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Thread: Mempis Belle B-17 gunner returns to England

  1. #1

    Mempis Belle B-17 gunner returns to England

    After 70 years of waiting, WWII B-17 gunner, 94, revisits Britain. And dies quietly there.
    By Travis M. Andrews
    Washington Post May 26, 2016
    After 70 years of waiting, WWII B-17 gunner, 94, revisits Britain. And dies quietly there. - The Washington Post

    U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Melvin Rector long carried Britain in his heart after he helped defend it during World War II, but 70 years passed without him stepping foot in the country.

    The 94-year-old finally decided to leave his home in Barefoot Bay, Fla., to visit Britain earlier this month. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans conducts a travel program through which interested parties can visit certain sites of the war. He signed up for one, in hopes of visiting the Royal Air Force station Snetterton Heath, in Norfolk.

    He served there with the 96th Bomb Group in 1945 as a radio operator and gunner on B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, flying eight combat missions over Germany during the spring of the war’s final year. On four of these missions, his plane came under heavy fire. One almost proved catastrophic, and the plane returned to base with holes dotting its wings.
    A look at the B-17 Flying Fortress bombers

    Rector was excited for his return to the place that made this great plane famous.

    “He planned it for like the last six months,” Darlene O’Donnell, Rector’s stepdaughter, said of the trip, according to the Florida Today newspaper. “He couldn’t wait to go.”

    On Rector’s long flight over the Atlantic, the pilot of his American Airlines flight summoned him to the cockpit so that the two could take a photograph together. “The flight attendant stopped us and said, ‘Mr. Rector, the captain would like to meet you,'” Susan Jowers told Florida Today.

    She had become almost a daughter to Rector after serving as his guardian during a 2011 Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., and she accompanied him on this tour.

    On May 6, Rector stepped foot on British soil for the first time in 71 years. The group first visited RAF Uxbridge in the London borough of Hillingdon.
    U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Melvin Rector on left (Screengrab from ITV video) U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Melvin Rector on left (Screengrab from ITV video)

    Rector toured Battle of Britain Bunker, an underground command center where fighter airplane operations were directed during D-Day. After climbing back into the sunlight, he told Jowers he felt dizzy. She grabbed one of his arms, and a stranger grabbed the other.

    There, just outside the bunker where Winston Churchill famously said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” Rector died quietly.

    “He walked out of that bunker like his tour was done,” Jowers said.

    Sandy Vavruich, Rector’s daughter, said it’s how he would have liked to die, even though he sadly never did make it to RAF Snetterton Heath.

    “He couldn’t have asked for a better way to go,” she told Florida Today. “It was quick and painless. He had just gotten to see two planes, and he passed away between them.”
    U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Melvin Rector (Screengrab from ITV video) U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Melvin Rector (Screengrab from ITV video)

    Before repatriating his remains to the United States, a small service for the fallen hero was planned in Britain. It did not remain a small service.

    “They just wanted something very simple. And when I found a little bit of background out about Melvin, there was no way we were going to just give him a very simple service,” Neil Sherry, the British funeral director in charge of Rector’s service, told ITV London News. “I wanted it to be as special as possible.”

    Though Jowers expected no more than four people, word of Rector’s war record reached the American and British armed forces. The U.S. Embassy donated a flag to drape over his coffin, and the room filled with servicemen and women and London historians who had never met Rector but wanted to pay their respects to their spiritual brother in arms.

    One of them was U.S. Army Maj. Leif Purcell. He may not have known Rector, but he attended the funeral May 18.

    “Representation from the Royal Air Force and the British Army I saw here was phenomenal,” Purcell told ITV London News. “I was expecting just to see myself and maybe two or three other U.S. service members and a priest, and that was it. So it was very delightful to see.”

    Speaking to the congregation, one U.S. serviceman said, “I do know of his sacrifice and his family’s sacrifice, so you do him and his family a great honor by being here today.”

  2. #2
    Thanks for posting...

  3. #3
    I feel sad of his passing and happy he came back to England, a place that owes so much to him and thou's of others that gave so much .
    Less we forget .

  4. #4
    very moving, thanks for posing this. regards SBM

  5. #5
    Covered in Goose and Turkey bumps!, Thank you for your service (special) Sir!
    (The Unspeakable In Pursuit Of The Uneatable.) " If I can help, I will help!." Former S.A.C.S. member!

  6. #6
    Those guys had it tough
    every single mission was liable to result in death, injury or being shot down
    and they did it time after time,mission after mission

    many did not get back
    God blessed Melvin to live to 94
    A big ThankYou to U.S Air Force Master Sgt. Melvin RECTOR and all the others of that generation.

  7. #7
    Yes, these air crews and fighter pilots had it very rough. The RAF and US Army Air Corps 8th Air Force were losing 25% of their bombers a week. They could not build planes or train crews fast enough, and had to suspend operations until they could get long range fighter escorts.

    The Memphis Belle was the first American plane to make it to 25 missions. If you made that, you got to go home for while. So I hope that anyone who is unfamiliar with her story, and the RAF crews and fighter pilots flying around the clock during the era surrounding the Battle of Britain will delve into it. The younger generations certainly need to be taught this history, not only from books, but by attending museums and air shows where they can see and touch the exhibits.

  8. #8
    My Dad was gunner for the RCAF. Enlisted in 1938 served til 1945. He made it back to the UK to see family and attend air crew reunions for many years before his death. Like this gentleman, he died on the way home from one of the reunions. I'd like to believe that circumstance forged men like these, and that their character lies dormant in people today, awaiting need.~Muir

  9. #9
    Once more crews started making it to 25 missions and getting a pass back home, the Air Command upped the bar, in order to keep some older pilots around to teach the young ones, because totally green crews were not living long enough to learn by their own experience. So a lot of pilots and crews served for the duration. It sounds like your father was one of these, Muir. A 25-year-old air crewman was an old man, a silver back.

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