Rhett Butler Fights Against Nazis

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Gable actually went through Officers’ Candidate School, which was a 12 week long program. The other services ran similar programs leading to the unflattering reference to junior officers as “90 day wonders.” So Gable certainly did his share of marching and cleaning his barracks and close order drill in addition to intensive studying. He and his film crew of five trained with the 351st Bombardment Group which was deployed to England in early 1943. Gable and his film crew came shortly thereafter and were stationed at the Royal Air Force Field in Polebrook which the RAF had turned over to the US Army Air Force.

Clark Gable with 8th AF in Britain.

Clark Gable may have been a glamorous “man’s man” on the screen but that did not translate to real life, especially with young men who were putting their lives on the line each time they climbed into their bombers. So they didn’t give a damn what kind of movie Captain Gable was making and certainly no one expected he was going to fly as an observer/gunner on an actual bombing mission. But he did. And he didn’t do it once. He flew on five combat missions between 4 May 1943 and 23 September 1943.

The first mission for the 351st Bombardment Group was a raid over Germany and Gable flew on the very first mission of the unit. Perhaps he found it exciting but I doubt it. He was almost killed. A German shell hit the plane and a piece of the shrapnel took the heel off one of his boots. I would have thanked the Lord I had survived and not tempted fate again but it’s clear from reading about all of this that Gable very much wanted to prove himself to these young men who crewed the bombers. We forget how young they were but lots of them were still teenagers and most of the pilots were 20 or 21. Imagine being responsible for a plane and crew when you are 20 years old and flying combat missions.

So Captain Gable flew four more missions. On one of those his bomber was hit hard by German fighters. They knocked out one of the engines and did a fair amount of damage to the plane which managed to get back to England. So Gable did prove himself and he was embraced by the men of 351st Bombardment Group. He never put on airs or acted like a jerk from everything I have read. Because he had flown five combat missions, Gable received the Air Medal and for actually being in combat with German shells punching through the plane he received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Unedited out-takes from Clark Gable’s movies with the 8th AF in Britain.

Captain Robert Morgan, the pilot of the famous B-17 Memphis Belle, was part of the 351st. He was young and tough and liked to raise hell when he wasn’t flying. On occasion when he and several other officers went to London to get drunk and get laid, Clark Gable came with them. Said Morgan in later years,

…everywhere we went we were mobbed by women, but Gable took it all in stride, tried to act more like an airman on leave than a Hollywood idol. That was impossible. When we’d enter a club, the bandleader, seeing Gable, would strike up a rendition of Wild Blue Yonder, and beautiful girls – English, French, Belgian – would crowd around our table. It was great just being in Gable’s wake – picking up the leftovers.

Morgan, who named his bomber Memphis Belle for his gal back home, wasn’t exactly a choirboy as you have just read. But America wanted good clean heroes and certainly Morgan was a hero. And he did have a gal back in Memphis. But he planted the American flag in many a foreign beauty and needless to say, he never married his Memphis Belle. But it sure makes a good story. When he went out to the Pacific to fly bombers against Japan he named his B-29, Dauntless Dotty. But Dotty was a canny gal. She got Morgan to marry her before he went to the Pacific.

The B-17 Memphis Belle and crew are shown at an air base in England after completing 25 missions over enemy territory on June 7, 1943. They are, left to right: Tech. Sgt. Harold P. Loch of Green Bay, Wis., top turret gunner; Staff Sgt. Cecil H. Scott of Altoona, Penn., ball turret gunner; Tech. Sgt. Robert J, Hanson of Walla Walla, Wash., radio operator; Capt. James A. Verinis, New Haven, Conn., co-pilot; Capt. Robert K. Morgan of Ashville, N. C., pilot; Capt. Charles B. Leighton of Lansing, Mich., navigator; Staff Sgt. John P. Quinlan of Yonkers, N. Y., tail gunner; Staff Sgt. Casimer A. Nastal of Detroit, Mich., waist gunner; Capt. Vincent B. Evans of Henderson, Texas, bombardier and Staff Sgt. Clarence E. Wichell of Oak Park, Ill., waist gunner.

(Quotes and other info from Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany by Donald Miller)

[Images courtesy of Wikimedia and Seraphic Press.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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