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Rotary Happenings: Rotary has WWII B-17 radio operator speak

By Staff | Nov 19, 2014

In celebration and out of respect for our former combat troops, those that lost their lives in combat and our current military serving, Sanibel-Captiva Rotarians salute you and says “thank you for your service” on Veterans Day 2014.

Sanibel-Captiva Rotary guest speaker last week was, Iver Brook, combat radio operator on a B-17 during WWII. Brook’s military service lasted from 1942 to 1945.

During World War II, the B-17 equipped 32 overseas combat groups, inventory peaking in August 1944 at 4,574 USAAF aircraft worldwide. B-17s dropped 640,036 short tons (580,631 metric tons) of bombs on European targets.

Back on Dec. 7, 1941, Eric was studying at William and Mary College when he heard that the Japanese had just made a surprise military strike against the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Iver made up his mind right then to enter the service, but it wasn’t until he could get his mother to sign the papers that he was able to enlist in the Army Air Corp Reserve in May 1942. Iver was not yet out of his teens, when he entered training at a USAAF base in Richmond, Va.

Basic training consisted of marching, marching, MARCHING and patrolling the beaches with a rifle while tankers were positioned just off-shore to defend and protect the United States.

The group was just a group of young kids and Iver said they acted like kids.

After basic training and taking an examination, Iver was selected to go for College Training in San Antonio, Texas, a lot more marching and then courses in math. Many of the attendees were college graduates already with degrees in science and engineering, some even holding PHDs, but they all were required to take the same basic math courses.

Iver must have passed the muster, because now he was on to Aviation Cadet Training and Radio Operator School in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Radio School lasted 18 weeks and you were required to be able to listen to code for three hours straight, with only a short five-minute break every hour, in which Iver said was extremely boring.

Student had to pass the code checks and be able to send messages out at 14 words a minute. More schooling in Boca Raton, Fla., and Yuma, Ariz., and finally combat training and then he was introduced to his crew and four months more of training.

His duty stationed was England and travel there was provided by a Cruise Ship. This wasn’t so badhe stayed in the officer’s quartersshowered daily and great food.

However, luxuries were soon to end. He and his fellow troops were now housed in barracks in England and although they had plenty of food, they had no fresh milk or eggs and would have to procure these items from the farms around the bases.

Remember, up until now, these are really still kids and I guess some of their antics were appropriate to their age. They had been trained for their missions, but had not yet experienced what was to come.

They were soon to experience their flying missions and take part in skein formations of B-17s taking to the skies from their English bases, flying over their targets in Germany and dropping bombs on their intended targets. Iver was assigned to one of the B-17, his position radio operator.

Assigned B-17 uniforms of 1944-45 were called Complete High-Flying Wardrobe, which included jacket/non-leather, jacket insert heated, trouser, trouser insert heated, helmet, shoes felt, shoes insert heated, gloves, Rayon Glove inserts, A-12 mittens, scarf, lead cord, woolen shirts, light socks and long underwear.

This varied somewhat and Brook did mention long johns, flight gear, electric heated shoe and because of the temperatures in the plane, the outfits included overalls, bomber jacket, hard helmet with oxygen and outer helmet. “Baby it was cold up there,” Brook said. “And don’t forget your parachute.”

Flight day wakeup call was at a 4 a.m., followed by combat mess, general briefing, radio operator briefing, then to the locker room for flight gear and parachute, gunnery check, pilot check, tune radios-headset, pilot to control tower and rescue broadcast frequency-check wire.

Take offs from hilltop runway, then the takeoff of one plane every half hour until skein formations of 24 planes. Visibility was poor, with cloudy and misty conditions. From the ground to 12,000 ft. up, at 15,000 ft. oxygen required, but it wasn’t pure, but enough to survive.

Iver flew 24 missions, but never had to fire. He was one of the lucky ones, when the war was over he came home a man and not a boy any longer.

The Sanibel-Captiva Rotary meets at 7 a.m., Friday mornings at the Dunes Golf & Tennis Club on Sanibel Island. No meeting Nov. 28.