Are You a Little Bored With War?
A CLEAR-CUT PICTURE OF WAR SCENE
STANLEY MAXTED, Commentator
Broadcast from London, over British Broadcasting System, May 7 1944
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 518-519.
GOOD morning. This is Stanley Maxted, talking off the record again to bring you a by-stander's view of the nations at war. Some days ago I came home from one of those flying fortress bases from which I had gone out with a group of lads. Waiting for me in my correspondence was a letter with a Massachusetts post mark. Inside the envelope was a letter from a lady who had been kind enough to write me. She said, "We have listened to several of your broadcasts, and we hope that you won't mind the suggestion that in Britain there must be many topics of interest besides the war. My husband and I have visited England several times, and we know you could sometimes choose a more cheerful topic. I am getting a little bored with war!
So you're getting a little bored with war! But have you had any to get bored with? Naturally, I respect your confidence, but I just can't respect your sentiments. Let me tell you more about this war that bores you.
On this day that I spoke about, I stood with my back to the wind and watched the fortresses until they were thin specks in the distance, while they encircled the field. They had been the long way to the Munich area and back. A large portion of the time they were under heavy anti-aircraft fire, and for much of it, under constant attack from swarms of heavy fighters up and in that sub-zero air. As one of them circled in and around me, I couldn't make up my mind what it was. Two engines were feathered and the propeller was almost motionless. As the plane circled out and came in, it dropped a flare and I saw a group of ambulances to my left spring into motion. I arrived at the ship as she turned off the runway to the grass.
I noticed a big hole right over the co-pilot's seat. There were other holes in the fortress, tooóplenty of themóbut that one over the co-pilot had me worried. The door was opening, the escape hatch door, and two of these lads were bringing a flexible stretcher with a blanket on it. A head and shoulders appeared through the hatch, and soon the two stretcher-bearers had this boy in their arms. They lifted him down very gently and laid him on the stretcher. One side of his face wasn't a very nice sight. The hole was made by a 20 mm shell which exploded on the co-pilot's flak helmet. That helmet saved his life, and undoubtedly the
bitter cold air coming through the hole stopped him from losing too much blood, but his face looked pretty awful. The pilot was down on the ground by now and stood looking at his buddy. His face was chalk-white and his jaw muscles were twitching as he turned toward the door and said, "He didn't complain a bit, right up to the time he slipped over on my shoulder and then he said 'Keep cracking, kid, I'll be O.K.' and then he passed out."
The fortress was standing with her oil dripping like a bird bleeding to death. The pilot had by now been joined by the crew. The turret gunner looked at the pilot and then at the rest of the boys. Said he, "I never thought I would get back to England." The pilot looked at the boys and said, "You guys sure did a swell job up there," and then an expression of weariness came over his face and be walked away. The other eight staggered after him, a worn-out bunch of kids. The ground crew was swarming over "Leading Lady" by now. That co-pilot speeding away in the ambulance was no joke; anything done to one of their air crew was the same as doing it to one of them.
One of the men looking down the runway said "There's another." And sure enough, there was another flare dropping from a ship just coming in. It taxied the other way and I got to it just as two more ambulances were speeding toward it. It wasn't far and the ambulances beat me to it. When I got there, one man was climbing out and laying the stretcher on the ground. There didn't seem to be much left of the shipójust tiny holes. The crew from the other ambulance had arrived. Finally they let down a figure through the escape hatch. The face of that figure was a chalk-white mask. The medical orderlies were trying not to disturb him. His hand slipped, however, and lay on the ground. The tail gunner picked it up and carefully replaced it. Then the doctor folded the blanket over and tucked it in. Yes, that boy had done all he could for his Uncle Sam. No doctors were necessary. I learned that an armored piercing bullet had gone right through his flak suit into his very strong heart. This ship had led the wing into combat. A tall pilot swathed in bandages climbed out, taking off his oxygen mask. The mask had left dirty marks all over his face.
The last two men didn't come out under their own power. One was shot through the arm and leg, and the other through the back. They say the wounded don't cry, but this second boy did. I do not think be was conscious of his pain, because a boy with his record doesn't whimper about anything.
You think I'm being unnecessarily cruel, don't you? I'm not; I'm just stating facts. I'm just lending you my eyes to see what I saw the other day. In war nothing can be gained without paying a price. Of course, you must remember the experiences of one base are not the overall picture, but for most of our boys it was a terrific ran. Afterwards, back in the range room, I talked to a high-ranking official. He was a major and the pilot of the ship in which three of the crew were wounded. He looked as though his nerves were made of leather. He was from Texas, and very conservative of speech. He said that he didn't get a chance to see what happened over the target. With the three wounded men, the remainder of the crew had their hands full.
Outside the public relations headquarters the men were standing and talking while drinking beer from mugs. They were too tired to bring themselves to take a bath and go to bed. I heard one fellow say, "Gosh, our ship had so many holes in it that when we flew back she whistled." Says another, "Looks like the Jerries didn't like us flying over their country."
Just then the pilot came out. He seemed to be a little more normal than the first time I saw him. He said that the bull turret had been set on fire and started fires through the plane. No. 2 engine was set on fire, so he put the plane in a wing mull. Then he figured that the proper thing to do was to stop and give the crew a chance to bail out The flight engineer agreed, and those that could bail out did.
The base public relations official came out. He had been talking to the three boys from "Leading Lady." One of them sat down on the floor; the engineer sat on the table. The pilot walked up and down the room. They were all pretty tired and dirty. I was surprised at what the boy on the -floor said. He said, looking squarely at the pilot, "I don't mind telling you that when that No. 2 engine was on fire and all those Jerries were picking on us, I said a prayer, I really did. Somebody was looking after us and I've got an idea who." The pilot stopped his pacing and looked at the boy.
No, Madam, I don't suppose you really meant what you wrote, but don't get bored with this war too often because you and I have got to rally round while these kids win it, and they wouldn't like it.