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

Apr 22, 2020 | 32 comments

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.

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.

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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.

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