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Looking for true character? Consider the crew of this World War II B-17 bomber

By Ed Konderla

I have been disheartened by how many expats post articles on these pages that appear to me to reflect weak, selfish characters. Characters you don’t expect mature people to have after living abundant lives full of opportunity that most of us have had living in the U.S. Especially in contrast to the horrors many people experience around the world.

These writers appear to feel entitled. They feel privilege and self-importance at a stage in their lives when I would think they would be feeling humility and gratitude.

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While many will speak to gratitude as an example for living in a country as beautiful as Ecuador, where the government cares about its citizens or the government cares about the environment, it is always done in the context of what a bad old place and government the U.S. is and has. The implied statement is “I’m grateful to be where someone appreciates me and treats me as I deserve to be treated and, best of all, it costs me nothing”.

Another character that seems to be prevalent in many people is fear. The fear presents itself in the single-minded focus on the impact of the coronavirus on their world. They worry about their worrying. The worry about their health, mental and otherwise. It almost seems like they believe they should be immune to the uncertainties, to the inconveniences, to the financial consequences, to the pain and the suffering.

Crew members of the B-17 “All American” beside the damaged tail section.

There seems to be a host of writers that feel compelled to sooth their worries and pain by writing articles that make them feel justified in trying to avoid those fears. It reminds me of a parent attempting to sooth the concerns of a 4-year-old about the boogey man.  And this is in an environment where many Ecuadorians have nothing to fall back on.  Their economy is being decimated, where Venezuelans are facing the bleakest of futures and the poorest of the poor in Africa are facing starvation as swarms of locusts decimate their crops.

We, on the other hand, are getting a bonus from that mean old U.S. government and will most likely continue to get our pensions and Social Security. Our cost of living here will almost certainly go down and many will still be bitching, still being selfish. They will still give just enough to put a salve on their guilt. What they will give in almost unlimited quantities however is projected virtue. I don’t know if this has always existed at the level it does now but for me it is extremely troubling. It is always amazing to me a person that goes around projecting virtue all day long every day that equates that to being virtuous.  Go figure.

There is a popular trend among some in the U.S. to call for us to tackle things like climate change, the economy, etc.  like it was WWII.  I’m not sure they know what that means or the core set of values of the individuals, the Greatest Generation, that fought that war.

I’m a pilot, have built airplanes and been an aviation history enthusiast my whole life.  There is a picture of a B-17, “All American”, I know I’ve seen a million times and probably the first time when I was like 5 years old. It is nearly cut in half due to an Me 109 crashing into it. The picture is always shown as a testimony of the ability of the B-17 to withstand battle damage and keep flying. It is astounding to me that in the past week it is the first time I became acquainted with the story behind that incident. Allow me to share.

“The All American” was part of a large formation of B-17’s on a mission and were being attacked by German fighters. They were literally minutes away from making their bomb run when the “All American” was hit by an out-of-control fighter, probably with a wounded pilot at the controls. Instead of dropping his bombs and turning back to base, the “All American” pilot  continue on to the target while two crew used their parachutes to tie the plane together because the tail section was literally about to fall off.

Now these two crew members have no chance of salvation if it does fall off. They made their bomb run and made the turn back to base that almost caused the plane to break apart. If you want to watch the Youtube video it is only 10 minutes long and quite moving. Before they made it back to base, a total of 5 of the crew had used their parachutes to help stabilize the tail because they were not going to jump and leave their buddies behind. When the pilots were encouraged to leave the plane because the situation was hopeless, they refused, and keep in mind the co-pilot was 21 years old.

I never had a chance to be tested when I was 21 years old but I see the coronavirus and its ramifications as a test now. My wife and I have committed to each other to give until the pain is horrendous. To be truly grateful for our entitled lives and to face our fears head on. To attempt to show courage, to have a sense of duty and true commitment to our fellow Ecuadorians. I know there are many that are already doing this and I applaud you.

I follow an American Indian tradition that says once you have given in to fear there is no turning back. You will always find a way to rationalize, justify and make noble your cowardice. Don’t know if that is true or not. However if one fights, even if one is not winning but fighting one always has a chance to beat fear. So for people that are still fighting I encourage you to  pick up your Bible, or Koran, or Bhagavad Gita, whatever your choice, and find the wisdom in those texts. Look at the fear as a finger, a finger pointing to something. Look to where it is pointing not at the fear itself. But don’t give in to the fear.

As to the people that take exception to my observations, perceptions and actions I say in all sincerity, you can bite me.

