1944 — European Theater, World War II
The following story was originally written on Veteran's Day 2007.
With Veteran's Day upon us, I feel compelled to share a story with you. It's about a man named Al. He was just one of the multitude of young men who served our country during World War II. His branch of service was the Army Air Corps. He applied for flight training to be a pilot, but "washed out" (those were his words). So volunteering for Gunnery School, he became a machine gunner on a B-17 bomber, handling of all things twin 50 caliber machine guns. Depending on the mission, he manned either the top turret or right waist gunner position.
His job was to shoot down any enemy aircraft threatening the bombing mission. Back then you had to survive 30 missions before you could go home. Al was one of the lucky ones. His required 30 missions were completed.
However, fate was not done with him yet. One of the B-17's was scheduled to make a bombing run. But the nose gunner was sick and could not go. So Al volunteered to take his place. However the weather turned bad and the run was postponed. By the time conditions were good for flying, the nose gunner had recovered and demanded to join his crew. Al said that he had been at the flight briefing and should be the one to go. To settle the matter, they went to the "old man" (the pilot of the plane). Al could tell that the pilot really wanted his own crew member along on the mission. To settle the matter, Al suggested that they flip a silver dollar coin.
As fate would have it, Al lost. The nose gunner rejoined the crew and flew the mission. The plane was shot down. There were 10 crew members on that plane, 7 of which were killed. Three managed to bail out. Al thinks that the nose gunner was one of those who bailed out.
I met Al when he and his wife joined our SWIM, Inc. water therapy group. His wife had a stroke years ago. The water therapy was something she needed. In the photo below, Al is in the group standing poolside, fourth from the left. Al's a volunteer, which is fitting.Al and his wife can't come to SWIM as often anymore because of his wife's fragile health. However, we saw them at our swim session Friday, and he told our new members about his lucky silver dollar. He still keeps that coin with him in his pocket. Several years ago we learned that Al and his flight crew had earned the French Croix de Guerre. While some of the crew received the medal, Al had already left for home before getting his. Years later, he applied to the French Consulate for the medal. At first they said he would receive it, only to deny him his medal due to a statute of limitations. Recognition of courage in the defense of your country or any other allied nation should not have a statute of limitations. So in 2003 Eleanor and I decided to have our own award ceremony. We prepared a certificate and purchased the French Croix de Guerre from a company called Medals of America. The certificate included a photograph of of the medal, and listed his other awards: The Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze stars. The certificate included the following statement: "Therefore we feel it only fitting and proper that an appropriate gift from us, though unofficial, should reflect our gratitude. On behalf of the generation born during World War II, Bill and Eleanor would like to sincerely thank Al and his crew, as well as the rest of the "Greatest Generation" for risking their lives to preserve our freedom. As a token of our appreciation, we are presenting Staff Sargent Albert Sam Sevi with the medal he earned, but never received, the French Croix de Guerre." Al's wife, Margaret, was at a Rehabilitation Center at the time. So we made the presentation while Al was visiting his wife.
Al doesn't have to wear a cape or have supernatural powers to qualify as a hero. To Eleanor and I "Hero, The Real Thing" is a person named Al Sevi.