The 10 crew members of a B-17G were as diverse as America itself.
The waist gunners were friends from Venice Beach, California. The two both joined the Army Air Corps in November 1943. Sons of well to do families, Eric Wright and Sam Hagel did not have a care in the world during the summer of 1943. Fresh out of high school, They would spend their days on the beach tanning themselves, throwing a football and watching babes. They both had lived charmed and spoiled Cali cool lives.
Eric’s father was film editor, while Sam’s father was a screenplay writer. The families were quite intelligent, creative, and worked hard. The California film industry insulated them from the realities of the day. They only read about the Dust Bowl days!” They were gainfully employed during the “Great Depression.” In fact, there was copious work in Hollywood doing silent movies and then the “talkies!” There was copious work doing post WWI movies. This would give way to WWII propaganda and information films. The Hollywood entertainment business was exploding. The movie industry was immune to the collapse of Wall Street. Eric and Sam’s fathers would work 70 hours a week and spend precious little time with the boys. They boys would grow up on the streets and beaches of Los Angeles, California. The most stressful event was leaving the beach when the sun went down over the Pacific.
The tail gunner was named Jack Williams. He hailed from the Smith Valley of West Central Nevada. He was 25 years old, average height, slender with large ears and oddly massive hands and feet. Hands that had worked cattle ranches since he was a small child. He had been selected by lottery and drafted into the military.The Williams family were originally California ranchers. In May 1869, a few members of the family moved to Nevada. They would take 3 Conestoga wagons, a dozen horses, 10 Oxen, 20 milk cows, and dozens of calves east to Nevada. By 1869, the Transcontinental railroad service roads had allowed much quicker travel over the Sierra Nevada mountains. In addition, there were huge swaths of Federal land in Nevada that was excellent for cattle grazing. There was water too. The family homesteaded the Smith valley south of Carson City. Eventually, their cattle would graze most of the valley. Overtime, the 20 milk cows and calves would grow to a sizable heard, but never become a huge operation.
For the most part, the Williams family would raise cattle every year and drive them to the stockyards of Reno for sale. If it was a good year, the sale of the steer would be enough to feed the family and buy supplies for the winter.
Jack Williams was a Buckaroo. He had never finished high school and was the oldest son of Abigail Williams. Abigail was a Nevada cowgirl and a raving beauty. Her normal dress was, Levi jeans, cotton long sleeves, and cowboy boots. At 40 and after three boys, she still had the figure of a 20 year old, and could work the range as good as any man. Every time she went to town, she would be hit on by men. They could not help themselves after seeing the raging Nevada beauty with tight faded Levi button down jeans ,and the ass of a female movie star. Her good looks, wholesomeness, and modest dress, were irresistible to the city men.
At night, she would let down her long sandy blonde and gray hair and brush it out, and read to her boys. The cabin had no electricity or indoor plumbing. The bathroom was out back. A trip to the bathroom in winter at 20 below zero was a real treat. The outside well had a hand pump, and the 3 room cabin was heated by a 1000 pound cast iron cooking stove that was 50 years old. There was no phone and the Postman was the information life line. A trip to Carson City for supplies was 70 miles by horseback or buckboard. In 1940, she finally was able to purchase a 1935 1.5 ton Ford truck with a bad 6 cylinder flathead engine. A mechanic friend fixed the engine for a side of beef and an old 3030 marlin lever action rifle. All it needed was engine bearings, a water pump and clutch. She could now haul a couple of 800 pound steer to market, and trade directly for supplies and cash..
The local meat shops knew her to have the best tasting beef on the slopes of the Sierras and always gave here good money. A nice 1000 pound steer could sell for $150. This meant food for the kids and alfalfa for the cows and horses when the snow was a foot deep. The butcher was sweet on Abigail and never missed an opportunity to gaze at Abigail’s awesome ass in those nice fitting Levi 501s. She knew what he was up to and didn’t mind too awful much, especially when there were winter supplies piled high on he stake bed. Abigail Shaw was from a poor Scottish family that lived in Virginia City. Her father was a miner that worked the Comstock lode.
Abigail met Henry Williams at a harvest festival in Carson City. They fell in love, eloped, and were married when Abigail was 15 years old. She gave Henry a healthy son, before her husband was sent to fight Germans on the Western front in 1918. He was killed by a German Howitzer shell and his body never recovered. Abigail never remarried but had a few rancher boyfriends here and there, hence Jack had younger brothers from a different father. She had found that most men could not abide the harsh and remote rancher lifestyle in Nevada. A life style that demanded hard work, discipline, and work ethic.
All the men she met wanted to marry her and move her to Carson City or Reno. She found city life to be stuffy and boring and so did her boys. She would be damned if a city slicker took her off her ranch and made her play house in the city. Abbie did not care about the morals of the day and maintained an affair with a local rancher for 20 years. The man was childless, loved his wife, but also loved Abigail.
Abigail lived to be 92 and died in 1994. When she was 70, she had fallen from a horse as it avoided a cattle loading ditch. The fall had broken her shoulder,and upper back. It took a year to heel. After that, she couldn’t even throw a saddle on her horse. Up until the accident, she road the range and managed the round up with her boys every year. She had lived at the cabin for 45 years. The boys moved her to a small home on 2nd street in Carson City that had been left to her by her lover. A home with electricity, plumbing, and windows that went up and down. There she would live off of her husband’s VA benefits, and a small SS check.
