Authors: C V Ricks
GUARDIAN ANGEL ACADEMY
C V RICKS
It was December 3rd, 1944. Airmen moved to and fro in the hangar, loading the B-17, preparing it for the crew's 23rd mission. Inspectors checked it for safety and checked its load of ammunition. Just outside the hangar, a luminous sky bearing dark heavy clouds sent a cold drizzle, steadily soaking the earth.
The ten young men embarking on this mission appeared cheerful for the circumstances. The pilot, Pep, whistled as he took his jumper and bomber jacket out of his locker. “Two more missions after this and then California here I come.”
“Just keep us alive until then,” said Jacob.
“This one will be a piece of cake,” said Blake, the co-pilot, zipping up his suit.
“I hope so,” said Budd. “My girl is waiting.”
“Yeah, and I have two girls waiting,” Ricardo boasted slicking back his jet black hair.
“Very funny,” said Blake, patting Ricardo on the head, “but you can dream.”
“What?” Ricardo let out a high pitched whine.
Pep laughed at Ricardo then looked at Budd. “Just keep those guns blazing like always,” he said, patting him on the back. “I'll keep her in the sky.”
The crew lined up for instructions near the plane. Officer Rochestor explained the directives; fly up through Northern Italy, through the Udine pass, over the Alps into Austria. Their target was the Herman Goring Steel Factory at Linz, Austria.
Despite the blackness of the day, the crew was happy and somewhat at ease. This was to be a milk run. One by one, they climbed into the sleek new radar plane. Budd squeezed himself into the tiny compartment in the tail of the plane and plugged in his heater and headphones. The others took their places strapping their harnesses.
The engine powered up and the plane rolled out into the drizzle. The mission had begun.
The plane flew onward through northern Italy, reaching the Udine pass. As the navigator guided the plane through the pass, the crew sang, “Bless them all, bless them all, bless them all. The young the short and the tall. There will be no promotion this side of the ocean so bless them dear Lord bless them all.”
Pep checked their estimated time of arrival to the target, which was 12:00 noon, only twenty minutes away. Peering out their windows, the young men dreamed of what they would do when they completed all of their missions. Only two more and they could hang up their uniforms and go home; home to their sweethearts, their families, their lives.
As the B-17 neared the target, about ten minutes away, the clouds suddenly dropped from 30,000 feet to 15,000 feet. Pep looked over at Blake and pointed at the clouds. This meant that their plane would be more visible to enemy aircraft.
Pep and Blake discussed the repercussions of going through with the mission, and came up with an idea.
Pep spoke over his intercom to the crew. “We're going to take a vote. The clouds have dropped. We are taking a risk going through with this. Do we want to go on with the mission, or go back home and try again another time? All for going forward say 'I'.”
This being their twenty-third mission, they were hesitant to turn back now. Pep heard the “I's” of the men through his earpiece and concluded the voting was unanimous. They would continue with the mission.
A few minutes later, the plane reached the target. As was customary, the bombardier took control of the plane through the Nordan bomb site. The navigator began plotting the crew's course back. The plane made its first pass over the site, blinded by the noonday sun.
Suddenly a loud noise was heard and the plane shook as it was struck by ME-109's and Folk Wolf 190's in force. Instantly the milk run had turned into a mission of terror and fear. Their right inboard engine was on fire. The plane was going down.
“Get your parachutes! We've got to jump!” Ricardo shouted.
“We've been hit!” yelled Jacob.
Budd, tucked away as the tail gunner, couldn't make out what everyone was saying. The plane's guns were blazing but the damage to their own plane was fatal before his gunfire could retaliate. Budd was not aware of what was happening but continued firing at the fighters as they slipped back to the tail.
Hearing the yelling and smelling smoke, Budd stopped shooting. Chutes were opening and he realized his own crew was jumping out. Looking over his shoulder, he saw that Jacob, the radio operator was standing at the waist door waving him out. The plane continued to spiral down. Budd tried to get to his escape hatch, but as he inched toward the hatch, the pressure forced him down to the floor. He tried with all his strength to rise up from the floor. On his hands and knees, he crawled toward the hatch all the while crying out, “God, God, Oh my God help me!” He banged at the door with his steel flak helmet, but the hinges would not release. He began clawing his way out, but for every few inches he pushed the door out, the door shut back in on him.
