Jack Conlin I’ve known since I was 9 years old. When we moved to Amherst MA in the fall of 1960m his son Jim lived in the same new development and became one of my best friends. I knew nothing of Jim’s dad’s war history. We were too busy being kids. I knew his dad was a dean at the University of Massachusetts and that’s about it.
Today Jack came to the library to meet up for the first time in over forty years. In his hands he carried a large manila envelope full of photos, so he’d promised. I still recognized him but today he was also sporting a white ball cap with the 8th Air Force orange and blue logo on the front. “One of my golfing buddies, one day showed up with his WW II service patch on a white cap and I said to myself, I can do it too,” he joked.
“Everything in my life was luck,” he said at one point during our conversation. Elaborating, he talked about getting sick during basic training. “By the time I got out of the infirmary,” he started.” When I walked into the barracks, it was empty. I found out all of them had been shipped to the Pacific theatre. I got shipped to England.”
On one of his first flights, on take-off their bomber blew a tire. “The pilot, Captain Stroud, wasn’t a very good pilot,” he said. “Thankfully our co-pilot took over when we neared the base and put us down safely.
But there were reality checks as well, some not on the war front. “My father was a mail carrier,” Jack said, pointing to a photograph of himself in uniform sitting on a bench with his father, his mother in-between. They came to visit me before being shipped off to Europe.” It took 28 days to cross the Atlantic. “Unfortunately my father died at age 44 right after I left,” Jack began. “I didn’t get the news until landing in England almost a month later.”
Stationed at Podington, he lived on the flight line which meant he was within spitting distance of the airfield. “One day I was watching from my window, a B-17 roll down the runway. Laden with fuel and ordnance, the plane struggled to make it off the ground but ran out of runway and crashed.” A second plane started rolling,”Jack said.” But was waved off. Unfortunately as the practice was to send planes in thirty second intervals, somehow the third plane missed the signal and crashed into the returning second aircraft. Thirty men gone, just like that,” he said.
Jack’s favorite pilot was a Colonel “Moose” Hardin. “That man could fly,” Jack said.”He didn’t give a shit. He loved to fly. I remember looking up from my radio station [onboard the B-17] and seeing flashes of red.” Jack laughed. “Those were barns we were flying past.”
Luck followed Jack all his life. After the war, during college where he went to Harvard, he talked about meeting his wife. “Because original plans fell through,” he said smiling. “I ended up taking a drive to Amherst where I met my future wife, Faith. Luck,” he repeated.”Everything in my life was luck.”