08 November 2007

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner



"A ball turret was a plexiglass sphere set into the belly of a B-17 or B-24 bomber and inhabited by two .50 caliber machine-guns and one man, a short, small man. When this gunner tracked with his machine-guns a fighter attacking his bomber from below, he revolved the turret; hunched upside-down in his little sphere, he looked like the foetus in the womb. The fighters which attacked him were armed with canon firing explosive shells. The hose was a steam hose." --From Randall Jarrell's notes

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.


Randall Jarrell, 1945

*******



Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Army, doctor of the 1st Field Artillery Brigade at the Battle in the Ypres salient in 1915, spent three weeks treating and burying soldiers there.

"I wish I could embody on paper some of the varied sensations of that seventeen days... Seventeen days of Hades! At the end of the first day if anyone had told us we had to spend seventeen days there, we would have folded our hands and said it could not have been done."

The day after the death of a friend and former student, McCrae composed the following poem. It was nearly not published; dissatisfied with it, he had thrown it into the rubbish bin, where a soldier later retrieved it and sent it to newspapers in England.

In Flanders Fields

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, M.D., 1915
0 comments

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home