Jacks younger brothers would sell the cabin and relocate the cattle operation to Fallon, Nevada. There they would buy a large farm and grow Alfalfa hay. The three cuttings a year would feed the herd through the summer and winter months. James and Aaron, would end up working for the Nevada DOT running heavy equipment. By the 1970s, raising beef cattle became a costly affair and only supplemented their income. Soon they would only raise a few head, and make money off of alfalfa hay for the thousands of horses in the area.
The home in Carson City became the “bunk house” for her 12 grand children and 17 great grand children.
By the time Jack Williams was 11 years old, he could ride a horse, round up cattle, mend fences, and shoot a deer with open sites at 100 yards. He knew how to field dress a mule deer, rope cattle, cutoff bull nuts, and do everything related to keeping a cabin weatherproof, warm and stocked. He was Abigail’s man of the house.Abigail and the younger sons could handle the yearly round up by themselves. They knew the Smith Valley foothills like the back of their hands. They knew where their herd of 50 cows and 50 calves would be when it was time to steer the calves. Occasionally they would miss a calf in the pines, and it would come back the next year as a 1000 pound bull. By then it took one man, a half dozen little britches buckaroos, and two horses pulling in opposite directions to hold down a young bull before they could cut the testicles off.
At a small cattle operation, rounding up and steering 50 calves might take 2 to 3 days. At a large operation, it would take weeks and several hired hands. Jack Williams would start working ranches as a cowhand when he was 15. By the time he was 25, he had worked ranches from Smith valley to Pine valley, and The Carson Sink to Elko and Ely. He would send most of his money back to Abigail via the mail. The rest he would spend drinking and chasing women in bars. He knew that when he ran out of money, it was a month “broke at the bunkhouse.”
In the field, Jack only required the following: His sturdy well trained 10 year old gelded quarter horse paint mix named “Chipper,” A saddle, rope, a fir lined Levi jacket, rain jacket, gloves, Levi jeans, Texas made cowboy boots, insulated underwear, a few tools, a knife, a Stetson hat, and a 410/.45 over and under single shot rifle. Jack wore a homemade deerskin belt with a Silver dollar buckle.
Jack loved the out doors. He especially loved the Ruby Marshes south of Elko. The Ruby valley was abundant with mule deer, rabbits, quail and Nevada sage hen. The streams were filled with trout. The marsh teaming with bass. Whenever he came across wild game, he would easily dispatch the critter with one shot. He used 410 gauge shot gun shells for quail, and trout, and .45 caliber for deer. Jack could down a deer on the run through the withers at 100 yards off the back of a horse with one shot. One shot and one kill. He would then field dress it, throw it on the back of his horse and walk back to camp with his saddle draped over his shoulder. .Jack could do everything with deer meat from sausage to hamburger, and steaks. His favorite was fresh deer heart and liver. Some nights at the field house, they would have trout, and the next night sage hen breast. In the mornings it was buckwheat pancakes, eggs and deer sausage. The water was fresh off the Ruby range, pure and tasty.
On pay day, the crew would take the 60 mile dirt road ride to Elko in the back of a 1932 Ford cattle truck. Once there, they would get fired up. Some of the men preferred the brothels and the gambling halls. Jack preferred chasing good Nevada women and a cold draft beer.On one occasion, Jack drank too much, started a fight over a girl and ended up at the sheriff’s hotel. The sheriff knew Jack and let him sleep it off. The next morning, The sheriff and two military fellas woke him up, and the sheriff tells Jack, ” we were gonna run this out to you at Shanty town, but since you was here, we can give it to ya now. I guess the fellas here are gonna take you to the railroad station, and put you on a train for Reno. Seems your headed for the induction center!”
Jack thought about his horse “Chipper,” but realized that the 60 mile trip on dirt roads and then hauling Chip to Reno would take days and cost a fortune and money he did not have. He knew that his rancher boss would take care of Chip, feed him, and ride him, after all, Chip was the best cow pony in Nevada.
After the war, the first thing Jack would did was retrieve his horse, guns, and gear. He would then pay a visit to that gal in Elko. He showed up one day in his Army Air Corps uniform after travelling by rail from St. Louis. He told her that he had been saving money for about ten years and that she was all he could think about in England. He told her that he wanted to start a life with with her. She said yes and the rest is history.
In the beer halls of London, Jack would always take his Stetson hat. Inevitably, the “Piccadilly Raiders” would coalesce around him and seek to gain his fancy. He had seen the filthy stinking brothels of Nevada, could not abide, and had no interest in British whores. He was still thinking about a gal in Elko and if his horse was well fed, brushed and shod. He had high standards for women, and never gave the Piccadilly Raiders a second thought. To him, a good women meant love, family, sons, daughters, wealth, and a lifetime of companionship. To him, finding a good Nevada wife was the most important thing a fella could do. Bad horses were a dime a dozen, a good horse and a good woman were worth their weight in gold. Meanwhile, Eric and Sam were arm in arm with two British babes and were headed to the hotel for a good rogering. All Jack could think about was the gal in Elko, the smell of fresh Nevada sage, and his horse Chipper……