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by Ken Elder Bledsoe
Colcon Press 2016
Cover Price: $17.00
|Echoes From an Eagle
This book is a biography of Vernon O. Elder, a B-17 Flying Fortress tail gunner who served in the early stages of the Pacific War. Written by his son, Ken Elder Bledsoe who began researching his father's service after he retired using excerpts from his father's letters home plus historical research and even traveled to some of the places he served in Australia. The book is amply illustrated with maps and photographs from Vernon's personal collection.
The book begins with Vernon's birth in 1918 in La Junta, Colorado and the difficult life he family experienced after his father died a year later. Life was difficult for his mother who never remarried and young Vernon worked to support her and graduated La Junta High School in 1937. Two years later, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps at age 21 and was trained in bombardment and gunnery at Lowry Field. During his Army career, he sent his monthly pay to his mother.
Assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group, 30th Bombardment Squadron, Elder was sent overseas aboard the SS President Johnson bound for the Philippines. After the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941, the vessel returned to the United States. During January 1942, assigned to a brand new B-17E Flying Fortress and flown via the Africa route to the Dutch East Indies.
Due to Vernon's smaller stature, he served as a tail gunner. In Java, assigned to B-17E 41-2455 piloted by 1st Lt. P. L. Mathewson and flew his first combat mission over Balikpapan followed by a month of combat mission over Borneo, Celebes, Timor and Bali until withdrawn to Australia in late February 1942. After a brief rest, Vernon was sent to Cloncurry Airfield and began flying bombing and reconnaissance missions over New Guinea before transferring to Mareeba Airfield. Vernon was credited with shooting down an attacking Zero and the Silver Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster and Air Medal for his combat missions.
One of Vernon's most harrowing experiences was surviving the crash of B-17E 41-2655 into the sea off Horn Island on July 14, 1942. During the crash, three of the crew were killed and the rest were rescued by a crash boat an hour and a half later. The details of this crash and the crew were not accurately recorded in historical accounts and extensive research was required to identify the entire crew and circumstances. Afterwards, Vernon continued flying combat missions including the August 7, 1942 raid against Rabaul aboard B-17E "Spawn of Hell" 41-2662.
Returning to the United States, he helped trained new air crews at Pyote Airfield (Rattlesnake Bomber Base), married his long term girlfriend Mary Daley and their only son Ken was born in April 1944. The couple later divorced and Vernon was tragically killed in a fatal car accident on March 24, 1973.
In addition to researching the past, Ken located crew members and relatives associated with B-17E 41-2655 including veteran Edward (Ralph) Dietz, the relatives of SSgt Houston A. Rice and the family of Paul M. Lindsey. As the culmination of his efforts, Ken and his wife Phyllis traveled to Australia in 2010 and toured Mareeba Airfield with author Damian Waters then flew to Horn Island to search for his father's bomber. With the help of local resident and author Vanessa Seekee and local guides, Ken was able to snorkel over the wreckage of B-17E 41-2655.
Echoes From An Eagle represents over ten years of research that put the author into contact with people from all over the world and resulted in remarkable meetings with veterans, relatives and even an expedition to Australia. Although the author laments that he was never able to ask his father about his experiences himself, this book is an amazing tribute to his father's life and World War II service. For anyone interested in the experiences of an early war B-17 tail gunner and his son's efforts to document his service, this book is a highly recommended reading. The book is available via Amazon or signed copies from the author via PayPal.
Interview with author Ken Elder Bledsoe
Review by Justin Taylan
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