I never served in the military or fought in a war and cannot begin to imagine the true horror our veterans faced. I’ve never been shot at or been in a situation where my life, and the lives of others, were on the line. I cannot fathom their experience, nor do I try to relate. It’s simply beyond my sense of comprehension. One thing I can do is try to learn about their experiences and honor their sacrifice in my own way.
I read a lot of military history magazines and books and sometimes I come across something so spectacular and bold, it makes me sit back in awe of their actions. A recent article I read was about the Royal Air Force bombing efforts in 1942. After setbacks in daylight bombing raids, the RAF shifted focus onto nighttime bombing missions over German targets.
Early in the war, British RADAR sites played a key role in the Battle of Britain. Though very primitive, they did provide enough early warning for approaching German Luftwaffe forces. The historic videos and pictures of the British scrambling to their fighters are the result of receiving a warning. As they shifted focus to bombing raids, knowing German RADAR signatures and frequencies for their night fighters would help protect and alert bomber crews of approaching resistance.
December 3, 1942, one British mission had a slight twist to it. A typical force of large and medium bombers took flight. The mission was Frankfurt. For bomber crews, formation flying was equal parts protection and randomness. With strength in numbers, crews could hold formation and help protect each other. However, pilots had little flexibility in how they flew. Holding formation at all costs, regardless of enemy fighter attacks or anti-aircraft fire from the ground. The biggest fears were being destroyed outright, and not being able to keep formation. As in the animal kingdom, predators often single out lone prey for kills. In aerial warfare, a bomber not keeping formation due to damage is a prime target for enemy fighters.
On this mission, a Canadian crew inserted itself into the formations, but not to participate or observe the mission. The mission called for the bomber to drop off the back of the formation to mimic a troubled aircraft. The primary mission was to collect German RADAR frequencies to pass back to London. Survival of the crew was secondary. As the bombers released their payloads and turned back home, the Edwin Paulton drifted away from the bomber formation as planned, and the crew began to scan for German fighter activity.
RADAR pings altered the crew of an approaching German Ju-88. Harold Jordan kept monitoring and identified the frequency. Before possible destruction, this information was radioed back to London. With the primary mission completed, crew worked desperately to survive and make it back home. The crew fought the lurking Ju-88. Pass after pass, the fighter struck the bomber, every member of the crew receiving wounds. Paulton corkscrewed the bomber downward, dropping 14,000 ft. and barely pulling out about 500 ft. above the ground.
The maneuver worked. The Ju-88 was nowhere to be seen, but the bomber’s struggles weren’t over. Paulton was able to climb higher and headed back over the Channel, but the aircraft was far too gone. Nursing it closer to home, they ditched into the surf and were rescued. Miraculously all the crew survived and eventually returned to active duty.
In the end, the crew of this aircraft sacrificed their own well-being for the benefit of others. The information they obtained helped to safeguard their fellow countrymen and allies. These men didn’t long for glory or acclaim. They did what was asked. They did their duty. Sometimes the request may be difficult and costly, yet they did so without complaint, completed their mission, and were able to survive.
Sometimes Veteran’s Day is brushed aside. It falls in between Halloween and the approaching Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons. The importance of Veteran’s Day should never be diminished, and we must always take the time to honor our veterans on this day, but we should do so every day. It goes beyond just having a parade or deserved recognition on this day. It’s about taking care of each one when they return home and try to return to a normal life. Although we may never comprehend their experiences and memories, we can still work towards their well-being and by doing so will be able to express our gratitude fully.
Happy Veteran’s Day 2021 to all our vets out there. A simple thank you will never be enough. May each of you have peace of mind and heart.