32 thoughts on “Looking for true character? Consider the crew of this World War II B-17 bomber

  1. Agree. Everyone on social media is scared silly and their complete focus is on themselves. Many are on fixed incomes and scrambling for their Corona gift check. What ? How did they survive before this windfall ? Did not save in your earning years ? Deperately need a new instant pot or (fill in the blank) ?

    Time to give back folks. Plenty of opportunity to do so here in Ecuador. Choose a couple places or families less fortunate than you or even the zoo now is the time.

  2. I’ll check out the YouTube but I have to say I don’t understand who or what you’re talking about in the rest of your post — no names, no examples. Is it time for all of us to bail?

    1. Sorry, a writer I’m not. If you click the All American in blue it will take you to the video on Youtube. Cheers

  3. Great article and observations. My father was a B-17 pilot in WWII, and he would be appalled with this behavior. He passed away in 1989, and I miss his wisdom when we visited after I left home. He would have had much advice to give to our children, whom he never met. I have tried to pass this along to them, and they often “tire” of me saying, “You know what your Grandad Lonnie would have said!”. Alas, may of my age group were not raised with the privilege of constantly hearing this type of advice from an elder (he was a public school teacher, counselor, and administrator).

    1. For some readers, this will clearly identify me. My dad was a 21 year old kid when he was an ACE fighter pilot with the 57th Fighter Group, 64th Fighter Squadron. With only a few months of combat flying under his belt and six confirmed kills, he was shot down over the Libyan Desert in the Battle of Marble Arch in December of 1942. Here is part of my eulogy for him when he died in 2008:

      “Dad was many things. Humble to a fault. Certainly the toughest man I ever met. Missed exactly two days of work in 60 years and never complained about anything. He was a highly decorated fighter pilot —————– Bronze Star, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross twice, British DFC for service in aid of Britain, Purple Heart, Air Medal and various Theater of Ops medals. Shot down over the Libyan Desert, taken prisoner by the Germans and held in POW camp for three years, and that isn’t half the story. His right arm was virtually shot off and he collected a 100% disability for the rest of his life, in pain, numb all the time, but still, never complained and always worked. He went on to fly in the Berlin Airlift and in Korea, then retired as an Airforce officer and embarked on a life of hard work to support 4 boys and a wife.”

      Some think it trite when we call my parent’s generation “The Greatest Generation”. If you are among that group, all I can say is you must not have known any of those great men and women. Yeah, Women, too. My mom was also an Army Officer stationed in Dakar, Senegal during the war. She died in 2002 after a life of service as a Registered Nurse.

      Sean and Marshall, I salute you and your parents for their service in WW II and anybody else that might take this opportunity to tells us in this thread about your folks. I honor them all.

      By the way, “Elise” is incapable of being anything but the asshole she is. Someone might ask her why she down-voted this post. I already know the reason.

        1. It makes me cry, too, Spiffy. I cry sometimes when I think of my parents because as hard as I try to emulate them, I always come up short. They were truly remarkable people in many ways beyond what I could write here, but when you consider them as part of that generation——- born in 1919 and 1921 respectively (mom was older)———— they were forged by the trials and tribulations of the Great Depression and then a horrible war that they truly didn’t know they or our country ——— or the free world, for that matter———— would even survive. Many of their contemporaries rose to that challenge as well, and in that context, my parents, as great as they were in my eyes, weren’t so remarkable at all.

          Now I pray that we, as United States citizens and citizens of the World, don’t piss it all away because of our own softness, laziness, selfishness and sense of entitlement. I actually think this covid-19 trial will separate the wheat from the chaff and will either bring out the best or the worst of mankind, no matter where we live or who we are.

      1. If someone has to ask why they were called “The Greatest Generation” they probably wouldn’t understand the answer. I had the opportunity to work, fly and become friends with a number of them and as you say including the women. And how many women had to sit home while their husbands went away and never came back. I think we are about to face some really tough times and what better examples for us to follow.

  4. Yes, there are those who complain constantly. They are generally not happy here either, because they take their complaining mentality with them wherever they go. However, it is pretty easy to avoid those people socially. We tend to associate with others that are more pleasant, happy with life, and willing to give to others.

    Personally, we are glad we are now retired and on fixed income. Had this happened 20 years ago, we would have been sitting at home with no income. As is, our income arrives whether we sit at home, or go out shopping. As such, we have given a whole lot of money to several charities, mostly local, and mostly those trying to feed those who do not have a continued income.

    Many of our friends are doing the same. The world (even that of expats) is not filled with selfish, childish people, unless that is where you choose to look.

