortable after 20 trips as
"tail-end Charlie" because you were considered the steadiest man for the spot
and wouldnt give the SOB of an Operations Officer the satisfaction of requesting
out. Ten-tenths coverage over the target would also help - not the bombing of course!
`The ground and flight checks were completed as usual, perhaps with a little extra care.
Crossed fingers from the ground crew on taxiiing out. More rubbernecking on the assembly,
then on course, knowing it would be over for me at the end of this day, one way or the
other. The droning hours, the throttle changes, the oxygen checks, more rubbernecking and
tucking it in extra close. Nice being up front, instead of Purple Heart Corner worrying
about who was crawling up below the contrails. Then, up through the overcast, the ominous
black puffs. On goes the flak suit with an extra tug and pat here and there. Then the
helmet; looking like turtles now.
Over the target, very little flak thank God, and bombs away. Then the diving turn to the
left and home James, hoping but not wanting to test the evil eye. Englandss socked
in so a let-down through it with a squadron break-up is next. Not me, Im hanging on
to the lead ship to make sure we can find the field. Damn it, in close. Were through
and there, happy day, the runway lights and beacon. Suddenly I felt bigger than life
itself; I was on the final approach and no longer in the aircraft, on the controls but
outside above the Fortress and it was responding to my thoughts; we were one. What a
mystical feeling of power and peace responding to my thoughts; we were one. It was over,
the wheels touched and I was back inside, taxiiing to the parking area and engine
shut-off. I was bushed; bone dry. Out went my bag and I went slogging to the Ready Room,
to the handshakes, the back-slaps and the whisky. Then the barrack and the letter to my
wife that I had dreamed of. I had deliberately omitted one mission from the count to be
able to surprise her.
Ive never forgotten that out-of-body experience on the final approach, nor have I
ever felt that same feeling of elation and control since. I still wonder why I finished
that tour and so many did not."