Remembering the ‘flying coffin’ [UPDATED]Published 10:28am Monday, September 10, 2012 Updated 12:30pm Monday, September 10, 2012
While he has spent much of his time writing stories about area folklore, author Phletus Williams of Pelican Rapids decided to shift gears and set to work compiling notes and recorded conversations with WWII veteran Alex Sahr.
The book, “Memoirs of a B-24 Bomber Veteran in WWII,” was released Tuesday, Sept. 4. It follows Sahr’s 38 bombing missions as a nose gunner throughout WWII.
“When I read what he wrote, I relive the events,” Sahr said. “(Williams) is talented to the point where he can use words to paint a picture.”
The bulk of the book comes from notes taken by Sahr, but Williams organized and compiled everything and wrote the prologue and epilogue.
Much of the prologue is about the B-24 Bomber and what it was like to go on a mission in the plane known as the “Flying Coffin.”
Each time a crew went on a mission in a B-24 Bomber, there was only a 75 percent chance it would return, so the fact that Sahr survived 38 bombing missions is nothing short of miraculous, Williams said.
Williams went into detail describing the sights, feelings, sounds and smells those aboard a B-24 would hear. Although he has never flown in the plane, all of the information was gathered while meeting with Sahr once a week over coffee.
“I depicted everything in my mind,” Williams said. “When I read it to (Sahr), he got tears. He said, ‘You were with me on that plane. You could actually smell the burning rubber and exhaust fumes as you landed.’ I really became married to that B-24.”
Between the prologue and epilogue, the book is Sahr’s. His notes were taken and rewritten and laminated by his niece, Patricia Weber, and those notes are what Williams used for the body of the book.
“I fonted, formatted and laid everything out,” Williams said. “I didn’t want to interfere with anything. (Sahr) said, ‘That old family book is worthless,’ and I said no it’s not. It’s the historical part. It’s the guts of the book. We just need to put it in context so that it can be researched.”
Williams chose not to lay out the book like a novel. Instead, he set it up so that the missions and people involved could be researched. He wanted to make sure it involved information on all 10 of the crew members.
Each of the crew members were so important to Sahr that Williams knew that he had to do some digging to find out more.
“I am really proud of the people I served with,” Sahr said. “I can’t say enough about them. They are all brothers to me. I wanted to make the book in memory of them, but that didn’t end up happening.”
Williams did a lot of research to find out about each of the crew members. He used the Internet, WWII magazines and even a historic search group in Washington D.C. to find anything on them.
“I wanted to know who each one was married to, where they went to school, where they are now and what they were like.” Williams said.
Most of all, Williams wanted to know what the glue was that stuck these guys together, he said.
“They developed an unbelievable trust in each other,” he said. “They had a 19-year-old tail gunner, and they all thought, he wasn’t going to work out on their team. In their first flight, a German plane came out above them through the clouds. He shot at it and broke the oxygen line, so the plane had to go back down. That’s when they all realized, ‘This is a good tail gunner.’”
Many stories like this have led Williams and Sahr to believe that there must have been some kind of divine intervention for the crew to make it through all 38 missions, Williams said.
For his outstanding service to his country, Sahr has received numerous military awards including the Distinguished Flying Cross Medal, WWII Victory Medal, Overseas Service Bar, European African Middle Eastern Theater Service Medal with Three Bronze Stars, Honorable Service Lapel Pin, Marksman Badge and Pistol Bar.
Williams has had interest in this book from various historical organizations including WWII Magazine and the Historical Studies of Armed Forces in Washington D.C.
Victor Lundeens has several copies of the book for $12. Williams is unsure how many copies will need to be made.
“I’m really satisfied with the way it turned out,” Sahr said. “I wrote that old book way back for my family and he put the dressing on the start and finish. I like the book the way he wrote it.”