Friday, July 30, 2010

“The War Lovers Among Us”
Art Kramer

I remember the day I discovered the existence of war lovers. We were waiting to take off on a mission. Start engines was set for 08:30. At 08:15 we had gotten two yellow flares; one hour delay. Taylor (waist radio gunner), stretched out on the concrete hard stand under Willie's belly and using his chest pack as a pillow, attempted to nap. Henderson (turret armament gunner) was jogging around Willie. He was a fitness freak. Greigo (tail engineer gunner) sat off by himself. I pulled out my sectional map and began to memorize the route.

At 09:15 two more yellow flares. Another hour's delay. Taylor mumbled something about being here all day. Henderson said why the hell don't they either let us go or scrub the damned mission? Monson (co-pilot) shook his head and said, "Hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait." The sun was rising in the sky and it was getting warm. Paul (pilot) peeled off his leather A-2 flight jacket and tossed it on top of his backpack lying on the concrete. We had been told at briefing that the target area was socked in and there might be delays waiting for it to clear. These were the delays. 10:15: two more yellow flares. A jeep came by. The driver said the target was still socked in. Would be informed of the situation as it developed. We thanked him and went back to the boredom of waiting.

11:00. Red flare. Mission scrubbed. Paul said he was going to find a poker game. Paul loved his poker. Taylor and Henderson said they were going into town. They were good friends and always bummed around together. The big 2-½ ton 6x6 truck that came by to pick up crews was just rolling up. It held three crews and two were already inside. We piled in clumsily, juggling our gear in the process. The truck rolled toward headquarters area. From the back came a voice, "Damn, damn, damn. Why the hell do they scrub these missions? We coulda gone, the overcast woulda broken. Damn." I turned to the guy next to me and said, "What's bugging him?" The guy shook his head in despair. "He's nuts. He's got a screw loose. That guy just can't fly enough. He flew yesterday and was off today so he volunteered to fill in for a grounded pilot. He does that a lot. He is on his second tour of duty. Finished his 65 missions and volunteered for another tour. I guess he now has something around 90 missions. More or less." Then he mumbled to himself, "They oughta lock that guy up. Who the hell volunteers to fly missions when you don't have to? Tell me that. Can you tell me that? Can you?"

By now the truck stopped and we all piled out. I dumped my stuff in our tent and, without waiting for Paul or Bob, headed for the officers club.

I chose a stool in the center of the bar and started nursing a Scotch. In about a half hour that guy who couldn't get enough flying came in a hopped on a stool about two stools way. I gave a him a non-committal "Hi." He said, "Damn. I hate waiting and waiting and then getting scrubbed, I hate that more than anything." I pointed out to him that the target for today was Koblenz, a bad deal at any time and in any weather. He turned to me and scowled. He didn't like my answer at all. And he showed it. He hissed, "I hate Koblenz. We took a lot of losses there. We gotta get back at them. Today was the perfect day. I know it. I could feel it in my bones. We shoulda gone, we shoulda gone, damn it we shoulda gone."

I had no words. That guy in the truck was right. This guy loved war. He was a war lover. But there was an element of wild irrationality to the guy. I had heard the breed existed but up to that moment I never met one, talked to one or realized the severity of the commitment. As time went on we flew many more missions and I made it a point to keep an eye on him. He was euphoric before missions and even more euphoric after missions and somewhat depressed when the weather kept us on the ground. And he enjoyed talking about the missions after they were over. After a while I avoided him like the plague. I noticed others did too. He remains firmly fixed in my mind as a breed of man somewhat apart from the rest of us.

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