“I’m Learning to Curse the Wright Brothers”
–Paul H. Jones

Volume 11 Number 4
December 31, 1995

 

 

 

Click on the small graphics to open new pages with a readable version of the diary.

Back, L to R: Rad.Op. Paul H. Jones, Waist G. Raleigh Martin, Tail G. Blaze J. Napolitan, Eng. Richard O. Lawrence, Ball G. Francis Froah

Front, L to R: Mickey Op. Joseph Nidich, Bomb. Lee A. Small, Pilot Richard T. Gillespie, Co-Pilot Robert J. Beiting, Nav. Milton A. Trodich

Many of us of the baby boom generation grew up with the recollections of fathers, uncles or family friends who served in World War Two. Half a century later, these oft-told tales tend to attain a legendary quality which permits us to embrace them as treasured family lore while not demanding or expecting that the details be absolute fact – after all, it’s been a long time. If an original written account of the same stories suddenly appears the effect can be a bit like a surprise witness at a trial: exciting, but disconcerting.

That very circumstance recently arose for former B-17 pilot Richard Gillespie (TIGHAR #0008). In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the end of the war he decided to see if he could re-establish contact with the nine other men with whom he had shared the defining months of his youth. A year of research and wrong numbers brought eventual success. One of the last to be tracked down was Paul H. Jones, who was the crew’s radio operator. Jones had died in 1993 but his widow, Helen, was delighted when Gillespie and his wife Jean visited her. To their astonishment she produced a daily journal which Paul had kept throughout his tour of duty overseas and which she had not even known existed until after his death.

Here was a totally unexpected check on memories half a century old. (How careful would we all be in telling our stories about the old days if we knew that someone sitting behind us had been taking notes the whole time?) Any apprehensions Gillespie may have felt at the discovery, however, were misplaced. Whether due to his powers of recall, his innate honesty, or maybe just a lack of imagination, the journal proved to be a complete validation of the tales he had once and often told to four wide-eyed sons. There were even some hairy moments he had neglected to mention.
But far more than the mere documentation of old war stories, Paul Jones’ journal is a priceless day to day glimpse into one man’s war. He writes to himself, or rather, to the matter-of-fact young warrior he desperately needs to be. His courage is private and fragile. It is real. As for the end of the story, the April 21st rumor was true. The Group was “off opps” and the war in Europe soon ended. The crew did not, however, have to finish its missions in the Pacific. Before they could transition to B-29s the war was over.
TIGHAR wishes to thank Helen Jones for giving us permission to publish excerpts from her husband’s war journal and for his photo for our cover. To Richard T. Gillespie, appreciation for the use of photos from his personal collection–and from TIGHAR’s Executive Director: for all the flying stories, thanks, Dad.

Glossary

Lead Crew – Specially trained crew designated to lead the squadron.
Mickey – Nickname for the H-2-X target imaging radar carried aboard the lead ship in each squadron.
G.P. – General Purpose bomb.
Toggler – Enlisted man designated to “toggle” (drop) the bombs in situatons which did not require a trained bombardier.
T.O. – Take off


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