Yesterday I met a veteran who served as an Army Air Corps pilot on a B-17 bomber. He is in his 90s. I spoke with him for about 45 minutes. He showed me a list of the different missions he flew on over three years of service during World War II. I scanned down the list and saw that he was on a mission over Dresden, Germany on February 15, 1945. The mission’s objective was to “disrupt German retreat through the city.” My heart grew heavy.
I looked at the lines around his eyes, and the skin on his hands. He was in his early 20’s in 1945. The gunners and bombardier were 18 and 19 years old, he said. I looked deep into his face with 1,000 burning questions, knowing I couldn’t ask any of them. I thanked him for his service, and lit a candle for him in my heart.
I think about what the “true cost of war” means.
I think about the immensity of human suffering that bleeds from war and conflict.
I think about how, when even one suffers, we all suffer.
I wonder when we will stop hurting each other.
“It was a movie about American bombers in World War II and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this: American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.
The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers , and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans though and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.
When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again. The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby.”
-Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five