Brave Air Force Pilots of WWII
For the young pilots who flew the World War II missions, the air war in Europe was daring, dramatic . and extremely dangerous. More than half the planes were lost, with 95,000 casualties, and more than 50,000 airmen ended up in POW camps.
On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the United States Air Force, the 2006 “National Memorial Day Concert” on PBS will pay tribute to the brave pilots of World War II who fought in the European theatre particularly those who were captured as POWs.
U.S. Air Force History
The U.S. Air Force was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947, with the signing of the National Security Act. The Act created the Department of Defense, composed of the three branches the Army, Navy and a newly created Air Force.
But the role of aviation in combat can be traced all the way back to 1906 three years after the Wright Brothers flew their first plane when the U.S. Army began to look into the creation of aircraft for military use. Technological advances and flight performance during World War I soon made air combat's potential clear, but it was during World War II that the U.S. Army Air Force came into its own, battling in the skies over Germany in some of the conflict's most dangerous and important missions.
This year's Concert will feature the story of Second Lt. Corbin Willis, Jr., who flew on 22 dangerous B-17 missions during World War II as a 21-year-old co-pilot. He recalls .
"When I started flying missions over Germany in July of '44, I heard there was a 91 percent attrition rate but I guess at my age I just thought I would be in the 9 percent that did make it."
His luck held out until his 22nd mission, when his plane was hit by anti-aircraft shells. Willis's ability to survive and triumph over the experiences that followed months of hardship in overcrowded Germany POW camps, a return home to a family that thought he was dead and then service as a flight leader and test pilot in Korea are a testament to his faith, courage and belief in the future.
During the Concert, broadcast live on PBS on May 28th, hear Corbin Willis's story, in his own words, in a stirring recitation by distinguished actor and decorated World War II veteran Charles Durning.
You can also read about Corbin Willis and other American veterans on the Library of Congress's Veteran's History Project website. The project is a nationwide effort to create a personal and vibrant legacy for veterans and those who supported them.
To learn more about the B-17 bomber plane flown by Corbin Willis, and about U.S. Air Force history, visit the website of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
The Museum collects, researches, conserves, interprets and presents the Air Force's service's history, heritage and traditions. Through engaging exhibits, educational outreach, special programs and management of a worldwide historical property collection, the National Museum embodies the Air Force's core values of "Integrity, Service Before Self, and Excellence." The museum stands as a memorial to the legacy and sacrifices of Air Force servicemen and women . past, present and future. Museum staff and historians generously provided research and assistance during the development of this year's “National Memorial Day Concert”.
For Corbin Willis and other veterans, the memories, images and flashbacks are so painful that they often have great difficulty talking about them. Yet sharing these stories can have a powerful healing effect. The Sharing Your Stories section of this website features a Veterans Questionnaire that can help veterans and their families get started.
Each service member's story is a part of our nation's history and needs to be told and retold and remembered. We invite you to use the Submit A Eulogy space on this website to share the story of a spouse, a child, a parent, another relative or a friend who died in one of America's conflicts. You can contribute a eulogy, a remembrance or a prayer in their honor, or share your own story of grief over the loss of a loved one.