Hard to Forget: A Maine Veteran Recalls World War II

November 10, 2016   |   Story and photographs by Dan D'Ippolito

While many American holidays are spirited by memorial or obscured by commercialism, Veterans Day honors and celebrates the monumental achievements of people living among us. At the end of each war, an hourglass is turned on the opportunity to hear firsthand the experiences of these men and women who have risked their lives on behalf of our society.

For the majority of Americans, being 19 years old is a time for finding out who you are. For Gordon Glover, it was a time for finding out if he’d survive another day flying a B-17 as part of the 94th Bombardment Group of the Eighth Air Force during World War II.

A photograph hangs in Glover's bedroom of a B-17 piloted by Glover leaving England on the way back home after the war.

A photograph hangs in Glover's bedroom of a B-17 piloted by Glover leaving England on the way back home after the war.

Today, Glover resides in a Yarmouth nursing home. He is a warm and gentle man with a big build, kind eyes and an acute sense of humor. Watching election coverage on television with the New York Times in his lap, he quips, “I’m ready to pack up and move if the wrong person gets elected president.”

Glover was born in 1924, and grew up in a suburb of Boston. When World War II erupted, he says, “I was old enough and I wanted to be a pilot. It was something I always yearned for. I did a lot of reading on flying; I made model airplanes. That was my thing.”

In 1942, he volunteered for the aviation cadet program. “You had to get your parents’ permission to even sign up,” Glover recalls. A World War I veteran who experienced heavy action in the trenches of France, Glover’s father was reluctant. “I finally convinced him it would be a good idea because training would take so long, the war would probably be over. I wasn’t far from wrong.”

For well over the next year, the cadet program took Glover to Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma and Nebraska. “It was a thrilling thing. You had to get flying experience at night, at daytime, in twin engine airplanes, single engine fire planes” as well as gunnery practice and bombing excursions.

“It was one of the proudest moments of my life when I got my wings,” he says emotionally.

Glover at home in a nursing care facility in Yarmouth on Tuesday, October 25, 2016.

Glover at home in a nursing care facility in Yarmouth on Tuesday, October 25, 2016.

Many men entered into the training program, but the rejection rate was high. “I was always afraid of washing out because of my size,” recalls Glover, who was a formidable six feet, four inches at the time. “I learned to fall into a hunch when I was being measured. I couldn’t fit in half the planes. They couldn’t even shut the cockpit,” he laughs. “I wanted to be a fighter pilot in the worst way.” His size, however, demanded he default to the larger bomber planes.

While the crew was ever anxious to see action, Glover was not fearful of the danger. “You don’t get nervous about those things when you’re 19. They give you an airplane and say, ‘Hey boy, you’re gonna be a hero!’ And they turn you loose. To be a 19-year-old kid in command of a 10 member crew in a bomber didn’t mean anything to me at the time”, he continues. “I thought, ‘Oh, I can do that.’”

Glover's fleece displays the emblem of the Eighth Air Force, purchased on a visit to the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Georgia.

Glover's fleece displays the emblem of the Eighth Air Force, purchased on a visit to the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Georgia.

One day, Glover and his men had bundles of gear piled in on them. “It was all this jungle equipment, and we thought, ‘Oh jeepers, we’re going to Africa.’ It turned out we were wrong; we were going to England.”

The crew had been assigned to a bombardment group in Bury St Edmunds in the Cambridge area of England, the home of approximately 30 American air bases during World War II. Departing from Nebraska, Glover and his men flew to New Hampshire, then north to Goose Bay in Canada, and ultimately to England by way of Scotland and Iceland.

“Flying across the Atlantic in itself was a big deal,” Glover remarks, noting that Lindbergh only made his historic transatlantic solo flight 15 years earlier. On the way to Iceland, the crew’s carburetor iced over resulting in engine failure, forcing them to make an emergency landing at an allied airport Greenland. “There was only one runway headed out to the sea, and we came in from the sea,” he chuckles.

