My Hero


Is there a veteran in your life? The veterans in my life are my father, Jim Dennison, who served in the Air Force during World War II and my brother Joe, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. My father died three years ago and even though I had asked him to, he would never talk to me about his experiences during the war. Much of what I know has been learned since his passing. The only thing he did tell me years ago was that because of his time in service, he would never fly in an airplane again. And I’ve since discovered why.

My father was a ball turret gunner in a B-17 heavy bomber aircraft with the U.S. Eighth Air Force operating from England. It has been written that at its peak, the “Mighty Eighth” could dispatch more than 2,000 four-engine bombers and 1,000 fighters on a single mission, thus earning its nickname. Statistics indicate that during World War II, the Mighty Eighth compiled an impressive record and suffered one-half of the U.S. Army Air Forces’ casualties. The Mighty Eighth’s personnel earned 17 Medals of Honor, 220 Distinguished Service Crosses, 850 Silver Stars, 7,000 Purple Hearts and 46,000 Air Medals.

My father flew over 50 missions, and was awarded multiple medals and badges, including the Distinguished Service Cross and Air Medal. On one mission, he was forced to bail out over France. During a recent visit to Annapolis, MD my brothers, my sister and I were going through old photographs and documents belonging to our parents. We found many old photos and his medals and badges, carefully preserved. There was a small, orange RAF book that we found in which he documented each one of his missions. As I read aloud from the book, my sister looked at all of us and said, “It’s a miracle that he made it home alive and that we were even born.”

I decided to research what a ball turret gunner actually does and this is what I discovered. A ball turret was a spherical-shaped gun turret, fitted to American-built aircraft during World War II. The turret held the gunner, two heavy machine guns, ammunition, and sights. The gunner placed his feet in the heel rests, and then crouched into a fetal position; very cramped and confined. He would then secure a safety strap, close and lock the turret door. There was no room inside the turret for a parachute, but a few gunners wore a chest parachute. Statistics showed B-17 crews had a 30 percent mortality rate, and the rate for ball turret gunners was 60 percent. The average age of a World War II gunner was 18.

As my sister said, it is truly a miracle that our father came home alive, got married and had four children, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. A few years ago, my parents visited the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Georgia and, hopefully, my father recognized that he is a hero. With all I have learned about him, Veterans Day takes on an extra layer of meaning for me. He is just one of the many men and women who have selflessly served our country. November 11 is the day to honor them – be sure to take a moment to thank the veterans in your life.


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