This is when we made our move. Joseph and Rachel flew toward the door. I followed. Pull the door on the count of three. Joseph spoke telepathically to my mind. His thoughts penetrated Rachel's mind as well. One, Two, Three....We yanked hard, and the door flung open. We pushed against it, keeping it open. As I looked at the other two, I thought of Superman only there were three of us and we wore white. The strong wind pushed us perpendicular to the plane, and we looked like we were flying and pushing the plane, holding it up in midair. Budd wiggled his way out until his head and shoulders hung from the plane. Then the wind grabbed Budd, tearing his jacket sleeve and ripping his boots off of his feet. Jacob, the radio operator, was also falling and he had opened his chute and was watching Budd as he was being torn from the plane.
After Budd had finally wrenched himself from the plane, it blew apart into bits and pieces. We floated in the air near Budd, observing him. He was only semiconscious when he realized that he was free falling. Seeing the clouds enclosing him, Budd knew he had reached the 15,000 foot level which meant he needed to prepare for landing. Budd's hands quivered as he reached for his chest parachute. Feeling around his chest, his heart sank when he discovered it was not there. It must have torn from the holding rings when the door of the plane shut on him.
At this point Budd knew that his life was over. One would think that this knowledge would entail the uttermost dark and disturbing feelings that could ever enter a person's heart. But it was not so. Instead of anguish and despair, an astonishing feeling of peace swept over Budd and he was filled with the knowledge that there were things far worse than death. At this moment, I heard Joseph's voice. Bear him up. Each of us reached out and held on to him. Our very touch filled his soul with a peace and warmth he had never felt to such a degree. Such is the touch of an angel. Budd lifted his eyes upward, toward heaven, as if to let the Lord know that he was ready-- ready to die.
But the time for Budd's demise was not at hand. It was then, as Budd's eyes were lifted upward, that he saw his chute swinging back and forth just above his head. He thought that the thread had broken from his harness, which allowed the excess to unfold, which removed his chute from his chest. But it was I who had broken the thread. Budd was filled with glorious exhilaration as he pulled the rip cord and the chute opened into a beautiful billowy mushroom.
Budd's one hundred and eighty mile per hour plunge slowed down considerably. Now, his thoughts focused on what he had learned and practiced about landing. He gazed down at the patchwork below. He had been taught to choose a safe place to land and to direct his chute toward it. He was taught to take the jolt by landing on the toes, fall forward on the knees and then to the chest. As he was fast approaching the landing, he could see a runway strip, a forest and a lake. He did not want to land on the runway strip, the forest, or the lake.
Budd continued to scan the ground searching for somewhere to land, when all of a sudden his chute collapsed. He had spilled the air out of his chute and was quickly falling. Blow! Blow his hands down! Joseph instructed me. And I blew. The air was under my control and I blew Budd's cold hands down. The downward thrust caused his chute to drop and the chute once again filled with air.
Budd once again examined his choices. Seeing that none of the options were favorable, he decided to fall wherever fate took him. Floating in the sky, fate came in the form of three guardian angels. Let's pull him toward the forest. I heard Joseph's voice again. We each grabbed onto his parachute and directed it toward the forest, helping his chute clear the trees. His back grazed a large fir tree and he slid down it with both feet in the air. He made a one point landing right on his rear end. It was the kind of jar he would feel for days. Instead of going down to meet the ground, the ground came up to meet him and slapped him hard. Although painful, the slap brought with it a strong realization—he was alive.
Our job was done for now. Getting him on the ground safely was our assignment. Now it was time to go back and report.
You may be wondering, who is this superhero in white flying around saving people? I am a not a superhero, just a plain simple guardian angel. But to fully understand how I got here, in the middle of World War II, saving an American airman, I need to start at the beginning of the story, or actually, perhaps, the end. My earthly end. My untimely demise.
