Just when I’m ready to hit the sack, I get sucked in by yet another episode of “Dogfights.”
It was episode 9, “Long Odds,” and I couldn’t stop watching the story of Old 666, about a B-17 crew who fought off 25 Japanese fighters during the course of performing a critical recon mission for an upcoming amphibious landing.
Old 666 was a plane that the crew had literally pulled off the scrap heap, which no one else was willing to fly. They patched it up, jammed 50% more machine guns into the turrets and fuselage, and volunteered for every mission that no one else was crazy enough to fly.
The mapping mission they undertook was critical to the success of the upcoming invasion. Halfway through, they were spotted and 8 Japanese fighter planes intercepted them. At that time, the most fighters any lone B-17 had tangled with and survived was 6. Plus, because the mapping mission was still in progress, the plan had to fly straight and level, making it a sitting duck.
Fighting off wave after wave of attacks, the crew downed two of the fighters and damaged several more before they broke off. At that point, an additional 17 Japanese fighters took up the pursuit, and again the crew fought them off before finally making it home.
Bombardier Joe Sarnoski was killed by enemy fire, but not before downing two fighters, the second after being mortally wounded. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Pilot Jay Zeamer brought his plane home safely despite being hit with over 100 pieces of shrapnel and losing over 50% of the blood in his body. Against all odds, he recovered after spending 15 months in hospitals, and also received the Medal of Honor. He later married and raised five daughters.
The other seven crew members, four of whom were also wounded, received the Navy Cross, making Old 666 the most decorated crew of World War 2.
War *is* hell, but the heroism it spotlights can still be inspiring.