    FWIW, I was a private pilot for 12 years. Though nothing as harrowing as the story described here, I have a few too many frightening stories from those years too… (engine malfunctioned and stopped at 10,000′ over the mountains south of Puerta Vallarta, among several others)

    1. My guess is you had a hole in your seat when you got back. I had someone watching out for me because I did numerous stupid things and never got bit. I only had about 1200 hours.

    1. Thanks for acknowledging that we grew up in the “golden era”. So many expats are adversarial towards the US: their home country that empowered them with the expat retirement lifestyle option. You are spot on about being graciously generous, if one is so moved, which is what we are doing in our own way. We prefer handing canned and boxed goods directly to the recipient, since one never knows were cash or donations to organizations wind up. BUT “give in your own way” should be the “driver” while conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, and all the other Kool Aid drinkers take shots at each other, as though they could influence dogmatic thought.

      There was a story out on this site today, that started out about a bomber crew in WWII (what relevance that has with our current focus issue of the Wuhan Virus, I do not know), but somehow, the dialogue comes around half-circle, so the narrative is now about the author’s aviation experiences and his following native American Indian traditions….(essentially virtue signalling), and blah, blah, blah…. and the bait and switch was that the article started out with a piece of historical information that was interesting, but once we were hooked….we wound up getting life and belief coaching from someone we didn’t ask, nor if indeed, is qualified.

      Let’s stick to the issues at hand…. and don’t encourage the breast beaters when they go off on their own ego-centric trips.

      1. Good on you, Toby. You spotted konderla’s virtue signaling as did Donald Devin and me. I posted a comment about that very thing last night, and the censors at CHL didn’t see fit to print it. I hope they print this. I agreed strongly with Devin’s post and said so in no uncertain terms.

      2. A rose by any other name is still a rose. Now that I understand the term “virtue signaling”, I get it. Konderla is thumping his own chest or as mom used to say, “blowing his own horn.”

  5. The Emperor has no clothes. Personally, I find Mr. Konderla to be a sanctimonious hypocrite, the magnanimity of this article not withstanding. Like most others, I will applaud his actions that I have absolutely no doubt he actually engages in, but having read many of his snarky posts on this forum for a long time, If I had to guess which reflects the real Ed Konderla, I’d bet it is his previous body of work and not this article. Because I know where the guy is coming from, I choose to believe that this article is the quintessential example of the virtue signaling he so decries. No matter how you try to disguise it, Ed, those that have also seen the true you, will see right through you as you try to project yourself in this article. So in all sincerity, I can tell YOU to bite me, Ed.

    For others that may not have the background to understand the specifics of what I have written, I urge you to follow Mr. Konderla’s example of charity to those around you in any form you wish that to take. My only hope would be that you do so silently and surreptitiously, following the maxim that if someone finds out about your generosity, it doesn’t count. Do something more and try not to get caught doing it, much less telling others what you have done.

    1. My parents always did their giving in secret! You made me remember that! I had forgotten until now. Thanks! That’s a very good point!

      1. Once, I was going through a difficult time and a family took me in at Christmas and made me part of their family. I was a mature adult at the time, and the matron of the family taught me so much by example in that short time and I have never forgotten some of those lessons. You have reminded me of one of them.

        One evening, Carol and the kids (Big Mormon family, lots of kids) came to me and said “We’re going Pixying tonight. Will you come with us?”

        I had no idea what pixying was, but I caught on quickly. They had purchased gifts to give to less fortunate families in the area and the idea was to leave the items at the front door, knock and quickly run away without ever being seen. There was no way to tell from the packages who left the gifts and we never got caught. The Walters family had this down to a science. Oh, and the gifts were all beautifully wrapped.

        That was the best Christmas of my life.

  6. That last comment couldn’t have been anymore innocuous so please email me and explain your reasons. My understanding is that you limit comments for being offensive and such. Now if you goal is to push a particular ideology I didn’t see that as part of your role but sometimes the power goes to peoples heads.
    Have a nice day.

  7. This restricting comments sure gets frustrating. I feel unable to respond to challenges unless possibly I agree with them. If I agree with them do my comments get to make it through. Come on give me a break.

    1. Please read the CHL comments policy. Comments are to be directed to the specific article at hand, not to, or regarding an individual.

  8. Susan,
    My email is I know David Morrill extremely well. I read and enjoy your column regularly and believe me I can take criticism but I want to be able to respond in kind. Putting comments out there and they disappearing is a slow painful way of trying to figure out what passes and what doesn’t. I can only imagine the grief you take and I promise not to be one of those. I wouldn’t pursue it this hard except I wrote the column.

    Great work


    1. Sorry, the jail is too full to take prisoners. Please just confine yourself at home and turn off your internet connection.

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