My story begins on a beautiful, quiet and peaceful portion of God's great earth in the year 1930; a picturesque ranch in Bancroft, Idaho.
I, Josie, steadied my horse on the hilltop overlooking the meadow and spring and the trees, hills and valleys of the land my family called home. I took a moment to relish the sight. Green rolling hills met an azure sky dotted with puffy white clouds. The clear water flowed around the golden orange reeds near the water's edge of Josie's Spring, named after me. I pictured my wedding day, when people from all over the valley drove up the mountain in their cars, trucks, horses and buggies to witness Nick's and my wedding ceremony right on the ranch in the middle of a meadow. It was worth all the hours of labor it took in clearing a road so folks could get here.
That was ten years ago when I was twenty-two. Enough reminiscing. I needed to go home and fix dinner for my husband and children.
Bradley, my sheep dog, watched as I jumped off my horse and led him to the barn. I unsaddled and patted him affectionately, then filled his water pail before heading to the house. Wouldn't it be nice if I could sit down and relax? It wasn’t easy being a mom and rancher, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. My family had owned this ranch as long as I could remember and I'd been ranching since I was big enough to say giddy up. People likened me to Annie Oakley, because they considered me one of the best sharpshooters in the County.
My husband, Nick, was still out working his part of the ranch. After coming through the back door, I deposited my dirty boots in the mudroom and dusted off my skirt. As I hung my cowboy hat on a nail, I was greeted by my children.
“Mama, Mama, we’re hungry,” eight-year-old Louise cried, her pageboy haircut bobbing up and down.
Budd, who was three years younger than his sister chimed in, “What can we eat?” Budd's dark hair was parted on the side, his small frame pudgy in baby fat. His big brown eyes melted my insides.
“I’m going to make supper.” I laughed and tickled each one. “Now get along, you two, and bring in the firewood.”
Grandma Patty, my grandmother, who watched the children after school until I got back from the ranch, was sound asleep, snoring on the sofa. Strangely, I felt a twinge of pain in my chest as I reached down to grab a sack of potatoes from under the sink to peel and chop. Weird, I thought, but I dismissed it. I started washing the potatoes.
A few minutes later the children came bustling into the house with their arms full. “Okay, set it in the family room by the fireplace.” I directed them. “I'm working as fast as I can. I’m hungry, too.”
The children set the firewood down, arguing about who brought in the largest load.
Hearing the commotion, I yelled from the kitchen, “In the meanwhile, I expect you two to work on your studies. Certainly you have homework to do. Let me hear you reading from your readers, Louise. And practice writing your alphabet, Budd.”
“I’m too hungry to do anything,” Budd dropped to the ground, holding his stomach and moaning as he twisted from side to side. I could see him watching for my reaction.
I bit my lip to keep from laughing, then turned from the scene. “I think you'll live,” I said, refusing to give in to his silly antics.
Budd groaned and grabbed his pencil and paper, while Louise read aloud.
Finally, the meal was ready and I set the last dish on the table and called the children. After we were all seated I said,“I think your father is extra busy today with the chores, so we must start supper without him. Now, Louise, I believe it is your turn to offer the blessing.”
Louise sat up straight, folded her arms and bowed her head. “Kind Father in Heaven,” she began. “Please bless this food for which we are most grateful. Help Daddy to finish his work so he can join us. Help me in my studies to learn to read and help Budd learn his letters. Bless Mommy. Please bless our ranch and the people of this town. Keep us all safe. We ask for these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
“Amen!” Budd exclaimed.
After his amen, Budd reached for the bowl of potatoes, grabbing it eagerly.
Louise latched onto the other side of the bowl. “I had it first,” she shouted.
“No you didn’t,” Budd stood up, pulling the bowl closer to him.
“Children,” I exclaimed. “Stop fighting. Never fight over food. We will always have enough to eat.”
After saying this, I breathed in laboriously, my lips tightening, my caramel eyes bulging. I grasped my chest as the pain had returned with more force this time, and ran to the bathroom. Sinking down onto the floor, I gasped for my last and final breath.