Monday, May 30, 2011

Gone for a Burton

Beer Party, July, 1944

I came across this photo a while back. I thought Memorial day was a good time to share it. The original image is from and titled Beer Party, July, 1944. The fellows are Orin Basco (center) and Frank Sharp (left), Crew Chief of the Martin B-26, Dragon Wagon. These guys were part of the USAAF, 391st Bomb Group, 574th Bomb Squadron operating out of RAF Matching Green; an airfield north of London.

The photo is beery enough and the barrels dated July 25 — marked with an X, noting their mild ale contents — are wonderful in and of themselves. However, what really strikes me about this image is the crew's sense of normalcy. A quick break on a summer's day for a beer. A nice gesture by a local brewery for the Yanks on the Green. But, it wasn't just a break for a beer. It was a break from the sight of a limping bomber returning home through grey English skies. A break from the howl of ambulances as they skittered across the green grass edging the tarmac. A break from the smell of burning oil and rubber, gunpowder and airplane exhaust. A break from olive drab metal ripped by shrapnel and riddled by bullets. A break from the cries and moans of injured men, rising over the sputter of propellers slowing to a stop. A break from blood, burns and bandages. A break from jeeps strapped with liters, carrying off the broken bodies of dead and wounded friends. A break from the nightmares, that they knew would come later that night, just like the night before. A break from the war.

Just for a fleeting moment, those ten ounces of sweet mild ale, drank from their canteen cups, would help those crewmen forget the war, and Germany, and being away from home. Any break, any sense of normality, had to have been a godsend. The photo doesn't show those men at war, it shows them in war. Drinking that little X ale was a simple act of ordinariness during extraordinary circumstances.

Three days before Christmas 1944, a German fighter plane would eviscerate the Dragon Wagon; blasting 20mm rounds through her engines and thin aluminum skin. Five of her crew jettisoned themselves from the collapsing aircraft — floating on parachutes to the snowy Belgian fields below. Her pilot, 2nd Lieutenant Jack Haynes, would not.

On this Memorial Day, while your drinking your beer and having your cook-outs. Please, raise your glass to the men and women who have sacrificed themselves, so we do not have to. A toast to those who have just gone for a Burton.

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