MOORE — Lloyd Mitchell's 94-year-old eyes are fixed on the painting that features the B-17 bomber, “Kipling's Error III.”
The memory of Mitchell takes a direct flight back 70 years to his service as a crew member in the 8th Air Force, 96th Bomber Group, 413th Squadron. He was a navigator first and gunner second. And quicker than Mitchell could snap his big-old country boy fingers, he was sitting behind the front of the nose guns in the plane in which he served 24 of his 25 missions.
He can tell you what he heard, what he felt, what he saw.
His ears were ringing with the sound of the machine guns inside the plane.
Plus, there was no heat in the B-17, and they were bombing from about 20,000 to 25,000 feet. Although Mitchell was in the nose, the plane had open waist windows to allow those gunners to fire their guns. He thinks the temperature was about minus-45 degrees. They were freezing.
As for what he saw, Mitchell — still fixed on the painting — talked about fighters lined up, coming right at him.
“You thought you were going to lose your heart, it was pounding so hard,” he said.
On this Veterans Day 2012, Mitchell took time to go back not only to his war years, but to what that experience has meant to the rest of his life. His story is just an example of the contributions of veterans and current military.
They wrote it down
Although most of what he saw is etched in Mitchell's memory, even more can be found in the book he held in his lap.
He was part of a 10-man crew.
Five of those men kept diaries, and Mitchell's son, Brooks Mitchell, obtained each and wrote a book published in 2006 titled, “The Story of the B-17 Flying Fortress Kipling's Error, They were good Americans.”
Lloyd Mitchell's entries indicate this son of a sharecropper knew without the slightest of doubts he was no longer in Hollis, OK. Take for instance his second mission, which came on May 17, 1943. It was a raid on Lorient, France, with a power plant being the primary target.
However, the crew of Kipling's Error III was attacked by fighter aircraft five minutes before they hit the target.
In his diary, Mitchell wrote, “Whew! I knew we were dead pigeons. The fighters tried to get us, but got Capt. Conahan and Lt. Holcombe instead. We were flying on their wing.”
The sights from the missions remain sharp in Mitchell's mind.
He can still see flames shooting thousands of feet when they bombed a synthetic rubber plant in Germany in June 22, 1943.