S/Sgt. Arthur Unruh - 32nd Squadron
A B-17 Bomber Gunners Life A Firsthand Account
In February 1943, a lanky kid from Kansas was called up by the
draft board to defend the United States against Germany during
World War II. Flying Heritage Collection docent Art Unruh still has
that letter along with the Silver Star and the journal he faithfully
kept each day. He published the journal in 2000, a book called,
The Shadow Casters, now in its third printing. When you put
1,000 B-17s in the air on a sun shiny day, said Art, you get a lot
of shadows on the ground. .
But it would be nearly a year later before Art would be assigned to
the 32nd Bomb Squadron of the 301st Bomb Group and leave to see
action. But he did fly in 50 bombing missions out of Italy to vital
targets in seven European countries. .
Most people dont know this, Art said. The chances of making
it through all 50 missions was only 27%. We lost more B-17 men
than all the men in the Pacific. Thats because each bomber had ten
men. On my last mission we had seven planes, only two came back.
Five went down in the first eight minutes so 50 men gone that quick.
Today, he tells his stories to children at school assemblies and as a
volunteer at the Flying Heritage Collection, located at Arlington
Airport. Thats my candy store. The 84-year-old decorated veteran
beams as he gazes at the restored WWII and Cold War-era
planes and the ones awaiting parts. Im the oldest guy out here. Im
thrilled to tell my stories as much as people are to hear them.
Here, he recounts his experiences sitting in the ball turret upon a
bicycle seat, with knees bent passed his shoulders for up to four
hours at a time, manning the gun and shooting at enemy aircraft.
What was it like? Scary&noisy. But all the time youre in the
air, youre busy shooting at the enemy fighters and you dont think
about things until you get back on the ground and see how butchered
up your plane is. Thats when you fall apart.
Art said with emotion, I was fortunate. I got to come back to the
States and grow up. But for my buddies who didnt, my flag goes up
for them every day of the year.