Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

Opinion

July 31, 2013

Tribute to a real-life hero

Newphew recalls uncle's role as WWII bomber pilot

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He was assigned to the Ninth Air Force, piloting a Liberator B-24 bomber, a plane he liked for its durability and power. He earned the distinguished Flying Cross, second highest to the Congressional Medal of Honor, for skillfully piloting his B-24 with one engine knocked out by enemy planes and ground fire. Two months later, his mission was to bomb the Romanian oil fields in the raid known as Operation Tidal Wave. U.S. aircrafts flew at tree-top level amid flaming refineries. This was best remembered as a mission that cost us many American lives and planes and it resulted in five medals of honor, three posthumously, for its members.

In late August 1943, Francis was interviewed by the Andover Townsman and Boston Herald for winning the distinguished Flying Cross. The articles written highlighted his experiences with the British army, including an instance when he and his crew were forced to bail out of a crippled Wellington bomber. The papers also detailed his American missions operation, which heightened my respect and admiration for an uncle who seemed to live a charmed life as a bomber pilot.

Francis came from a strong family of four brothers, one sister and a young widowed mother. He was educated in Andover, attending Phillips Academy for high school and going on to Brown University. Two of his brothers were in combat and two others were part of the war effort, but something about flying airplanes specifically excited a pre-teen boy. During the war years, his empty bedroom displayed posters of Britain and its war planes. My siblings and I spent summers at our grandmother’s house, where she used to read us letters from all my uncles from wherever they were stationed, minus the classified locations.

Many veterans of World War II were reluctant to tell their stories, but Francis was not. He would leave out the rough parts and tell it with his unique view on the war. I like to think that he had a bit of Hawkeye Pierce in him as he was not the military type. For example, in late 1943, he met brother Jim at Fort Knox and when a colonel approached, they had to salute him because he was their superior officer. Francis used the British Army version, which caused the officer to sputter, “What kind of salute was that soldier?” to which Francis responded, “The very best I could give you, sir.” The colonel noticed the ribbons on Francis’ uniform, which prompted Francis to say, “Colonel, you seem to have forgotten your ribbons, as I don’t see any,” sending the colonel on his way.

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