U.S. Air Force intelligence provided Glover and his navigators the routes to follow in and out of Germany, always taking caution to avoid heavily fortified areas. With the exception of the pilots, all crew members were at the helm of powerful machine guns stationed around the perimeter of their B-17 Flying Fortress. “We were all in formation,” Glover remembers. “When German fighters appeared, a whole concentration of our guns greeted them.”

Over a total of 28 missions, Glover witnessed more than a handful of his compatriots’ planes go down under enemy fire. Throughout the war, his bombardment group lost 180 planes, and upwards of 1,600 lives. Conversely, his fleet shot down many German planes. “Thank heavens,” he says.

“You don’t get scared,” Glover says of his emotional state throughout multiple airborne battles. “At least I didn’t, and I’m sure my buddies are the same. When you’re a kid you’re not scared of anything like that. Half the time you wouldn’t know you got hit until you got back to base.”

Only once did Glover’s plane sustain damage substantial enough to require a forced landing. Luckily, the crew happened to be in the vicinity of an airport in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. The airstrip was a major target and had been heavily bombed, so Glover opted to land in a nearby field. No one was hurt; they were picked up by allies the next day.

While on leave from flying missions, Glover was close enough to hop on a train to London. “They always needed cigarettes,” he says of his British counterparts. He fondly reminisces about the music of Glenn Miller, and recalls vividly the time on a train into the capital he learned of his disappearance over the English Channel.

“An English soldier sat down next to me and he said, ‘I say, have you got a fag, mate?’ So the first thing I had to do was give him a cigarette,” Gordon laughs. “Then a minute later he goes, ‘I say, it’s a shame old Glenn Miller went west.’ And that’s how I heard about it.”

Had the war not ended, Glover would have gone east to train to fly a B-29 in Japan. “I was kind of anxious to fly the 29, but I wasn’t anxious to go back to combat again,” he says. “Particularly flying over thousands of miles of ocean, with no Greenland to land on.”

Glover was 21 years old when the war ended. “To my great delight, the G.I. Bill kicked in, which is the best legislation this country ever put through. Many of us wouldn’t have gone to college had it not been for that bill.”

In the years to follow, Glover met his future wife in Boston while awaiting discharge from the Air Force, and earned a degree from the University of Tennessee. While in school, he worked as a student at a commercial radio station reporting the local news, and on several occasions encountered country music legend Hank Williams. “He used to kid me a lot, while I’d be behind the glass beating out the morning news,” Glover recalls. “He was singing his stuff and he’d say, ‘Come on in here, Gordon, and sing us a tune!’” Glover belts out in a playful country accent.

Glover went on to enjoy a successful career in the newspaper and publishing industry. He worked with the Associated Press for over 10 years, beginning in Portland, Maine. “I worked 42 years to get back here”, he laughs. “It’s a beautiful place. I love it.” Glover eventually settled in Gorham. He has a wife, four children and eight grandchildren.

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As of 2012, there are no surviving veterans of World War I. From over 16 million Americans who served in World War II, few more than 620 thousand are alive today.

Of Glover’s wartime crew, only one other member is still alive. “He’s in the same position I am; in assisted living. His memory is probably worse than mine,” he jokes.

Whether diminished by pride or buried in time, Glover does not recall being scared for his life at any point during the war. “I don’t remember my emotions at all in this period,” he says. “Training or combat, I don’t remember how I felt emotionally.”

Glover readily admits his memory is not what it used to be; there are gaps of blank time where moments from his wartime years used to be. He pauses now and again to conjure up these decades-old details.

In Glover’s bedroom is a photograph of a B-17 – piloted by Glover himself – flying from England on the way back home to the U.S. after the war ended in 1945. He says other photographs and artifacts exist from this time in his life, but in the aftermath of the transition to assisted living their specific whereabouts are not immediately known. Although the same might be said for some of Glover’s recollections, his story is unforgettable.